The United State Army made waves a couple months ago when they finally chose the Sig Sauer P320 as a replacement for the long-serving Beretta M9. Many have mused at why the military chose the Sig over the other entrants. If the M9 is out, could the M16 and M4 be next? According to recent reports, the famed Eugene Stoner rifle could be going the way of the M14, M1 Garand, and 1903 Springfield.
The M16 was adopted into service in 1964 after extensive testing. The army was searching for a smaller projectile and lighter gun that could easily be fired in semi-automatic and fully automatic modes. They found that in the M16. Of course, the original adaption of the Armalite Rifle had some issues, but over the years the M16 adapted to meet the needs and use modern materials. These adaptions led to the M16A1, A2, A3 A4 and then the M4 and M4A1, all of which have been the selected service rifle of the U.S. Military at one time or another.
Those days may soon be gone. A recent report from the Army Times broke the news that the military is looking to replace the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge, and thus, the AR platform. The report details how the military is looking for a larger caliber bullet, something in the 6.5mm to 7mm range, that can reach out further with more lethality than the light .22 caliber 5.56mm.
Reports from Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that at least half of the engagement distances are over 300 meters, where the 5.56mm can lose lethality, especially against armored combatants. The Army still wants something light, so not back up to the 7.62mm class, but something with better ballistics than the .223 Remington. (Perhaps the 6.5 Creedmoor?) As most of our enemies are shooting 7.62mm-based firearms such as former Soviet or Iraqi AKs, SKSs, Druganovs, and PKMs, they actually have a deadlier reach than our troops’.
Being outmatched on the battlefield is not the American way, and in order to keep our warfighters safe, it may be time to hang up the Stoner-designed rifles. With modern technology, materials, and ballistics, perhaps the next generation of service rifles will capture the hearts of Americans like the M16 did. And hopefully we’ll see an influx of surplus .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO ammunition hit the market!
The Army’s search for a new round and rifle combination has been going on since 2014 but is expected to wrap up in the next few months. Eventually, parts of the military’s study will be made available to civilians, though much of it may stay classified. We’ll just have to wait until we find out more!