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