US Army Scraps Testing of New Battle Rifles

Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 12:59 PM

By John Blosser

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The U.S. Army suspended tests for a new battle rifle to replace the standard .223-caliber M4A1 carbine carried by today's infantrymen, despite the fact that one of the nine rifles being tested outperformed it.

The Washington Times, reporting on a study by the Center for Naval Analyses, says one of the eight unidentified rifles proved in testing to be more reliable and less likely to jam than the M4A1 rifle, prior to the Army canceling tests while saying that none of the rifles showed a large improvement over the M4A1.

The tests were scheduled and performed because of increased pressure from Congress, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who complained about the Army's lack of modernization of its primary battle rifle in a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh.

Coburn wrote, in a letter quoted by the McCarville Report, "If the rifle squad is the foundational element of the Army, and small arms are the rifleman's primary weapon, would we not take steps today to ensure that we are equipping our force with the most effective small arms and ammunition available?"

The M4A1 has been criticized by frontline troops in much the same way that Vietnam-era soldiers criticized the performance of is predecessor, the M16 rifle, claiming that it had a tendency to jam and required constant cleaning, under often dirty combat conditions, in order to perform reliably.

Army Senior Warrant Officer Russton B. Kramer, a Green Beret for 20 years, told the Washington Times that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, distrusting the M4A1 as issued, often purchased better parts from commercial sources, such as better triggers and heavier barrels, and upgraded the rifles themselves.

"The reliability is not there," Kramer told the Times. "I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would."

The Times, quoting an unnamed U.S. official, wrote, "It was misleading for the Army to say none of the weapons passed the test. You had one weapon beat the pants off your incumbent, and the result of this was not to do more testing. You had the opportunity to keep working and pursuing a better weapon, and you chose not to."

Jamming under extended rapid-fire conditions was the main problem encountered by soldiers with the M4A1, and the Times reports that as early as 2001, the U.S. Special Operations Command reported that the M4A1 tended to suffer overheating and "catastrophic barrel failure" during rapid fire.

In the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan in 2008, nine soldiers died after their M4 carbines jammed, the Times reported, but when that was included in an official Army history of the battle, the part of the report blaming the deaths on the rifle's poor performance was altered to exonerate the rifle, Douglas R. Cubbison, chief author of the report, told the Times.

"That was not my conclusion," Cubbison said.

"There's nothing more important to a soldier than his or her rifle. There is simply no excuse for not providing our soldiers with the best weapon, not just a weapon that is good enough,"  Coburn said.

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