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The Evolution of the M16 Rifle


One of the most venerable rifles in the world,
the M16 has served American forces faithfully from the jungles of South America to the deserts
of the Middle East. In service for nearly half a century, the
M16 was at its inception a departure from traditional battle rifle thinking, and a markedly
differed weapon than those being produced by America’s adversaries. Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show, today we’re taking a look at the evolution of one of the most iconic
rifles in history, the M16. Following World War II the US Army had a serious
problem. Its infantry was being equipped with up to
four different weapons, from the M1 Garand to the Thompson submachine gun, and all were
proving ineffective in modern combat. What the army desired was a single weapon
that could do the job of the various different weapons infantry units may be equipped with,
something that could be lethally accurate at long ranges such as the M2 Carbine, while
being able to deliver suppressing fire like the Browning Automatic Rifle. The Army decided that it would need a rifle
chambered to fire the 7.62 mm round, which would also be used by the new general-purpose
machine gun under development. Various designs were submitted by well known
manufacturers, to include upgraded designs of the M1 Garand, but entering the competition
late, ArmaLite was forced to hurriedly submit an AR-10 prototype rifle for testing. Unlike other rifles which featured walnut
and steel, the AR-10 was a surprisingly lightweight design made of aluminum and plastic, weighing
in at only 6.85 lbs while empty. Though Springfield Armory test staff commented
that the AR-10 was the best automatic rifle they had ever tested, the Army ended up choosing
what would become the M14 rifle, which was basically just an updated M1 Garand with a
20-round magazine and automatic fire capability. A few years later the M14 would come face
to face with the AK-47 in the jungles of Vietnam. Almost immediately battlefield reports claimed
that the M14 was completely uncontrollable when firing in full automatic mode and that
soldiers couldn’t carry enough ammunition to maintain fire superiority over the AK. In fact many soldiers had taken to ditching
their M14s for AK-47s pulled off the corpses of slain enemy combatants, which led to friendly
fire incidents when American troops fired on the sound of an AK-47 in their midst believing
it to be an enemy. The US was being out gunned daily in the dangerous
jungles of Vietnam, and it was clear that a replacement rifle had to be found and asap. The Army was thus forced to reconsider a 1957
request by General Willard G Wyman, commander of the US Continental Army Command, to develop
a lighter .223 caliber, 5.56mm rifle which could fire in both semi and fully automatic
modes. With most believing that the .223 caliber
round lacked the killing power of a .30 caliber round, the new rifle would have to prove that
it could penetrate a US helmet at 500 yards (460 meters) and retain a velocity in excess
of the speed of sound, while still being able to match or exceed the wounding ability of
a .30 caliber round. In response, ArmaLite scaled down their AR10
prototype and developed the AR-15. Firing the smaller .22 caliber round, the
bullets would destabilize when entering the human body, and fragment or tumble, thus vastly
increasing their lethality over a .30 caliber round which might zip straight through. The smaller caliber also meant that the rifle
would be much more controllable in fully automatic firing mode due to the vastly reduced kick,
and with rounds being a third the weight of .30 caliber rounds, soldiers could carry more
ammunition and sustain fire for longer. The AR-15 could also fire at rates of 600-700
rounds a minute with an impressively low jamming rate, and the individual parts of the rifle
were stamped out instead of being hand-machined, allowing them to be mass produced and greatly
reducing both their cost and increasing the speed of manufacturing. The lack of specialized equipment needed for
its construction also meant that unlike the AK-47, who’s manufacture was limited to a
few plants with the proper equipment, the M16 could be produced nearly anywhere, which
would make interruption of supplies in case of war against a foe such as the Soviet Union
nearly impossible. Despite the obvious superiority of the AR-15
over the M-14, the Army was very reluctant to adopt the rifle. In fact it was the Air Force who was the first
to adopt the weapon, ordering 8,500 rifles and 8.5 million rounds of ammunition. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency then acquired 1,000 of the Air Force’s AR-15’s and shipped them to be tested by the
South Vietnamese Army, with the Vietnamese soldiers quickly falling in love with the
weapon. Over the course of testing by the South Vietnamese,
the AR-15 recorded zero broken parts while firing 80,000 rounds in one stage of testing,
and in total they needed only two replacement parts for the 1,000 weapons over the entire
course of testing. The Vietnamese government would go on to request
that the US provide the AR-15 as the standard rifle for its forces, but the request would
be denied by Admiral Harry Felt, commander in chief of pacific forces, on recommendation
of the US Army. Historically a hard-headed service, the US
Army continued to decline the AR-15 despite it’s growing and very obvious superiority. During 1962 and 1963 the US military continued
to test the weapon with positive evaluations emphasizing its lightness, lethality, and
reliability. The Army Material Command however criticized
the weapon’s inaccuracy and penetration power at very long ranges, however in 1963 American
special forces asked for the AR-15 to be made their standard weapon. CIA operatives and select Army Airborne units
were also being equipped exclusively with the AR-15, and eventually Secretary of the
Army Cyrus Vance ordered an investigation into why exactly the AR-15 was being rejected
by the Army. The investigation revealed that the personnel
in charge of testing the AR-15 up against the M14 had rigged the tests in favor of the
M14. Within the Army Material Command the bias
remained, as it had historically been, with larger caliber rifles capable of firing at
longer ranges, believing that slow, deliberate fire and a round that could remain accurate
at extreme ranges was of utmost importance. Yet in the jungles of Vietnam where firefights
took place at ranges of thirty to fifty yards, the ability to deliver automatic fire quickly
was critical, and the M14 was poorly suited for the job. It would take an order directly from Secretary
of Defense Robert McNamara to halt production of the M14, and for US armed forces to formally
adopt the AR-15 as their main battle rifle. Yet the Army was allowed to ask for modifications
for its AR-15s, which by now should have proven to be a mistake because you should never let
the Army ask for anything. With delivery of the first shipments of AR15s,
Army staff asked that the design be changed to include a manual bolt closure, so that
a soldier could ram a round in if it failed to seat properly in the chamber. The Air Force immediately objected over this
request, stating that during three years of testing and operation under all types of conditions,
the Air Force had no record of malfunctions that could have been corrected by a manual
bolt closing device. They further stated that the addition of a
manual bolt closure feature would add weight and complexity to the weapon, reducing its
reliability. The Marine Corps would come to the Air Force’s
defense, stating that there was absolutely no need for the added feature. In the end, Colonel Howard Yount, who managed
Army procurement of the rifle, would defend the request by stating, “the M-1, the M-14,
and the carbine had always had something for the soldier to push on; that maybe this would
be a comforting feeling to him… or something.” Needless to say, Air Force and Marine Corps
personnel would roll their eyes at the good Colonel, though unfortunately the Army’s insistence
would go on to force a redesign of the weapon anyways, resulting in the M-16. The first version of the M16 however would
fare poorly in wet conditions such as those of the Vietnam jungles. It experienced a malfunction rate of two per
1,000 rounds fired, and soldiers began writing letters home about the terrible quality of
their new rifles. Eventually enough letters from soldiers overseas
were forwarded by concerned parents to congressmen that a Congressional investigation was launched. That investigation would discover that the
M16 had been billed as self-cleaning, despite the fact that no rifle is or has ever been. Thus troops were issued the rifle without
cleaning kits or instructions on how to properly clean the weapon. Because the M16 works by redirecting part
of the high pressure gases caused by firing back towards the bolt and thus chambering
and seating a new round, the rifle was specially vulnerable to misfiring or jamming if not
cleaned regularly. The investigation also found that the M16
and 5.56 round it fired had been approved for use with DuPont IMR8208M extruded gunpowder,
but in production the powder had been switched to WC846 ball powder which produced much more
fouling and thus jammed the M16 much more frequently. The lack of a forward assist also made it
impossible for a soldier to successfully seat a round when the rifle jammed, and lastly
the firing chamber was not chrome-plated, which created corrosion problems. By 1968 though these issues had been addressed
and corrected, in the form of the M16A1, and a report by the Department of the Army found
that the new and improved rifle had found widespread acceptance by US troops. By the end of the war in Vietnam, a Blue Ribbon
Defense Panel concluded that the M16 had saved the lives of 20,000 US servicemen during the
war, who would have died had the M14 remained in service. The M16 would go on to continue serving US
armed forces all the way up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it served alongside
its slightly smaller and more maneuverable cousin, the M4. Combat troops would go on to continue praising
the reliability of the M16, with one unit in the Helmand province of Afghanistan reported
that despite being covered in fine powdered sand, being dusty, wet, and covered in mud,
the weapons would not jam even during intense, hours long firefights. Only a single soldier reported his weapon
jamming, and only after his M16 was covered in mud after climbing out of a canal. After clearing the weapon, the rifle continued
firing and remained operational for the rest of the engagement. Still receiving high marks for reliability,
accuracy, lethality, and range, the M16 is slowly being phased out across the US military
in favor of the M4, yet it still remains one of the best battle rifles ever created. Have you ever fired an M16- what do you think
about its reliability? Also, be sure to check out our other video
called M-16 vs AK47! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

100 thoughts on “The Evolution of the M16 Rifle

  1. Bullets being fired along with the casings were used for a better illustration of different caliber rounds… Thanks for pointing out that the casing is ejected after firing! 😉

  2. so much misinformation… I suggest talking to someone that knows about guns and re-edit this video. because as it is right now, it is horrible and needed many corrections.

  3. For sure the bad of M16 was…. it single and burst fire at the beginning… not fully automaticly as the Ak47 old but reliable… but then M4 was born… stories remake…

  4. I own an FN m4 and it’s really reliable rifle, I’ve only used my forward assist a handful of times out of the 10000 rounds I’ve fired out of it, of course I’ve replaced the barrel because it eventually wears down but it’s a great gun

  5. AK: most mass produced firearm worldwide by eastern bloc nations, China, and now even the US
    Infographics show: "Unlike the AK-47, whose manufacture was limited to a few plants with the proper equipment"

  6. “As lethally accurate as the m2 carbine” oh infographics how I love you, brought to you by people who have never shot guns

  7. Well, I don't know what to say about this. Some of what this guy says sound like absolute nonsense, and most of the depictions look even less informational

  8. its not m2 carbine. its m1 carbine. second long range fire "m1 carbine was designed as a replacement for the officers 1911" do you ever hear people making 600-1000m shots with an m1 carbine. because last i checked the balistics for m1 carbine are about the same as a pistol. nice research. this could have been solved if you named the m16 as the replacement for the 2 primary weapons used by the common infantry man. which were tomson and m1 garand. not the m1carbine which at its inception was designed as a sort of pdw.

  9. No wonder Muhammad Ali didn't go to Vietnam. He was right. He risks of death is higher fighting for the government. Rather than fighting in a ring for myself.

  10. I was in the army for 8 years. 2 deployments to Iraq. Never had I or heard of anyone who needed to use the forward assist. If it does jam pull the slide and continue but nobody uses the assist

  11. Waiting for the word Colt to be mentioned….and it never is. I don't know where you got your information but Armalite didn't manufacture the M16, Colt did. Colt also made the M4.

  12. 10:29 the m16 is not a battle rifle because it fires the 5,56×45 NATO round, which is an intermediate cartridge. a battle rifle fires full size rifle rounds like for example the 30-06 or .308 win. or 7.62x54R…

  13. as a solider of the idf we all use the m-16 or m-4 the gun does jam! usually after firing for a long time without cleaning

  14. Former army airborne infantry, thebaninators need to stop showing the brass flying through the air eith the bullet. It just looks like they dont know the actual first thing about firearms. Also, I despise, I hate the m4. It's a fickle pos that is dated and hasn't aged well.

  15. So one of the reasons we lost Vietnam is cause we just decided not to do more testing to figure out that the m14 was trash?

  16. Ya the AR15 was actually designed for the US 1956 Olympic shooting team. The US Army was the first to adopt the upgraded AR15 thus designating it to the M16. The M16 was such a flop that they had to once again upgrade it again into the M16A1 with full auto capabilities. Your information on this topic is horrid at best. I am sorry for my harshness. But please do not tell people that the AR15 is a military weapon as that is false.

  17. The entire bullet doesn't get fired it's only the copper part which is the bullet the brass part which is the casinggets ejected from the firearm. The casing has the powder and the primer which is the small silver dot on the back ignites the powder inside the casing, dislodging the bullet firing out the barrel

    Edit I did not see his pinned comment and as such I apologize for the long statement correcting something already corrected

  18. Now the M4 has a younger brother too. The HK416. The M14 has 2 younger brothers, the AC-556 Mini 14 and the MK14 EBR.

  19. I fired certain types of M16 including the M4. Both used to jam frequently, even when maintained regularly. Thus making modern AKs and TAR 21 as my favorable.

  20. the AR15/AR10 type rifle is arguable the best rifle system in the world. it is so versatile.
    you can quickly change the upper receiver and magazine insert and you can fire tons of different calibers. they can fire pistol caliber rounds or high power rifle rounds.
    the AK47 is great but its not as versatile and modular. if you want a different caliber AK, you have to buy a new gun in that specific caliber. with an AR15 if i want to switch from 5.56 to shooting .22lr i can just thrown in a conversion kit and in minutes im ready to go.
    its a great rifle for hunting, home defense and target shooting. it fills every need, thats why so many people love them.

  21. Armalite: Check out this gun!
    Army:Eww, it has a baby round and jams!
    Armalite:What if I put a button on the side?
    Army: I'll tAke yoUr eNtiRe sToCk.

  22. Much of the animation is obviously incorrect portraying the M16 platform. But at least the history of it and details are correct from what I know

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