Our Next Battle Rifle “Improvement” Should Be a New Cartridge


M4 Carbine
M4 Carbine

Ft Collins, CO –-(Ammoland.com)- What we currently call the “M4″ has been, in various forms, our standard Infantry rifle since the 1960s.

As with any new piece of critical equipment that is haphazardly rushed into service in the middle of a war (Vietnam), testing was inadequate (much of it glossed-over), and there were thus a number of “start-up problems” when this new rifle hit the field, some of which proved fatal to more than one young soldier!

The episode represents an unsavory chapter in our military history, and many in my generation have not forgotten, and never will!

Over the next sixty years, the rifle and caliber (5.56×45) stuck around. In fact, we still have it. To their credit, the Pentagon has since made many improvements, addressing specific issues. And, our industrial sector, producing M4s for the consuming public, also made changes. Some good; some silly!

As a result, today’s M4 Rifle runs about as well as any military rifle ever has. But, like all military rifles, it has issues that are endemic:

  • The extractor is small and weak. Tends to break, along with the extractor spring. For that reason, I carry a spare BCG (bolt-carrier group) with me. Replacing the extractor in the field is a little tedious. Replacing the BCG is easy and takes seconds. And like all serious Operators, I have an MGI “D-Ring” installed on all my M4s.
  • The M4 needs to be wet. We once thought in a desert environment, like Iraq, less lubrication was required. The exact opposite is true! In hot, dry, gritty climates, much lubrication is necessary, in order to keep grit in suspension and keep the rifle running. High-tech coatings and surface treatments alter that formula a little.

But, when you’re carrying an M4 for serious purposes in a hot, dry, windy, gritty place:

1) Keep it wet
2) Keep the dust-cover closed
3) Keep a magazine inserted

When you keep your M4 wet and keep grit out of the receiver, it will run and run!

The positive side of the M4 Rifle:

  • Weight. The M4 battle rifle is significantly lighter than any gas-piston rifle, and has fewer moving parts. In battle, every ounce that must be carried is a burden, particularly at high altitude! Light guns translate to more ammunition!
  • Accuracy. The production version of the M4 is a two-moa rifle, unheard of prior to the arrival of the Stoner System! For all their wonderful attributes, production versions of the M1 and M14 are four-moa guns. Most Kalashnikovs are five, plus!
  • Heat. The genius of the Stoner System is that, during rapid fire, heat is spread-out over the entire receiver, instead of being concentrated in the gas-piston area. Thus, the rifle heats-up slower than is the case for most gas-piston systems.

Heckler & Koch M27 Rifle

Heckler & Koch M27 Rifle
Heckler & Koch M27 Rifle

The Marines, weary of waiting for someone at the Pentagon to actually make a decision, have unilaterally gone over to a gas-piston version of the M4, made by H&K (HK 416). They call it the M27. It’s a sound system, no doubt, but significantly heavier [and 3xpensive at a reported $3000 ea] than the M4 it is replacing.

The rest of our military is still sitting on a fence.

For all the raging debate, it is my opinion that the rifle itself is not our main problem. The Stoner System, while far from perfect, is just fine!

The problem is the rifle caliber with which we have been stuck since Vietnam!

5.56x45 cartridge
5.56×45 cartridge

The 5.56×45 cartridge (“militarized” version of the 223 Rem) lacks adequate range and penetration for military applications. This range/penetration problem is not soluble within that caliber, and never will be!

For domestic law enforcement and personal defense, the 5.56×45 is acceptable.

But, in a battle rifle, the 5.56 comes up short. I’ve lived through a least half-dozen attempts to “improve” the cartridge, and provide it with satisfactory range and penetration. Each succeeding “wonder bullet,” despite all the promotion, has failed to live up to the hype!

The Pentagon needs to worry less about a new rifle, and more about a new caliber!

We need, once more, a 500m rifle that shoots bullets that actually go THROUGH things! We don’t have anything close to that now!


Defense Training International, Inc

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: www.defense-training.com

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

How about the .257 Roberts? Quarter bore / 6.5mm. Fast accurate and the kick is mild.

Biker Bob

The problem isn’t the 5.56 it’s the pentagon trying to reinvent the wheel every few years. The 5.56 M193 was designed for and optimal in a 20″ bbl for velocity, accuracy and effectiveness. So reducing bbl.size would be going backwards but it continues to be done anyway and no matter how heavier a round they keep going to they will continue to fail at getting a more effective round. The Soviets designed their 5.45×39 based on the M193s devastating effectiveness.! A 5.56 round is most effective at 2600 fps and higher but in the 14″ bbl it’s only leaving at… Read more »

James Higginbotham

people can say what they want. but my first Battle Rifle was the M1 Garand in 30/06 and i have shot most of what Calibers the military has today. but you just can’t beat the 30/06 for killing power out to a thousand yards effectively if scoped. but battles take place a lot closer, and were talking about a Battle Rifle, not a SCOPED SNIPER RIFLE. my preferred round is the 30/06 but i also used the Remington 700 in 308 caliber and it was a SCOPED Rifle, and it was also a good load for a main line battle… Read more »

Mike the Limey

The 30-06 is way more of a cartridge than is needed & precludes accurate, automatic fire. it also weighs too much, has excessive recoil (even moreso in a 7lb rifle) & limits the number of rounds carried.

Buck Cassidy

My M16 nearly got myself and half my squad killed! For months I complained about the constant jams! Every 21 to 23 rounds, sure as the earth spins, jam- o- magic. Of course, it was me to blame. You’re not keeping your ammo clean! Funny thing, as much as we went through, most of my issue wasn’t over a month old! And I understand the damn thing still jams today!


Cassidy – Sounds like the early days of the M16 when the army was to STUPID to tell the troops to clean the gun! A clean and lubed M16/M4 is as reliable as any other rifle. Guess from the end of your post you have not shot one from your problem day. You loss in my eyes!

Buck Cassidy

Well, the army issued us the rifles 3 weeks prior to our brigade shipping out. ( Sept. of 1966). Due to the lack of adequate information and training, our platoon Sgt was unable to give us proper sighting instructions to zero our rifles. Not only that, there was a shortage of ammo! Not one of us were able to send more than 5 rounds down range. As I said earlier, we traded our M14’s for the 16’s about 3 weeks before shipping out. Now, here’s the real kicker! We never were issued cleaning kits!! Approximately 1 in 6 men got… Read more »


Cassidy – And this is the reason the military needs to take it’s time and get a good replacement! Not go backwards and not run head long into another bad decision.

After your experience didn’t you get cleaning kits and instructions on you to clean and care for your new rifle? Of course you did as did everyone!

Steven, Wasilla, Alaska

A new M16 cartridge that, I think, would be an ideal replacement for the US Military is called the 7 Raptor and is .284/7mm caliber. The developer of this cartridge is Mr. Arne Brennan, of North American Sportsman, LLC at 1324 W 22nd St., Houston, TX. 77008 contact phone number (713) 548-4687. Mr. Brennan is credited with developing the 6.5 Grendel, as well as other Raptor cartridges. He has a webpage dedicated to the 7 Raptor cartridge. He said on his website that he will allow the industry to use it as they see fit, so there are no preparatory… Read more »


.224! A necked down 243 or 308 case with a 65-75 grain bullet? I shoot A Remington 700 with 50-53 grain bullets it’s an amazing round


Agree with the author on the “D-Ring”. I have them in my ARs/M4s and they work wonders to reduce extraction issues. I will say that in 2 1/2 years as a DoD contractor/security operator in Iraq I carried an M4 most of the time (occasionally I carried an AK) and it was an excellent rifle.


@Rh – weight is too much and kicks like a mule. That’s why they moved to the 5.56. History 101


.257 Roberts?


What about the 30 – 06? It worked in WW2 nicely for going through things. Very thought provoking article.

Wild Bill

I would like to see ammunition that does not include a shell case or primer. Brass is heavy and expensive. Both weight and cost are cumulative.


I’m with you on that one . I never understood why the m 4 was mated to such a lightweight small caliber bullet. In my mind a 24, 25 or larger caliber bullett would have been and be better suited to the army’s needs. I’ve felt this way way since my first serious evaluation and use of the m16 in 5.56. Tx his was back somewhere in the 70s.


While I agree with 90% of the authors remarks, the 5.56 cartridge does very well out to 300 meters. Camp Perry competitors prove this every year. The author also makes the best case for the AR platform as a basis for a better cartridge. While I’m not entirely sure that military doctrine demands better medium to long range performance for a battle rifle, this requirement can still be filled with one or two AR10’s or bolt rifles in a hard hitting long range cartridge in a rifle squad. Perhaps a look at the new Federal .224 Valykrie cartridge might be… Read more »


Curious what happened to the 6.8 SPC. It seemed like the answer. Was it found lacking?

Mike the Limey

Found wanting out past 400m.


@-Mike the Limey – Can you see out past 400M (1200 ft) without optics? It’s a battle riffle not a sniper rifle. I’m sure the military is working on something, but I would not hold your breath waiting on a replacement.

Mike the Limey

I was trained to shoot out to 600yds with iron sights & yes, I could hit “minute of man” at that distance.
An inability to put down effective fire past 400m is the whole reason behind looking at alternatives to the 5.56 cartridge & many armies routinely fit their standard issue rifles with optical sights these days.

James Russell Bailey

@Limey, I’m right there with you! Is a senior in high school I bought a rebarreled World War II German bolt action rifle, chambered in 30-06. Standard German made ramp sites and I took deer at 450 yards with those iron sights! I would argue that modern shooters that is to say people 40 years of age and younger, were raised to shoot in an Optics world! Those of us with gray or white in are beards and what little hair we’ve got left, we’re weaned on iron sights right from the get-go! Optics were luxury for Rich folks, or… Read more »


I like 6.5 grendal or a .280 caliber round from back in the day.

Mike the Limey

5.56×45 FMJ penetrates better than 7.62.51 out to 400m.
it’s terminal effect at both long & short range that is lacking.
Unless & until CTA becomes viable, a 6.5 or 6.8 calibre round similar to the British round developed for the EM2 would be a reasonable compromise between the two aforementioned cartridges.

victor j engel

Why not use the 300 blackout. I believe it is the same cartridge except the neck is removed so as to use the 30 cal bullet. Then have Colt replace the upper receiver. The same mags, bolts etc, can be used. I believe it would be a great improvement for Our Troops fighting for Our Freedom.


@victor j engel – So you want a heavier bullet with less power? I don’t think so.


@Mike the Limey – Training to shoot out to any distance and do it are two very different things. The one worst think I can think of is you can’t tell who you are shooting so big problem. Optical sights get broken, ie back to iron sights. I believe there are better calibers out there, but stands between services and even countries must be worked out BEFORE any changes are made. I like Wild Bills idea of the weapons coming out without cases and primers, but again they are years away from being mainstream. Think back to the start of… Read more »