More Problems Being Reported With M4

Michael Bane reports on this article that documents more soldier complaints about the M4.

The platoon-sized unit of U.S. soldiers and about two dozen Afghan troops was shooting back with such intensity the barrels on their weapons turned white hot. The high rate of fire appears to have put a number of weapons out of commission, even though the guns are tested and built to operate in extreme conditions.

Cpl. Jonathan Ayers and Spc. Chris McKaig were firing their M4s from a position the soldiers called the “Crow’s Nest.” The pair would pop up together from cover, fire half a dozen rounds and then drop back down.

On one of these trips up, Ayers was killed instantly by an enemy round. McKaig soon had problems with his M4, which carries a 30-round magazine.

“My weapon was overheating,” McKaig said, according to Cubbison’s report. “I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight. I couldn’t charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down.”

I acknowledge the AR platform has its problems and drawbacks, but I think this commenter over at Michael’s is correct:

These guys were firing sustained fire which no “assault Rifle” is designed for. The problem of jamming comes from overheated weapons because the Army troops resorted to spray and pray. The cause of the problem is a lack of fire discipline among the troops. Not a problem with the weapon. During 3 years in the Marines and 3 years as a unit armorer in the National Guard I saw 1 case of a bent sight post, and 1 M 60 that got run over by a truck, every other problem I saw or experienced was due to the nut behind the trigger.

Tom Bogan

No assault rifle is going to stand up to sustained automatic fire. They aren’t machine guns, and even a machine gun needs to have its barrel changed out if it’s been firing a lot.

25 thoughts on “More Problems Being Reported With M4”

  1. Exactly. More telling is the first paragraph where one of the people interviewed talks about how he switched between rifles and machineguns and nothing would work. When multiple weapon types fail, the soldiers using them (and poorly maintaining them) are the most obvious single point of system failure.

    Ditto the guys complaining about how the M249 was giving them trouble after shooting 600 rounds through it in short order. No mention is made of them swapping barrels when they’re putting the gun through that sort of workout.

  2. I said something similar on another blog. It appears to be more of a failure of training, i.e., fire control than an actual failure of the weapon. The M16/M4 is know for getting hot. I don’t know about current training but I do know, “back in the day,” that training stressed against continuous full auto firing of the M16. That was one reason the A2 variant—burst mode instead of full auto, was developed.

    There must be more to this that at first appearance.

  3. Sounds like those guys were just outgunned period. They really needed more light and medium machines guns so they weren’t forced to use an assault rifle in that role. Possibly spare barrels for the M249. Come to think of it, where was the FAC. They really needed air support unless the Taliban was already too close. That did happen a couple time that I remember.

  4. Or use the joke heard in some antigun/onfence/few progun circles:

    how to win the war in a-stan:

    1 – gather every redneck in the country
    2 – give them an AK-74
    3 – tell them “they” hate NASCAR, Jeff Foxworthy, apple pie, UFC, and smart women
    4 – tell them the Taliban taste like bacon

    I win.

    *tongue firmly in cheek

  5. I like my AK-74, but it wouldn’t be my first choice to take into battle. It’s certainly more accurate than an AK-47, but it’s not as reliable. I’ve had my AK-74 fail on me, but I’ve never had my AK-47 fail.

  6. There’s a lot of moving parts here, and this is all just crappy speculation. How were the weapons maintained? They’ve been in astan for years. What were the regimens? One guy seems to say his weapon had a “white hot barrel.”. That seems unlikely. And at high cyclical, sustained rates of fire, any other weapon is going to have those issues.

    I think unless we know the condition of the guns, the lubrication of the m4s andthe 249s, the training practices(barrel changes?), and other factors, this is all speculative crap. It is blaiming the boogie man. This base was apparently in a bad place, under serves, with a load of bad guys, and undersupplied. Maybe that had something to do with it.

  7. Weapon’s not the problem.

    It’s the use of it here. It sounds like they had a job for a watercooled MG … a better choice for defending a fixed position.

    That, or better air and atty support.

    Like the man said, you don’t use an infantry rifle or even a GPMG for sustained FA fire.

  8. I can’t believe the response of some people who are blaming the problem on the troops. Where is the evidence to support the accusation the soldiers were not maintaining the weapons properly, or that they were shooting ‘spray and pray’ style?

    The only hard numbers on rate of fire that I saw in the story, said 12 magazines were fired in a half hour. That’s only an average rate of fire of 12 rounds per minute! How is that spray and pray? A bolt action can almost keep up that low a rate of aimed fire.

  9. “How is that spray and pray?”

    An infantry soldier’s standard ammo load is 7-12 magazines. So what that guy said was “I shot all my ammo in 30 minutes”. Does that seem like good ammo discipline to you?

  10. Sebastian,

    Would you elaborate on how exactly your AK-74 failed you? I have been wanting to get a Tantal sporter for a little while but I will admit that I am no expert on them.

  11. What Brad said. I’ll grant my military experience didn’t include combat, but twelve rounds per minute doesn’t seem like an amount that should tax any military rifle. My old Mosin could do that, and it has been obsolete for decades.

  12. Has it occurred to any of you guys that an M4 REQUIRES automatic fire to actually stop opponents. And that constantly double tapping on semi would amount to the same think if firing full auto?

    They were being overrun, outnumbered 4 to 1, they lost 20% of their troops, who knows how many suffered injuries. Taliban physically got into the compound. ‘Trigger discipline’ is a theory not an actual practice that I would recommend when fighting for my life. Truth is the M4/M16 has failed before and it has failed again.

    Someones needs to find out how someone can profit from this, so the u.s can get a better weapon. Or better yet maybe they stop getting into wars they can’t win.

  13. I feel the utmost gratitude for their fellow soldiers sacrifice and no-one who has not been in a similar situation under fire has any right to critique their performance or ammo usage. It sounds like they could have used a few M2 50 cals.

  14. I’ve had a few FTFs with it, which might be the magazine’s fault rather than the gun’s, but I’ve never had a 47 FTF on me.

  15. Dave and Brad:

    It’s more the reports the weapons were overheating, which would indicate they were being fired at a faster rate than they were really designed for. Any assault rifle will have this problem, especially one with tight tolerances like the M4/M16.

  16. robert:

    No one is cheapening the sacrifice of soldiers here. I think we all appreciate their service and understand that battle stress is difficult to relate to for someone who hasn’t experienced it.

    This is a question of whether this particular malfunction is indicative that the M4 is an inferior weapon. I say it’s not, because most assault rifles would fail under the conditions described here.

  17. I don’t have an anti M-16 dog in the hunt. I liked it well enough when I was in., but it has been many years since I’ve fired a 16 on full auto. I commented because logically it seems that over the course of thirty minutes it would have a chance to cool down a bit in between bursts

    I guess he must have needed to burn through a lot of ammo in a short time at the tail end of that half hour.

  18. If the barrel is really white hot (which I tend to doubt was literally true, since A) I don’t think that 360 rounds in half an hour can generate that much heat and B) the handguards ought to have been dripping off or on fire by then, is my guess), then I don’t think there’s any design problem with the gun causing it to fail.

    The problem is that no gun exists that is both comfortable (lightweight) to lug around like an M4 and can take that kind of sustained fire.

    I’m not sure one can be made with current technology – and if it can, it sure won’t be at a price anyone’s willing to pay.

    Even assuming perfect maintenance and perfect fire-control by the troops, the guns just aren’t designed for that abuse. It’s not a “problem” for the assault rifle that it isn’t a water-cooled machinegun; the problem is having assault rifles when you need the MG.

  19. Rather than rely on the AP’s selective reporting which the Breitbart post was based, I tracked down a draft copy of the actual report:

    It goes into detail on the weapon failures. The report also discusses the lack of fire discipline shown by some of the soldiers.

    A lot of the report is based upon interviews with both the soldiers and their commanders. Only one higher-up refused to be interviewed.

  20. The “white hot” business is total bull. Heating steel to that point puts the temp at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit – the gas tube would be molten metal before then. The writer, again, does not know what he’s talking about.

    The 249 failing after having three belts dumped through it I can believe.

    Sigivald is right, if they’re not going to provide artillery or air support, then the next step is watercooled guns. Very effective at controlling space with trained crews.

    This is a failure all right – of planning, logistics, training…

  21. J Richardson did us all a favor by providing the proper link. So it’s definitely time to stop making uninformed assumptions.

    It seems to me that most of these soldiers (and marines) did a DAMN fine job. The malfunctions that have received so much attention were primarily the result of necessary actions.

    TOW/ mk19s, 60 and 120mm mortars all rendered inoperable by overwhelming hostile fire, leaving a single M2 pounding.
    A couple of 240bravos, SAWS, 203’s, and a bunch of m4s were the primary means by which the outpost attempted to achieve a volume of fire sufficient to hold off over 200 attackers.

    It took about an hour for effective air support in the form of two AH64s to arrive. 155mm howitzers were available, but ineffective because the attackers were TOO CLOSE (less than 500 meters) to the perimeter of the outpost.

    I am pretty sure there will be a big blockbuster movie about this in a couple years.

    It appears the “white hot” barrel was an eye witness description of a 240B after about 30 minutes of sustained fire.

    An m4 which can fire 12 GI magazines without serious failure is indicative of a well maintained piece of equipment. 12 GI magazines without an issue? That’s probably a miracle.

  22. Dear Jeff the Baptist – Go screw yourself. I heard the same BS in ’91 when our weapons (that we cleaned continuously) failed in the sand.

    The fact is the M16/M4 is a marginal rifle designed as a pilot survival weapon 50 years ago. It is arguably the worst and most out-of-date standard issue rifle in the world. Only ignorant shit-head officers are stupid enough to fault troops for their crappy rifles.

    Lubrication makes the M16/4 work better at a nice clean range in middle America. In the desert it attracts sand and hastens the inevitable failures.

    How about we decide on a decent caliber that is a better compromise between stopping power, accuracy, and ammo weight? Then we test competing samples from any manufacturer willing to submit one. Then, award the contract to the best submission – even if that company isn’t in Lieberman and Dodd’s district.

  23. Chris Byrne wrote a post a while back on this topic, that you can actually make the AR platform less reliable by over lubrication, so the folks that advocate heavy lubrication of an AR might actually be compounding the problem.

    I won’t disagree that it’s not as reliable as, say, an AK-47, but it’s also a lot more accurate than an AK-47. I can make 200 yard shots with an AR much easier than with a Kalashnikov. The AR platform isn’t perfect, and under some conditions it might be downright unreliable, but it’s all tradeoffs. You can make a rifle more reliable by loosing up the specs, and making everything beefier, but then it gets heavier and less accurate. You can go from DI to piston and op-rod, but then you trade one set of problems for another.

    I think we could probably do better than the AR platform for our soldiers, but I also think we could do worse.

  24. Sebastian – I think we could do a lot better.

    1st week of Jan ’91 – My Marine unit went to the range in Saudi Arabia right before the war was about to start. We were a proud unit and keep our equipment in immaculate condition. We cleaned our rifles twice daily and keep a very light coat of lube on them.

    EVERY damn rifle in my company failed on the range. ALL of them. Some relatively minor stoppages, some just plain refused to work. We went back to camp badly shaken.

    Guarding the perimeter of our camp were Saudi soldiers with nice new G-3’s. Every one of us was considering theft, and possibly murder for the upgrade.

    Instead we doubled up on grenades and settled for AK-47’s a few weeks later as we started capturing Iraqis.

Comments are closed.