The AR-15 … the M-16

  • Arthur M. Squires


Most readers of newspapers during the 1960s will remember how a faceless bureaucracy mismanaged the United States Army’s adoption of the M-16 rifle as standard issue. They will remember how defective ammunition for the M-16 cost American lives in Vietnam, and how in the end a Congressional investigation concluded that the failure on the part of officials with authority in the Army to cause action to be taken to correct the deficiencies of the 5.56-mm. ammunition borders on criminal negligence.


Cyclic Rate Standard Issue Firing Point Muzzle Velocity Average Failure Rate 
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Sources and suggested reading

  1. James Fallows, National Defense, Random House, New York, 1981, pp. 76–95.Google Scholar
  2. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services, Report of the Special Subcommittee on the M-16 Rifle Program, October 19, 1967 (pp. 5321-5372).Google Scholar
  3. —, Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on the M-16 Rifle Program, May 15, 16, 31, June 21, July 25, 26, 27, August 8, 9, and 22, 1967 (pp. 4431-5019 with an Appendix, pp. i-x).Google Scholar
  4. Edward Clinton Ezell, The Great Rifle Controversy: The Search for Improved Infantry Weapons 1945–1983, with a Foreword by Eugene M. Stoner, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1984.Google Scholar
  5. Thomas L. McNaugher, The M-16 Controversies: Military Organizations and Weapons Acquisitions, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1984.Google Scholar
  6. Ezell tells how the thinking of developers of new rifles for the U.S. Army was inhibited by existence of production machinery for making earlier rifles. My Chapter 10 describes how a mature industry shifts from innovation to a preoccupation with “product improvement,” and Ezell’s book furnishes an illustration of this phenomenon.Google Scholar
  7. McNaugher describes the institutional background for the Yount Committee’s inability to respond flexibly to its troubles. McNaugher confirms what I had intuited, that a subjective attitude of distaste for the M-16 played only a minor role in the Committee’s behavior. It performed honorably, but under constraints arising from a history of controversy, and under urgencies imposed by McNamara’s belief that the AR-15 was ready for large-scale manufacture without further tests or development. This was so only if the Committee relaxed the Army Infantry Board’s initial requirement that the AR-15’s bullet pierce a helmet at 500 meters; and the saddest part of McNaugher’s account is his demonstration that this choice was not available to Yount’s Committee.Google Scholar
  8. My chapter on the M-16 rifle ignores a number of issues that the Ichord subcommittee examined in its hearings. I have focused upon matters that seem to me the most significant for a judgment of the quality of the Army’s management. A fuller account would include a discussion of an increase in primer sensitivity: see Stoner’s testimony on pp. 4550 and 4560. A fuller account would also consider the surging caused by mixing tracer shells and rounds filled with WCC 846: see Stoner’s testimony on pp. 4570-4574. Stoner believed that the Army did not reduce the size of the M-16’s gas port to accommodate WCC 846’s higher pressure at this point along the barrel because doing so would have made the rifle unreliable when firing tracer bullets.Google Scholar

Recommended reading on government

  1. C.P. Snow, “Science and Government” and “Appendix to’ science and Government’,” in Public Affairs, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1971, pp. 99–186.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur M. Squires
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA

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