Review Of The Top M16: The Iconic M16 Rifle And Its Variants

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Last updated: 
December 14, 2023

m16 Rifle

Considered one of the best assault rifles in the world, the M16 has come a long way from its Vietnam avatar. Ahead of its rivals at the time of its inception, the M16 has had its fair share of detractors but has withstood and preserved for more than six decades. The rifle cut its teeth during the Vietnam War, and since then, has seen many changes during the ages and many conflicts as well. Thanks to its simple design, it has been an infantryman’s choice and weapon, and has entered folklore, and even has had lyrics written about it.

We will take a brief look at the history of the rifle and the many changes it has undergone over the years and the constant improvement, unlike most of the weapons from its time.




  • Check CircleComes in different variants
  • Check CircleMost popular and widely use
  • Check CircleEasy to operate


  • banAssault rifles/carbines have the ability to shoot longer ranger with a shorter barrel and the M16, well, looks outdated in comparison

A Brief History Of The M16

Fresh from the Korean War, the United States military was looking to replace its then rifle, the M1 Garand. As accurate as it was, soldiers found it cumbersome to lug it (more than 9 lb) around the battlefield and were outgunned by the sheer number of enemy forces (the rifle had a clip of only 8 rounds).

The idea for a better rifle quickly gave way to the M14, which had a 20 round (7.62x51mm) clip, and selective fire. But the gun was unreliable and inaccurate after the first round on full auto. Besides, the gun was as bulky as before. It was only effective when fired at a semi-automatic rate.

The real realisation only came in around the 1950s during the Vietnam War, when the troops were faced by the much formidable firepower of the AK47, and found that the Garand was indeed, no match for the former. It was only then that the Department of Defense seriously started looking at previously considered options.


The AR-10 had been scrutinized by the army before because it was lightweight (7 lb), used an out-of-the-box design, and had a 20-round clip. But despite all these attributes, the rifle was still not considered by the army as a serious contender.

But the rifle’s designer, Eugene Stoner, was not disheartened. He was quick to come up with a much-improved version, calling it the AR-15. This version has a 25-round .22 clip and performed admirably whether fired on full or semi-auto. But the army was not particularly enthusiastic about the smaller caliber, and the M14 continued to be a weapon of choice.

But it wouldn’t be until 1962, that the AR-15, now called the M16, would be inducted into the air force and the army after a fledgeling Armalite had sold its rights to Colt.  Most of this was because of the changing political and bureaucratic weather. The caliber had also been upgraded to the standard 5.56x45mm.

Top M16 Variants

Over the years, the basic design of the M16 has remained the same. What has changed is the way they are handled or the number of accessories they can accommodate. The weapon was designed at a time when the US military needed an advantage over the AK-47-toting enemy. For all these years, the M16 has continued to be one of the most popular weapons around the world.

We have seen weapons such as the AR-15 (which were an origin point to the M16) gain popularity over the years, because of their availability, ease of use their “Lego-like” customizability. It was this breakthrough design that set the way for compact, modern-day firearms.

In this section, we will look at the various versions of the M16 which are still in use by the US military.

The Original M16/M16A1

The original M16 design was a selective fire, naturally cooled 5.56x45mm rifle with  20-round ammunition clip. When the rifle made its debut in the Vietnam War, it was dubbed the M16A1.

The rifle quickly became popular as it was a vast improvement over its predecessor, the M14, with praises from the serving troops for its enviable power and overall effectiveness. It was lighter, so troops could carry more rounds per rifle, and had devastating power, which became obvious in the close confines of jungle warfare.


But soon after, it came under heavy scrutiny for jamming, in the humid climates of Vietnam. Reports started pouring in about the soldiers’ worst nightmare — the gun jamming at the most crucial moments. A lot of it was attributed it to the change of ball powder used in the ammunition that resulted in gas pressure, a change the gun was not designed for. Others attributed it to “human failure”, meaning the soldiers were told at the time of issuance that the gun was “self-cleaning” which was not a fact. Other factors were incomplete knowledge about the gun and no chrome plating in the gun chamber (a military requirement).

It wouldn’t be until 1968 that the gun would be actually battle ready and reliable after all the kinks were ironed out, one at a time.


  • Weight without Ammunition and Accessories (bayonet, magazine, sling): 6.5 lbs
  • Weight with Ammunition, Bayonet, Magazine and Sling: 7.6 lbs
  • Length (Including flash suppressor): 39 inches

With bayonet, it comes up to around 44.25 Inches (approximate)

  • Muzzle Velocity: 3,250 feet/second
  • Magazine Capacity: 30 rounds
  • Rates of Fire: Up to 200 rounds/minute under automatic

Up to 65 rounds/minute under semi-automatic

Up to 15 rounds/minute under sustained fire


This rifle came into being after the M16A2 and the M16A2, and being the fourth in the generation of the series, is a refined version of the original M16. The M16A4 was a standard issue weapon but was replaced by the M4, a much more compact version of the original, in 2015. The rifle is still in use by marines from the non-infantry and support units since its inception in 1990.

Gas Operated Rifle

Like its predecessors, the M164A is a gas operated, 5.56 x 45 rifle. The fire mode selector, operated by just a flick of the thumb, has positions for “burst”, “semi”  and “safe” and is located close to the pistol grip. The “three-round burst” feature is almost a fixture in modern rifles after military researchers found that the “full auto” feature wastes a lot of ammunition. The rifle also boasts of reduced recoil, making it perfect for close-combat situations.

It comes with a charging or carrying handle (a mechanism that allows the striker to be in the firing position), and a more modular weapon, when it comes to adaptability. The rifle can be customized using an untold number of gun sights, grips and optics. If need be, an M203 grenade launcher can also be attached under the barrel of the M164A.


  • Weight without Ammunition and Accessories (bayonet, magazine and sling): 7.8 lbs
  • Weight While Loaded: 8.79 lbs
  • Length Including Flash Suppressor: 39.5 inches
  • With Bayonet: 44.75 inches (approximate)
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3,100 feet/second
  • Magazine Capacity: 30 rounds
  • Rates of Fire: Up to 90 rounds/minute in burst mode

Up to 45 rounds/minute in semi-automatic mode

Up to 15 rounds/minute in sustained fire mode

M4 Carbine

The latest to join the M16 family has been the M4 carbine. Introduced in 1994, it has a shorter barrel (the carbine itself is a variant of the M16A2 rifle), fires the 5.56x45 mm ammunition, and has a folding/collapsible stock. This version has been lauded throughout the armed forces for its lighter weight, reliability and accuracy.

The M4 has a heavier barrel (14.5 inches) than its predecessors, that makes it stable and the accuracy more consistent, at the same time taking it longer for it to heat, as a result, keeping the rifle cooler. It is also the most preferred carbine above all its previous flavors, given its compact size. Because of this versatility, the carbine is popular among the special forces and paratroopers and several other nations. The M4 has seen action since the Kosovo war and the civil wars of Iraq, Syria and Yemen.


  • Weight (without ammunition and accessories, magazine and sling): 6.4 lbs
  • Weight While Loaded: 7 lbs
  • Length (with Extended Stock): 33 inches
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,900 feet/second
  • Magazine Capacity: 30 rounds
  • Rates of Fire: Up to 90 rounds/minute in burst modeUp to 45 rounds/minute in semi-automatic modeUp to 15 rounds/minute in sustained fire mode


This is essentially an M4 carbine but comes with the fully-automatic mode. The rest of the M4A1 has the same features as the M4 carbine. The army has been on a mission to convert the existing M4 carbines to M4A1s, and have been issuing them to soldiers in batches. The conversion might take as long as mid-2020.

The slightly heavier barrel of the M4A1 translates to the gun not heating up quickly during a sustained rate of fire and ensures continued accuracy while offering ergonomics to the end user.

Mark 18 CQBR

This is another variant of the M4 carbine, but with a much shorter barrel than the M4A1 or the M4.  Because of this, the Mark 18 has a higher barrel life compared with the M4A1. They particularly favoured this carbine by hostage-rescue operatives, making it an extremely close-quarter combat weapon. CQBR stands for a close quarter battle receiver.

M4 Commando/Colt Commando

Just like the other variants in its class, they designed the M4 Commando for action in confined quarters, where speed and mobility matter. It has an effective range of 400 meters, and interestingly, appears regularly in popular culture, for example, video games.

Colt LE6933

Touted as a patrol rifle, the LE6933 features an 11.33-inch barrel, fires the 5.56x45 mm ammunition, has a collapsible/folding stock and has a semi-auto fire option.

Standing The Test Of Time

As we established before, the M16 has stood the test of time for the last 60 plus years. There have been some attempts in the past to replace it by more futuristic-looking weapons, but the weapon has held out so far, evolving and resurfacing under different names, actually too many to name in a single article.

But surely and steadily, the army is looking for alternatives to the “black rifle”. In the recent years, the M4 carbine has come to be the primary weapon in army units because of its smaller size and reliability. There have been many factors to this gradual transition.

We will take a quick look at these:


They designed the M16 during the Cold War era and has a design which no longer holds true to today’s requirements. The fixed stock that it used to come with, is simply not necessary in today’s day and age. The modern stocks, like the convertible stock on the M4, is more in line with the requirements of today’s soldiers when speed matters.

Burst Fire Mode

This particular model was prevalent during the Vietnam War, they stressed it upon soldiers to conserve ammunition and the assumption that a three-round burst would be enough to stop an enemy in their tracks. According to military experts, they rarely use the burst fire mode. Most combat veterans swear that they have stuck to the semi-automatic mode their entire careers.


Let’s face it — the M16 is not a short weapon. As never known, the compactness of M16 (20-inch barrel) makes it unusable in modern-day combat techniques. Today’s soldiers demand a compact, easy-to-carry weapon and the bulky design (compared with its modern counterparts, with barrels as short as 10.5 inches) just doesn’t cut it. Today’s assault rifles/carbines have the ability to shoot longer ranger with a shorter barrel and the M16, well, looks outdated in comparison.


Still, the fact remains that the M16 made it all possible for its future generation weapons, owing to its uniqueness and innovation in design (at the time). The army has been in the news for slowly moving towards more compact and deadlier weapons such as the M4 and the M4A1, or even moving out of the M16 family entirely, and in fact, going instead for a new type of cartridge, that has a more effective range and firepower. This would typically mean they are looking at an alternative between 6.5mm to 6.8mm, since they generally acknowledged that the 5.56mm ammunition lacks the punch of a full-bodied 7.62mm round in theatres of war, such as Afghanistan.

But these things take time, and until then, we hope to see an increment to the M16 family.






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