Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Who's at fault for the M16?

There are a hell of a lot of people who REALLY hate the AR family of weapons, the 5.56 nato round, and the M16 in particular.

I've addressed this hatred before; and there are some valid issues, some not so valid issues, and some issues that were once valid, but aren't anymore.

One of the groups that hates the M16 with the greatest passion, is veterans of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, who served in Viet Nam between 1964 and 1968.

They've got a very good reason; the M16, as issued, got hundreds, if not thousands of good soldiers and marines killed.

See, the M16 as issued at the time, was just as bad as everyone who hates it says it was.

But, why?

Clearly the M16 of today is a very different beast (though of course the 5.56 round is still not an optimal anti-personnel choice, and the gas system has its issues); and there's no way the weapon would have been adopted as widely as it was, if it was so bad by design...

The post I wrote yesterday about tumbling bullets , and the earlier post about stabilization myths, brought this subject to the fore of a number of folks mind. Some have commented that they won't buy a Colt product, and still blame McNamara; for cheaping out on the M16 to make more profit, because they didn't care if the troops got a shoddy weapon, or even for bribes and kickbacks (a suggestion which I find ridiculous by the way).

Well, there are a hell of a lot of things to blame McNamara for (in fact, I hold him responsible for much of the way the Viet Nam war was conducted); and certainly he and his "whiz kids" share some of the blame; but really, the majority of the responsibility and recriminations should not fall on his shoulders.

You shouldn't really blame Colt either. They were following the specifications and recommendations of the people who are truly responsible for the deaths of all those men.

No, the people responsible for the early M16 and its faults, were the Army Ordnance Board. They are the ones who changed the twist rate, changed the powder, and told colt not to chrome the bores.

They did it, because they were trying to sabotage the M16. They saw this black plastic toy, as being forced on them by McNamara and Curtis LeMay (com gen. of the Air Force, who bought them for the air force security police); when they wanted to continue using the m14.

Now, specifically a lot of folks blame McNamara, because he forced the Army to adopt the rifle, and is reported to have said "If it needed a chrome bore, Eugene Stoner would have designed it that way".

It may have been true, and I’ve certainly heard the quote before; but it was definitely not Colts fault, or McNamaras fault even that the changes were made, or more importantly that the required changes to make the M16 combat ready for the jungles of Viet Nam, were not made until 1968.

If you read up on some of the stunts the Ordnance Board pulled during the acceptance trials, they boil my blood.

The AR platform was first tested (as the AR-10) by the Army ordnance board in 1956; and it was rejected, for various stated reasons only one of which was true. The original AR10 had a light weight composite barrel, which would shatter in heavy rain or extremely cold temperatures. During the original ordnance board trials, Stoner decided that the one legitimate complaint the board had was that the rifle needed a conventional barrel, and the bore needed to be chrome lined (in fact, Stoner had always thought so. The lightweight aluminum and compsite barrels were not his idea, they were forced on him by the president of Fairchild, John Sullivan).

In ‘58, the board held the cold weather trials, and rejected the AR platform again, because of it’s “inadequate performance and failure to meet standards in harsh environments”, based on a ridiculous series of rigged tests, using deliberately sabotaged rifles.

Eugene Stoner reported that the commander of the tests told him that there was no way his rifle would pass, and that he didn't understand why Stoner was trying to destroy the Army with his rifle. That he believed Stoner was unpatriotic, and honestly wanted to destroy the Army and possibly America; just because of this rifle.

These were not the sentiments of a rational and objective man.

Stoner also reported that when he arrived to oversee the trials, the rifles used for the test had all their pins removed and replaced with machine screws that had the heads ground off; that springs were deliberately clipped; that sights had been deliberately knocked off true etc... The army ordnance board was simply not going to allow this rifle to even be considered.

Maxwell Taylor, at the time chief of staff of the army (then chairman of the joint chiefs), personally hated LeMay to an unreasonable degree and "blamed" this new rifle on him. Taylor also directly intervened in the testing process to express his disapproval of the new weapon, preferring instead the more traditional M14; and leting his people know in no uncertain terms he expected the plastic toy to fail completely.

So, the AR was rejected again; and Stoner left Fairchild/Armalite to work with Colt, and Cadillac Gage. In 1961-62 he started working on his next design, the Stoner 62/63 weapons system, and later the Bushmaster cannon, leaving the AR to Armalite (the trade name the M16 is known under throughout most of the world).

In 1960, after seeing a demonstration of the AR15 at a barbecue in Texas, Curtis Lemay ordered 8,500 M16s for the Air Force (initially countermanded by McNamara, but later allowed to go through); believing that the light, handy rifle was perfect for air base security.

ARPA (the advanced research project agency) also acquired a quantity of the rifles, and sent them to Viet Nam with SF a teams; to be used as personal weapons, as well as to arm indigenous irregular troops. This order was allowed to proceed; and ARPA reported (with some unbelievable hyperbole one might note), that the rifle was an unqualified success.

McNamara stopped the M16 order for several reasons, including believing (rightly) that LeMay was too big for his britches; but his primary justification was the initial army ordnance board reporting. After the order was suspended, ArmaLite corporation (which was founded and spun off by Fairchild, who were Stoners employers when he created the AR design),who had licensed the design from Stoner, filed a complaint with McNamara about the original tests, which caused him to initiate an inspector generals investigation into the trials.

Two years after that, and after receiving an IG report showed that the original M16 trials were rigged; McNamara halted production of the M14 and ordered the M16 adopted; officially because economic and production analysis by the “whiz kids” showed the M14 was uneconomical (production costs were too high, and production could not be economically increased), vs the M16.

Actually, much of why McNamara made the decision, was because he was supremely pissed off at the Army Ordnance board at their deception (and they were continuing to insist the trials were legitimate even after the report came out). McNamara felt that he needed to force the board to heel.

Initially the AOB absolutely refused McNamaras order that the M16 be adopted. McNamara forced the AOB by direct order to retry the weapon, with ARPA as an overeseeing agency. The board dickered so much, and insisted on so many changes to the rifle; in fact saying that even with the changes it was unsuitable; that McNamara ordered that they adopt the M16 as is, with no changes, anyway.

Those changes were actually rather important; including the chrome bore, the forward assist, and a different twist rate for the rifling. They would later be implemented in the M16A1 (and later revisions); but because of the boards hostility with McNamara, they were not put into the intial production models as issued.

After McNamara overruled the board completely, they went about deliberatelyt making sure the M16 would fail; because they wanted it to be a spectacular disaster, so they could go back to the M14 and give McNamara a black eye.

The first, and most important thing they did, was chang the powder from stick to ball; without testing the new powder, or changing the springs, gas port diameter etc... as would be required to properly function with this change.

...But it didn't take changes in the rilfe or ammo to sink it.

Even with the wrong powder, the weapon COULD have been a success. The board did something far far worse. Colt was advertising the civilian versions of the rifle as "self cleaning", and so natural and intuitive that anyone coudl shoot it with no training. THe board thought they would throw those claims back in Colts face, and they specified that the rifle not be distributed with cleaning kits, didn't have kits or supplies put into production, and didn’t create training manuals or standard procedures.

In fact, they didn’t even distribute armorers manuals (something done with any and all devices the military uses); and the flysheets that they DID distribute, instructed armorers to issue the weapon without kits, telling soldiers that they didn’t need to clean the weapon; that it was self cleaning (Colt picked this up as sales propaganda, but the AOB certainly knew better).

When the weapon initially went to field units, no training was conducted. Troops were given “field expedient familiarization”, which consisted of firing a few magazines off into the tree line. There was no training in stoppage drills, how to break the weapon down, how to field or detail strip it, how to maintain it at all etc… The weapon was first issued to troops in late ‘64 and early ‘65, but cleaning kits and manuals weren’t issued until 1967.

What we CAN blame McNamara for however, is not listening to the troops reports of the weapons failures. He still believed that it was the AOB falsifying the problems in order to make the rifle fail. He was half right.

In 1968, finally realizing that they had lost the M14 fight, and that they had to respond to the issues the troops were having; the Army began issuing the revised configuration M16s (the E1, E2, and what was finally classified as the M16-A1), incorporating those changes initially recommended; as well as creating new manuals, procedures, and training; as should have been done in 1964.

All of that was a direct result of the ordnance board, and their desire to keep using the M14; and all of that resulted in the deaths of hundreds or thousands of good men. It's not Colt or McNamaras fault, you can lay the blame squarely on the Army Ordnance Board from 1958 through 1968.