Letters 7/07/2011

July 7, 2011
A few readers recall the design flaws of the M16 and M4 weapons carried by Army infantry. And those who have been in the Army don’t expect great decisions on the infantry’s next weapon

Weapons and safety audits
A few readers recall the design flaws of the M16 and M4 weapons carried by Army infantry. And those who have been in the Army don’t expect great decisions on the infantry’s next weapon. Meanwhile, a safety coordinator in a plant gets some advice on using local safety councils and OSHA.

This is my rifle
I was interested to read that the U. S. military plans to hold a design competition for a new carbine to replace the M4 (“The New Gun,” May 19). As usual, our military masterminds have started with the wrong design criteria. Most of our allies use bullpup rifles that are just as short and handy as carbines, but have full-length barrels, which make them more powerful, more accurate, and more effective. The main problem with the M4 is that it’s a carbine. So replacing it with another carbine does not solve the main problem, but the M4’s other problems camouflage this fact.

For example, the M4 is unreliable in sandy environments, which leads many people to think that a more grit-tolerant mechanism would be preferable. In fact, it would only create a more-reliable obsolete weapon.

Similarly, many people point out that the 5.56-mm cartridge is not designed for the M4’s short (14-in.) barrel, which leads them to design more-suitable, less-ambitious, and lower-velocity cartridges. These are generally based on the old Soviet short round, which the Russians abandoned 30 years ago because it was inferior to 5.56-mm cartridges. I am no fan of the 5.56, but going back to 1940s technology is not the answer.

Another problem with the M4 is that it is popular with many soldiers who have not used it in combat. But those who have fired the M4 at enemies and hit them complain that it lacks stopping power and does prevent wounded enemy troops from shooting back. Similarly, the M1 carbine was popular with rear-echelon troops in World War II, but combat troops found the low-powered, low-velocity carbine cartridges made it much less effective than the M1 rifle. In Korea, troops found that carbine bullets often failed to penetrate heavy winter clothing worn by Chinese soldiers.

The M4 is not quite that wimpy, but the 21st century is full of Kevlar, and every year helmets and body armor get better, less expensive, and more available. Even when used against an unarmored enemy, however, the M4’s slower bullets have less kinetic energy and do not tumble and fragment as much as the same bullets fired from longer barrels.

If only our British friends were not too polite to point out how stupid we are for using carbines of any sort. Bullpup rifles are always better. Short rifles do not need to have short barrels. I should also point out that 53 years after the 5.56-mm cartridge was invented, it is relatively easy to design a cartridge with a higher velocity and more power that produces less recoil and is better in every way.

Incidentally, for a an objective analysis of early problems with the M16 rifle read The Great Rifle Controversy by Edward Ezell, the late director of the Smithsonian’s firearms museum. He points out that Ordnance Department officials originally issued M16s without cleaning equipment and told soldiers not to clean them. Experienced soldiers know that any weapon will eventually stop working if it’s never cleaned. Unfortunately, the average American soldier in Vietnam was only 19 years old. I suspect the Ordnance Department wanted to make their own pet project, an impractical fully automatic version of the M14, look better by comparison. Not surprisingly, the Ordnance Department was abolished.

Russell W. Faulkner

When I entered basic training in 1972, I had heard stories about how frequently M-16s malfunctioned. But I guess all the bugs had been worked out by the time I had mine. I loved it. It was lightweight, reliable, and accurate — I had no trouble dropping 300-m targets. And on the rare occasions when I got to fire it on full auto, it was awesome.
The only real complaint some guys had was that it ejected spent cartridges to the right. So if you were left-handed and shooting upright (usually in a foxhole), hot shells would often hit you in the back of the head, and roll down your neck and under your shirt. Lots of guys still have the scars to prove it. I’m left-handed, but I fire a rifle right-handed. So, fortunately, I didn’t have this problem.

However, I had heard that the Army required manufacturers to produce a certain number of weapons that would eject shells to the left, thereby solving the problem for southpaws. But I never knew anyone who even saw one. So either this rumor was false, or you really had to know somebody to get one. If so, that person probably had a desk job and rarely, if ever, fired their weapon. At least that’s what I’d expect when it comes to the Army.

Allan Hitchcox

Many of the M16s’ problem were due to the “whiz kids” brought into the Dept. of Defense by Robert McNamara. They overrode standard military procurement and testing procedures to force the new weapon into the field. Many old experts at the Army’s main armory objected to shortcutting gun and ammunition testing, but were overruled by MBA “experts” in the DoD.

A fair and open competition should be a good thing.

Mark Charles

Safety tips
I was just reading an article (“Lockout/Tagout: When and How?” April 19) that suggested asking you for safety advice. Thank you for the opportunity. I am an apprentice safety coordinator in our facility. I have Safety Team meetings twice a month, and host a Safety Awareness walk each week with two “volunteers” from the facility. I would love some suggestions that might help us out with these two tasks to make them more successful in increasing safety Awareness.

Julie Stevens

Here are a few suggestions:
1. Have a 10-hr OSHA class for all of your employees. I regularly teach this class for the Minnesota Safety Council and for companies that want to have good safety programs. A few years ago, I was one of the instructors for a company in North Dakota where we each ran a 10-hr class each day, 30 to 35 people in each class. We taught over 850 people that week all about OSHA.
2. I regularly teach loss-control and machine-guarding classes. Unless your volunteers have been trained in safety, they will not recognize a hazardous condition even if it bit them in the leg.
3. Invite OSHA to your facilities to conduct a safety walk-through. I would expect OSHA to offer the same services in Kentucky. When OSHA does its walk-through, they will give you a reasonable time frame to correct problems they find before issuing citations. The walk-througths are free, so there is absolutely no reason not to use them. I conduct similar services for my clients, but I charge a fee.
4. The Minnesota Safety Council offers many other classes also, all very good. You may want to go on the internet to see what classes they offer. You could also contact them for a class catalog.

These suggestions will work in Minnesota and I hope elsewhere as well. —Lanny Berke

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