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M‐16 Rifle

M‐16 Rifle. The prototype for the M‐16 rifle was developed by Armalik Division of Fairchild Corporation in the late 1950s. In 1959, Colt purchased the right to manufacture the rifles. This rifle could fire in either semiautomatic or automatic mode. The South Vietnamese, who favored a light, almost recoilless rifle, field‐tested the weapon in 1962 and found it ideally suited to mobile combat counterinsurgency operations. The M‐16 rifle along with 120 rounds of ammunition weighed only 11.1 pounds compared to the M‐14's 18.75 pounds. The M‐16, with its twenty‐round magazine, had an effective range of 460 meters and a high rate of fire. In 1965, Gen. William C. Westmoreland ordered 100,000 M‐16 rifles for the U.S. Army and Marines in Vietnam, and in 1969 the M‐16 officially replaced the M‐14 Garand as the standard small arm.

Controversy erupted immediately and continued for years. Reports from Vietnam of jamming led to questions of reliability. Investigation proved jams resulted from not cleaning the rifle, and that it was not a self‐cleaning weapon as manufacturers claimed. Some complaints indicated that the small 5.56‐caliber 55‐grain bullet lacked adequate impact. Conversely, others charged the ultrafast munition caused inhumane internal damage to its victims. Soldiers eventually adapted to the M‐16 and accepted its capabilities along with its shortcomings.

In the 1990s, the model M‐16A2 was still the standard small arm for the United States. The 7.78‐pound rifle is equipped with a 30‐round magazine and fires a 62‐grain bullet with an effective range of 550 meters.
[See also M‐1 Rifle; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Weaponry, Army; Weaponry, Marine Corps.]


Ivan V. Hogg , Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, 1981.

Thomas Christianson

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