Last year the United States Marine Corps followed in the footsteps of the Army and officially began replacing their stocks of M16 rifles with M4 carbines. While the official word for the brass is that this was done for, “…improved capability for the infantry…” it’s more likely due to logistics of supplying parts and being able to swap components readily.
Which isn’t to the say the M4 and M16, or in civilian terms, the carbine and rifle-length versions of the AR-15 aren’t compatible with each other. They have 80% parts commonality among them, but that remaining 20% becomes a burden when dealing with some 17,000 rifles.
That said, there are very real advantages to running an M4 over an M16; advantages that apply to the civilian counterparts of these rifles as well. But are they significant enough to warrant total abandonment of the rifle in favor of the carbine?
The American civilian firearm market is a very different beast than our military’s armament program. Most civilians aren’t concerned with the logistics of keeping a squad, let alone a battalion armed with the same equipment. Because of this, the modularity of the AR-15 is truly allowed the shine. In my opinion, this is one of the major contributing factors the rise of the AR15 as America’s favorite rifle.
The other part of that, is how it’s nearly impossible to find a rifle as accurate as the AR15 for the price.
These two aspects put it miles ahead of anything else on the market for the pure pragmatist. – Think about, try to justify purchasing something like a Mini-14 or a roller-delayed .223 over an AR-15 for tangible, or performance reasons. You can’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my HK93 and blasting away on my A-Team favorite Mini, but neither of these rifles hold a candle to the performance, modularity and affordability of an AR-15. But I digress.
This article isn’t about defending the scariest black rifle in existence™, but about defending the full-length AR15 rifle over the more popular M-forgery.
Personally, the balance of an AR15 in M16A1 configuration is unparalleled. I would defy anyone to find a more comfortable rifle to shoot. It’s incredible, and something that few new shooters get to experience simply because it’s not the most tactical, high-speed option.
More than simply better balanced, the system itself actually runs more efficiently, and better with sound suppressors.
Indeed, the AR-15 as a whole, was designed around its original configuration: a fixed stock and a 20-inch barrel. Meaning, it runs exactly as designed when in that configuration, and with tremendously less violent bolt travel as well.
Further evidence to support this, is the fact that 55gr 5.56mm ammunition does hellacious things to the recipient when fired from a full-length 20in barrel. The terminal ballistics of the 5.56mm once lauded by many uninformed people, are actually non-existent with M4-length barrels.
In summation, better balance, superior terminal ballistics and more effective at being suppressed – what’s not to love?
Length of pull of starters.
If you’re under 6-feet tall, try and shoulder the A2-length buttstock properly, and you’ll notice it feels too long. Indeed, it only properly fits most shooters when they blade themselves to the target. You know, the traditional rifleman’s standing positon. With the wide-spread use of body armor, combat shooting stances have transformed into more of a boxer’s stance, where shooters square-up with their target.
When squared up with your target, the A2 stock is just too long for most shooters, especially those with thick clothing or body armor on. Also, because the M4-type buffer tube/receiver extension is timed for a more violent recoil impulse, it won’t properly function when installed on a longer-barreled rifle with a full-length gas system without tuning. (On a side note, it also looks awful)
The other major drawback deals with mobility and maneuverability. The longer-rifle with a fixed stock can’t become more compact without field-stripping it. So if you want to quickly maneuver indoors or even stash your rifle in a small car, the M16 may be slightly too big. This makes me wish A1 stocks were more common, as I would love to toss one on my full-length AR15.
Now, you’ll notice I didn’t mention pseudo SR-25 style rifles, or DMR-type guns with heavy barrels and large optics. While some of these do have 20-inch barrels, they aren’t true M16 clones, and despite sharing many of the same components, are different enough to make comparisons feel like a straw-man argument, so I avoided it.
While the M4 is a great fit for many shooters, I’m still a huge fan of rifle-length AR15. The superb balance, suppressor-friendly design just feels great in my hands. Shooters who want something really lightweight, should try a pencil-type, or government-profile 20-inch barrel. It doesn’t perform great when hot, but is ideal for hiking or rucking, since it weighs so little. I don’t know that I would replace all my carbine-length guns for full-sized ones, but the AR15 and M16 families of rifles are all about modularity, so I’m not going to be selling either anytime soon.