The Marine Corps and their stance that every Marine is a rifleman borders on obsession. The Marine Corps is big on their rifles, and sometimes that’s great; other times, well, not so much. Marine stubbornly clung to the M16A4, and before that, helped develop the M16A2. The Marine Corps led the development of the M16A2, and it was a big miss overall.
The Marines, and the military in general, wanted to push the M16A1 forward to build a better rifle overall. Sadly, the Marines’ obsession with rifles and long-range, Table 1 competitive-style shooting not combative shooting guided the M16A2; and this shows.
The good thing about the M16A2
Admittedly the M16A2 wasn’t a bad rifle. Yet, it just wasn’t a great rifle either and was a waste of potential. The M16A2 still utilized the M16 platform as its core weapon. This ensured reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, and ease of use were at the forefront of the design. The rifle never had major flaws like the British SA-80 or M14, but the minor flaws added up to make a less efficient combat rifle.
The problems with the M16A2
The Marine Corps stressed accuracy in the M16A2. That doesn’t sound too crazy, right? Well, they focused on the accuracy of the rifle from a target-shooting perspective. This involves still positions, no gear, and a sling looped around the arm. Yet, accuracy in combat is a fair bit different.
The M16A2 sights were quite complicated and allowed for very minute changes for maximum accuracy into a bull’s eye target. These sights are great for shooting targets on a still range. However, under the stress of being shot at, no one will be making small adjustments to make tiny groups.
The front sight was thin and somewhat hard to see, especially in low light. The two peep sights were a great idea. The smaller sight was unneeded, but at least the larger peep sight made possible fast and accurate shooting. Simpler, larger sights would have been suited for the infantry rifle.
Related: The M17/M18: Putting the modular in the Modular Handgun System
The military worried that Marines and Soldiers would just empty their magazines on full auto and not focus on accurate fire. So they installed a burst function. Burst is one of those compromises by which you get the worst of both worlds.
Burst triggers are complicated and often create a less reliable weapon. These triggers also just suck in terms of being light and smooth trigger pulls. They even affect the quality of a semi-auto trigger. Plenty of civilian AR15 lower parts kits offer better triggers than the M16A1. I would rather have a semi-auto-only rifle than a rifle with a burst feature.
Long length of pull
Length of pull is the measurement from the rear of the trigger to the end of the stock. The Marine Corps increased the length of pull by .625 of an inch. It doesn’t sound like much, but it made a big difference for smaller shooters. The long length of pull is great with a loop sling and in some of the wacky shooting positions used in marksmanship contests.
However, for combat, it sucked, especially when worn with body armor. It was just too long for most shooters, especially when we moved to a more modern shooting stance. Shooting the M16A2 in a squared-up athletic stance was somewhat difficult and uncomfortable. This made the rifle harder to control and harder to shoot accurately in combat.
Related: How are automatic weapons actually used in combat?
The barrel profile
The M16A2 created a new barrel profile that no one ended up loving. The Government profile was created. The M16A1 used a lightweight barrel. They kept the gun light, balanced, and handy. The Government profile was created by making the front of the barrel thick and the rear thinner to accommodate a grenade launcher.
Why make the fronter thick? Well, apparently, the Marine Corps thought Marines were bending their barrels. So said it was from Marines using the barrel as a pry bar. Others suggested it was from Marines being overzealous with the bayonet. They thickened the barrel to resist bendingâ€¦and maybe to enhance sustained fire, but the fact the rest of the barrel was thing makes this dubious.
Even after the Government profile was adopted, the gauges used to determine if a barrel is bent still came back negative. It turns out burs near the gauge port would accumulate metal from the projectiles and cause the Go/No Go gauge to always be no go. Barrels weren’t bent, and the idea turned out to be silly.
The heavy portion of the front barrel affected balance and made the rifle heavier than it needed to be.
The M16A2 rifle
When the M16A2 was designed, its creators adopted some interesting choices but which were proven to be a bit silly overall. The rifle would be great for the range but not so practical for combat. I even built an M16 clone from an AR15 kit just because it’s a great range gun. Yet, it was never a terrible rifle, but at the same time, it was just nowhere near as good as it could have been. Generations of women and men wielded it well, including during the beginning of the GWOT. However, how can we learn if we don’t explore our faults?
We got any vets in the audience who used the M16A2? Personally, I only used one in boot camp.
Bill Hughes says
I went thru basic with M16A2 butt stock 151, which I nicknamed “Loose Change” because the gas piston rattled like I had laundry money in my front pocket. Between the front sight, which I never felt I properly zeroed and the Silly a$$ same same shooting stance they enforced, that I called “The Retarded T-Rex” stance, I have Broad shoulders and the way they forced me to pull my elbows in under the Platform, was not only unnatural, but nearly dislocated both shoulders. I managed to get my very first no go and hence since they ruined my up till then first time go perfect record.
I proceeded to shoot 20,19,22,20,21, Hitting the 300 center mass both times each time, until the CO called me into his office and said they would have to separate me from the Army if I didn’t shoot 23 the next time. When I displayed my “Retarded T-Rex Shooting Stance” and couldn’t even speak clearly while in said contortion, he busted up laughing and said he didn’t care if I stood on my head, as long as I qualified the next morning. I went out the next morning and said *&^% it they are going to send me home ANYWAYS and relaxed my stance to a natural tripod and shot 38. I gangster leaned the 25 meters because in the T-Rex stance it caused the mag to dirt dart, when I adjusted down to align the shot.
Christopher Williams says
I used the M16A2 for two and half years from boot camp, MCT, and my first duty station (April 2007-Oct 2009). I never had any issues with the A2 though I was about average height and build, for people that were shorter it is a big rifle.
I shot expert three times with it and always did well on the table 3 and 4 combat shooting. I actually quite liked the trigger pull as it was very consistent. Compared to my M16A4 that I took to AFG it was light and well balanced. I wasn’t able to shoot the A4 for annual qualification so I can’t compare the two in that regards.
I was even fortunate to be able to shoot a hell of a lot of rounds in burst at the end of many field exercises and didn’t have any issues or malfunctions.
91 bootcamp, I trained with a rickety loose A2. (It was that way before I broke a handguard and ripped the front sling swivel while in the field. The Drill Instructers absolutely did not appreciate that.) it was the platform used throughout my enlistment. Ouside of limited special training, I really only got to operate it when qual-ing at the range, with a different one each time. HATE the B-mod. The 5th one used, after MCT, had many issues; wouldn’t lite off a 3rd of the rounds (which worked in the next guy’s fine), and the armorors kept ok-ing. After I shot pizzabox, they condemmed it unusable and guages NOW read a NOGO. Least didn’t have to clean it. Being a dumb city £#©★, learned firearms inservice; was not impressed but figgured with 30 rd mags, I could perferate em to death (the bad guys). The Corps will give the enemy a bad day inspite of whatever’s issued. Never handled an issued M4. In retrospect, I regret waiting a dz years before obtaining a Garand. Would love a T20-E2. Add a beta C-Mag filled with Black tips, since I’m dreaning of unobtainum.
Please proofread again. Or smack your editor. This is full of grammatical and spelling errors.
The criticism of the sights is strange to me. You praise the large aperture rear sight of the M16A2, and say the smaller one it also has was bad because it in combination with even slightly dim conditions made sighting difficult.
This is very true. That small aperture is also all the M16A1 had! So, the M16A2 added the larger aperture, easier to use in both speed and poor lighting.
I agree the stock is eh, although I personally despite only being like 5’8 can use the length effectively in all but room clearing. It’s undeniably not for everyone, and I think we should’ve adopted Carbine stocks way back then. I doubt it’d be noticably more expensive than a rifle buffer tube and stock, and the Canadians did it not super long after. The rifle I used in boot camp was an M16A4 with a 4 position M4 collapsing stock and H6 buffer.
The barrel profile was a mistake, but not the biggest issue in the world. just dumb.
Burst was probably the worst part, everything else is at least theoretically an improvement directly or indirectly. Col Lutz was given the option of completely eliminating full auto for a semiauto M16A2, or making the guns safe-semi-burst. He chose to retain gimped full auto.
Variable trigger pulls are bad but I’m glad it’s there at all, and we’re going away from it to regain full auto.
Nowadays, the USMC actually does let you train with burst during some tables of rifle qual.
I started with the M16A1 one made in 1976, it was a decent rifle having had all the kinks worked out from the early versions we carried these in Desert Storm as my unit had not transitioned to the A2 at the time. When we finally got A2s in 1992 they were heavier, balanced oddly, and the sights were overly complicated for a combat weapon. The things I did like were the “new” round forward assist because it snagged on less things and the shell deflector bump on the receiver, everything else pretty much sucked, the triggers were horrible. I ended my career with the M4, which I very much liked.
James Tracker says
This article jumps back and forth too much. My first M16 was an M16E1 with a six diget number, issued in 1972, serial number 168304 at Fort Polk, La. The receiver was gun metal grey,parkerized finish gone. Rattled like crazy doing close order drill. Shot expert with t after one day zero. Funny how iron sights adopted from the M1 Garand worked fine on the Garand and M16. Full auto suckec and we almost never shot it that way. Put your front sight post on the target and use it. We were the last class to qual with M14 and M16, or so we were told. Keep the bolt carrier group lubed, and use the small aperture rear sight.
Mark Caldwell says
I never had confidence in the M16-A2. Sometimes you would get one with so much slop between the upper and lower it was a joke. Plus lets face it no matter how fast you sling it a .22 just does have the penetration at distance it needs. Now the M60 I felt very comfortable in its capabilities at distance.
Does not matter what weapons the Ukraine nazi faggots have, the Russians destroy Biden’s freaks.
JC Delich says
Those Russkies sure ran quick away from those faggots around Kiev.
J. Joe Hartgen Wasito says
When I interviewed then Major General James Mattis, Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, in 2003 after the successful invasion of Iraq, he stated that the single biggest improvement in infantry small arms was the ACOG. At that time, ACOGs had just started to be added onto the M16A4. When I was a Rifle Platoon Commander in 1st Marine Division in 1992, our platoon in 1st Mar Div was on the M16A2. Certain combat veteran (of Desert Storm) Marines like my best squad leader brought their own optics to put on their M16A2. My platoon never saw combat (unless you count some counter drug missions on the Southern Border, where we were actually shot at from across the border), but as always it was the individual initiative of the best Marines to optimize their M16A2s with optics bought from their own funds that optimized their weapon. That said, my peacetime view is that the M16A2 was a very good weapon for the purpose it was intended, and that the sights probably work as well as they needed to in the context of the overall combined arms mix of weapons available.