Pressure Mounts to Compete the M4

In the continuing debate over whether the current version of the M4 carbine should be replaced, some lawmakers are keeping pressure on the Army to take another look at their standard-issued rifle.pointing-soldier-web.jpg

In a series of letters to top Army officials, Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who has no small arms makers in his state, asked a simple question to the new, acting Army secretary Pete Geren: Is the M4 the best rifle in the world?

The letter, written May 16, is the latest attempt by the first-term Senator to force the Army to look at new rifle technologies that could make life a lot easier for Soldiers and other troops who use the compact M4 as their primary weapon. Coburn does not sit on any armed service-related committees.

As most DT readers already know, the M4 in its current state uses a gas-operated system to eject a spent round and load another. That system without going into the minute details is said to be prone to malfunctions unless it is meticulously cleaned. Thats hard to do in harsh, talcum-sand environments like Iraq and Afghanistan and can be extremely time consuming.

New (at least in infantry weapons) gas-piston operating system designs are much less prone to fouling, operators say, and can be retrofitted to current weapons at relatively low cost.

The congressional pressure is mounting, a Senate source tells Defense Tech, to withhold funds in the 2008 Defense Authorization bill to buy $375 million in M4s for new Army Brigade Combat Teams from Colt Defense until the Army holds an evaluation of these new rifle systems. Candidate weapons include the FN-made SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle, the HK 416 (which is popular with special operations forces) and Colts gas-piston version of the M4, appropriately dubbed the M5.

Competition-backers in the Senate arent optimistic that they can insert language into the budget markup, but are planning to take their argument to the floor of the Senate when the final bill comes up for a vote. The senate source said Air/Land forces subcommittee chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), is resisting the competition bill language.

Colt Defense is based in West Hartford, Conn.

The Army has also resisted changing course on the M4, saying back in late March that the carbine has been improved numerous times and employs the most current technology available on any rifle/carbine in general use today.

That seems to be at odds with what the Armys most elite soldiers (and other special ops forces, for that matter) really want. But as the body armor debate heats back up again and lawmakers show a greater willingness to have the services explore and pay for new approaches to everyday equipment, well see if the Army takes another look at the Soldiers most important piece of equipment.

-- Christian

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