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  • When talking about the AR-15 and the M-16, it is not uncommon to get the two confused.

  • After all, they both look alike, fire the exact same round, and have evolved over the

  • years with similar technologies.

  • But upon closer inspection, there are some very striking and glaring differences between

  • the two.

  • Most of these differences have been caused because of the missions these rifles were

  • designed to carry out.

  • After all, the M-16 was made at the height of the Cold War to give US troops a deadly

  • accurate, lightweight, and reliable rifle that could beat anything the Soviets could

  • manufacture.

  • On the other hand, the AR-15 was designed with customizability in mind to produce the

  • most accurate and fine-tuned civilian sharpshooting rifle on the market.

  • But how are these two related and where exactly do their paths converge?

  • To answer that question, one must go all the way back to the end of World War Two.

  • At the end of World War Two, each branch of the military conducted numerous studies on

  • how their service had performed during the war and where they could make technological

  • and tactical improvements.

  • One of those studies was conducted by the Army in assessing the effectiveness of their

  • primary rifle, the M-1 Garand.

  • The findings of the report were shocking.

  • On average, it was found that almost 80% of troops who had experienced combat had never

  • fired their weapon.

  • The study ultimately concluded that the reason why the average infantryman rarely, if ever,

  • actually fired his weapon in combat was his individual belief that his efforts of firing

  • a single shot at a time would not affect the outcome of the battle and felt outclassed

  • by larger weapons or an unseen enemy.

  • An interesting finding of the study was that those who carried the Browning Automatic Rifle,

  • or BAR, actually beat the statistic and these men fired more often than their rifle carrying

  • counterparts.

  • The conclusion was that these men had greater confidence in their ability to effect change

  • in the course of the battle and therefore fired more often.

  • They also found that soldiers who were near these men also fired their rifles more.

  • Therefore, Army officers concluded that soldiers in the future needed to be equipped with a

  • lightweight yet accurate rifle capable of fully automatic fire.

  • The first result of this was the M-14.

  • It was a very large rifle weighing in at almost ten pounds fully loaded with a 20 round magazine

  • of .308 ammunition.

  • It was capable of fully automatic fire and was the standard infantry rifle from the 1950s

  • through the first few years of the Vietnam war.

  • But soldiers in the field had many issues with it.

  • The rifle was unyielding and very heavy.

  • The heavy-caliber also limited the amount of ammunition that could be carried.

  • It was also uncontrollable in full automatic.

  • The Army needed something to replace it and began looking at other options even before

  • the Vietnam War started.

  • One of the earliest contenders to do so was an experimental rifle produced by the ArmaLite

  • company called the AR-10.

  • The AR-10 was a revolutionary rifle and was the brainchild of Eugene Stoner.

  • Stoner sought to develop a lightweight, accurate rifle that was reliable in all conditions

  • and could outperform all current rifles on the battlefield.

  • To do so, he developed several unique features that would later become ubiquitous with the

  • M-16, such as its patented gas blowback system, polymer design, and ergonomic build.

  • To market it to the military, he first chambered it in the standard 7.62x51 mm NATO round.

  • He did so because the military wanted to have their rifles and machine guns, which was the

  • M-60 machine gun at the time, chambered in the same round to reduce logistics issues.

  • Initial testing with the AR-10 was quite impressive to the military, but at the time of these

  • tests in the late 1950s, the government had already signed a huge contract for hundreds

  • of thousands of M-14 rifles.

  • Undeterred, Stoner went back to the drawing board to come up with a new design to ensure

  • that his rifle would be the one adopted by the military.

  • That new design was the AR-15.

  • The AR-15 was even better than his previous model and incorporated several major improvements.

  • To further decrease the weight, Stoner made the rifles from lighter polymers and plastics

  • in addition to using mostly aluminum parts wherever possible.

  • This reduced the weight by almost a third compared to the M-14.

  • Another major improvement was changing the caliber.

  • For the past several decades the military had been experimenting with smaller caliber

  • bullets that could still deliver the power offull sizerounds like the .308 and

  • 30-06 (pronounced thirty ought six) commonly used in machine guns.

  • The AR-15 model was the first to ditch the desire for a "full-sized" cartridge in favor

  • of a more compact and lighter, yet powerful round called the .223 Remington.

  • The benefits of using a smaller round took into consideration the years of study of wound

  • ballistics where heavier, higher velocity rounds simply passed through targets but smaller,

  • medium-sized rounds tumbled and caused wound cavitation- the expansion of pressure inside

  • a target- which caused more damage.

  • Medium-sized rounds like the .223 also enabled troops to carry more ammunition than before

  • and created less recoil, meaning more accurate shots and more controllable fully automatic

  • fire.

  • Stoner was eager to get his creation in front of the military and went to some unordinary

  • measures to do so.

  • At a Fourth of July celebration in 1960, he approached a high ranking general in the Air

  • Force and gave him an impromptu test demonstration.

  • Stoner set up a range of watermelon targets at 50, 100, and 150 yards and asked the general

  • to shoot them.

  • The general was so impressed by the rifle that he requested 100,000 on the spot.

  • This ambitious order was later revised to 8,500 a year later, but Stoner had just won

  • a huge step forward in marketing his rifle to the military.

  • Rigorous testing by the US Air Force and Army followed Stoner's personal demonstrations

  • for top military brass.

  • All tests proved highly satisfactory and listed the rifle as highly reliable and accurate.

  • The Air Force was the first service to widely adopt the rifle in the early 1960s and once

  • Vietnam started to heat up the Army was soon to follow.

  • Within a few years, it was the main battle rifle of the US military in Vietnam through

  • today until its gradual replacement by the M4 Carbine.

  • Fundamentally, the M-16 and AR-15 are built and function the same.

  • The major components of both rifles are a lower and upper receiver, a barrel, front

  • and rear sights, a magazine well, a charging handle, a bolt assembly, a buttstock, a trigger

  • assembly, and a compensator.

  • The upper receiver carries the barrel and bolt assembly while the lower receiver houses

  • the trigger, firing mechanism, and magazine well.

  • These are connected to the rifle by Stoner's iconic push pins first adopted in the 1960s.

  • How the rifle works is when a magazine is inserted into the magazine well, the first

  • round is put into the path of the bolt.

  • When the charging handle is cocked back, the bolt carrier assembly is now under pressure

  • and pushes the first round into the chamber when it is let go.

  • As the round is seated inside the chamber, the bolt assembly rotates and locks the bolt

  • into place.

  • Doing so prevents the unintended loss of gas pressures when the bullet is fired.

  • The round itself is fired when the trigger, which is attached to lugs that prevent the

  • hammer from going forward, is pulled.

  • The hammer then strikes the firing pin, which in turn hits the primer on the round.

  • The primer causes a small explosion that ignites the powder inside the cartridge sending the

  • bullet down the barrel.

  • After the round is fired, a small amount of gas enters what is called the gas tube at

  • the end of the barrel.

  • The hot, pressurized gases are then forced onto the bolt assembly.

  • When the pressure is great enough, which happens in fractions of a second, the whole bolt assembly

  • is forced rearward and a reverse process ensues.

  • As the bolt carrier travels backward, it unlocks and rotates what is called the extractor.

  • The extractor is the portion of the bolt carrier that pushes the spent casing out of the chamber.

  • The excess gases that were once pushing on the bolt carrier now push on the spent casing

  • as well and force it out of the extraction port.

  • When the bolt carrier travels backward, it also cocks the hammer again.

  • Basic physics tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so when the

  • gases stop pushing the bolt assembly slides forward.

  • Doing so pushes another round in the chamber and the rifle is ready to fire once again.

  • Since the design of the original M-16, there have been several variations to come out that

  • have improved on the initial model, whether for ironing out design flaws or adapting to

  • the needs of the US military.

  • The very first M-16- the one most similar to the AR-15 it was derived from- was the

  • M-16A1.

  • This model is the classic one that people recognize from all the shows and films about

  • the Vietnam War.

  • The next version to arise in the 1980s was the M-16A2.

  • This model came about when the military wanted to shift away from thespray and pray

  • mentality of fully automatic fire and instead focus on marksmanship.

  • Hence the major change with the M-16A2 was making it only semi-automatic or burst fire

  • capable.

  • The M-16A3 came out during the 1990s and briefly went back to the fully automatic mode of fire

  • of its predecessor.

  • However, as modern battlefields changed once more from the Cold War-style confrontations

  • of massed armies in small areas, to fighting smaller scale engagements over large distances,

  • the services adopted their final change to the M-16, the M-16A4.

  • The M-16A4 reverted back to the M-16A2 design of being capable of only semi-automatic and

  • three-round burst fire capability.

  • Another major change was the addition of a rail system on both the barrel and upper receiver.

  • By adding this rail system, the new design enabled advanced optical sights, lasers, and

  • flashlights to be added or exchanged with ease, thereby increasing the capability of

  • the average rifleman greater than ever before.

  • As far as raw data, the AR-15 and M-16A4 are close contenders.

  • The M-16A4 and AR-15 both weigh in at about seven pounds fully loaded.

  • The M-16A4 has an average effective range of 550 meters while the AR-15 lags behind,

  • with most firearms experts agreeing that the effective range for civilian shooters are

  • between 400-600 meters.

  • Both rifles are also manufactured standard with the .223 Remington round.

  • While the AR-15 and M-16A4 are both based on the same core design, there are a variety

  • of features, both functional and cosmetic, that would make one better than the other.

  • One of the main differences in AR-15s and M-16s is the closed third hole in the sear.

  • The sear is the portion of the rifle that determines what mode of fire it can shoot

  • in.

  • Most AR-15s have this third hole on the lower receiver that was a leftover from the M-16A1

  • design which enabled fully automatic fire.

  • Civilians could in theory drill a hole through it and make a few other modifications to make

  • it fire full auto, but doing so is a felony and highly illegal.

  • The M-16A4 by default has more firing options than civilian owned AR-15s.

  • Another critical design difference between the two is what is called the forward assist.

  • The forward assist is a button attached to a handle on the right side of the M-16A4 that

  • enables the shooter to manually push the bolt all the way forward to seat the round fully

  • in the chamber.

  • The feature was added by Stoner during the Vietnam War when reports from the field came

  • back that the rifles would jam incessantly.

  • While the root of the problem uncovered in a subsequent Congressional investigation found

  • that the cause of the jamming was the military using an improper propellant in their ammunition

  • that Stoner had warned them not to do, the forward assist has nonetheless remained an

  • integral feature of all further M-16 models.

  • That is because soldiers operate in some of the harshest environments in the world and

  • while they may clean their rifles frequently, dirt and debris are always quick to find a

  • home inside rifles, which makes the addition of a forward assist crucial to ensuring reliability.

  • AR-15s on the other hand do not come standard with a forward assist.

  • While some certainly do, there are nostandardmodels of AR-15s like there are M-16A4s for

  • the military.

  • Civilian and police shooters face a more arduous task of clearing jams and malfunctions than

  • their military counterparts.

  • The AR-15 does have the advantage of customizability, especially with the mixing and matching of

  • uppers and lowers.

  • One of the benefits of this is allowing shooters to modify the caliber of their rifle from

  • the standard .223 up to a .50 caliber BMG or even down to pistol cartridges like the

  • .22 or 9mm.

  • While having the ability to change out calibers using different receivers does provide a lot

  • of versatility, it is not something that could be done in a firefight and is somewhat cost-prohibitive

  • both for the receiver and the often rare ammunition that is shot through them.

  • AR-15s also have the advantage of a wide range of magazines that can be used in the rifle,

  • including 100 round drum magazines, since the M-16A4 is only issued with the standard

  • 30 round magazines the military has used for years.

  • M-16s do beat out AR-15s is another feature and that is the addition of the chrome-lined

  • barrel.

  • During the Vietnam War, it was discovered that by plating the inside of the barrel with

  • chrome, the life expectancy of the barrel could be increased and the amount of corrosion

  • decreased.

  • While the effect of chrome-lined barrels on accuracy is still a hotly debated topic, the

  • fact that they increase reliability is a proven concept.

  • AR-15s have the option of chrome-lined barrels but this feature is an additional cost for

  • the buyer and does not come standard in all AR-15s.

  • The last few differences between the two are merely cosmetic and demonstrate the military

  • utility of the M-16A4 over the AR-15.

  • The M-16A4 comes standard with a carrying handle while most AR-15s do not in favor of

  • extra space for rails to put scopes, sights, and other gadgets.

  • AR-15s usually do not come with a bayonet lug either and some do not have sling studs

  • to mount a sling which would make carrying long distances cumbersome and tiring.

  • In order to determine which one is better, it would really depend on what the rifles

  • were needed for.

  • If the user needed a rifle to arm a large group of people for combat, the M-16A4 would

  • definitely be the choice due to its increased reliability and standard configuration that

  • makes manufacturing, training, and employing large quantities of rifles both efficient

  • and at a lower cost.

  • If the user wanted the ability to customize and get the most out of the AR/M-16 platform,

  • the AR-15 would undoubtedly be the winner due to the wide range of calibers, gadgets,

  • barrels, and magazines that can be interchanged to produce the most effective rifle possible.

  • However, the capacity to equip large armies with this kind of setup is not likely due

  • to the small limited market of these calibers and high cost.

  • As for saying which one is better, it is best to say that the M-16A4 would outclass most

  • AR-15s in a battlefield environment but that the M-16A4 could be outclassed in the civilian

  • world say in a marksmanship competition due to the amount of customization that can be

  • done to it.

When talking about the AR-15 and the M-16, it is not uncommon to get the two confused.

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M16A2/A4 vs AR-15 - How Do They Compare and What's the Difference?

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    Summer posted on 2021/02/01
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