Vietnam’s Overburdened M16

by Tom Laemlein

I’ve been working with Dale Dye of Warriors Inc. to put together a photo study on the infantry weapons of the Vietnam War. The conflict in Vietnam is particularly interesting for students of small arms as all of Southeast Asia became both a proving grounds for the latest infantry weapons designs as well as an international “arms bazaar”, featuring any firearm that had been made from the late 19th Century until the 1960s.

The M16 rifle made its debut during the Vietnam War and its modern design created quite a sensation. By the end of the 1960s, the M16 could found in the hands of most US troops deployed in Vietnam, and was also beginning to be issued to South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) as well. Viet Cong forces were happy to acquire as many M16s as they could capture, steal, or buy on the black market.

M16 with XM148 grenade launcher and Starlight scope
M16 with XM148 grenade launcher and Starlight scope (click to enlarge)

In my research to find photos of the small arms of the Vietnam War, I have found a large number of images of the M16. The two that make up the basis for this short article are particularly unique though, as I have never seen (or heard of) an M16 configured this way. I have photos of the M16 equipped with the XM148 grenade launcher. Similarly, I have photos of the M16 equipped with the AN/PVS-2 “Starlight” scope. But I never dreamed of putting them both on the same rifle! Someone from a US Air Force base security unit dreamt this one up in 1967. It kind of makes sense though, seeing as how the security team was unlikely to have to carry this monstrosity very far from their post. Let’s take a look at how this heavily modified (and I do mean “heavily”) M16 stacks up, weight-wise:

  • M16A1 rifle: 8.79 pounds loaded
  • XM148 grenade launcher: 3 pounds
  • AN/PVS-2 “Starlight” scope: 6 pounds

So, this M16 “fully equipped” weighs in at just about 18 pounds! Not what one would expect from a light combat rifle (called the “Mattel rifle” by many of its detractors). The bulky Starlight scope (providing ambient light amplification up to 1000x) makes the rifle lop-sided already, but I never suspected that it weighed so much. The Colt-manufactured XM148 grenade launcher “balances out” the overloaded rifle. I can only wonder how it was to handle. Maybe one of the readers may have had some experience with this combination during the Vietnam War. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

M60 and M16 (with starlgiht scope and grenade launcher)
It’s still lighter than an M60…but not by much!

Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems.

75 Comments

  1. the early M16 had a reputation for not working so well in dirty environments , do any of those early M16 still exist if so has anybody tested if it is true ?

    • According to the appendix on the M16 controversy in Guns of the Elite>/em>, the problem was purely propellant-related. The M16 gas system was deigned to work with Dupont Improved Military Rifle (IMR)powder, which was very clean-burning and left little residue. But production 5.56mm ammunition was predominantly loaded with the older type of “ball” powder used in the 7.62mm NATO rounds, which caused more fouling and due to its hygroscopic characteristics buildup of calcium carbonate in the M16 gas tube.

      The Congressional investigation found that ammunition manufacturers were allowed to make pilot lots of 556mm loaded with IMR, and then use ball powder in the full-production runs. And Army Ordnance, which was opposed to the M16 to begin with, let them get away with it until called down on it in 1968-69.

      Once the IMR powder was standardized and a couple of changes were made in the rifle (mainly a closed-end flash suppressor, and an improved buffer to reduce the ROF on full-auto), plus improved maintenance procedures were instituted, the M16 worked as it was intended to.

      cheers

      eon

    • If you want to go REALLY early, the US Air Force still has original Colt Model 601 rifles (complete with forest green furniture, nicknamed “greenies”) in service at their armory at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.

      • Thanks for the note on US Air Force original Colt Model 601 rifles (a Colt-made version of the ArmaLite AR-15). The green furniture was in fact green painted fiberglass; it was quite fragile (especially the handguard).

        Less then 14,500 were produced. The bulk of Model 601 rifles (8,500) went to the US Air Force, while the remaining were used by the US Army (a handful went to the SEAL’s). Small numbers were sold to Australia and a few SE Asian militaries.

      • I have one of the green handled Colt bayonets for the early guns. No scabbard, heavily sharpened, showed up at a local auction. Too bad about condition, but I’ve only ever seen one other for sale. The grip is one piece, but is shaped like the stacked leather handles on M4 bayonets for the M1 carbine.

  2. So many myths and legends over the issue of “dirty” when it came to the M16. I believe there were investigations into the powder used, troops being told the rifle didn’t need cleaning, GIs found dead with their 16s broken down as they jammed in battle. Unfortunately too many weapon systems work the bugs out during the crucible of battle – at a very steep cost.
    I went through basic in the early 70s – after the Paris Peace Treaty. All the Drill Sgts had one or two tours in Vietnam. The biggest thing they banged into our heads was clean, clean, clean – something apparently not a part of the culture when the rifle was first issued. I remember the “comic book” style maintenance manuals – voluptuous babes dressed in cammo with too much cleavage reminding me to pay special attention to cleaning the chamber lugs or some other key part of the rifle. One of the few times the Army figured out how to keep a Trooper’s attention. Wish I’d kept one of those.

    • The other major issue with the early M-16’s was corrosion resistance — or rather the lack thereof — on the battlefield in a hot, humid and dirty environment, and I’m not referring only to bore erosion and corrosion in the absence of chrome plating or other similar protective means. The aluminum upper and lower receivers were subject to corrosion and pitting that compromised their structural integrity due to a combination of inadequate metallurgy and insufficient protective coatings, and pretty much the same applied to a lot of the working parts such as the bolt, bolt carrier and buffer spring. Thankfully, this was subsequently addressed, but only after intensive and painful investigations and evaluations.

      The Army’s insistence on using the lightweight aluminum magazines of the time were also a major contributing factor, the most common magazine-specific failure being soft feed lips that bent too easily when subject to the rough-and-tumble of battlefield tactical movement. In my unit, we used to always thoroughly check the feed lips for proper alignment and function before any live-fire event, including everyday training runs and a mundane day at the range, and we would rectify any such feed issues by simply bending the feed lips in or out until they fed all rounds properly.

      One more thing — the M-16’s of the time were fitted with thin-walled, lightweight FRP buttstocks and handguards, which were hard but brittle, and subject to cracking when stressed by impacts, eg., during bayonet-fighting. I have sampled recent-production M-16’s that are pretty much of the same configuration as those early originals, complete with 20″ barrels, and am happy to report that the synthetic furniture is very much improved, and able to withstand much greater abuse than before — still not anywhere as good as an AK, FAL or the like with wood or polymer furniture, but infinitely better than before and perfectly adequate for the battlefield.

      • So the problem was mainly in the too fast entering to real service than technical, as the design can be debugged if carefully tested.
        I’m not expert on American post-war rifles so I will ask: Did exist the back-up project for M16? In Soviet Union most new designed firearms were chosen from many supplied proposal and also mainly more than one proposal was later developed so if one failed the other can be used instead. For example AK (Kalashnikov design) perhaps would not be produced if not the death of Alexey Sudayev in 1946 and therefore end of AS-44 project.

        • Thanks for the question, Daweo. As I understand it, there was no full-fledged back-up assault rifle programme in case of complete failure or rejection of the M-16, certainly not of the type that was the normal practice in the Soviet Union. The Department Of Defence and Army seemed to have adopted an “all-or-nothing approach” with regard to procurement of the new-generation infantry rifle and committed to the M-16 before adequate battlefield testing was carried out. Once committed, both they, and the principal manufacturer ( Colt ) had no choice but to make it work through a long, painful series of detailed improvements. Luckily for all concerned, the basically sound modular design of the M-16 lent itself to these improvements, but it came too late for a lot of soldiers in the front line.

          Much has been written by many knowledgeable authors about this debacle, and a good starting point would be C.J. Chivers’ “The Gun”, which is really about the development of the AK-47 and the career of Mikhail Kalashnikov, but there is still a lot of in-depth comparative data about the M-16 and it’s development.

          • The original competition put the AR-15 as it was originally known (and still is in commercial trim) up against more conventional rifles in .223 from Winchester and Springfield Armory.

            The Winchester .224 Lightweight Military Rifle (LMR), designed by Ralph Clarkson, was essentially an M1 carbine redesigned for the .223 round. This wasn’t much of a “stretch”, as ten years earlier Melvin Johnson had developed his own .221 Spitfire round for the carbine, essentially a .30 carbine case necked down to .22 caliber. (Any resemblance between it, the later .221 Remington Fireball, and the FN 5.7x28mm is probably not coincidental.) The LMR even had the original “L-flipover” type Carbine rear sight.

            The Springfield rifle, designed by A.J. Lizza, cosmetically resembled the M-14 for’ard of the receiver, but mechanically was closer to the German K43.

            Both rifles had “conventional” wood stocks, and thus would probably exhibit climb when fired on full-auto. OTOH, their gas systems would probably have tolerated ball powder much better than the Ar-15 system did.

            The AR-15 seems to have won mainly on what Clarkson called its “sex appeal”. We’re too familiar with the “Matty Mattel” to remember, but back then it looked futuristic, and deadly, like something out of science fiction. Keep in mind that other than the AR-15, the only rifle with a top-mounted carry handle back then was the British EM2, which looked even more like it had fallen off a flying saucer from Mars.

            Personally, I’d have opted for the Winchester LMR, maybe with a three-shot burst control to deal with the muzzle-climb problem. I’ve never been an enthusiast of full-auto fire in anything much lighter than a BAR or Thompson, anyway, although I’ve found the M2 Carbine, MP-5, and the old MP-40 and Sten MK II generally controllable and pleasant to shoot, as long as you stick to short bursts of five rounds or less.

            Today of course, you can buy very nearly the same rifle as the LMR at any stocking dealer; it’s called the Ruger Mini-14. Its forty years of commercial success strongly indicates that Winchester probably had the better idea right from the start.

            cheers

            eon

          • To ‘eon’:
            In a broader sense of the subject this was missing information in this particular discussion and it is very helpful you brought it up. Yes indeed, there was a ‘thorny’ road leading to emergence of M16. Already mentioned book “Black Rifle” covers that material too.

            And yes it was stunning new design when it first showed up. Let’s just consider the straight line layout with raised sights! As mentioned previously I was enthused by it; this was definitely an innovation in small arms.

          • A lot of Chivers on the M16 in The Gun is a rehash of James Fallows’s 1970s article in The Atlantic which was reprinted as a chapter in his book National Defense. As always, Fallows’s approach is shallow and journalistic — he figures out who he thinks is a good guy and who he thinks is a bad guy, crafts a matching narrative, and cartoons ’em up with white and black hats.

            Not everything in Fallows (and therefore Chivers) on the 16 is wrong, but enough of it is wrong that I tell people read it for the story, not the facts, like any other work of fiction.

            It’s funny, because in talking about the AK Chivers goes on a long exegesis about the credibility of various sources, especially in relation to the various incompatible stories Mikhail Kalashnikov told at various times, but he paints the M16 story in black and white and is way, way undersourced.

            All the primary documents you need are on DTIC. Fallows can be excused for not reading them, as DTIC didn’t exist. But Fallows was badly under the spell of self-proclaimed “Defense Reformers” and picked up their belief that all acquisition personnel are bozos, except, of course, for the reformers (who were able to channel Bozo himself pretty well from time to time). A story that begins with the idea that professional engineers and mid-career military officers are all retarded idiots obsessed with turf can sell to New York publishers in a New York minute, but we have a technical term for stories like that — bullshit.

            As far as the “troops were told they were self-cleaning,” that claim was made in some early marketing bushwah but it was never in any military manual or training class. As far as “they were supplied without cleaning material” every gun left the factory with seven magazine (six? I’d have to check), a cleaning kit, a sling, and a bipod (the 601s shipped without a bipod). Bayonets were on a separate contract. If the cleaning stuff was not with the gun when Joe Snuffy got it, someone in the Army or USMC set it aside for what they probably thought was a good reason. “Hey let’s put all the cleaning kits together over here.”

            The intensive study of the 1965-67 jamming problem discovered something very interesting: it was prevalent in some units, unheard of in others. The difference? One of them was than the jam-plagued units did not issue cleaning kits with the rifles. No idea why. (Most if not all USMC units, and the Army’s 1st ID, 4th ID, Americal Division were among these units). Those same units also issued the guns both to troops in-country when the guns came in, and to replacements arriving in Vietnam, with no formal training on the rifle. The units that provided training and cleaning kits included the 173rd and SF among others, and they had no beef with the M16. I don’t think there’s a big difference in the amount or kind of combat the 173rd and SF got into compared to what the Marines and other combat units got into in that time frame. They were all fighting a war that was moving from Mao’s 2nd Stage towards his 3rd Mobile Stage and facing increasing contact with large enemy regular units, who were well equipped, well led, and willing to fight like tigers.

            There were definitely characteristics of the M16 that made it very vulnerable to mistreatment or neglect, particularly the lack of chrome bore and chamber. The change of powder in the ammunition to a version of Dupont IMR(4475) that was discontinued to Olin WC846 caused a variety of problems, but most of the problems were caused by the difficulty of hitting several performance goals with one powder:
            1. penetration – steel helmet at 500 yards (later M)
            2. peak pressure = 3,250 FPS
            4. Cyclic rate = 750 (I think)

            They never really did, and wound up waiving a lot of their original requirements. Especially cyclic rate was waived to 950 or so, so was pressure but only 1,000 psi or thereabouts. (note that PSI and CUP are different, CUP is always lower, but their correlation is very strong). Copper Units of Pressure was an early-20th-Century (maybe 19th), less accurate way of messuring pressures than piezoelectric sensors or strain gages.

            Daniel Watters, who has read all the primary source documents, has some details here”
            http://www.thegunzone.com/556prop.html

          • Very good points, and thanks for the additional insight on the subject, Kevin — much appreciated, as always. I was aware of the anomalies concerning C.J. Chivers’ description of the M-16’s early teething problems, but still felt his book wasn’t the worst possible place to start with when looking into this particular subject. My sincere apologies to all if it sounded as if I was recommending “The Gun” without any apparent reservation. After all, we are all critical thinkers here on FW, and a subject has to start somewhere as we delve further into it and begin forming more informed independent opinions. However, now that you have brought it up, Daniel Watters’ articles are probably a better starting point than any other. Based on his past contributions, Daweo is an able and critical thinker who would no doubt have very quickly put two and two together given a little time and further research.

            And yes, the original cyclic rate of fire was supposed to be 750 rds./min. I’m not quite sure what you meant by “Peak Pressure = 3250 fps”, unless you meant to say that at peak pressure ( with M193 ball ammunition ), the muzzle velocity was 3250 fps. Is there a line that was inadvertantly left out here?

            In the end, as with the initial development of virtually any other mass-produced military firearm, that of the M-16 was fraught with mixed results. A review of even the AK-47’s early progenesis will reveal many teething problems and the search for detail improvements as well.

      • As part of the multi million pound tax payer funded Hk “upgrade” they said use new mags, solve the problems along with painting everything black.

        The magazines were nice, all steel. Replaced by plastic ones now…

  3. Since this is a limited snippet on M16’s initial exposure I am not going to step in into ‘evaluation’ of it. For those who are more serous in studying history of this peculiar implement I recommend to read: The Black Rifle by B.Stevens and E.Ezell.

    (Of course VCs dreaded it, taking everything from GIs corpses but their rifles.)

    And yes, I was also one time a fan of Mouse gun (..those youth’s dreams) and by dealing of destiny was able to work with it while it was being implemented into CF inventory. Getting your hands on it is the best way to learn, to be sure.

    • I heard that GIs send to Vietnam were trained to use and maintain M1 Garand rifles and they were not retrained for new M16 so it caused malfunctions of these rifles, can anyone confirm that?

      • In the Vietnam era, basic trainees in Army and Marines learned on the M14. The Navy used the M1 and the USAF, mostly, the M1 Carbine, until the USAF got its M16s.

        I believe M16 was not taught in basic training until the decision to replace the M14 with it, circa 1968 I think.

      • Oh, yes. The Army Reserve and National Guard (part-time reserve forces) did not receive M14s at all. They kept M1s until the early 70s and received M16A1s then. I cannot recall what happened with the other services’ reservists.

  4. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
    I’m always amazed and confused by the amount of stuff people put on their otherwise light and handy AR-15… and I guess it’s something that people have always done and probably always will do until they have to carry the bloody thing somewhere.

  5. Anyway, just for fun of it…. I am looking where is J. Sullivan’s M16 largely scolding video – it’s gone! Freedom of info anyone?!

    • Who seeks, he finds. At least his: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military-july-dec07-rifles_09-24/

      From what I recollect (was heavily involved with alternate mag studies), the major problem (part of 2-3 others) is very small bolt engagement with cartridge base on loading. This is given by combination od internal receiver clearance (thus size of bolt) and puny 3/8″dia shot base. There has been some steady advances in magazines since though. Still, whole thing is kind of iffy.

      • Mr Sullivan was selling his new design at that point in time and any criticism he has of the M16 should be colored in that light. He’s also the guy who scaled down the AR10 into the AR15, Stoner was a .308 guy. I notice he doesn’t spend any time blaming himself.

        There were too many things going on at the same time to really be able to nail the jello of the root cause properly to the wall.

        We blame the powder, yet a similar powder is right this moment not causing massive stoppages.

        We blame the cleaning, which is a double whammy of lack of supplies and training. By the time the Eisner comics hit the troops, supplies were available; they’re mentioned in the comic!

        We skip over UAW intransigence and its effect on quality control.

        We skip over the overly tight chambers found on many rifles in the field.

        We skip over that changing to a chrome chamber also required that new chamber cutters be purchased and the dimensions of the chamber being checked more carefully.

        We skip over the Edgewater buffer being discarded.

        We studiously overlook that the XM16E1 and M16A1 are not entirely the same gun and attribute XM16E1 failings to the M16A1.

        How many changes were made to the M16A1 from 1967 without a change in designation or even part numbers? There are a lot of “silent” revisions that assuredly show up in Colt’s drawings but don’t in the Milspec or NSN system. The retro clone builders have a wealth of data here because of some truly obsessive folks attempting to make period “snapshots” of particular weapons.

        • I am somehow familiar with follow up: AR10-AR15-M16 and eventually AR18 (Sullivan’s own). In absence of knowing Mr. Sullivan personally I feel that he was/is ambitious man. Whoever (including myself) spent any given time in industrial organization knows, that there are more often than not various drifts and directions typically called ‘internal politics’. They align and/or pit people against each another.

          There are always people who may disagree with those they are subordinated to, but yet they must keep mouth shut and follow. So, that’s how it goes and time is passing. Eventually when those affected with ‘mental oppression’ and were not able to come to terms with it on their own, often use opportunity and speak out. From someone who just like to talk I do not take it very seriously; In case of Mr. Sullivan I feel there is a difference.

          Being just said:” do as you are told” is for many not good enough and they want eventually to come up with their own account. AFAIC I feel that AR15 was put together and offered to military establishment with not exactly consciously thought-out objectives in front of mind. Result definitely shows that.

        • Just to add this: Jim Sullivan do not need to feel as “un-accomplished man”, just to contrary. Practically all current rifles, save for AKs are basically variations of his own design. The fact that he “liberated” small&long (and therefore light) action from confines of !” bore he truly made miles step ahead; he improved reliability by factor of 2. I do not want to continue with this tirade since it appears it was not objective of the article. But it’s hard to resist the reminder.

        • Mac, those changes (to 1968 do show up in the contract documentation, one part of which (to the end of 67 IIRC) is posted on DTIC. I’ve been slowly converting it to a usable annotated excel spreadsheet.

          As a DOD contractor, you are bound by contract and statement of work. If you want to make a change the Contracting Officers’ Representative and Contracting Officer’s Tech Rep (COR and COTR, government officials supervising your contract), must approve.

          There were many hundreds of these changes on top of the 200-plus from 601 to 603/604 initial spec for XM16E1/M16 (Army/AF)

  6. Did anyone try putting the scope onto an M79? Probably no easy way to mount it, but it would have to be lighter and less bulky.

    • I wouldn’t want to put my eye next to anything strapped to the top of an M79. The recoil on those things is pretty stout.

  7. Where’d you get your weight for the M16A1? 8.79 lbs? Mine tares at 7.5 lb. plus 0.3 for a sling.

    An Air Force rifle should be an M16 not M16A1… Here mine weighs 7.1 lb. plus 0.3 for the sling.

    Even the tubby M16A2 clone barely breaks 8.5 lb. with sling and it’s got the heavier 30 round magazine accounted for.

  8. We actually trained with the M16A1 and the humongous AN/PVS-2 at Ft. Benning in the fall of 1985. It shot pretty well from the prone supported position. I was greatly pleased, however, when reaching my first duty station to learn we had the far lighter, more compact AN/PVS-4 in service there. Clearer vision to boot!

    By that time, the XM-148 was long gone, and only the M203 was to be found. And while I’ve seen M16A1/M203/PVS-4 mounted, that’s still a good deal more manageable than the beast in the picture above!

  9. The seven lugged rotary bolt and it’s barrel battery, cause problems on the Sa80 in my opinion. These parts being similar to the M16, I wonder if the problems aren’t linked ie. To the design of the bolt. Ours uses a gas piston, but you still have to forward assist and on the M16 they had to fit a handle to facilitate this. It’s the barrel battery, the wee lugs make it all very tight and hard to get at. That Austrailian SAC bolt might be better, kind of triangular. When returning to battery the bolt meets resistance…

    • Grinding off the lugs front upper edges might help, maybe removing two also.

      It’s not that powerfull of a round, five might suffice.

      Allow air, dust, etc to move around the inside of the bolt battery more easily. Sometimes instead of trying to seal things up, perhaps it’s better to have a few gaps for things to enter because they have somewere to exit again sort of thing.

      “Stuff is going to get in anyway”

      • I hope you are joking… those remaining lugs would fly off in no time. The thickness of single lug is looking kind of out of place for real rifle – look at AK, although there are just two. More meaningful and practical would have been three with middle one filling between magazine lips. This is all Johnson legacy as we know.

        • I prefer the two large lugs on the Ak, makes you wonder why they made seven wee ones, Johnson etc. I assume it’s something to do with the “turning circle” so to speak, the amount of rotation… A bit of a turn, would not unlock a wider lug but it would a thinner one.Then you make up for the lack of lug size by having more in regards strength. If a gas pipe was quicker, than say a Ak piston rod at getting the rearward force to the bolt… The barrel moved on the Johnson didn’t it? Anyway, say a gas pipe M16 style why would the wee lugs be better than Ak style ones. Perhaps it is to do with gas, gas can’t make as much rotation as a piston rod, for some reason – it leaks or something.

          Making seven wee lugs doesn’t on the face of it appear to be as easy to make as two lugs…

          • Tell you what PDB, if you made yourself a scale (something like 2/2 or 4/1 layout you would with dose of awe found that this is actually pretty good idea what AR uses. You would see how everything nicely fits together and how the lugs in position of stripping shot from magazine are nicely positioned 45deg apart.

            Now, there is another small detail to it: with greater angle of bolt rotation you have at some nominal cam angle (say 45deg) longer way to go with say 2 lugs than with eight (one replaced by extractor). In this particular case the ratio is 180/22.5= 8-big saving. So, in this manner of doing things you save space and can use it in some other productive way, say meatier buffer. This is just a hint, not action solution by far.

    • Yes, the SA80-85 share same design of lockup as its master, the AR18 (Sterling). I am bit surprised to read of forward assist since mentioned guns had reciprocating handle. One detail I noticed on civilian (export to NA) SA80 – it had bolt stem without any dirt relief. I hope it was not the same for military issue.

      • The cocking handle slots into the bolt carrier, and moves with it. But you have to smack the handle to close the bolt fully, the M16 has a non moving charging handle but you can’t smack it to close the bolt presumably.Which like the Sa80 you do have to sometimes, hence why they made a forward assist lever. It happens so often, it was part of the drill for firing – mag on, charge, forward assist, check sights, safety, fire, Denny.

        • As u may recall PDB the original M16 came with charging handle on top, right inside carry handle. This was quite thoughtful design but did not stay because it prevented scope mounting. So they went on and designed this afterthought.

          When comes to Forward assist (especially on M16) it has two functions. First is, as it says; the second is ability to do quiet chambering prior to ambush for example. For this reason it is good to have this capability on every assault rifle.

          • I didn’t know about the top mounted cocking handle actually, like on the Ar10 which I can’t say I knew about either Denny.

          • The trigger style charging system inside the carry handle was discarded because the thing got freakishly hot.

            It’s something they decided to not bring into the AR15 from experience with the AR10.

  10. Hi, Tom :

    For what it’s worth, I haven’t personally had the dubious “privilege” of having had to use this particular combo while engaged in a potential combat situation, but I have had to use various combinations of earlier-model IR and passive night-vision scopes that were anything but “compact” compared to the modern NV systems we take for granted today, and I will second the opinion that the sheer clumsiness ( more so than just the weight ) of such a set-up would often make agnostics out of believers in terms of having to live and work with a system like this on a daily basis. Of course, such reservations tend to magically disappear in the brief but telling moments when, in the stress of combat, one is eternally grateful for the advantages such a system provides, and one tends to conveniently forget all that has gone on before.

    To put things in perspective, the original German-designed ZG1229 Vampir ( Vampire ) active IR NV system for infantry rifles of World War Two comprised the following :

    1. StG-44 Selective-Fire Assault Rifle — 11.3 lbs. with loaded 30-rd. magazine
    2. ZG1229 IR Spotlight and Sight — 5 lbs.
    3. IR Spotlight Battery ( In Casing ) — 30 lbs.
    4. Image Converter Battery — ? lbs.

    I think the numbers speak for themselves. While the Rifle with attached IR Spotlight and Sight weigh in at “only” 16.3 lbs., the additional 30 lbs. ( and more ) for the IR Spotlight and Image Convertor Batteries located inside the Tragegestell 39 Pack Frame mounted on the rifleman’s back would have added considerably to his burden outside of the standard field backpack and other accoutrements. Add to this the mobility and response restrictions inflicted by the necessary power cables between the Vampir system mounted on the StG-44 and the battery packs, and you will have some idea of how difficult it was to take full advantage of NV technology in the early days.

    Frankly, I don’t think we really appreciate, as a whole, how well off we are in terms of NV technology vis-a-vis our predecessors ( and THEY thought they were well off versus the competition! ). Everything is relative, as they say.

  11. I lugged around an M16A1 from 1977-79. IIRC mine never jammed, never broke,and ALWAYS worked…and worked well. Whatever else may be said, the M16A1 was a damn fine rifle…and, as I understand, It’s later incarnations are doing an even better job. Now, If they’d only change that dreadful mouse-cartridge to something a bit more substantial, like a 6.5mm

    • I like the M16 platform Mike, it’s light, not bulky etc. I don’t like some of these potential replacements, that have been touted…

  12. I was in the Air Force, and was assigned to BeinHoa AB. Before being shipped out, we were taken to the range, and given our ANNUAL rifle qualification, and were also introduced to the XM-148, and given several rounds to fire. It worked ok, but was a bit cumbersome. Once at BeinHoa, aside from my regular duties as an Instrument Repairman, I volunteered as a Security Police Augmentee, kind of like a reservist. I pulled guard duty on a set schedule. We were trained by the SP’s on the M-16, the M-60, and the M79 grenade launcher. I was particularly proficient with the m-79, but never given on for guard duty. Nor did I ever see a Starlight scope. But, with the dark at night, many a time did I wish I had one. mikey

  13. Just my two cents on the three pronged flashhider. Its replacement with a cage was a for damn sure improvement but not in terms of reliability or accuracy. I’ve been told by people I believe that extensive testing lead to the triple pronged set up and that it is better at hiding muzzle flash, actually more resistant to impact (like being dropped off an APC) and at least a teensy bit better for accuracy. It is also a really bad idea. They were known as Brushcatcher or Wait-a-minute flashhiders, as well as some much more colorful names. They seemed to have a magnetic attraction to any vegetation in the area, an attraction which (like a werewolf) grew even more powerful at night. When I first encountered the M16 we had a mix of prongs and cages but before we went out in the field the prongs got wrapped with 100 MPH tape (green duct tape). Also, if you’re going back to those thrilling days of yesteryear you will probably encounter at least two enduring myths. One is the “stainless steel” M16. I have held one in my hands, sort of. In the 1970s I was in the 2d Ranger Battalion at Ft. Lewis Wa. and would on occasion hang out at the Oregon National Guard Museum which had a really great arms collection. One speciman was an M16A-nothing which had not just its bolt and bolt carrier but all its metal parts chrome plated. It certainly looked like a stainless steel M16. It also looked like it would attract fire from every communist person in the entire map sheet. It was probably worth a try just to see how it came out but wiser heads prevailed and (I was told) only three were ever made up. Another myth is the “left handed M16” with people swearing they remember somebody who had one and an occasional flipped negative photo offered as proof. Again I’ve held left handed M16s in my hands, sort of. When putting an ROTC company through rifle qualification all the lefties would be grouped and issued “left handed M16s”. You could tell they were left handed ‘cuz they had a big white “L” stenciled on both sides of the rear stock. This was long before the brass deflector was added to the mix and there was a real chance of a leftie getting a hot empty in the face. One of the makers of the M16 (as I recall it was Hydramatic ) had set up their ejectors to toss the empties forward at about 45 degrees thereby solving the lefties with burn marks problem. However, there were only a few of these available, hence the stencils and a generation of soldiers who will swear on a stack of bibles they (really, no bullshit) saw a “lefthanded M16” back in the 70s.

    • It is interesting to see how many ‘upgrades’ have made users to their M16s. It could be interpreted as either lack of discipline or as testimony of lack of built-in utility in some directions. Those were the old days and now you do not see it as much.

      When comes to prong type flash hider, they are apparently superior to other types namely in its original purpose. Yes, of course they are less practical (using milder terms) in environments in which you operated. At the end it may appear like deja-vu, but Colt just introduced new model with this implement.

    • Good point about the so-called left-handed M-16’s. We used to do the same with our left-handed recruits, sorting the forward-ejecting rifles specifically for their use.

  14. During some period of unrest in the Philippines, probably in the late ’80s, I recall a news video in which fleetingly appeared a soldier carrying an M-16 with an M-203 under the barrel and what looked like a LAW rocket mounted on top. Has anyone else here ever seen or heard of such a thing? I guess it’s possible I misidentified a large sight like the “Starlight” shown here, but I remember it as even larger and longer and looking very much like a LAW.

  15. How about a tilty “bolt locking” AR version. Mmmm, tilty… “H Simpson” been having a doodle he he. Think a Schwarzlose type firing pin thing, running through a carrier. Which is split to allow the hammer in “like a tuning fork shape” at the front of the pin thing, is an actual spring loaded “against it” firing pin. To the rear is a cap, the rear protrudes from the carriers rear – this cap, rests against the recoil spring. On the lower receiver there is a hole through it’s rear/upper “for something” another tuning fork type shaped bar would be pinned between these holes, allowing the bar to tilt aye. Now the hammer when cocked would “via a pin through it” allow the bar to rest on said pin, in this position the bar would be in the unlocked “lower position” hammer forward – upper/locked position via the pin moving the bar. The bar fit’s into a gap left between the front of the firing pin section and the carrier via the cap at it’s rear ie: It’s position. This section can move inside the carrier a short distance, against the main spring ” because there’s a gap to it’s rear, between the tuning fork parts rear and the carrier” the cap is the same diameter as the carrier. Upon firing the hammer falls, pushing the bar into the gap “locking the carrier” the firing pin section recoils, hitting the hammer – pushing it back “thus lowering the bar” the carrier unlocks, and moves against the return spring. The hammer is back “so the bar lowered” the carrier returns and the firing pin section with it “it being fully forward via the cap being compressed by the main spring” hammer forward – locks, repeat.

    No gas system, in theory.

    • The bar may not disenage from the carrier by gravity, so the hammer might have to move it via another pin through it… Possibly even via direct impingement, on the firing pin section itself.

      Might work, fiddle around possible project in a shed for general interest perhaps.

      • Re-enforce the lower receiver holes with steel, if it’s made of alu’etc…

        And put a weight on the end of the cap, running inside of the recoil spring for a no gas system attempt.

        I see no reason why it wouldn’t work, with some tweaking.

        The recoil force has to cock the hammer a bit, via the slidey bit inside the carrier can’t be to hard to achieve.

  16. Was issued a brand new M16A2 in 88. Dragged it around for 3.5 years. Was issued others now and again at later assignments. The only time I had issues with reliability was with bad magazines. When issued new out of the wrapper mags it worked fine. When issued used, out of the trashcan mags you would go through a stack to find the ones that would feed. Generally feed lips were bad or springs worn out. Luckily a couple of old vietnam veterans taught me to maintain the magazines, how to keep them clean and gently lubed.

    I like the platform, am ambivalent towards the cartridge, it has good and bad points. I keep my AR variant mostly stock, only addition was a good quality compact glass scope on the top. Eyes are getting to old to trust only irons.

    • How many times do you guys have to use the forward assist button thing out of interest, I am wondering if your return spring is stronger than ours or something.

      On average, say from six magazines on a used gun?

      • I’ve only had to actually use the forward assist once, when the rifle was so dirty it had trouble seating the round (we were on a training mission for two weeks and fired blanks quite frequently, which were much dirtier than regular ball ammo). Other than that, I can’t recall ever having to use it, although anytime I was issued a weapon with questionable ammo and mags, I would always be in the habit of tapping the forward assist after each mag change.

  17. I only had the use the forward assist a few times on my issue weapon, when it was very dirty or very hot (usually both). On mass issued guns (every on on a post used same pool of weapons) that got a lot of use probably once or twice every hundred rounds or so. The mass issue weapons seemed to have more issues with jamming, bad magazines etc. I beleive it was a lack of worthwhile maintenance.

    • Hmmm, yes it is important maintennace etc. I just watched three videos on youtube by a guy named Larry from Midway USA, very interesting gun the AR.

      • That’s probably Larry Potter, founder and CEO of Midway USA, which is a hugely successful firearms accessory and ammunition dealership. In spite of the large scale and time consumption associated with this enterprise, Larry has always kept a deep personal involvement in the “nuts and bolts” of the firearms community, producing many of the videos himself and also hosting Midway USA’s own television show dedicated to hunting. If I’m not mistaken, Roy Weatherby of Weatherby rifles fame also used to do something similar ( he passed away in 1988 ), and his descendants continue in the same tradition to this day. Too bad the “big shots” at companies like Remington/Freedom Group and the like have neither the inclination, humanity or ability to be involved and integrated like this. I would not be surprised if it turns out that a good many of them are not even firearms enthusiasts, just professional executives and investors who think that the firearms community is just another potentially lucrative market to be tapped for all it’s worth in the name of the almighty dollar.

  18. Can anyone tell me how wide a AR hammer is “at it’s widest point” and then how wide is the gap for the hammer in the bolt carrier, then the width of the gap “between either side of the frame” in the upper of the lower receiver, also that of the upper – both from the sections behind the mag well please if someone has say a standard’ish Colt model or similar in 5.56mm??

    Thinking of buying a model plug fire one, and trying to make a tilting bolt but I need the real measurements see if it’s worth it ie. Is there anyway it would fit really.

    In millimetres would be great, if anyone can help.

  19. Oh, before I forget, I’d like to wish everyone here a Happy and Safe Fourth Of July, and while this is uniquely an American occasion, these wishes also go out to all our friends on FW in other countries who may not necessarily celebrate it, but who are still every bit a part of our community.

  20. I don’t recall ever using the forward assist on my rifles. However, I do recall being in Haiti and fiddling around with my brand new FN M-16A2 and discovering my forward assist didn’t even work! They put the plunger in at the factory but forgot to put in the pawl that actually engaged the bolt carrier.

    Now on another note if FN had marked their new semi-auto like the military one I carried, I would buy one today. I HATE the roll mark on the right and lack of marking on the left that you see on their new release.

    • In my lone 1998 issue of guns and ammo there’s a French Mas 49 which is a tilty type bolt and direct impingement, it looked good. Your forward assist thing seems more to be, to do with there’s no bolt handle… To assist if required, our handle is required to forward assist… Thinking it might be because yours is more inline i.e. Carrier/spring behind it, were ours is “that” but not, er… Yours is more of a tube sort of thing, maybe ours wiggles more or something.

  21. The Starlight scope pictured is an AN/PVS-1, not a later AN/PVS-2. The AN/PVS-1 is the world’s first effective passive night vision rifle scope & is superior to the AN/PVS-2. The larger reticle the AN/PVS-1 has is much easier to see then the very small one of the AN/PVS-2 & the AN/PVS-3. The AN/PVS-1 also had a better system to adjust the reticle and the objective lens focus, via knobs on the scope body ahead of the battery compartment. Unlike what most people think, these 1st generation scopes had very good performance at the time due the three stage “cascade” construction of the imagine intensifier tube assembly. Their drawbacks were their bulk and the “fisheye” radial distortion inherent to their tube design along with a narrow field of view. The later 2nd generation AN/PVS-4 has less resolution than the US Military 1st gen starlight scopes, but a larger field of view free from “fisheye” distortion.

    These early straight scopes were very high tech and would have been very helpful to the grunts in the field, if they were issued in greater numbers to troops in the bush of Vietnam. There was a great concern of them falling into enemy hands intact, so most were kept unused locked in safes on bases or stockpiled in Europe.

  22. I will note, when I was in the infantry (1987-1995), doctrine was to mount the NVD (AN/PVS4, IIRC, by my time) on the M203, so that the guy with the gun that could best use the night sight to greater effect for the whole fire team, because the combat multiplier from accurate 40mm HEDP dropping into clusters outweighs the advantages of being able to make out the basic camouflage pattern of the targets for a guy who is using a 5.56mm to make “center of blob” marksmanship out as far as he can see targets anyway, even with the NVD.

    ESPECIALLY as a member of the Space Police on an airfield, this makes sense. Put the heavy clunky sight on the guy who is engaging entire fire teams per shot, and let him go after clusters or support weapons out to a few hundred meters.

  23. Imagine the AN/PVS-2 on the M-14!

    Speaking of the M-14, despite being adopted in 1957, was not fully fielded even in 1963 when the M-14 was cancelled (no further procurement and the M-16 was officially adopted in 1964) and there still were bugs to be worked out. Compare the M-14 to the M-1 rifle’s fielding if you want to really feel bewildered.

    Wait! Don’t forget that the M-1 carbine replaced the submachine gun and the pistol, and the M-1 rifle replaced the M-1903 Springfield rifle and the M-1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (and the submachine gun, too). When the M-14 was adopted, it “replaced” the M-1 rifle, the M-2 carbine, the M-1918A2 automatic rifle, and the M3A1 submachine gun!

    In full auto fire the M-14 was said to be uncontrollable–and after a magazine or two, the M-14 would choke on full-auto, start cooking off if kept in full auto because of the closed bolt.

    I’m repeating the rumors and gossip that were part of the official reports on the M-14 in service.

    There are partisan defenders of the M-14 and equally rabid detractors. The M-16 has been the longest serving service rifle in US history. Which would you rather hang a 40mm grenade launcher and Starlight scope on, anyway?

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