The Colt Armalite AR15 M16, to give its full title, has been the U.S military's main assault rifle in one version or another since it was officially adopted by them in 1967.

The M16 was actually designed more than ten years earlier by master gunsmith Eugene Stoner who worked as chief engineer for  Aramlite,  which at the time was a division of the Fairchild Airplane Corporation.


Most historians hold Eugene Stoner in high regard, as one of the United States most successful military firearms designers of the 20th century.  He is subsequently regarded as one of the best, amongst other master gunsmiths such as Samuel Colt, Messrs Smith & Wesson, John Moses Browning, John Garand, Hiram Stevens Maxim and not forgetting Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Eugene Morrison Stoner: 1922 - 1997

Stoner was approached by the U.S military in the mid 1950's and asked to design a light assault rifle with a high velocity .22 caliber.  Stoner was already developing a new assault rifle that he designated the AR10, except that it was chambered for a 7.62mm cartridge.  Shown below is Stoners AR10 that he modified to accept the new caliber and he designated it the AR15 XM16E1.  The prefix ' X ' meaning the rifle was in experimental stage.

So upon the U.S military's request for a new assault rifle, Armalite contacted the ammunition and firearms makers of Remington  with reference to designing a new military cartridge for the AR15 XM16E1.  Remington  came up with a design that was based on their existing .222 and .222 Magnum hunting cartridges.  They gave it the designation  of .223 the metric size being 5.56x45mm. A magazine was made to accept the newly designed cartridges and the gun was ready for military testing.

In 1956 the AR15 XM16E1 was submitted for military assessment at ATC Aberdeen Test Center, the U.S military's weapons proving ground, situated in Hartford County, Maryland.  However when the U.S military came to choose between this new assault rifle and the Springfield 7.62mm M14, they put the AR15 XM16E1 on hold in favor of the Springfield.


The excellent Springfield M14 rifle had selectable single shot or full automatic rates of fire, it was robust, very powerful, but it was heavy to carry.  It was actually designed and based on the old M1 Garand self loading rifle that saw service with the Marines in WWII.   The M14 is still in service with different units of the US military to this day as a long range rifle.

Below is shown an image of this excellent Springfield M14 automatic rifle.

Armalite were not happy bunnies and in 1959 three years after the U.S military's rejection they decided not to pursue any more development with the gun.  They subsequently washed their hands of it by selling all their  AR rifles and experimental models, manufacturing rights and its patents to the well established firearms company of Colt.

Colt had a lot of experience in dealing with the military and was determined to sell them the AR15 XM16E1.  Later on in 1962 Colt put on a presentation to the U.S military of the same gun they rejected several years before, stating they had overlooked the fact that it had low recoil, that it was light weight, that it had greater accuracy with zero maintenance and that it was a great modern design whilst the M14 was heavy at 11½ lbs, cumbersome, outdated, and required more maintenance.

All the sales pitch paid off and the U.S Army initially bought one thousand Colt AR15 XM16E1 rifles, designating the rifle simply as the M16A1, and immediately shipped them off to the South Vietnamese army for extensive field trials and live combat usage.

It was not long before there was a demand for more of these new " black  plastic " rifles ( referring to the shoulder stock and front grip ) the feedback was all very positive, the news reached the U.S military.  At about the same time there were production problems surfacing with the Springfield M14 rifle, this was not good as the troubles in Vietnam were escalating.


A contract with the military is a great prospect for any arms manufacturers as the military will purchase weapons from them in multiples of ten thousand at a time, equalling many millions upon millions of dollars.  The biggest most profitable industries in the world both past and present are the arms dealers.

The solution was staring them in the face, so they cancelled the M14 order and placed a supply on demand order with Colt for the immediate production of no less than 85,000 rifles, with a further 19,000 for the US Air Force.


The M14 was heavy at 11½ lbs and a soldier was also weighed down with the ammunition he had to carry as well as the rest of his kit.  This was one of the main deciding factors to replace it for the M16 that was 3½ lb lighter.  The ammunition was also lighter and hence a soldier could carry more of it.

Full scale war with Vietnam in 1966 urged the U.S military to order a further 840,000 M16's and a few months alter in 1967 the US military finally decided to officially adopt the rifle as the M16A1.

As I have stated on my page about the AK47, the M16 was not faring too well when it went over to Vietnam with the GI's.  It was stated that the American GI's actually preferred the AK47 over their M16's due to the fact that the AK47 hardly ever jammed, if at all. Mikhail Kalashnikov inventor of the AK47 stated "American soldiers would throw away their M-16s and grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers."

It was stated by the U.S military that the M16's had been issued with the wrong cartridges, in that the propellant was fouling up the guns mechanism, meaning it had to be cleaned after every 20 or so rounds fired.

The story goes that U.S Army replaced the originally specified DuPont IMR-4320  powder with standard military Ball  powder, as used in all of the larger 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition.  Worst of all though, was that the American G.I's had not been issued with rifle cleaning kits, as the M16 was said by Colt  to be maintenance free...and indeed it probably would have been with the right propellant.

When these reports got back to the U.S military chiefs in the States, the ammunition issue was immediately resolved with the correct powder and cleaning kits were issued to all the G.I's along with a little comic book telling them how to correctly go about cleaning their rifles.

All this is amazing that the basic needs for a soldiers weapon were not initially thoroughly inspected, i.e. the issue of the right ammo and a cleaning kit! and also that they were not trained how to maintain their weapons before being sent out to fight in that hell.

All M16's from 1970 onwards were issued with a cleaning kit, the cleaning kit was actually secreted within the rifles shoulder stock, so that it couldn't be lost.  Also the standard 20 round magazine that the M16 was originally issued with was changed for a 30 round magazine, which had been the default amount for the AK47.

Another improvement was the chrome plating of several integral parts of the M16 to reduce fouling and corrosion that was still bugging the rifle.  Had I been in charge of the armed forces at that time, I would have adopted the M14 again and immediately discontinued the unreliable M16.  I keep using this cliché when I write these webpage's about firearms...if it works then don't fix or change it.

However the U.S military persevered, try try and try again  with it and eventually it became a half decent assault rifle and earned some respect from the troops.  I suppose with any new design there will always be teething troubles and when they are ironed out then maybe a good weapon will happened with the M16.  The M16 actually ended up replacing all other rifles in the US military's arsenal.


The M16 was built using state of the art technology, it was a very sleek and aerodynamic looking rifle.  It was made to very high tolerances, it utilized plastic and light alloys making it very light at just under 8 lbs, it also had low recoil and it was very accurate.

The fire selection mode was unusual in that it didn't offer full automatic fire but rather single shot semi-auto mode or three round burst only.  As the M16 was designed around accuracy, it was deemed unnecessary to have full auto fire that in all due respect throws pin-point accuracy out by a wide margin.

The M16 fires the 5.56x45mm cartridge at a velocity of over 3100 feet per second, this is quite a high velocity for an assault rifle as many other guns of this type fired bullets at under 2,500 feet per second.


The velocity of the M16's bullet at 3,120 f.p.s was nearly 900 f.p.s faster than Russian 7.62mm bullet that fired at 2,250 f.p.s

The actual bullet has the same diameter as the small and puny .22 cal but with a larger cartridge case.  It was realised that a small projectile travelling at much higher velocity causes a lot of hydrostatic shock to a target meaning an instant kill.

A smaller bullet travelling at high velocity is also more accurate as the bullets trajectory is very flat. Below is shown the 5.56x45mm cartridge and the bullet head all at about actual size...quite small aren't they!..but looks can be deceiving!


The 5.56mm (.223in) delivers all of its energy upon contact with the target and hence has limited penetration properties.  The small bullet has difficulty penetrating a brick wall, whereas a 7.62mm bullet goes through, but the 5.56mm is infinitely more accurate and it was accuracy that the US military wanted.

The 5.56mm bullet may not have very good penetration properties against brick walls and logs etc but when it hits the target it was designed for...the human torso its a different story.

At 200 yards the bullet penetrates thick battle dress and heavy padding easily and creates massive trauma by hydrostatic and radial shock waves throughout the torso. This all equals to an instant kill on the unfortunate soldier who gets hit by it, the military knew this ballistic fact and hence pursued the smaller caliber.


Today, almost every weapons manufacture now makes rifles chambered for the same caliber as the M16 pioneered, even the Russians with their love of the larger 7.62mm made their line of AK100 series assault rifles the same caliber 5.56x45mm.  Obviously, gruesome reports from the battlefield gave testimony to the smaller but higher velocity bullets killing potential over that of the larger comparatively slower bullet.

A great design feature that also aided accuracy was in the shape of the shoulder stock, the top of it was exactly perpendicular to the receiver, hence the recoil shock followed the line and went straight back.

A rifle that has a curve or bend in the stock however, will kick up more as the recoil shock follows the curve.  This was one of the secrets of the M16's accuracy.

Compared to the M14 seen below, we can see the difference that the straight shoulder stock presents to the curved one.

The M16 has found its way into many armies around the world who adopted it because it was light and accurate.  The M16 and its variants have been produced in numbers now set to exceed 8 million units, this makes the M16 the highest production assault rifle chambered for the 5.56x45mm caliber.


Eight million units is a large amount but the biggest production number of any weapon has to go to the venerable old AK47, its production figures now exceed 100 million units worldwide and several billion bullets have been made for it.  Stalin used to say " Quantity has a quality all of its own " he was right of course as all wars are wars of attrition.


Around 1995 the U.S special forces requested a shorter version of the M16 and Colt responded by developing the M4 carbine.  The M4 became very popular with special forces and slowly the word got out to all other military personnel about this new variation that was even better.


The M4 carbine was actually an slightly upgraded Colt Commando, image shown below, that Colt actually had produced in the 1960's, but nobody was interested in it at the they just shelved it.

Below, this soldier is about to fire his M4, it is also equipped with the M203 grenade launcher that clamps on underneath the barrel.  The M4 is very comfortable to fire, exceedingly accurate up to 400 yards and the small bullets high velocity is a one shot kill system.

The M4 carbine proved to be so good, being highly manoeuvrable and easy to bring to aim on target that the M16 is now being completely phased out to be replaced by it.  In fact the majority of all U.S soldiers now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are equipped with the M4.

Even though the M4 is a more compact version of the M16 it still fires the same 5.56x45mm cartridge, so there has been no compromise to the guns power or accuracy.  The M4 in keeping with M16 tradition also has the straight back shoulder stock, although on the M4 this is an extendable four position affair.


The extendable shoulder stock was originally designed around 1965 by Robert E. Roy, explicitly for the Colt Commando  carbine of which the M4 has a very close resemblance..

The M4 is incredibly light at just over 6¼ lbs empty and just under 3 feet long with the shoulder stock fully extended.

Amongst the transformation from the M16 to the M4 the carry handle was replaced with a scope rail, this scope rail will allow the attachment of telescopic sights or even iron sights that clamp onto it.  This was a welcomed level of customization that offered modifications depending on the operation that the soldier or special forces soldier was going to carry out.

The scope rail is extended to the front stock, the sides and underneath it as well.  The choice of several attachments can then be clamped on, in this case a front grip has been attached to give the shooter even more support and to help quantify his accuracy over longer distance appears that with these additions the accuracy of what was already a very accurate weapon has been improved..

The M4 can also fire fully automatic fire and is not limited to the three round burst that the M16 had.  The M4 has also got an extensive list of accessories for it, all of which can even be bought commercially by the private M4 enthusiast, a sample of which is shown below...

"Now lets see...I want the lightest extendable stock, rubberized pistol grip, rubberized front grip, suppressor, torch, laser pointer, ACOG sights, 100 round C-Mag, chromed and polished trigger mechanism and can I have it painted in blue and grey tiger stripe cammo too please?  oh and don't forget the cleaning kit"

Several special force operatives around the world including the British S.A.S actually prefer the M4 over the British SA80 assault rifle, saying that it is a far more superior weapons system that they can depend on.

So it seems that with the M4 the M16 rifle that it derived from has finally reached the status of perfection that it yearned for all those years ago in the Vietnam war era.  Either way, the M16 has served soldiers around the world and has just as much a following amongst its fans as the AK47 enjoys.


I am not too sure about a Hello kitty  pink and white one, like this real custom painted M4...

Or below a pretty in pink with flowers Colt AR15 M16, although I'm sure the color's are  nice but its like making a cammo jacket out of a high visibility vest...

Seriously though, if I had the choice between an AK47, with its half decent 7.62mm firepower, extreme reliability but being a chunky piece of metal, which rattles, and is not very accurate...against the Colt M4, that is not as powerful, not as robust, maybe not as reliable but is extremely accurate.

Then I would choose the M4 and pick off the targets at longer range before they got close enough too spray and prey with their AK47's.  Either that or well...that Springfield M14 still holds a lot of attraction.




Page created August 7th 2011