Fox News Gets It Wrong: M4 Rifle Works Fine; the Problem Is the Cartridge

The death of the M4 has been greatly exaggerated.

A bizarre Fox News article appeared last Wednesday: "M4 vs. AK-47: Is U.S. Army Outgunned in Afghanistan?":

Despite the ages-old rifles in Taliban hands, reports suggest our soldiers may be outgunned in Afghanistan's hills. To counter, the Army plans a slew of upgrades to curtain weapons -- and several entirely new guns.

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are attacking U.S. Army soldiers with AK-47s, while the army relies upon the M4 assault rifle. The AK-47 uses a larger bullet, which leads to more kickback upon firing. Some reports indicate that the U.S. Army is looking to upgrade the weapons being used in Afghanistan to larger caliber guns.

An AP report published over the weekend in Army Times argued that the M4 rifle's light bullets lack sufficient velocity and killing power in long-range firefights. The report states that the U.S. is considering a switch to weapons that fire a larger round, one largely discarded in the 1960s.

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The 7.62mm round in the AK-47 is heavier and larger than the 5.56mm caliber bullet in the M4, and can therefore fly further on average. But Battaglini dismisses reports that the Army is considering rearming soldiers in Afghanistan. "On the battlefield, there are no reported operational issues with the M4. It's the weapon of choice in Iraq, and still the desired weapon in Afghanistan," he told FoxNews.com.

Anyone reading the article would come to the conclusion that rusty AK-47s give the poorly trained Taliban an advantage over U.S. troops armed with M4 carbines, M16 rifles, and M249 machine guns firing 5.56 NATO rounds. It is a supposition based upon ignorance of the battlefield, the training, and the weapons and cartridges themselves. Other than that, the article is fine.

Much of the combat taking place in mountainous Afghanistan occurs at much longer ranges than U.S. soldiers have encountered in recent wars, and engagements at ranges in excess of 500 meters are not uncommon. Obviously, at these extended ranges the marksmanship of the combatants is of vital importance to their effectiveness. Poorly trained combatants will not hit their targets with frequency, and may not even pose enough of a threat to keep their opposition pinned down. In this type of combat, a weapon needs to be reliable and accurate, and fire a cartridge that retains energy, is relatively flat-shooting, and is resistant to wind drift.

Author Jeremy A. Kaplan does get some details of his story correct.

The AK-47 fires a 7.62 bullet that is larger and heavier than that of the 5.56 round in most of the Army's M4s, and the weapon does have considerably more recoil. The M4's 5.56 round does lack killing power at long range, due to a combination of the M4's shortened barrel generating lower velocities and the 5.56 round being heavily dependent upon velocity to function effectively.

Despite these truths, the M4 is not inherently inferior to the AK-47. It is simply a product of different methodologies in making weapons and in training soldiers.