I had the opportunity to meet the President of ArmaLite, Inc. — a company recognized as the original inventor of the AR-15/M16 rifle — during the Range Day at SHOT Show this month.
Mark Westrom took over ArmaLite back in the early 1990s, taking the helm of a company in crisis and facing the draconian strictures of the assault weapons ban. He’s taken the company into the 21st Century with a gusto, and he’s never shied away from speaking his mind on carbine development and innovation (or lack thereof). Westrom was an Army Ordnance Officer in the ’70s and a competitive rifle and pistol shooter for the Army and Reserve.
After he walked me through the advantages of his SPR Mod.1, we chatted about the Army M4 upgrade program and some of the whistles and bells other companies were pushing the Army to adopt.
In an interview with Small Arms Defense Journal in 2009, Westrom was bearish on the Army’s new carbine competition.
The political snarl has become so deep that the Army is soliciting a new carbine to take a look at everything available. The solicitation is being stimulated by commercial and political pressures, and I doubt if we’ll see anything new. It’ll be too expensive. I’m going to make a prediction. The prediction is that while one rifle or another may have a feature that is liked, in the end a few minor changes will be made to the M16 and M4 system, and that’ll be as far as it goes.
None of the new firearms being proposed does what the M16 did in its day. The M16 led to a new marksmanship doctrine and provided a substantially new combat capability. The M16 provided an intense, close-in fighting capability. Merely changing from one compact system to another compact system doesn’t give you any fundamental change. The weapons systems being considered only offer a suspect or theoretical difference in performance. The reliability of the M16 when in good condition—cleaned and lubed—is so high, I don’t believe that it’s worth the money to change to a new weapons system. You would have to see a substantial improvement in performance, and the performance with the M16 and M4 is very good.
Well, at SHOT he went much further, saying the Army’s removal of full auto on M4s cost lives and that the “upgrades” the service is requesting aren’t much…