Obsolete, Obsolescent, and “Useless”

I just read a post upon the expanse of the interwebz that espoused the belief that a popular training drill was ‘Useless.’

The drill, the 10-10-10, also called “The Test”, is a fairly common one used among pistol shooters and trainers to evaluate themselves or their students respectively. The argument was, essentially, that because drills are a situational scalable training tool and because there are similar drills both higher and lower in difficulty that “The Test” was useless.

This ignores two critical points

  1. A drill that cannot be scaled for individual/group skill or logistics isn’t very useful to begin with
  2. A “Test” is an objective standard to take a measurement
    • We use that measure to determine a regimen for skill development, and/or whether or not we have confidence a certain level of proficiency can be expected
    • Also, “The Test” is not the only test you should be using

So the argument that the test is ‘useless’ is nonsensical. But what about obsolete? What about obsolescent?

That’s right folks, we are talking about words again.

So, you are the caliber of shooter that can easily clear “The Test” with 100/100 points earned. Excellent! The 10-10-10 drill, for you, is not useless, but it is obsolete. For you. You have progressed, or if you are an instructor taking a measure of your students they have progressed, to a different level of skill development and different tests may now provide more information to drive training on.

Dot Torture is a similar item where if you are shooting it clean at 3 yards, that variant of the test is now obsolete. Again, for you. For the majority of the shooting public these tests will never become obsolete, although they should strive to make them so.

So instead, you use your grey matter and make the drill into a ‘variant’ and do a 10-10-25. Or you are rounds limited (as are we all) and make it a 5-5-10 or 5-5-25. The first number being the number of rounds, the second being the number of allotted seconds to complete the drill, and the third being the distance in yards/meters to the target. You are using your head to make situational variations to the drill based on data you have. Data you collected from the 10-10-10, now or in the past, or a similar measurement taking test. This is the nature of measuring skill development.

Now, let’s take a look at it from another perspective

Is the venerable M16 rifle Obsolete, Obsolescent, or Useless? Specifically talking about the A4 variant pictured in the title, but you can use this analysis on any variant, or any firearm for that matter.

Both major ground force arms of the US Military have moved on from the M16. The Marines have opted for the M27 and M4 rifles while the Army has opted for the M4A1. The NGSW is also coming down the pipeline and we will address its implications here also.

The M16 has been removed from service as a ground combat rifle, it is therefore Obsolete

No, not obsolete. The M16A4 has been found suboptimal in the role because the limitations imposed by the longer barrel and fixed stock outweigh the advantages. But the rifles employed to replace the M16 with frontline forces can’t even be called the descendants of the M16, more like the younger siblings. As 5.56 service weapons go the M16 can still serve in the role exceptionally well, but certain features have been found more desirable and so selections were made and changes implemented.

My conceptual M16A5-I

Obsolete would mean that the M16 has been surpassed by a substantial margin in most meaningful ways that it offers something beneficial to the users. Instead, more realistically, we have found more preferred variations on the theme of the M16.


  • Adjustable Stocks
  • Shorter Barrels
  • Free Floating Barrels

Along with continual improvements in material quality and increased understanding in the efficiencies of making the guns run, we have surpassed the M16A4’s base offerings in most ways. But we have not done so to a substantial degree, only a marginal one.

Compare that with, say, the M1903 Springfield and the M16 clearly makes the 1903 obsolete. Also the M1 Garand and M14, although the M14 is the closest peer and meets the criteria of obsolescent instead.

All the features of the M16A4 have been surpassed, it is therefore Obsolescent

We are going to give this one another no… followed by a tentative maybe when we touch on the NGSW program.

Yes, the adjustable stocks and shorter freefloating barrels surpass the M16A4, but it would be very simple to also do two of those three improvements to the M16A4 and bring it right back into the modernized forefront. There would even be an arguable advantage to a 20″ freefloating barrel and the velocity it offers the shooter for effective range and terminal effects.

Obsolescent means that the newer iterations surpass the M16 in enough ways that you would choose the newer platform.

“But Keith, that sounds exactly like what you are saying between the M16A4 and the current rifles. Isn’t it?”


And the reason comes down to caliber. 5.56x45mm is still the standard and that keeps the M16 among the “performs to the standard” group of rifles. Everything else is a small quality of use shift to the positive. Adjustable stocks better matching more shooter body types, shorter barrels allowing improved movement in tight confines, and freefloating improving both inherent and practical accuracy.

The M16 is still capable in all those categories though, until we change caliber. The NGSW specifying a 6.8mm ballistic efficient projectile with the openly stated goal of making the rifle effective to 1,000 meters will be the shift that makes the M16 obsolescent, by virtue of making the 5.56 start the slow walk to obsolescence.

However it will be advancing from powder burning, auto-loading, perhaps even projectile weapons entirely, that signals the shift to obsolete.

Again, I say the NGSW is a tentative maybe toward making the M16 obsolescent because we do not have hard data on the performance of the guns yet and ease of use comparatively. Troops will be taking an ammunition capacity hit and that is not an insignificant consideration. But the shift from 30 to 25 or 20 is not as drastic as back to 8, or 5 even, and losing the box magazine capabilities. The two leaps being sought in the NGSW are range and terminal effectiveness.

We do have to get soldiers shooting better though… significantly better. But people are working on that too.

Now the question with the obvious answer. Is the M16 “Useless?”

Obviously not.

But going back to the comment on the 10-10-10 drill, we like to throw that term around. The M16 is far from useless, the M14 isn’t useless, the M1 Garand and M1 Carbines are not useless, the M1903 isn’t useless.

Taken on the large scale, they all occupy the same superior place and are peers over non-repeating firearms, and those aren’t useless. Take those, including the single shots, and compare them against something like the crossbow, or bow and arrow, and those are not useless, but the firearm is superior. Adding those in, they all occupy the same superior niche of launched, mechanically or chemically, assisted projectile weapons over something thrown like a javelin. A javelin isn’t useless. But it is sure as hell obsolete compared to an M16.

Keith Finch
Keith is the former Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. He got told there was a mountain of other things that needed doing, so he does those now and writes here when he can. editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. Teaching since 2009, he covers local concealed carry courses, intermediate and advanced rifle courses, handgun, red dot handgun, bullpups, AKs, and home defense courses for civilians, military client requests, and law enforcement client requests.