Friday, November 29, 2013

The M16 Family III - The Clones

A couple of posts ago, we looked at various members of the M16 family. All of the models we have looked at so far, have been developed for the needs of the American military. In today's post, we will look at some more members of the M16 family that were developed by other countries.

In 1984, Canada decided to equip their military with a new rifle and wanted to go with the NATO standard cartridge 5.56x45 mm. In order to save development time and money, they decided to purchase the license to manufacture M16s of their own. A little while earlier, the US Marines were working towards improving the M16A1 model to the M16A2. A Canadian military liaison officer was also present while the Marines were working on improvements and he communicated some of these design changes back to Canada. As a result of this, the Canadian C7 rifle was developed with some features of the M16A1 and some of the M16A2. A Canadian company, Diemaco, was put in charge of manufacturing the new rifle.

C7 (top) and C7A1 (bottom) rifles

The C7 rifle has the stronger and longer stock, barrel with 1 turn in 7 inches twist rate, pistol grip and handguards of the M16A2, but retains the older rear sights of the M16A1, as well as the same firing modes of the M16A1 (single shot and fully automatic). One more major difference, which is not obvious, is that the C7 barrel is manufactured by the hammer-forging process.

The C7A1 incorporated some improvements to the C7, the main one being the replacement of the carrying handle, with a rail that allows the user to attach other devices here, such as iron sights or optics. This is similar to the M16A4 model, however the C7A1 preceded the adoption of the Picatinny rail by the US military, therefore the rail on the C7A1 is of slightly different dimensions than the now standard picatinny rails.

The C7 and C7A1 models are now being replaced by the C7A2 model in the Canadian military. The C7A2 has picatinny rails, in order to be standards compatible with all the accessories that are made to fit on a picatinny rail. It also has rails in front to attach laser pointers or lights. Unlike the previous models, it has a telescoping stock. One more major difference is that the C7A2 rifle furniture is green in color, instead of black. Other changes include ambidextrous magazine release and ambidextrous safety selector levers.

The C7A2 model rifle

The C7 family also comes with corresponding carbine variants, the C8, C8A1 and C8A2. The C7 and C8 families are used by the military forces of Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom (Special Forces mostly), Norway (Special Forces), Canadian Police etc. In 2005, Diemaco (the company that made the rifles in Canada) was bought out by Colt and is now known as Colt Canada.

Another manufacturer of M16 clones is Singapore's ST Kinetics, which produces the M16S1 for Singapore's military. The M16S1 is simply a M16A1 made under a license by ST Kinetics.

Another clone of the M16 family is the Chinese made Norinco CQ. Unlike the C7 family, the Norinco CQ is an unlicensed clone of the M16. While it uses the same 5.56x45 mm. cartridges of the M16, the Norinco CQ was never adopted by the Chinese military. However, they make two models for export, one capable of selecting between single shot and fully automatic fire for military sales and a semi-automatic only version for civilian markets.

Public domain image of a Norinco CQ rifle. Click on the image to enlarge.

It is pretty easy to tell a Norinco CQ apart from other members of the M16 family. First, notice the shape of the stock is completely different from the M16A1, M16A2, C7, C7A1 etc. Second, the handguards in front are also differently shaped than the other members of the M16 family. Thirdly, the pistol grip is curved on the Norinco CQ. Fourthly, the front sight on a Norinco CQ is of the hooded sight type, instead of a sight post.

The barrel of a Norinco CQ has a 1 turn in 12 inches twist rate. Because of this twist rate, it will fire the M193 cartridge designed for the M16A1 properly, but cannot accurately fire the NATO standard SS109 or the newer US M855 cartridge beyond about 100 meters or so (because these require a twist rate of 1:7 for stability in the air).

While the military version of the Norinco CQ was never used by the Chinese military, it is used by military forces of some other countries, such as Cambodia, Syria, Libya, Iran (which makes their own copies of the Norinco CQ), Sudan etc.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Performance considerations for the M16 Family

In our last post about the M16 family, there was an interesting comment by a long time reader of this blog, Mr. Wojciech Imbierowicz. He questioned the ballistic performance of bullets on the M4 rifle, as compared to the M16A2. That will be the subject of today's post.

The first thing we will discuss is the relationship of bullet velocity to barrel length. When a cartridge is fired, the pressure of the expanding gases in the barrel is responsible for accelerating the bullet. As soon as the bullet leaves the front end of the barrel, the gases stop acting upon it. Therefore, the maximum velocity of the bullet is at the tip of the barrel and it starts to decelerate after it leaves the barrel. Obviously, if we have a shorter barrel, then the gases will not have a chance to accelerate the bullet much, before it exits the barrel. If we have a longer barrel, then the expanding gases will act on the bullet for a longer time and be able to accelerate it to higher velocities. Of course, there is a certain point in the barrel length, beyond which, increasing the length produces diminishing gains in the velocity of the bullet. Also, if a barrel is too short, the propellant may not entirely burn inside the barrel, which also reduces the force that is acting upon the bullet. On a longer barrel, the entire propellant may burn inside the barrel.

Depending on the type of cartridge, the optimum barrel length for maximum velocity may vary. The following table shows us some numbers for two common cartridges used by the M16 family, the M193 (the original cartridge that was used with the M16A1) where the bullet weighs 55 grains, and the SS109 (the NATO standard cartridge), where the bullet weighs 62 grains.

Barrel Length
(in inches)
Velocity (M193)
(Feet per second)
Velocity (SS109)
(Feet per second)

As we can see from the above chart, barrels that are between 16 and 20 inches in length seems to be the sweet spot, after which, the increase in barrel length doesn't increase the velocity of the bullet by that much.

Now on to one more feature of the bullets used by the M16 family. The 5.56x45 mm. bullet is pretty small, but it has an interesting property that if it is travelling above a certain velocity when it hits a target, it tends to fragment and produce a wound much larger than the size of the bullet. Below this velocity, the bullet does not fragment reliably and produces a much smaller wound. For the M193 cartridge, this threshold is approximately 2700 feet/sec and for the SS109, it is approximately 2500 feet/sec. Of course, the material of the bullet and its construction also have a lot to do with how much velocity they need to fragment reliably. For the purposes of this discussion, we will only consider the two above-mentioned cartridges.

Now, from the table above, we see that if the barrel is 10 inches long, the velocity of the M193 bullet (2739 feet/sec) is just barely above its the fragmentation velocity (2700 feet/sec). The same is true for the SS109 bullet as well. Therefore, for both these cartridges, the bullet's velocity will fall below the fragmentation velocity pretty quickly beyond about 20 meters or so. For the record, the 10 inch barrel is used by some civilian and police forces AR-15 models.

With the 14.5 inch barrels (such as those used by the military's M4 carbine), we see that the velocities are somewhat higher (3064 feet/sec for M193 and 2907 feet/sec for SS109). This means that the bullets will travel about 100 meters before their velocities fall below the fragmentation threshold velocity.

Now, with the 20 inch barrels (such as those commonly used by AR-15s, M16A2 etc.), the velocities are a bit higher and therefore, the bullets can travel about 150-200 meters before they will stop fragmenting reliably. Therefore, between 100 to 200 meter distances, they generally have better wounding performance than bullets fired out of a M4 carbine, which only has a 14.5 inch long barrel.

To improve the performance, the US military has come up with some newer bullet designs that have lower fragmentation velocity thresholds. The newer M855A1 and the Mk 318 cartridges were specifically designed to handle some of the shortcomings of the previous cartridges.