First of two parts
Army Senior Warrant Officer Russton B. Kramer, a 20-year Green Beret, has learned that if you want to improve your chances to survive, it’s best to personally make modifications to the Army’s primary rifle — the M4 carbine.
Warrant Officer Kramer has been dropped into some of the most ferocious battles in the war on terrorism, from hunting Islamists in the mountains of northern Iraq to disrupting Taliban opium dealers in dusty southern Afghanistan. He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in Operation Viking Hammer to crush the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq.
The warrant officer said he and fellow Special Forces soldiers have a trick to maintain the M4A1 — the commando version: They break the rules and buy off-the-shelf triggers and other components and overhaul the weapon themselves.
“The reliability is not there,” Warrant Officer Kramer said of the standard-issue model. “I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would.”
Documents obtained by The Washington Times show the Pentagon was warned before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that the iterations of the M4 carbine were flawed and might jam or fail, especially in the harsh desert conditions that both wars inflicted.
U.S. Special Operations Command in 2001 issued a damning private report that said the M4A1 was fundamentally flawed because the gun failed when called on to unleash rapid firing.
In 2002, an internal report from the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey said the M4A1 was prone to overheating and “catastrophic barrel failure,” according to a copy obtained by The Times.
The test findings also carried ramifications for the regular Army. By 2002, soldiers were carrying thousands of the conventional, light-barrel M4, of which the service ultimately would buy nearly 500,000 and send them into long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The M4, at times, has been called upon to perform the same kind of rapid fire as the M4A1.
Colt Defense LLC of Hartford, Conn., which lost exclusive M4 design rights in 2009, has steadfastly defended the rifle through years of controversy. The Army contract went to another manufacturer last year.
Colt did not respond to requests for comment.
The gun manufacturer’s website states that “throughout the world today, the Colt’s M4 reliability, performance and accuracy provide joint coalition forces with the confidence required to accomplish any mission. Designed specifically for lightweight mobility, speed of target acquisition, and potent firepower capability, the M4 delivers. Proven in military combat operations all over the world, it is in a class by itself as a first rate combat weapon system.”
Colt’s monopoly on the Army’s weapon ended in February 2013, when the service awarded the M4 contract to FN Herstal, a global firearms manufacturer owned by Belgium’s regional Walloon government and the operator of a plant in South Carolina.
Colt had a good run. Since the mid-1990s, the Army has spent $600 million to buy more than a half-million carbines.
Critics say the SoCom and Army reports should have prompted the Army to pursue a better design in the early 2000s. The Army periodically improved the rifle, but did not conduct a comprehensive upgrade until a senator pressured the top brass years later.