After more than 25 years of service as the primary training weapon at Marine Corps boot camp, the M16A2 rifle is heading for retirement.
The Corps is nearly finished with a one-for-one swap in which all 5.56mm M16A2 rifles at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and MCRD San Diego will be replaced with M16A4s. They were the last major commands to use the M16A2, although a few Reserve units and “low-priority supporting establishments” may not have received the M16A4 yet, Marine officials said.
The major difference between the two weapons is the integrated rail system on the M16A4 that allows Marines to use a variety of optics and laser points in combat. The upgrade had been planned after Marines first started fielding the M16A4, around 2003. Still, it marks a cultural milestone for the Corps, which had taught prospective Marines at the boot camps with the M16A2 since 1985.
The M16A4s have not been essential at boot camp, where Marine leaders have been reluctant to introduce rifle combat optics. Instead, recruits are required to learn how to shoot with iron sights.
The M16A4 has a backup iron sight available. This can be installed and provides redundant means for aiming if optical sights fail or become detached from the weapon. In my opinion, recruits must be trained in basic marksmanship skills prior to using the various accessory optic systems.