Colt's grip on military rifle market called bad deal

Another_David

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Pretty good article overall.

No competition + gov contract = a bad, bad thing in my opinion

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080420/ap_on_re_us/the_gun_wars;_ylt=Ahdr3vS4WxNtyqsQyOlxGZOs0NUE

Colt's grip on military rifle market called bad deal

By RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Writer 38 minutes ago

HARTFORD, Conn. - 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 agreement ends in June 2009. At that point, the Army, in its role as the military's principal buyer of firearms, may have other gunmakers compete along with Colt for continued M4 production. Or, it might begin looking for a totally new weapon.

"We haven't made up our mind yet," Radcliffe says.

William Keys, Colt's chief executive officer, says the M4 gets impressive reviews from the battlefield. And he worries that bashing the carbine will undermine the confidence the troops have in it.

"The guy killing the enemy with this gun loves it," says Keys, a former Marine Corps general who was awarded the Navy Cross for battlefield valor in Vietnam. "I'm not going to stand here and disparage the senator, but I think he's wrong."

In 2006, a non-profit research group surveyed 2,600 soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found 89 percent were satisfied with the M4. While Colt and the Army have trumpeted that finding, detractors say the survey also revealed that 19 percent of these soldiers had their weapon jam during a firefight.

And the relationship between the Army and Colt has been frosty at times. Concerned over the steadily rising cost of the M4, the Army forced Colt to lower its prices two years ago by threatening to buy rifles from another supplier. Prior to the warning, Colt "had not demonstrated any incentive to consider a price reduction," then-Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, an Army acquisition official, wrote in a November 2006 report.

Coburn is the M4's harshest and most vocal critic. But his concern is shared by others, who point to the "SCAR," made by Belgian armorer FN Herstal, and the HK416, produced by Germany's Heckler & Koch, as possible contenders. Both weapons cost about the same as the M4, their manufacturers say.

The SCAR is being purchased by U.S. 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 operating officer.

Within military circles there are M4 defectors. U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., was one of the carbine's first customers. But the elite commando units using the M4 soured on it; the rifle had to be cleaned too often and couldn't hold up under the heavy use by Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

When the M16 was condensed into an M4, the barrel and other key parts had to be shortened. That changed the way the gun operated and not for the better, concluded an internal report written seven years ago by special operations officials but never published. Dangerous problems ranged from broken bolt assemblies, loose and ruptured barrels, and cartridges stuck in the firing chamber.

"Jamming can and will occur for a variety of reasons," the report said. "Several types of jams, however, are 'catastrophic' jams; because one of our operators could die in a firefight while trying to clear them."

Pointing to the report's unpublished status, Colt has disputed its findings. The M4 has been continually improved over the years, says Keys, the company's chief executive. The M4 may not meet the exacting standards of U.S. commando forces, he adds, but it fills the requirements spelled out by the regular Army.

Special Operations Command is replacing the M4s and several other rifles in its arsenal with FN Herstal's SCAR, which comes in two models: one shoots the same 5.56 mm round as the M4; the other a larger 7.62 mm bullet and costs several hundred dollars more. Both SCARs can accommodate different-size barrels allowing the weapons to be fired at multiple ranges.

The SCARs are more accurate, more reliable and expected to last far longer than their predecessors, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marc Boyd, a command spokesman.

"SOCOM likes to be different," says Keys of Colt, 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."

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SnakeEye

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i dont care who it goes to, as long as its a US company.
If there isnt a company to meet the stringent requirements for manufacture of the US militaries primary battle rifle then there should be venture capital available from either the private sector or darpa or somewhere to ensure that its a US endeavour.
National defense is a sovereign affair and should never be outsourced.
 

Another_David

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I think it's most important that the primary battle rifle be built in the U.S. I'm alright with a multi-national co. building a facility in the U.S. and employing Americans to build this "best weapon available". So if the HK or FN design is superior then adopt it and build it in the U.S.

More importantly though this article sheds some light on the quagmire that is government contracting. There are plenty of well qualified companies vying for the gov small arms contracts but when these no bid contracts get issued then it discourages companies from developing new arms. Without competition you inevitably end up with an inferior, over-priced product.
 
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I think it's most important that the US military get the best damn gun out there for the money available..period!!! If that's a US manufacturer (which it probably would be anyway) then all the better. But I wouldn't want our soldiers out-gunned because a foreign army purchased a superior weapon that the US army snubbed out of national pride. I'm also getting kind of sick of our military and the taxpayer getting the shaft on no-bid, exclusive contract deals out of some sort of "old boys network". Not saying that Colt are bad, or even doing that, but a bit of competition never hurts.
 
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The M4 carbine is a fine weapon. In four years of service and two deployments the system has worked excellent for me. Yeah, the gas impingement system is not the greatest, it makes the gun run dirty especially when using a suppressor. But ergonomically the M4/M16 series are the most "operator" friendly. The selector lever, bolt and mag release are right where they need to be for all shooters (unless you are a inbred carnie). The people that complain about stopping power have no goddamn clue what they are talking about. Shot placement, types of narcotics the enemy is ingesting, and whether it is that guys time to go are the deciding factors of whether or not the bad guy goes down. There is nothing wrong with this weapon system or it's round.

But, on the other hand the H&K 416 is an improvement. They have taken the M4 design in brought it to a whole new level. H&K has taken all the strengths of the M4 and gave it the same reliability as an AK-47. There is no denying this.

In my professional opinion if the Army doesn't go with the 416 they should just stay with the Colt M4
 
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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080420...s&printer=1;_ylt=Ap_STq1KKHubqttUAzO4o85H2ocA

Thought this might be of interest to holders of Colt stock. (I wish I had some)

From reading that, if I had Colt stock, I would considering dumping it in the near future. Writing is on the wall they will not have such a exclusive deal (nor should they, what a crock) in the future, and or, a move to the SCAR or other guns is still going to happen at some point. Also, when ever a company puts all of its eggs into a single product ans is heavily invested in a single product, that would alert me to at least consider moving $$$ to other stocks. It looks like Colt is sitting heavy on the $$$ from the M4 contract have have let other areas of their business model fall off. I wonder what their breakdown of other products is?
 

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So how is this any different than most military items?

Most everything of consequence seems to be overpriced and single-sourced. Sure, items may initially go out to bid, but once the bidding process is done and a single vendor is selected, then the revisions and cost overruns begin.

I wish that more of the defense budget could go to the men and women who put their butts at risk, versus what goes to those who manufacture the gear. An awful lot of Wall Street types get rich from the military budget at the same time we have soldiers living near the poverty level.

But I have no idea how to change this without resorting to socialist or worse strategies.
 
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So how is this any different than most military items?

Most everything of consequence seems to be overpriced and single-sourced. Sure, items may initially go out to bid, but once the bidding process is done and a single vendor is selected, then the revisions and cost overruns begin.

I wish that more of the defense budget could go to the men and women who put their butts at risk, versus what goes to those who manufacture the gear. An awful lot of Wall Street types get rich from the military budget at the same time we have soldiers living near the poverty level.

But I have no idea how to change this without resorting to socialist or worse strategies.

It's a nice thought and I agree. However, I can tell you that single sourcing a really important item is not the way to do it.
 
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$1600 a pop seems a little high.

Funny that they didn't mention the fact that the main contractor for the M16 is FN, not Colt. Last I knew, the M4 still wasn't the primary long arm of the US military.
 
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M4

any one wonder what will happen to colt if they lose this contract.they would close the arms plant.
Remington bought out Marlin and H&R.Gardner is closing and moving to NC.
Win is gone to all intents.
Price is based on more than just the gun.it also includes so many extra parts for each gun.
there are modifications to the M4/M16,like piston rod instead of gas tube.that was a swedish design that died out.the G43 and FN 49 had a better design.
we should have adopted the MG43 in 308.rather than the M60 abortion.that was nothing but a lewis with coil springs and belt feed.[rolleyes][smile]
 
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The funny thing about the XM8, is that it was a result of the failed XM29 super-grenade launcher rifle. The XM8 is the lower half (the "kinetic energy module") of the XM29, and pretty much nothing but a backdoor attempt to foist a G36 subsidiary on the US Army. It represented no large advancement in killing power, range or technology. Also, many negative things have surfaced about the G36, including awkward siting of controls and a poor sighting/optical system. As a qualified MP-5 operator, I can attest to H&K's virtual ignorance of human anatomy; the collapsible stock has no increments on it, the safety is virtually impossible to take off, and the magazine change routine is awkward (lock bolt back, mag off, mag on, bolt forward). The AR series is far better in its human engineering elements, with a natural feel to its safety and magazine release.

The H&K 416 does represent a step forward and an "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary" change. For the military, its a lot easier to swallow because they could keep the same equipment, magazines, most training, and many spare parts. I would hope they take off those horrible H&K "diopter" sights; the AR's sights are much better. Of course maybe similar American-made piston uppers like POF, Ares or LWRC should also be T&E'd.
 
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M60 & M4

The M-60 IS the MG-42, just evolved along US Military lines. It has little, if anything, to do with the Lewis gun.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MG42
*******
God, I hated the M60. What a POS. To many stupid parts to break. Admittedly the ones we were issued in the Reserves and Guard had seen better days. If the Govt. is paying $1500.00 a weapon for the M4`s then there should be an investigation. That`s robbery especially considering the quantities the Govt. is purchasing them in.
 
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$1600 a pop seems a little high.

Funny that they didn't mention the fact that the main contractor for the M16 is FN, not Colt. Last I knew, the M4 still wasn't the primary long arm of the US military.


At the very least, it might make sense to allow production of the M4 by FN as well. If the M4 is so important, why limit it's manufacturing to a single company/location, particularly since they have experience with a similar rifle.
 

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i dont care who it goes to, as long as its a US company.

id personaly rather be deployed with a rifle or carbine thats the best in the world then the best that america is currently making (or licensed to). my life is more important then keeping americans employed.
 
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With a few exceptions, there's a wealth of mininformation in this thread.

Colt had to bid on the contract, trust me on that one.

FN is NOT the primary supplier of the M16A2, Colt is. FN won some of the more recent contracts on building them. Hydra-Matic has built M16A1's in the distant past, too.

By Federal Law, companies that manufacture weapons for the US Military must build them in the US.

Scrivener is pretty much right on the M60 MG. It's nothing more than a merge of the MG42, MG34 and FG42. Some folks figure they took the WORST features from each. I say the M60 is a big improvement from the 1919A4 that it replaced, and way short of the M240B that replaced it. We've still got a few M60's in the Guard, but the Regular Army is pretty much done with them. Now, I didn't think the M60 was all THAT bad, but, they were far from perfect, and certainly not as good as the M240B.

The XM8 was a big dose of FAIL. It brought NOTHING new to the table. The grenade launcher bit was some moron's pipe dream to have every troop have a grenade launcher. When you hump that M203 all day long, you'll know just what I'm talking about. Also, the HK had numerous issues. And improved exactly NOTHING. Argue all you want, the facts won't change.

Some politicians are crying over the situation. Think the simple fact that some of the US Plants that lost the contracts just happen to be in the same state aas the griping Senators/representatives is just a coincidence?

Now for the real gotcha. Most units are going from the M16A2/M16A4 (the A4 a flat top A2) to the M4A1. Time has come to replace some of the aging and worn rifles out there, and since the M4 has been in existence, we've learned that it can do almost everything as well or better than the M16A2. Some units are keeping M16A2/M16A4 on their authorization, as well as a few for special purposes, but the M4A1 will be the primary assigned weapon for the US Army.
 
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