Colt is taking over the world.

Visit virtually any gun blog, and one of the most contentious issues is the 5.56mm Colt M4 carbine. Thousands of people will argue against it and push for the adoption of another weapon, and often another caliber.

Oddly, however, surveys of active soldiers are almost universally supportive of the M4. Of course, most soldiers, even Infantrymen, have little experience with military small arms outside of their own issue weapons. Still, the level of satisfaction suggests that while the M4 may not be perfect, it isn’t so egregiously flawed as to require immediate replacement.

And another little secret is that while other nations developed their own 5.56mm weapons about the time the US lead NATO to shift from 7.62mm to 5.56mm as the standard rifle round, many have quietly adopted the M16/M4 platform, at least for certain applications.

Israel equipped its soldiers with the indigenous Galil rifle, but has since seen most of its troops shifted to the M4.

In the mid-1990s, Canada, then equipped with a variant of the FN FAL rifle in 7.62mm, worked with Colt and the US Marine Corps to develop their own version of our 5.56mm M16A2. Introduced into service as the C7 rifle, it and the carbine C8 series (very similar to our own M4) have been the standard service rifle of the Canadians, and have been adopted by several other NATO members, such as Norway, Denmark, and even Iceland.

When the US lead the shift to 5.56mm, Britain developed their own rifle, the fairly exotic looking SA80.

It has not been particularly successful competing in the small arms export market. 

Britain steadfastly claims the SA80 (L85A1 in UK service) is superior to the M16/M4 family.

But the truth is, special operations forces of Great Britain don’t like it, and never have. And they’ve been buying C8 carbines from Canada.

One of the great strengths of the Colt rifle is that it can be customized in an almost unlimited number of ways.

Our friends across the pond at Think Defence have two posts on the Colt in British service (where it’s known as the L119A1).

A Mid Life Colt Canada C8 Upgrade


The upgraded, customized version will be known as the L119A2.

L119A2 – Colt Canada C8 Upgrade

L119A2 C8 SFW 640x304 L119A2   Colt Canada C8 Upgrade

I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Great Britain quietly, slowly makes the Colt the de facto standard weapon over the next few years.

25 thoughts on “Colt is taking over the world.”

  1. I remember the original version of the Brit’s current piece from a “Small Arms Of The World.” The binding broke back in the mid 80s and I threw it away after it gave up the ghost finally.

    The Brits originally wanted a round in the .270 class and built their bullpup around what they were advocating. I think it would have been a better choice than the 5.56mm round. They ended up adopting the FN FAL instead, as did much of the Commonwealth.

    Personally, I don’t like the AR-15 action. It was OK for the Air Force, who adopted it early, but it was the pits in Vietnam. Most of the problem of the weapon were solved by chrome lining the barrel, but it still demanded a lot more maintenance attention than any non-direct impingement weapon. I can run several hundred rounds through my DR-200 (The semi-only version of the Korean service weapon), and have a much cleaner weapon than any direct impingement weapon with a less than 100. I own a DR-200 as a result. You can get a piston action upper for the AR-15 action and it will perform as well as the DR-200.

    Frankly, I would like to see something around 6.5mm. The 5.56 is simply too small.

  2. …and then there are the Australians who when everyone was (mostly) jumping on the 5.56 band wagon equipped themselves with the under reported and reputedly, excellent Austrian Steyr Aug which came with optics long before optics packages were widely distributed. Then there is the French FAMAS of which I’ve not heard much/anything bad about and has a rather lengthy term of service. Calibre discussions aside (notice I didn’t say arguments as we are wizened warriors here) the bull pup design is immensely popular and, I believe, that whatever ends up being the calibre du jour will ultimately be caseless ammo and R&D issues persist. While a grunt in Viet-Nam cleaning the M-16 A1 was emphasized, done and mine never, ever jammed, misfired, had a bad ejection…worked fine much to the chagrin… I “qualed” with the M14 and halfway through Basic re-qualed with the ole open flash suppressor, shiney aluminum bolt M-16 with my only complaint being some stoppages and getting the hand guards on/off. I owned at different times an FN (7.62) and an Israeli Galil also (and oddly) in 7.62 and now own an M1 Garand (Army 30-06 not a rare Navy 7.62). So I figure it will all work itself out and that the US will end up with the best one and most emulated. I just hope it’s light ammo…that damn 7.62 is HEAVY!! Ask me about 90 mm and 106 mm Recoiless (Reckless) Rifles sometime. Remember if it can kill a poodle dog… Regards

    1. Steyr AUG, L85 and FAMAS all suffer one big problem common to bullpup design. It’s a flaming pain to change the magazine, especially in the prone.

      I fam fired the M14 (in high school!) and really enjoyed it. I’ve fired a few civilian versions as well. I want one, but in Cali, they’re effectively banned.

      My basic training M16A1 had a three-prong flash suppressor. At Benning, we fired on the KD range from 400, 500 and 700 yards at bullseye targets. No problems hitting even at 700 yards from the prone supported position.

      My first tour, in Hawaii, we carried the M16A1, and I never had any problems with it. No jams, or other issues (with the exception of the occasional failure to feed, but that was due to crappy old magazines).

      I did like the ergonomics and improved sights of the M16A2. Not enough experience with the M4, especially with optics, to give a real opinion.

      Loved my M1.
      XBrad firing M1 Garand

    2. xbradtc

      I very much liked the M-14 as well. This is what I trained with in Basic and in most re-qualify sessions afterwards. I went through a one day M-16 introduction course before going to Vietnam and again later when the unit I was in switched from the 14 to the 16. From this experience and luckily never having had to stalk through jungles, I am unsurprisingly biased toward the M-14.

      I was able to shoot much more accurately at range with the M-14 than the M-16 but that could be just greater familiarity. Another factor may be that the M-14 felt a lot more like the Winchester Boy’s Rifle I learned to shoot with when I spent some summers in upstate New York at my uncle’s place. That and the Red Ryder when I was even younger. And no, I did not get it for Christmas. 🙂

      As it happens I never touched a firearm again after leaving Uncle Sam’s custody but that is in part due to living in New York City. I now reside in a much more tolerant part of these United States and just maybe…

  3. …and Stoner probably had it somewhat correct….then Colt got a hold of it…

    1. Eugene Stoner designed the weapon to use IMR powders. The problem with IMR is, while OK in slow firing bolt actions, burns much hotter than ball powders which erodes the throat of the barrel much faster. Of course, ball powders don’t burn as cleanly as IMR, and that’s the rub. IT wouldn’t matter with something like the DR-200, or other gas piston action, but with a direct impingement weapon it can cause problems. The AR-180, also designed by Stoner, was a much more reliable weapon than the 15 was, but it’s a gas piston operated system.

      The AR-180 had a problem of drift pins walking out which was solved by placing snap rings on one of the pins to prevent walking.

      I don’t like bull pup weapons for the very reason that Brad points out. The Maas and Styer AUG are good reliable weapons, but changing a mag when prone, or doing it quickly in any position, is a pain. The one thing I like about the AR-15 and DR-200 is I can push the mag release button and the mag will fall out while I’m reaching for the next refill. The M-14, AK, and similar weapons have a mag catch that makes refilling slower.

      Most of my active duty time was Navy and the Garands we kept on the bridge were chambered for .30-06 strangely enough. I never saw a 7.62 Garand. We even had the WW2 ammo belt.

  4. Even saw ISIS on the news with M4s….

    Loved my very limited experience with a Steyr Aug. Like the M4 but prefer the function and accuracy of the M16. Thoroughly confused by wound effects of 5.56mm as I saw them in Iraq.

    1. Wound dynamics, given the new concept (then), of hydrostatic shock were supposed to be fairly uniform and maybe so in soft tissue but fall off rapidly when impacting hard surfaces.

  5. I trained on the M-14, many years ago. I could, reliably, hit half-silhouettes at 500 meters, with open sights.
    The M-14 was basically an M-1 Garand in .308 with a box-magazine.
    It was a wonderful rifle. I wish I had one today.
    The M-16/M-4 in 5.56 was a “Poodle-Shooter” introduced to allow grunts to carry lots of ammo because they no-longer taught marksmanship and had a “Rock-N-Roll” switch so they could “Spray-N-Pray” with full-auto.
    The jamming and reliability problems were due to a powder-change that fouled the bolt and the gas-tube.
    My spouse loves her AR-15, as she can shoot it well, field-strip, clean, and maintain it.
    I’d like to have an M-14, but they are out of my price-range.
    The 870 will have to do, and she can get the longer-range targets…

    1. Chris-save up for that M1A. I’m sure your spouse can shoot, and well. Just get something that will reach out a bit further is all I’m sayin’.

  6. The issue with the AR-15A2-style platforms (chromed barrel, forward assist, heavier barrel) is the caliber of the cartridge. Simply, a 55 or 62-grain round hasn’t the oompf to effectively engage at ranges beyond 250-300m with a 16″ barrel. I would love to see the M-4 in a 6.8mm or 7mm cartridge, perhaps even using the same brass base, so that the bolt and bolt carrier can be retained. The muzzle energy of a 110-115 grain round at, say, 500 meters will be far higher than that of the 62-grain M855, with comparable MV to the 5.56mm, and a somewhat higher BC.

    1. I’d like to see the caliber upgunned as well. There would be problems with retaining the weapon’s bolt and carrier as is with such an increase however, as the bullet would be shorter relative to its diameter and the ballistic coefficient would decline because the sectional density would decline with consequent decline in the ballistic performance. I don’t see us getting what we really need without modifying the weapon itself. I think the stroke of the gas system will have to be a bit longer to get what we need. But, a round in the region of 6.5-7mm would yield the optimum of balance of weight and performance (British experiments in the 50s confirmed this). The 7.62 is heavy, and yields excellent performance, but the 5.56 is too light for good performance. 5.56 is a good round for groundhogs, Prairie Dogs, and Coyotes, but not that good for infantry usage.

      0.276 (which is the 270 diameter), is what the Brits wanted, is a hair over 7mm. To yield the ballistic performance you need, the bullet is fairly long, and not suitable to the current AR-15 action. The AR-10, which Armalite still produces, is adequate, but it is a heavy piece, but I think it could be lighted a bit. However, the current M-16A2 is a fairly heavy piece, as is my DR-200.

      In the long run, I think the M-4 is doomed simply because of the performance of the round itself.

    2. The upper receiver would have to be redesigned, but it might be worth the trouble. Remington claims the 6.8 SPC that the SOF guys fooled with has a BC of around .350. at around 2910 fps. Last I knew, the 62gr 5.56mm M855 was around .305 at 2780 out of a 16″ barrel.

    3. I think the upper and lower would have to be redesigned since the road would be longer. I seem to remember that the 6.8 was rather hard on the action. There simply was not sufficient mass in the bolt/carrier to prevent peening of the receiver.

      I think the redesign would be worth it. Adding a gas piston should add sufficient mass to prevent peening, and would also keep the action cleaner as well. In my mind the DR-200 is a far better choice than Eugene Stoner’s design.

    4. I was assuming a piston gun, for the very purpose of mitigating the shock of firing on the action. I could live with the DR-200. I do like having the forward charging handle anyway. The ROKs love theirs.

      1. Yeah, virtually all the furniture on the SAW has changed over the years. It’s almost unrecognizable from its first incarnation. But the damn thing jams way too often. And I think that can be laid on the requirement to accept 30 round magazines. And while I never found brass shavings in a rifle, every time you cleaned a SAW, there was enough brass to melt it down and make a new cartridge case.

        Then:Old SAW

        Now:New SAW

  7. Every time a discussion goes to calibre ballistics (which is fine by me), I think of the British Army when they first encountered the Boers in the Natal area of South Africa. Those Dutch had not only a superior, flat trajectory bullet they used…but they practiced a lot. Well practiced soldiers and most any round is deadly, those same soldiers with a superior round is devastating. Can’t disagree with a different round something with a good balance of accuracy and knock down at most/all ranges is a good thing.

  8. The fact that even HK could not fix the problems of the L85 tells you all you need to know about the L85.

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