From the Mekong Delta to the Korengal Valley, and every battle in between, the M16 family of rifles has performed valiantly in the hands of American soldiers for decades. But as the poet Bob Dylan once said, “The times, they are a changin’.”
A lot of dire warnings about future threats to the United States center around peer or near-peer adversaries. China and Russia are often cited as boogeymen, especially among those advocating for a larger military. In the next echelon down, there are the less-capable, but fanatical: Iran and North Korea, made even more threatening by their potential nuclear arsenals.
Since World War II the majority of American combat deaths have come from the infantry. This band of brothers, and now sisters, makes up a small minority of the military, but does the bulk of our fighting and dying.
In the January/February 2015 edition of the Atlantic, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales argues that the M4, the rifle used by today’s infantry, is deeply flawed and a danger to soldiers in combat zones around the world. Specifically, Scales cites the deaths of nine infantrymen who were killed while fighting the Taliban at a combat outpost near the village of Wanat in Afghanistan. He ultimately blames their deaths on their weapons jamming and compares their experience to incidents that occurred in Vietnam 50 years earlier. Scales’ writes, “Over the next few decades, the Department of Defense will spend more than $1 trillion on F-35 stealth fighter jets that after nearly 10 years of testing have yet to be deployed to a single combat zone. But bad rifles are in soldiers’ hands in every combat zone.”