Colt's grip on military rifle criticized

Discussion in 'Firearms' started by Minuteman, Apr 20, 2008.

  1. Minuteman

    Minuteman Chaplain Moderator Founding Member

    Colt's grip on military rifle criticized

    By RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 7 minutes ago
    No weapon is more important to tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than the carbine rifle. And for well over a decade, the military has relied on one company, Colt Defense of Hartford, Conn., to make the M4s they trust with their lives.
    Now, as Congress considers spending millions more on the guns, this exclusive arrangement is being criticized as a bad deal for American forces as well as taxpayers, according to interviews and research conducted by The Associated Press.
    "What we have is a fat contractor in Colt who's gotten very rich off our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
    The M4, which can fire at a rate of 700 to 950 bullets a minute, is a shorter and lighter version of the company's M16 rifle first used 40 years ago during the Vietnam War. It normally carries a 30-round magazine. At about $1,500 apiece, the M4 is overpriced, according to Coburn. It jams too often in sandy environments like Iraq, he adds, and requires far more maintenance than more durable carbines.
    "And if you tend to have the problem at the wrong time, you're putting your life on the line," says Coburn, who began examining the M4's performance last year after receiving complaints from soldiers. "The fact is, the American GI today doesn't have the best weapon. And they ought to."
    U.S. military officials don't agree. They call the M4 an excellent carbine. When the time comes to replace the M4, they want a combat rifle that is leaps and bounds beyond what's currently available.
    "There's not a weapon out there that's significantly better than the M4," says Col. Robert Radcliffe, director of combat developments at the Army Infantry Center in Fort Benning, Ga. "To replace it with something that has essentially the same capabilities as we have today doesn't make good sense."
    Colt's exclusive production agreement ends in June 2009. At that point, the Army, in its role as the military's principal buyer of firearms, may have other gunmakers compete along with Colt for continued M4 production. Or, it might begin looking for a totally new weapon.
    "We haven't made up our mind yet," Radcliffe says.
    William Keys, Colt's chief executive officer, says the M4 gets impressive reviews from the battlefield. And he worries that bashing the carbine will undermine the confidence the troops have in it.
    "The guy killing the enemy with this gun loves it," says Keys, a former Marine Corps general who was awarded the Navy Cross for battlefield valor in Vietnam. "I'm not going to stand here and disparage the senator, but I think he's wrong."
    In 2006, a non-profit research group surveyed 2,600 soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found 89 percent were satisfied with the M4. While Colt and the Army have trumpeted that finding, detractors say the survey also revealed that 19 percent of these soldiers had their weapon jam during a firefight.
    And the relationship between the Army and Colt has been frosty at times. Concerned over the steadily rising cost of the M4, the Army forced Colt to lower its prices two years ago by threatening to buy rifles from another supplier. Prior to the warning, Colt "had not demonstrated any incentive to consider a price reduction," then-Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, an Army acquisition official, wrote in a November 2006 report.
    Coburn is the M4's harshest and most vocal critic. But his concern is shared by others, who point to the "SCAR," made by Belgian armorer FN Herstal, and the HK416, produced by Germany's Heckler & Koch, as possible contenders. Both weapons cost about the same as the M4, their manufacturers say.
    The SCAR is being purchased by U.S. special operations forces, who have their own acquisition budget and the latitude to buy gear the other military branches can't.
    Or won't.
    "All I know is, we're not having the competition, and the technology that is out there is not in the hands of our troops," says Jack Keane, a former Army general who pushed unsuccessfully for an M4 replacement before retiring four years ago.
    The dispute over the M4 has been overshadowed by larger but not necessarily more important concerns. When the public's attention is focused on the annual defense budget, it tends to be captured by bigger-ticket items, like the Air Force's F-22 Raptors that cost $160 million each.
    The Raptor, a radar-evading jet fighter, has never been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the troops who patrol Baghdad's still-dangerous neighborhoods or track insurgents along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, there's no piece of gear more critical than the rifles on their shoulders. They go everywhere with them, even to the bathroom and the chow hall.
    Yet the military has a poor track record for getting high-quality firearms to warfighters. Since the Revolutionary War, mountains of red tape, oversize egos and never-ending arguments over bullet size and gunpowder have delayed or doomed promising efforts.
    The M16, designed by the visionary gunsmith Eugene Stoner, had such a rough entry into military service in the mid-1960s that a congressional oversight committee assailed the Army for behavior that bordered on criminal negligence.
    Stoner's lighter, more accurate rifle was competing against a heavier, more powerful gun the Army had heavily invested in. To accept the M16 would be to acknowledge a huge mistake, and ordnance officials did as much as they could to keep from buying the new automatic weapon. They continually fooled with Stoner's design.
    "The Army, if anything, was trying to sideline and sabotage it," said Richard Colton, a historian with the Springfield Armory Museum in Massachusetts.
    Despite the hurdles, the M16 would become the military's main battlefield rifle. And Colt, a company founded nearly 170 years ago by Hartford native Samuel Colt, was the primary manufacturer. Hundreds of thousands of M16s have been produced over the years for the U.S. military and foreign customers. Along with Colt, FNMI, an FN Herstal subsidiary in South Carolina, has also produced M16s.
    Development of the carbine was driven by a need for a condensed weapon that could be used in tight spaces but still had plenty of punch. Colt's answer was the 7 1/2-pound M4. The design allowed the company to leverage the tooling used for the M16.
    In 1994, Colt was awarded a no-bid contract to make the weapons. Since then, it has sold more than 400,000 to the U.S. military.
    Along the way, Colt's hold has been threatened but not broken.
    In 1996, a Navy office improperly released Colt's M4 blueprints, giving nearly two dozen contractors a look at the carbine's inner workings. Colt was ready to sue the U.S. government for the breach. The company wanted between $50 million and $70 million in damages.
    Cooler heads prevailed. The Defense Department didn't want to lose its only source for the M4, and Colt didn't want to stop selling to its best customer.
    The result was an agreement that made Colt the sole player in the U.S. military carbine market. FNMI challenged the deal in federal court but lost.
    And since the Sept. 11 attacks, sales have skyrocketed.
    The Army, the carbine's heaviest user, is outfitting all its front-line combat units with M4s. The Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and special operations forces also carry M4s. So do U.S. law enforcement agencies and militaries in many NATO countries.
    More than $300 million has been spent on 221,000 of the carbines over the past two years alone. And the Defense Department is asking Congress to provide another $230 million for 136,000 more.
    Keane, the retired Army general, knows how difficult it is to develop and deliver a brand-new rifle to the troops. As vice chief of staff, the Army's second highest-ranking officer, Keane pushed for the acquisition of a carbine called the XM8.
    The futuristic-looking rifle was designed by Heckler & Koch. According to Keane, the XM8 represented the gains made in firearms technology over the past 40 years.
    The XM8 would cost less and operate far longer without being lubricated or cleaned than the M4 could, Heckler & Koch promised. The project became bogged down by bureaucracy, however. In 2005, after $33 million had been invested, the XM8 was shelved. A subsequent audit by the Pentagon inspector general concluded the program didn't follow the military's strict acquisition rules.
    Keane blames a bloated and risk-averse bureaucracy for the XM8's demise.
    "This is all about people not wanting to move out and do something different," Keane says. "Why are they afraid of the competition?"
    As Colt pumps out 800 new M4s every day to meet U.S. and overseas demand, the company is remodeling its aging 270,000-square-foot facility in a hardscrabble section of Connecticut's capital city. New tooling and metal cutting machines have been installed as part of a $10 million plant improvement.
    Many of the old ways remain, however. Brick-lined pit furnaces dating back to the 1960s are still used to temper steel rifle barrels.
    "Modernizing the plant while trying to maintain quality and meet deliveries has been a challenge," says James Battaglini, Colt's chief operating officer.
    Within military circles there are M4 defectors. U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., was one of the carbine's first customers. But the elite commando units using the M4 soured on it; the rifle had to be cleaned too often and couldn't hold up under the heavy use by Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs.
    When the M16 was condensed into an M4, the barrel and other key parts had to be shortened. That changed the way the gun operated and not for the better, concluded an internal report written seven years ago by special operations officials but never published. Dangerous problems ranged from broken bolt assemblies, loose and ruptured barrels, and cartridges stuck in the firing chamber.
    "Jamming can and will occur for a variety of reasons," the report said. "Several types of jams, however, are 'catastrophic' jams; because one of our operators could die in a firefight while trying to clear them."
    Pointing to the report's unpublished status, Colt has disputed its findings. The M4 has been continually improved over the years, says Keys, the company's chief executive. The M4 may not meet the exacting standards of U.S. commando forces, he adds, but it fills the requirements spelled out by the regular Army.
    Special Operations Command is replacing the M4s and several other rifles in its arsenal with FN Herstal's SCAR, which comes in two models: one shoots the same 5.56 mm round as the M4; the other a larger 7.62 mm bullet and costs several hundred dollars more. Both SCARs can accommodate different-size barrels allowing the weapons to be fired at multiple ranges.
    The SCARs are more accurate, more reliable and expected to last far longer than their predecessors, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marc Boyd, a command spokesman.
    "SOCOM likes to be different," says Keys of Colt, using the acronym for the command. "They wanted something unique."
    With the SCAR not yet in full-scale production, Heckler & Koch's HK416 is being used by elite units like Delta Force, the secretive anti-terrorism unit. The command would not comment on the HK416 other than to say there are "a small number" of the carbines in its inventory.
    A key difference between the Colt carbine and the competitors is the way the rounds are fed through the rifle at lightning speed.
    The SCAR and HK416 use a gas piston system to cycle the bullets automatically. The M4 uses "gas impingement," a method that pushes hot carbon-fouled gas through critical parts of the gun, according to detractors. Without frequent and careful maintenance, they say, the M4 is prone to jamming and will wear out more quickly than its gas-piston competitors.
    "A gas piston system runs a little bit smoother and a lot cleaner," says Dale Bohner, a retired Air Force commando who now works for Heckler & Koch. "If the U.S. military opened up a competition for all manufacturers, I see the 416 being a major player in that."
    The top half of the Heckler & Koch gun — a section known as the upper receiver that includes the barrel and the gas piston — fits on the lower half of the M4. So if the military wanted a low-cost replacement option, it could buy HK416 upper receivers and mate them with the lower part of the M4 for about $900 a conversion, according to Bohner.
    Yet outside of Special Operations Command, there seems to be no rush to replace the M4.
    Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Army office that buys M4s and other combat gear, traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan last summer to get feedback from soldiers on Colt's carbine.
    "I didn't hear one single negative comment," Brown says. "Now, I know I'm a general, and when I go up and talk to a private, they're going to say everything's OK, everything's fine. I said, 'No, no, son. I flew 14,000 miles out here to see you on the border of Afghanistan. The reason I did that was to find out what's happening.'"
    Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., says the troops may not be aware of the alternatives. He wants the Pentagon to study the options and make a decision before Congress does.
    "Sen. Coburn has raised a good question: 'Do we have the best personal weapon?' And I don't know that we do," Sessions said. "We're not comfortable now. Let's give this a rigorous examination."

  2. Quigley_Sharps

    Quigley_Sharps The Badministrator Administrator Founding Member

    the scar
  3. Quigley_Sharps

    Quigley_Sharps The Badministrator Administrator Founding Member

    I hope they use an American Contractor for what ever weapon they decide on.
  4. RouteClearance

    RouteClearance Monkey+++

    It would be nice to use an American Co., but it does not look as if this will happen, all the DOD requires is that any small arms weapns contracts awarded stipulates that all units have to be made in the USA. HK has just finished up building a production plant in Columbus GA. for their 416 weapons program. It also looks like they maybe awarded the new Joint Combat Pistol contract with their HK 45. This contract alone will be for at least 600,000 units.
    Now do not get me wrong, I have a HK Tactical 45 Auto, it's just become a sad state of affairs when our own country can not develop and produce quality small arms for our own military. Lee Iacocca stated it the best in the post placed int the Freedom and Liberty forum.
    Dose this mean tht there is no U.S, companies that can no longer do this? the answer is no. It is just that they are small start ups that cannot compete with the large companies , ie Colt, S&W,, ect,ect. There are inovations that can be added to our current M4 program that can resolve 99% of the reliabilty issues we are experinceing with our M4's and place them on the level of the HK416 that will not cost us the Taxpayers millions of dollars. One of the best inovations are here at this link
  5. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    One of the biggest problems with small arms development is that most of the experimental developments were done in garage shops by ordinary people and we cannot legally do that any more because of that stupid 86 firearms owners protection NRA sell-out.
  6. BigO01

    BigO01 Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Well Colt has sat on it's but sucking the Military tit for far to long with the M16 which I hear from Nam vets was never that damn good to begin with , their QC went to hell a few times in their 1911's and their prices have been to high for decades because of this .

    I have no doubt the gun is failing as much now as it did in the 60's , considering a couple of the guys I talked to were Silver Medal holders "and not a bunch of clowns with Purple hearts only , for getting shot" told me the first chance they got they dropped their M16 and picked up a AK-47 .

    If they want the "Best" for the troops stop going with a weapon based soley on the bid price and instead go with what is actually the best , going cheap is what got em the POS M16 in the first place .
  7. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    $1500.00 is not cheap for a rifle that costs you or me $750.00.
  8. BigO01

    BigO01 Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Well Sea Colt's website doesn't give a MSRP so I looked at Gunbroker and those I found listed as New ran the gammit from $1,150-$2,000 depending on how it is marked .

    Considering the Military guns should all have that little thing called a selector switch which WE can't get yes I would say $1,500 is cheap especialy since that is almost the starting price of a Springfield M1A semiauto 308 .

    Also consider the source of the price info ,

    This goof is a politician who expects anything for the troops to be bought at a bargain basement price so he can divert funds back to his district and keep his job .
  9. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    I can get you all the M16 fire control parts any time for $60.00; they cost the same as AR15 fire control parts. The bolt carrier and bolt cost the same. The .Gov is spending $1500.00 each on these rifles and any SOT can build them all day long for $750.00.
  10. sniper-66

    sniper-66 Monkey+++ Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    Well, my star is only bronze and I'm not a "purple heart clown", but I carried one for 15 months and never had an issue with it and trusted my life on it every day. Liked it so much so that I bought a 6920 and have built it to replicate what I carried and don't have any regrets.

    I would appreciate it if we didn't call purple heart recipients "clowns", that is not a title anyone who is injured in combat deserves, regardless of how they got it.
  11. BigO01

    BigO01 Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Sorry Sniper I should have thought a bit more and phrased that better but what makes me sick is all of this tossing around the "Hero" tag for guys who have managed a Purple Heart with no mention of any medals for valor .

    I apologize to those who actually received them in combat but let me give you the true account that lead to my lessoning of respect for that particular medal .

    You see in about 1981 I worked with a guy who said he had flown gunships in Nam , Cobras if I recall correctly .

    Well he said one day his base was attacked by mortar fire and some troops , he couldn't get to the flight area so he said he was helping a mortar team pass ammo and fire the weapon , as things calmed down he managed to get to hanger where his copter was and when he was about to get in his CO noticed that his finger was bleeding and asked him how he had gotten wounded .

    He said he told him that he had no idea but he obviously wasn't shot and that none of the enemy rounds went off near enough to him for it to be shrapnel he figured he did it handling Our motor shells in a hurry and hadn't noticed it .

    Needless to say he was awarded a Purple heart a medal that he was laughing about getting .

    He also told me after that attack he was told by all kinds of guys who were given the same medal for all kinds of stupid things , plain and simple if you bled a drop the Co's wanted to look good and put them in for medals .

    I understand that in Nam they also basically pulled numbers out of their butts when it came to number of enemies killed in combat to keep the politicians satisfied .

    I Hope you understand this but in my eyes it takes more than a uniform or even to get stationed in a combat area to be a Hero , after all they say about 3 out of 5 troops are nothing but support for those that actually do the fighting .

    Personally I wouldn't be surprised to find that John Kerry was given his Purple Heart for cutting his finger nails too short and cutting his cuticle .
  12. RouteClearance

    RouteClearance Monkey+++

    Sorry Sniper-66, I am going to have to agree with BigO01 on this. While in theater last year, my platoon had a PH award go to a e-4 that in no way deserved it. Even after 3 eye witness accounts rebuking his so called combat injury, Battalion went ahead with the award anyway. Suffice to say, after he recieved said award, he was removed from the platoon and place on FOBBIT details for the rest of our deployment due to the fact that everyone told the CO that we no longer trusted this guy and in no circumstances did we want him with us when we left the wire on combat missions.
  13. sniper-66

    sniper-66 Monkey+++ Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    I understand what both of you are saying, but I can give you examples from the Army Achievement Medal to the Congressional Medal of Honor where someone didn't deserve getting what they got, but then again, I can give you examples of people getting a much lesser award than what they deserved. Regardless of either of those facts, no one is ever a clown because of the award they got, they may be a clown that got the award.
    As for being a hero, based on today's standard of being a sports figure making six figures, I believe that a Soldier that puts a uniform on, deployes overseas for 15 months away from their family, and some of us on two, three, or four deployments is way closer to being a hero than your definition allows. Trying to put a standard on what is and is not a hero is like tying a string around jello. I know several heros that never pulled a trigger and would put them up against some trigger pullers any day.
    Now, back to the topic. M4 is still an excellent weapon.
  14. RouteClearance

    RouteClearance Monkey+++

    Totaly agree about the M4, but the direct impingment gas system is the weapons weakest link. the above gas piston addon that I posted a link to above would make the entire AR15/M16/M4/Mforgery weapons as reliable as the ever vernerable AK47 without costing us millions to replace and could remain in service for decades more.
  15. E.L.

    E.L. Moderator of Lead Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    Gas piston upper in 6.8 would be most excellent.

    Just my [2c] but those who sacrifice their time away from their lives and families, and put themselves in harms way to protect our great nation, are heroes to me. I don't care if they pulled the trigger or not. Their sacrifice is most honorable, and they should be held in high esteem.
  16. BuckBall

    BuckBall Woman Hater

    How would the G36 fair with American Forces? I believe that a number of LE are currently using different variants of the German rifle and that also of the MP5 which is not traditionally American. I admit that I have very little experience with the M16 series, and can only ask about previous weapons I have used such as the G36 and the new HK 416. On a different note, why must the American Forces stay with American products?
  17. Cephus

    Cephus Monkey+++ Founding Member

    I didn't know where to put this so did a search and found this one about the SCAR :

    Looks like the 1/75th is going to take a chance with the system .

    I read this whole thread and I guess I'm a clown x3

    Lost-one lung

    penetrated twice once in the derriere and once in the calf of the leg

    I was trained on the M14 then got my first M16 in country ,I'm not nor have I ever been a big fan of this weapon ,but it has served for over 40 years and it's time for a change .

  18. ikean

    ikean Monkey++

    m1a,or an ak, batteries fail.wood and metal beats plastic and circuits everytime.
    aks are cheap and every third world army can buildthem in a litte work shop in the jungle,desert or urban environment.use american assembly and engineering technology, to buil enough for every man and woman in the us and issue them, make sunday shooting mandatory bi annually.
    i think there are a lot of auto plants sitting idle.
    imagine a gm or chrysler ak.
    kinda like an ibm or international harvester or singer m1.
    oh yeah and make civilian marksmanship programmer easier and cheaper.[rnt]
  19. E.L.

    E.L. Moderator of Lead Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    Happy late Memorial Day Cephus, and thank you for your service to our country.

    The SCAR does look like a good platform. I really would have liked to have seen it in a .270 platform, it is a great shooting round and the best of both worlds if you ask me.
  20. Cephus

    Cephus Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Thank you .:oops:

    I too would have liked to seen it in .270,just like the first M1 .

    Most people don't know that this was the caliber that John C. Garand designed it with this in mind because it was best all around for distance
    and stopping power .

    I'm just glad that we are finally going to get a new weapon in the hands of our troops that ,now if they would just get a little larger bullet than the 5.56 I'd be elated .[rofllmao]
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