No weapon is more important to tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than the carbine rifle. And for well over a decade, the military has relied on one company, Colt Defense of Hartford, Conn., to make the M4s they trust with their lives.
Now, as Congress considers spending millions more on the guns, this exclusive arrangement is being criticized as a bad deal for American forces as well as taxpayers, according to interviews and research conducted by The Associated Press.
“What we have is a fat contractor in Colt who’s gotten very rich off our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” saysSen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
The M4, which can fire at a rate of 700 to 950 bullets a minute, is a shorter and lighter version of the company’s M16 rifle first used 40 years ago during the Vietnam War. It normally carries a 30-round magazine. At about $1,500 apiece, the M4 is overpriced, according to Coburn. It jams too often in sandy environments like Iraq, he adds, and requires far more maintenance than more durable carbines.
“And if you tend to have the problem at the wrong time, you’re putting your life on the line,” says Coburn, who began examining the M4’s performance last year after receiving complaints from soldiers. “The fact is, the American GI today doesn’t have the best weapon. And they ought to.”
U.S. military officials don’t agree. They call the M4 an excellent carbine. When the time comes to replace the M4, they want a combat rifle that is leaps and bounds beyond what’s currently available.