The M-4 is an updated version of the M-16, and the U.S. military’s workhorse rifle. It has been used in battle for the last 40 years and was designed for close combat in Vietnam. It worked well in Iraq, where much of the fighting was in cities such as Baghdad and Fallujah. It is proving to be an ineffective weapon in many of the combat situations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are using World War II-era rifles to combat our 21st century soldiers.
The problem? A current news story notes:
A U.S. Army study found that the 5.56 mm bullets fired from M-4s don’t retain enough velocity at distances greater than 1,000 feet (300 meters) to kill an adversary. In hilly regions of Afghanistan, NATO and insurgent forces are often 2,000 to 2,500 feet (600-800 meters) apart.
Afghans have a tradition of long-range ambushes against foreign forces. During the 1832-1842 British-Afghan war, the British found that their Brown Bess muskets could not reach insurgent sharpshooters firing higher-caliber Jezzail flintlocks.
Soviet soldiers in the 1980s found that their AK-47 rifles could not match the World War II-era bolt-action Lee-Enfield and Mauser rifles used by mujahedeen rebels.
This isn’t to say that the US is totally incompetent. There is a fierce debate ongoing as to whether a soldier is better off with the more-rapid firepower of the 5.56mm bullets or with the longer range of the 7.62 mm bullets that come with the new M-110 sniper rifle, which fires a larger 7.62 mm round and is accurate to at least 2,500 feet (800 meters). 80-90% of soldiers serving in Afghanistan are happy with their M-4s.
But this isn’t new news. The US Army has known since at least 2008 about the rifles failings. And since this is a problem that the Soviet’s experienced during the 1980s, its a shame that better research couldn’t have been done to understand the needs of the situation on the ground.