US Department of Defence arms contracts

Assault Rifles

This report is part of AOAV’s investigation into the US DoD spend on small arms, guns and ammunition from Sept 11, 2001 to Sept 10, 2015. Our research found many discrepancies between the contracts published on the DoD’s website and those found on the Federal Procurement Database System- research that can be read here. For information on what a small arm is, please see here. To understand more about US DoD contracts visit here. The investigation also included an examination of US expenditure for small arms for Iraq, which can be read here, and Afghanistan, sehere.

Research carried out by AOAV into sources other than the DoD database found that 490,134 assault rifles were provided to Iraq by the US in the years examined. On the entire DoD database for the years examined, just 18,390 small arms in total were stated to have been provided to Iraq. This figure includes all forms of small arms examined in this study, including machine guns, AK-47s, sniper rifles and pistols. The DoD contracts detail just 3.7% of the total assault rifle provision to Iraq, and 3.6% of the total small arms provision; a huge discrepancy.

The same research with relation to Afghanistan yielded similar trends; according to OCO reports, 139,006 assault rifles (other than AK-47s) were purchased to equip Afghan forces; the DoD on the other hand lists just two instances of small arms being provided to Afghanistan- neither of these are for assault rifles. (DoD contracts detail sniper rifle and machine gun purchases; for more information please go here.)


An assault rifle is a fully automatic selective-fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. The assault rifle is used as the standard weapon in the majority of armies.

By definition, an assault rifle must have the following characteristics;

  • an individual weapon
  • capable of selective fire
  • an intermediate power cartridge- more power than a pistol but less than a battler rifle
  • ammunition supplied from a detachable box magazine
  • an effective range of at least 300m

The US Army uses the definition “short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges.”


Originally the Colt AR-15 Armalite, becoming the M16 when it was adopted by the US army in Vietnam in 1966. Much lighter than larger models such as the M14, and thus more practical for harsher terrains. Every weapon in the M16 family has the ability to fit an M203 40mm grenade launcher under the barrel, increasing the lethality of the weapon and creating a dual use capability system.

The Colt M16A4 is the fourth development of the original system, and standard assault rifle for the US military. It has been used continuously in combat since its development in 1990. It is a modular system which can be adapted to suit a variety of battlefield terrains; specialised optics, flashlights and grips can all be added on to the system. It has an effective range of 600m, and fires up to 700 rounds per minute. Both the M16A4 and M16A2 use the NATO standard 5.56 x 45mm cartridge, and bear an overall combat weight of 8.5lb, with a fully loaded curved magazine accounting for one pound of this. Firing selections are limited to semi-automatic and burst mode capabilities. The M16A3 is a select-fire variant of the M16A2, featuring “safe”, “semi-automatic”, and “fully automatic” modes.

The M16 A4 is predicted to maintain a dominating presence in the US military for the foreseeable future.

M4 Carbine800px-US-_Solder
A shorter and lighter variant of the M16 A2 assault rifle; gas operated, magazine fed and utilises the 5.56 x 45mm NATO standard. There is an 80% parts commonality with the M16 A2. The M4 is easier and more practical to carry than a longer rifle. This does however result in a slightly inferior ballistic performance when compared to full size rifles; this is especially apparent at distances of 200 yards and above. It is noted for its effectiveness in close combat operations. It is heavily used by the US Army, and is replacing the M16 in most combat units as the primary infantry weapon. Like the M16, it has the ability to mount an M203 grenade launcher. The M4 is capable of firing in semi-automatic and a three burst round.

The M4A1 is a variant of the M4 carbine, intended predominantly for special operations use. The M4A1 is fully automatic. From 2014 the US Army wanted all forces equipped with the M4A1 rather than its semi-automatic predecessor. It use 5.56mm calibre ammunition and has a maximum effective range of about 500-600 metres. It has been particularly popular with counter-terrorist and special forces units because of its compact firepower.

The M6 is one in a series of carbines of the same name that have been manufactured by Land Warfare Resources Corporation. It is similar to the M4 carbine and has been in service since 1963.

The M6 uses 5.56x45mm ammunition and has the ability to fire 700-900 rounds per minute. The M6 series includes the M6-SL (which has replaced the standard M6), the M6A1, the M6A2, the PSD (personal security detail), the M6A3, and the M6A4.

Heckler & Koch M27 IARM27 IAR
A lightweight, magazine fed 5.56mm weapon, which draws ammunition from a standard 30-round magazine. The US Marine Corps is currently planning on purchasing a large number of the M27 to replace the M247 light machine guns currently being employed; the United States Army does not plan on purchasing the IAR however. The M27 has the advantage of increased accuracy, and is more suited to operating in cramped spaces or indoors as it’s reduced size make it easier to handle. It weights just 9lb when loaded, compared to 22lb for a fully loaded M249. Gunners have praised the weapon for its ability to both fire single shots accurately to 800m, and also have full automatic fire. It’s lightweight system has fewer moving parts and jams.

FN Special Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR)
The FN SCAR is manufactured by FN Herstal in the US. It is a type of gas-operated self-loading assault rifle with a rotating bolt. The SCAR has a firing rate of 625 rounds/min. Both the lighter (SCAR-L/ Mk16 Mod 0) and heavier (SCAR-H/ Mk17 Mod 0) versions include the ability to change barrel length/calibres. The SCAR-L fires 5.56×45mm, whereas the H generally fires the more powerful 7.62×51mm. It is seen as an M16 replacement and they began to be issued in April 2009 and is purported to now be used in 20 countries.

For the data on 14 years of DoD contracts for small arms, ammunition and attachments, please go here.