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In 2011, a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Army announced that it was converting M4s to the commando version with a heavier barrel and automatic trigger firing.

Some of the problems uncovered in 2001 and 2002, such as stoppages or jamming, became evident in the conventional firearm, most infamously in the 2008 Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan in which nine U.S. troops lost their lives.

“Realistically speaking, there’s been loss of life that is unneeded because there was a dumbing-down of the weapon system,” said Scott Traudt, who advised the Army on how to improve the M4 a decade ago.

Today, he is a special adviser at Green Mountain Defense Industries of Strafford, Vt., a Colt competitor that is manufacturing a new rifle that it hopes to sell to special operations.

Replaced by SCAR

In an independent overall survey of soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan, 20 percent reported that the M4 jammed during battle, and one-fifth of those said the stoppages made a “large impact.”

Faced with inaction by the Pentagon, soldiers such as Warrant Officer Kramer have taken matters into their own hands, even at the risk of discipline.

“There are enhancements you can do to your weapon to bring that reliability level up. While we’re not authorized to change our weapon or modify them in any manner, obviously there are some guys out there, including myself, we’ll add some things to our guns to bring that reliability level up,” he told The Times. “I’d rather face six of my peers in a court martial versus being 6 feet down.”

The M4 has brought consistent complaints about at least three shortfalls: At a 250-yard effective-kill distance, it lacks range; its 5.56 mm round lacks killing power; and the gun requires constant maintenance — cleaning and lubricating — in sandy conditions or is prone to jamming. Soldiers also complain that the magazine dents easily and the springs break.

The short-barreled weapon was suited for house-to-house fighting in Iraq. But in Afghanistan, its lack of range meant that the Taliban could operate at a safe distance.

Mr. Traudt said there are M4 failures in battle that do not get publicized. The fact that M4s broke down at Wanat was not known publicly until Army historians chronicled the battle and released their narrative in 2010. Even the general in charge of buying the gun said he had not heard of the problems until the press reported on the Army history.

There does not appear to be a comprehensive assessment of the M4 by any oversight agency — even though the weapon is the ground warrior’s most critical asset. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditor, has not assessed the M4 since it entered service in the mid-1990s. Likewise, the Pentagon’s top operational tester has not conducted live-fire tests of the M4 or the commando M4A1.

Alarmed after the 2001 test, SoCom developed its own gun, the Special Operations Forces Assault Rifle (SCAR), and handed it out to Army Rangers, Green Berets and Navy SEALs. Delta Force, the Army’s elite counterterrorism unit, bought a German-designed rifle. Sources say SoCom is not entirely happy with either gun and still relies on the M4A1.

“The 5.56 [caliber] SCAR was a failure from the viewpoint of the men,” said Ryan Zinke, a former member of SEAL Team 6, the elite terrorist-hunting unit.

A questionable standard

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