Colt's M4A1 And Why It's So Important

posted on June 9, 2011
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Picking up where we left off with the Insider’s trip to Hartford, Conn., to visit Colt, we come to the storied company’s most distinguishing product. It’s not the legendary Single Action Army nor the venerable Government Model—those are so last century. It’s the M4A1, the U.S. military’s official issue-rifle.

A quick point of order—remember that there are two Colts, Colt’s Mfg. Co., which manufacturers and markets commercial guns and Colt Defense LLC which manufacturers military and law enforcement weapons. When I speak of “Colt” I use the name as a collective noun for both entities even though they’re legally and financially independent.

Coltis currently the only supplier of M4A1 rifles to the U.S. military. Belgian-owned Fabrique Nationale has in the past been a military supplier, and still makes the M249, M2 and other systems for the military, but as of right now, they’re not under contract to make the M4A1.

What makes Colt’s M4A1 so remarkable is the night-and-day difference between how this gun is manufactured compared to every other Colt firearm. You have to see it to appreciate it. The area where the M4A1 is produced is physically and metaphorically removed from the rest of the factory. It’s “lean” manufacturing, just-in-time parts, kanban cards, ISO quality assurance, CNC machines, conveyor belts, work cells and every other facet of Toyota-esque manufacturing—which is to say, the most sophisticated and efficient—this side of Dell Inc.

And then there’s Greg Frost. Without Greg, there would be no M4A1 for he is the Resident Quality Assurance Specialist, a civilian employee of the Dept. of Defense. He’s the government’s watchdog charged with inspecting Colt’s production of the M4A1 to assure that the weapons meet all Military Specifications as defined by Military Standards (Mil-Std).

“I monitor everything from soup to nuts in [the weapon’s] production, testing all the way down to the most mundane details,” Frost said.

Mundane details? “Like what?” I ask.

“The shipping box, for example. Even the tape on the box,” the inspector replied.

“In a process fashion, we inspect, test and analyze data on behalf of the Department of Defense. We have a Zero-Based Acceptance Policy—we do not accept a batch if there’s even one failure,” Frost explained.

I’m fascinated. So much marketing malarkey has been bandied about by all the knock-off AR manufacturers about being Mil-Spec this and Mil-Spec that. I ask Frost his opinion.

“I work for the Defense Contract Management Agency, which is part of the Department of Defense. Our Contract Management office is nearby in East Hartford. Because of the military contract and the inspections required, Colt has become one of the highest ISO 2008 suppliers, meeting all quality standards.”

“Well, who exactly are the manufacturers of Mil-Spec M4s?” I ask.

“FN and Colt and Sabre. However, Sabre didn’t keep up with the requirements and were dropped. Right now only Colt has a contract,” Frost answered.

Last year I wrote in a story for AmericanRifleman.org that if you’re looking to buy a quality AR, don’t mess about, just buy a Colt 6920. Now I better appreciate exactly why Colt makes the best AR on the market—his name is Greg Frost.

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