Soldiers at War Modify M4 to Boost Reliability


U.S. Army soldiers at war in Afghanistan have made personal modifications to the M4 carbine to improve its effectiveness, according to a news report.

Army Senior Warrant Officer Russton Kramer, a longtime Green Beret, said he and fellow Special Forces soldiers buy off-the-shelf triggers and other components and overhaul the M4A1 commando version of the assault rifle, according to an article by Rowan Scarborough, a reporter for The Washington Times.

“The reliability is not there,” the Silver Star recipient told the reporter. “I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would.”

The two-part series is the latest to investigate the reliability of the Army’s standard-issue carbine made by Colt Defense LLC. The weapon has been upgraded by the service in recent years, but remains in essence a shorter, lighter version of the Vietnam-era M16.’s Matt Cox, a frequent contributor to Kit Up, last year broke the news that the Army nixed plans to hold a competition to replace the rifle despite interest from such gun-makers as Heckler & Koch, FNH-USA, Remington Defense and Adcor Defense Inc., in addition to Colt.

The decision stemmed in part from a “careful consideration of the Army’s operational requirements in the context of the available small arms technology, the constrained fiscal environment, and the capability of our current carbines,” Cox reported at the time.

The issues Kramer touched on are familiar to other soldiers.

Clinton Romesha, a former Army staff sergeant who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the battle at Combat Outpost Keating in 2009 in Afghanistan, said he was disappointed when he heard the Army ended the competition to find a potential successor to the M4 gas-operated system.

“When you start hearing all the chatter, ‘Hey, we’re looking to get a new product, we’re looking to upgrade something that’s been around since the Vietnam War,’ you get a little excited,” he said in an interview with at last month’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas. “But when everything just dried up and went away, it was kind of a disheartening feeling as a soldier to see that — to see good products out there that weren’t available to you.”


Now out of the military and working as a representative for Adcor, among other firms, Romesha praised the company’s A-556 Elite rifle for its piston-operated system, free-floating barrel, forward ambidextrous charging handle, and polymer dust cover that seals the system from dirt and debris, among other features.

“There’s nothing more important for a soldier than to know when he’s carrying his weapon system, it’s going to work,” he said. “What they developed here is a platform that every time you squeeze the trigger, it’s going to go bang instead of click.”

But Romesha, who also served two tours in Iraq, said the Army has a history of acquisition missteps — not just with guns and bigger pieces of equipment, but also with items as small as boots.

When he and his fellow soldiers initially arrived in Afghanistan, they were left with “putting the old tan leathers on and breaking them in for three weeks just to get them comfortable enough to go hiking up and down the mountains.” Luckily, he said, their brigade commander, “went out of his way” to get them Merrell hiking shoes.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

36 Comments on "Soldiers at War Modify M4 to Boost Reliability"

  1. As if this is so surprising. Mods have been done as long as I have been paying attention. The AR has more aftermarket mods available than is believable. Some are better than others. Anything that improves a American's ability to survive and win should not be interfered with by bureaucracy.

  2. Your article title is based on a paraphrased quote from one guy, and the only component actually mentioned in the paraphrase is the trigger – as if the trigger were the source of a reliability issue?

    The rest of the article laments the end of the IC competition. This one needs a new title. The one it has misses the point.

  3. "now out of the military and a working as a representative for Adcor" tells me all I need to know about this article.

  4. It may surprise some to learn the AR design, by Eugene Stoner, was never intended to be a military weapon, but was designed for and offered to the SWAT community. This was the AR10, in .308 Win. When sales lagged, they downsized it and offered it to the Army. It was termed the XM16A1E1 until final adoption. Also, the "carrying handle" was actually the housing for the charging handle and survived the redesign. The M16 was hyped as the rifle that didn't need cleaning, and it didn't, until some ass, for economy reasons (the lowest bidder, remember), changed to a dirty propellant and the slide was on. So, any cleaning problems are caused by using a dirty powder, not the design of the system. Any reloader knows this. A changeable barrel would perhaps be a good idea, but not for special ops. Too much to lug around. Accuracy wouldn't be harmed at all, because the bolt locks into the barrel, not a receiver. This was Stoner's main innovation, and one reason the system is so light. Finally, it's time for a new weapon. It's time. While we're at it, let's get rid of the burst feature. Training, if effective, and that's a big if, will reduce the tendency to waste ammunition. The powers that be have been fixated on this since at least the magazine cutoffs of the Krag and Springfield rifles. Get a new rifle. Why keep fixing and propping up this one?

  5. I served with Romesha and he’s right it’s extremely sad to see the Corp find a problem and solve it right away. But yet the Army finds a problem and spends millions apon millions and gets no real results or drops the research and keeps what we got. We were lucky to get the gear we did get. If not our deployment would have sucked. As far as the M4 goes, I could care less if it were a DI or Gas Piston. But if we are gonna keep DI then at least upgrade us to a mid length.

  6. The designs submitted in the Individual Carbine Competition had marginal improvements at best over the M4. We are better off upgrading our fleet of M4s instead of replacing them with a new rifle at the moment. We won't get the bang for the buck if we did replace them. Along with a period of budget cuts, this whole venture is a bad idea.

    I think it's clear that the next major step in firearms will be cased telescoped ammunition. For which new weapons like the LSAT will be based around it. This kind of tech is expected to mature in about 5-10 years and will take about 5-10 more years to manufacture enough to satisfactory inventory levels.

    Just my 2 cents

  7. This is such a hot topic that no matter which side of the fence you fall into you're bound to draw fire. I've spent countless hours trying to resolve this issue in my own mind and have come to the conclusion that the only thing wrong with the M4/M16 platform is that there is no systematic way of conducting effective maintenance of the weapon. It is also a more laborious weapon to clean than other systems. The DoD is an institution as such they have to apply sound business reasoning to the problem and like any business, they need to show more than just a marginal benefit when considering a capital investment the magnitude of phasing out the M4/M16. Not only do you have to fund for the weapon system but you also need to consider investment in parts, training and logistics. Contrast that management analysis with the fact that what you have is sporadic concerns about reliability that are mostly subjective. That's the reason that I enthusiastically supported the shot counter technology. Candidly, were I be tasked with that decision I would have a shot counter on every weapon issued without exception. That technology would provide a systematic means for dealing with weapon system maintenance. There are a multitude of collateral benefits such as more clearly assessing ammunition load out requirements and individual soldier training. It's an effective way of collecting data as opposed to opinions. It may very well confirm the need for a new rifle and carbine a decision can than be made on fact and not whim. May be the problem is localized to the Commando variant of the M4. On a lighthearted note, carbines are like socks or skives everyone likes something that is a little different. The same holds true for optics. An individual can individually make those choices but institutions need a high level of standardization.

  8. Used a Noveske Afghan upper and the issued lower had a Geissele trigger in it. But is was in a unit that ended in "Group". Weapon mod regulations didn't mean shit neat the Paki border!

  9. The Army should make a list of approved rifles soldiers are allowed to buy with their own funds since there is no money in the budget for upgraded weapons.

  10. The reason the ICC died and rightly so was all it was FN trying to get that SCAR POS adopted for everyone and her political allies in congress pressured the Army to do it. They looked they all at best were marginally better so it failed so now the Army is upgrading the M-4 with improvements see what turns out the competition for a FF barrel assembly will end this year see what they pick. As for solder getting personal gear for there weapons sorry that been around since time began. I read that Vietnam solders bought there own cleaning kits 4x scopes and made there own sling swivel's for better carry. Not new that solder make there own weapons best suit them.

    This whole article is more SCAR lover crying the blues.

  11. Just the press trying to create a controversy to sell papers or business trying to create business.

    The Scarborough article doesn't get specific on which studies it implies its talking about likely because the studies that were done have been gone over with a fine tooth comb. The direct impingement systems were 1-2% more reliable with the M4 already in the high 90's. The article cites sensational weapon failures at the battle of Wanat. What they don't tell you is that any assault rifle fired on full auto like they were at Wanat would have failed.

    Many approach the issue of what should be the issue battle rifle with a BFF weapon in mind and try to make the case for it. That's not how it's done. If one looks at our evolution from the Springfield-Garand-M14-M16 there has been at least a very significant if not doubling in performance in the areas of lethality, reliability or weight. There is no battle rifle in existence that gives that kind of technological leap in existence today.

    The weapons competitions that did not result in a change aren't always waste. They provide industry motivation to push the technological frontiers. They also serve as occasions to gather performance metrics to counter the BFF weapon debaters and silence the Congressman trying to get a gun deal for the local industry.

    Much ado over nothing.

  12. I've always hated the 5.56 round, it lacks the range & knockdown of the 7.62. One commenter stated about IMPs (Injection Molded Plastics) like Glock, he's correct about plastic being lighter & unlike wood, it's also resistant to humidity caused swelling. My vote would be to reintroduce the M1A from Springfield Armory. Or better yet the M1 Garand with synthetic stock & a box magazine in 30.06. A proven round for distance, accuracy & knockdown!

    "In my opinion, the M1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised." ~ Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. to Chief of Ordnance Lt. Gen. Levin H. Campbell, Jr., (January 26, 1945)

  13. There is no such thing as knock down power. Unless the rifle almost knocks down the shooter it won't knock down the receiver of the round. Unless it's a head shot or hits the spinal column, death will happen ONLY after enough blood is lost to starve the brain of O2. When the USSR invaded Afghanistan it was the first time the 5.45X39 round was used, Due to empty space just behind the tip it will yaw once it hits something causing a very large wound cavity which will cause the person to bleed out rapidly. The AR-10 was designed and tested with an aluminum barrel with a steel sleeve, to keep the weight down, it failed during testing, before Stoner could get the replacement the Army went with the M14. Fairchild sold Colt the Armalite design and it was downsized to the new .223 Remington round. Like others have stated, beancounters changed the powder and caused the fouling issue. As for a 30.06 might as well throw a stick at them. Ammo is heavy and not accurate in the least bit. Specwar get the HK 416 for a reason, HK is more than happy to sell just the upper as a direct replacement for the M4 uppers. It's why they build a US factory, it was not so they could build $2100 MR556A1 uppers or $3500 MR762A1 rifles to sell to civilians. Mil-spec for a M4 is 3 MOA, 5.56 ammo is 4MOA. Anyone who knows anything about shooting would NEVER buy an AR (Armalite Rifle) type rifle if they were told it would not group better than 3MOA no matter what. But Congress is forcing the Army to keep upgrading their M1's to keep the factory open in Lima Ohio, spending millions they don't have and don't want to spend while solders need a better primary weapon. That boarders on criminal misuse of funds. .

  14. This is a little off-topic, but would some of the recent combat vets comment on an RDX round for the .50 Cal. Is this true, and how did it perform?

  15. Facts:

    1.) A well greased M4 works. It is utterly reliable.

    2.) Merrell hiking boots!? I can think of 8 better brands for Afghanistan. I oughta know since I've damn near tried them all.

  16. Ill also add:

    for fucks sake…Adcor!?

    Tell me what adcor's POS can do that a well built Colt or BCM wont do. PLEASE do pray tell!

    I'll be eagerly waiting.

  17. Airborne_fister | February 23, 2014 at 6:41 am |

    When I was in Afghanistan. I had our supply guy put my personal upper on the military lower. It worked great. Since the only part that is tracked is the lower he brought both. Had a 203 mounted under my military upper and I wouldn’t trade carting my sbr ever again

  18. I think changing from the M16 is the best idea. We need a better weapon for the military. I personally didn’t get to carry the M16 or M4 while I was deployed, I was selected to carry the M249. HOOAH

  19. The M4 is a good carbine. The problem is that our Generals don't understand the difference between a carbine and a rifle. Infantrymen should carry rifles.

  20. There is a reason why we do not use multiple weapons in combat. It goes all the way back to the civil war and industrialization. Parts need to be interchangeable in order to be able to do expedited repairs in the field..

  21. Any M4 made to MILSPEC is exactly the same weapon no matter whose name is on it. The same issues arose in Vietnam with the M16 which led to the M16A1 (the addition of the forward assist). Then another improvement was made and voilà the M16A2 emerged. Soon afterwards the M16A3 that had a 3 round cyclic trigger on it where the operator had to retrigger after it burst three rounds. When the SITREP changed and the mission was clearing houses and battle in close quarters the M4 was born. They took the M16 and shortened the barrel and installed a calapsable butstock to accomodate combatants whose mission was to clear buildings and caves. This led to a refit of shorter stocks and barrels which also led to fortunes for new arms
    suppliers. With all the posturing among polititions and arms dealers, no one gave any thought that just shortening barrels would cause less pressure and cause the weapon to malfunction. Mr. Stoners design worked just fine if you kept the damn gun clean

  22. Hard to take the emotion out of this issue… But at the end of the day, the cost of any improvement or change has to be justified by positive, statistical impact. The plain truth is that while some incremental benefits have been identified in testing alternatives, none offers enough improvement, enough of the time, to justify the cost. That's just a fact, Jack…

  23. The thing I never liked about the M-16 ( I retired before the M-4 was born) was the fact your
    shooting at an bad guy with a 223 round and he's shooting back with a 308 round.
    I would be willing to bet if you give the G.I. a choice they would pick the M-14 over the lighter

  24. The issues about M-16 variant reliability have been going on since its introduction. Colt LIED about its capabilities, performance and reliability then spent huge amounts of money covering the problems up via PR and other techniques. Classic Military-Industrial Complex behaviours that Eisenhower wisely warned against. To no effect. Meanwhile the AK-47 goes bang whenever you pull the trigger irrespective of the environment. any attempt to replace it is met with an overwhelming counter-attack by Colt et al and the sheep it has sucked in or paid-off (we can see it in the comments here even). Now we have US military people fixing the issue themselves, when it is the job of the country to give them the best weapon they can get whilst enviously looking at Aussies wandering around with their Steyr's and others with their G-36's.

  25. My understanding is that the synergy of the A1 improvements and the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round are the 95% solution to the M4's reliability and effectiveness issues. It would be interesting to get an objective review of how both are performing…………

  26. Ive honestly never had a serious issue with either the M16/M4. In all the thousands of rounds ive fired in all the sandy conditions. The majority of failures ive seen are due largely to old magazines.(esp the old 30r with black followers) The other failures i attribute to soldiers just not spending enough time with their rifles and understanding how to maintain them.Once saw a cook pouring water down the barrel of his rifle to clean it.You'd think this would be an isolated indecent but you should see some of the window lickers in the army these days

  27. Sorry weapons have evolved since the first club was created. The M-4 is the pinnacle of weapon evolution? GMAFB! Yet the Politicians with Stars in the Pentagon still think that a 50 year old weapon can't be replaced? Treason is letting young men and women die in combat because politics and bribes keep a rifle that clearly is antiquated the inventory!

  28. Cause upgrading the M4 is certainly going to happen, especially with the Sec Def proposing gutting the Army. Get serious. The M4 is here to stay, especially in the peacetime military. And all those "wartime modification" will also go by the wayside as the peacetime police ramp up in the Army. (Shout out to the guy who had the Noveske upper – that's ****ing legit). Also based on what I have seen a HUGE majority of issues with military equipment in general is it is just old and worn out, not necessarily designed incorrectly.

  29. Continuing to rant against the M-4 is a waste of breath. It's not perfect, but it's a fine weapon and the recent shoot-offs demonstrated that there isn't a leap-ahead replacement available right now. The money to buy a marginally better weapon is better spent elsewhere.

    Similarly, endlessly rehashing the same old tired arguments that rely on issues from the M4/5.56's now very long histories while ignoring the very significant recent improvements in the M4A1 and the M855A1 is just willful blockheadedness. Together, both A1 upgrades are making a major synergistic upgrade to the weapon system that some of you need to step off of your soapboxes, recalibrate your minds and just accept.

    This isn't your Daddy's M4 any more……….

  30. Served in combat with the M4 and M9. Both are decent range weapons. My first experience with the M9 was on the range, when firing the pistol the slide traveled down range when the slide lock broke. The parkerized M9 magazines were another issue, one we used dremels in the field to fix. I still hoard original Beretta magazines and add 15% overstrength springs to ensure they'll function. That's not say I don't trust the M9. It tends to go bang. Not a fan of the safety, and typically carried it hammer down, off safe, round chambered as a combat advisor. I didn't trust my fine motor skills to work the safety in a close engagement, particularly knowing that the 9mm +p+ ball ammo I carried was going to pass right through my target. He'd eventually expire but the absence of a JHP left me wanting. The M4 is fine for short engagements, in relatively clean environments, but that's not always how the enemy plays the game. Run 6-7 magazines through an M4 in rapid fire, when it's 140 degrees outside, are you're going to start having issues, no matter how meticulous you've been in its maintenance, the rifle shits where it eats (heat/carbon), it's that simple. My M4's in combat always sported CAA grips, and overstrength (15%) buffer springs. I also polished the trigger assemblies. Yet I had no illusions that if required to provide sustained fire for any period of time the best bet was to pick up a haji's AK (we always kept several in the trunk).

  31. The M16 Platform is a good weapon system. That being said there are equally as good and some better systems to be had; FNC and Tavor.
    Over the Counter Items can improve the M16 family. Why do we continue to send our Military into Harms Way with Good Enough, mil.spec.?

  32. Not an Expert | February 27, 2014 at 1:33 pm |

    Funny, the people that cry the loudest about the M4 are the rear echelon types or the "weapons expert" who bases his opinion on an article he read in a super tactical magazine, or a sales rep for a new competitor. I am not an expert, but as a 45B, I learned the insides and outs of the weapon system, as a 11B, I learned how to operate, clean and maintain the weapon in adverse conditions, as an 18B, I learned what I had to do to keep a bunch of guy's (who shot alot) M4's working without the logistical support in certain areas. Bottom line: it is a good combat weapon. DGI system of operation is what Stoner used for his design, short stroke piston/ gas tappet tech was out there ala M-14, M1 carbine, FAL etc. A study of basic physics will tell you that if you transfer the heat end energy from firing the weapon to another place on the weapon, you encounter your own set of issues. The casual weekend shooter may not notice the issues, but try doing a week's worth of SFAUC style flat range shooting and problems will arise. As for mods; shooters preference is one thing: throwing on a different grip, stock, rail or trigger doesn't change much more than the ergonomics. Bolt/bbl lockup and bbl configuration is where you get your accuracy. I am not a colt rep, or a traditionalist in any sense, but let's not wast money on stupid crap that will break in the field just because it looks cool. We have been doing way too much of that and now we are gonna start feeling its effects in our own bank accounts. I've spent time at Crane during the pre-fielding of the Mk16 abortion, I will say that the staff had some very political answers for my questions and the others in our group about certain design issues of the weapon. They ALL sounded like FN sales reps. Instead of spending millions more on new shiny stuff, let's take care of the stuff we have and improve it, until a real technological breakthrough occurs in the firearms industry.

  33. toss it and start using captured ak 47's.

  34. Not trying to troll (honestly), but has anybody besides me noticed how much is wrong with the soldier's shooting position in the photo at the top of the article?

  35. Certainly sounds a lot like cronyism is still alive and well for the Faker in the WH and his buds….WATCH YOUR BACKS GUYS…

  36. The biggest problem with the M4 can't be fixed with a field mod…in a bad fight, the thing gets so hot you can't use it anymore. That's when the bad guys rush your position and kill you.

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