At the beginning of the Vietnam war it was obvious the US Army had to update their World War 2 rifles.
The best new design by far was the Armalite AR 15.
Its main innovation was reducing the bullet size from .30 down to .223.
This meant it could be fully automatic like a machine gun but have greater accuracy.
And the troops could carry more ammunition because it was lighter.
And the smaller rounds would lodge fatally in the enemy, instead of just passing through.
And the lighter weapon would be much more reliable.
In 1959, the tests proved exactly that.
The Springfield Test Armory said: “It is the best lightweight automatic rifle ever tested by the armoury.”
“A squad of 5-7 men armed with the AR 15 would have better hit distribution and capability than the present 11-man squad.”
“The troops favour the AR 15 because of lightness, reliability, and freedom from recoil and climb on full automatic.”
“Taking into account the greater lethality of the AR 15 it is up to 5 times as effective.”
So a clear winner, right? Well no.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff were uncomfortable about a rifle that fired a smaller round.
It had been demonstrated that it was more lethal than the larger round, but it wasn’t what they wanted.
Like any client, they wanted to make changes just because they could.
They judged rifles by what are called “gravel bellies” – marksmen and sharp-shooters who lie on the ground and shoot at targets a long way away.
That’s the sort of rifles they wanted, so they insisted on giving the gun a longer range.
Even though the Vietnam war was being fought at close range in the jungle.
And they wanted the gun to work perfectly in the Artic, in temperatures 65 below freezing.
Even though the temperature in the Vietnamese jungle were above 100 degrees.
Then they insisted on adding a manual bolt-closing device.
Even though a USAF document said: “During 3 years of testing and using the AR 15 under all conditions, we had no malfunction that could have been corrected by a manual bolt-closing device. Worse, it would add weight and complexity and so reduce reliability.”
But the Joint Chiefs of Staff were the client, so they got their way.
Millions of the ‘improved’ rifle, now called the M 16, were ordered.
It performed so badly in combat that the House Armed Services Committee had to conduct an enquiry and issue a report 600 pages long.
Some of the quotes from the troops actually fighting in Vietnam, were as follows:
“I fired 40 rounds, the rifle jammed 10 times”
“I fired 50 rounds, the rifle jammed 14 times”
“32 of 80 rifles failed yesterday”
“2 marines died with jammed rifles”
“70% of my dead buddies had a round stuck in the chamber”.
But that’s what happens when a committee sees a great idea and starts changing it.
It stops being a great idea.
Remember that, when someone thinks their personal opinion outweighs everything.
When ego gets in the way, and they change it just to prove who’s in charge.
When they forget they are the client, not the end user.
Anyone can feel like a creative director when all they do is crit someone else’s work.
As they say: opinions are like arseholes, everybody’s got one.