It’s the weapon of choice, the “world’s gold standard” — in urban, close-quarter combat that is.
The Army adopted the M4 in 1994 for special operations, then began issuing it more broadly to deploying infantry. Now Marine Corps brass is considering ditching the M16 in favor of the M4 carbine.
The recommendation to swap the revered rifle that has served as infantry’s primary implement of war since Vietnam now sits on the commandant’s desk, pending his final decision, which is expected in weeks or months, according to Marine Corps Times.
“The proposal to replace the M16A4 with the M4 within infantry battalions is currently under consideration at Headquarters Marine Corps,” according a Marine spokesman in Quantico, Virginia.
Officials say the swap could happen as fast as unit armories can issue weapons. “The 17,000 M4s needed to outfit infantrymen who don’t already use one are in the current inventory,” said a Systems Command spokeswoman.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Vince Kyzer is happy about the switch. The 1st Marine Division gunner says, “The carbine is a great weapon system for its time. It will increase the war fighter’s lethality and mobility.”
It was during intense close-quarter combat like in the fight to take control of Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents that illustrated more than ever the need for a smaller primary weapon.
“The M4 makes maneuvering in tight urban spaces easier with a 14.5-inch barrel and an overall length that is about 10 inches shorter than the M16A4, in a package that is a pound lighter,” according to the article.
Marines who found it difficult to “round corners and get on target in small rooms” say they started to use a tactic called “short-stocking.” That’s when a Marine places his rifle stock over his shoulder – instead of securely against the chest and cants his weapon 45-degrees so he can still use his optics.
It certainly seems to be a much better weapon for moving in tight spaces. “The longer M16 was also challenging when hopping in and out of vehicles in full battle rattle,” according to one Marine deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, as part of a vehicle-borne combined anti-armor team.
A former scout sniper with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion says, “We were taught to short stock around tight corners when we got to our platoon for deployment, it was something unofficial.”
There are a few minor drawbacks to adopting the M4, but most seem to agree they’re insignificant compared to the advantages.
Some Marines have said that trading in the M16’s 20-inch barrel for the M4’s 14.5-inch barrel does sacrifice some muzzle velocity, “which translates into a slightly shorter effective range.” But that doesn’t seem to be a huge concern, given the closer ranges at which Marines and soldiers commonly engage enemy in modern warfare.
A retired master sergeant who served with Delta Force, dismissed arguments against the carbine based on its shorter effective range, saying nearly all real-world infantry engagements happen inside 200 yards.