7.62mm, M14 (top); 5.56mm, M16A4 (bottom)

7.62mm, M14 (top); 5.56mm, M16A4 (bottom) (Courtesy of the Army)

ARLINGTON, Va. — For the Navy, it is a farewell to arms.

This fall, the last sailors will trade in their aging M-14 rifles for newer M-16s.

Essentially an enhanced version of the famous World War II rifle the M-1 Garand, the M-14 holds 20 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition.

Used in the early days of the Vietnam War, the rifle showed it packed a wallop, but it is built in such a way that the recoil makes it nearly impossible to keep the rifle trained on target in full-automatic mode.

Since then, the M-16 has largely become the standard rifle for most of the services, but the Navy continued to use the M-14 for force protection.

But now the Navy is almost finished trading in about 2,000 M-14 rifles for M-16s, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Karen Eifert.

“The Navy is transitioning to the M16A3 weapon, a more compact and lighter weapon, for shipboard use,” Eifert said in an e-mailed response to questions from Stars and Stripes. “This conforms to the M16s used elsewhere in the Navy, and is a more suitable weapon for boarding parties and shipboard force protection.”

In September, sailors aboard the frigate USS Vandergrift will be the last to be issued M-16 rifles, Eifert said.

Afterward, each ship will still have at least two M-14 rifles aboard to shoot lines to other ships to refuel and bring supplies aboard while at sea, she said.

Because the M-14 fires a bigger round, it can penetrate steel, wood, glass and other barriers better than the M-4 or M-16, Army officials said.

The M-14 also has an effective range of up to about 460 meters, while the M-16 and M-4 are effective up to 600 meters, the officials said in a e-mailed response to queries.

The M-16 and M-4 also can be fitted with sights and accessories, such as a grenade launcher, the officials said.

M-14 still has a placeThe services continue to use the M-14 to a limited extent.

The Army has 22,660 of the rifles in use and another 87,462 — both serviceable and unserviceable — in depot, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. William Wiggins.

Army officials said the M-14 is primarily used by a unit’s designated marksman, but a query on what role designated marksmen play and why they are issued the weapon was not answered by the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga.

Last year, Army Maj. John Digiambattista carried an M-14 when he served in Iraq because his unit did not have enough M-4 rifles for every infantry soldier, he said.

Digiambattista said he had volunteered to take an M-16, but the day before his unit left for Iraq it received a shipment of M-14s.

“I drew one in lieu of my M16A2,” Digiambattista said in an e-mail. “I did not fire the weapon in anger. But I did believe that the weapon provided me greater range and striking power than the M16A2.”

The Marine Corps uses 381 modified M-14 rifles for designated marksmen, said 1st Lt. Geraldine Carey, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Systems Command.

Before they are issued to Marines, they are worked on by gunsmiths at the Precision Weapons Ship, Weapons Training Battalion in Quantico, Va., Carey said in an e-mailed response to questions from Stars and Stripes.

“These modifications include the replacement of the stock, barrel with a free-floating barrel, improved trigger mechanism and numerous other modifications in order to provide a semi-automatic precision weapon for use by Designated Marksman in Marine Corps Security Forces, Military Police commands, and Reconnaissance Battalions,” Carey said.

The Air Force has 3,500 M-14s in its arsenal, two-thirds of which are used for ceremonial functions, such as funerals, Air Force officials said.

Airmen involved with Explosive Ordnance Disposal also use the rifle to detonate roadside bombs from a safe distance, the officials said.

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