M4 Debate Fires Up

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I wanted to draw our readers attention to an article we posted this morning over at the main Military.com news site about a drive in the Senate to force the Army into a competition for a new standard-issue carbine.

I had a long conversation with a top aide to Sen. Tom Coburn whos concerned over our and Army Times coverage of failings in the M4. Its not so much that the M4 is a bad weapon its just that there are better weapons out there that could be fielded just as easily.

Coburn - a medical doctor and relative newbie to the Senate - wrote a letter to the Army April 12 faxing a copy to the office of Acting Secretary Pete Geren on April 17 requesting that the service hold a competition for a new rifle. If the M4 wins out, the aide said, so be it. But it makes no sense to the first-term senator that HK416, SCAR and other qualified carbines (event he XM8) are just rejected out of hand.

Coburn has no weapons manufacturers in his state, so its not for parochial interests hes insisting on the competition. It seems to be one of those rare occasions when a lawmaker is taking on an issue that just makes sense and helps the warfighter and isn't geared toward creating jobs in his state.

Heres the full text of the letter to Sec. Geren:

The Honorable Mr. Peter GerenSecretary of the Army101 Army PentagonWashington, DC 20310-0101

Dear Mr. Secretary,

I am concerned with the Armys plans to procure nearly half a million new rifles outside of any competitive procurement process.

I understand that the Army decided to procure M4 Carbines in the early 1990s to fill the gap between the M16 and 9mm pistol. At that time the Army specifically framed the requirement as the Required Operational Capability (ROC) for the M4 Carbine. M4 is a trademark name owned by Colt. Is it standard practice in Army acquisition to tie a requirement to a trademarked product?

I am certain that we can all agree that Americas soldiers should have the best technology in their hands. There is nothing more important to a soldier than their rifle, and there is simply no excuse for not providing our soldiers the best weapon not just a weapon that is good enough. Unfortunately, considering the long standing reliability and lethality problems with the M-16 design, of which the M4 is based, I am afraid that our troops in combat might not have the best weapon.

In the years following the Armys last Requirements Document, a number of manufacturers have researched, tested, and fielded weapons which, by all accounts, appear to provide significantly improved reliability. To fail to allow a free and open competition of these operational weapons is unacceptable.

I would like to see the results of the surveys you have conducted in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan. Please include our soldiers accounts of malfunctions, assessments of M4 reliability and how the Army is addressing those reliability concerns.

I believe the Army needs to rapidly revise its rifle and carbine requirements. Free and open competition will give our troops the best rifle in the world. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Tom Coburn

United States Senator

The Army has yet to respond to Coburns letter and has in the past been pretty dismissive of criticism about the M4. Its understandable that the Army would shrug off negative stories from journalists and even some of its special operators who say the M4 isnt the best weapon out there they have big fish to fry with a war going on, including fleets of new armored vehicles, paying for the surge and Walter Reed-esque patient care issues. But when a senator gets involved someone who has his hands on the purse strings the Army might just take it a little more seriously.

Well be sure to update our readers on this issue as it develops.

-- Christian

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