Go on to any gun forum, and it won’t take you long to find people willing to tell you how great the M14 is. How accurate, like a laser, tough as tool steel with no need to baby it or clean it. Powerful as a bolt of lightning, and how well loved it was by those early users who refused the M16 because they wanted a “real” weapon made of wood and steel… But, is all that really true? Maybe it is a triumph of nostalgia over common sense and reality. One truth is, it was never really liked as much as people think they remember.
The M14 was having major problems even before ARPA’s Project AGILE and a Defense comptroller reported the AR15 superior to the M14. The famous Hitch Report stating the AR15, the M1, and the AK47 superior.
The study indicates that the AR15 is decidedly superior in many of the factors considered. In none of them is the M14 superior. The report, therefore, concludes that in combat the AR15 is the superior weapon. Furthermore, the available cost data indicate that is also a cheaper weapon. – ARPA
Although analyzed less thoroughly, the M14 also appears somewhat inferior to the M1 rifle of WW2 and decidedly inferior to the Soviet combat rifle. the AK47. – Hitch Report
“Report on Tests for Ad Hoc Committee on Accuracy and Testing of 7.62mm Ammunition and M14 Rifles.” Seven rifles each from batches accepted from H&R, Winchester, and Springfield Armory had been shipped to Aberdeen for testing to find and cure the causes of the M14’s inability to meet its accuracy requirements. Examination and testing of the 21 rifles uncovered the following:
All of the rifles from Winchester and H&R exhibited excessive headspace.
All of the rifles had loose handguards.
95% of the rifles had loose stock bands.
90% of the rifles had loose gas cylinders.
75% of the rifles had misaligned op rods and gas pistons.
50% of the rifles had loose op rod guides.
50% of the rifles had op rods that rubbed the stock.
Three rifles had barrels that exceed the maximum bore dimensions.
Only three rifles had an average bore diameter that fell below the accepted mean diameter.
One rifle was found to have a broken safety while another had a misassembled safety spring.
One rifle had a misassembled flash suppressor, which was actually contacting bullets during live fire tests.
A barrel from each manufacturer was sectioned for examination of the bore and chrome lining. The chrome lining was out of tolerance (uneven and on average too thin) in all three barrels. The H&R barrel also failed the surface-finish requirements. During accuracy testing, the M14 rifles produced greater group dispersion and variation in the center of impact than the control rifles (two T35 and two AR10). NATO testing was quoted indicating that the Canadian C1 (FN FAL) and German G3 were less sensitive to variations within and among ammo lots. Shutting off the gas port in the M14 rifles resulted in an average 20% reduction in extreme spread compared to those groups fired with the gas port open. This also reduced the variation in the center of impact. The design of the flash suppressor was singled out as a cause of inaccuracy.
An M14 Rifle Cost Analysis report that gave rounds used and overhaul schedules from rounds fired states M14 annual usage is 3,500 rounds to overhaul and 599rds MRTF. Does not sound much like a hard use fighting gun…
Full PDF of the honest technical Report that does not paint the M14 in a rose colored light, can be found here. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/677383.pdf Take note of Page 32.
Production of the M14 was long and troubled. The cost of the weapon rose beyond claims of being able to produce it cheaper and with the same machinery used to make the M1. The story of the long tax money gobbling nightmare of the M14 is known to those who study the deep history of military weapons, and I encourage anyone interested to look into themselves but I am not going to go into that this time. For this post, I will be talking about the current niche the M14 is still hanging on to.
After the M14’s near-complete death of cutting-edge combat use, the Army still wanted it as their sniper rifle. Of course, many systems were tested by the Army during the Vietnam war, including the USMC M40 sniper weapon, For debatable reasons, the Army decided the M14 was the way for them. This is where the rifle begins to show.
The USAMTU had been working with the M14 for years for use in competition and sniping. Indeed the AMU knew that the Army would need a sniping weapon even before the officers in charge did. So they had been working on the National Match M14 for a while.
The procedure to turn an M14 rifle into the M21 or the National Match service rifle is so long and complicated I have little desire to try to repeat it here. See “The Complete Book of US Sniping” by Peter Senich if you want all the details. I will say the process was time-consuming and expensive, and that is not even starting to discuss the search for an optic system to go on the XM21. It produced a rifle capable of 800-yard kills and usable accuracy. For a while at least.
Over the next several years, the Army spent millions trying to perfect the system while it was used as the service rifle in high power. Between those two pursuits, some interesting things were learned about the accurized M14. It turned out it was not as rough and tough as some think. To keep an M14 made to NM-spec accurate, it requires careful tuning and extensive PM. If you doubt this, go to your local range and find a high power shooter who still uses one. Ask them if you may look at the rifle and grab it by the top handguard and watch the fellow go from deathly white to red with rage and horror of what you just did. It needs to be carefully babied. And the Army spent millions and years relearning that lesson over and over with the M21 until finally dumping it for the M24 in the later 80s.
Though people who have many believed the Military and the end users long for the return of this big heavy beast, this is not really all that true. this is best illustrated during the time period in the late 80s to the late 90s of the USMC’s DMR program when so many tried to bring it back as the DM rifle or the Sniper teams spotters weapon.
Around, during or a little before this time, the Army Rifle team commander decided since the Army’s standard issue service rifle was the M16, then that is what the Army service rifle team needed to be, and should be using. The AMTU armorers put their heads together, took some tips from civilian high power shooters who had already woken up and got by the absurd notion that service rifle meant “wood and steel,” and soon after the Army was beating the USMC rifle teams at Camp Perry by a long shot. Not long after, the Marines found themselves going to the M16 for service rifle to keep up. Few people, who want to stay competitive have looked back. Especially after the development of the 77 and 80-grain HPBT match bullets.
But, the DMR program is where the trouble of the M14 as a precision combat rifle really became clear.
To quote Lt. Colonel Chandler owner of Iron Brigade Armory and former Officer in Charge of many USMC marksmanship and sniping programs:
“Remember that the US Army struggled for more than twenty years to transform the M14 into a sniper type weapon. The Army finally abandoned all attempts to salvage the M14 rifle. Continued use of the M14 as anything other than a drill rifle is better described as DISASTER. ( emphasis Chandler’s) The M14 is old and has never been more than a modified M1 Garand. “
“Unfortunately the M14 rifle is costly to modify and modification requires many man-hours of skilled labor. In the field, the M14 cannot maintain accuracy. The Army refused to admit that they could not solve the M14’s accuracy problems and wasted two decades attempting to make a silk purse from an old infantry rifle. Milspec spare parts are no longer made and those that can be found are often inferior, and ill-fitting. “
“The M14 requires constant ( continual ) maintenance. Maintenance on an M14 progress geometrically. That means if you double an M14 rifle’s use, you quadruple its maintenance. “
“The world has moved beyond the M14. The weapon remains a standard piece only because it is used ( though less and less) in service rifle competition marksmanship, which is very different from field use. If anyone recommends it, run them through.”
“It is ironic that some of the USMC rifle competitors whose accurized M14s have been consistently waxed by the Army’s M16s are supporting the use of the M14 as accurate rifles.”
“As we discuss the costs of bringing scoped M14s onto the line in large quantities, allow me another digression. The M14 is a bitch to keep in tune, and an untuned M14, no matter who did the accurizing is about as accurate as a thrown rock. Unless the M14 is continually babied it will not retain accuracy. ( this is an important note from LT Col Chandler for those who fire 100 rounds a year and tell you the M14/M1A is wonderful). Imagine the hardships and brutalities a scoped M14 will experience as a DM weapon in combat. (One recalls the story of Carlos Hathcock walking back to the shoot house and starting to pass out, another Marine grabbed the accurized M14 and let The Ultimate Sniper fall face first into the asphalt. Letting a weakened man fall to keep the pathetic NM M14 accurate). No M14 ever built will stay accurately zeroed and tight group shooting, (meaning close to MOA) under field conditions. ”
Chandler goes on to point out the requirements in specially qualified armorers who know how and can keep an M14 accurate and how even in the early 2000s those men are almost extinct in the USMC accuracy and Sniping world.
“To create accurized M14s with their special mounts and scopes and stocks, chassis etc. will cost more than twice as much as modifying M16s. Worse, while maintenance on M16s/AR15s remains routine, the M14s require more than six times the labor and dozens of times more replacement parts to maintain. Anyone who claims that going to the M14s is economically comparable to adopting the M16s is utterly ill-informed or is simply parroting the party line.”
“Allow us to remind again that the US Army, which has far more research, repair, and maintenance capability than the Corps, tried for twenty-two years to make the M14 into an accurate rifle. “
Compelling stuff from a man who spent most of his career working around the best weapons and men in the world when it comes to accuracy, sniping, and the marksmanship community. But he goes on:
“So how on earth does this bizarre situation develop?” ( the idea the M14 is still some wonder rifle fit for serious use for anything beyond the parade ground of the nostalgia of the thing)
“How an idea germinates is difficult to determine. Perhaps a shooter who liked the M14 dreamed it all up. You know-==” A great old piece. let’s put it back to work!” The M14 concept has been allowed to develop into a full-blown program because individuals involved were sometimes not weapons experts, possibly not infantry experienced at all and almost never sniper trained. The fact is line NCOs are not marksmanship literate. The M14 DM program is driven by those type of NCOs. NOT SNIPERS. “
“The M14 in all its forms has been a pain in the ass to its users, and when Marines speak candidly they do not proclaim their M14s to be ” the finest DM rifle in the world “. They refer instead to inability to stay zeroed and almost as often, to frustration in keeping their weapons in service due to the unending, never easing, repair requirements.”
Chandler went on to talk about how, after retiring from the USMC and starting Iron Brigade Armory, one the best makers of combat-hardened, nearly bombproof sniper rifles in the world and the makers of the legendary DARPA XM-3 sniper rifle system. He gathered and employed the worlds best retired USMC 2112s that he could find and attempted to make a tough super accurate M14s. Making money no object in the pursuit in an attempt to see if it could be done.
” We, who have no bottom line, to worry about who can and do use the ultimate materials and the finest skills known cannot expect our M14s to maintain accuracy under combat conditions. We do not believe the M14 design allows accurizing that is combat condition durable. ”
Chandler’s quotes and feelings on the M14 as well as his belief the M16 with an optic is the ideal Sniper’s Spotters weapon, as well as DMR, can be found in “Death From Afar Vol. I-IV” as well as “The One Shot Brotherhood” and various other technical publications such as Precision Shooting magazine as well as technical papers spread internally in the USMC.
The M14 remains popular in the civilian world and not just from service rifle shooters. It still has a life among collectors, plinkers, and even serious shooters. The new variants trying to breathe life into it as well as pictures on the news of M14s forced into use in the first half of the GWOT. Some still get caught up in its legend and its lore. The romance of the piece has lulled many away from the fact it is not a fully capable modern fighting tool. Many of its fans overlook its many drawbacks. The safety needing a finger inside the trigger guard and to push forward to deactivate. The limited capacity and reload time that is slow (which when compared to a practiced user of an M1 Garand is actually slower to reload than an M1).
The maintenance, as Chandler said above is a nightmare if the gun is used often. Every time it comes apart, the bedding gets worse and worse. It may seem like no big deal for a combat weapon, but it is. The gun is heavy in all its forms and is as slow as a monkey doing Chinese algebra compared to the faster more natural manipulations and ergonomics of better designs. The oft-used excuse of “I will pick them off at 500 yards before they get close enough to worry about” is absurd. The last 15 years have shown very few cases of infantrymen laying prone and picking off enemy soldiers at 500yds. It is laughable to consider using the M14/M1A on your lonesome in an urban or CQB role. Sure, some SOF have done it, but they have someone covering them.
While the ergonomics of the M14 are already not wonderful for modern TTPs, the use of some of the newer stocks, like the Sage exaggerates the difficulty for anyone other than a giant who drags his knuckles when walking Never mind the astounding increase in weight, let alone the cost of such an “upgrade”.
Howard, fellow LooseRounds writer, co-owner with me of this website, friend, and USMC rifleman, and Iraq war vet gives his opinion and experience with the rifle as well as what he observed of it in Iraq.
“My experiences with the M14 type rifle lead me to have little interest in it. I owned a Springfield Armory Bush rifle that had various issues. I sold it to a guy who liked M14s. Later I received a SOCOM II in trade and found it overly heavy and was not a gun I would want for long distance shooting or for close quarters.
While I was in the military, I did see a couple of M14s in or near Abu Ghraib prison. Guys liked the idea of the rifle but didn’t want to carry them. They were often left in vehicles or in guard towers. Issues included lack of support gear(mags, mag pouches, etc), and that the majority of the soldiers and Marines didn’t know how to use or maintain the M14 rifles.”
Lt. Col. Chandler would feel a sense of deja vu I have no doubt. Maybe even frustration that so many refuse to see the evidence from many decades.
Other opinions, from a man who was more or less my mentor in the olden days. An SF vet from Vietnam who used the M14 in training and in his early days of combat. He went on to be a ballistic reconstruction expert. Tested Federal 22 Long Rifle match ammo to be used in that years Olympics and T&Ed guns for Ruger and High Standard. In addition, he is an accomplished BR and service rifle shooter as well as bullseye small bore and pistol.
“When I first got to Vietnam, I was scared to death of the M16. I feared a jamming M16 would get me killed. Poison snakes, spiders, and a jammed M16 was such a worry to me I opted to carry an M60 on my first LRRP patrol. Later I learned to love it. I hated the M14, it proved not as reliable and was heavier and I could not carry near enough of its ammo. When it comes to combat I would walk over 100 of the best M14s ever made for one good M16.”
My own Father had this to say. Dad was in Vietnam from 1967-’68 in the 4th Infantry Division.
“I liked the M14 in basic. It was the first semi-auto I had ever fired. It got old carrying all that weight fast running everywhere all day and night. I qualified expert with it. Once I was issued an M16 right before we overseas, I never looked back.”
For every person who has told me how great the thing is, I have found two who had nothing but misery and bad experiences from it. I myself among them.
Among the other myriad issues of using the M14 as a match rifle and DMR as well as anything else required by it in combat, more recent problems popped up. Since most users trumpet the excellent accuracy of the M14 and its use in combat as a hard-hitting accurate battle rifle, this means military grade match ammo to take advantage of its legendary long-range man-killing accuracy.
Quotes below from.7.62 NATO Long Range Match CartridgesBy Name Removed at request of author.
“With the start of the Gulf War II in 2003, the high temperatures encountered in Iraq (in excess of 115 degrees F) began to produce some M14 op-rod failures due to excessive pressure at the gas port. Both the Army and Marines found the range marking on their scopes to be off of calibration with the higher velocity M118LR loads in such desert conditions. The result was a decision to reduce the load to a more moderate level.”
“Although this cartridge remains the current M118LR standard, it apparently still suffers from excessive velocity variation as the temperature changes and less accuracy than might be desired for truly precise shots at mid-range to long-range distances. The specification for M118LR requires 14 shots in less than 8 inches at 600 yards.”
The military did get the bugs worked out on the ammo eventually so that is one less thing to worry about if you are in a fight and can get your hands on the good stuff.
“The MK316 ammunition is essentially the finest possible mass-produced match ammunition, comparable to the hand loads utilized by the various service MTUs. The cost is higher than M118LR, with a government cost of 78 cents per round for the MK 316 Mod 0 rather than 55 cents for the M118LR (2009 prices).”
The question is, why waste such ammunition in an M14 when 7.62mm pattern AR type rifles are now easy to get, more accurate, more familiar vastly cheaper and much easier to work on. Not to mention being familiar with the vast majority of military and civilian users.
The M14/M1A will be around for as long as people will continue to buy them. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with owning them liking them and using them. By no means is it useless or ineffective. But its legendary reputation is something that needs to be taken with a grain of salt and careful study of the system if you intend to have one for a use your like may depend on.
If you are curious, previous posts on shooting rack-grade M14s and custom service rifle M14s with Lilja barrels fired at 1,000 yards can be found here on Looserounds using the search bar. There you can read of the M14/M1A compared against the M1 Garand and M1903.
Thanks to Daniel Watters for additional information, sources and help. You can read Daniel’s excellent indispensable resource “A 5.56×45 Timeline” at the following link if you are a serious student of US weapons development history. https://looserounds.com/556timeline/