In an interesting article entitled “Finally Fixing The M4 Carbine,” Strategy Page reports that “the U.S. Army has begun delivering upgrade kits for its M4 carbines. The kits replace the barrel, receiver and auto-loading system with one that is easier to keep clean. There is also a heavier barrel and the ability to fire full automatic. There are also stronger rails on top of the barrel, for mounting scopes and such. The army is distributing at least 10,000 of these kits this year.”
According to the the Strategy Page article, “this conversion kit addressed years of complaints about the M-4 and M-16 assault rifles . . . the main change was replacing the main portion of the rifle with a new component that contains a short stroke piston gas system (to reduce buildup of carbon inside the rifle) and a heavier (by 142 gr/five ounces) barrel (which reduces barrel failure from too much heat, which happens when several hundred rounds are fired within a few minutes.)”
Test various weapons under dusty weather conditions confirmed that the “M-4 had nearly eight times as many jams as the XM8, the rifle designed to replace it. The M4 had nearly four times the jams of the SCAR and 416, which were basically M4 type rifles with a different gas handling system. Any stoppage is potentially fatal for the soldier holding the rifle. Thus the disagreement between the army brass, and the troops who use the weapons in combat.”
Long a source of complaints by troops in the field who find the M-4 unreliable and subject to jamming, Strategy Page writes that “if the issue were put to a vote, the troops would vote for a rifle using a short-stroke system (like the XM8, SCAR or H&K 416). But the military is not a democracy, so the troops spend a lot of time cleaning their weapons, and hoping for the best. The debate involves two intertwined attitudes among senior army commanders. First, they don’t want the hassle, and possible embarrassment, of switching to a new rifle. Second, they are anticipating a breakthrough in weapons technology that will make a possible a much improved infantry weapon. This is likely to happen later, rather than sooner, but the generals kept obsessing over it.”
Judging from the comments to Strategy Page’s article, not too many weapon’s specialists felt this was a long-term solution for a weapon that is certainly showing its age. Hopefully, this quick fix will reduce the number of jamming incidents reported in Afghanistan, but this is a critical component of combat gear for our troops and they require a reliable weapon to accomplish their mission.