I came across this site today when I was browsing- what you might call a “sub-compact” M16 variant, called the Viper. While it’s a very specialised tool, I understand that a lot of operators working in close protection prefer to carry an AR with a barrel in the region of 10”. Definitely one for close up work, and the type of weapon that has to be much preferred over the new breed of PDW (Personal Defence Weapons). There’s certainly a niche for the HK MP7A1 and the FN P-90, but I for one would be much happier carrying a tiny AR in 5.56mm than one of these PDWs. They might offer an advantage over pistol calibre weapons but the full-power (and I use the term loosely) 5.56mm has got to provide more peace of mind. Not to mention the logistical advantage of not having to transport other types of ammunition.
One of the advantages of the XM8 system is its modularity- it can be adapted from a compact carbine right up to a sharp-shooter/automatic rifle- but the M16 can function like this too, simply by swapping out the upper. And as my Dad pointed out- who the heck is going to transport all these extra parts? It might be possible to carry out mission specific modifications at the squad level, but support for all this extra kit has to come from somewhere.
While the Viper is certainly small (a 7.5inch barrel), there are a couple of other options available, most notable the Bushmaster Carbon 15 Pistol, which is a mere half inch longer than the P-90- bang a fore-grip onto the front Picatinny rail and you’re good to go. Alternatively there’s the minute Olympic Arms OA-98 pistol, which has the added advantage of having no buffer tube sticking out the back- mate that with the Bushmaster with its rails and slap on a folding stock- preferable to a PDW? Ideal for CQB work clearing buildings? I think so.
Of course, while the discussion rages about a new weapon system, alternative calibres and so on, the fact remains that the weapon picked will invariably be a compromise- because an Army’s assault rifle has to fulfil more than one role. I know a lot of people would prefer to see a return to the days of the M14, but while that’s fine for the wide open spaces of Afghanistan, it’s in no way ideal for the type of fighting the Marines have been carrying out so well in Fallujah (once again the US military has defied expectations- first it was Afghanistan, then the rapid defeat of Iraq and now taking a city within a week- simply amazing). An assault rifle has to be capable of performing all over the world- deserts, jungle, cities. I’m sure that for each environment there’s a particular weapon which would do an excellent job- but which would be a bad choice in one of the other environments.
For what it’s worth, I like the M16 family. The US Army doesn’t really need a new weapon, it just needs to tinker with the one it’s got- I wonder how many people would change their attitude to the M4, for example, if it was issued in 6.8mm and had HK’s gas piston system?