Vietnam’s Overburdened M16

by Tom Laemlein

I’ve been working with Dale Dye of Warriors Inc. to put together a photo study on the infantry weapons of the Vietnam War. The conflict in Vietnam is particularly interesting for students of small arms as all of Southeast Asia became both a proving grounds for the latest infantry weapons designs as well as an international “arms bazaar”, featuring any firearm that had been made from the late 19th Century until the 1960s.

The M16 rifle made its debut during the Vietnam War and its modern design created quite a sensation. By the end of the 1960s, the M16 could found in the hands of most US troops deployed in Vietnam, and was also beginning to be issued to South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) as well. Viet Cong forces were happy to acquire as many M16s as they could capture, steal, or buy on the black market.

M16 with XM148 grenade launcher and Starlight scope
M16 with XM148 grenade launcher and Starlight scope (click to enlarge)

In my research to find photos of the small arms of the Vietnam War, I have found a large number of images of the M16. The two that make up the basis for this short article are particularly unique though, as I have never seen (or heard of) an M16 configured this way. I have photos of the M16 equipped with the XM148 grenade launcher. Similarly, I have photos of the M16 equipped with the AN/PVS-2 “Starlight” scope. But I never dreamed of putting them both on the same rifle! Someone from a US Air Force base security unit dreamt this one up in 1967. It kind of makes sense though, seeing as how the security team was unlikely to have to carry this monstrosity very far from their post. Let’s take a look at how this heavily modified (and I do mean “heavily”) M16 stacks up, weight-wise:

  • M16A1 rifle: 8.79 pounds loaded
  • XM148 grenade launcher: 3 pounds
  • AN/PVS-2 “Starlight” scope: 6 pounds

So, this M16 “fully equipped” weighs in at just about 18 pounds! Not what one would expect from a light combat rifle (called the “Mattel rifle” by many of its detractors). The bulky Starlight scope (providing ambient light amplification up to 1000x) makes the rifle lop-sided already, but I never suspected that it weighed so much. The Colt-manufactured XM148 grenade launcher “balances out” the overloaded rifle. I can only wonder how it was to handle. Maybe one of the readers may have had some experience with this combination during the Vietnam War. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

M60 and M16 (with starlgiht scope and grenade launcher)
It’s still lighter than an M60…but not by much!

Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems.