Soldiers are complaining that the weapons they’ve been issued may be fatally flawed.

“The reliability is not there,” Army Senior Warrant Officer Russton B. Kramer, told the Washington Times of the Army’s primary rifle – the M4 carbine. “I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would.”

Capt. James Nardelli, part of a deploying Security Force Assistance Team with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), fires at a target during a stress shoot training exercise at Fort Campbell's Range 40a, Feb. 16. The stress shoot training exercise conditions soldiers to effectively hit their targets in highly intense situations

Capt. James Nardelli, part of a deploying Security Force Assistance Team fires  an M4 at a target during a stress shoot training exercise at Fort Campbell’s Range. Years of testing have shown the M4 to be less than reliable, especially in dusty, sandy areas. (U.S. Army)

Kramer, a 20-year Green Beret, believes if a solider wants to improve their chances of survival, the best bet is to make modifications to the Army’s standard-issue model. Operators and policy makers have debated the M4′s value for years, and documents obtained by the Washington Times show the Pentagon was warned before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that several M4 carbine iterations were flawed and might jam or fail, especially in the harsh desert conditions that both wars inflicted.

U.S. Special Operations Command in 2001 issued a damning private report that said the M4A1 was fundamentally flawed because the gun failed when called on to unleash rapid firing. And In 2002, an internal Army report from the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey said the M4A1 was prone to overheating and “catastrophic barrel failure.”

Defense Industry Daily highlighted briefing documents obtained by the Army Times reporting on several M4 failures:

“USMC officials said the M4 malfunctioned three times more often than the M16A4 during an assessment conducted in late summer 2002 for Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico, VA.

Malfunctions were broken down into several categories, including “magazine,” “failure to chamber,” “failure to fire,” “failure to extract” and “worn or broken part,” according to the briefing documents. During the comparison, the M4 failed 186 times across those categories over the course of 69,000 rounds fired. The M16A4 failed 61 times during the testing.

The Army conducted a more recent reliability test between October 2005 and April 2006, which included 10 new M16s and 10 new M4s… On average, the new M16s and M4s fired approximately 5,000 rounds between stoppages, according to an Army official who asked that his name not be released.”

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USMC officials said the M4 malfunctioned three times more often than the M16A4 during an assessment conducted in 2002 for Marine Corps Systems Command (Shutterstock).

Last summer, the Army terminated the Individual Carbine competition announcing the Army would not proceed with selecting a follow-on weapon for the M4/M4A1. Eight competitors failed to impress the DoD with their solutions to the current weapon’s problems; Adcor Defense, Beretta, Colt, Fabrique Nationale, Heckler & Koch, Lewis Machine & Tool, Remington and Troy, according to Defense Media Network.

During the Pentagon briefing June 14, 2013, Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, U.S. Army Program Executive Officer – Soldier (PEO Soldier), said surveys from soldiers returning from combat have shown that soldiers are happy with the current weapon:

“We do extensive post-combat surveys after every unit redeploys from theater. Over the past four years, the survey results have revealed that in compilation, over 80 percent of soldiers are completely satisfied with the M4 coming out of theater. And that trend is moving upward. Over the last two years, it’s actually been 86 percent soldier acceptability for the M4. It’s battle proven. It’s lethal. It’s accurate.”

But the Army’s M4 carbine Product Improvement Program is still in full swing. The initial announcement of the program in 2011 said: “The objectives of the overall M4 Carbine PIP are to enhance the weapon’s durability, reliability, maintainability, accessory integration, sustained rate of fire, and ergonomics without negatively affecting the current performance of the M4/M4A1 Carbine.”

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The Washington Times reported on improvements to the controversial rifle in the last 20 years (Image via Washington Times).

The Army has executed 92 improvements to the M4/M4A1 since 1990, and continues to see a range of platform enhancements, according to Defense Media Network. But slow processes may have hampered crucial design progress during the U.S. Army’s longest war.

In the mean time, soldiers like Warrant Officer Kramer said he and fellow Special Forces soldiers break the rules and convert their M4′s into the “commando version”: They buy off-the-shelf triggers and other components and overhaul the weapon themselves.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, an artillery officer who earned the Silver Star in Vietnam, is a prominent M4 critic. He told the Washington Times the 5.56-caliber bullet is too small and the gas-piston firing system is prone to stoppage. He said better weapons — the German Heckler-Koch G36 and Russian AK-74 (a version of the venerable AK-47) — use superior firing systems.

“Frankly, this whole thing is scandalous,” Gen. Scales said. “We send soldiers into close combat with lousy weapons and we’ve done it since World War II and nobody complains. It’s a national outrage.”

Updated Feb 22: Maj. Gen. Scales’ quote to the Washington Times refers to a gas-piston firing system for the M4, however the older M4 models use a design called direct gas impingement.

(H/T: Washington Times)

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