The Marine Corps is set to retire the venerable Colt M16A4, the final iteration of Eugene Stoner's iconic design first issued half a century ago. Several commands have endorsed the rifle's withdrawal, and final approval now rests in the hands of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford.
If approved, the 17,000 M16A4s currently in active service will be replaced with M4 carbines already in the current inventory. The rifle will then be relegated to use in support roles such as logistics or administration.
The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle will replace the Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle, a match-grade M16 with a scope used for squad support roles, which has been in use since 2011.
"I would have to say my gut reaction is it's the right choice and will do a lot of good for the guys in the infantry," Sgt. Nathan West, an explosive ordnance technician with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, told the Marine Corps Times.
"The M4 is a great weapons system that has done everything I have ever asked of it," he said.
The change comes after complaints from infantrymen that the full-stocked M16A4 was too unwieldy for the close-quarters combat that Marines encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The M4, with its lighter weight and collapsible buttstock, provides a much more compact and manageable weapons system that is 10 inches shorter and a pound lighter.
A potential drawback of the switch is that the short-barreled M4 lacks the same effective range as the long-barreled M16, but retired Master Sgt. Larry Vickers, a veteran of the Army's Delta Force, told the Marine Corps Times that such criticisms are unwarranted.
"Some argue beyond that the M4 carbine lacks effectiveness versus the M16, but the M16 is like driving a sports car with a six-cylinder engine," he said, because it is limited by the same 5.56mm cartridge as the M4. "You can shoot 400 to 500 yards away, but you are still shooting a 5.56."