VIDEO: Lack of Full Auto on M4s Cost Lives

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…

  • Eagle

    I guess he doesn’t count the magazine release button. How is that ambidextrous, sir?

    • Or the bolt catch. Or the charging handle (the release latch is on the left side, making left handed charging slightly less ergonomic)

  • Sherman

    So…. how again has the 3-round burst cost lives?

  • ToothFairy1

    “I’m convinced that the 3 round burst has cost lives”. Really? Support that with facts. Good grief.

  • 1) Full auto fire from rifles wastes ammo. That costs lives.

    2) There is no need to demand revolutionary change. Most innovations, both military and civilian, improve through incremental change.

    3) M16/M4 advocates who claim the rifles’ reliability “when in good condition—cleaned and lubed—is so high”, miss the point. In combat, a rifle that performs well when NOT fastidiously maintained is preferable to one that jams under the same conditions – provided that the more reliable rifle is equally accurate.

    4) It is reasonable for the US Military to supply troops with the best combat rifle available. The M16/M4 is a good rifle, but it’s not the best. What is? I don’t know. That’s why we hold competitions.

    • Ted

      Well said!

      • John

        You’re exactly right!

    • Sev

      Agree with points 2,3,4. However full auto does save lives. When you absolutley need fire superioority, the OPTION is nice to have. most troops use sigle shot but when sh&T hits the fan, you’re gonna want full auto.

      • Jon

        Fire superiority is more of maintaining a constant rate of fire, not 900 rounds per minute. Making sure you’re rifle is putting accurate point fire on target while you’re buddy is reloading and vice versa is more crucial than dumping a magazine in ten seconds. With a team or squad putting rounds towards you, you’ll never notice that its five or ten guys on semi auto, its enough lead to scare the shit out of you. The SAW is called the Squad Automatic Weapon for a reason, its purpose is to put a high rate of fire on target, and its why the squad carries two or more of them.

        Now, obviously the geography will come into play on this. The urban cities of Iraq’s battlefields dont’ require full auto because a) civilians, b) you’re buddies are in the room with you, in the other building, or across the street. Semi-auto controlled, accurate fire is paramount. In Afghanistan, when you’re engaging targets out past 300 meters, screw full auto.

        When the shit hits the fan, the last thing you want to do is burn through all of your ammo. Now, I’ve never been in a situation like Wanat, but logically I would think I’d rather put controlled bursts toward the threat, but I admit I don’t know what I would do in that situation unless I was there.

  • ivan

    when cleaned and lubed reliability is high?

    again they are dodging the argument. i dont care how clean it is. once in a combat situation and you get mud or sand in it your in serious trouble and maybe your fire team.

    • RustyShovel

      Ivan is right.

      I’m sick to death of the phrase “…as long as…” (eg: The M16 is reliable…as long as…) It’s high time this dangerous little proviso was retired.

      A weapon which is only reliable under laboratory conditions is NOT reliable in any other setting.

      Of course, if you’re duty is limited to patrolling laboratories, this discussion may not apply to you; carry on.

  • RustyShovel

    “None of the new firearms being proposed does what the M16 did in its day.”

    Like jam during firefights? Seriously, “in it’s day” is a phrase even supporters of the M-16 platform avoid. Nobody has fond memories of how the M-16 performed “back in the day.”

    To be fair, the M-16 has improved since those early days, but to wax nostalgic over the M-16’s introduction? It’s like having fond memories of polio.

    Mr. Westrom’s words are a terrific example of self-interested logic. I wonder where he’d stand if he wasn’t the President of ArmaLite?

    Whether incremental or otherwise, why resist any change which improves the accuracy, dependability, and modularity of America’s battle rifle? The answer is simple:

    Greed, Sloth, and Pride.

    These three deadly sins have killed far more soldiers than the three-round burst.

    • Jon

      The M16 worked perfectly when it was first adopted. When they changed the powder charge in the 5.56 cartridges they used did it start to malfunction constantly. Then they adopted shorter barrels (XM177, Car-15, M4, MK18, etc) that reduced the muzzle velocity and thus the over all effectiveness of the 5.56 round. Then we went to the desert with sandstorms, dust, etc.

      Lets remember that the AR was originally a 7.62 design, then changed to 5.56. This was still Stoner’s design and it worked well. It wasn’t until the military began to change, adopt, and re-rig everything that problems began. Obviously, this was because the military’s mission changed, but its clear that the AR platform needs a major over haul, or go with a new platform all together to fit the military’s mission.

  • Moondog

    Full auto in a combat rifle/carbine is a waste of ammo and causes missed shots. Each squad and platoon has dedicated full auto weapons, for fire supression. Actually, AIMED, and EFFECTIVE, rounds can be put down range at a pretty high rate on semi-auto. Note, that I said aimed rounds. It does take some practice and range time. Something the Army at least does not always want to provide.

    As far as being reliable, I got news for you, get enough sand and/or mud in an M14 or M1 garand and they will choke up too. It does not take long to field strip and do a quick clean/lube job on an M16. From personal experience, I know there were a lot of troops in Viet Nam that were too damn lazy to keep their M16s clean unless you stood over them and made them clean and lube.

    • crackedlenses

      Agreed. If you want to have a jam-proof weapon then fight like a peasant; that’s who all the indestructible weapons were made for. They were not made for trained, professional soldiers…..

    • Thunder350

      There are multiple guns out there (my favorite being the M416/M417). That work when stuffed with mud, filled with sand, or after being dunked in water. Now thats true reliability. And eh, as for the auto vs semi argument, I’m all for training soldiers on how to “burst” your guns, full auto can come in handy, especially in extremely close quarters. Train our men and women how to control their shots so it’ll be accurate at long range.

      • Jon

        I just want to point out that many companies have performed these tests on the range, but have failed when put through such conditions day after day ;) The HK416 is one exception, obviously, but many other weapons that worked great for local SWAT teams who don’t run their guns hard everyday. When federal agencies and private contractors put these weapons through the mud day in and day out, they failed repeatedly, more so than the Colt M4.

  • hamchuck

    What “marksmanship doctrine”? When have “marksmanship” and “full-auto” ever gone together?

  • terry

    Nothing new already know full auto is the way to go, yep you may never have to use it but! it’s sure great to have it when you need it. Always liked the M16A1 did what it was supposed to do and more, military tactics call for it time to time and do i really have to explain it to all those posting here or do we already know when it’s needed?.

  • Warhorse

    A) M16’s and M4’s are not the best choice. There are weapons with higher reliability at that caliber and a higher caliber. To say that it doesn’t malfunction if you keep it clean in combat is irrelevant. It can be clean as a whistle before you step-off, but when rounds start cracking and you’re on the deck rolling around in the sand, the weapon is bound to get dirty.

    B) Full auto is good, but it will take training to get used to. Full auto allows each rifleman to lay a significant amount of suppressive fire for movement. It brings more lead to the fight. It would great for ambushes. The biggest drawback would be the fire discipline.

  • Jason Wong

    The comment that “three round burst has cost soldier’s lives” appears to be taken out of context – at the start of the video, we only hear the end of the sentence – the viewer isn’t given the full context of the statement. One reader has gone so far as to equate Sloth, Greed and Pride as the reasons why a new rifle has not been adopted.

    Is a SCAR-L marginally better than an M4? If so, by how much? How does one quantify the dollar amount by which a SCAR-L is better than an M4? $100M better? $500M better? At the end of the day, the M4 works, and continues to work as designed. USSOCCOM tried the SCAR-L. It has since been rejected as a replacement ot the M4. Why? Cost. That’s the primary issue that Westrom is trying to make when he discusses ambidextrous controls and added benefits to potential replacement weapons.

    Mark Westrom is a former member of the USAMU – he’s a shooter and knows how to shoot. It hardly seems fair to judge or criticize based upon a 1:12 video without full background and additional information.

    • RustyShovel

      Mr. Westrom might be a nice guy, or a bona fide badass…I don’t care. He’s selling crazy and I’m not buyin’.

      The M16 is not ambidextrous nor is its service record something to celebrate. I could care less about the 3-round burst vs. full auto argument; when I pull the trigger, I want to be confident that it will go bang.

      As far cost goes, canceling the manufacture of a single super-stealth-wonder-bomber should do the trick. Besides, the size of the army’s order should drive the per unit cost down. Even if the price doesn’t go down, why shouldn’t the richest nation in the world arm its citizen soldiers with the very best?

      Greed, Sloth, and Pride.

      • Jon

        Even the richest nation in the world can’t afford the very best. But thank God we do have the very best soldier, sailors, airmen, and Marines, thats where we’ll win a war, not the options on a selector switch.

  • G. Orwell

    Hey my fellow soldiers, practice, practice, practice, eventually you’ll understand that a 3 round burst can do what needs to be done. How much time is lost in replacing your finger back on the trigger” less that 1/4 of a second? If you know how to aim and know how to shoot, you will accomplish everything you would with a full auto and won’t waste precisious ammunition which in certain situations can be a life saver in it’s self.
    I went through this in Nam. At first I was so frusterated I once tossed my nearly empy 16 away and picked an NV AK and used it. After the third day I was glad to get my 16 back. Although, I can’t argue that a true AK is a damn good combat weapon in harsh weather conditions where there is lots of mud, etc.
    Orwell 101st

  • johnny

    Engagement ranges in Eastern Astan tend to be well beyond anything a full-auto M-4 can suppress.

  • CruzB

    I don’t know of anyone, in my unit anyway, who has used 3 round burst in combat. I never hear of guys using 3 round burst in combat. If I hadn’t spent my entire dpeloyment as a .50 cal gunner I wouldn’t have used it either. Hard for it to cost lives when no one uses it.
    Full auto with an m4 means a ton of misses and more time spent reloading than shooting.
    “When fully cleaned and lubed.” good luck with that after a day of fire fights and running around in the desert or something. Someone said ”
    It does not take long to field strip and do a quick clean/lube job on an M16.” I would bet money that person is a POG. You have fun with that in combat. Those precious seconds I spend cleaning my weapon could be spent killing the enemy.

  • CruzB

    We don’t need full auto m4’s, that’s what the SAW is for (a weapon actually made to handle full auto,that’s probably partly why the old m16’s jammed all the time). We DO need rifles that won’t jam when they get a little dust in the chamber. We also need better mags.

    There’s a reason SOF units are going to HK416’s and SCARS in great number.

  • JSL

    Why do Recon Marines carry M4’s with full auto, if it will cost (their) lives? I realize that some may say they have more extensive training, but how about we let the others be trained in full auto as well? Just because you can use full auto doesn’t mean you always have to. Those who think that Recon or others such as them are the only ones who may need this capability should reconsider: the enemy will try to ambush you if they can, and if they have full auto on their AK’s, at least we could come closer to matching the volume of fire, as obviously the caliber of the m4’s round and the lower velocity of the 5.56 in carbine form are already against us..

  • Justin

    Here’s a question for you guys. Why is it that they’re trying to push for full-auto on the M4, (for greater volume of fire/fire superiority), when they’re trying to replace the SAW with the M27? Wasn’t the whole point of the M27 to suppress the enemy with more accurately placed fire?

    Also, between the M16 and the M4, from my understanding (which is very little), the main difference is size. The M4 being more suited for urban combat and tight spaces vs the M16 which is better suited to wide open terrain (i.e. Afghanistan). So couldn’t they just have a rifle with which you could just change the upper receivers, to be mission dependent? Rather than trying to replace the M4 and the M16 separately, couldn’t they just have a competition to replace them both for all services?

  • Sonny

    Justin, the weight and size of the SAW is a problem when fast moving foot units such as recon have to carry all their gear miles upon miles. They usually don’t operate in large groups either, so the addition of automatic-CAPABLE weapons is most likely a welcome for situations deeming it.

  • M.G Halvorsen

    I keep hearing my old Platoon sergeant telling me that “Full-Automatic is for ####-fools that can’t hit what they’re shooting at”. He was right then, he’s right now. Aimed SEMI-AUTOMATIC fire is almost always better…unless the bad guys start using “human wave” charges…

  • Glockster20

    I personally think FULL AUTO is nothing more than a waste of ammo! I have seen FULL Auto in action and I saw a lot of what I thought was wasted ammo. I feel that the three round burts is fine, I never had any issues with it. I find it hard to believe that the M4 being FULL AUTO would help anything. Last time I deployed to Iraq, I had an M4 and I was not impressed with the multiple malfunctions. I would hate to see what would happen with it being full auto.

  • Modular design like that was the basis for the SCAR and the ACR, in varying degrees. I believe the ACR has the more robust modularity in the field, requiring fewer (no?) specific tools.

  • crackedlenses

    Actually, super-stealth-wonder bombers can be useful. Don’t insist that your superiors or former superiors conform to your limited view of strategic weapons development…..

    • RustyShovel


      You’re right, of course, the SSW bombers are amazing. I’m not disputing their usefulness. I just think that their is a LOT of money being funneled toward extravagant projects which have the support of senators and lobbyists.

      How many models of air-superiority fighters have we gone through since the introduction of the M16?

      If the situation were reversed, and the Army had ray guns while the Air Force flew “reconfigured” F-4 Phantoms, I’d be making the same argument on behalf of the Air Force pilots.

      There is no good excuse for members of our armed forces to be armed with outdated equipment. It should be a national priority.

      • crackedlenses

        Understood, and thank you for not taking offense…..

  • Tom Webb

    It seems to me that since you have a rectile on this weapon…..compared to the open sights of the M-16…the three round burst is preferred. Full auto implies that you are seeing targets out of the rectile area and are moving the weapon’s muzzle to engage the targets. Like with a M-60.

    With a rectile, you have to reposition the weapon to bring a sight line to the target….you are not going to see rounds impacts to direct the muzzle to the target.. Just my two cents.

  • jerry

    Auto in the jungle, yes. Wide open desert, no. First thru a door way, probably yes. If you ever watch documenaries on WWII, the guy with the thompson or M3 goes first when contact made with the germans.

  • Stefan S.

    What was the 2 most feared american weapons by The Germans in WW2. ( I have a Masters in American History and a WW2 Historian) The Ma-Deuce and the Thompson. Both Full auto. Why was the Garand and the M-1 carbine dropped by the GI when a Thompson was available? Because it was effective. Not saying the Garand wasn’t a war winner. Far from it. But my Grandfather replaced his garand with a Thompson because of the carnage it caused in buildings and in close with the enemy.
    Now the modern issue. Full auto has a place. Period. Let the trigger puller decide when to use it. Else your Jessica Lynch with a non functioning burts A-2!LOL.

  • Echo 5 PAPA

    As a CMC Coach, I cannot understand why a fully automatic M4 would be the solution to saving lives?

    The SAW operates like a Model “T” and what’s the use of allowing troops to run through 30+ rounds if they aren’t properly trained on how to use a fully automatic weapon? I can run through all mags in my LBV and cargos in less than 2 minutes, so again, the theory of allowing the “standard” issue to have full auto capabilities is senseless. The troops are doomed at the War Lab meetings if we keep this up! OOH-RAH!

  • john r arenas

    i have never shot an m16, but i know a couple of good, new machine guns the usa military is considering to replace the old m16’s. the barret arms manufacturing company………m468 shoots 6.8mm rounds called barret assault weapon, needs night vision scope, costs about 180 dollars a copy. and a short barrel machine gun , cal. 223 with excellent accuracy for both weapons. 636 short barrel machine gun, costs about 150 dollars a copy for close, urban combat, door to door,………also, a new 20 gage automatic shotgun that hold 9 rounds. plus a new 357 handgun instead of a 9mm glock. a new 416 cal. sniper rifle for winter time, goes farther and more accurate UPDATED AND MODERNIZED what do you vets and active duty think?

    • Jon

      First, please use proper grammar, makes it easier to read.

      Second, civilian costs and military costs aren’t the same.

      Third, you clearly don’t know a thing about being a door kicker. The M468, M4, M16, etc. are NOT “machine guns.” They are assault rifles. A machine gun is an M249, M240, M2. Save me some time and look up the proper definition of both. A night vision device that costs $180 is no better than the crap that came with Modern Warfare fan-nut-special-edition. Military night vision is at least Generation III, and would cost you (a civilian) around $5,000. And a soldier will only need such a device if it was mission dependent, a better option would be an Eotech, Aimpoint, or Trijicon optic. Door kickers in the Stan and Iraq already have shotguns, including a modular under barrel gun that can attach to the bottom rail of their M4. Also, the US military service pistol is the M9 Barretta, not a Glock (special forces operators do use Glocks, however). And no, a 357 would NOT be my round of choice, a better solution would be to allow the military to adopt jacketed hollow points like LE and civilians can use. A 9mm works just fine when you’re using something other than full metal jacket. Finally, the longest recorded sniper kill was with a .338 Lapua, not a .50, not a .416, and not a .300 (which is what the US Army is converting their M24s to).

      Now please go back to reading your gun magazines and have fun with your gun collection. If you want to learn more, please contact your local recruiter and serve your country.

  • warfighter

    I can’t believe with all these posts, no one points to the obvious and it is obvious. Three round burst is best for the mass deployed who tend to get trigger happy in combat situations and full auto for SOF. Most SAW’s that I have seen in combat waste 400 rounds of ammo in less that 10 minutes! Why, because the guy behind it is jacked up with a lead finger. Yes, that is what it is for but precisely the reason why the standard issue should never have full auto. Because our guys on the frontlines would turn into sprayers, which they still do even with the present day burst. Keep the M4 at full auto for SOF and the standard issue at 3 round for the rest, end of story. Those with a cool head no when to use full auto and when not to.

  • Guest B

    I never forget watching the Twilight Zone Movie when the grunts in the Nam story go full automatic with their M16s ( apparently after shooting Sergeant Neidermeyer–Animal House joke ), the amount of bullets the platoon put out was amazing. I don’t think that “full auto” is really the big issue. I have a hunch that getting rid of the 3round burst is what the real goal is.

    Another thing, why does the US continue on abiding by the Hague Convention prohibition of hollowpoint projectiles? That would make the smaller 5.56mm projectiles yaw at nearly all distances. I believe the Russians use hollowpoints in their AK74s. Besides, how can hollowpoint projectiles be “excessive” compared to white phosphurus rounds, AC 130 gunships etc? It would simply be more of a life-saver for our troops.

    • Jon

      I have no idea, but I’m glad that state side my XDM 9mm is loaded up with 20 rounds of jacketed hollow points.

  • Jon

    HK416s yes, SCARs, no. The SCAR-H was adopted because it fills a capability gap, but the SCAR-L was not well received and was cut due to costs. Go to and forums and you’ll find plenty of posts of snake eaters and rangers not liking the SCAR and preferring the good ol’ M4.

  • Jon

    Volume of fire isn’t as effective as an accurate high rate of fire. I don’t care much for the bullets wizzing fifty feet over my head, its the ones bouncing in the dirt at my feet and chipping the wall behind me that I’m worried about.

  • Jon

    Also, carrying a SAW makes you a high priority target along with officers and medics. If the bad guys are smart (which they are) they’ll go for the SAW gunners first. This is common sense so saying this isn’t violating opsec. Now, because the M27 is an AR platform, the enemy can’t pick off the auto riflemen because it will be harder to distinguish between the M27 and the M16.

  • RustyShovel

    The new M855A1 round is supposed to alleviate some of the complaints with the 5.56 round. The army appears so pleased with the new round that it is making it available to manufacturers who are seeking entry in the carbine replacement contest.

    It seems to me that this new wonder round has ended any further discussion of switching to another main battle caliber (6.8, 6.5, etc). It even seems to have killed a lot of interest in “modularity.”

    It remains to be seen, in my opinion, whether the new round will actually increase the overall effectiveness of the 5.56. I’ve yet to hear any opinions from the ground.

  • Manty01Actual

    Absolutely. He’s ,issing the point completely when the trials at Aberdeen showed that at a 100-125 yard target acquisition and fire, only 3of the 30 rounds sent downrange actually hit the target effectively. Best thing that ever happened to the M16 was the A2 designation, lengthening and heavy barreling the tube, and your popping burst fire headshots at 300 with iron sights. Open and shut. Not sure where everyone else is in their BRM, but I like having the option of being effective enough with my rifle to drop 30 aggressors on a magazine. Simple tactical economics. Albeit, that is usually the last thing that happens, but from my skill set, I can, if given the opportunity, guarantee putting 15 out of the fight permanently. Add a couple more designated rifles to that equation and thats an accomplished mission. Nothing ends a firefight faster than the terminal reduction of the agressing element with effective, patient, lethal precision fire.

  • guest

    I thought that ArmaLite went kapoof. Eagle Arms swooped in and bought the name. In other words, today’s ArmaLite really has nothing to do with the original ArmaLite.

  • adam

    three round burst has a tendency to jam the weapon causing you valuable time to unjam and put rounds down range

    • ToothFairy1

      Bull. What is your experience in this? Have you ever fired a burst or full auto M16 family weapon? I sure as eff have. My experience includes M16-A1, A2, and combat time on M4s and A2s. Maintain your weapon, and, even with nasty blanks, it will function. Like I said, support it with FACTS. Not what you heard on the airsoft forum. For the record, I prefer semi auto. More hits, less miss.

  • tim

    instead of worrying about full auto or semi for the military, I think they should be more interested in switching calibers of the m4s to 6.8. If it was me I would rather be carrying around a .308 semi auto ar-10 rather than any full auto m4 in 5.56. and I dont care that it weighs a little more. Id for sure feel much more confident with a 6.8 than a 5.56.
    The 5.56 is for sure a killing round (hell a 22lr will kill) but the 6.8 would be much better

  • Thomas

    It’s my understand even on full auto it was recommended to fire in short burst to keep from jamming the weapon. Plus your aim is better with short burst.

  • Dillon

    The M16 amidextrous? To who? It’s set up for a right-hand shooter, with ejection port on the right side, the magazine release is on the right (so it can be pushed with his index finger) so a left handed shooter can’t use his index finger to drop the magazine. The bolt release is on the left, which forces the lefty to remove his hand off the trigger to close the bolt. Also the selector switch is on the left, not easily accesible to a lefty. The only thing ambidextrous on the rifle is the charging lever, this man is a fool. I don’t care who he is.

  • Dillon

    Also, burst simply keeps a soldier from spraying ammunition under stress and going through magazines quickly. It forces him to actually aim, but is still capable of suppressive fire. Besides, if you ask me supression shouldn’t be the primary job of the rifleman anyway. That should be the supporting machine gunner’s duty: heavy fire supression to keep troops moving towards the objective. The rifleman is the one who needs to move up and secure ground, and his weapon is light and handy allowing him to do that.

  • Dillon

    While under cover from the machine guns, he moves up accurately engaging enemies as they present themselves. While I do see the usefullness of fully automatic fire for weapons like submachine guns, and specific close-quarters oriented assault rifles, for the standard infantry rifle it seems the burst is a smart way to go. It sort of makes the rifle into the tool it once was, a tool of precision, while still being able to maintain a good volume of fire.