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The M4 carbine’s Iraq-Afghanistan history is replete with spotty tests and performance, but also with praise from a devoted cadre who took it to war. The M4, a lighter, shorter-range version of the M16 rifle, is generally popular among the majority of combat-savvy soldiers who completed questionnaires, Army surveys show.

The Times interviewed two active-duty special operations troops who noted flaws but expressed love for the Colt-developed gun.

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“The reality for all armies is that governments cannot afford to purchase a perfect assault rifle. It is simply cost-prohibitive,” said an Army Green Beret who is not authorized to speak on the record. “For its cost, I consider the M4 to be an amazing assault rifle. Between the M16 and M4, I’ve carried weapons from that family for nearly 30 years and would not trade them for any other fielded families of assault rifles.”

A Marine commando who served in Afghanistan praised the firearm but noted that it requires constant cleaning or becomes vulnerable to jamming. “The first thing you do back at camp is clean the gun,” he said.

Mr. Zinke, the former SEAL, said the M4A1 improved as its flaws were worked out.

“The M4 has become the standard special forces weapon system,” said Mr. Zinke. “The rail system has greatly improved over time and can easily accommodate advances in optics, illumination and targeting. The 5.56 mm M4 provides an appropriate trade-off between range and firepower. Improvements and diversity in ammunition types has also improved its versatility.”

Mr. Traudt, of Green Mountain Defense, said the military paid his company a decade ago for ideas for fixing the M4. He produced his company’s product, a 2001 technical report titled “Carbine extended life barrel and selected reliability improvement components identification.”

“The M4s were substandard,” he said. “The Army paid us to find a way to improve them, improve them cheaply with a little bit of extra engineering and metallurgical changes to make a gun that was markedly more reliable than the Colt weapon. The Army took our advice and did nothing with it.”

‘It’s virtually useless’

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, an artillery officer who earned the Silver Star in Vietnam, is a prominent M4 critic.

He said its 5.56-caliber bullet is too small and the gas-piston firing system is prone to stoppage. He said better weapons — the German Heckler-Koch G36 and Russian AK-74 (a version of the venerable AK-47) — use superior firing systems.

“Frankly, this whole thing is scandalous,” Gen. Scales said. “We send soldiers into close combat with lousy weapons and we’ve done it since World War II and nobody complains. It’s a national outrage.

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