While there were a number of guiding principles drilled into my head during my time in the Army, one of the most important was the need to take care of my rifle, so that it could take care of me.
Well, recently the Army found that their M4A1 rifles were not living up to their end of that deal. Approximately 3,000 of the weapons, which are made by South Carolina-based FN Manufacturing, failed mandated safety checks that resulted from a concerning malfunction and misfire.
Located just above the trigger on an M4 is a selector switch with three positions: Safe, which means the weapon can’t fire; Semi, which means the weapon will fire one shot each time the trigger is squeezed; and Auto, which means the weapon will fire repeatedly until the trigger is released.
While using his M4A1 at Fort Knox, Kentucky the selector switch on a soldier’s rifle was stuck between Semi and Auto. When the soldier squeezed the trigger, the weapon failed to fire. The soldier then moved the selector switch and the weapon fired even though the trigger was not touched.
This led officials to put their entire inventory of M4s and their predecessor, the M16, through a new seven step-safety check. As of this filming about 50,000 rifles had been tested, with 3,000 failing the test. The Army reports that as many as 900,000 weapons still need to be tested.
The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center has been assigned the task of finding the cause of the malfunction. So far, they haven’t found anything.
For FN Manufacturing this follows a request from the Marine Corps last fall for 50,000from Germany’s Heckler & Koch. This was to replace the M4s they had been using - instead of updating to the M4A1.
Although it’s been in the Army’s arsenal for more than six years, the M4 platform replaced the M16 as the primary individual weapon about three years ago. They carry an average price of about $700, and the Army is estimated to have just over 480,000 of the rifles in their inventory.