The story of the M14 is not a happy one. Perhaps the best way of detailing its truly checkered history is to look initially at the way manufacture got under way, or rather did not. John Stennis of the Preparedness Investigating Committee of the U.S. Senate wrote a paper in which he reported his findings on what was, in any other words, a scandal. He quoted Secretary of Defense Robert S. Mc- Namara, who said, “I think it is a disgrace the way the project was handled. . . . This is a relatively simple job, to build a rifle . . . and yet this project has languished for months—years, actually. And I see no excuse for allowing that to continue.”
The report noted that although approved in 1957, no orders were placed for the rifle until 1958 and that production had been meager. This tale of woe was supported by the facts that the first 19 rifles were produced in September 1959, by the end of June 1960 only 9,741 further rifles had been delivered, and by 30 June 1961 production rose to 133,386. By this time Springfield Armory, Harrington- Richardson, and Winchester were all producing the rifle. The buildup to full production had taken far too long, and in 1960 U.S. reinforcements to Berlin had still been armed with M1 Garand rifles. The report also mentioned that in 1961 there were more M1 Garands in stores than there were riflemen in the U.S. Army. Springfield Armory standards were still being maintained.
One interesting point made by the report was that “the quantities purchased [of the M14] should in no way be a deterrent to the development and production of a more modern and ultimate replacement for the M-14 at some future time.” This portent was eventually to usher in the developments that led to the M16 rifle, in an even smaller caliber than the British .280 (7mm) cartridge that had been so criticized by Colonel Studler and his cronies.
In service, the M14 soon gained a dubious reputation. It kicked like a mule, was uncontrollable when fired on automatic, and was not a lighter weapon at all. The M14 was too long and too heavy to be carried all day long in hot and wet climates (as shown by the experiences of U.S. and South Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam War). The 7.62mm NATO ammunition was too heavy, limiting the amount of ammunition carried by soldiers on patrols. The selective-fire capability was mostly useless, since the M14 was way too light for the very powerful cartridge it fired, and it climbed excessively when fired in bursts. In fact, most of the M14s were issued to troops with fire selectors locked to semiautomatic mode to avoid useless waste of ammunition in automatic fire. In other words, the M14 was a failure as a service weapon; what is really surprising is that its adherents continued to argue forcibly for its retention in the face of the appearance of the Armalite rifles.
However – Post-1970 U.S. military service
In the mid-1990s, the Marine Corps chose a new rifle for Designated Marksman (sniper) use, an M14 modified by the Precision Weapons Shop in Marine Corps Base Quantico called the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). It is intended for use by security teams (SRTs, FAST companies), and Marine Scout Snipers in the cases where a semi-automatic rifle would be more appropriate than the standard bolt-action M40A1/A3 rifle. The USMC Rifle Team uses the M14 in shooting competitions. Although the M14 was phased out as the standard-issue rifle by 1970, M14 variants are still used by various branches of the U.S. Military as well as other armed forces, especially as a sniper rifle and as a designated marksman rifle, due to its excellent accuracy and effectiveness at long range. Special active units such as the OPFOR units of the Joint Readiness Training Center use M14s. Few M14s were in use in the Army until the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Since the start of these conflicts, many M14s have been employed as designated marksman and sniper rifles. These are not M21 rifles, but original production M14s. Common modifications include scopes, fiberglass stocks, and other accessories. A 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Army claimed that half of the engagements in Afghanistan occurred from beyond 300 meters (330 yd). America’s 5.56×45 mm NATO service rifles are ineffective at these ranges; this has prompted the reissue of thousands of M14s
The 1st Battalion of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) in the Military District of Washington is the sole remaining regular United States Army combat field unit where the M14 is still issued as the standard rifle, along with a chromed bayonet and an extra wooden stock with white sling for military funerals, parades, and other ceremonies. The United States Air Force Honor Guard uses a version of the M14. The United States Navy Ceremonial Guard and Base Honor Guards also use the M14 for 3-volley salutes in military funerals. It is also the drill and parade rifle of the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Air Force Academy, The Citadel, Norwich University, Virginia Military Institute, and North Georgia College and State University. U.S. Navy ships carry several M14s in their armories. They are issued to sailors going on watch out on deck in port, and to Backup Alert Forces. The M14 is also used to shoot a large rubber projectile to another ship when underway to start the lines over for alongside refueling and replenishment.
Various sniper variants have been used by the United States Navy SEALs, often mistaken with M21 in the overt literature, only one of them has received a standard name in the U.S. military designations system: the M25, developed by the Special Forces. SEALs also use the Mk 14 Mod 0 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle) for close-quarters battle and in a designated marksman role. “Delta Force” units are known to have used M14 sniper variants. According to Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, the well-known account of the Battle of Mogadishu, at least one of the “D-Boys”, Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart, used an M14 for sniping from helicopters to provide support fire to ground troops.
The U.S. Army Special Forces (“Green Berets”) have made some use of the M25 “spotter rifle”. The M25 was developed in the late 1980s within the 10th Special Forces Group, which was charged to support Special Forces sniper weapons as well as the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC). The M25 was first planned as a replacement for the old M21, but after the Army adoption of the M24 SWS as its standard sniper rifle, the M25 was intended to be used by spotters of the sniper teams, while the snipers would use the bolt-action M24.
The M14 has remained in service longer than any U.S. infantry rifle surpassing that of the Springfield M1903 rifle, it also holds the distinction of serving as the standard infantry rifle of the U.S. Army for a second shortest span of time than almost any other service rifle, only surpassed by the short lived US Krag-Jørgensen rifles and carbines.
A soldier using a M14 EBR-RI equipped with a Sage M14ALCS chassis stock provides security in Iraq, 2006.