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OTD 1961: Defense Dept. Spy Agency approves purchase of AR-15s for testing in Vietnam

On Dec. 4, 1961, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency approved the purchase of a thousand AR-15 rifles from Colt to test with South Vietnamese troops in combat. The shipment cost just under $367,000, including rifles, ammunition, and spare parts. The ARPA office in Saigon, Project AGILE, tested the weapons with South Vietnamese special forces battling Communist insurgents.

A top-secret report sent back to the Pentagon praised the gun’s performance and U.S. advisers also told her their superiors the gun performed well. One officer wrote, “Its killing power is terrific.” The field tests fueled interest in the gun from the John F. Kennedy administration as U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict was on the rise. The military version of the AR-15, named the M16, would become the key U.S. infantry rifle during the Vietnam War. The tests were another key moment in the strange history of the AR-15, from its creation in the 1950s by Eugene Stoner to its place today in the center of America's gun debate -- the most popular civilian rifle in America and the most despised. Read more in American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15.

Vietnam M16s American Gun The True Story of the AR-15 by Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson


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