M4 v. M16: Which is Better?

Which weapons system is better?  The M4 or the M16?  Well, I think that this question is very difficult to answer with a black and white response.  Here’s why…

it depends on the mission! 

However, I will openly admit that I believe the M16 is obsolete in the current operating environment.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the M16 is obsolete all together, it just is now based on our current operating environment and the current missions we face.  Let’s examine some facts about each weapon system and see what we think…

The M16 Rifle is a lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle designed for either automatic or semi-automatic fire through use of a selector lever. Accuracy is enhanced by incorporating an improved muzzle compensator, three-round burst control, and a heavier barrel; and by using the heavier NATO-standard ammunition, which is also fired by the squad automatic weapon. The M-16A3 is identical to the M-16A2 but has a removable carrying handle that is mounted on a Picatinny Rail (for better mounting of optics) and is without burst control.

The M-16A4 is identical to the M-16A2 except for the removable carrying handle and Picatinny Rail.  The M16 rifle is argued to be more accurate than the M4 Rifle over longer distances, however the difference between the effective ranges of the M16 and the M4 are very minimal.  (i.e. M16= 800 meters for an area target / 550 meters for a point target vs. the M4= 600 m (area target) 500 m (point target)).

Since 1964 the M16 has been proudly used by Soldiers to deter and, if necessary, repel adversaries by enabling the Soldier and small units to engage targets with accurate, lethal, direct fire.

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On the other side of the coin,

the M4 Rifle is a compact version of the M16A2 rifle, with a collapsible stock, a flat-top upper receiver accessory rail and a detachable handle/rear aperture site assembly. The M4 enables a Soldier operating in close quarters to engage targets at extended range with accurate, lethal fire. It achieves more than 85 percent commonality with the M16A2 rifle and will replace all .45 caliber M3 submachine guns, selected M9 pistols, and M16 series rifles.

Now that we have that established, and without getting into painfully detailed specifications, you can see that the M4 Rifle is better suited for the missions our warfighters face in today’s Army.  Most enemy targets are at shorter ranges, in tight urban environments and are “hunted” at night.  The M4 Rifle is shorter, more compact, allows for adding additional sights and IR lasers and is still as lethal as the M16 Rifle.  The primary difference that I see is that distance that you can reach out and touch somebody.  The M16 Rifle has a slight advantage in that area.  However, with most targets being closer in today’s fight, I would have to say the M4 Rifle takes the cake in this debate.

What are your thoughts?

Which rifle do you think is better and why?  Let us know!

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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8 thoughts on “M4 v. M16: Which is Better?”

  1. I never fired an M4. The M16 was the weapon I carried while I was in. I would still agree that in today’s urban warfare, you will be much better off with the shorter M4. My question is: does it jam as easy as the M16 did? It would seem to me that if it does, with the desert sands, it could turn into an issue. Before loading any clip into an M16, a soldier was trained to hit it solidly against a hard object (helmet being main choice) 3-5 times. This would free up any debris that may jam the weapon. Is this still the main practice with the M4?

    Overall, the M16 was a great rifle, just the jamming issue needed work.

    1. I don’t have any real experience with the M4. I always had the M9 pistol. From what my Soldiers talked about, the M4 jammed a lot, but I’m not sure if it was as much as the M16.

  2. Amy Skalicky

    The collabsable buttstock is sited as an advantage by quite a few soldiers, Candace, and I can see where that feature would be of benefit. Supposedly the M16 is more reliable, but when I dug into some research on the issue, there actually is little difference, with the variable being quality of maintenance and not the weapon itself. The M4 finished last in a series of sandstorm reliability tests and had almost 3 times the jamming rate of the M16; however, the M4 is considered harder hitting and is liked because it is lighter. The M16, however, is quicker on the follow-up, and the longer barrel gives it the edge in accuracy, in tests anyway. I know a couple of veterans who prefer the M16 and refer to it as \”she,\” instead of \”it,\” clearly capturing the relationship of a soldier with his beloved weapon in combat.

  3. I am a big fan of the M4 because of its smaller stock and lighter weight. It is a great weapon for close combat or from a distance.

  4. As a former officer, most of my experience was with the 9mm. I only got to shoot an M4 a few times. During the few times I got to use an M4, I really liked it a lot better than the M16. It was lighter, smaller, and more accurate. Just my thoughts. Great post.


    1. I prefer the M4 as well. If you talk with some old school Cav guys, they’ll say they prefer the M16 and that it can reach out and touch someone further than the M4 can… Who knows… To me, you are splitting hairs when comparing the two weapons. I prefer the compact M4 with all its extra accessories than the M16. I am with you, Chuck.

      1. Candace Ginestar

        I prefer the M4 for various reasons, most of which have already been listed by Chuck and Justin. I believe most everyone I’ve talked to likes it better, too.
        Also, call me superficial but I also like being able to collapse the buttstock for when I had to carry it around every day in Iraq (I’m short and it made life a lot easier).

    2. I spent my time in the military with the M16, but from what I’ve read online the M4 is much better!

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