Since many of you will be familiar to some extent with the AR-15 family already, I’m going to take the opportunity this week to talk a little bit about the early years of the AR and the 556 round since the two are inextricably linked.
Myth 1: “It jams all the time, not like an AK”
First off, AKs absolutely can and do experience malfunctions and dirt/dust gets in to them far more easily than it can with an AR. If you don’t believe that part just check out InRange TV. As with the L85A1, the M16 garnered a bad reputation in its’ early years and that sort of stuck around ever since, to some extent anyway. The first serious amount of M16s sent to Vietnam lacked a chrome lining in the bore and chamber, were issued with barely any cleaning kit, most ammo contained a poor quality propellant that was super dirty and the troops were told the guns were self-cleaning because that’s what Colt told the US military. Guess what a fouled gun with no corrosion resistance that wasn’t cleaned did in the hot, wet, nasty jungle? Later on a chrome lining was added, a cleaner propellant put in to the 556 rounds and training on cleaning the weapon became very much a high priority with a lot of time, effort and material put in to it.
Myth 2: “556 is for wounding”
There’s a lot of variants of this, but that’s the jist. I’ve literally heard numerous serving people in my career say that 556 was meant to just wound a Russian because there would be so many of them flooding in to Germany and every wounded man needed 2 more to drag him to safety – bullshit. Extensive testing was done in the US as far back as the 1920s and between then and the 50s the tests found that .223 cal soft lead core projectiles with a rear-heavy bullet design, when fired fast enough, did at least as much damage as the 7.62×51 did if not more. Meanwhile, the rounds are smaller, way lighter and with far far less recoil making automatic fire a real possibility. These 556 projectiles would tumble in flesh given the rear bias to their weight, but more importantly when travelling fast enough a typical M193 55gr bullet will fragment significantly on impact if travelling at sufficient velocity doing huge damage. The 20″ barrel of the M16 is brilliant at achieving that velocity and causing said fragmentation. Combine the damage with the ease of scoring hits compared to your smaller mag of heavier recoiling 762 NATO and you’ve got a winning combination.
In my opinion, the M16 has, overall, gotten worse as it’s been iterated on in US service. Materials manufacturing has improved drastically sop that side is good, but features wise it’s all bad. The forward assist was deemed frivilous by the designer, the barrel profile has gotten heavier when that’s not needed anymore, the stock made longer (unnecessarily), the A2 pistol grip is one of the worst in the world, burst fire is a crutch to try and make up for lack of training to have discipline and the burst trigger mech results in a nasty trigger feel in semi, the quad pic rail on the A4 is insanely OTT and the list goes on. The original variants were super light, but if you can an A4 with M203, ACOG, PEQ, KAC M5 rail etc the weight increase is pretty staggering and that’s not even getting in to the ammunition changes over time.
That said, when well made with sensible features it’s incredibly hard to beat an AR in many ways.