The M4 Carbine has been used by the military in countless conflicts over the span of more than 2 decades. It is a favorite of the U.S. Army and other branches of the armed forces. Even though there are many critics of the M4, many others swear that this rifle and its manufacturer, Colt, are always the way to go. In this article, we’ll explore the many advantages of the M4 Carbine rifle—and its disadvantages.
History of the M4 Carbine Rifle
From 1984 to 1993, designers worked on the creation of the M4 carbine to be used in close-quarters combat. In 1994, it was finally ready for use and was certainly better suited for close quarters than its relative, the M16, which has a longer barrel that makes it difficult to use and maneuver in smaller spaces.
It wasn’t long before every officer in the Marine Corps was ordered to replace their M9 handguns with the M4 carbines. The M4 has typically been used in places where other, full-length rifles would be impractical to use. What is more, in 2016, the Marine Corps transitioned to making the M4 the main weapon used by supporting schools, security forces, and infantry battalions. Since the creation of the M4, many different versions and upgrades have been created, but the military continues to use the M4 and M4A1.
M4 Carbine Design
The M4 carbine (manufactured by FN Herstal and Colt) is air cooled, gas operated, and magazine fed. It is fired from the shoulder and even has a collapsible stock. Soldiers can easily handle and transport this weapon due to its shorter barrel and carrying handle that is detachable. These features and the M4 carbine weight also allow troops to engage the enemy quickly and efficiently no matter the time of day.
Like I hinted above, the M4 is actually very similar to the M16. In fact, 80 percent of its makeup is identical to the M16. By looking at the two weapons, you can easily see many similarities between the them.
You can also attach many accessories to the M4, including laser pointers, night vision devices, telescopic sights, grenade launchers, and more. You can even attach a blank-firing attachment (BFA) that can be handy for training purposes.
Here are a few of the specs:
Length: 33 in
Length of Barrel: 14.5 in
Weight: 6.36 lbs
Max Fire Rate: 950 rpm
Caliber: 5.56 x 45 mm
Max Range: 600 m
Different Models of the M4
- M4A1 – This model is typically used for special operations use and is fully automatic. It is effective up to about 500 to 600 meters. Compared to the M4, the M4A1’s barrel is a little heavier, more durable, and more accurate. It can also withstand intense heat. For the most part, this is an advanced and improved version of the M4 that is now being used as an obligatory upgrade in the Army.
- Mark 18 CQBR – This model is almost exactly the same as the M4A1 with the exception of the barrel upper receiver which is 10.3 inches long. Its full name is “Mk18 Close Quarters Battle Receiver.”
- Enhanced M4 or Colt Advanced Piston Carbine (APC) – The biggest advantage of this model is that it cools more effectively than other models. It also has greater accuracy and less stress on parts.
- Armwest LLC M4 – This model of the M4 was created by M4 critic Jim Sullivan in order to resolve deficiencies he saw in the weapon. This new and improved M4 includes some features of the Ultimax, another weapon of Sullivan’s invention. This rifle has cyclic components that are double the weight of those in the original M4.
- Colt Commando – Commandos are basically made from spare parts that Colt has lying around. The M4 Commando takes many parts from the M4 with some variations, like a 3-round burst first rather than an automatic fire.
- M4 MWS – When the Knight’s Armament Corporation M4 RAS is added to the Colt model 925, it suddenly turns into an M4 MWS (modular weapon system), as dictated by Army specifications. However, this model was discarded when another designation proved to be better-suited for existing M4s.
M4 in the News
The M4 rifle has appeared in the news many times since it was first used by the military. Many of these news stories tell about the military’s plans to either continue using the M4 or to switch it out for another weapon. Other stories tell of rivaling weapons and how they’ve performed against the M4 rifles.
- In 2007, the Army conducted a dust test of the M4 assault rifle against 3 competing carbines. 10 of each weapon was used for the test and each individual weapon fired 6,000 rounds while in sandstorm conditions. Unfortunately, the M4 was outperformed by all three competitors. It suffered 882 stoppages while the others had 116 (XM8), 226 (FN SCAR), and 233 (HK416). This may have been discouraging at first, but it did influence the military to make some much-needed improvements.
- In 2014, it was reported that a rival rifle outperformed the M4A1 in an Army competition involving around 9 different weapons. The rivaling weapon demonstrated superior reliability and durability as it fired more rounds without encountering issues. Even with this outcome, the Army still stuck with its prized weapon.
- In 2016, reports showed that the Army was continuing to upgrade all of its M4s to the prized M4A1. At that time, upgrades were expected to continue until the year 2020. The Army was actually planning on upgrading the M4 even further and called this plan the M4A1+ initiative. However, data included in various proposals convinced the Army that the upgrades really were not worth the time, effort, or money.
A Range of Problems
Even though about 94 percent of soldiers agreed the M4 rifle was effective, many saw a range of problems with reliability and maintainability in the early stages of its use and in the early 2000s. For example, over one-third of troops using the M4 reported that the hand guards often rattled and quickly became extremely hot when they were firing it. Other issues included feeding jams, double feed, difficulty locking in the magazine, and difficulty zeroing the optic. In response to this feedback, the handguards and optics were replaced, which greatly reduced the number of issues.
Today, the M4 is still reported to have occasional problems with reliability and maintainability, but these have been significantly lessened. In fact, troops serving in the sandy terrain of Afghanistan only a few years ago informed reporters that they’d had no real issues with their weapons throughout more than a dozen engagements. Today, the M4A1 can fire around 2,000 rounds without stoppages—a huge improvement from 1990 when the M4 could only fire around 600 without stoppages.
Converting to a Gas Piston
In addition to many accessories that can enhance the M4 carbine, there is also a conversion kit available through some makers of firearms accessories that will convert the M4 piston into a gas piston. Although this is a bonus at first glance as it would mean the user would have to lubricate the weapon less, it is less practical. A gas piston causes more jams, causes reduced accuracy, and weighs more. What is more, when the gas piston jams, the entire weapon will often need to be disassembled in order to fix the issue. Another issue with this change is that it can cause carrier tilt, meaning the bolt carrier will not go straight into the buffer tube like it’s meant to. This will cause wearing on the parts. Given these disadvantages, converting to a gas piston is not suggested and is generally not used by the military.
The true M4 carbines that are manufactured by Colt are exclusively intended for military use and use by law enforcement agencies. However, in special circumstances, it is possible for a civilian to own an M4. For example, it is perfectly legal to own an M4 carbine made before May 19, 1986. An M4 can also be legally bought and owned after first obtaining a federal firearms license.
As an alternative, civilians can also purchase weapons very similar to the M4carbine as well. Civilian replicas typically have 16-in barrels, which are 1-and-a-half inches longer than the actual M4. Keep in mind, however, that civilian replicas of the M4 carbine rifle can cost $1,000 or more.
At Low VA Rates, we truly respect all of the hard work our troops do in protecting our freedoms and the American way of life. They truly put their lives on the line, and we understand that no weapon is as valuable as the person behind it. Because of the selfless sacrifices that so many veterans have made for us, we at Low VA Rates have made it our business to help every veteran that we can get into a home they can afford. To learn more about how we help veterans or about other military weapons, visit other pages on our site.