Misc rambling on the A4.


I was looking at my notes and realized I hadn’t shot my AR15A4 in over a year, so I took it out last weekend.

The reason I keep an A4 configured rifle around is because I carried one in combat.  I actually carried the M16A2 more while I was in the service, but I had an A4 in Iraq.

I know that I write a post like this each year, and I’ll probably have another one for you all next year.

When we carried the M16A2 in the Corps we felt it could do everything we needed.  From CQB to 500 yards.  Now one could argue if we really could do what we felt we could do.

Ignoring what our actually capability might have been, we had no idea what we were missing.  Since our experience was only based around the A2, we didn’t know how much of a combat multiplier an optic would be, or how much handier a carbine would be, etc.

It was common knowledge in the Corps back then that the M4 was too unreliable, inaccurate, and didn’t have enough stopping power for military use.  Just like how it was common knowledge that the M14 was the best service rifle ever and it would one shot kill commies even if you shot them in the toe, and the .50 BMG created a super shockwave that would rip people to pieces even if you missed by three feet.  Then other things that were taught and believed started to get really silly.

Now I think going to the M16A4 over the A2 was as big improvement as suddenly we learned that we could customize our weapons to fit our mission.  Optics made for a huge improvement in hit ratios.  Story goes that there was a quiet investigation on the Marines during the invasion of Iraq because so many enemies were being shot in the head that higher ups thought that Marines were executing people.  Turns out it was just a massive increase in head shots due to the ACOG optic.

We could suddenly effectively mount lights, lasers, night vision devices, thermal, bipods, etc to our rifles.  Not that we couldn’t before but we couldn’t do it easily.  The old barrel mount for the AN/PEQ-2 IR laser required us to beg an Armorer to install it.  Now we could just slap an IR laser on anywhere.

I remember being in Iraq and seeing another unit that was issued Harris Bipods and Surefire M900 lights and being so jealous of them.  But their higher ups were worried about guys loosing the equipment, so they were required to have both on their rifles at all times.  That must have been so heavy and awkward.

The A4 got the job done, but the M4 would have done just fine.  Now it is clear that the future is all carbines.

I find it hilarious how the Marine Corps used to say that a 14.5 inch M4 barrel was not good enough for general use but then they decide that a 16.5 inch barrel is good enough for an automatic rifle.  I really think the adoption of the M27 IAR was the Corps trying to get a carbine with out buying the M4.

I spend a great deal of time to get my Colt AR15A4 set up exactly the way I wanted it, but each time I shoot it it is a reminder that the A4 just doesn’t excel in any particular area.  It isn’t a precision rifle, it isn’t a light handle carbine, it is just a sort of jack of all trades.  Using it is like owning many knives, but none of them sharp.


  1. The A4 was the nail in the coffin for the early DMR concepts in the Marines in the early part of this century. The rivalry between east and west coast Marines and their individual solutions to the problem was put to an end when the “west coast” solution was essentially adopted as issue across the board. It works fine for them because of how they train and qualify.

    Where it failed in execution, in my humble opinion, was keeping with the fixed stock. Mounted operations and bulky body armor and equipment means that long A2 stock is awkward. The Canadians figured it out but we never really did.

    • Did the Marines start getting those MK12 MOD1s issued to them about the time the SAMR project bit the dust? that rifle was always very interesting to me. I recall some marine officer who knew something about it made a length post on arfrcom about the SAMR some years ago, but I forgot all the details and cant find it archived

      • I know a couple of groups got some, but it seemed like the MK12 program was over at that time and they were getting overruns or extras. Something like that.

      • As far as I know the Mk12s came about later as they were becoming excess equipment or getting absorbed into theater maintained equipment. To my knowledge they stayed in theater and didn’t return as the units swapped out. Even being MFP11 funded weapons I think the fact they were Navy managed weapons played into the Marine’s favor. Good on them too, they sure put them to task, and still are putting them to use.

        As for their SAMR, I feel they went a bridge too far and the Quantico builders wanted to turn out a combat match grade shooter whereas what was needed, and submitted by the west coast, was essentially the A4/ACOG combo as adopted. And, foreshadowed in the DFA books, vol 5 if memory serves. It was the same combo we tried to push for at my old unit. Of course the flip side is they did field the Mk12s which are essentially the same thing as the SAMRs just executed differently.

        • I ran across a few old sources on the SAMR last night, one of the issues with it was the money of course, the Marine rifle team armorers. or whatever they call their version of the AMTU armorers, couldn’t keep up with making them. They also had to make and service the M40A1-M40A3s, the MUESOC pistols, the rifle team handguns and rifles, and all that as their normal job., and they couldnt make the SAMR fast enough to make enough or even maintain them in their busy schedule. then of course like you said, the west coast marines just did that and then the MK12s just took that over since the USMC started getting them.

  2. I never carried an M-16, but I often worked with security guys who swapped between the A2 or an M4 depending on what was available. The story usually worked out about the same: everyone thought the A2 (or A4, for that matter), was more “fun” to shoot, but it was easier to live with the M4 day to day.

    I think everything is evolving based on need. If the M4 does at least 90% of the job, yet is easier to live with, that sounds like a win.

  3. I think there is or was some truth to the range thing. I’ve seen articles showing the 5.56 performance being pretty velocity sensitive and then other showing a noticeable loss of velocity in the 14″ barrel. So with those two factors performance on the target was a little sporadic. From what i hear it’s all moot now as the new rounds like M855A1 are loaded with a 14″ barrel in mind as opposed to a 20″ before.

    Hey I could be way off but that was what I had gathered.

    • There is no argument that a longer barrel offers better terminal performance. But now we also have a much larger variety of choices in ammunition, and it appears that the M4 is putting people down well enough. The AR seems to have effectively shaken the old derogatory titles of mouse gun or poodle shooter.

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