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What does the "M" in M-16 stand for?

-- Mira Fae Sobson, UCLA

Remember, Mira, we're dealing here with the U.S. Army. Mostly a no-frills, no-imagination outfit that runs on codes and letters and numbers and dashes and slashes and dots. If you're hoping it's short for something macho or romantic or even mean and nasty, you're out of luck. The M in M-16 stands for "model." As in Model 16 semi-auto rifle. According to the Springfield (MA) Armory National Park, the repository of the largest collection of historical U.S. military weapons in the world, the M designation for rifles goes back before 1800. In the late 1940s, the prototype M-16 was designed by the Armalite company. They called it the AR-15. AR for Armalite. The Air Force was the first military outfit interested in a few thousand of the weapons for their sentries. Eventually the Army wanted it to replace the M-14. Armalite sold the design to Colt, and the Department of Defense renamed the military version of the AR-15 the M-16.

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Matthew_Alice June 12, 2012 @ 12:10 p.m.

Matt: While perusing a month-old Reader, I noticed a couple of glaring errors in your M-16 answer. Here goes:

  1. The M-16 is a "selective fire" weapon, capable of fully automatic, 3-round burst, or semi-automatic operation, depending on the service issue. It is not a "semi-automatic" rifle. The AR-15 sold for civilian use for decades is the only semi-auto.

  2. The designation AR-15 did not arrive until the mid-1950s (1956?). Armalite was founded in the early '50s, thus your notation of 1946 appears to be incorrect.

  3. The first rifle adopted for production by Armalite was the AR-5 survival rifle, followed by the AR-7 of the same type.

  4. The AR-10 was developed as a main battle rifle to replace the M-1 Garand.

  5. Around 1956, the AR-10 was downsized to use 5.56mm (.233 cal) ammo and developed into the first AR-15.



Matthew_Alice June 12, 2012 @ 12:17 p.m.

I'm humbled, Daniel. It seems the only thing i got right was the answer to Mira Fae's question. Uh, I did get that right, yes? And don't blame the armory for the errors; I did that one all on my own. Must be the ain't-gonna-study-war-no-more atmosphere at Alice Acres. Grandma is still a hippie to this day, and she would like to wipe out even a thought about guns in her little kingdom. Maybe her radar signals interfered with fact transmission, and she humiliated us all as (nonviolent) retribution. Many thanks for setting us straight (from the hip, of course).


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