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Was the M-16 Better Than the AK-47 during the Vietnam War?

Weapons of the Vietnam War. The M-16 rifle versus the AK-47 assault rifle.

Ak- 47vsM-16

When I had to serve in the army for a few years, the M-16 rifle was the "wife" that I had to train with. After using it for training and live firing sessions, I soon realized how robust but yet fragile this weapon can be. It had to cleaned very often so that it does not malfunction. Sometimes when you are not in luck, the rifle simply malfunctioned anyway because of some other reasons. That led me to a question. How did the pioneers who went into combat with the M-16 rifle handled all these problems on the battlefront?

During the Vietnam War, the American made M-16 and the Soviet made AK-47 were pitted against each other. The difference between the two assault rifles was not only that the AK-47 was being cheaply produced and the M-16 being much costlier to make. The performance of both these weapons played a huge difference on the battlefield as well.

The Avtomat Kalashnikova Model or AK-47 was designed as machine gun first as the primary role and semi-automatic(single fire mode) weapon as a secondary feature. It's 7.62mm caliber bullet was much larger than the M-16's 5.56mm round. The AK-47 was the weapon of choice of the Vietnamese army.

The Arma-Lite AR-15 was renamed to M-16 by the US army. The M-16 was primarily designed as a rifle first and a machine gun as a secondary feature. The difference in the design philosophies between the two weapons actually resulted in one weapon performing much better in the majority of roles during the Vietnam War. Let's compare these two weapons and see which one fared better during the Vietnam war.

Accuracy

When it came to a range of 200 yards, the M-16 was very accurate in hitting it's target. In semi automatic mode it scored five out of five hits. The AK-47 however fared terribly at this range. After five shots were fired in semi automatic mode, the AK-47 had no hits on target. However at a much closer range, the AK-47 fared better.

Size

The M-16 rifle was designed to be a lightweight weapon and it's smaller 5.56mm caliber bullet made sure that the ammunition magazines weighed as light as possible when fully loaded. This was to suit the new military doctrines and tactics that the US army was introducing in the Vietnam War. The M-16 rifle bullet was designed to fragment upon impact. This would result in a more deadlier wound which was disproportionate to the size of the bullet. The AK-47's bigger 7.62mm bullet however stayed in shape upon impact. It was still as deadly if not deadlier than the M-16 bullet due to it's sheer size and penetrative power.

Reliability

The early version of the M-16 rifle that was introduced during the Vietnam War created many problems for the US army. The M-16 performed it's role very well in ideal conditions but when battle tested in the harsh and humid jungle terrain of Vietnam, it began to malfunction. The M-16 was generally a high maintenance weapon as compared to AK-47. When dust, dirt and grime buildup would fail the M-16, the AK-47 still functioned exceptional well. The AK-47 was build to be robust, required little maintenance and was perfect for inexperienced troops. The unpredictable performance of the M-16 was “confidence sapping” according to Vietnam war veteran David H. Hackworth.

Firepower

The AK-47 wins hands down when it came to firepower. For example a single shot from an AK-47 would break a cinder block. An M-16 bullet would just create a bullet hole on a similar cinder block. The comparison of firepower between the two assault rifles are best explained in the video below.

Just imagine which weapon would cause the first casualty in a firefight? Obviously the one which could destroy the vegetation and cover first. When it came to accuracy at a long range and sheer weight, the M-16 came out tops between the two weapons. However, accuracy and light weight were  useless when the M-16 rifle malfunctioned in the harsh realities of Vietnam. The AK-47 though heavier and less accurate proved it's worth in any battle condition. Add firepower to that equation and I say those reasons alone could have turned the tide of war against the Americans in Vietnam.Truly, the early version of the M-16 assault rifle was not the most favored weapon of US troops at that time.

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Comments (15)

My relationship with guns pretty much starts and ends with action movies but I did enjoy your article. though I have to say, I wish the vietnam war never happened in the first place. p.s: how long did you have to train in the army?

Good work. The AK47 is still the choice weapon in many countries around the world.

I have been acquainted with the M16 and I must say it could be merely spitting slugs when the barrel overheats. Excellent review,, Sharif.

I didn't know you were an expert in weapons, my friend. Very well researched.

@Pinar-"Had to serve" for two and half years. It is mandatory for my country. I hate wars too but when you a soldier it's not your choice to make.;) I used to love Rambo till I had to use a real weapon. lol. @Eva- That's true. The AK-47 is the most widely used assault rifle in the world. @deep blue- Hahaha. True sir A machine gun it is not. @Francois-I was thrown into it my friend. I had to live with it.:)

2 and a half? And I thought 1,5 years (the long term) in Turkey was bad, lol:) Well, I am glad you made it back safe and sound;)

Thanks for the info.

Karen (country pumpkin)

Cool! Well explained! Thanks for the 2.5 yrs....

:)

(hope this won't appear few times, if yes, you may delete)

So this is the reason why AK-47 appears to be the weapon of choice in the jungle.

nov284

The M16 remains a poor rifle, even to this day. It has failure engineered right into the action, and I'm convinced that even with modern polymer magazines (they break so you can see they're bad as opposed to slighly deforming and causing double-feeds) and piston systems (traps carbon and heat forward away from the action) if will fail, on cue, every time. This rifle is actually a perfect example of what happens when politicians get involved and elbow the professionals out of the way. Instead of using a reliable, albeit heavy rifle, the troops were issued a new, space-age, light-weight rifle that even now, 40 years later, is less reliable brand-new, fresh out the box, immaculately clean than my decades old Marlin Model 60 that I have never cleaned (I actually don't know how).

Dimo

Hello all, first sorry for bad english but this is not my native language

I know both weapons

"When it came to a range of 200 yards, the M-16 was very accurate in hitting it’s target. In semi automatic mode it scored five out of five hits. The AK-47 however fared terribly at this range" This is very inaccurate. AK 47 have not semi-automatic mode, only have single shot and full auto.

when I was a soldier in the Bulgarian army, where the main assault rifle is the AK 47, we very well know all the weaknesses of the ak 47 and knew what to do to reduce their impact ..

And if I need to go to benchrest and field target competition

without hesitation i will take m-16 ...but in war no doubt I prefer to protect my life and my family with AK 47 in hand

Dimo

Hello all, first sorry for bad english but this is not my native language

I know both weapons

"When it came to a range of 200 yards, the M-16 was very accurate in hitting it’s target. In semi automatic mode it scored five out of five hits. The AK-47 however fared terribly at this range" This is very inaccurate. AK 47 have not semi-automatic mode, only have single shot and full auto.

when I was a soldier in the Bulgarian army, where the main assault rifle is the AK 47, we very well know all the weaknesses of the ak 47 and knew what to do to reduce their impact ..

And if I need to go to benchrest and field target competition

without hesitation i will take m-16 ...but in war no doubt I prefer to protect my life and my family with AK 47 in hand

Dennis Storm

My Webiste is not up yet so the text at the URL is just filler. I was in Vietnam in 1970-71. Dimo, your English is better than mine and I live in the United States. Your appraisal of the two weapons is dead on. That is, my experience in Vietnam helped me to reach the same conclusion. I used the later modified version of the M16 and I had a CAR-15 Paratrooper version of the collapseabe M16. I was ambushed driving an Ammo Truck and my full size M16 got caught in the Truck mirror. A friend had made a run in to Laos where some weapons had been abaonded. He gave me the CAR-15 for use in the truck. He also found hundreds of Ak-47's and Thompson Machine guns. We carried the AK's as a means of deception but your own troops had to be in the loop because the AK and M16 sound completely different. I have not talked about the War until recently and only because the VA is forcing me to do so. I just don't want the group to think I am for War. There was an incident where I found myself being pursued by an NVA soldier dow by the River. No need for details but I believe the accuracy of the M16 saved my life that day. It was a bit like a drill going up against a buzz saw. The NVA soldier sprayed my location and came close several times but being able to hide gave me the opportunity to takea well sited shot that ended the pursuit. I hate War and do not own any guns. bless all warriors on all sides who made it through aive.

Dimo

I believe that you was saved first by God's will and than by your luck and your skill with your own gun

.223 was NOT a jungle weapon, deflected by anything while the 7.62 would chop through.

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