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Colt's grip on military rifle market called bad deal



HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - 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,'' says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The M4, which can shoot hundreds of bullets a minute, is a shorter and lighter version of the company's M16 rifle first used 40 years ago during the Vietnam War. 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.

``There's not a weapon out there that's significantly better than the M4,'' says Col. Robert Radcliffe, director of combat developments at the Army Infantry Center in Fort Benning, Ga. ``To replace it with something that has essentially the same capabilities as we have today doesn't make good sense.''

Colt's exclusive production agreem special operations forces, who have their own acquisition budget and the latitude to buy gear the other military branches can't.

Or won't.

``All I know is, we're not having the competition, and the technology that is out there is not in the hands of our troops,'' says Jack Keane, a former Army general who pushed unsuccessfully for an M4 replacement before retiring four years ago.

The dispute over the M4 has been overshadowed by larger but not necessarily more important concerns. When the public's attention is focused on the annual defense budget, it tends to be captured by bigger-ticket items, like the Air Force's F-22 Raptors that cost $160 million each.

The Raptor, a radar-evading jet fighter, has never been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the troops who patrol Baghdad's still-dangerous neighborhoods or track insurgents along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, there's no piece of gear more critical than the rifles on their shoulders. They go everywhere with them, even to the bathroom and the chow hall.

Yet the military has a poor track record for getting high-quality firearms to warfighters. Since the Revolutionary War, mountains of red tape, oversize egos and never-ending arguments over bullet size and gunpowder have delayed or doomed promising efforts.

The M16, designed by the visionary gunsmith Eugene Stoner, had such a rough entry into military service in the mid-1960s that a congressional oversight committee assailed the Army for behavior that bordered on criminal negligence.

Stoner's lighter, more accurate rifle was competing against a heavier, more powerful gun the Army had heavily invested in. To accept the M16 would be to acknowledge a huge mistake, and ordnance officials did as much as they could to keep from buying the new automatic weapon. They continually fooled with Stoner's design.

``The Army, if anything, was trying to sideline and sabotage it,'' said Richard Colton, a historian with the Springfield Armory Museum in Massachusetts.

Despite the hurdles, the M16 would become the military's main battlefield rifle. And Colt, a company founded nearly 170 years ago by Hartford native Samuel Colt, was the primary manufacturer. Hundreds of thousands of M16s have been produced over the years for the U.S. military and foreign customers. Along with Colt, FNMI, an FN Herstal subsidiary in South Carolina, has also produced M16s.

Development of the carbine was driven by a need for a condensed weapon that could be used in tight spaces but still had plenty of punch. Colt's answer was the 7 1/2-pound M4. The design allowed the company to leverage the tooling used for the M16.

In 1994, Colt was awarded a no-bid contract to make the weapons. Since then, it has sold more than 400,000 to the U.S. military.

Along the way, Colt's hold has been threatened but not broken.

In 1996, a Navy office improperly released Colt's M4 blueprints, giving nearly two dozen contractors a look at the carbine's inner workings. Colt was ready to sue the U.S. government for the breach. The company wanted between $50 million and $70 million in damages.

Cooler heads prevailed. The Defense Department didn't want to lose its only source for the M4, and Colt didn't want to stop selling to its best customer.

The result was an agreement that made Colt the sole player in the U.S. military carbine market. FNMI challenged the deal in federal court but lost.

And since the Sept. 11 attacks, sales have skyrocketed.

The Army, the carbine's heaviest user, is outfitting all its front-line combat units with M4s. The Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and special operations forces also carry M4s. So do U.S. law enforcement agencies and militaries in many NATO countries.

More than $300 million has been spent on 221,000 of the carbines over the past two years alone. And the Defense Department is asking Congress to provide another $230 million for 136,000 more.

Keane, the retired Army general, knows how difficult it is to develop and deliver a brand-new rifle to the troops. As vice chief of staff, the Army's second highest-ranking officer, Keane pushed for the acquisition of a carbine called the XM8.

The futuristic-looking rifle was designed by Heckler &Koch. According to Keane, the XM8 represented the gains made in firearms technology over the past 40 years.

The XM8 would cost less and operate far longer without being lubricated or cleaned than the M4 could, Heckler &Koch promised. The project became bogged down by bureaucracy, however. In 2005, after $33 million had been invested, the XM8 was shelved. A subsequent audit by the Pentagon inspector general concluded the program didn't follow the military's strict acquisition rules.

Keane blames a bloated and risk-averse bureaucracy for the XM8's demise.

``This is all about people not wanting to move out and do something different,'' Keane says. ``Why are they afraid of the competition?''

As Colt pumps out 800 new M4s every day to meet U.S. and overseas demand, the company is remodeling its aging 270,000-square-foot facility in a hardscrabble section of Connecticut's capital city. New tooling and metal cutting machines have been installed as part of a $10 million plant improvement.

Many of the old ways remain, however. Brick-lined pit furnaces dating back to the 1960s are still used to temper steel rifle barrels.

``Modernizing the plant while trying to maintain quality and meet deliveries has been a challenge,'' says James Battaglini, Colt's chief operatiColt, using the acronym for the command. ``They wanted something unique.''

With the SCAR not yet in full-scale production, Heckler &Koch's HK416 is being used by elite units like Delta Force, the secretive anti-terrorism unit. The command would not comment on the HK416 other than to say there are ``a small number'' of the carbines in its inventory.

A key difference between the Colt carbine and the competitors is the way the rounds are fed through the rifle at lightning speed.

The SCAR and HK416 use a gas piston system to cycle the bullets automatically. The M4 uses ``gas impingement,'' a method that pushes hot carbon-fouled gas through critical parts of the gun, according to detractors. Without frequent and careful maintenance, they say, the M4 is prone to jamming and will wear out more quickly than its gas-piston competitors.

``A gas piston system runs a little bit smoother and a lot cleaner,'' says Dale Bohner, a retired Air Force commando who now works for Heckler &Koch. ``If the U.S. military opened up a competition for all manufacturers, I see the 416 being a major player in that.''

The top half of the Heckler &Koch gun - a section known as the upper receiver that includes the barrel and the gas piston - fits on the lower half of the M4. So if the military wanted a low-cost replacement option, it could buy HK416 upper receivers and mate them with the lower part of the M4 for about $900 a conversion, according to Bohner.

Yet outside of Special Operations Command, there seems to be no rush to replace the M4.

Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Army office that buys M4s and other combat gear, traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan last summer to get feedback from soldiers on Colt's carbine.

``I didn't hear one single negative comment,'' Brown says. ``Now, I know I'm a general, and when I go up and talk to a private, they're going to say everything's OK, everything's fine. I said, 'No, no, son. I flew 14,000 miles out here to see you on the border of Afghanistan. The reason I did that was to find out what's happening.'''

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., says the troops may not be aware of the alternatives. He wants the Pentagon to study the options and make a decision before Congress does.

``Sen. Coburn has raised a good question: 'Do we have the best personal weapon?' And I don't know that we do,'' Sessions said. ``We're not comfortable now. Let's give this a rigorous examination.''

On the Net:

Colt Defense: http://www.colt.com/

U.S. Army: http://peosoldier.army.mil/
 

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With the single exception of the M1 Garand in 1936, the US military has chosen the wrong basic infantry shoulder weapon every time they had a chance to pick a new one.

Trapdoor Springfield: Hopelessly out classed by "falling block" designs, and the innovative and robust Martini-Henry used by the British.

30-40 Krag: A beautiful, but overly complicated rifle that was obsoleted before acceptance by the Mauser designs.

1903 Springfield: A de-improved model 1895 Mauser. Yes it's accurate, but the SMLE is a better battle rifle, by far.

Pattern 1917 "American" Enfield: A very robust design, that would have been state of the art... in 1893. And it was too long and heavy as well.

M-14: Another very accurate rifle, but not a better military arm than the FAL, the weapon that actually won the competition to replace the M1 Garand.

M-16: A very good rifle, as long as you plan to fight your war in Europe. Not the best design for playing in a sandbox though...


Flame away.
 

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M4's don't cost $1500 each. In the Army, we use a progam called FedLog, a program designed to tell you certain characteristics about EVERY part of EVERYTHING. If it has a National Stock Number (NSN), It's in FedLog.
I've looked up the M4 (among other things); I forget exactly how much it was, but it was around $650.
 

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The military pays in the $500 -$600 range for M4's. The Senator probably priced them on the internet at a retailer.

Colt won't get bucked off this gravy train. When the Naval Officer screwed the pooch, they were set. I wouldn't bet the house that it wasn't done intentionally.

Anyway, if the scrap the F-22 program, they'd have plenty on funds to change all the services platforms to a new, updated system. The F-22's are going for $ 106 million - $160 million (with all the cost over runs who can keep it straight) a piece. Around $1,272,000,000 for twelve planes.
At $600 bucks a per rifle, thats money would buy 2,120,000 new rifles.
Just a thought.
 

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The only reason the F22s cost so much is because Congress cut the number of aircraft in the program, so the development costs are amortized over far fewer airframes than origianlly wanted/needed.

And I do mean needed. The F15 and F16 are very old and are becoming very expensive to keep in service. They need replacement now.
 

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I know that the Navy is considering getting some new F-18 super hornet's due to the delay in the F-22 program.

But lets not forget that with all the millions of dollar, techno stealthy gear a F-117 Stealth Fighter was shot down by Serbian Integrated Air Defense Systems.

Hey all I'm saying is that with what we currently have, do we really need a new super cool fighter, or replacement of a 40 year old M16 weapon system. I'd rather see a retrofit of what we have with all the new bells a whistles put on it than start from scratch with a new airframe that will require 5 years to work the bugs out of it. Just my opinion.
 

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I am still surprised Colt Is still in business period!
 

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devildoc, The F-22 was never in consideration by the USN. It is a USAF bird all the way. It was not developed for carrier operations.

Both the F15 and F16 series have been updated several times during their lifetimes. Airframes, as good as they are, have a finite life span. the recent grounding of the entire F15 fleet for structural checks because of the failure of one airframe, is proof of this.

With the retirement of the F-117 "Stealth Fighter" (it's not really a fighter but an attack aircraft), the only stealth aircraft in the inventory are the B2 and the F22.

BTW, the F-117 that was shot down was tracked visually during daylight. The Serbs couldn't hit the broad side of a barn at night, if they were in it.

Well so much for this thread hijack...

:-D



Agree 100% with venison-hunter. If it wasn't for their government contracts, Colt would have been finished long ago.
 

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The F-22 was never in consideration by the USN. It is a USAF bird all the way. It was not developed for carrier operations.
Sorry to be the agent of reallity for ya but the Navy and Marine Corps both are getting or should I say they wanted the carrier variant JSF.

Both the F15 and F16 series have been updated several times during their lifetimes. Airframes, as good as they are, have a finite life span. the recent grounding of the entire F15 fleet for structural checks because of the failure of one airframe, is proof of this.
Fine, Then get rid of the VH-71 $11 billion dollar($5 billion over budget) Presidential Helicopter progran and we can pay for the JSF. I'm all for telling the President to ride coach.

BTW anyone know how old the B52 air frames are?

The M16 is a good weapon but there are better. Service members lives depend on these weapons and there are more infantry than pilots. And with UAV's on the rise, Pilots are on the way out anyways. LOL
 

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Discussion Starter #13
BTW anyone know how old the B52 air frames are?
The first B-52 test flights were in April 1952, it began service in 1955, and she's still going strong! :shock:
 

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The F-22 is not the Joint Strike Fighter.

That would be the F-35 program.

The F-22 was developed solely for the United States Air Force as it's next generation air superiority fighter, to replace the F-15.

The JSF program is a much smaller, and less capable system, designed to replace the F-16 for the USAF, the Harrier for the USMC and RAF/RN, and to usher in a new type of smaller aircraft carrier for the USN. As such it is a very compromised system, as all "do it all for everyone" aircraft tend to be. The F-35 JSF will also be the last human piloted fighter in the US inventory.

The 40 odd (if I recall correctly) remaining B-52s in the USAF inventory are expected to fly for another 15 to 20 years. An amazing performance.
 

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As much as I love the B-52 (the one true BUFF) you have to remember it is not a fighter and while it carries a huge bomb load that cause lots of stress on the airframe that stress is nothing compared to an aircraft that is designed to preform 9g maneuvers at high sub mach speeds as well as cruse at 2 times the speed of sound.

As a side note the F-15s that were grounded were the A/C models that have 15+ years on the airframes. The newer F-15E were not grounded

Our military deserve the very very best that can be bought for it but politics ALWAYS gets in the way. Somebody is not getting something out of it so they fight it. The F22 and the MV-22 are prime examples. Both are revolutionary aircraft that had a long and difficult gestation. These are but 2 examples

Wonder what would happen if the purchasing process were run more like a company rather than a bureaucracy?

As far as the F22 (Advanced Tatical Fighter -ATF)l vs F35(Joint Strike Fighter - JSF) think of it this way.

F22 = F15 of its day. The F15 was designed to do one thing DOMINATE any airspace it flys in and that is what it does and so will the F22

F35 = F16 of its day. Well more what the F16 grew into . A very capable multi mission aircraft but that was not what it was suppose to be. It was suppose to be lghtweight, inexpensive compliment to the F15 and an alternative for those allies that could not aford the F15.
 

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OK I stand corrected on the F-22 and F-35 programs.

But we both know that the Air force is dragging this out to the foreseeable end of piloted combat aircraft, they have refused or should I say "dragging their feet" on shipping out UAV's to the wars because they want to send piloted aircraft instead so they can justify their existance. Sucks when they tell you that your obsolete. The problem is that at less than 1/3 of the cost and at no risk to american lives, the UAV's are whats for dinner and the days of air superiority fighter piloted aircraft are going the way of the Battle ship.
 

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UAVs are great and serve a very defined, and needed purpose.

UAVs do not give you air superiority, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Remember, roadside bombs and irregular "troops" are not the only threats we face.
 

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You are quite probably right about manned aircraft. Hell the F22 has to have limits built into the flight control software because what that plane can really do would turn a human into spam in a can.

That being said I feel a manned aircraft will always have a place on the battlefield. There is no computer that can think for itself and even the remote piloted airframes have limits as far as situational awareness.

Besides if men and women are removed from the equation all the horror that is war is lost and it just becomes a game or a way of keeping score. That must never happen. I would destroy and tarnish forever the memory of those who fought so that we could live in peace.

Off my soapbox now
 

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I was a little off....

M16 - $120
M16A1 - $446
M16A2 - $449
M16A3 - No Info
M16A4 - $587
M4 - $587
M4A1 - $587
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Hmmmm, unless one of us here works in the Pentagon's accounting department, I don't think anyone can say what our government is paying Colt for there M4's.
It seems our government has a very long history of over paying for goods and services. I can remember stories in the news about how the government pays $600 bucks for a hammer and $1200 for a toilet seat!
I think it's a pretty safe bet to say what ever the military is paying Colt for the M4 is more than likely an over inflated price, considering they have no competition.
 
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