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"What does the M mean in the US army? M1, M16, M4 etc" Topic

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Kid Kyoto20 Jan 2006 3:51 p.m. PST

The M designation in US equipment seems to be used for too many things.

Tanks and armored vehicles are M's, M3 hlaf track, M1 Abrams, M2 Bradley, M4 Sherman etc.

It's also used for rifles, M1, M14, M16, M60

And missiles? MX?

So what does it mean and why is there an M1 rifle and tank?

And for that matter what do the numbers mean? Why is the newest tank an M1 while WWII tanks are M4s?

Lion in the Stars20 Jan 2006 4:04 p.m. PST

I believe that its short for Model, but I'm not sure.

They have reset numbers a couple times (in the 1950s or 60s for airplanes), since some of the up-armored Humvees are in the M14xx range.

MX stood for Missile eXperimental, and is actually the LGM-118A Peacemaker, in service. That translates to Land-launched Ground-attack Missile, #118, 1st major design change. The various designations at the start of a missile can tell you what it's launched from, it's intended target type, and whether it's guided or not. A=air launched, U=sub, B=ship. I think there's a couple others out there, but I don't know them.

doc mcb20 Jan 2006 4:36 p.m. PST

Yeah, I'm almost certain it's model.

RudyNelson20 Jan 2006 4:40 p.m. PST

Yes it does stand for model. It can get confusing since a tank or machine gun or pistol or even mess kit may have the same model number.

carne6820 Jan 2006 7:15 p.m. PST

Okay, the M in M-16 is pretty obvious. What is the L for in UK small arms like L-1A1, L-85, etc?

Personal logo Dal Gavan Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2006 7:32 p.m. PST

G'day, Carne.

I was always told it stood for "Land Weapon". So you have the L1A1 rifle, L7A1 105mm tank gun, etc. The same system is used in Australia, where "F", as in "F-88 Rifle" stands for "Field".


Cloudy20 Jan 2006 7:58 p.m. PST

In regards to the Army, 'M' is for model. I think that until relatively recently, all weapons/vehicles started with a 'T for test . When the item was accepted for production, it got an official 'M' letter and a number designation that wasn't necessarily the same as the 'T' number. The number designation itself was derived from the next number in line for that item – i.e. M4 medium tank followed the preceding M3 medium tank. So technically there could have been an M4 light, an M4 medium, and an M4 heavy tank.

The Army sometimes short circuited the logic for instance by jumping the number in the light tank series from M3 to M5 instead of using M4 which could have been confused with the M4 medium tank…

Changes incorporated into a production 'M' item would be designated A1, A2 etc. Sometimes an 'E' designation would also be added for an expedient change so you could have something like M4A3E8. The military has also starting reusing number designations like the M1 or B1 but I really dont know why when they began with a logical system that they chose to disregard.

Also for the Brits, the 'L' designation is for "Land Service". HTH.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2006 8:07 p.m. PST

Let's see, we had the M1 Carbine, the M1 Garand, The M1 Thompson, M1 Abrams, M1 Howitzer etc …

Somebody sure liked M1 as a designation.

11th ACR20 Jan 2006 9:13 p.m. PST

M-1 Combat Car (Pre War Tank), M-1 Helmet (WW-II).

M-16 (M-3 Half-track with a quad 50 cal mounted), M-16 Rifle.

Yes the U. S. Military uses "M" for the Model designation of equipment.

But if you think about it, if you were never to repeat a number we would be up in the Model 1000's.

Kid Kyoto20 Jan 2006 11:10 p.m. PST

Well they could use other letters…

T for tank
R for rifle
H for helmet
and M for mess kit

etc, etc…

Silly silly government.

So when someone issues a procurement request do they have to specify which M1 they want?

Personal logo Gungnir Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2006 11:47 p.m. PST

Kid Kyoto, IIRC then you'ld use a stock number, with many more possibilities of making a mistake, so wehen you order a box of fuses you'ld end up with quite a lot of barbed wire, for instance.

Griefbringer21 Jan 2006 3:43 a.m. PST

In WWII it gets confusing, with almost anything called M3 (at least light tank, medium tank, armoured car, halftrack, sub-machine gun and a few other things).


Kevin F Kiley21 Jan 2006 6:42 a.m. PST

If a weapon system is being tested, the usual designation is to put an 'X' in front of it, such as the XM-1, etc.


Kevin F Kiley21 Jan 2006 6:43 a.m. PST

The Designation M-60 was also a favorite. At the same time there was an M-60 machinegun, an M-60 tank, and an M-60 fuze igniter.


CooperSteveatWork21 Jan 2006 6:54 a.m. PST

You mean the design on those needed improving 59 times? Mind you, sounds about right for the SA-80…

KatieL21 Jan 2006 9:09 a.m. PST

The "80" apparently stands for the intended year of entry into service.

We began the final phase of the entry into service with the arrival of the SA80 carbine for vehicle crews last year, making the series almost 25 years late…

{I understand the rifle is actually no longer made, so from now on if anyone drops one, the army can deploy one less rifleman}

RockyRusso21 Jan 2006 11:05 a.m. PST


Don't forget M1911.


Anyway, in procurement the article was ordered with a specific number called "FSN" for Federal Stock Number. And, no, it has been to many years for me to keep remembering any specific number. The usual label on a package might be something like "FSN 111-11-1111 Framistan, Integrated, model 4, sub 1, group a-4, 1 ea." One of the more tedious jobs I once did was working in a federal wharehouse where the gov in its wisdom decided to change the standard procurement size of an item from, say 5 per package to 3 per package. And they would send us to the picking location and hand repackage them all. THEN, when some out of date procurement form came requiring packages of 5 to meet the quota, it was unaceptable to just use long division, you had to re-re-package to suit the procurement order.


Personal logo Dal Gavan Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2006 2:52 a.m. PST

G'day, Cloudy.

Also for the Brits, the 'L' designation is for "Land Service".

I'll have to get a new brain cell. As soon as I read you post I knew I'd misremembered. Thanks.


von Scharnhorst22 Jan 2006 4:24 a.m. PST

Yes it does stand for model. It can get confusing since a tank or machine gun or pistol or even mess kit may have the same model number."

Twenty killed when the Q.M got mixed up. Buried alive in high velocity spoons.

von Scharnhorst22 Jan 2006 4:25 a.m. PST

Enough to stir the blood, so it is.

RudyNelson22 Jan 2006 7:45 a.m. PST

As a quartermaster officer, maybe I should take exception? Naw, it probably happened somewhere.

But I will say that when conducting battalion inventory inspections and reconciliation it could be a hassle. I was assigned to an MI Bn to find a lot of lost property. I will cite only two of the incidences.

In one arms room they were missing a soviet rocket launcher? being an ex-Armor guy, I knew what they all looked like and could not find it. The only extra item that I found was a USSR Flare gun. It had been mis-listed.

The worst example was The high security Sat commo room was missing a 2-drawer safe. When I went to the location, I could only find the serial numbers on the wall of the room. In the end the missing safe was actually the 2-door vault that they were working in.

GeoffQRF22 Jan 2006 10:46 a.m. PST

The Army sometimes short circuited the logic for instance by jumping the number in the light tank series from M3 to M5 instead of using M4 which could have been confused with the M4 medium tank…

…presumably rather than muddle it up with the variety of other things designated M3 at the time…

Then you back to M1 for the Abrams.

If the Sheriden is the M551, where are the other 400 odd items?

Of course the Soviets prefer to just call them what they are, BMP (1, 2, 3, the 'P' being 'Infantry') actually being Russian for APC. Quite funny to read my Russian books and see the BMP M2 Bradley.

GeoffQRF22 Jan 2006 10:48 a.m. PST

Of course, we Brits try to confuse the issue by giving it a number (FV…) then ignoring it in general use and using a name instead.

Lion in the Stars23 Jan 2006 1:11 p.m. PST

It's still better than the old USNavy system for designating aircraft. F4U=Fighter, 4th model built by voUght. Then there's the FG1 (Super Corsair)

So you had an F4F (Wildcat), and an F4U (Corsair). TBF/TBM Avenger, etc.

They finally slapped both the Navy and the Army/Airfarce airedales around until they decided to have one uniform system. F=fighter, B=bomber, P=patrol, C=cargo, A=attack. #=consecutive design.

KenFox25 Jan 2006 6:57 p.m. PST

What's funny is the British found the U.S. system confusing and gave things the names we use today, e.g. Stuart, Grant, and Sherman are all British names for U.S. tanks.

CooperSteve: The numbers did not relate at all. For example, the M3 medium tank and the M4 medium tank are completely unrelated designs. There were "A" designations after the "M" number to identify variant designs, e.g. M3A1, M3A2 and M3A2 were all derivatives of the M3 light tank (Stuart).

Cloudy25 Jan 2006 9:21 p.m. PST

>If the Sheriden is the M551, where are the other 400 odd items?<

My guess is that when the Army switched to sequential "XM" numbers, they allocated them to all projects and whenever one actually made it into production, they just dropped the "X" and used whatever "M" number it had. So I'm reasonably certain that there could have been hundreds of projects prior to the M551 (your tax dollars at work ya know). They then realized that the numbers were getting huge very quickly and so decided to start back at square one again with M1 etc. Just speculation on my part.

I also think that we're fortunate that the British named our vehicles in WWII since they have a way with names :-)


subliminal death threat25 Jan 2006 9:58 p.m. PST

So what's the deal with modern MGs using different letters instead of the usual A1,A2, etc? There's the M60E1,E2,E3,B,C,D and the M240E1,C,B(originally E4),D,G,H(E5),E6.

An E-suffix usually denotes a developmental modification of an existing piece of equipment. So why didn't the M60E2 and E3 become A2 and A3 when they were standardized?


RockyRusso26 Jan 2006 9:59 a.m. PST


On the Super Corsair, the FG 1 and 2, the "G" is for "Goodyear"…the tire company who made airplanes!

As a sidebar, the japanese adapted the US navy system!

Thus "A6M-2" which is the early war "zero" is "A" for fighter, 6th model, "M" for Mitsubishi and "2" for varient.

In addition, the japanese would call them by year model. Thus the "zero" was the type 00. As in any given year there might be several new weapons, you would have a plethora of, say "type 99s".

In the US we had minimal information on what the japanese were doing. An army intelligence officer was given the task of assigning NAMES for convience. And the inside joke was that one of the people doing this was from West Virginia and they decided to use "hill billy" type names.

Thus, the A6M-2 "Zero-sen" is code named "Zeke". The -3 model was thought to be a new model and was initially named "HAP", but someone feared that the US commander "Hap" Arnold might dislike the "hill billy" association. So, it was changed to "Hamp".

Ironically, as the system grew, everyone used it. The navy and, eventually the Japanese used it. Thus, today, the japanese refer to planes like the "jack" and "dinah" and so on.


Weasel29 Jan 2006 11:14 p.m. PST

A bit easier with the German designations, that actually abbreviate to what the item is :)

RudyNelson30 Jan 2006 7:04 a.m. PST

When I was in the Cavalry in the 1970s. I had 10 vehicles in my unit including M551. A number of the higher sequence numbers include Engineer, Recovery, Support and Artillery vehicles.

I may be mistaken but I thought that the initial '5' had something to do with the fact that it was not a tank but a recon vehicle which also have three numbers after WW2. I do not think that it has anything to do with being able to float! LOL!!

Jemima Fawr30 Jan 2006 7:20 a.m. PST

The SA80 is the manufacturer's name for the rifle – the Armed Forces refer to it as the L85/L85A1/L85A2 (among other things). The cadet version is the L98 and I forget what the LSW and carbine versions are designated.

subliminal death threat30 Jan 2006 9:25 a.m. PST

The SA80 LSW is the L86, the original carbine version never got an official designation as it was never produced in quantity. I see a new carbine version is going to be issued so I assume it will get one now.

GeoffQRF30 Jan 2006 2:59 p.m. PST

"…until they decided to have one uniform system. F=fighter, B=bomber, P=patrol, C=cargo, A=attack. #=consecutive design

Well, semi-uniform

Then they went back to the start and reallocated F4 to the Phantom…

…and called the F/A18 (because they wanted to use it for both fighter AND ground attack)…

…so then you've got F14, F15, F16, (YF17 lost contract to F18), F/A18, F20… where's the F19? Oh, no, that got redesignated to F117 (…or DID it?)… hey, where's the other 90+ F designations gone from F21 to F117?

Or do stealth/skunk works get their own special '100' added? In which case where are the previous 100 to 116? :-)

Lion in the Stars30 Jan 2006 3:14 p.m. PST

F19, for whatever reason was skipped. The Stealth probably would have been F19, had it not been referred to in the pilots' logs as "117 time", which was evidently shorthand for 'aircraft of classified type' (like captured MiGs). LockMart then produced a set of manuals with 'F117 Nighthawk' on the cover, and instead of paying out the wazoo for new manuals, the number was officially assigned. At least that's the 'official rumor'.

F100 Super Saber
F101 Voodoo
F102 Delta Dart
F103 ?? (don't know, haven't heard anything with that #)
F104 Starfighter
F105 Thunderchief
F106 Delta Dagger
F107 (prototype high-altitude interceptor)
F108 (Phantom II initial designator)
F109 ??
F110 ??
F111 'Aardvark'

Don't know anything higher than the 111, other than the 117.

subliminal death threat30 Jan 2006 3:41 p.m. PST

There was the whole Century series F-100 Super Sabre, F-101 Voodoo, F-102 Dart(?), F-104 Starfighter, F-105 Thunderchief,F-106 Delta Dagger(?) and the F-111 Aardvark. F-110 was the original Air Force designation for the Phantom II, F4H was the Navy's. I think the F-4 designation was kept because the Navy adopted the Phantom first. It should be noted the Air Force gives aircraft that are primarily intended for attack F for fighter designations even if they have limited air to air capability. Hence the F-111 and F-117 and the Corsair II was the A-7 because it was a Navy plane first.


subliminal death threat30 Jan 2006 3:44 p.m. PST

Oops, sorry about the repeat of info. Lion beat me to it before I could hit submit.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2006 3:59 p.m. PST

"(YF17 lost contract to F18)"

Not quite correct. The YF-17 was Northrops entry into the USAF Light Weight Fighter Program and lost to the General Dynamics YF-16 aircraft. The Navy then evaluated the YF-17 (they prefer twin engine aircraft) and decided to develop it into the F/A-18.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2006 4:41 a.m. PST

Lion, the following are the missing "Century" aircraft from your list:

F-103: A Reuplic designed twin engine, mach 3, tailed delta wing interceptor. Never made it to prototype stage.
F-107: An interceptor based on the F-100, later proposed as a fighter-bomber but the Air Force preferred the F-105.
F-108: Actually two aircraft ended up with this designator. Bell used it for the aircraft that later became the X-14. Was reused by North American for their proposed Delta Wing Mach 3 interceptor.
F-109: Assigned to the twin seat interceptor version of the F-101B VooDoo
F-110: This was the original Air Force designator for the F-4.

The gap between the F-111 and the F-117 is unknown but some speculation is those identifiers were used for classified aircraft which never saw production.

GeoffQRF31 Jan 2006 1:13 p.m. PST

So, why re-designate backwards to F4 then forwards to F117?

RockyRusso31 Jan 2006 1:35 p.m. PST


You are assuming a unified agreed upon designator. In fact, the F4 designation was a NAVY only designation.

The navy started designating separately from the army/airforce from the beginning. In the 30s, for instance, the navy was using a system like this: (mission)aircraft number from manufacturer, manufacturer designator,(subvariant).

Thus, the famed "Corsair" of WW2 was the "F" for fighter, 4 (aircraft from manufacturerer), "U" for Chance Vought, -1, sub variant.

The japanese navy used the same system the "Zero" was the Model 00 for the year it was designed, however, its designation was "A6M-2" A for fighter, 6 for aircrfaft from "M" for Mitsubishi, -2 for variant.

This was confusing. The navy revised their designator agagain the 50s and then again in the 60s. Some long service aircraft such as the Skyraider got re-designated several times.

And the final change led to the F4 Phantom, fourth navy fighter type.

At the same time, the aircorps/airforce started designating from P1 forward. After WW2, "P" for Persuit was changed to "F" for fighter, and the designations continued. There were anomolies. For instance the "F86 D" was actucally a new airplane being designated as F86 to hide the new procurement from congress!

Anyway, under the original system, the stelth fighter could not be 117, as there was already such a plane. Essentially, with this secret airplane, no designation actually fits either the original system or the current one!

For one thing, it ain't a FIGHTER!


Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2006 2:07 p.m. PST

"So, why re-designate backwards to F4 then forwards to F117?"

It was a losing battle with no one refering to the Air Force version of the Phantom (actually the Phantom II) as the F-110 so the Air Force gave in and used the Navy designator. Ample precedence. They Corsair A-7s adopted from the Navy kept that designator in the Air Force for example.

jdpintex31 Jan 2006 2:11 p.m. PST

I can't believe anyone expects a rational set of rules from the US government.

They can't even follow the rules of nomenclature for the navy ships and there are less than a 1,000 ships in the entire fleet.

subliminal death threat31 Jan 2006 5:52 p.m. PST

This completely explains the current US aircraft designation system: link

Hope it clears up some of the confusion.

subliminal death threat31 Jan 2006 7:44 p.m. PST

The F-1 through the F-11 were all navy fighters that had been re-designated under the 1962 Tri-Service System. The numbering system simply picked up where they left off. The YF-12 was the interceptor forerunner of the SR-71, then came the F-14 Tomcat,etc. Air Force aircraft essentially kept their same designations with some slight adjustments to certain mission code prefixes. The same thing happened to all aircraft types. Therefore you have older aircraft with higher designation numbers than newer ones. Some aircraft types simply had their number system reset, so you have the B-52 that predates the B-1 and B-2 bombers.

More Thought31 Jan 2006 8:06 p.m. PST

Just to sow some confusion, in Canada they use C designation liberally. But also names, and Ms as well.

So the F/A-18 is the CF-18.

The FN-FAL was the C-1 (or was it C-2?)

The FN-MMG was the C-6.

The Canadian variant of the M-16A2 is the C-7.

And the SAW (forget what its called elsewhere) is the C-9.

That is a civilians view, someone who has served could give a better outline.


BTW: This thread is being too friendly. Its been crossposted to the CA forum, someone had better start insulting each other or the management is going to get upset!

(I'm kidding!)

subliminal death threat31 Jan 2006 8:15 p.m. PST

C-2 was the heavy barrel version of FAL. There was also the C5, an M1919 converted to 7.62 NATO. The C8 is a carbine version of the C7.

Officially the F/A-18 is the CF-188 but nobody uses that prefering CF-18 instead.

More Thought31 Jan 2006 9:40 p.m. PST

Thanks for the info PZ2!

So the C-8 would be (sort of) like the US M-4 then?

Ha! And there is another one, a carbine version of the M-16A2 gets tagged the M-4!

MrPicky200601 Feb 2006 7:16 a.m. PST

The US system of nomenclature as applied in WWII was elegant and precise, provided that the type (or its acronym) was used along with the model number – Light Tank, Medium Tank, Heavy Tank, Howitzer Motor Carriage, Gun Motor Carriage, Multiple Gun Motor Carriage, Mortar Motor Carriage, etc, etc.

In fact I'm really disappointed that they whimped on using the M4 Light Tank designation – only the Poms would have been confused and they would have just named it after some ACW General or some such, and in the long run it might have made wargamers pay more attention to what they were talking about!


subliminal death threat01 Feb 2006 8:01 a.m. PST

No probs. Yes the C8 and M4 are generally the same, differences are that all C8s are full- auto, the ones with carrying handles have A1 type rear sights(the original batch of M4/M4A1s had carrying handles with A2 type rear sights), C8A1s are flat tops, and I don't think C8s have the stepped barrel like M4s do.

US carbines are numbered seperately from rifles. The M4 carries on the sequence from the WW2/Korean vintage M1, M1A1, M2(full auto M1), M3(an M2 with infrared sniper scope).

Thought01 Feb 2006 11:32 a.m. PST



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