A competing rifle outperformed the Army’s favored M4A1 carbine in key firings during a competition last year before the service abruptly called off the tests and stuck with its gun, according to a new confidential report.
The report also says the Army changed the ammunition midstream to a round “tailored” for the M4A1 rifle. It quoted competing companies as saying the switch was unfair because they did not have enough time to fire the new ammo and redesign their rifles before the tests began.
Exactly how the eight challengers — and the M4 — performed in a shootout to replace the M4, a soldier’s most important personal defense, has been shrouded in secrecy.
But an “official use only report” by the Center for Naval Analyses shows that one of the eight unidentified weapons outperformed the M4 on reliability and on the number of rounds fired before the most common type of failures, or stoppages, occurred, according to data obtained by The Washington Times.
The Army did not respond to The Times. At the time, the Army explained the cancellation by saying none of the eight showed a huge improvement over the M4. In the past, the Army, with an inventory of 500,000 M4s, has defended the carbine as reliable, accurate and popular among the large majority of soldiers. It has been upgraded throughout the war on terror to improve its magazine, barrel and sights.
Congress pressed the Army to hold the shootout in the face of mounting criticism from soldiers that the M4 is unreliable. The M4 is perhaps the most deployed weapon system in the war on terror — essential firepower in combating the Taliban, al Qaeda and other insurgents at close range during raids and firefights.
The Times earlier this year published a two-part series on the M4 revealing that, as the war on terror began, the carbine flunked several reliability tests when subjected to rapid fire. The Times spoke with soldiers who had used the M4 in intense combat. They said the magazine is tinny and subject to jamming. The gun itself requires constant cleaning. One Green Beret said he and his colleagues, once in theater, rebuild the gun with better parts.
The CNA report shows that one competing gun outperformed all other competitors, including the M4, on some key tests. The results show there was a potentially better gun for soldiers.
“It was misleading for the Army to say none of the weapons passed the test,” said a U.S. official critical of how the Army buys small arms. “It was true, but it was extremely misleading. They set the requirements for the mean round between failure at around 3,000 rounds. That’s extremely high.”
He added: “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.”
Like the carbine competition, this study was demanded by Congress, where some members believe the Army is wedded to inferior guns and ammo.
The CNA report does not name the eight guns and producers, apparently to protect proprietary information.
The U.S. official knowledgeable about the report said gun “A” was the Army’s M4A1, an enhanced model of the basic M4.