Most people who are aware of the current state of affairs in the world also know that the M16/M4 and the AK-47 are the two most prominent military service rifles in the world. However, many people often wonder why the U.S. Military chose the M16 instead of the AK-47 and. Aside from their appearance, what are the main differences between these two service rifles?
Image Source: Wikimedia
M16: how it all started
However, the answer to the first question is not widely known because it is buried in obscure military history. You see, prior to the war in Viet Nam, most military battles have been fought in relatively open terrain and thus, most soldiers worldwide were trained as marksmen. Therefore, they needed a long-range, highly accurate, rifle, and the U.S. Military progressed from the bolt action 1906 Springfield rifle to the semiautomatic M1 Garand and then, to the smaller and lighter M14 rifle with which they entered the war in Vietnam.
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However, fighting in the jungles of Vietnam was a totally new experience to the U.S. Military, and they quickly discovered that their M14 service rifle was too large, too heavy, and too powerful to be wielded easily in close quarters firefights.
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In addition, sometime after the start of the war, the U.S. Military formed a group that they called the Studies and Observation Group (aka S.O.G.) to study battle tactics and suggest viable changes. Thus, after examining numerous combat reports, the S.O.G. eventually came to the conclusion that when it came to short range firefights in dense foliage, the side that fired the most rounds tended to win the battle.
Therefore, the officers in charge of ordinance began to look for an alternative to the M14 which, in turn, led them to a man named Eugene Stoner who operated a company called Armalite, which produced a then-radical new rifle design called the AR-10. However, like the M14, the AR-10 was designed to fire the standard 7.62 x 51mm NATO cartridge and thus had no significant advantage over the M14.
So, at the request of the U.S Military, Armalite engineers began to develop both a smaller and lighter version of the AR-10, as well as a smaller and less powerful rifle cartridge. Therefore, starting with the AR-10 rifle and the .222 Remington as the parent cartridge, they eventually developed the present M16 rifle and the 5.56 x 45mm NATO cartridge.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Thus, the new M16 service rifle combined with the new service cartridge not only provided U.S. soldiers with a smaller and lighter battle rifle, but also enabled them to carry significantly more ammunition which allowed for firing more rounds per battle and thus, win more battles. That is why the U.S. Military chose the M16 over the AK-47.
Is M16 ultimately better than AK-47?
It should also be noted that although both rifles are gas operated, semi-automatic, service rifles that are specifically designed for military use and are easy to disassemble and repair in the field, are based on entirely different principals.
For instance, the M16 was specifically designed to be a “marksman’s rifle” for use by highly trained soldiers, whereas the AK-47 was designed to be a “peasant’s rifle” that could be easily operated by both trained soldiers and untrained militia.
Because the M16/M4 fires a significantly lighter bullet, it generates very little recoil and thus, has a much faster recovery time than the AK-47.
Consequently, because both the M16 rifle and the M4 carbine are designed to be highly accurate rifles, they employ very tight tolerances whereas, the AK-47 employs very loose tolerance and thus, it is less accurate than the M16/M4. But, at the same time, the M16/M4 is far more prone to malfunction due to sediment fouling the action, while the AK-47 is far more tolerant of poor maintenance due to its much looser tolerances.
While both the M16 and the M4 rifles are designed to fire the 5.56 x 45mm NATO cartridge, the AK-47 is designed to fire the 7.62 x 39mm cartridge. Therefore, because the M16/M4 fires a significantly lighter bullet, it generates very little recoil and thus, has a much faster recovery time than the AK-47. But, at the same time, the AK-47 is more lethal than the M16/M4 because it fires a larger and heavier bullet. But, it also generates significantly more recoil.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Despite their internal and external differences, both rifles can be fitted with numerous different types of optics, such as holographic or red dot electronic sights, lasers, and caliber specific rifle scopes.
Is that all?
So, although there is far more to the story of how both rifles and the cartridges that they fire were initially developed, you now have a basic understanding of why the U.S. Military chose the M16 over the AK-47 and what the main differences between the two rifle designs are.