Inside the M4A1 Purchase and Upgrade Program

I got a note from a Kit Up! reader on Monday alerting me to the release of PEO Soldier’s 2011 program almanac and wondering why the Army said on page 243 that even though it had about 500,000 M4s in the inventory, only about 100,000 were part of the upgrade program.

Well, according to Lt. Col. Chris Lehner — the PM for individual weapons — the deal is this:

There are about 12,000 new M4s left on the contract with Colt (which expired back in ’08 when the technical data package was released — in other words, when the patent expired). Lehner said he’d asked Colt to make those 12k guns in the M4A1 configuration (heavier barrel, full auto, ambidextrous controls) since the switch was a minimal impact to the manufacturing process. Those guns are being produced and fielded now.

Then there are about 24,000 new full-up weapons that are funded for fiscal 2011. Those weapons will be produced in the M4A1 configuration. But the big difference is that now that production will be competed. In other words, Colt’s monopoly is over on M4 production.

Right now we are firming up the solicitation for that … for a full and open competition. The interesting thing [with this order] is that that’s just what the Army needs. So it could be many multiples of 24,000 if you think of foreign military sales, other services and other agencies … so it’s a foot in the door for much more business than the 24,000…

Then, the Army has been given money in its FY ’11 budget to upgrade about 65,000 existing M4s to the M4A1.

We’ll compete the barrel, we’ll compete the trigger mechanism and we’ll compete the fire control assembly.

But the reason why the Army isn’t doing all 500,000 is schedule and funding.

Our acquisition strategy for these improvements is to make improvements to the whole fleet. That’s what’s been accepted by Army leadership. … You make improvements as funding and the budget allows you to do.

This raises an interesting dilemma — one our readers have been scratching the surface on over the last couple days. Can the Army get everything it wants with a Tea Party budget slashing Congress in session? Can it at the same time ask for hundreds of millions for M4 improvements while also asking for potentially billions for a whole new rifle (the Improved Carbine search we wrote about yesterday)? I’m not so sure…

And, oh, one more thing. Lehner said as the 100,000 or so M4A1s get produced and go into the field, the priority for those weapons includes deploying BCTs and SF units.

  • Moondog

    The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, or maybe one side of isn’t talking to the other side, or you are talking about the upper levels of a U.S. Government agency and common sense is a foreign concept, or the Army believes in throwing good money after bad, or all of the above? And, if they are going to have an all new carbine/rifle, then what caliber is it going to be? It would be nice to design the weapon around the cartridge, instead of trying to design a cartridge around a weapon. But I forget, we are talking about our government here.

  • Lance

    The Republican congress will approve this since the cost is a fraction compared to a new weapon or a new aircraft carrier or a new failed f-35. The main thing is the M-4 is going to stay I think this whole new carbine thing is a farce and the real thing is this upgrade since the test are rigged for 5.56mm and the fact the army is going for a duel strategy anyway.

    • Jon

      the actual competition isn’t for a while, the 5.56 test this spring is just to ensure the new carbines that are 5.56 will work with the new M855A1 round. The government and Army won’t even be there observing. The real competition will include any other caliber from 5.56, 6.5, 6.8, and 7.62. I do agree its likely the Army will be wanting to keep the 5.56 around, considering they have billions left in inventory and they just dumped a ton of money into a new round.

      Plus, from what I’ve seen so far I can’t imagine the Army keeping an upgraded M4 compared to a lot of the new stuff coming out (Colt CM901 comes to mind . . .)

    • dubbs

      Lance- for combat issues, the 5.56 mm is sufficient for med. range engagements- you will NEVER find a perfect one shot stopper that will do everything- people forget the complaints about performance have been intrinsic in just about every weapon deployed by the American Military. Once upon a time, 45-70 springfield were a problem. .30 krag rifles. 38 caliber side arms. M-1 crabines. M-14s in combat.

      So called “better rounds like the 6.8 SPC”??? Won’t work in the era of supposed commonality( imagine deploying with Canadians, Dutch and Brits- ammo issues become a problem with everybody bringing their own…)

    • Pual

      You congressmen should look at the original M1A1 first. It was the Army Infantry that wanted the three round bust on the M16 to save money on ammunition in the 80’s. They also want more accuracy for the M16 and range so the heavy barrel was put on. This also cased the ammunition to change for the new M16A2. Funny the Infantry wanted to save money on ammunition? Which made the U.S. Armed Forces the only Army without an automatic weapon for is soldiers. The Army Infantry did not learn it mistake during Desert Storm because it did not last that long. By then most of the soldiers that used the M16 with automatic were out of the service so the new soldiers never used it came to know only the new M16A2 with three round burst. Also the Army Infantry changed from the 45 to the M9 the change was made for more ammunition for the handgun not stopping power. The same thing that happened with the M16 happened with M9 new soldiers came to like it not knowing about the 45 also looking at 14 rounds over 7. The Army Infantry is now looking for a more powerful handgun with more stopping power. Also you can look at the Army records and find out when the last order or upgrade for parts was for 45’s if they were ever order. Since then the Army Infantry tried to get many different versions of rifles all failed due to cost and uniformity throughout the Armed Services and the same with handguns. It’s funny that the things they want now are the thing they gave up years ago. So I guess History does repeat itself. Also since most congressmen have never been in any Armed Services they can only base the facts on data and test firing and what the soldier say’s. Oh by the way testing is done by new soldiers in basic training which start the same thing all over again. Now if you bring the M4 into it. The same thing that happened with the M16 happened with the M4. If you think there is a mistake you can look it up in The Army Time back issues.

  • Lance

    I don’t see the M-4 going away. The army is the only service doing these upgrades and competitions. The USMC is not going to buy the upgraded M-4 and any possible new carbine and stated they wont. The Air Force is not doing away with the M-4 and the Coast Guard and Navy are using M-16s . At most the Military is going the way of each service like it was in the 1890s The army had the Kreg carbine the Navy had Winchester 1895s in service and many units had .45-70 rifles in service. Not until the universal adoption of the M-1903 was a Military standard rifle standardized. Is the military going back to the older stranded no one knows. i do know the M-4 is going to be around Christian Lowe didn’t mention that the Army is having open competitions for a new bolt and carrier for the M-4 and a new Piston conversion for it too. This a later stage which will start next year.

    With a Republican congress slashing budgets I doubt a whole new rile will get adopted in a the next few years anyway. The Official weapon statement states that no decision will be made before 2013 anyway. Sound like they will wait and see whose president after 2012 anyway. Most competitors of the new carbine program are AR copies anyway the REC-7, HK 416, and the LWRC are all are with new uppers. This may be used to cut cost in that older M-4 lowers could be used and parts too. I don’t know but this is all hype and we wont know any real news until competitions and test begin next year. Any way thats my two cents and the fellow feelings of some people on the firearm blog im part of.

    • Sev

      We want to slash social spending. Thats the real drain. We don’t mind giving the military what it beeds. We’re supposed to provide a strong national defense, not welfare checks.

      • rob

        Then get a real job and quit your military welfare and do something productive for America.

        • Yes because being in the military isn’t a real job. I mean its not like we put our lives on the line or anything. You’re right. You have all the answers. I’ll get out of the Marines and get a real job.


      The Republicans have for the most part supported the military, while the Democrats cut the budget/manning. See : Carter, Clinton and Obama (?).

      • Rick James

        You mean like how well veterans affairs were handled under Bush?

  • Dev

    I think a more salient question would be why a full-sized rifle was replaced by a carbine instead, rather than replacing the 5.56.

    • Jon

      See: Iraq

      • Dev

        So they don’t realise that the mistakes and lessons learned in Korea (M1 Garand / M1 Carbine) is still quite relevant today?

    • Stefan S.

      The M-16A2 is a joke. Ever try to use a musket for CQB? The carbine is better suited to APC’s, CQB, etc. Better rifling, propellants, barrel steel, and better rounds make a fullsize rifle a dinosaur.

      • Dev

        Correct me if i’m wrong, but isn’t Afghanistan engaged in ranges where the carbine seems to be struggling?

        What BS. Put a decent calibre into a short barrel, and you will still get shitty results. There is no substitute for a full-sized rifle, only supplements.

        As for your arguments that a full-sized rifle takes up way too much space, does the term “bullpup” mean anything to you?

  • Stefan S.

    Tea Party budget slashing Congress in session? The so called “Tea Party” are pro military. DUH! They are for slashing rampant libtard spending. No where can I see that they will slash defense spending. You still have the stan, Iran, Nk. They need to slash unemployment for bums, welfare for “breeders”, and all those other social freebies the dem’s use to get re-elected. Congress needs to update the upper (HK 416/417) or go with a better and Modern carbine. The M-4 is long in the tooth and needs to be replaced.

    • Rick James

      No. You have it wrong. They support big business defense contractors. Actual wounded warriors? Not. See the treatment of veterans and medical support soldiers received under eight years of Bush.

      • Jon

        Yes they support defense contractors, who in the end support the troops by giving them the best equipment for the job. Now, I’m sure any American, left or right, supports the troops. However, blaming the President for EVERYTHING that happened in all eight years is BS. I’m not a fan of Obama, but I don’t blame him for every little thing I don’t approve of. The health care issue was something that the Army failed to handle long before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it just took a real conflict for the misguided care to be brought to the spotlight.

    • Infidel4LIFE

      I was told that when people from Puerto rico come here, to the land of “haves and never will’s” they get on welfare, from that they apply for SSI, for them AND their kids. They say they have ADHD, so they get a full check. Im sorry for using the Puerto Ricans as an example, but DAMN WHERE YOU GET THE ESCALADE??? WTF…i live in a mixed hood and damn i see it everyday. Oh, i drive a cheap Toyota, it got me to work, but right now their is NO JOB. Why should the richest 2% get a f-ing tax break? That is just wrong.

      • theCelt

        we’re supposed to be talkin’ about the M4 carbine.

      • Raul

        Puerto Ricans are US citizens by birth, they don’t need to “come here, to the land of “haves and never will’s” they get on welfare”. They are a hard working people. Don’t confuse them with the Newyoricans you’re accustomed to.

      • Jon

        Its “there is no job” no their, and yup, and that 2% rich never had to work for a penny in their life. Money was just delivered to them since birth. As I recall, most people in that 2 percent grew up in the middle to lower class, went to college (many of them on scholarships for less wealthy families), and started their own business or climbed some corporate ladder. Its not easy, I’m doing it now, but I’m not complaining the rich have it all, I’m working towards a financially stress free life and whaooooooooo we’re way off topic.

        • Thor

          We can talk about rifles vs carbines vs 5.56 vs a real caliber. I’ll take an M-14 any day. Now about the misuse of “class”. It is low, middle or high INCOME….not class. Who pays all the income tax anyway? NOT the lower income earners….they pay nothing. So Jon why not do a little research?
          I worked fulltime, went to college nights fulltime and my coworkers were PISSED when I showed up with my diploma. They were fired and I moved to a better job that REQUIRED a diploma and paid more money. BTW if you clean the M4 and an AR10 is an easy .308 and even better a .338 Federal

  • Stefan S.

    I’m refering to what the basis of the article was. Sorry blame Bush for everything is a tactic of the left. Does it apply to you?

  • Stefan S.

    Rick james- I don’t see the left walking into my combat AOR and treating me like I matter. I am currently deployed to Iraq. Republican senators/rep are always here shaking hands thanking GI’s. Obama has to have his PR toadies round up Obama lovers in uniform for his shameless photo ops. Been there seen that have you?

  • Infidel4LIFE

    My apologies. Im way off topic also. Guns or Butter? That is the question.

  • theCelt

    To put it short, the carbine was a pea-shooter that messed up.

    The Garand was able to knock the enemy down at the very least.

    • Moondog

      The carbine had a lot of failures to function in cold weather. Also, the carbine round (which was essentially a 30 cal pistol round) often failed to penetrate the quilted/padded winter uniforms that the Chicoms wore. Much of this can be attributed to the powder used in the carbine cartridge losing power in tempratures below 0. The US had not developed ammunition and lubricants for extreme cold weather.

  • Daniel E. Watters

    FWIW: Colt’s existing contract for the M4/M4A1 did not expire with the granting of TDP license rights to the government. Orders can be placed on W52H09-07-D-0425 until the end of calender year 2010. Deliveries will stretch out several months into 2011.

    The granting of license rights does not mean that the government owns the M4/M4A1 TDP. For the next few decades, any second-source contracts using the M4/M4A1 TDP will require royalty payments to Colt.

  • Guest B

    Too bad some multibillionaire doesn’t arm a whole division with a new rifle/carbine & new caliber for a deployment in Afghanistan so the troops would at least have a better point of reference for their after deployment surveys.

  • Hermanator

    I hate to break ot 2 u trojanII, but ur wrong, u should look p the facts, b4 u shoot ur mouth off!!! :-{

  • Hermantor

    U sir c what u want 2 c. It’s not that bush caused all the problems, it’s just that he didn’t care………..

    • crackedlenses

      You seem to be suffering from selective sight as well. Bush was by no means perfect, but he is not the aloof Harvard prof the Obama is. From everything else I have seen of Obama I do not expect him to care a twit about our soldiers…..

  • Guest B

    So; Bush Cheney and Rumsfeld openly ridiculing Gen Shinseki for informing them that they didn’t have enough troops in Iraq to properly manage the rebuilding of Iraq makes the W. Bush administration greater than “libtards”. It’s comical how the rightwingers forget about Shinseki when they start patting themselves on the back for Patreus’ “surge”. The surge being what Bush was told was necessary to effectively manage the war. Furthermore, Bush’s minion Paul Bremer issuing Coalition Provisional Authority Order #2 automatically made the war last 4 times longer than necessary and probably 100 times more expensive than what it should have been. That’s not even touching on the original justification for the war in the first place. The US would be in much better shape if Gore had become president.

    • crackedlenses

      Sure; we’d all be using flourescents and golf-carts 8 years early……

  • JSL

    go fuck yourself rob

  • Matt

    Republicans support the military; tea baggers dont

  • Matt

    From what I understood about upcoming purchases; the army was buying 12,000/25,000/28,000 in M4A1 config then that 65,000 was to be upgraded to ambi, piston, monolithic upper. If that went well the whole 500,000 would then be upgraded to full auto as well as the other improvements I mentioned. (since the 500,000 are M4’s not M4A1’s) Of course I could be completely wrong, I can interpet army decisions as well as the next guy. The army bamboozles me.


    You are terribly uneducated Jon. Less than 1 percent or the “2 percent” came from the middle class. The American dream is some bs they sell you to keep you brainwashed believing you can actually grab that carrot on the stick they’re dangling in front of you. It’s so you can keep the 2 percent rich. You are their slave, you are second class to them and if you don’t think this is true then your a ver myopic minded individual. Step out of the box, open your mind sheep. They think they’re are better than you and that they “deserve” a better life than you and your kids. Unacceptable. Watch “the men who built America” the money is still in the same families hands. Anytime someone from middle class makes it, please believe it been done purposely so people can see and believe that one day they can achieve that through hard work. Bs. Mitt Romney was born into money, didn’t have to earn it. Yet, he makes 20 million a year off investments(no job) while the average American works his/her ass off for 25k. Your a zombie, wake up.

    To everyone actually speaking about the carbines, sorry. Didn’t mean to side track so much. This dude is an idot

    • crackedlenses

      The Russian Revolution of 1917 called. It wants its gullible fool back…..