|Carbine, Caliber 5.56 mm, M4|
|Type||Selective-fire carbine |
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by||See Users below|
|Wars||See Conflicts below|
|Manufacturer||See Manufacturers below|
|Unit cost||$700 (avg. cost)|
Mark 18 Mod 0 CQBR
|Mass||6.43 lb (2.92 kg) empty |
7.75 lb (3.52 kg) with 30 rounds and sling
|Length||33 in (838 mm) (stock extended) |
29.75 in (756 mm) (stock retracted)
|Barrel length||14.5 in (368 mm)|
|Caliber||5.56 mm (.223 in)|
|Action||Gas-operated, rotating bolt, Stoner expanding gas|
|Rate of fire||700–950 round/min cyclic|
|Muzzle velocity||2,970 ft/s (910 m/s) (M855A1 round)|
2,887 ft/s (880 m/s) (M855 round)
|Effective firing range||500 m (550 yd)|
|Feed system||30-round box magazine or other STANAG magazines.[a]|
|Sights||Iron sights or various optics|
The M4 Carbine is a 5.56×45mm NATO, air-cooled, gas-operated,[b] direct impingement, magazine-fed, select fire carbine. It has a 14.5 in (370 mm) barrel and a telescoping stock. It is essentially a lighter and shorter variant of the M16A2 assault rifle.
The M4 is extensively used by the United States Armed Forces and is largely replacing the M16 rifle in United States Army and United States Marine Corps (USMC) combat units as the primary infantry weapon and service rifle. The M4 has been adopted by over 60 countries worldwide, and has been described as "one of the defining firearms of the 21st century".
Since its adoption in 1994, the M4 has undergone over 90 modifications to improve the weapon's ergonomics and modularity, including the M4A1, which strengthened the barrel and removed the burst-fire option, and the SOPMOD, an accessory kit containing optical attachments and the underbarrel M203 grenade launcher.
Following the adoption of the M16 rifle, carbine variants were also adopted for close quarters operations, the first of which was the CAR-15 family of weapons, which served through the Vietnam War. However, these rifles had design issues, as the barrel length was halved to 10 inches (25 cm), which upset the ballistics, reducing its range and accuracy and leading to considerable muzzle flash and blast, meaning that a large flash suppressor had to be fitted. "Nevertheless, as a short-range weapon it is quite adequate and thus, [despite] its caliber, [the XM177 'Commando'] is classed as a submachine gun."
In 1982, the U.S. Government requested Colt to make a carbine version of the M16A2, at the time, the Colt M16A2 was the Colt 645, also known as the M16A1E1. Later on the same year, the U.S. Army Armament Munitions Chemical Command helped Colt develop a new variant of the XM177E2, and the U.S. Army redesignated the XM177E2 to the XM4 Carbine, given the name as the successor to the M3 Carbine. The first model of the XM4 is the XM177E2, which used the same upper and lower receiver as the M16A1. The difference is that the weapon fires M855 cartridge instead of the .223 Remington rounds. In 1983, the 9th Infantry Division requested a Quick Reaction Program (QRP) for a 5.56mm carbine as early as April 1983, to replace the M1 Carbine and M3 submachine gun in service. The XM4 was tested by the Army's Armament Research and Development Center (ARDC) in June 1983. Later, the gun was updated with improved furniture, and a 1-7" barrel. The ARDC recommended additional commonality with the M16A2 rifle, as well as lengthening the barrel to 14.5". In January 1984, the U.S. Army revised the QRP, and a month later, the Army formally approved development of the new carbine.
In June 1985, the Picatinny Arsenal was given a contract to produce 40 prototypes of the XM4. Initially a joint program between the Army and Marines, in 1986 the Army withdrew their funding. The XM4 was finished in 1987, and the Marines adopted 892 for that fiscal year, with the designation "carbine, 5.56mm, M4." Owing to experience from the 1991 Gulf War, the Army gave Colt its first production contracts for M4 carbines in May and July 1993, and M4A1 carbines for SOCOM operators in February 1994.
Interest in the M4 Carbine was accelerated after the Battle of Mogadishu (1993), in which Rangers complained that their M16 rifles were "unwieldy", whereas members of Delta Force in the same battle, equipped with the CAR-15, had no such complaints. The M4 Carbine first saw action in the hands of U.S. troops deployed to Kosovo in 1999 in support of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force. It would subsequently be used heavily by U.S. forces during the Global War on Terrorism, including Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the U.S. Army, the M4 had largely replaced M16A2s as the primary weapon of forward deployed personnel by 2005. The M4 carbine also replaced most submachine guns and selected handguns in U.S. military service, as it fires more effective rifle ammunition that offers superior stopping power and is better able to penetrate modern body armor.
In 2007, the USMC ordered its officers (up to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) and staff non-commissioned officers to carry the M4 carbine instead of the M9 handgun. This is in keeping with the Marine Corps doctrine, "Every Marine a rifleman." The Marine Corps, however, chose the full-sized M16A4 over the M4 as its standard infantry rifle. United States Navy corpsmen E5 and below are also issued M4s instead of the M9. While ordinary riflemen in the Marine Corps were armed with M16A4s, M4s were fielded by troops in positions where a full-length rifle would be too bulky, including vehicle operators, fireteam and squad leaders. As of 2013, the U.S. Marine Corps had 80,000 M4 carbines in their inventory.
By July 2015, major Marine Corps commands were endorsing switching to the M4 over the M16A4 as the standard infantry rifle, just as the Army had done. This is because of the carbine's lighter weight, compact length, and ability to address modern combat situations that happen mostly within close quarters; if a squad needs to engage at longer ranges, the M27 IAR can be used as a designated marksman rifle. Approval of the change would move the M16 to support personnel, while armories already had the 17,000 M4s in the inventory needed to outfit all infantrymen who needed one. In October 2015, Commandant Robert Neller formally approved of making the M4 carbine the primary weapon for all infantry battalions, security forces, and supporting schools in the USMC. The switch was to completed by September 2016. In December 2017, the Marine Corps revealed a decision to equip every Marine in an infantry squad with the M27, replacing the M4 in that part of the service. MARSOC will retain the M4, as its shorter barrel is more suited to how they operate in confined spaces.
In 2009, the U.S. Army took complete ownership of the M4 design. This allowed companies other than Colt to compete with their own M4 designs. The Army planned on fielding the last of its M4 requirement in 2010. In October 2009, Army weapons officials proposed a series of changes to the M4 to Congress. Requested changes included an electronic round counter that records the number of shots fired, a heavier barrel, and possibly replacing the Stoner expanding gas system with a gas piston system.
The benefits of these changes, however, have come under scrutiny from both the military and civilian firearms community. According to a PDF detailing the M4 Carbine improvement plans released by PEO Soldier, the direct impingement system would be replaced only after reviews were done comparing the direct impingement system to commercial gas piston operating system to find out and use the best available operating system in the U.S. Army's improved M4A1.
In September 2010, the Army announced it would buy 12,000 M4A1s from Colt Firearms by the end of 2010, and would order 25,000 more M4A1s by early 2011. The service branch planned to buy 12,000 M4A1 conversion kits in early 2011. In late 2011, the Army bought 65,000 more conversion kits. From there the Army had to decide if it would upgrade all of its M4s. In April 2012, the U.S. Army announced to begin purchasing over 120,000 M4A1 carbines to start reequipping front line units from the original M4 to the new M4A1 version. The first 24,000 were to be made by Remington Arms Company. Remington was to produce the M4A1s from mid-2013 to mid-2014. After completion of that contract, it was to be between Colt and Remington to produce over 100,000 more M4A1s for the U.S. Army. Because of efforts from Colt to sue the Army to force them not to use Remington to produce M4s, the Army reworked the original solicitation for new M4A1s to avoid legal issues from Colt. On 16 November 2012, Colt's protest of Remington receiving the M4A1 production contract was dismissed. Instead of the contract being re-awarded to Remington, the Army awarded the contract for 120,000 M4A1 carbines worth $77 million to FN Herstal on 22 February 2013. The order was expected to be completed by 2018.
Replacements for the M4 have mostly focused on two factors, improving its reliability, and its penetration. The first attempt to find a replacement for the M4 came in 1986, with the Advanced Combat Rifle program, in which the caseless Heckler & Koch G11 and various flechette rifles were tested, but this was quickly dropped as these designs were mostly prototypes, which demonstrated a lack of reliability. In the 1990s, the Objective Individual Combat Weapon competition was put forth to find a replacement for the M4. Two designs were produced, both by Heckler & Koch – the XM29 OICW, which incorporated a smart grenade launcher, but was canceled in 2004 as it was too heavy, and the XM8, which was canceled in 2005 as it did not offer significant enough improvements over the M4.
The Heckler & Koch HK416 was introduced in 2005, incorporating the same lower receiver as the M4A1, but replacing its direct impingement system with a gas-operated rotating bolt, more comparable to that of the G36. The HK416 was adopted by the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and other special forces. In 2010, it was adopted by the Marines as the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. The same year, the Rangers and Navy SEALs adopted the FN SCAR, but later withdrew their purchase, as it was not a significant enough improvement over the M4A1.
The M4 and its variants fire 5.56×45mm NATO (and .223 Remington) ammunition, and are gas-operated, magazine-fed, selective fire firearms with either a multi-position telescoping stock or a fixed A2 or LE tactical stock. The first stock fitted onto the M4 in 1985 was made entirely of plastic, which only had two positions; fully closed or fully extended. Later models have greater adjustability, and are commonly known as the "six position stock", "M4 stock", or, because of its recesses, "waffle stock".
The M4 is a shorter and lighter variant of the M16A2 rifle, with 80% parts commonality. The M4's maneuverability makes it beneficial for non-infantry troops (vehicle crews, clerks and staff officers), as well as for close quarters battle. The M4, along with the M16A4, has mostly replaced the M16A2 in the Army and Marines. The U.S. Air Force, for example, has transitioned completely to the M4 for Security Forces squadrons, while other armed personnel retain the M16A2. The U.S. Navy uses M4A1s for Special Operations and vehicle crews. However, the M4's shorter barrel reduces its range, with its sights only adjustable up to 656 yards (600 m), compared to the M16A2, which can reach up to 875 yards (800 m).
Like all the variants of the M16, the M4 and the M4A1 can be fitted with many accessories, such as night vision devices, flash suppressors, laser sights, telescopic sights, bipods, either the M203 or M320 grenade launcher, the M26 MASS shotgun, forward hand grips, a detachable rail-mounted carrying handle, and anything else compatible with a MIL-STD-1913 picatinny rail.
Other common accessories include the AN/PEQ-2, AN/PEQ-15 multi-mode laser, AN/PEQ-16 Mini Integrated Pointing Illumination Module (MIPIM), M68 CCO, Trijicon TA01 and TA31 Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG), EOTech 550 series holographic sights, and Aimpoint M68 Close Combat Optic. Visible and infrared lights of various manufacturers are commonly attached using various mounting methods. As with all versions of the M16, the M4 accepts a blank-firing attachment (BFA) for training purposes.
The M4 and the M4A1 feed from 30-round STANAG magazines. Other types of magazines with different capacities such as the 100 rounds Beta C-Mag are also available. In January 2017, a USMC unit deployed with suppressors mounted to every infantry M4 service weapon. Exercises showed that having all weapons suppressed improved squad communication and surprise during engagements; disadvantages included additional heat and weight, increased maintenance, and the greater cost of equipping so many troops with the attachment. In July 2020, the Marine Corps announced it would be ordering suppressors for use by all M4 carbines used by close combat units. The Marines began to rollout suppressors for all M4/M4A1 carbines in infantry, reconnaissance and special operations units in December 2020.
Special Operations Peculiar Modification
In 1992, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) developed the Special Operations Peculiar Modification (SOPMOD) Block I kit for the carbines used by units operating under its command. The kit features an M4A1, a Rail Interface System (RIS) handguard developed by Knight's Armament Company (KAC), a shortened quick-detachable M203 grenade launcher and leaf sight, a KAC sound suppressor, a KAC back-up rear sight, an Insight Technologies AN/PEQ-2A visible laser/infrared designator, along with Trijicon's ACOG TA-01NSN model and Reflex sights, and a night vision sight, among many other accessories. This kit was designed to be configurable (modular) for various missions, and the kit is currently in service with special operations units.
In 2002, the Block II modification kit was adopted featuring two new upper receivers: the Special Purpose Receiver (SPR) and Close Quarter Battle Receiver (CQBR). M4A1s fitted with the SPR were designated by the Navy as the Mk 12 Special Purpose Rifle, a type of designated marksman rifle. M4A1s with the CQBR were designated the Mk 18 Mod 0.
In 2018, the Upper Receiver Group-Improved (URG-I) modification kit was approved for the conversion of Block I and Block II carbine's upper receiver "to an improved barrel and rail assembly.." which includes the Magpul Industries M-LOK rail interface system.
Variants of the carbine built by different manufacturers are also in service with many other foreign special forces units, such as the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). While the SASR uses weapons of essentially the same pattern built by Colt for export (Colt uses different models to separate weapons for the U.S. military and those for commercial/export purposes), the British Special Air Service uses a variant on the basic theme, the Colt Canada C8SFW.
M4 MWS (Modular Weapon System)
Colt Model 925 carbines were tested and fitted with the KAC M4 RAS under the designation M4E2, but this designation appears to have been scrapped in favor of mounting this system to existing carbines without changing the designation. The U.S. Army Field Manual specifies for the Army that adding the Rail Adapter System (RAS) turns the weapon into the M4 MWS or modular weapon system.
The M4A1 carbine is a fully automatic variant of the basic M4 carbine intended for special operations use. The M4A1 was introduced in May 1991 and was in service in 1994. The M4A1 was the first M4 model with the removable carry handle. The M4A1 has a "S-1-F" (safe/semi-automatic/fully automatic) trigger group, while the M4 has a "S-1-3" (safe/semi-automatic/3-round burst) trigger group. The M4A1 is used by almost all U.S special operation units including, but not limited to, Marine Force Recon, Army Rangers, Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Air Force Pararescue and Air Force Combat Control Teams. It has a maximum effective range of 500 to 600 meters (550–660 yd). The fully automatic trigger gives a more consistent trigger pull, which leads to better accuracy. According to Mark A. Westrom, owner of ArmaLite, Inc., automatic fire is better for clearing rooms than burst fire.
The M4A1 uses a heavier barrel than the standard M4, as the regular M4 barrel, which can fire 6,000 rounds before requiring a replacement, was not sufficient for the higher consumption of ammunition by SOCOM operators. The redesigned barrel has an increased diameter in the area between the receiver and front sight.
Conversion of M4s to the M4A1 began in 2011, as part of the Product Improvement Program, which included the conversion of 300,000 M4 carbines to the M4A1. Though in service with special forces, combat in Afghanistan showed the need for providing automatic suppression fires during fire and movement for regular soldiers. The 101st Airborne Division began fielding newly-built M4A1s in 2012, and the U.S. 1st Infantry Division became the first unit to convert their M4s to M4A1-standard in May 2014. Upgrades included a heavier barrel to better dissipate heat from sustained automatic firing, which also helps the rifles use the M855A1 EPR that has higher proof pressures and puts more strain on barrels. The full-auto trigger group has a more consistent trigger pull, whereas the burst group's pull varies on where the fire control group is set, resulting in more predictable and better accuracy on semi-automatic fire. Another addition is an ambidextrous selector lever for easier use with left-handed shooters. The M4-M4A1 conversion increases weapon weight from 7.46 lb (3.38 kg) to 7.74 lb (3.51 kg), counting a back-up iron sight, forward pistol grip, empty magazine, and sling. Each carbine upgrade costs $240 per rifle, for a total cost of $120 million for half a million conversions. Three hundred conversions can be done per day to equip a brigade combat team per week, with all M4A1 conversions to be completed by 2019.
Mk 18 CQBR
The Mk 18 Close Quarters Battle Receiver is a variant of M4A1 with a 10.3-inch barrel upper receiver. Current contractors for the Mk 18 are Colt and Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT) NSN 1005-01-527-2288.
For the Individual Carbine competition, Colt submitted their Enhanced M4 design, also known as the Colt Advanced Piston Carbine (APC). The weapon has a suppression-ready fluted barrel, which is lighter and cools better than previous M4 barrels. It is claimed to have "markedly better" accuracy. To improve reliability, Colt used an articulating link piston (ALP), which "reduces the inherent stress in the piston stroke by allowing for deflection and thermal expansion". In traditional gas piston operating systems, the force of the piston striking the bolt carrier can push the bolt carrier downwards and into the wall of the buffer tube, leading to accelerated wear and even chipped metal. This is known as carrier tilt. The ALP allows the operating rod to wiggle to correct for the downward pressure on the bolt and transfers the force straight backwards in line with the bore and buffer assembly, eliminating the carrier tilt. This relieves stress on parts and helps to increase accuracy. The Individual Carbine competition was canceled before a winning weapon was chosen.
Armwest LLC M4
In 2014, American firearms designer Jim Sullivan provided a video interview regarding his contributions to the M16/M4 family of rifles while working for Armalite. A noted critic of the M4, he illustrates the deficiencies found in the rifle in its current configuration. In the video, he demonstrates his "Arm West LLC modified M4", with enhancements he believes necessary to rectify the issues with the weapon. Proprietary issues aside, the weapon is said to borrow features in his prior development, the Ultimax. Sullivan has stated (without exact details as to how) the weapon can fire from the closed bolt in semi-automatic and switch to open bolt when firing in fully automatic, improving accuracy. The weight of the cyclic components of the gun has been doubled (while retaining the weapon's weight at less than 8 pounds). Compared to the standard M4, which in automatic fires 750-950 rounds a minute, the rate of fire of the Arm West M4 is heavily reduced both to save ammunition and reduce barrel wear. The reduced rate also renders the weapon more controllable and accurate in automatic firing.
The M4 carbine has been used for close quarters operations where the M16 would be too long and bulky to use effectively. It has been a compact, light, customizable, and accurate weapon. Like other firearms, failure to properly maintain the M4 can result in malfunctions. This became apparent as it saw continued use in the sandy environments of Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this, in post-combat surveys, 94% of soldiers rated the M4 as an effective weapons system.
By late 2002, 89% of U.S. troops reported they were confident with the M4, but they had a range of problems. 34% of users said the handguards rattled and became excessively hot when firing, and 15% had trouble zeroing the M68 Close Combat Optic. 35% added barber brushes and 24% added dental picks to their cleaning kits. There were many malfunctions, including 20% of users experiencing a double feed, 15% experiencing feeding jams, and 13% saying that feeding problems were caused by magazines. 20% of users were dissatisfied with weapon maintenance. Some had trouble locking the magazine into the weapon and having to chamber a round in order to lock the magazine. Soldiers also asked for a larger round to be able to kill targets with one shot. New optics and handguards made usage of the M4 easier, and good weapon maintenance reduced the number of misfeeds.
2006 CNA report
In December 2006, the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) released a report on U.S. small arms in combat. The CNA conducted surveys on 2,608 troops returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan over the previous 12 months. Only troops who fired their weapons at enemy targets were allowed to participate. 917 troops were armed with M4 Carbines, making up 35% of the survey. 89% of M4 users reported they were satisfied with the weapon. 90% were satisfied with handling qualities such as handguards, size, and weight. M4 users had the highest levels of satisfaction with weapon performance, including 94% with accuracy, 92% with range, and 93% with rate of fire. Only 19% of M4 users reported a stoppage, and 82% of those that experienced a stoppage said it had little impact on their ability to clear the stoppage and re-engage their target. The lowest rated weapon was the M9, and the M249 had the highest rate of stoppages. 53% of the M4 users never experienced failures of their magazines to feed. 81% did not need their rifles repaired while in theater. 80% were confident in the M4's reliability, defined as confidence their weapon will fire without malfunction, and 83% were confident in its durability, defined as confidence their weapon will not break or need repair. Both factors were attributed to high levels of soldiers performing their own maintenance. 54% of M4 users offered recommendations for improvements. 20% of requests were for greater bullet lethality, and 10% were for better quality magazines, as well as other minor recommendations. Only 75% of M16 users were satisfied with it, and some expressed their desire to be issued the M4. Some issues from this report have been addressed with the issuing of the improved STANAG magazine in March 2009, and the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round in June 2010.
2007 dust test
In summer and fall 2007, the Army tested the M4 against three other carbines in "sandstorm conditions" at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland: the Heckler & Koch XM8, Fabrique Nationale de Herstal SOF Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) and the Heckler & Koch HK416. Ten of each type of rifle were used to fire 6,000 rounds each, for a total of 60,000 rounds per rifle type. The M4 suffered far more stoppages than its competitors: 882 stoppages, 19 requiring an armorer to fix. The XM8 had the fewest stoppages, 116 minor stoppages and 11 major ones, followed by the FN SCAR with 226 stoppages and the HK416 with 233.
Despite 863 minor stoppages—termed "class one" stoppages, which require 10 seconds or less to clear, or "class two" stoppages, which require more than ten seconds to clear—the M4 functioned well, with over 98% of the 60,000 total rounds firing without a problem. The Army said it planned to improve the M4 with a new cold-hammer-forged barrel to give longer life and more reliable magazines to reduce the stoppages. Magazine failures caused 239 of the M4's failures. Army officials said the new magazines could be combat-ready by spring if testing went well. The Army began issuing an improved STANAG magazine in March 2009.
According to the Army, the M4 only suffered 296 stoppages and said that the high number reported could be attributed to discrepancies in the scoring process. The Army testing command stated that, if the number of stoppages caused by a broken part met some threshold, they would be eliminated from the final report pending redesign of the part. The methodology of the test has been debated, as many of the M4s in the test had already seen use, whereas the other rifles were brand new, and that the wide variance in results between summer and fall showed that the test was not accurate, as it was not repeatable with consistent results. Furthermore, the trial M4s had burst-mode fire groups, which are more complicated and prone to failure than the fully automatic fire groups the other manufacturers presented for testing.
There were three extreme dust tests performed in 2007. The second test results showed a large difference from the last test with the M4 having 148 class 1 stoppages caused by rifle malfunctions and 148 class 1 stoppages caused by magazine stoppages. The full-size M16 rifle had 61 stoppages during the same extreme dust test.
In early 2010, two journalists from the New York Times spent three months with soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan. While there, they questioned around 100 infantrymen about the reliability of their M4 carbines, as well as the M16 rifle. Troops did not report reliability problems with their rifles. While only 100 troops were asked, they fought at least a dozen intense engagements in Helmand Province, where the ground is covered in fine powdered sand (called "moon dust" by troops) that can stick to firearms. Weapons were often dusty, wet, and covered in mud. Intense firefights lasted hours with several magazines being expended. Only one soldier reported a jam when his M16 was covered in mud after climbing out of a canal. The weapon was cleared and resumed firing with the next chambered round. Furthermore, a Marine chief warrant officer reported that there were no issues with his battalion's 700 M4s and 350 M16s.
The reliability of the M4 has increased as the design was upgraded. In 1990, the M4 was required to fire 600 mean rounds between stoppages using M855 ammunition. In 2013, the current M4A1 version can fire 1,691 mean rounds between stoppages using M855A1 ammunition. During the 2009 Marine Corps Infantry Automatic Rifle testing, the Colt IAR displayed a MRBS of CLASS I/II Stoppages of 952 rounds, with a MRBEFF of Class III Stoppages of 60,000 rounds.
An array of firearms accessory makers have offered gas piston conversion kits for the M4. The claimed benefits include less needed lubrication for the bolt carrier group to run reliably and reduced fouling. The argument against it is increased weight and reduced accuracy. The Enhanced M4 uses an articulating link piston operating system. Complicating the Army search for higher reliability in the M4 is a number of observations of M4 gas piston alternatives that suffer unintended design problems. The first is that many of the gas piston modifications for the M4 isolate the piston so that piston jams or related malfunction require the entire weapon be disassembled, such disassembly cannot be performed by the end-user and requires a qualified armorer to perform out of field, whereas almost any malfunction with the direct-impingement system can be fixed by the end-user in field. The second is that gas piston alternatives use an off-axis operation of the piston that can introduce carrier tilt, whereby the bolt carrier fails to enter the buffer tube at a straight angle, resulting in part wearing. This can also tilt the bolt during extraction, leading to increased bolt lug failures. The third is that the use of a sound suppressor results in hot gases entering the chamber, regardless of a direct-gas impingement or gas piston design choice. The gas piston system may also cause the firearm to become proprietary to the manufacturer, making modifications and changes with parts from other manufacturers difficult.
In a study conducted by the Army Marksmanship Unit, they found that at a distance of 300 yd (270 m), the M16 achieved a 24 in (610 mm) grouping, and the M4 achieved a 32 in (810 mm) grouping, which dropped to 12 in (300 mm) and 18 in (460 mm) respectively when using match grade ammunition. As the average male torso is 18–19 in (460–480 mm) wide, author Chris McNab concluded that this meant the M4 can be consistently accurate up to 300 yards, and noted that the frequent usage of optical attachments meant it could be accurate to higher ranges.
- Colt's Manufacturing Company, US
- Colt Canada in Ontario, Canada
- Norinco, China
- Lewis Machine and Tool Company in Milan, Illinois, US
- Bushmaster Firearms International, US
- U.S. Ordnance, US
- Remington Arms Company, US
- Daniel Defense in Black Creek, Georgia, US
- Forjas Taurus São Leopoldo, RS, Brazil
- FN Herstal, Belgium
- SME Ordnance, Malaysia
- Sarsilmaz, Turkey
- United Defense Manufacturing Corporation, Philippines
The M4 was developed and produced for the United States government by Colt Firearms, which had an exclusive contract to produce the M4 family of weapons through 2011. However, a number of other manufacturers offer M4-like firearms. Colt previously held a U.S. trademark on the term "M4". Many manufacturers have production firearms that are essentially identical to a military M4, but with a 16-inch (41 cm) barrel. The Bushmaster M4 Type Carbine is a popular example. Civilian models are sometimes colloquially referred to as "M4gery" (// em-FOR-jər-ee, a portmanteau of "M4" and "forgery"). Colt had maintained that it retains sole rights to the M4 name and design. Other manufacturers had long maintained that Colt had been overstating its rights, and that "M4" had now become a generic term for a shortened AR-15.
In April 2004, Colt filed a lawsuit against Heckler & Koch and Bushmaster Firearms, claiming acts of trademark infringement, trade dress infringement, trademark dilution, false designation of origin, false advertising, patent infringement, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices. Heckler & Koch later settled out of court, changing one product's name from "HK M4" to "HK416". However, on December 8, 2005, a district court judge in Maine granted a summary judgment in favor of Bushmaster Firearms, dismissing all of Colt's claims except for false advertising. On the latter claim, Colt could not recover monetary damages. The court also ruled that "M4" was now a generic name and that Colt's trademark should be revoked.
- Afghanistan: Used by Afghan Army commandos. M4s sold as part of a 2006 Foreign Military Sales package. Additional M4s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. Now in the hands of the Taliban.
- Albania: Used by Albanian Land Force 2015.
- Algeria: Used by the Algerian Special Forces.
- Antigua and Barbuda: M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Argentina: Used by Argentine Army, Argentine Navy and Argentine National Gendarmerie
- Australia: M4A1 (designated M4A5), used by Special Operations Command, Clearance Divers, and Police Tactical Groups.
- Azerbaijan: M4 Carbine used by the special military units and State Border Service (DSX).
- Bahrain: M4A1s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Bangladesh:M4 carbine and M4A1 used by Bangladesh Army, Para Commando, SWADS, Bangladesh police special units.
- Belize: M4s/M4A1s sold as part of a 2006 Foreign Military Sales package. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Bolivia: M4A1s used by the Bolivian Army.
- Bosnia & Herzegovina: M4A1s used by the military and air guard units.
- Brazil: Used by Civil Police, Military Police of Espirito Santo State, Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State, the Brazilian Federal Police and Special Forces of the Brazilian Army, Brazilian Navy, and Brazilian Marine Corps.
- Croatia: User since 2003, several hundred purchased for Croatian ISF contingent as well as Special Forces.
- Czech Republic: Bushmaster M4A3 B.M.A.S. is used by (601st Special forces group, Military police, 43rd Airborne mechanized battalion) of Czech Army.
- China: A variant is made by Norinco as the Norinco CQ. CQ-A carbine variant used by the Sichuan Police Department, Chongqing SWAT teams, and the Snow Leopard Commando Unit.
- Colombia: M4A1s as part of a 2008 Foreign Military Sales. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Dominican Republic
- Ecuador: M4s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package.
- El Salvador: M4s sold as part of a 2007 Foreign Military Sales package. Additional M4s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package.
- France: used by French Special Force 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment
- Georgia: Bushmaster M4s being replaced by Colt M4s for the military. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Greece: Used by EKAM, All SF Army, Navy, Airforce units.
- Hungary: M4A1 SOPMOD by Hungarian MH 34th Bercsényi László special operation battalion More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- India: M4A1s as part of a 2008 Foreign Military Sales. M4A1 is used by the Mizoram Armed Police, PARA COMMANDOS, MARCOS, Garud and Force One of the Mumbai Police.
- Indonesia: Used by Detachment 88 Counter-terrorism Police Squad operators. Also used by Komando Pasukan Katak (Kopaska) tactical diver group and Komando Pasukan Khusus (Kopassus) special forces group.
- Iraq: Used by the Iraqi Army. Main weapon of the Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Force. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Israel: Sold as part of a January 2001 Foreign Military Sales package to Israel. Standard issue in the Israel Defense Forces, but it has been gradually replaced with the IWI Tavor since 2001.
- Italy: Special Forces
- Jamaica: M4s sold as part of a 2007 Foreign Military Sales package.
- Japan: M4A1s as part of a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. M4A1 SOPMOD rifles are in use by the Japanese Special Forces Group.
- Jordan: M4s sold as part of a 2007 Foreign Military Sales package. Additional M4s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Kenya: Used by Kenyan troops Kenya Defence Forces in AMISCOM ops.
- Lebanon: M4 components being sold to Lebanese special forces. M4/M4A1s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Liberia: Used by Liberian Emergency Response Unit.
- Malaysia: Made under license by SME Ordnance Sdn Bhd. Used by military and police special forces.
- Nepal: 1,070 M4s, sold as part of a 2005 Foreign Military Sales package.
- New Zealand: Used by NZSAS operators and standard issue to New Zealand Police including Special Tactics Group and Armed Offenders Squad units.
- North Macedonia: Used by Military Police, Ranger Battalion and Special Forces Battalion - Wolves
- Oman: M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Pakistan: M4A1 variant used by the Special Forces of the Pakistani military besides the POF G3P4 standard rifle for the Pakistani military— also used by the Special Security Unit (SSU) of the Sindh Police. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Palestinian Authority: Used by Palestinian security forces.[better source needed]
- Panama: M4A1s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. More M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Philippines: Colt M4/M4A1s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package. 63,000 R4A3 rifles from Remington Arms for the Philippine Army and the Philippine Marine Corps. Several units also used by the Defense Intelligence and Security Group. Some rifles were converted from old M16A1 stocks as part of the modernization effort of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
- Poland: Used by Wojska Specjalne military unit JW Grom.
- Portugal: Used by Marines special forces DAE (Destacamento de Acções Especiais).
- Romania: M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- Russia: Used in limited quantities by FSB Alpha.
- Senegal: M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017. 2,200 M4s sold through FMS program in 2019.
- Serbia: Used by various police units.
- Singapore: Used by the Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation and the Police Coast Guard (only the Port Squadron and the Coastal Patrol Squadron) of the Singapore Police Force.
- Slovakia: M4/M4A1s announced to be sold via FMS program in 2017.
- South Korea: Used by the Republic of Korea Army.
- Taiwan: Used by Republic of China Army and National Police Agency
- Thailand: M4A1s sold as part of a 2006 Foreign Military Sales package.
- Tonga: M4/M4A1s sold as a 2008 Foreign Military Sales package.
- Tunisia: Used by the Tunisian Army's Special Forces Group (GFS), 51st Infantry Navy Commandos Regiment, Presidential Guard and various National Guard and Police special forces units. Used by the Unité Spéciale – Garde Nationale.
- Turkey: Produced under license by Sarsılmaz Firearms. The M4A1 rifle is used by Turkish Armed Forces
- Uganda: Used by Ugandan troops in AMISCOM ops.
- United Arab Emirates: Purchased 2,500 M4 carbines in 1993.
- United States
- Uruguay: Colt M4 and Bushmaster M4 carbines for Special Operation Group (Metropolitan Police)
- Yemen: M4s sold as part of a 2006 Foreign Military Sales package.
U.S. civilian ownership
Sales of select-fire or fully automatic M4s by Colt are restricted to military and law enforcement agencies. No private citizen can own an M4 in a select-fire or fully automatic configuration, as this model of fully automatic rifle was developed after the 1986 ban on fully automatic weapons available to be purchased by US citizens under the Firearms Owners' Protection Act. While many machine guns can be legally owned with a proper tax stamp from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an amendment to the act barred the transfer to private citizens of machine guns made or registered in the U.S. after May 19, 1986. The only exception was for Special Occupational Taxpayers (SOT), who are licensed machine gun dealers with demonstration letters, manufacturers, and those dealing in exports and imports. As such, only the earliest Colt M4 prototypes built prior to 1986 would be legal to own by non-SOT civilians. The modular nature of the AR-15 design, however, makes it relatively simple to fit M4-specific components to a "pre-'86" select-fire AR-15 lower receiver, producing an "M4" in all but name.
The M4 falls under restrictions of Title II of the National Firearms Act. The 14.5-inch barrel makes the M4 a Short Barrel Rifle (SBR), and select fire capability (semi-automatic and fully automatic or burst-automatic) makes the M4 a machine gun. Civilian replicas of the M4 typically have 16-inch barrels (or standard 14.5-inch M4 barrels with permanently attached flash suppressors with a total length of 16 inches) and are semi-automatic-only to meet the legal definition of a rifle under the Gun Control Act. Civilian-legal M4s are also popular with police as a patrol carbine.
- Colombian conflict (1964–present)
- Civil conflict in the Philippines (1969–present)
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- War in Afghanistan (2001–2014)
- Iraq War (2003–2011)
- Lebanon War (2006)
- Mexican Drug War (2006–present)
- Russo-Georgian War (2008)
- Gaza War (2008–2009)
- Insurgency in Paraguay
- Syrian Civil War (2011–present)
- Lahad Datu standoff (2013)
- Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)
- Battle of Arsal (2014)
- Battle of Marawi (2017)
- Comparison of the AK-47 and M16
- AK-105, a competing AK-47-based weapon
- SIG Sauer SIG516, an M16-based rifle
- Bushmaster XM-15
- LWRC M6, a competing M4-based weapon
- Brown Enhanced Automatic Rifle, a competing M16/M4-based weapon
- LVOA-C, an M4 variant
- Remington R4, a competing M4-based weapon
- M231 Firing Port Weapon
- XM8 rifle: canceled in 2005
- Close Quarters Battle Receiver: successful replacement
- Individual Carbine: canceled in 2013. Candidates included:
- Magazines with different capacities also available.
- Stoner expanding gas system per patent.
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