You all will remember the discussion we had here and at Military.com on the Infantry Half Kilometer paper by Maj. Tom Ehrhart which examined Army training an equipment shortfalls for the longer-range fight in Afghanistan.

We had the good fortune to sit down this morning with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, for a wide ranging interview and one of the things we pingedhim on was the issue of the M4/M16/long range direct fire debate.

Back when the Marine Corps was debating the replacement for the M16A2, there was strong advocacy for the M4 at the time. The Army was buying them as its standard-issue carbine, why not the Marine Corps. It pitted the old-school "rifleman" cabal against the "distributed operations" sect and the Gunners won out much to the continued chagrin of rank-and-file grunts.

Well, Conway pulled a little "I told you so" on us today in describing the success of the M16A4 in the Afghan theater and his continued advocacy for the platform as the standard for most Marines.

Marines like that M4 carbine because it looks cool. And I've had some Marines complain to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying 'you know, the officers are getting these things, but we're still having to carry this rifle.' Well, the Marine Corps will always be a rifle Marine Corps. The carbine is an extension of the pistol, not a reduction of a rifle. And in the Afghanistan scenario where you're shooting long distances you gotta be able to reach out and touch 'em. And a carbine is just not designed to do that.

Except the M4 carbine has a max effective range of 500 meters on point targets, according to the books, as does the M16A4. But we all know the longer-barrelled M16 is better at longer ranges (and the Army admits that too).

So it looks like it's end zone dance time for the Corps in their decision to keep the long rifle. Though if we go back to urban warrens like Ramadi and Fallujah, I'm sure we'll hear the same complaints again.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen March 25, 2010 at 10:46 am

There's nothing to continue reading.


Kenny March 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I agree with Stephen.


charles m March 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Nothing to contiue reading. In the Marines we called that attention to detail.


jeff March 25, 2010 at 9:33 pm

So where the rest snap to


Affe March 26, 2010 at 3:05 am

This is like yelling WOOT because you have a hammer and after a series of bolts, screws and washers you finally chanced upon a nail.


Jonathon March 26, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I'd much rather have an M-14 – no 500-meter limitation on that one…


Jeff May 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Better tools to engage with at 500+ than a rifle (unless you are a sniper)


John March 26, 2010 at 10:32 pm

This article lacks a bit of follow through. The M-4 is a fine weapon as is the A2. In different ops one or the other has its pros and cons.


George Toplanchik March 27, 2010 at 2:32 pm

WW II battle hardened combat vets. (my dad) equipped with an awesome long range weapon like the garand (the best battle instrument ever devised: gen George Patton) M-1 rifle seldom opened fire before 100 to 200 yards. If you can consistently make a 600 yard shot–you are indeed very, very good.


Ron March 29, 2010 at 5:00 pm

M4, is a cool weapon. Shorter, than an a2a4.. except the one thing. Long Range accuracy. Iraq room clearing and such.. leave that to mp5's and shotguns. Even an M4 is too big a weapon for cqb.. In Afghanistan, I rather have the longer range, versus the "cool looking factor" I can just imagine a A24 with scope= VERY DEADLY… Every Marine, can hit silhouettes at 500m on IRON sights,, with a combat scope, that range grows to 650-750m.. Accurate..


Hugh M. March 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Accuracy at longer ranges does not necessarily come from just having a longer barrel. The shorter but stiffer M4 barrel often yields better accuracy at all ranges than the longer barreled M16A2/A4. Free floating either weapons barrel usuall yields better accuracy. The addition of good optics today like the 4×32 ACOG allows the best (longest) range performance to be achieved, whether from the M4 or M16A2/A4. The reason for the common belief that the rifle is more accurate than the carbine comes from the old iron sight school where the longer sight radius played an important role in weapon accuracy.


mitcam1 March 30, 2010 at 1:26 am

We all know the 7.62X51 is the cartridge we should be firing all the time, everywhere. The poodle-shooter has cost too many lives over the years and the Whiz-Kids were wrong! A piston driven AR-10 is the weapon we should be carrying. If you can't hump it and the ammo to feed it and, you can't take the recoil of the .308 Win round you have no buisness in the Warrior Buisness!
Nuff Said.


ironjunkman March 30, 2010 at 9:48 am

how much difference does the gun make? Marines and tactics make the difference between a successful mission and not. does a Marine carrying a M1 Garand,or M14,or M4,or M16 risk the mission's completion? My all time favorite is the BAR 1918A2. and although I last fired one in 1966 I still would favor it for the accuracy, range, knock down power, and reliability. sure it would not be real convienent inside a house but thats what we got pistols and shotguns and hand grenades for. Sometimes I think we get too technological for our own good.


LTCMP6 March 30, 2010 at 10:07 am

I grew up with the M-14 then I was given the plastic toy M-16 then an A2 then an M4. If you don't old school frag n spray neither of the plastic fun guns will do you much good. For the close in fight I like the M4. Personally I don't care for close in fights much and like to reach out and touch from as far as possible so the long plastic 16 is alright.


frankdenet March 30, 2010 at 10:22 am

So why not supplement the M4 with the M14 on a per squad basis as I believe the Army does now? Would seem to be the best of both worlds.


Mike March 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

"Poodle-Shooter" about sums it up. If any Soldier or Marine is so candy-assed that he can't back a combat load of 7.62×51, then he needs either more PT or needs to be discharged… he has no business in a combat unit. Soldiers and Marines packed the M1 and all necessary ammo in WWII and Korea. Marines did NOT willingly give up their M14's in d'Nam, either.
The M16/M4 ain't really a BAD weapon. The cartridge it fires, however, is suitable for squirrels and jackrabits. Bob Macnamara foisted this onto us in the mid-60's and a generation of Soldiers and marines have had to pay the price of his meddling. The Bundeswher had a fine rifle for years in their H&K G3. I fired it in '77 at Hammelburg, for the Schutzenschnurr (their marksmanship lanyard…I got Gold!), and told my Platoon Sergeant that, if "the balloon went up", I was gonna knock one of our German allies over the head and take his G3…He told me to get him one, too. 5.56 cannot fill the bill…never could, never will…


Riceball April 1, 2010 at 7:22 am


The issue with ammo weight has nothing to do with the fitness of the soldier/Marine carrying the ammo but a matter of rounds per pound. Let's say you have 50lbs of ammo, how many more rounds of the lighter 5.56 are you going to be able to carry vs. the heavier 7.62? Not that I'm a huge 5.56 fan but I just wanted to clarify things some.


Korey May 6, 2010 at 5:54 am

Actually, Hugh, a longer barrel will yield more accuracy and better ballistics at longer ranges. The carbine doesn't beat out the 20" a4 at any range. They are fairly equal up until about 200 yards, where the ballistics seem to drop faster on the 14.5" carbine. Both barrels are gov't profile barrels and the same "stiffness". I'm telling you this as a trained armorer of the ar15 weapon system. Yes, free floating the handguards helps accuracy b/c nothing is pressing on the barrel, but for combat accuracy, it's not really worth it. The a4 will have more stopping power at all distances, especially those past 200 yards. The 5.56 round depends on this.


Gilbert December 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Would somebody please straighten me out. Is it true that the Marines in Afganistan are using a 223 round
in their personal weapon. If they are, to me it is ridiculous. This is a varmint cartridge. NATO spent untold amounts of money developing the 308 cartridge and within the last two months the UK has made it the weapon of choice for all their army personnel. This is an excellent Caliber of choice. It is highly accurate out
to three and 400 yards and will not blow up if it hits a small twig. If our military does not adopt this round
they are making a huge mistake. GKFITZ


Nance, E January 15, 2011 at 11:56 am

.223 is a different round from 5.56x45mm. The .308 was not made by NATO it was made by the US and forced on NATO. As for the UK no their main weapon fires 5.56x45mm just like the rest of NATO. Their DMs use 7.62x51mm rifles which again is just like the rest of NATO. 5.56x45mm is accurate out to 500m from a M4 carbine. So bragging about 300-400 yards accuracy is rather meaningless not to mention it is accurate to ranges farther than that. Where have you been exactly? You see to think a round developed and used since before the vietnam war is brand new, or atleast seem to act like it is. I mean it is still in use by NATO just not as the main round as it has some pretty bad disadvantages.


PR24 January 16, 2011 at 11:47 am

The 9mm & 5.56 work just fine for those of us in the police profession. The difference? We can use ballistic tip/hollow points in the rifles and HP's in the pistols. If the military would ditch the 1899 Hague Declaration which states that "Contracting powers" (organized national armies) involved in warfare can't use expanding/exploding bullets on humans, and use modern 'expanding projectiles' then this whole issue would probably go away. We are not currently fighting any armed organize force of another nation who follows both the Hague and Geneva Accords. They are criminals who just need to be shot.


Nance, E January 16, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Technically they work fine in the military also as long as it is a good shot. As in hits a vital area. Cops have to make shots while under fire just like in the military but they don't have to deal with the heavy stuff the military takes care of and it is at much much shorter ranges. So for cops it is easier to get a good hit than military personnel. A fmj 9mm or 5.56mm vital hit is better than a hollow point or ballistic tip round that hits the person but misses a vital. The fmj would have smaller wound sure but better effect. As long as the round hits the right spot it doesn't really matter. Now a expanding round would have a higher chance of hitting a vital if the person is slightly off target but if the fmj hit a vital and the expanding one missed a vital the fmj hit would be better.

Now just to clarify when you say exploding do you mean fragmenting? If so then the 5.56mm already does that. Just not beyond 150m IIRC. According to an article I read from a Marine corps magazine online M855A1 fragments at long and short range but I don't know if that is true as it also said the steel penetrator was copper instead of steel.


NoMoreBuzz May 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm

We can't and won't be able to economically sustain battle in the future, so it won't much matter.


Zspoiler December 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm

The 5.56mm acts like a buzz saw when it hits a human body, Because it tumbles . We has 55 grain ball back in the 70`s and 80s. I have read now that use a 77 grain bullet now ,because the Taliban are wearing body armor. and I still see that they are still using M-14 ,but with a composite stock, There is a AR-10 Type 7.62 rifles out there that has a recoil system ,that is less prone to jams.Maybe we should go with a rifle like that.


Big D December 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

Well, to get a little academic on the M16, one has to remember when it first came out, with a 1×12 twist and 55gr ammo, it was dubbed “the meat axe”. But once you up the bullet weight, put a steel/copper penetrator in the tip, and give it a faster, more stabilizing twist, you may get a longer range, but you’re just going to poke holes in things with the bullet tumble happening later, when it’s too late to be effective. Just my $.02.


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