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Colt CAR-15


Colt CAR-15

Right side view of Colt CAR-15 carbine with stock in extended position.

Source: Kin93 - © Copyright lies with original owner

United States
Assault rifle
Entered service
Mid 1970's
In service
Early 1970's
United States - Colt
Mid 1970's - ?
United States - Colt
M16 Carbine
Early marketing name



The CAR-15 is an early Cold War era assault rifle of US origin. It is a more compact version of the M16A1 assault rifle, known for its widespread use in the later stages of the Vietnam war. The name CAR-15 was used in the late 1960's for the an entire family fo firearms developed around the M16 as a modular weapon system. In the early 1970's the name CAR-15 was used for a new specific model, as described here. The CAR-15 was also marketed as the M16 Carbine. It looks rather similar to the later M4, which is the carbine variant of the M16A2.


The CAR-15 is a more compact version of the M16A1. It features a retractable stock that moves over the buffer system. The barrel and handguard are shorter. The CAR-15 retains the direct impingement action and rotating bolt used in the M16A1. The CAR-15 is gas operated with a gas tube leading from halfway down the barrel down to a piston attached to the top of the bolt.


The CAR-15 fires the 5.56x45mm M193 round from 20 and 30 round magazines. The fire selector allows for semi-automatic and full automatic fire at a cyclic rate of 700 to 900 rpm. The maximum effective range is somewhat shorter than the M16A1, but is still over 300 m.


The CAR-15 was adopted by US forces, but not in very large quantities. Most of the CAR-15 were exported to Asia and South America. Many nations acquired the CAR-15 for officers and special units. Notable users include Israel and Malaysia. Many CAR-15 carbines remain in use today. Often these are supplemented with newer AR-15 style rifles and carbines.


What makes a CAR-15?

The CAR-15 was produced in several versions. These differed in having either a fixed or retractable stock and in having an upper receiver with or without forward assist. Although all four models were in production, the vast majority produced was of the R653 pattern.

Overview of CAR-15 variants

CAR-15 R651
M16 Carbine with fixed stock and M16A1 upper receiver with forward assist.
CAR-15 R652
M16 Carbine with fixed stock and M16 upper receiver without forward assist.
CAR-15 R653
M16 Carbine with retractable two position stock and M16A1 upper receiver with forward assist.
CAR-15 R654
M16 Carbine with retractable two position stock and M16 upper receiver without forward assist.

Similarity to M4 carbine

The CAR-15 looks rather similar to the M16A2 Carbine and the M4. The CAR-15 can be identified by having a thin barrel profile, an older style two position stock and a fixed carry handle with M16A1 style sights.

Canadian C8

Early models of the Canadian C8 are externally very similar to the CAR-15. While the C8 is based around the NATO cartridge, it uses M16A1 style sights and has the same barrel profile as the CAR-15. Later model C8's feature M4 profile barrels and most are fitted with a Weaver or Picatinny accessory rail instead of a carry handle.


Facts CAR-15 (R653)
United States
Assault rifle
5.56x45mm M193
20 or 30 round detachable box
Barrel length
368 mm
6 grooves, 305 mm right hand twist
Muzzle velocity
920 m/s
Gas operated, direct impingement
Rotating bolt
Fire selector
0 - 1 - F
Rate of fire
650 - 750 rpm
Stock type
838 mm stock extended
757 mm stock retracted
2.54 kg empty
Iron sights

Related articles

Colt M16A1

The CAR-15 is the carbine variant of the M16A1 series of assault rifles. It has a shorter barrel and a retractable stock. Otherwise it is similar.

Colt Commando

The CAR-15 has the same two position retractable stock as the Colt Commando. Due to the longer barrel length the CAR-15 is more akin to a rifle than a sub machine gun.

Colt M4

The Colt M4 is practically similar to the CAR-15, but is based on the NATO-caliber generation of the M16. Most variants of the M4 feature a heavier barrel than the CAR-15 and have a flattop receiver for mounting optics.