M16 Rifle vs. M4 Carbine

M16 Rifle
M4 Carbine

The M16 rifle and the M4 carbine are semi-automatic and automatic weapons that originated in the U.S. They are issued to U.S. troops and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces worldwide. The M16 was the standard U.S. military forces weapon from the mid-1960s and onward, but is being replaced by the M4, a smaller, more versatile carbine. The M16 competes with the AK-47 in worldwide sales, and the M4 is expected to be sold more globally well before 2020.

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M16 Rifle

User Rating (232):
M16 Rifle

M4 Carbine

User Rating (166):
M4 Carbine
Cartridge 5.56×45mm NATO 5.56×45mm NATO
Type Assault rifle Carbine
Action Gas-operated, rotating bolt (direct impingement) Gas-operated, rotating bolt
Weight 7.18 lbs (3.26 kg) (unloaded), 8.79 lb (4.0 kg) (loaded) 6.36 lb (2.88 kg) empty, 6.9 lb (3.1 kg) with 30 rounds
Manufacturer Colt Defense, Daewoo, FN Herstal, H & R Firearms, General Motors, Hydramatic Division, Elisco, U.S. Ordnance Colt Defense
Place of origin United States United States
Variants AR-15, M16A1, M16A2, M16A3, M16A4, XM16E1, M4, Mk12 M4A1, CQBR (Mk. 18 Mod 0)
Sights Iron or various optics Iron or various optics
Wars Vietnam War, Invasion of Grenada, Gulf War, Somali Civil War, Operation Deny Flight, Operation Joint Endeavor, Iraq War, War in Afghanistan (2001–present) War in Afghanistan (2001–present), War in Iraq (2003–2010), Colombian Armed Conflict, Operation Enduring Freedom, 2008 South Ossetia war
Length 39.5 in (1,000 mm) 33 in (840 mm) (stock extended), 29.75 in (756 mm) (stock retracted)
In service 1963–present 1994–present
Barrel Length 20 in (508 mm) 14.5 in (370 mm)
Effective range 550 meters (point target), 800 meters (area target) 500 m for a point target and 600 m for an area target
Muzzle velocity 3,110 ft/s (948 m/s) 2900 ft/sec (884 m/sec)
Rate of Fire 700–950 rounds/min cyclic 700–950 round/min cyclic
Feed system 20 or 30 round box magazine, Drum, Snail or other STANAG Magazines 30 round box magazine or other STANAG Magazines.

Contents: M16 Rifle vs M4 Carbine

edit History

The M16 is the replacement version of the M14, used by U.S. military forces in World War II and the Korean War. The emergence of the Russian AK-47 forced a redesign of the M14 to increase firepower and dependability, resulting in the adoption of the M16 during the Vietnam War. Development of the M16 required several iterations because of bullet design, firing modes, and structural reliability.

The M4 came about when the U.S. Pentagon began a competition to replace the M16 Rifle with a carbine design using a shorter barrel for close-quarter combat. Although M16 variants with shorter barrels were in widespread use, they were noisy, difficult to handle, and had poor accuracy. After several designs were presented, the Army took over the M4 Carbine development in 2009 and suggested changes in materials and firing action, replacing the impingement mode (like the M16) with a solely gas-operated mode. The M4 has been in widespread use by tactical forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and is scheduled to fully replace the M16 as standard issue by 2018.

edit Design

The M16 was designed as an assault rifle aimed at maximum firepower. The gas-operated direct impingement system uses a rotating bolt to strike a smaller caliber bullet (5.56x45mm) than what was used in the M14, allowing for higher magazine loads (more bullets) and faster rounds. The recoil was designed to be straight-line, for easier "stay on target" action. M16s could be switched from single-fire to semi-automatic and automatic modes, with several variants used by different branches and Special Forces.

The M4's design was based on shortening the barrel length without compromising long-range accuracy, faster firing action, capability of setting a three-shot pattern, and basic versatility for additional equipment (flash suppressors, silencer, grenade launchers, etc.). All factors were geared for close combat and what the Pentagon describes as "fluid tactical situations."

About 80% of the M4 is based on M16 parts, making these weapons somewhat interchangeable and reducing new manufacturing costs. Although the cartridge remains the same between the two, the jacketing and powder mix have been modified to increase firing speed and impact profile. Barrel length can be modified with an extendable stock. At present, other modifications to the M4 design are still in progress, responding to both current needs and anticipated future needs of the U.S. and NATO forces.

edit Cartridge

The 5.56x45mm cartridge developed for the M16 gave it a better range and higher accuracy than the larger-caliber bullet used in the M14 and [[AK-47 vs AR-15|AK-47. Its size gave it higher velocity with minimal recoil and created a flatter trajectory that improved accuracy.

The M4 uses the same cartridge, modified for greater impact at higher speeds. The modification is in response to current tactical situations where close combat is more common than in previous engagements, with most of combat occurring in battlegrounds with shorter sightlines (e.g., urban and mountain terrains). There was also greater need for suppressive power, basically the capacity to shoot faster with more accuracy, which the M4's design has tried to meet.

edit Barrel

The M16 has a standard barrel length of 39 inches (1 meter). At that length, it provides greater accuracy than the M14 or AK-47; however, the barrel is too long for close combat efficiency. Cut-down M16 barrels lose accuracy and create more flash, so a shorter carbine variant was needed to address current battlefield realities. The maximum range of an M16 is about 4,000 yards (1,200 meters), with an effective range of up to 3,200 yards (975 meters).

The M4 barrel measures 33 inches (840 mm) with the stock extended and just 29.75 inches (756 mm) with the stock retracted. The smaller barrel length allows for greater control in close quarters, not only for mobility, but also for firing. The barrel is easily interchangeable, a general design feature of the M4 aimed at making the weapon more versatile and easier to maintain in the field. The maximum range of an M16 is about 2,000 yards (600 meters), with an effective range of up to 1,700 yards (500 meters).

edit Action Type

The M16 is a rotating bolt rifle with a gas-operated direct impingement firing action. The M4 is similar, but it does not use impingement for its firing action. In this, it hews more closely to the AK-47 design in order to provide a more reliable firing action in field conditions.

edit Magazine

The M16 magazine is lightweight compared to that of other assault rifles. It is manufactured from stamped (or mold-pressed) aluminum and is weaker structurally than most other weapons' magazines, leading to more frequent failure. M16s hold 20 or 30 bullets each and can be replaced quickly, though anyone who will use the rifle will need training for some time to master the replacement process.

The M4 magazine is sturdier to reduce in-field failure rates when dealing with sub-optimal conditions and possibly frequent impacts with the ground or structures as soldiers advance or take cover. It holds 30 bullets and is somewhat easier to switch out than the M16's, but it does require some basic training for mastery.

edit Weight

The basic M16 weighs between 7 and 9 pounds (3.26 to 4.0 kg), though accessories such as suppressors, scopes, and grenade launchers can practically double that weight. The basic weight for the M4 is between 6 and 7 pounds (2.9 to 3.10 kg), and the accessories weigh less as well. Most of the weight lost in the M4 is related to the barrel and stock, not to the metal-based parts that make up the firing mechanisms.

edit Ergonomics

One advantage the M16 has is that the selector switch is easily reached and set without needing to take eyes off of a target. This lets the user switch from semi-automatic to automatic fire and back, but the switch's small size makes it difficult to use under stressful conditions. Left-handed users of the M16 complain that the design makes it difficult for them to field-strip it for maintenance.

The M4 has greater ergonomic efficiency in terms of selector/safety switch and maintenance. The selector switch is larger and easier to set without losing sight of targets, while the breakdown components for maintenance are relatively neutral, although still somewhat more favorable to right-handed users.

edit Dependability

The M16, like all weapon systems, started out with a reputation of being less reliable than its predecessor (the M14). Over time, most reliability issues were reduced to low-percentage events; however, the AK-47 has long been regarded as more reliable in field conditions (wet, sandy, dirty, etc.). One improvement the M16 provided was a much higher manufacturing standard that now gives the weapon a service life of 20,000 to 50,000 rounds or more, compared to other assault rifles that max out at between 8,000 and 25,000 rounds. A major factor in M16 maintenance is lubrication, for without consistent cleaning and oiling, the weapon's performance deteriorates noticeably, even in recent variants. On the upside, this is easy to manage in field conditions.

Although the M4 has not had as much extensive field use when compared to the M16 or the AK-47, it, too, showed some early reliability issues. The gas-piston system failed in several early variants, though the problem was traced to differences in manufacturing rather than intrinsic design flaws. With new iterations, the M4 quickly gained a reputation for reliability, both on the range and in field situations. Range tests now have the M4 firing at least 1,600 rounds before jamming, up from 800, while in field conditions, soldiers report almost no failures, with the ones that are reported often due to improper or overly-delayed maintenance.

edit Cost

In 2012, the government price of every new U.S. Army M16 was $673. That same year, the estimated cost of the M4 was about $243 more per unit, meaning that the M4 upgrade would cost $916 per carbine. Current estimates of the M4 cost place it at around $1,120 per weapon.

edit Controversy

When the Pentagon began a search for an M16 replacement, several designs were presented by manufacturers such as Colt, FN Herstel, Heckler & Koch, and Remington. Their prototypes and others were tested extensively as early as 1983, with several trials taking place up to 1994. That year, a single-source order for the Colt M4 was made, essentially closing down the competition. Although other similar weapons were still being tested around the world, the Pentagon backed Colt in what amounted to an exclusive contract.

Use of the Colt M4 began in combat conditions in 2001, but reports of frequent failures (mainly jamming) kept the overall approval rating of the weapon under 95%, at best. The early jamming issues were resolved in manufacturing, and in 2009, the Pentagon permitted other makers to begin manufacturing M4 weapons and accessories.

In 2004, Colt filed a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement on the term "M4" against Heckler & Koch and Bushmaster. Heckler & Koch settled out of court and changed their use of the term on a similar weapon, but in 2005, Bushmaster won the case as the court stated that "M4" had become a generic term.

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Comments: M16 Rifle vs M4 Carbine

Anonymous comments (4)

January 27, 2013, 1:12am

I perfer the M16A4 since I was able to engage a POINT Target at 843 yards using a T31 ACOG. For CQB and room clearing, she is a bit long, but that can be compensated for.

The M4 jams quite a lot more often than the M16A4 does. I personally never had my M16 jam on me. I took care of her though, and I've noticed that a lot of people who complain about the M16 are either talking about the OLD ones from Vietnam, are not in the military, or did not perform proper Weapon and Magazine Maintenance.

(It's not the armorers job to lube her guys, that task falls to the Marine or Soldier she is issued to. Take care of her and she will love you back.)

Using the M4A1, I experienced 7 Jams despite correct maintenance. 3 were on the Range, 4 were during other training. The Bolt Carrier does not have as far to travel, so it has less time to extract the round and chamber the next. If the mag spring is weak, it may not lift the next round high enough in time. 1 time I had the bolt lugs fail to lock and the armorer had to fix it. I'm thanking God I never had to carry the M4 into combat.

In closing, My beloved Acela (FN M16A4) brought me home and never let me down. Dear God, how I miss that rifle.

— 71.✗.✗.214
2

November 22, 2012, 3:47am

The M-4 and M-16 both have the same function so both suffer from the possibility of having foreign objects in the star chamber, barrel, magazine well, etc. Proper care and maintenance will prevent 99% of problems related to debris blockage of your weapon. I personally prefer the M-4 because of the shortened barrel and collapsable butt stock makes MOUT easier to conduct, increases shooter comfort, and it reduces the overall weight of the weapon.

— 70.✗.✗.112
-2

May 27, 2013, 2:52pm

M16 is not necessarily more accurate, in fact its generally less so because the shorter barrel is stiffer. However the 20 inch m16 has greater range and about double the fragmentation range firing the m855 round. The rifle length gas system is easier on the internals which is where increased reliability comes from

— 69.✗.✗.143
-5

October 15, 2012, 3:27pm

Even though the m16 has better accuracy i still think that the m4 is better because of all the problems that the m16 has like jaming or grime that getts into the chamber

— 165.✗.✗.32
-6

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