By Dan Shea
Considering the subject matter of some of this issue, in particular Jim Schatz’s provocative essay on what must be changed in our weapon systems (starting on page 81), I would like to present a couple of excerpts from the book “Misfire: The History of How America’s Small Arms Have Failed Our Military” by William H. Hallahan (Scribners ISBN 0-684-19359-0). This issue of SAR is being handed out at the NDIA Small Conference, as well as at Eurosatory and Small Arms Review East, and, we would like all of our readers to obtain a copy of “Misfire” if they can beg, borrow or steal a copy and read it. We hope it helps inspire them to increasingly consider the troops in the field in every aspect of their design, presentation, testing and procurement of the essentials they need. The majority of the small arms industry reads this magazine, as do many historians, museums, end users and shooters, and we get so much feedback stating that the situation has clearly reached a point where the US needs to evaluate and field incrementally superior off-the-shelf small arms today while they continue to search for feasible, fieldable next generation small arms technology. I truly liked my M16A1, still do. Many of the manufacturers and innovators have excellent solutions and offerings. I anticipate shooting AR-15s and M16 variants off into my dotage.
However; there were and are serious problems in the gas system and ammunition, those problems linger on the battlefields today where our young men and women, as well as their mission, are at risk and we need to address this. – Dan
Excerpt from page 503
“The next major crisis occurred only weeks later, in the autumn of 1965, when Colt used the last of Du Pont’s CR8136 test cartridges that enabled the M16 to pass the acceptance test. Thereafter, the only powder available was Olin’s WC846, which was producing a rejection rate by army inspectors of an astonishing 50 percent. Colt executives argued that since the rifle couldn’t pass the test, the test should be altered to fit the rifle. They wanted the TCC to increase the acceptable firing rate with ball powder to 900 a minute. When the TCC refused, Colt suspended manufacture of the XM16E1 for the army, but continued to make the M16 for the air force, which would accept the 900 rpm cyclic rate.
“In response to Colt’s action, while the army was gearing up for battle with the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong, the TCC asked the powder makers to submit new powders. Olin refused, asserting that major and expensive research would be required to improve its WC846.
“In September 1965, in Philadelphia, the Frankford Arsenal completed the tests requested by the TCC and presented some disturbing results. The tests concluded first off that “none of the test propellants appears capable of consistently meeting the current XM16E1 rifle cyclic rate requirement of 750+/- rpm.” Furthermore, of the powders tested, the WC846 “gave the greatest amount of visible accumulation of residue in the bolt assembly area.” After 1,000 to 1,500 rounds without cleaning, “WC846-loaded cartridges will cause stoppages attributable to excessive fouling in the bolt mechanism.” The TCC was being told by yet another test that the M16 rifle, capable of firing WC 846 ammunition up to 750 rounds a minute, could jam soon after being introduced in battle.”
Excerpt from Page 508
“Despite the growing clamor, the army still shipped the M16s with poor or misleading maintenance instructions, and no cleaning equipment. Contrary to army practice with every other weapon in the U.S. arsenal, and in spite of repeated warnings for two years, the army was still shipping the M16 with no cleaning kit – no bore brushes, chamber brushes, cleaning patches, or lubricants. Even if such a kit were provided, the M16 still lacked the customary place in the butt stock to store the kit. Many of the troops were sent into combat without any training whatsoever on the care and cleaning of their M16s – a shocking omission of the most important ritual in an infantryman’s life.
“Desperate for cleaning equipment, American soldiers had already begun to buy by mail order a rifle lubricant called Dri-Slide. One soldier wrote the Dri-Slide company that some of his best buddies died in a firefight. “I personally checked their weapons. Close to 70 percent had a round stuck in the chamber and take my word for it, it was not their fault. Sir, if you will send three hundred and sixty cans along with the bill, I’ll “gladly” pay it out of my own pocket. This will be enough for every man in our company to have a can.”
“Parents received letters. “These rifles are getting a lot of guys killed because they jam so easy,” wrote one soldier. “Please send me a bore and a 1-1/4 inch or so paint brush I need for my rifle.” The parents sent the cleaning material, then, along with many other parents, contacted their representatives and senators. Even the Viet Cong, who had at first avoided American troops armed with the AR-15, now stripped dead Americans of everything but the M16, which they considered “worthless”.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V11N9 (June 2008)