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The M16 has a fascinating history in many ways. Its appearance is iconic, and has certainly become part of American culture. It is also a symbol, a microcosm, representing both American ingenuity, blunders…but also triumph.

The M16 design and development process itself was a brutal slog, resulting in a number of wrongheaded missteps, and ultimately in the tragic deaths of service members due to bureaucratic idiocy. Eventually, however, it became, in many ways, a superior rifle to the ones it replaced and led to the current service rifle of our armed forces, the M4 carbine.

It began with a comedy of errors, but ended in success. I’m going to skip a few details here and there to keep this a reasonable length. If someone wanted to commission me to do a book-length feature on this topic (if you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time), get with me after this.

Office of War Information Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The history of M16 starts, of course, with the M1 Garand. The Korean War impressed upon the armed forces that while the M1 was accurate, powerful and reliable (when maintained) the poor carrying capacity and relatively heavy recoil made it ill-suited to attacks by massive waves of enemy troops which requires lots of rounds being shot at them.

The M1 Carbine fared no better; while the greater capacity was in its favor, the rather limp 110-grain .30 caliber bullet (less powerful than a .30-30) didn’t have the necessary wallop.

Since most killing in combat took place at rather close range (within 150 yards) they also decided that there were too many weapons systems in service. Why bother issuing the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, Thompson submachine gun AND the BAR when you could replace them with a single gun that fired the same cartridge?

The government wanted a .30 rifle caliber cartridge, since that’s what they were used to. Additionally, the new .308 Winchester round offered a lot compared to .30-06. With the shorter case length, slightly flatter trajectory and roughly equivalent power, the soldier loses no firepower, but more ammunition can be shipped in the same size of cargo container.

So, they started taking submissions for a new rifle.

Eugene Stoner, U.S. Army Ordnance Corps [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Armalite, a division of Fairchild, and their design wiz Eugene Stoner, created a semi-auto rifle that handled a .30 caliber cartridge (the then-new .308 Winchester) with a simpler semi-automatic design and lightweight construction. That rifle, the AR-10, used a direct gas impingement system to cycle the bolt.

Direct impingement gas system. Credit: Edmond Huet/Wikimedia Commons Quickload [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The design was ingenious at the time. The AR-10 cycles exhaust gases directly back into the receiver, blowing the bolt backward and ejecting the spent round. The buffer spring in the stock compresses and then sends the bolt forward, cocking the gun and cycling the next round into the chamber.

The AR-10, was fitted with furniture made of Bakelite (a hardy, somewhat heat-resistant resinous plastic notable for being the first totally synthetic plastic) and an alloy receiver, weighed less than 7 pounds unloaded.

It had most of the features you’re familiar with. There was a carrying handle, rear aperture sight and front blade sight, polymer stock, pistol grip and forend, the charging handle in the carrying handle rather than on the receiver, flash suppressor, an adjustable gas compensator and the hinged takedown design.

The T-47, an early prototype of the M14 rifle. Credit: Springfield Armory National Historic Site [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Despite very favorable impressions in testing, the T44 rifle submitted by the Springfield Armory (the actual one; not the gun company) was chosen instead, designated the M14. The M14 was an improved M1 Garand design; the firing mechanism was almost unchanged, operation and maintenance were almost unchanged except that the M14 chambered .308 (later standardized by NATO as the 7.62mm NATO) ammunition, was magazine-fed with a 20-round box magazine instead of en bloc clips and was select fire-capable.

However, some folks in the armed forces felt almost right away that a smaller cartridge would solve several inherent problems. The .308/7.62mm round is effective, no doubt, but its recoil is rather stout when firing rapidly in semi-auto, and darn tough in full-auto. If a smaller cartridge could be created that had killing power out to, say, 500 yards, with lighter recoil, it would increase the effective lethality of the soldier wielding it.

That was exactly the thinking of General Willard Wyman, who put out a proposal in 1957 for a lightweight infantry rifle that chambered a .223-caliber bullet, effective to 500 yards and with more velocity than M1 Carbine ammunition. Since such a rifle would be easier to fire in close-quarters combat, it would replace the M1 Carbine, M1 Garand and Thompson as well.

.223 Remington cartridges with a .308 Winchester at far right for comparison. Credit: The38superdude [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Eugene Stoner set to work, scaling his rifle down for the new cartridge (commercialized as the .223 Remington) and had working prototypes in testing by 1958. The new rifle, then-designated the AR-15, actually worked very well.

The receiver, made of stamped alloy, was easy to make at scale since it didn’t require machining. The receiver and barrel, chrome-lined for durability, made it very reliable. The cyclic rate of 600 to 700 rounds per minute was very good and the rifle was quite controllable in full-auto firing. The barrel – with a fast 1:12 twist – made it quite accurate.

Now, by 1958, the M14 wasn’t Facebook official quite yet. Armalite, which was made into a going concern by Fairchild’s investment, had yet to sell any guns beyond the AR-7 (which was only sold in limited numbers to the Air Force) and was tired of having nothing to show for all its hard work. When General Maxwell Taylor ix-nayed the AR-15 in favor of the M14, Armalite decided it had had enough and sold the AR-15 and all rights to Colt.

Colt realized the potential of the AR-15 (and thus the M16) and decided to hang in there. Army trials demonstrated the easier operation but also the efficacy of the rifle, leading to General Curtis LeMay of the US Air Force ordering more than 8,000 of them and declaring it the standard service rifle of the Air Force in 1960.

Curtis LeMay. Credit: US Air Force Link

Around that same time, the conflict in Vietnam was heating up. M14s in the hands of US “advisors” were already showing some weaknesses. Full-auto operation was all but untenable and semi-auto operation and the heavy rifle wasn’t much better when you’re confronted by a close-range ambush or mass charge. The M1 Carbine lacked stopping power, so that was clearly a non-starter.

As a field test, a few thousand AR-15s in their early configuration were put in the hands of South Vietnamese troops for testing under fire. The results were overwhelmingly positive, and reports of the M16’s performance continued to make their way back to Washington.

However, a series of tests conducted by the US Army continued to favor the M14 despite reports from the field indicating the opposite. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara ordered Cyrus Vance – then-Secretary of the Army – to look into why that was happening, and he discovered that the Army was (purposefully) testing match-grade M14s against off-the-rack M16 rifles.

Robert S. McNamara. Credit: Cecil Stoughton, White House photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
McNamara called BS, and after having a look at the supply chain for the M14 (McNamara, prior to his service as SecDef, was a rising star at the Ford Motor Company, briefly serving as the company’s president) concluded that it wasn’t sustainable. So he told Taylor, et al., that their goose was cooked and ordered a whole lot of M16 rifles.

However, the old guard wasn’t done. They insisted on the installation of a forward assist in case of jams, which the M1 Garand and M14 had. Everyone who developed the rifle responded, “What are you doing forcing a round in that doesn’t want to go…just eject the thing!” but they would have none of it. The Air Force, however, went ahead; Air Force M16s lacked the forward assist. However, the Army version – the XM16E1 – were equipped with a forward assist. At that point, it was basically done.

An early M16 rifle. Note the duck bill flash suppressor. Credit: US Gov’t via Wikimedia Commons

By 1963, the M16 was adopted as the standard service rifle for the armed forces. Colt even started selling Colt Armalite Rifles and Colt Sporter Rifles to civilians, which were semi-auto versions for sport shooting. However, at this point, a few key revisions had been made to the M16 that severely compromised its use in the field.

The chrome lining of the receiver had been omitted, to save cost in manufacturing. And by 1964, DuPont informed the government that it couldn’t keep up with demand for propellant.

The .223 Remington cartridge was devised by seating a 55-grain .223-caliber bullet over IMR 4475, a stick powder. Olin came up with an alternative, WC 846, a ball powder. While WC 486 did the job of propelling a 55-grain projectile at 3,300 feet per second, it burned dirty and produced a lot more fouling. Colt also decided it was good idea to bill the rifle as “self-cleaning” and therefore, soldiers didn’t need a cleaning kit.

Early editions of the rifle, had a storage compartment in the stock which contained a cleaning kit. In the first few years of its service history in Vietnam, there was no cleaning kit in there, nor did many infantrymen receive one.

Prior to that, the rifle was known to function reliably. It was accurate at ranges up to 500 yards and lethal. It had few stoppages. Bureaucratic in-fighting and corner-cutting would end up costing many US Army soldiers and US Marines their lives.

By 1965, all troops in-country were issued M16 rifles. Reports started coming in of frequent stoppages, usually failures to eject caused by constant fouling; dead soldiers were found clutching a cleaning rod. Keeping the rifles in working order required constant cleaning, often more than was feasible.

PFC John Henson of the 101st Airborne cleans his M16 rifle. Credit: US Army Post-Work: User:W.wolny [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This led those who had the option to reach for BARs, Stoner rifles and M14s issued to South Vietnamese forces, or picking up AK-47s from dead North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.

Eventually, the US Government decided to do something about it and started making some fixes. The chamber and bore were chromed to reduce fouling, cleaning kits were issued more liberally, and new lubricants and propellants were developed to make the gun run cleaner and more reliably.

They also added a birdcage flash suppressor and – in limited batches – created a variant that fired three-round burst instead of full auto.

An M16A1. Note the birdcage-style flash suppressor. Credit: US Army via Wikimedia Commons

The fixes worked, and the new variant with said improvements – the M16A1, which first entered service in 1967 – was immediately noted as a drastic improvement over the original.

By 1969, the M14 had been officially knocked off its perch, and the M16A1 remained the standard service rifle until the M16A2 was introduced in the 1980s.

Credit: Dep’t of Defense, Dirck Halstead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
During the Vietnam war, NATO was advised that they should switch to the 5.56mm round instead of the then-standard 7.62x51mm round. NATO pretty much agreed, creating the now-standard 5.56mm NATO round.

After the war, the new standard 5.56mm NATO round (and experience) required some updates, which the US Marines and the army started asking for by the end of the 70s. The Marines asked for a heavier end to the barrel, a flash suppressor with a closed bottom, and sights that could be adjusted for windage and elevation on the fly.

They also wanted a round handguard as opposed the triangular handguard that had been the standard for so long, and they wanted to be able to put a grenade launcher on it (because freedom). Additionally, the twist rate was to be changed to 1:7 to accommodate heavier NATO rounds, including 62-grain tracer ammunition.

M16A2 upper. Note the sight adjustment controls outside the carrying handle. Credit: Fourdee via Wikimedia Commons

The firing mechanism was also changed to three-shot bursts, as it was found the full-auto M16A1 lent itself to “spraying and praying” by inexperienced operators. Pretty much everyone agreed, and those changes were instituted by the mid-80s and the rifle re-designated the M16A2. This rifle served as the official rifle of the US armed forces from the 1980s through the first Gulf War.

A limited number of M16A3s, with full-auto capability instead of 3-round bursts, were made for Navy SEAL and other special operations groups. However, the M16A2 remained in service until…pretty much a few years ago when they were finally phased out of Marine Corps service.

Throughout the Vietnam war, a number of carbine-length versions of the M16 were created and used in various capacities, called the Colt Commando. It wasn’t much at long range but was well-liked for close-in work.

Colt set about tuning it up in the 1980s, eventually settling on a variant with a 14.5-inch barrel. This gave the rifle the optimum balance between accuracy and compact form, along with an adjustable stock which let it be compacted even more.

M4 Carbines in a live-fire exercise. Credit: US Marine Corps Sgt. Devin Nichols [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The then-XM4 was dubbed the M4, and saw its first real deployment in Kosovo. It performed so well that the Army started issuing more and more of them, even ordering officers up to Lt. Colonel in rank to stop carrying pistols and carry an M4 instead. It also replaced submachine guns for most uses. It became so common that the US Army had phased the M16 almost entirely out of front-line service by the early 2000s.

The US Marines also made some revisions in recent years to create the M16A4 variant. The M16A4 eliminated the round handguard in favor of a quad-rail handgaurd by Knight’s Armament. The carry handle and sights were eliminated in favor of a Picatinny rail running the entire length of the receiver to the end of the handguard, and combat optics (red dot sights) added in lieu of iron sights.

M16A4 in combat with the US Marine Corps. Note the optic and quad-rail handguard. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James L. Yarboro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The M16A4 also added a muzzle compensator instead of a flash suppressor, installed a heavier barrel and free-floated it for greater accuracy. Bolt-catch releases and charging handles were changed to allow ambidextrous operation, and the trigger was improved for an easier pull. The M16A4 was also issued in semi-auto only in addition to the burst mode. Limited numbers of rifles with adjustable stocks were also issued by the Marines.

However, these improvements came a little late in the game. M16A4 rifles were issued in limited numbers starting in 2014 and 2015, which happened to coincide with the announcement that the Marine Corps was switching entirely to the M4 Carbine.

Some other changes occurred along the way. No longer entirely satisfied with Colt’s products, the Army and the Marines have both changed providers to FN. FN had already been making M16A4s for the USMC, but is now also producing M4s for the US Army and the Marines…though the Marine Corps is also in the process of phasing out the M4 in favor of the M27 IAR, an improved AR design by Heckler and Koch.

A member of Marine Force Recon firing the M27 IAR, an H&K-designed rifle based heavily on the M16. Credit: Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today, the M16 has been all but completely phased out except for some select examples that are still in service in front line and reserve units. The M4 has pretty much replaced it, which itself is due to be replaced soon. But, as we all know, nothing lasts.

Feel like I missed any important details? Need to tell us you’re vegan…again? Sound off in the comments!

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  1. A document presented without footnotes and citations is…well, I guess they didn’t cover that in school. There is not one thing “funny” about the saga of the M16. If you want something funny, find information about mcnamaras’ 100,000 and their eventual fates. come the Rising…

    • Probably explains the numerous small errors in the piece:

      “The barrel – with a fast 1:12 twist – made it quite accurate.”
      1/12 is not a fast twist rate, it’s a slow one, as in 1 twist every 12 inches. In a 20 inch barrel, that’s not even two full turns of the rifling. The whole point of that slow twist rate was to stabilize the bullet just enough for combat accuracy so that when it hits something it would yaw wildly, causing a bigger wound. That’s why the 5.56 had a “hyper lethality” reputation early in it’s life.

      Spotted a few others too in just a cursory reading: the receiver was never chromed, just the barrel and chamber, nor was it stamped, it’s machined from an aluminum forging.

      • 1:12 is a twist rate for .224 rifles that are launching a wide range of copper-jacketed lead bullets. 1:12 will actually stabilize .224 pills from 33 grains to about 54 gains, so the M193 ball ammo is just barely stable.

        Where things go astray is when you get the steel-core green tip ammo, which is longer. Rifling twist is popularly thought to depend on the weight/mass of the bullet – which isn’t so. What your variable is for determining twist is the bearing surface of the bullet – ie, the length of the bullet that is engaging the rifling. In the 62 gr. “green tip” ammo, the steel core is less dense than a lead core would be, so the bearing surface of the bullet is approximately the same as a 70 to 72 grain lead core bullet. Now you need a tighter twist.

        There are tons of .22-250 and .223 bolt guns running a 1:12 twist and shooting 40 to 55 grain pills just fine.

        • Correct, that is why muzzle loaders that fire round ball projectiles have a twist rate of one turn in 30 inches, because it being a ball means it’s as long as it is wide therefore it only takes a very slow spin to stabilize it in flight.

      • DG, part of the Greenhill Formula to calculate barrel pitch rates is the surface contact, but weight and bore are also factored in.

        • While bearing surface might be a practical concern for twist rates, ballistic calculations to determine rifling twist effectiveness are based on the overall length of the bullet. While bullet length and bearing surface are related, when you get into different high BC bullet designs, the two factors can diverge significantly. Gyroscopic stabilization isn’t influenced by bearing surface, but it is influenced by the length of the projectile.

      • My understanding is that this is an issue of the center of drag for the bullet being ahead of the center of mass. This is aerodynamically unstable. Most, or maybe all bullets have the drag ahead of the mass, but for a squat pistol round, like a 115 gr 9mm, the two centers are very close, so not much spin is required.

        In a high BC rifle round, most of the drag happens in the ogive or nose region, but the center of mass is much farther to the rear. I’m guessing that with a highly supersonic round, the nose is generating almost all of the shock wave, and that’s most of the drag.

        The farther the center of mass is behind the center of drag, the more spin is required.

        • The ideal twist rate of a barrel is determined by a bullets cross sectional density (CSD), that is it’s length per it’s weight, in other words to make a .223 bullet heavier you must make it longer since you can’t make it wider, and the longer it is compared to it’s diameter the faster twist rate it takes to stabilize it in flight.

        • BC is ballistics coefficient and is a measurement of much much a bullet drops per the amount of distance moving foreward, you’re thinking of cross sectional density (CSD) when it comes to stabilization of a bullet, that’s the correct term for what you’re saying, not BC.

    • Not to mention all of the just plain incorrect statements in this article.

      Also, no mention of Project SALVO, just ‘everyone pretty much agreed’ in NATO to transition to 5.56 NATO…

      • You know what to expect with this author’s name at the top – the same slop as that Tannerite article.

        New “journalism”. Having a clue that even a cocktail party dillatante posesses is passe. Just skim some articles and puke it out on a page. Inaccuracies gets the cognoscenti pissed, generating clicks. Win, win!

        Oh well, everything dies…

    • Macnamara’s 100,000 is something that’s been blown out of proportion by people who look at the numbers with a bias because they’re looking for something to rag on him about, the same thing was done in WW2 and you never hear mention of it.

  2. actually the Geneva Convention people forced a barrel Twist change too 1:9 sans 1:12 because bullets were
    key-holing and was causing ugly wounding (go figure), and then changed too 1:7 for the heavier grain bullets.

    • The US never signed the agreement about not using hollow point or “dum dum” bullets, that’s a myth, they have however over the years tried not to run afoul of it for political reasons, this is why they hid their use of shotguns in WW1 as best as they could even coming up with cover stories that US troops were using them to knock German grenades out of the air along with carrier pigeons.

    • M16 bullets never “key holed”, that’s another myth and one that was perpetrated by the Army, the fact is the bullets were fragmenting after entering the bodies of enemy soldiers, US troops in Vietnam saw massive exit wounds in enemy soldiers and attributed it to unstable bullets key holing and the US Army went along with the narrative to hide the fact that the bullets were actually fragmenting, this was to quash any controversy over the Geneva convention thing about fragmenting bullets (although the US never signed off on that agreement), the fact that the bullets were fragmenting was kept top secret until the 1980’s when the US Army finally declassified the documents on their findings.

  3. I will not believe that the Marines “asked for” the round handguards until I see some primary source documentation for such. All my information says it was a burrocratic logistics measure, so as to only carry one piece instead of two in inventory.
    The round handguards are identical, both top and bottom. But the triangle handguards are mirror images of each other, meaning the supply chain must carry both the right and left halves separately.


      Here you go; DTIC report on M16A2 development, which was a Marine Corps initiative. Although the round handguard is not specifically described as a request, an “improved” handguard was.

      If you Google a little, you can find some statements by the Marine officer that headed the program. He said that he molded the prototype for the finger ledge grip himself from an A1 grip and some modeling clay and that the government profile barrel is the result of a mistaken belief that bayonet training was bending the barrel forward of the front site base.

      Interesting how the opinions and errors of one or a few people end up shaping a rifle used by millions over the next 25 years.

      • The only problem with that is 20 years or so before this report the CAR15’s in Vietnam already had the round hand guards, the fact is they switched to them to eliminate different right and left parts, this simplifies several things with one being having to replace a broken one on the battlefield, no longer did a soldier have to find the same side as a replacement during a lull in the fighting, not to mention it being easier for supply to deal with one replacement part instead of two.

    • That is indeed a primary source document. Good find.
      But I can find nothing in it about either the Army or the Marines “requesting” an improved handguard. Only that the rifles under the PIP that would become the M16A2, the handguard was made of; “more durable material” and the M16A1 handguard was held in place with a “more difficult to move slip ring”.
      In short, only an acknowledgement that the feature existed. I can find no mention of anything being requested in relation to the handguard, except for a mention that the old, harder to move, slip ring was probably better than the new one, since the average rifle could probably go through an entire war and never need to have the handguard removed, and that the added stiffness could help accuracy.
      That seemed to be the big issue in this report, the reliability and accuracy, or rather the lack thereof, in the new rifle. They were especially verbose about the faster twist being less accurate with the new SS109(later to become today’s M855) ammo than the original twist rate with the M193 ammo.
      One gets the impression that they were not aware that any multi part bullet(not cartridge) will be less accurate than one with a solid core, simply due to the extra difficulty in keeping all of the parts of said projectile to the same standards of concentricity.


        Here’s the thread where Marine Lt Col Lutz answers a bunch of questions on the A2. He was the project lead. There’s almost no mention of the handguards except that the patent was held by a Colt engineer who worked the project with him, and that they used all the rivets in the A1 handguards to say the A2 didn’t have an increased parts count.

        Now, given that he had his hand on every change, and he stated that his only goal was to make a rifle the Marines would be happy with, I would say it’s not out of line to say the round handguards were a Marine-driven change. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t because of logistics though.

        I think the strangest thing is that he says the Marines originally wanted the A2 to be semi auto only. He says the 3 round burst was a compromised see he pushed after finding an old burst fire test rifle in the Picatinny Arsenal armory.

        • I’d have to agree with him on that. If a three round burst can’t be made to fire all three before the recoil impulse hits(like the H&K G11), then I can see little utility in it.

        • I also noticed in the report that they caught a quite severe error in the burst design. That if a three round burst was stopped in the middle for whatever reason, the next burst would only be whatever was left over from the earlier burst. IOWs, the average soldier wouldn’t be able to rely on the burst function working properly. That’s quite a disadvantage in house clearing, or other CQB missions.
          I wonder if the current M4 still has that problem.

        • The current burst parts work the same. Unfortunately, it’s a design limitation: something mechanically needs to make a gun stop firing after the trigger is pulled. Easy to do for straight semi or automatic guns, but to fire only a set number of rounds is harder.

          The design uses a three position cam that allows the gun to keep firing until the third shot, where it stops. By it’s nature, the cam allows the bolt to cycle exactly three times, if the cycling is interrupted, it will finish it the next time the trigger is pulled. I’m not sure how a feature to reset the cycle early could be designed.

        • The CAR15 had the round hand guard design long before the requirements were mandated for the A2 project.

      • Also, Lt Col Lutz was asked by a poster which of the A2 improvements were requested by the Army and he said there were none. Apparently the Army was happy with the A1, hence the report critical of the A2 that they commissioned and I posted. He has some words on the report as well.

      • That’s how they act, so that’s how I spell it. I’m fed up with all the ridiculous crap they taught me in skool. And when I say it I say shoool. (same deal… that’s how it should be. They taught that “K” makes a kkkk sound. There’s a reason why kids all spell cat, “kat”. Because its logical and reasonable. What humans usually are until societies manage to twist their brains all around.)

  4. Okay, this should have made the pre 86 M-16;s with 3 round burst more available to the public, correct? The first time I shot a 3 round burst carbine was when Bill Ruger showed up at our SWAT training site with his brand new Mini 14 with 3 round burst.. I fell in love with it, and still want one. Since, if I remember correctly, that was post 86, I’d have to settle for an M-16 with 3 round burst.

    • With the AR platform, I don’t see why you couldn’t just get a pre-86 MG lower, source the burst trigger parts separately, and just drop them in if you couldn’t find one with it installed from the get-go. I’d personally prefer full auto if I was paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege, but to each their own.

      • All of the parts, trigger, sear, selector switch, would all be NFA regulated. But you’re right, it would probably be much cheaper than buying an existing. Unless I’m missing something with federal law.

        • You’re totally missing the law. None of the individual fire control or bolt carrier group components are controlled, and you can buy them fairly easily. Possessing them all without an NFA registered receiver. If you want to have extra fun and are willing to grind off the stops, you can get the 4-way selector (safe, semi, burst, full). Colt’s burst is kind of a hack and doesn’t reset the count when you let off the trigger – only when it fires 3 times. If you fire 2 of the 3 shots in the burst, the next time you pull the trigger will only fire 1 shot.

        • I’m not sure who’s missing the point, probably me in how I phrased my question. What part of the weapon makes an NFA required registration. Is it the receiver or the parts? If it’s the receiver, are just pre 86 receivers available? Obviously, I want it to be completely above board and legal.

        • Marty,

          It is a fair question esp for someone whose is new to the NFA game.

          There are 3 categories when it comes the AR-15 for NFA items.

          1) Transferable Lower Receivers (All manufacturers). The lower Receivers are the only part that are registered. Any of the internals are just that internals. Although if you wish to replace or upgrade any of the “guts,” most online merchants will usually require proof of registration of the NFA item (normally a scanned copy of your form 4)

          2 & 3 Are a lighting link and a DIAS. Both these items allow you to fire a normally semi auto AR-15 lower in full automatic.

          Hope this helps

        • Hope, I really appreciate the education. No, as a civilian, I know nothing about NFA related firearms. I had experience with them while in law enforcement, but obviously wasn’t concerned about NFA. There are a couple of class 3 dealers within a reasonable distance from where I live, and I will continue my education with them. I had the opportunity to purchase a 1927 Thompson at a reasonable price several years ago. First time my wife ever said no to a firearm purchase. I understood, $15,000 would seem outrageous to a spouse with no understanding of such an investment. But I really have an itch to obtain a 3 round burst weapon such as I was able to shoot a long time ago. Thanks again for your assistance. I’ve read the comments here about 3 round burst problems. But, from my little experience with it, I found none of those problems indicated.

      • But come to think about it, mu guess is the parts would have to come from the period pre 86 to be legal, correct? I don’t have a problem paying the transfer fee tax, but the feds are problem going find a problem with this idea. Any class 3 dealers out there that have an answer to this?

        • As a owner of a NFA lower, anytime I wanted to upgrade any of the internals I had to submit a copy of my Form 4 to the merchant before they would sell to me.

        • LEO myself, I set up my personal rifle the same as our patrol rifle to the best of my ability. I would not by a transferable AR-15 directly from a dealer right off. I would search gunbroker (under the M/G section), subgun boards , or some of the better online dealers of NFA items, sometimes you can get a better deal. I found a converted olympic lower well below market value in great condition on gunbroker. But many people feel more comfortable using a local dealer or one of the better known online dealers for the ease of the transaction.

  5. Yessir. Spray and pray was a thing. A rice farmer with a crusty 91/30 and 11 rounds of ammo was a sniper. An rpg round was a rocket barrage. Every contact with those other people was an ambush.

    And I still hate choppers. And am afraid of them. But I’m comfortable with admitting that now.

    And the end stool at the Legion or VFW bar was all the therapy you needed. That last bit is a subject that can be debated.

    • “And I still hate choppers. And am afraid of them. But I’m comfortable with admitting that now.”

      The sound of Choppers and C-130s still set my teeth on edge. The only time I wanted to be in a chopper was being hoisted out of the jungle before the bad guys organized (or if surrounded). The C-130 is a dread because I had to ride one between DFN (Da F’in’ Nang) and Saigon to get on a civilian flight for leave in Hawaii. We had a stop at Pleiku to pick up four Army soldiers, also on leave. The plane landed, taxied to the ramp, lowered the rear cargo door, and waited. After about an hour we just closed the door and left. Talking to the flight crew upon landing, learned the four Army guys were killed in an ambush on the way to Pleiku for the ride.

      • JWM / Sam

        Nothing makes your day like engine failure at treetop level over a swamp or improves it when somehow the pilot hit a small clearing without us being damaged too much.

    • Yeah, the sound of choppers 24×7 in Vietnam.

      Then after I get back home where do they post me? You guessed it – the Army Aviation Training Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Helicopter sound 24×7. Had to walk past HQ to get to my job at the AG’s office – past the General’s chopper revving up with ear-splitting noise…

      Fun times…

      “Thank you for your service.” Fuck my service… Only joined to avoid the draft to avoid being infantry. I wasn’t that stupid, but not smart enough to go to Canada and get pardoned a few years later.

      And yes, I preferred the M-14 to the M-16. It was actually easier to clean (which is probably why no one cleaned their M-16’s and died.)

      • My greatest Happy Ending was when the head shrink pointed out my “classic” 4th-degree flat-foot to the other examiners. (The head medical examiner was not present at the time). 🙂

  6. As a former Army guy and reloader I learned to despise the Winchester Olin powders used in the standard-issue ammunition. When the rifle was fired continuously hot there could be a lot of grime in the chamber and a crystallized carbon deposit left on the tip of the tube where it fit into the gas key. That was always a pain to clean, in my opinion.

  7. The early, American-made AR-10s and AR-15s had hand laid-up, fiber glass reinforced, polyester furniture. Artillerie Inrichtingen used some kind of bulk molding compound, possibly Bakelite, but probably not. Colt adopted ABS Cycolac for the triangular handguard M-16 rifles to improve productivity over fiberglass and reduce the field breakage experienced with the AI bulk molding compound. Round handguard AR-15 furniture has been made from glass reinforced 6/6 nylon since it was adopted.

  8. I thought the forward assist was put on after general issue to US troops. After the no cleaning kit FUBAR, and after the velocity was lowered by switching to slower burning powder. But, hell, I’m just an old SF weapons specialist, what do I know?
    BTW, given the field of dreams idiots on the demorats prez side I might have to buy an AR pattern so I can have the gov. buy it back./s

  9. Sitting on my front porch. Looking across the street, American flag flying, parents hiding Easter eggs and children searching for them. This is why We spent DayZ in mud and days breathing sand. God Bless America, each and everyone with it. HAPPY EASTER

    • ” God Bless America, each and everyone with it. HAPPY EASTER”

      Back at ya, ‘marsupial one’.

      Even with your beady eyes, rat-like tail, and nasty yellow jagged teeth. You’re OK in my book… 😉

    • LMAO, you’re right.
      The stitched piping for that corner should be over your right eyebrow with a rank insignia visible on the left.
      If he’s an officer he should have his rank visible on the left front, but you can’t see it because his garrison cap is reversed… LOL

      • “…garrison cap…”

        Haven’t heard that term since my dad was fighting in Korea. We Chair Force weenies had a different name for it.

        • Yeppers, cunt cap is what it was. The big round one was a saucer hat which I didn’t much care for. BTW, in basic we had M-14s, a man’s rifle. During RVN training we qualified with M-16’s. We all thought what is this flimsy piece of crap? But, it was what we had and it served us well. Of course, we cleaned them constantly. Cleaning them was pummeled into our heads.

    • Obviously got pranked by his aide and everyone else is rolling with it. Who said the prewar Army didn’t have a sense of humor?

  10. Despite over 50 some years of use the M16 is still a failure as a combat weapon. The Middle East War and the Jessica Lynch story/ fiasco really proved how little the M16 has been improved through all these years of excuses and lies concerning its suitability for combat. Any weapon that uses a gas system that sprays burnt powder all over the action is a jam-a-matic from the get-go.

    It is interesting to note that a recent test showing a squeaky clean M16 actually was able to fire off a full 30 round magazine without jamming while a man with an air compressor blew dust and sand at it, compared to the M14 that failed on the second round and the French MAB which almost made it through 10 rounds. Now the M16 lovers exclaimed “I told you so” look at what a superior gun this is! Well not exactly the M16 only worked because it was in squeaky clean condition. When sustained fire is encountered and also especially in the rain all kinds of bad things happen to it. The U.S. Military spent in excess of a million dollars trying to come up with a fluid that would let the M16 fire a bit longer in the rain before the rain and burnt powder formed a sludge that would jam it up tight. It was called LSA fluid and it did work, well kind of. Today the military has ditched this expensive LSA for for Break Free clp. The military long ago just should have admitted that Mr. Kalashnikov got it right long before the M16 came along and they could have used a home modification of the AK to save face and they would have had an adequate combat rifle but National Pride and just plain stubborn Stupidity has stuck the Military with a gun that is not reliable enough for severe combat in either the rainy jungle or as Jessica Lynch found out, was a turd when trying to use it in Desert Warfare. Most of her squad ended up dead, wounded and or captured. The enemy that day had no trouble firing of their AK’s and they were noted for not even knowing how to clean their rifles. At least this group of insurgents were trained as to which end of the gun the bullets come out and since their guns worked and the M16’s did not guess who won the battle. Its not rocket science folks.

    I remember a school mate of my who went to Nam and he said in a fight he hit a NVA soldier over the head with his plastic stocked M16 and the stock just disintegrated. He said they should have been ashamed to ever give a combat soldier a piece of shit like the M16. After that he carried a wood stocked AK 47. The heavy laminated stock gave him no worries about ever disintegrating and the gun never jammed on him either. He said he also found an entire catch of Romanian AK47 guns complete with their characteristic forward pistol grip. Orders came to lay them out in a row and run over them with a tank. He said the idiots should have let us all keep them and the run over our M16’s instead with the tank but when did the Military have anyone in command in Vietnam that new anything about weapons or what was needed or what was even going on. He liked to call General Westmorland , General West-Moron but that would have been giving the General too much praise. Sadly my friend came home in a body bag. Maybe if he would have had a decent rifle he might have survived. Years later and a generation later I am sure Jessica Lynch would have preferred an AK that day too.

    • I am not a fan of of the AR even though I own one but they are nowhere near as unreliable as you claim. They are about as maintenance intensive as a 1911. The Garand design is self cleaning. You can get a couple of thousand rounds through a. M1/M14/Mini 14 and it will operate reliability. The AK isn’t reliable because of its design. It is reliable because it is “poorly” made. Build an AK with AR tolerances and you will degrade its reliability.

      And the US Army has never been shy about stealing designs from anybody. The ’03 Springfield is a Mauser Gwehr 98 copy and the M60 is based on the MG42

      • Read the book “The AK 47 Story” by Ezell who was a world renown arms expert. In it he states the 6 to 1 piston to op rod ration was superior to most other assault weapons and is the basis for its reliability not that it had loose tolerances or was poorly made even in the stamped receiver models.

        If you think the AK was poorly made take a trip to the NRA museum or take a look at a Poly Tech Chinese milled receiver AK as they often out shoot the M16/AR15. I have both and the Poly tech is more accurate by far.

        The M60 was actually an amalgamation of 3 former machine guns not just the MG 42. It proved to be a pretty piss poor design of a machine gun. The editor of Soldier of Fortune Magazine some years ago published an excellent article on all the problems of the M60 machine gun. They were quite extensive.

        • The poorly was in quotes. It is a proxy for loose tolerances and I always get my information from Soldier of Fortune Magazine. /Sarc.

        • I hate stamped sheet metal (H&K excepted). I much prefer recycled Schlitz cans and melted Pringles lids.

      • The original AR15 that Stoner designed had loose tolerances. These were the models that the Air Force bought. The Army in its wisdom wanted the tolerances tightened up.

    • It isn’t “national pride”… It’s called “the military-industrial complex.” They couldn’t buy AKs from the “Reds” because it would look bad and home corporations wouldn’t get any money. They couldn’t develop an AK variant at home because it would look bad plus the development costs would be less so the home corporations wouldn’t get rich just modifying AK designs. But they had to develop something because 1) the troops couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, so “spray and pray” was inevitable, and 2) corporations needed the money.

      Just like now the military is letting bids for all kinds of stuff because the stuff they have is (allegedly) for “the last war”, i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan, not the “future war” they want to fight in Iran and Russia (starting in Ukraine) and China. Doesn’t matter that the US will inevitably lose all three wars (and the latter two will probably get us civilians killed by the hundred million) as long as the corporations make their quarterlies.

  11. The M2’s poor reputation in Korea is another result of SLA Marshall’s poor and biased analysis. He failed to note that may of the soldiers complaining about their inability to stop the Chinese human wave attacks with the M2 were not front line infantry. They selected full auto and ran themselves out of ammunition while spraying rounds into empty space in an early version of “spray and pray.” Actual infantrymen used semiautomatic fire to great effect.

    A high capacity magazine fed rifle would have been no more effective in stopping mass Chinese attacks because the increased single rifle rate of fire washes out at the squad and platoon level. Only a fraction of soldiers are reloading at any given time with even an 8 shot magazine capacity. The real problem was the lack of an effective squad automatic weapon. That deficiency was remedied by the introduction of the M60.

  12. I’ve never understood the point of a direct gas impingment system. Sure it can have less parts that a gas piston or recoil operated system, but it creates fouling issues not present in either of those designs.

    Plus the buffer and bolt carrier create an extended series of horizontal parts that make the operating system much longer than other designs and make a practical folding stock impossible. It reminds me of a Borchardt, which has the same toggle lock as a Luger, but the whole thing is hanging out the back of the gun.

    The concept strikes me as an interesting engineering project that lacks a practical application in light of other designs that do the same thing.

      • Oh, I own a couple. I think the controls/ergos (minus the charging handle) are outstanding. Everything else is just OK. I think Stoner’s next design, the AR-18, had more potential, and indeed a number of military rifles currently fielded use a modified form of the AR-18’s action.

        I have seen an A2 refuse to chamber a hand-cycled round without using the forward assist after shooting less than 200 blanks in training, although it still would cycle if fired. Even with blanks being extra dirty, that’s not an optimum rate of fouling under any definition.

        Still waiting to hear what problem direct impingment solves that piston or recoil operated designs don’t solve better without having fouling issues and while allowing a folding stock.

        • Greater reliability, less recoil. Greater precision.

          The AR15/M16 can go thousands of rounds without cleaning. Easy. It’s been done and demostrated plenty of times.

        • “Greater reliability, less recoil. Greater precision.”

          Care to elaborate in a measurable way/engineering terms proving any of this? The issue isn’t whether direct gas impingement works, it’s whether it works better than other designs. Stoner himself abandoned it after the M-16 and moved on to piston designs.

          It has less parts, which is a plus, but that’s about it; and the need for a buffer, buffer tube, and a fiddly detent to retain it vs. a simple spring alone can be argued to negate that advantage. For military rifle, not being able to mount a folding stock is a huge disadvantage.

          The AR-15 and associated parts are available all over the US and can be had cheaply, which is the biggest advantage, but that has less to do with the design itself than market forces. In an alternate reality the AR-180 could have taken off instead, and the AR-15 would just be a footnote in firearms history.

        • @FakeName.

          Less recoil is pretty obvious. By having a inline piston. The AR15s has it’s reciprocating mass straight in line with the bore. And it’s straight line stock.

          Greater precision is going to also be achieved by not having a reciprocating mass above the bore.

          Greater reliability is also a plus. Reason the MK16s got canned was they performed worse than the SOPMOD M4A1s in term of reliability. Same reason 416s didn’t get widespread adoption in SOCOM are mid length gas systems.

          And Stoner came up with the AR16/18s gas system cause he wasn’t allowed to work with the AR10/15s gas system at Armalite after Colt bought it. He was adamant that the AR10/15 had the superior gas system. The AR18s major advantage was its cheaper to produce. And the external piston is quicker and easier to tune. It’s why the 416s came about and were adopted. It was a quicker solution than the upgraded M4A1s and MK18s.

      • Agree. The 16 failed in Vietnam due humid conditions and a bare steel chamber (the mighty Garand that served so well in Europe failed in the jungles of New Guinea for same reason) lack of cleaning kits (100,000 16’s in use before a single cleaning kit in theater), a new powder that met the velocity specs by carrying higher pressure to the gas port (thus screwing the timing completely, forcing the extractor to deal with a cartridge held into a corroded chamber by residual gas pressure), and by reusing light weight aluminum magazines.
        After the Garand failed in the jungle, the Army spec’d all rifles to have chromed chambers, but sent the 16 off to war without one. Inexplicable incompetence by Army Ordnance.
        The reports from the Green Berets using 16’s prior to Army debauchery sent back reports of them being so devastatingly effective they weren’t believed. When they returned photo evidence, the wounds were deemed so terrible that the photos were classified up into the mid-eighties for fear world opinion would turn against us.
        It has been estimated that the brilliance of the 16 in jungle warfare later more than made up for the deaths caused by its early failures. Particularly shined in the Tet offensive.

  13. Playing in SE Asian war games I ditched the M16 every chance I got as POS jammed all the time, opted for a 12 ga and #4 buck, and fletchettes ( better spread), AK preferred.

  14. When they took my Select Fire full auto M16 and gave me a burst fire M4 I knew the Army had lost its mind. All the literature at the time was stating that nobody needed to have full auto selection on their weapons because they needed to save ammunition. It reminded me of the same reason why the US military never adopted the Winchester rifle. As well as a British Supply officer who was forcing his soldiers to sign for ammunition as their position was being overrun in the battle of Isandhlawna in South Africa.

    That didn’t prevent individual soldiers from purchasing Winchester’s. Just as a generation before there were soldiers purchasing Henry rifles.

    Using my own money to buy ammunition I practice far more often with my AR-15 than I ever did with my government-issued M16 or M4.

    Unfortunately when folks tried to purchase their own handguns because the Beretta M9 became such a failure they sent folks to jail, who we’re sending weapons to their loved ones in the Saudi desert during Desert Storm Desert Shield.

  15. Several times I had the option of FAL in 7.62 or M16A2 as my person weapon. I always took the FAL. It worked and people or animals stopped when hit. I still use .223 to hunt small game but not for serious situations.

    There is of course the long story of USA army ordinance agreement with FN that they would buy the FAL provided they changed it to .30 cal instead of the planned .280 round. FN complied and us army reneged going to the M14 after it failed many of the tests the FAL passed.

    • Incorrect. In the U.S. Military Trials the M14 beat out the FN FAL especially in the cold weather tests. The M14 worked slightly better in the mud tests as well but not by much. As far as dust and sand both guns suck big time. The FN linear recoiling bolt proved troublesome when used by Israel even after they put sand cuts in the bolt.

      The M14 has a large gap towards the rear of the action which lets in sand and dust and in a recent test I watched jammed up after the 2nd shot in a compressor blown dust test. The M14 has had trouble with the rollers coming off its bolt as well but its gas system is superior to the FN gas system which in my opinion after having to fk with it constantly to make it work even if it is adjustable. The M14 will work even when mixing cream puff cast bullet loads to medium power target loads to full power battle loads with no adjustment because there is no adjustment as none is needed.

      The M14 sights are superior to the FN sights as the M14 sights can be adjusted instantly for both windage and elevation while the FN can only be adjusted very crudely for elevation and takes a special tool for windage often lost in combat and ditto for the special gas adjustment tool as well.

      The M14 has a trigger module that can be pulled right out of the gun compared to picking out piece by piece the FN’s trigger system. Again the M14 is superior when having to clean it under field conditions.

      The M14 can be snapped to the shoulder from any carry position because of its shotgun style stock compared to the awkward pistol gripped stock of the FN. The only way to get the gun to the shoulder quickly is to carry it with the muzzle down and stock flat against the chest. This is true of all pistol gripped straight style assault rifle stocks.

      The FN has had a long troublesome history with its soldiered on gas tube system as they tend to break loose rendering the gun a single shot until repaired by an armorer. FN tried both a short tube and a long tube and both were not trouble free.

      The M14 ejection system is more positive and stronger than the FN’s as the FN will eject every other empty case very weakly landing at your feet with the other ones being thrown into the next county.

      The FN’s safety is awkward to get at especially in a hurry while the M14 has its safety in the trigger guard and is easily flicked off quickly.

      The FN and M16 have a non-reciprocating bolt handle which makes clearing a jam far less easy or quick or positive than the reciprocating bolt handle on the M14 or the AK 47 which are superior in that respect.

      A telescope sight is far more easily and positively mounted on the M14 which was originally designed to take a scope mount while the FN was not designed originally to easily take a scope mount.

    • Nope…miniguns…and automatic grenade launchers…

      Don’t forget the ground-to-air antiaircraft systems like the S-300 since it will be US Air Force bombing us… 🙂

      I see Israel is claiming they have a new missile that can evade Russian S-300 AA in Syria. Yeah, right…Russia will figure that out or simply send some S-400. The only reason Israeli aircraft aren’t falling from the skies daily is that Putin doesn’t want a war with Israel…yet. Netanyahu keeps pushing, that will change. If Netanyahu convinces Trump to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon (Israel or the US can’t start the Iran war until Hezbollah is defanged), Putin may decide to go ahead and sell S-300’s to Lebanon or just let the ones in Syria finally let loose (they can cover a good deal of Lebanon and Israel).

  16. Great article and a good read. I first used the M16 family of rifles in the late 70’s in the Army and used them throughout my career. I also used the M4 on private security contracts in Iraq from 2004-2007, and it’s a great weapon. Reliable, accurate and easy to care for. The only problems I ever had was with some Bushmaster SBR’s we were issued for a private DoD contract in Iraq that wouldn’t feed well. Just poorly tuned. I also had a couple of contracts where we were issued AKMs, and I’ll take an M4 any day. Just a better weapon all the way around.

  17. “Eugene Stoner set to work, scaling his rifle down for the new cartridge…”
    Nope. That task fell to Bob Fremont and L. James Sullivan.


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