The United States M16 assault rifle was designed in 1956, but production did not begin until 1963. This rifle is considered one of the top rifles of the military. The M16 first entered into service in the US Army during the Vietnam War as an effective weapon against jungle warfare – becoming standard issue by the US military by 1969. After Vietnam, the variants of the M16 have remained the primary service rifles of the US armed forces. This assault rifle is also used by a number of militaries throughout the world. To date, more than 8 million M16s have been manufactured world-wide, making this assault rifle the most produced firearm of its caliber.
Step back in time as you step into the Firearms and Ordnance Gallery at the Armed Forces History Museum. Feel the power insisde this extensive gallery of authentic weapons from around the world dating throughout history. Included in this display is an M16 Assault Rifle.
About the M16
A lightweight, air-cooled assault rifle, the M16 is built using steel, an aluminum alloy, composite plastics and polymer. This 5.56 x 45 mm NATO cartridge rifle is magazine fed, capable of 12 to 15 rounds per minute of sustained firing and 45 to 60 rounds per minute of semi-automatic firing. Its muzzle velocity is 3,110 feet per second and the M16 has an effective range of 550 meters point target and 800 meters for an area target. The barrel length on the M16 is 20 inches and it only weighs 7.18 lbs. (without ammo).
Originally, the rifle experienced a jamming problem known as ‘failure to extract’. This occurs when the spent cartridge does not eject from the chamber, but remains lodged inside, even after the bullet as left the muzzle. The source of this difficulty was due to the new gunpowder used in the M16 which had not been adequately tested.
Though the first M16s were relatively light, later variants were heavier due to the thicker barrel (only forward of the handguards) profile, which made it more resistant to damage and slower to overheat engaged in sustained fire. The M16 also features a carrying handle, a rear sight assembly located on top of the receiver and a ‘Low Light Level Sight System’.
Another attribute of the M16 is a recoil spring located in the stock (right behind the action), allowing a dual function of operating both the spring and the recoil buffer. During automatic fire, the alignment of the stock with the bore reduces the muzzle rise, but since the recoil does not have a significant effect on the point of aim, faster follow-up shots are possible, reducing user fatigue.
Combat and Current Use
The M16 variants are still being produced today. Since its inception, this assault rifle has been used in a number of combat situations including Vietnam, the Invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.
Beginning in 2010, the US Army started phasing out the M16, replacing it with the M4 carbine, which in effect is a shortened derivative of the M16 variant – M16A2. The United States M16 Assault rifle is still being used throughout the world with an estimated 90% still in operation.