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Defense Department Sticks With M-16s Despite Problems

As the Senate continues to debate military spending in Iraq, the NewsHour presents the second of three reports on how the Defense Department decides to equip U.S. troops, continuing with a look at M-16 rifles.

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  • PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour Economics Correspondent:

    The M-16 semiautomatic rifle. With its shorter version, the M-4, it's the gun of our troops in combat. The hat's for the sun, by the way; the earmuffs for the noise. Jim Sullivan helped design this rifle during the Eisenhower administration.

  • JIM SULLIVAN, M-16 Co-Designer:

    Fifty years ago.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Fifty years ago?

  • JIM SULLIVAN:

    Well, we started on it 50 years ago this month.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    That's 1957, the year the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. In the half-century since, computers shrank from houses to handhelds; polio was cured; man made it to the moon and Mars. And what kind of advance was there in our combat rifle?

  • JIM SULLIVAN:

    They're right exactly where they were when we gave them the M-16 in 1960. They haven't advanced an inch.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Meanwhile, the competition, says Sullivan, the Soviet-designed automatic Kalashnikov AK-47, is in its third generation, as the AK-74.

  • JIM SULLIVAN:

    That AK-74 out-hits the M-16 by two to one on full automatic. And the reason that there was 100 million AKs made wasn't to equip the Russian army. It was to give to our third world opponents so the United States can't win ground wars anymore. It's the rifleman and his rifle, that's what decides ground wars.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    The rifle Sullivan would have his own son use in Iraq today? The opposition's.

  • JIM SULLIVAN:

    He should have an AK.

  • PAUL SOLMAN:

    Really?

  • JIM SULLIVAN:

    Yes.