The US military has had numerous iconic service rifles that define each era of American fire power. But, one rifle still stands as the longest serving of all time. And as of today, there is no clear heir ready to take its place. That rifle is Eugene Stoner's M16.
In 1955, Eugene Stoner, a young aircraft engineer with a company named ArmaLite, had a vision for what the rifle of tomorrow would look like. Space-aged plastics, aircraft grade aluminum, and a design more reminiscent of Star Wars than World Wars.
The AR 15 might have been the right rifle, but it had found the wrong war. The brutal, jungle conditions of Vietnam, coupled with a series of military missteps would turn a spectacular success into a dismal, and too many times, failure.
As the M16 entered its 30th year of service, it again faced another war. If the jungles of southeast Asia defined the original design, the deserts of the Middle East would decide its future.
As we move through the 21st century, the M16 stands as the longest serving U.S. military rifle in history. How deep into the 21st century it will remain? No one knows. But, the gun some sarcastically refer to as the plastic gun from Mattel has left an indelible mark on the world of warfare.