Somewhere, a cynical Devil Dog is saying that this is just to take a pound off so that maybe a female Marine can pass IOC one of these days. But the Marines are finally joining the Army in preferring the M4 to theM16 for infantry units.
According to Military Times and a range of Marines that they interviewed, the momentum has been building for this change for some time. Supposedly, the decision paper is on Commandant Joseph Dunford’s desk for his approval, which is expected. Military Times:
With the endorsement of several major commands already supporting the switch — including Marine Corps Combat Development Command; Combat Development and Integration; Plans, Policies and Operations; Marine Corps Systems Command; and Installations and Logistics — final word is possible in weeks or months.
“The proposal to replace the M16A4 with the M4 within infantry battalions is currently under consideration at Headquarters Marine Corps,” according to a jointly written response from the commands provided by Maj. Anton Semelroth, a Marine spokesman in Quantico, Virginia.
The change would be welcomed by infantrymen who say the M16A4 was too long and unwieldy for close-quarters battle in Iraq or vehicle-borne operations in Afghanistan. They tout the M4 for its weight savings, improved mobility and collapsible butt stock, allowing the rifle to be tailored for smaller Marines or those wearing body armor.
“I would have to say my gut reaction is it’s the right choice and will do a lot of good for the guys in the infantry,” said Sgt. Nathan West, an explosive ordnance technician with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, who carried an M4 on dismounted patrols and vehicle-borne operations during two deployments to Afghanistan as an anti-tank missileman.
We’ll have a couple more pull quotes, but (especially if you are a Marine) go Read The Whole Thing™.
Many other Marines have observed that the drawbacks of the longer M16A4 aren’t compensated for by the limited benefits of the longer barrel. For example, when using modern optics, the 5.5″ longer sight radius, a great accuracy advantage of the A4’s extra barrel length, is irrelevant.
No fight illustrated the need for a smaller primary weapon during ferocious close-quarters combat better than Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, when Marines fought to wrest control of Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents, sometimes going hand-to-hand.
Rounding corners and getting on target in small rooms was difficult, leading to use of a tactic called “short-stocking,” when a Marine places his rifle stock over his shoulder – instead of securely against the chest and cants his weapon45-degrees so he can still use his optics. It helps in maneuvering, but compromises recoil management and follow-up shots.
“We were taught to short stock around tight corners when we got to our platoon for deployment — it was something unofficial,” said Ryan Innis, a former scout sniper with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, who left the service as a sergeant in 2013 after serving on the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s anti-piracy raid force near East Africa.
Innis trained for shipboard operations — the closest of close-quarters combat — and said he was fortunate to be issued the M4 because the weapon’s shorter length proved better for tight spaces.
When the weapon’s not quite right, the man adapts. It’s very unlikely that the doomed insurgents who stood against the Marines’ assault on Fallujah in 2004 noticed that the Marines were employing their firearms sub-optimally
It’s instructive to remember the history of CT and hostage rescue units here. Originally (1970s-80s) these elements cleared buildings and linear targets (like an airplane, train car or bus) strictly with handguns. The 1980s found these units experimenting with compact submachine guns (like the MP5) that could combine superior accuracy at close pistol ranges with handiness nearly as good as the pistol. And after Grenada, the pistol-caliber weapon’s lack of range and versatility put it into eclipse, relative to the compact rifle-caliber carbine.
The question that remained was, could the carbine, evolved from the very limited XM177 / CAR-15 series “submachine gun,” really replace the full-length assault rifle? It was optics that moved the answer of that question from “no” to “yes.”
The Marines like the accuracy of their M4s.
[Sgt. West:] “Anything that takes weight off and keeps guys from getting tired so they are more aware of things around them is good. It is just a little less weight and just as effective of a weapon.”
That is what the Marine Corps found when it began testing the ballistics of its infantry rifles and carbines using their improved M318 Mod 0 Special Operations Science and Technology round.
“The Marine Corps conducted an evaluation of its individual weapons (M4, M27 and M16A4), with specific focus on comparing accuracy, shift of impact and trajectory with improved ammunition, and determined the M4’s overall performance compares favorably with that of the M27 IAR, the most accurate weapon in the squad,” according to the written responses provided by [Marine spox Maj. Anton] Semelroth.
The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle is, you will remember, an HK 416 variant with a free-floated barrel and a tuned trigger. The Marines will also get rid of the select M16A4s being used as designated marksman weapons under the term Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle, by assigning the designated marksman role, optionally, to the auto rifle gunner already carrying an M27 for the squad auto rifle role.
Going to the M4 for infantrymen takes a pound of weight and 10″ of overall length off of every Marine grunt. The M4s will come from Marine stocks without any need for new purchases (all Marines may be riflemen, but only 17,000 are Riflemen by MOS and job assignment), and the M16A4s will be available to be assigned to other Marine troops.
The Times also got comments from Larry Vickers, who should need no introduction. Vickers is strongly supportive of this new intitiative.
Two things we can predict about Marine riflemen: someday soon, the saltier ones will be reminiscing about the “good ol’ M16A4” to their New Guys. And none of them is going to miss “short-stocking.”