Re-Thinking the Modern Rifle


Howard’s recent article about the M16A4 and its numerous disadvantages sparked a firestorm of discussion and criticism. I utilize rifles in all my shooting and have a few M16A2 style clunkers myself…but I am here to offer some discussion on the future of the rifle length platform and who can take advantage of it. So Where does the modern fighting rifle fit in the world of AR15’s?

M16A4: Not So Modern

Let’s get this away right out front: the M16A4 is not a good example of a modern fighting rifle. Every bad thing about the platform Howard touched upon is absolutely right. From the A2 stock to the outdated KAC rail system, the weapon is a rather heavy for what it does. We cannot define a modern fighting rifle based on what the Marines use, just as we cannot define a modern fighting carbine as a vanilla issue US Army M4. As civilians, we don’t have the barriers to building a rifle that will suit our needs and purpose; as cool as it is to build civilian M16 series clones, it usually ends up being a poor choice in a defensive weapon. Let’s start by changing the configuration.

Outfitting an M16A4 style built with modern components significantly reduces its biggest two handicaps: Weight and Length.


Ditching the A2 stock is the first step in keeping a rifle length system useable

I updated my A4 rifle with a Vltor A5 stock years ago. The system is now useable with body armor and is a good update to any rifle length system. The rifle can run with standard buffers as well (I would recommend starting at H2) and needs very little attention. Performing this one upgrade is a good start, but can make the weapon muzzle heavy. Solution? Shorten the barrel or add a lighter hand-guard system… or do both.

Shortening the barrel from 20 to 18 inches and equipping the rifle with a modern rail system shaves off both weight, and length. Shortening the barrel to 18 inches and equipping the rifle length system with a modern lightweight rail such as a Daniel Defense Lite Rail 12.0 or a BCM KMR does wonders for the handling of the rifle.


The biggest advantage of a rifle? M193 still works well for self-defense. Here is my 18 inch rifle with Criterion barrel.

The 20 inch barrel is a long pipe and modern defensive loadings diminish the need for reliance on velocity as a fragmentation mechanism. I recognize this fact, but logistically I also recognize the availability of M193 and how easy to obtain it is. Keeping the 20 inch barrel or updating to an 18 inch barrel still keeps the benefit of fragmentation as a wounding mechanism for the common as dirt M193 loading.

M193 is still humming along at around 3200 to 3250 fps out of an 18 to 20 inch barrel. While it is agreed that modern defensive loadings are preferred to M193, the ability to stockpile and train with 55gr fragmenting FMJ for a good price is a benefit in its own right. With Winchester PDX running near $1.40-1.49 a round vs $ .42 cents a round for Federal M193 then it begins to turn the table in favor of logistics. It allows you to train with the same round you can use for self-defense. While I have a magazine loaded with 69 grain OTM available for self-defense, I keep more M193 on hand due to cost and availability.

Not Just a Shorter Rifle

Keeping in mind the changes above, a rifle length system can be far more versatile than the stock M16A2 and M16A4 clones. There are a few extra advantages to modernizing a rifle setup, especially for new shooters.

Anyone who has tossed a quality compensator on a 20 inch gun knows how easy it is to keep these rifle length systems flat. Giving a rifle to a new shooter interested in AR’s is a good move, since the concussion and recoil will be kept to a minimum while the handling of the weapon will be excellent.

Is it any wonder why 3 gun competitors love to shoot 18 inch rifles? They handle well and stay on target. While 3 gun setups may be a far cry from a defensive rifle, it doesn’t take much to adapt the beneficial characteristics of a 3 gun rifle to a AR15 set up for home defense.

While my opinion may differ from a majority of internet opinion, I believe that proper forethought into how you set up a rifle can elevate it from “the old musket” to a weapon that can go toe to toe with modern carbines, and in some ways outperform them. The modern upgrades available to carbines are directly beneficial to the rifle while preserving its smooth shooting characteristics.

Bonus: I didn’t even have to mention sight radius or bayonets for this article.

Brian –