The Essence of War

By John Farnam

M4 Carbine With Grenade Launcher
M4 Carbine With Grenade Launcher
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-( Follow-up on war-winning rifles:

To quote Hitler ~ “When you win, you need not explain. When you lose, you will not be there to explain!”

I might add: … nor would anyone care, even if you were!

Some of what follows is controversial, but this issue needs to see the light of day, while it still matters. Many of my colleagues have enthusiastically commented, so I’m going to amalgamate their comments into one Quip:

To reiterate: the purpose of a battle rifle is to win wars.

The last legitimate battle rifle we had in our inventory was the Garand/M14. Since then, we haven’t asked our military to win wars, and we’ve apparently concluded that we no longer need a real battle rifle. Which is why we have the AR, the ultimate example of LPTA (Lowest Price, Technically Acceptable) Its adequate for gendarmerie and frontier duty, which is really all we’re asked our military to perform since the end of WWII.

The forgoing is all fine, until you have to win a war!

Until we have another real war, against a peer opponent, we will stick with what we have, unfortunately clutched in lifeless hands of our soldiers. At that point, we will reluctantly be forced to pay a royalty to an opponent’s weapon design bureau, an opponent who does have a genuine battle rifle that we can copy! That’s exactly what we did at the end of the Spanish American War, and that is the way we got our Springfield Rifle.

Some things never change, and here we go again!

Autoloading rifles, designed and intended for serious (military) purposes, rifles that are, by design, non gas-adjustable, of necessity need to be “over-gassed,” if they are to reliably function with any species of ammunition that can possible find its way into a magazine, and ultimately into the rifle itself. When you’re stuck with an “under-gassed” rifle that is non gas-adjustable, along with a pile of ammunition that relentlessly short-cycles, you’re holding in your hands little more than a bar of soap!

The perpetual problem is that all ammunition, even in the same caliber, will not generate the same pressure at the same point in the bore. This is what makes it so difficult to manufacture a gas-operated, autoloading rifle that can be made to function reliably with any round that may find its way into a magazine. Thus, gas-adjustment at the user-level is the only way one can be sure he can make his rifle run with any kind of ammunition he can find.

During WWII, millions of non gas-adjustable Garands were produced, and matched exactly with billions of 30-06 cartridges. It was a big war! Such a precise match of rifle and ammunition, on such a grand scale, is unlikely to happen ever again.

Impinging on this issue is the fact that designers of military equipment in general, do not like things that are “adjustable.” The rear sight on a pistol is a good example. Anything that can be adjusted, will be perpetually misadjusted, by unsophisticated end-users who absolutely cannot be dissuaded from fiddling with everything that can possible be fiddled with! This is why iron sights, originally put on the M16 by Gene Stoner, were so difficult to adjust. Commanders didn’t want end-users unilaterally “adjusting” anything!

The case of the Stoner System (AR/M16/M4) is further complicated by the fact that it is so “leaky.” With the M4, gas “leaks” everywhere! This is because, of course, the entire receiver is “pressurized” with every shot, and there are thus plenty of places for gas to leak, far more than is the case with a gas-piston rifle.

So, in view of the forgoing, the non gas-adjustable M4 must be “over-gassed,” if there is to be any chance of it functioning well enough to be considered a legitimate “fighting rifle,” if not a battle rifle. Over-gassing can be compensated for with stiff recoil springs, of course, but inherently violent bolt movement, combined with a relatively delicate bolt and extractor, can lead to excessive breakage of those parts, as we have seen.

Even so, as long as the M4 stays relatively cool, it holds-up pretty well. But, fire multiple magazines through it in quick succession, particularly on full-auto, and you’ll hit its upper limit sooner or later, as we’re now seeing in Afghanistan, and as I saw 45 years ago in Vietnam. Getting rid of the “full-auto” option solves many of the M4’s problems, from heat-control, to the elimination of a host of small trigger-group parts!

By contrast, the XCR, FAL SIG/556, and a few others are gas-adjustable, and thus the end-user can match rifle to ammunition, albeit leaving the rifle on a “universal” setting most of the time. Again, this requires a little sophistication and paying attention on the part of the end-user. The overly-casual and clueless will likely experience poor results!

Under-gassing leads to sluggish operation, ejection failures, and eventually short-cycling, as mentioned above.

Over-gassing leads to excessive wear, needlessly heavy recoil, parts breakage (particularly, as noted above, with the Stoner-System’s fragile bolt and extractor), hyper bolt-velocity (which can cause failure of the bolt to pick-up the next round), blown primers, and sometimes case-head separation, which instantly takes the rifle out of action, until the user can find a cleaning rod!

To complicate matters further, the current military 5.56×45 round, the M855A1, code-named EPR (the latest “wonder-bullet”) is, by any standard, a dangerous overload! We can only wonder how many M4s will break when firing this stuff!

Instead of endlessly trying to “jazz-up” the 5.56×45, the Pentagon is well advised to, once and for all, abandon it in favor of a “medium” cartridge with acceptable range and penetration, all with reasonable chamber pressures. Unhappily, egos are currently preventing this issue from even being discussed!

As an (ageing) independent Operator, who travels constantly with a serious rifle close at hand, who is not a part of a military unit, and thus doesn’t have access to a military supply/maintenance system, who often must use whatever ammunition (brand, bullet-weight, bullet type) he can get his hands on locally, and who can’t afford a balky gun, much less a broken one.

I realize my life may well depend on issues described above!

I have copies of all modern, military rifles mentioned, plus a few older ones, and I love them all! Unfortunately, they’re incapable of loving me back, nor will they love their next owners when I’m dead!

M14A1 7.62mm Rifle
M14A1 7.62mm Rifle

Going on fifty years ago, while a new battle rifle to replace the M14 was ” in development,” the AR was to “fill-in” for the short term. At the risk of repeating myself, the AR was to be a replacement only for the M1 Carbine, while a new legitimate battle rifle was “in the works” to replace the M14. As noted above, fifty years have since come and gone. The “short term” has never ended!

None of the rifles mentioned above are perfect, but I try to make good decisions with regard to my own health. Fortunately, I have choices. Young, American troopers don’t, and I’m troubled by our interminable national paralysis with regard to foregoing!

“The essence of war is violence. In war, moderation is imbecility!” ~ John Fisher


About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

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The one problem forever with the M14 was that it was never very controllable on full-auto … which was where the M60 cam in (same round, much heavier weapon). We had 2 full-auto 14’s on my last boat in Japan, and on one of our quals we took one of them with us to the indoor Marine rifle range. The Marines always liked our 14’s and one of the guys flipped the full-auto one over to battle-rattle and let fly while holding it normally (the only successful full auto shots I’ve seen involved the shooter holding the end of the… Read more »


The M14!!!…..don’t leave home without one!


True, The last of what the military calls “Main Battle rifle” was the M-14! What we have now are carbines known as Assault rifles with full- auto capability and a mid-power/mid-sized cartridge that falls between a sub-machine gun and full-power cartridge. Pretty good for closer in reliable killing say out to 400 meters unless the barrel is cut too short (like many are) or if the enemy is behind any cover. The .308/7.62mm NATO (M-14 round) will screw you up forever past 1,000 yards and will penetrate through houses, cars, etc. but weighs more and the ammo is heavier–then again… Read more »