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Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade practice   during the combined Lithuanian-U.S. training exercise at the Gaiziunai Training Area some 110 kms (69 miles) west of the capital Vilnius Lithuania, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

Some Army rifles are going off when they shouldn't, prompting a review of nearly 1 million weapons


WASHINGTON (Circa) -- Some of the Army's rifles appear to have a malfunction that causes them to fire when they aren't supposed to, causing the service to review all of its rifles to make sure they are functioning properly.

It all started with a video recorded by a soldier showing an M4A1 carbine firing when it shouldn't have. The video shows the rifle's selector switch between "semi" and "auto" fire modes. The soldier squeezes the trigger, but the rifle does not fire. Once the soldier moves to auto, the weapon discharges a round.

The selector switch allows a shooter to adjust the weapons fire mode between "safe," "semi", and "automatic." In normal use, the carbine should only fire when the trigger is pulled.

"Typically you want your weapon to perform in a very reliable manner, so when something unexpected happens, which is what happened in this malfunction, that's a problem," said Lt. Gen. (ret.) Thomas Spoehr, the director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense, in an interview.

780 MI BDE BWC M4A1 Stress Shoot
FORT GORDON, Ga. – Spc. Alexander Musarra, Company B, 782nd Military Intelligence Battalion, from Miami, Florida, is shown here firing his M4A1 carbine rifle during the Stress Shoot Exercise which was an event on day one of the 780th MI Brigade’s Best Warrior Competition, April 23.

The M4A1 featured in the video was one of several carbines converted from the original M4 model, which offered a three-round burst instead of automatic fire. The conversions were part of the Army's Product Improvement Program, which added a heavier barrel and ambidextrous controls in addition to fully automatic fire, explained Spoehr.

Officials at U.S. Army Tank-automotive & Armaments Command (TACOM) believe the issue goes beyond the converted weapons, however, so it has instituted a new policy requiring all M4 and M16 series rifles to be checked for the issue within 10 days of April 18 or prior to live fire. So far, approximately 50,000 weapons have been checked with a failure rate of about 6 percent, according to Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command.

Any unintentional discharge of a firearm is a problem, but Spoehr noted that the issue may not pose a significant safety problem to U.S. soldiers.

"When you have the selector switch in that position, you're expecting it to fire, so you should treat it as though there's going to be a round coming out of the barrel," he said. "So in this case not terribly life threatening, but still very serious."

SPC Musarra Qual N Region INSCOM BWC
FORT A.P. HILL, Va. – Spc. Alexander Musarra, Company B, 782nd Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion (Cyber), 780th MI Brigade (Cyber), fires his M4A1 carbine rifle at the qualification range on day two of the North Region Intelligence &amp; Security Command Best Warrior Competition, May 8.

No soldiers have been injured due to the malfunction as of the writing of this article.

The M4 series carbine has been in service for several decades, though for many years it was used mostly by elite operators in Special Operations Command. It has slowly replaced the M16 series rifle as the primary weapon for U.S. troops. The M4's shorter barrel, lighter weight, and selective automatic fire give it distinct advantages in today's battlefields over the longer, heavier M16, which is limited to semi automatic and three-round burst fire.

TACOM is waiting on checks for approximately 900,000 more weapons. It estimates that inspections will continue for another six months, and that repairs on the weapons will take an additional 12 to 18 months.

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