Big Army: Soldiers Free to Use PMAGs

Army officials at the Pentagon acknowledged yesterday that TACOM sent the wrong message to the field in April when it declared that polymer magazines, such as the PMAG, made by Magpul Industries Corp., were not on the authorized list for use in the M4 carbine. If you recall, the Safety of Use/Maintenance Information Message stated that the only USGI aluminum magazines — like the Army’s improved magazine, were authorized for use in the M4 and M16.

I posted a story this morning on, quoting Matthew Bourke, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, explaining that the message was poorly written and should have included guidance that the final decision on PMAG use rests with commanders in the field.

“At best, the message is incomplete; at worst the message allows soldiers to jump to the wrong conclusions,” Bourke said. “Maintenance Information Messages [from TACOM] are permissive. They are not an order.”

What’s really puzzling about this is the fact that TACOM officials had the chance to clarify this issue when I questioned them about it for the initial May 25 story. Instead, they dug in and argued that the only NSN-approved magazines that are authorized for use are those listed in the technical manuals — the improved magazine with the tan follower and the old magazine with the green follower.

It may have something to do with the $10.7 million contract TACOM Rock Island awarded to Brownells Inc. in 2009 to produce 1.4 million Army improved magazines.

Oh and I did get an answer from Program Executive Office Soldier on how its improved magazine performs against the PMAG.

The command responded through Army public affairs that weapons officials had conducted “limited side-by-side testing and found that no commercial magazine was superior to the improved magazine,” Bourke said.


About the Author

Matthew Cox
Matthew Cox has been a defense reporter since 1998 and is an associate editor for He traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq numerous times from 2002 to 2008, covering infantry units in combat. Matthew was an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division.

26 Comments on "Big Army: Soldiers Free to Use PMAGs"

  1. Let's not complain. It is very unusual for the military to admit it was wrong.

  2. FormerSFMedic | June 7, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply

    I was actually able to get down to the bottom of this situation last weekend. A friend of mine who is an E8 told me that all the units in his battalion were told that if they already had PMags, they could keep issuing them. He also said units were given permission to purchase more for deployments in the future. So in other words, ignore the TACOM statement and drive on!

    On another note, PEO Soldier trying to convince themselves that the USGI mags are anywhere near the mag the PMag is, is hilarious. I would like to see the details of that flawed testing.

  3. Probably the same team of drunk monkeys that said 'burn pits' were safe!

  4. ALL…MIM's (Maintenance Information Messages)…are informative. NOT DIRECTIVE. This is the typical *** clownery of the acquisition side. They can't direct anything. Only COMMANDERS or the Department of the Army (CoS) can direct…this whole issue is what has plagued the Army for decades. Offices, which issue messages about equipment useage which seems to have directive language ultimately confusing Commanders into believing that they are "going to jail" unless they comply. There is no compliance necessary beyond the Commanders guidance. Thanks to Kit-up for gettting this out there…this is an underlying issue within the Army Acquisition community.

  5. BS, glad they fixed the problem. You can't just say PMAGs are no longer authorized because you bought a new batch of mags (even if they are improved) to control demand and insure no one questions your purchase.

    I can understand TACOMs concern if counterfiet or cheapie PMAGs were in use. Just like when they banned weapon accessories for awhile.

    BTW, TACOM Maint messages are now permissive? That's a new one. Commanders/soldiers always ran the risk of being stuck with a statement of charges if equipment was not operated/maintained IAW TACOM standards by superiors. TACOM may have not been running the article 15 or 15-6 investigation but their letter caused it. This is like saying Congress passes permissive laws because the police/DA often decide what to enforce/charge.

  6. Good I dont mind PMAG users to use PMAGs. I didn't see any bad threat with GI mags but all is good.

  7. So you have an organization who likes to make "suggestions," but if you don't follow the suggestion you might get your little **** smacked. Seems to be the crux of it. Joseph Heller lives on. In Yossarian's words: "The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live."

  8. My Rep's office (Bill Young) said they were already on this when it broke. B.Y. has recently deployed Military working in his office. They were livid when this first came out.

    B.Y. gets **** done.

  9. Yep, 1% difference and since I've used the M16 in combat I wouldn't have a problem sending a son into combat with one.

    BTW, the Army is a million strong and holding off on a carrier for a month doesn't save money. Canceling it does (not promoting that, just pointing out circular logic).

  10. I was a bit suprised that this TACOM statement took so long to be "clarified". Isn't that someone's job??

  11. Knew somebody had a new contract!! Brownell's and some officers/senators are making a big deal! At lease the brownell magazines work!!

  12. MAJ Rod-
    Your obviously a former APM at PM SW. We get it, your still pushing the company line. The TACOM MIM was written at the direction of PM SW to protect their investment (ten's of millions ****** away "developing" the improved magazine). Can't have companies under TACOM contract complaining because soldiers are buying other magazines.

    In other news did you hear that PMAGs performed better than USGI mags (the new and improved tan ones) in ATEC testing with the M4 and M855A1? Turns out that the steel penetrator increases wear on the M4 barrel extension and the PMAG presents the round higher and eliminates this problem. But the Army would never admit this…oops did I just let the cat out of the bag?

  13. crackedlenses | June 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Reply

    @E. Ronc, Major Rod,

    Reading your debate has reinforced my belief that much of the debate of M4A1 vs HK416, 5.56 mm. vs 7.62 mm., etc. is a matter of personal preference and fighting style. Others on this blog have proven that the M16/M4 can be made reliable without excessive trouble; at the end of the day, some will prefer a direct gas action system, and others will prefer a gas piston system. The military can't do both, and so far it is sticking with the direct gas system. If a miracle occurs and the military switches to the HK416 or similar systems, we will simply discover the piston system's disadvantages, and the debate will continue….

    The M16/M4 works well enough as a standard issue weapon (albeit requiring education to use without reliability problems), and and a system's age (just ask the Russians) does not disqualify it as a modern infantry weapon….

  14. Once again, on further thought, just need the upper assemblies and maybe trigger group if you wanted to convert three round burst carbines. Should bring cost down even further.

  15. Give it up – reread my posts dude. Where am I pushing the company line?

  16. I might be a little thick, would not be the first time I was called that. "Cost – everything is affordable when you aren’t paying for it." Concur 100%. "Saying how cheap the HK416 “can be” doesn’t make it affordable." You lose me a little here, weren't we just paying Colt over $1,300 a copy? H&K CEO says $800 to $1425 depending on what they want. Remington has contract for what a round $700 and with accessories almost $1300. To update wouldn't even need to buy whole weapon. We're not talking about slight increase in reliability for all out doors here.

    (“A mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference.” Statistically, 99% is a 100% improvement over 98%. Operationally, I jam every 68 rounds is almost one jam for every 2 30-round magazines. Whereas one jam in 257 rounds would only happen about once in 8 30-round magazines. Readers are left to contemplate the operational significance of those probabilities in a sustained, serious firefight.) From Defense Industry Daily.

    Don't remember anyone asking the rangers what they wanted. "the lower firing schedules of conventional unit training." How about the actual use in combat!
    Bottom line, you can find studies saying the M4 is OK.

    (A December 2006 survey, conducted on behalf of the Army by CNA Corp., conducted over 2,600 interviews with Soldiers returning from combat duty. The M4 received a number of strong requests from M-16 users, who liked its smaller profile. {Among M4 users}, however, 19% of said they experienced stoppages in combat – and almost 20% of those said they were “unable to engage the target with that weapon during a significant portion of or the entire firefight after performing immediate or remedial action to clear the stoppage.”)
    I can find ones where there not.

    I believe your position has grown stronger as time has gone on. With improvements in the weapon such as better extractor, feed ramp, heavy barrels, improved magazines and troops learning to care for better in that environment
    You go out of your way to take me to task with "I’m referencing the source. Not a writer" The funny thing is if you check the foot notes of your source they sure do mention that very same writer, are own M. Cox a whole bunch. Just saying.
    24 Information in this section is taken from Matthew Cox, “75th Rangers Will Take Scar Into Combat,” Defense News,
    May 11, 2009.
    25 Information in this section is from Matthew Cox, “Competition Sought for New Army Rifle,” Army Times, April 27,
    26 Matthew Cox, “Army Tests of Rival Carbines Postponed,” Army Times, September 20, 2007.
    27 Matthew Cox, “New Carbines Outperform M-4 in Dust Test,” Army Times, December 17, 2007.
    28 Information in this section is from Matthew Cox, “Giving M-4 Failures an Alibi,” Army Times, December 29, 2007.

    "It’s the nature of the beast. Not the best answer but reality." Agree. No stabbing necessary for godson, but you yourself know how useful it is to have a knife on hand for everyday things. I don't leave my house without one. Should really be part of kit.
    Am sorry about the reading comprehension quips, was a little hurt from the double post shot that I threw it in. First was because you shot at me with the [You originally said the Army test fired 35k rounds per weapon, now it’s almost 70k? Which is it?”] The other was I wanted to especially emphasize I did understand and you had my agreement on the SCAR. Not enough of an improvement to warrant the price.

    So I think we come to our point, I believe improvements of H&K416 are worth at worse a few more dollars and what's better less, if you go just upper. You believe much like the SCAR it isn't.
    No need to remind you of your qualifications/references. I am sure you are/were a good officer. Though trying to put me in my place with the vs. yours is a little petty. I have never inflated who I was or my experience, though not as ample as yours. I was an ET on a sub for almost three years and an oceanographic ship for a year and a half. Qualified Expert Pistol and rifle. Like I said I am a shooter, one of the reason only ET on my boat qualified with firearms. On oceanographic ship I was the small arms PO. Besides familiarization shooting off fantail, I also organized 45 qualification shoots in port. Received letter of commendation as small arms PO. Now I am a NRA instructor basic pistol and personal protection. I live here in Springfield and often go to the National Armory historic site. They have many interesting things and I like to sit and read up on firearms history there. In many of my post I will say that I have not had an experience with something or will leave it to others, since I am not army. I am however pretty mechanically inclined and it is a big reason I like weapons. I like to think I'm open mind and like a good debate. I believe these forums are a positive way learn much. I'm sorry if I'm not on the inside such as yourself. Whether you know it or not I also like your post, I have learned much from them.

  17. Counter with (A December 2006 survey, conducted on behalf of the Army by CNA Corp., conducted over 2,600 interviews with Soldiers returning from combat duty. The M4 received a number of strong requests from M-16 users, who liked its smaller profile. {Among M4 users}, however, 19% of said they experienced stoppages in combat – and almost 20% of those said they were “unable to engage the target with that weapon during a significant portion of or the entire firefight after performing immediate or remedial action to clear the stoppage.”) As requested, actual report:
    "parrot those comments without question" as you can see I do look for facts. Muckrakers… You don't want believe all the guys in uniform using the M4 saying this carbine doesn't work well here. I guess only your experience counts. Now who is putting ones head in the sand and saying there isn't a problem here.
    "miniscule and good enough for combat." those lines just don't bother you. I'm positive you keep your weapon in tip top shape as you feel reliable with it, but do you trust the guy just out of boot?
    – Over 50% of soldiers using the M-4 and M-16 reported that they never
    experienced a stoppage [malfunction] while in theater, to include during training
    firing of the weapons

    That means to me the converse is true, 50% did experienced a stoppage [malfunction] while in theater.
    Blaming writers, web people, please acknowledge your fellow soldiers. Think just maybe with all that smoke there could be a fire?

  18. To me this is about what is going to keep are people safest. I really don't have a dog in this race. What I said to crackedlenses is that my debate (at least in my mind) with the majrod is when or how much of an improvement is needed to warrant a change? Obviously I think there is. Like I said if the 1% went the other way, I would be backing the M4 since in my mind price difference between them is moot. Don't want you to think I'm particularly in love with the H&K416. I think/believe there are better pistons systems out there. Using H&K416 in discussion because we have data supporting it, we have units using it and we can just change uppers for an improvement.

    The next part of the equation is no matter how much anyone says now that the M4 is up to the task, there is a large perceived notion, right or wrong that it is not reliable in that environment. People need to feel confidence in their equipment. The taxpayer in me doesn't want to waste money on perception alone, but factored in with actual occurrence of problems means to me a corrective action take place.

  19. ok will it let me post now.

  20. OK it wont let me post what I want to. GD it.

  21. OK I give up.

  22. crackedlenses | June 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply

    @ E.Ronc,

    "Think just maybe with all that smoke there could be a fire?"

    Or perhaps troops simply don't know how to maintain the weapon. Not saying the M16/M4 requires extensive maintaince, but that you have to know what to do to get it to work. One of the hallmarks of the AK series was the fact that one didn't have to have any know-how in weapon maintance to use one in combat…..

  23. I I may of agreed earlier with the "troops simply don’t know how to maintain the weapon." Especially talking 2001- 2003. But not now, when friends son went with 181st said they were given good briefs on maintaining there M4's. Every soldier by now has heard that there are/were problems. Back into that perception reality thing again now. So that if you, I or any normal Joe would be I think extra vigilant over there, along with the individual commands being on the lookout for weapons poorly maintained. As I said I believe the situation much better now with improvements in the weapon such as better extractor, feed ramp, heavy barrels, improved magazines and troops learning to care for better in that environment.
    Our guys take on the chin now every time a weapon doesn't go bang. The first words inevitably seem to be he did not maintain his weapon. That possibility exist, though maintenance doesn't cover every stoppage.

    "One of the hallmarks of the AK series was the fact that one didn’t have to have any know-how in weapon maintance to use one in combat….." Thank you! I see this as a critical point, why go with something harder to maintain, than something that would be easier?

  24. "why go with something harder to maintain, than something that would be easier?" Was thinking more about M4 Vs. H&K416 not AK. Your accuracy should be about the same (piston a tad worse MAYBE), but pistons like in the AK are easier to maintain than the direct impingement. Sure you're not a navy man? Sounds like the CO on my boat, We're gonna do us some training and when we're done, we're gonna do it again. "rifle gets the flack for it" concur, the stoppage might of been because of the aluminum magazines feed lips, they blame rifle. All for training, though if you did switch to an easier to maintain rifle, you could throw some of that maintenance training time into say marksmanship.

    "What we have works (for the most part), and the best rifle will not improve substandard training." Believe it or not I actually agree. They do work for the most part, majrod is correct. True some genius out there could figure out how to make some awesome needle, pulse or rail gun that will be "The Game Changer". If no one trained how to use it, it is pretty much worthless.

    The way I see it is can we have something better for the same cost? I think so. A car that gets 42mpg is great (especially compared to my truck at 14mpg.) But all other things equal wouldn't you by the car that got 43mpg for the same price? Plus cost of ownership is lower since maintenance schedule changed.

    "a civilian enthusiast" is pretty much what I am now. Plus don't forget it is are money, we should make sure it is spent wisely. Also I'm will retract my previous not having a dog in this fight. I/we do- are fellow countrymen who serve. We should be looking out for them too. All my family and friends who's kids are now there should be getting equipment that they can have confidence in. The original start of this thread was "Big Army: Soldiers Free to Use PMAGs" why the uproar, the confidence in Pmags with our troops and/or lack of confidence in the other. Some will say they never had a problem with a tan follower mag. But others or their units would rather go out and spend money for Pmags because they know/perceive the tan are not as good. Do not under estimate confidence. It could get even me laid occasionally.

  25. The thing that a lot of people either forget or don't understand about that AK's famed reliability is that it was designed as a weapon for a conscript army and so was designed so that it would take minimal training to operate and maintain. One of the ways that they got it to be so reliable had nothing to do with superior design/engineering, in fact it's the opposite, the AK family of weapons were designed to be built with loose tolerances meaning that there's more room between the parts for dirt and sand to get into without gumming up the works. The AK's loose tolerances are also why it's not and inherently accurate weapon although I don't know if tightening tolerances to improve accuracy would have any affect on its reliability.

  26. Bit old but something interesting regarding this whole thing.

    The Marines found during testing that to replace the M16A4's/M4's it would cost the Marines over $1 billion USD, and HK would have to retool in order to supply the amount of rifles and even then it would take HK 15-20 years to completely replace every M16/M4 in Marine inventory.

    What they Marines found is that with a PiP they could get 90% of what the HK416 offers in 2-3 years and at 25% of the cost of the HK416's(so around $250 million).

    Now imagine HK having to supply 500,000 rifles, it would cost billions of dollars and take more than 15-20 years to do. In 15-20 years the HK would be finally finished fielding and be completely outclassed by something new…… tell me how that makes sense, why not settle with the 90% solution, get it now, for 25% of the cost. Works for me. Also not Marine testing was done with USGI mags, I guarantee you with PMags the M16/M4 would be a 95% solution.

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