With its light weight and deadly accuracy, the M16 has become the most widely used assault rifle in the world.
Used By More Than 80 Countries
The M16 rifle is used by 15 NATO members – including the U.S. – and more than 80 countries worldwide. Since coming into service in 1963, more than eight million versions of the M16 have been produced – making it the most widely used assault rifle in the world. NATO estimates that 90% of M16s are still actively being used, including some rifles that were manufactured in the 1960s.
The M16 rifle’s popularity is due to the weapon’s light weight, reliability and deadly impact. The M16 fires 5.56 x 45 millimeter bullets that cause severe wounds on impact. Countries that use the M16 rifle or a variant of the weapon include Australia, Canada, Israel, United Kingdom, and Mexico – to name a few.
Developed During the Vietnam Conflict
The M16 rifle was developed for use in jungle warfare during the Vietnam Conflict. It first entered service in South Vietnam in 1963. By 1970, the M16 had become the standard infantry rifle of the U.S. military. Before Vietnam, the M14 rifle had served as the primary U.S. infantry rifle. Versions of the M16 have been used with all branches of the U.S. military – including the Navy.
The M16 rifle is made of several different materials, including steel, aluminum and plastic. The materials used to construct the M16 make it one of the most light weight conventional rifles. Early versions of the weapon weighed only about 6 pounds. Newer versions can weigh as much as 8.5 pounds due to thicker barrels and attachments such as night vision scopes.
Adoption by NATO Allies
By the late 1970s, member countries of NATO had begun to adopt the M16 rifle as their main infantry weapon. The U.S. military encouraged weapons standardization among its allies and offered the original design of the M16 rifle to NATO members without any modifications. The M16 was enthusiastically adopted by NATO allies and is today the most widely used assault rifle for many countries.
There are four variants of the M16 rifle – the M16A1, M16A2, M16A3, and M16A4. The M16A4 is the standard rifle of U.S. Marines and has a modified handle and improved sighting scope from earlier versions of the weapon. In recent years, the U.S. Defense Department has explored several programs to replace the M16 with an updated assault rifle. However, by 2010, none of those replacement programs had moved forward.