View Full Version : NYT on Colt Defense & Making the M-4/M-16.

Army Chief
10 January 2010, 12:57
While not "industry news" in the purest sense, the New York Times featured an "At War" blog entry on the 8th of January entitled The Making of the Military's Standard Arms (http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/08/the-making-of-the-militarys-standard-arms/?tham=&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=a2).

This must-see piece affords a rare insider view of M-4 and M-16 production in the Colt factory at Hartford, Connecticut, and contains an especially-intriguing sequence of 11 production floor photos from staff photographer Todd Heisler.

Selected excerpts:

The two rifles are principally manufactured by Colt Defense LLC, of Connecticut, the descendant of the company that sold the original M-16s to the United States in the 1960s. That company in turn descended from the original Colt Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company, the brainchild of Samuel Colt, who in the 19th century ushered the revolver into common use with a factory in New Jersey and then Hartford. The Hartford plant later produced Gatling Guns and Thompson submachine guns under contract, and manufactured the M-1911 .45-caliber pistol and machine guns under its own name.

The military firearms business is prone to booms and busts linked to the cycles of war and military expansions and contractions. Coltís many incarnations have flirted with insolvency several times. The M-16 line has been its savior. (A sister company manufactures civilian firearms, and Colt Defense has been expanding business to include manufacturing spare barrels for the M-240 machine gun used by the American military.)

The companyís latest incarnation is run by a retired Marine Corps general, William M. Keys, and privately owned by about 30 different shareholders, with the bulk of the shares held by Sciens Capital Management, an equity group in New York. It operates a factory and small corporate office in West Hartford, Conn., where it employs about 800 workers, most of whom are members of the United Auto Workers union.

A decade ago, the plant made as few as 150 rifles a week, General Keys said in an interview on Tuesday. It now manufactures 4,000 rifles weekly, many for the United States military but others for police agencies and international customers, including Mexico, Malaysia and India. The factory runs full production from Monday to Friday, with a two-week shutdown each summer and again around Christmas and New Yearís. (The factory restarted production on Monday after a seasonal break.)

For bulk purchasers, a new M-4 costs about $800 per rifle, though the price is often higher when after-market rail systems, used for mounting optics and lights, are included. For rifles used by the American military, the United States Army requires Colt to install a rail system manufactured by Knight's Armament Company of Vero Beach, Fla.; this pushes the price per piece to about $1,100.


Several steps occur at other companies. Colt has no foundry or injection-molding shop, for instance. It purchases the sleeves of steel from which it manufactures barrels, and it subcontracts for the aluminum casts that, after machining inside the plant, are ground and cut for many of the rifleís parts. Similarly, it buys its riflesí hand-guards and stocks. The riflesí phosphate protective coating, which gives the metal parts their non-corrosive black finish, is also outsourced. But the main operating parts are all machined here, and final assembly occurs in one corner of the plant, where the rifles come together and then are subjected to inspections and firing tests, including by government inspectors who work full-time on-site.

Controversies over what rifle is best for American military use continue. In all likelihood, they always will. Infantry rifle selection has always been about compromises, and arguments of which rifle, caliber and bullet composition are ideal for combat are a perennial infantrymanís dispute. But for now, Colt Defense has the market.

Thanks to member Konrad for calling this interesting piece to our collective attention.


2 February 2010, 09:55
Central to this NYTimes blog post are two videos taken at Colt Defenseís testing range:

"The first video shows an M-4 being subjected to an intensive sustained-firing test. The rifle used is the standard M-4 with a standard barrel. The weapon is secured on a bench and fed one full 30-round magazine after another without rest beyond the time it takes to replace empty magazines with full magazines"

...[second] "video shows the same test with an M-4 equipped with a thicker, heavier barrel, which is used on a specialized carbine, known as the M-4A1".