M16 – United States Assault Rifle




Deter and, if necessary, compel adversaries by enabling individuals and small units to engage targets with accurate, lethal, direct fire.


The M14 was the U.S. Army’s original choice to replace World War II era M-1 and Browning Automatic rifles. The M14 was an unhappy compromise weapon, that satisfied virtually no one, least of all the men for whom it was intended. General dissatisfaction with the M14 and numerous studies led the Army to the development of a light weight weapon capable of firing a burst of small caliber bullets with a controlled dispersion pattern. Unfortunately, the M14’s follow-on initially fared little better.




The replacement for the M14 was designed by Eugene Stoner, of the ArmaLite Company, as the AR-15 around 1956. The AR-10 was conceived by Eugene Stoner as a 7.62mm Basic infantry rifle in 1955. At that time the Army was considering replacements for the M1 Garand. The AR-10 was stunningly different than any previous design. It was produced with aircraft grade aluminum receivers, and therefore weighed less than seven pounds. The stock and other furniture were plastic, while the T-44 and T-48 were of wood. The configuration of the rifle itself, with its integral carrying handle and charging handle distinctively mounted within it, sparked intense curiosity. In the end, the AR-10 wasn’t able to catch up, and eventually lost out to the M14 rifle in 1959.



Based on the AR-10, Army officials asked ArmaLite to develop a smaller version of the AR-10 in 1956. The ensuing rifle was called the AR-15. Army analysis of battlefield statistics from WWI, WWII and Korea, had shown that most kills from small arms occured at ranges of less than 300 yards. This suggested that the military should seriously consider lighter weight, higher capacity weapons. Seeking a novel cartridge suitable for a smaller caliber assault rifle, Eugene Stoner approached Winchester Corporation. The result was the small but powerful .223 (5.56 mm) rifle cartrdige — high-velocity, light weight, low recoil, and capable of penetrating a helmet per U.S. Army specifications.

Production of the AR-15 rifle was licensed to to Colt Manufacturing Company in 1959. Early Colt AR-15s, their magazines, and their operators manuals were marked with ArmaLite’s name. Colt’s retained the AR-15 designation on commercial rifles. To this day Colt’s has a model designation with the letters AR, which stands for “ArmaLite”.

The AR-15 was selectable for full and automatic fire. The AR-15 was to have had the same effective range as the M14 rifle, but it was most effective at a range of 215 yards (200m) or less. The M16 used a 5.56mm (.223 cal.) cartridge in 20- or 30-round magazines. To compensate for the reduced size of the 5.56 mm bullet, the AR-15 designers increased the velocity of the bullet so that it would have an adequate range and the flat trajectory needed for accurate aiming. The M16 bullet had a muzzle velocity (velocity on leaving the gun) of 980 meters per second as compared to 870 meters per second for the M14 rifle and 720 metres per second for the Soviet AK-47 7.62 mm rifle, while at a range of 100 meters the velocities of the three bullets were 830, 800, and 630 meters per second respectively.

The U.S. Air Force completed tests of the AR-15 in January 1961. The Air Force procured 8,500 rifles in 1961 and standardized the AR-15 in 1963. The weapon was first deployed to the Air Force’s Air Police. The original AR-15 was designated the M16 in 1962.


The new rifle had the advantage from a military point of view of weighing one- fourth less than the M14, and the ammunition also was lighter, reducing the recoil against the soldier’s shoulder and enabling a soldier to carry more rounds. As interest in the problems of counter-insurgency grew under the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s, the U.S. military quietly bought several thousand AR-15s and sent them to Vietnam for testing in combat conditions.

In the Vietnam era, DARPA (then ARPA) gained acceptance for the AR-15 by sponsoring its demonstration in combat. Colt brought the weapon to DARPA in 1962. Through Project AGILE, DARPA purchased 1,000 AR-15s and issued them to combat troops in Southeast Asia for field trials, to prove that the high-velocity 5.56 mm round had satisfactory performance. The subsequent DARPA report, documenting the lethality of the AR-15, was instrumental in motivating the Secretary of Defense to reconsider the Army’s decision and eventually adopt a modified AR-15 as the U.S. military individual weapon of choice. Although opposed by the Ordnance Corps, the Armalite AR-15 was adopted by the Secretary of Defense as the 5.56mm M16 rifle.

Soon reports began appearing of the lethality of the new rifle. Unofficial reports said the AR-15’s light bullet, travelling at 3,300 feet per second, did cartwheels as it penetrates living flesh, causing a highly lethal wound that looks like anything but a caliber .22 hole, the U.S. magazine Army reported in August 1963. Two U.S. Army doctors who evaluated AR-15 wounds at an Army hospital in South Vietnam in 1966 reported that while wounds inflicted at close range had small entrance and exit holes, those at larger ranges exhibited small entrance holes whereas the exit wound is a gaping, devastated area of soft tissue and even bone, often with loss of large amounts of tissue, with disintegration of the bullet and minute splattering of lead.

By 1963 U.S .Army was purchasing the M16 for use in South East Asia and by various elite forces. The Army also ordered 85,000 rifles in 1963. An additional 35,000 were ordered in 1964, 100,000 in 1965, and 100,000 in 1966. These rifles were initially issued primarily to combat troops in the Dominican Republic and to Special Forces, Airborne, helicopter crews, Air Commando and other special category troops in Vietnam.


The M16 was type classified standard A in 1965 and became the military’s basic service rifle. By 1966 it was in widespread use. The M16 was called the “black rifle” and “Mattel toy” thanks to its appearance. Troops liked the light weight, but complained about insufficient range and lethality. While the M16 had been marketed as virtually “maintenance free, poor maintenance instructions (or even no instructions) and jungle climate together with the fouling-prone direct gas system caused trouble. Its high rates of fire in the jungle environment had a larger impact on increasing American morale than on actually inflicting enemy casualties. The move to high-velocity 5.56 mm was also subsequently adopted by the Israelis, the Soviets, and NATO allies. DARPA’s most significant contribution to this program was its willingness to “think outside of the box” and try something new.

The AR-15 was redesignated by the U.S.Army as the M16 rifle, and in 1967 the Army announced that it would be adopted as the standard infantry weapon for U.S. Forces outside NATO. By 1978 the rifle had been exported to 21 countries and was being produced under licence in another three, with various other 5.56 mm rifles in production elsewhere.

Description and Specifications

A lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle designed for either automatic or semi-automatic fire through use of a selector lever. There are four variants – the M-16A1/A2/A3/A4. The M-16A2 incorporates improvements in iron sight, pistol grip, stock and overall combat effectiveness.


Accuracy is enhanced by incorporating an improved muzzle compensator, three-round burst control, and a heavier barrel; and by using the heavier NATO-standard ammunition, which is also fired by the squad automatic weapon. The M-16A3 is identical to the M-16A2 but has a removable carrying handle that is mounted on a Picatinny Rail (for better mounting of optics) and is without burst control. The M-16A4 is identical to the M-16A2 except for the removable carrying handle and Picatinny rail.

  • Caliber: .223 in / 5.56 mm
  • Cartridge: 5.56 x 45 mm NATO / .223 Remington
  • Weight: 8.8 lbs / 3.9 kg includes sling & one loaded magazine
  • Range: 875 yd / 800 m for an area target | 600 yd / 550 m for a point target
  • In service: 1964 — present


Colt Manufacturing and Fabrique Nationale Manufacturing Inc.

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5 Responses to “M16 – United States Assault Rifle”

  1. I do have a question. Is there a source that I could obtain a m16 rifle, either military or private. I carried this rifle in VietNam
    and would like to obtain one.

    Thanks Phil

  2. google



  5. It is too long for urban combat, you do not need long range any more as most fighting is done in cities. And remember all the jamming problems it had? Give me an SA80 any day