A summary of infantry rifle caliber discussions and relevant wound ballistics

[ This article was written by Sven Ortmann of Personal Defence Weapons Central, an excellent small arms resource. ]

by Sven Ortmann, lastdingo@gmx.de, 2008-01-05

There are too many misleading anecdotes and rumors about military rifle calibers floating in the air (and in the WWW). This short article is meant to help readers with a presentation of the results of my secondary source research on the rifle caliber discussion and terminal (wound) ballistics.

Caliber: 9×19 mm and .45ACP (= 11.43x23mm)

This is the standard NATO caliber for pistols and a popular caliber for submachineguns. The only ones who seem to have a strong dislike for this caliber seem to be those U.S. Americans who continue to compare it with .45ACP.

The U.S. American problems with the 9x19mm caliber seem to include a mix of emotions (a Colt M1911 in .45ACP feels much more powerful) and poor quality of the U.S. standard issue 9mm pistols. The latter is as far as I know more a magazine production quality problem than a pistol design problem. The origin of .45ACP is said to lie in combat experience around 1900 in the Philippines where determined Philippinos weren’t stopped reliably by smaller revolver calibers. Tests on live animals in 1904 showed better effects for heavier bullets, but little improvement with velocity. Bullet design has improved a lot since then, and hollowpoint bullets that flatten their nose in soft tissue to increase their diameter are much more effective than simple soft lead bullets. A good 9mm bullet enjoys a similar advantage over a .45ACP soft lead bullet than the latter over a 9mm soft lead bullet. There’s a fundamental problem, though: There’s not much difference in effect on the target if you hit the wrong places and the permanent cavities of pistol bullets are all relatively small. Many body parts are simply not essential enough – their destruction doesn’t stop a determined opponent immediately; no matter whether you hit with .45ACP or 9x19mm.
A new procurement of pistols could easily be a significant improvement over existing 9x19mm service pistols, though. A new pistol could be designed to use reliably both standard 9x19mm and “hot” 9x19mm loadings (higher pressure). The latter would give some extra punch, especially extra penetration. A further improvement is possible by procurement of better bullets. The Russians have a 9mm semi-jacketed exposed steel core bullet that combines AP effect (hard core) with a hollow-point effect (outer parts of the bullets deform and effectively increase the bullet diameter in soft tissue). Such a bullet has enough penetration capability against a combination of a full pouch and a light kevlar vest. An improvement of pistol accuracy is probably more pressing than the caliber; some sort of shoulder stock and easily visible sights (large iron sights as usual on revolvers, for example) could help.

Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO

This caliber is at the center of a great and long-lasting controversy. Its opponents call it a varmint caliber and report firefights with multiple hits on the same opponent without satisfactory effect. They compare this caliber very often to the supposedly more effective 7.62x51mm caliber. More about that in the 7.62 chapter. Another problem with 5.56x45mm is its rather unsatisfactory ability to penetrate wooden or wall covers. A dissatisfaction with the standard service rifles/carbines of both the USA and the UK (the British solved their problems with an extensive upgrade) and the use of rather short barrels in the U.S. M4 carbine add to the problems with 5.56x45mm.

The defenders of the caliber remind us that even mutilating wounds by much larger calibers and even explosive warheads cannot reliably stop a determined opponent.

The most terrible problem in the 5.56x45mm caliber discussion is the use of anecdotes. Different barrels, ranges and hit locations produce very different effects, so you will always find anecdotes to support your position on this caliber – no matter what’s your position.

There’s (apparently especially in Germany) a stupid rumor about 5.56x45mm and rifle calibers in general that tells about a nervous shock that can kill even with only small injuries. It’s nonsense. A short primer on rifle/carbine bullets; they behave differently in soft tissue than most pistol bullets. They don’t move straight through the tissue all the way. Instead, they begin to turn and usually exit bottom forward. Some bullets break up under the stress of this turn, and the fragmentation increases the destruction of soft tissue very much. A turning bullet doesn’t create a permanent cavity of much greater diameter than its own length; a disintegrating bullet can create a much, much larger permanent cavity.

The ideal rifle/carbine bullet looks like this; it’s able to penetrate cover/armor, it begins to turn in soft tissue immediately and it disintegrates into fragments with devastating effect in soft tissue (terminal ballistics). Good sectional density and ballistic coefficient are important for a good effective range (external ballistics). Finally, some people want it to be lead-free to protect the environment and save costs on shooting range maintenance.

So what does a 5.56x45mm bullet really do? Answer; it depends.

The differences between 5.56mm bullets are noteworthy in terms of cover penetration (heavier is better), but all seem to share a rather disappointing “performance” in soft tissue. The bullet begins to turn later than desired. This means that frontal hits on skinny opponents are often not very effective because the most destructive part – the turning and possible fragmentation – happens too late (the 180° turn isn’t completed before exit).

The other problem in soft tissue is fragmentation. Fragmentation is necessary to achieve a good deal of damage with the small bullet. This requires a good impact velocity and appropriate bullet design. Short-barrelled weapons don’t accelerate the bullet to the originally intended velocity, and the velocity drops rapidly with the distance. 5.56x45mm fired from carbines like the M4 carbine produce very little if any fragmentation in soft tissue at distances greater than about 50-100m.

Carbines and assault rifles should be effective to at least 300m, squad sharpshooters (also known as Designated Marksmen) and light machinegunners should be highly effective out to 400m with good effect. 5.56x45mm doesn’t offer much effect in soft tissue at many relevant ranges unless fired from long barrelled weapons. Barrel lengths of at least 18″ or at the very least 16″ are often recommended. The original M16 assault rifle and many other assault rifle with this caliber have a barrel length of 20″ while the M4 carbine has only a 14.5″ barrel.

There’s apparently not much potential for improvement in the 5.56x45mm caliber: Heavy bullets for improved cover penetration and long barrels for reliable fragmentation seem to be somewhat successful approaches.

Caliber: PDW cartridges (5.7x28mm and 4.6x30mm)

These calibers share the same problems as 5.56x45mm, just even more so (they don’t seem to break up at all).

The short story is like this: Weapons in these calibers are easily controlled in full auto fire due to the low impulse of the cartridges (light bullets). The individual bullets don’t do much to soft tissue (but more than you would tolerate in your own soft tissue).

The strength of these calibers is the higher hit probability (especially for ill-trained support troops) in comparison to 9x19mm and .45ACP. The higher hit count might make up for the lesser effect of individual bullets. A one-vs-one comparison of the wound ballistic effects is therefore misleading. More hits also add to the chance of hitting something really vital.

There are other, less well-known calibers for PDWs (personal defence weapons) than these two. Some use larger calibers, but they’re likely all either similar to my description of pistol or PDW caliber wound ballistics.

Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO

This is another NATO standard caliber (forced on NATO by the USA against a clearly superior British design). It has been replaced as assault rifle caliber by 5.56x45mm almost completely and was never a carbine caliber. 7.62x51mm is still very widespread as machinegun caliber in NATO armies and is also in use with some sniper/sharpshooter rifles.

The caliber was too powerful for controllable assault rifle full auto fire (well, controllability in bursts was OK within hand grenade range). The cartridges are quite heavy and it’s difficult to carry many of them into action; a major disadvantage for suppressive fires unless you need to suppress enemies who are behind light cover.

The penetration of cover is usually satisfactory, but armor penetration isn’t very good for the simple reason that almost all gunshields, armored vehicles and even some heavy body armor were designed to withstand this caliber and its Russian counterpart, 7.62x54mmR. Only expensive SLAP cartridges (saboted light armor penetrating, performance in soft tissue) have a very good penetration capability at short and medium range.

The external ballistics are under criticism for sniping and more powerful calibers (.300WinMag, .338LapuaMag, 9.3x64mm and even .50BMG, for example) with less bullet drop and less wind sensitivity have become important in sniper rifle procurement since the 90’s.

7.62x51mm is often being attributed with a huge and rarely questioned power against soft targets; knockdown power, manstopping power – no matter how they call it. 7.62x51mm is usually presented as the good example in comparison to 5.56mm. This is – at least for U.S.-made 7.62x51mm standard service cartridges – not fully justified. There are significant differences in penetration till the turning movement begins and in fragmentation. The U.S.-made (standard issue) 7.62 bullets aren’t that much better than 5.56mm bullets (if better at all). They penetrate deeply before turning and don’t fragment much.

There have been much superior (at least in fragmentation) bullets in service (like the German ones) and there’s also a 7.62x51mm cartridge/bullet design that fulfills all expectations for soft tissue damage; it begins to turn and fragment very quickly and has a reliable and devastating effect on soft tissue.

Again; you won’t necessarily stop a determined enemy from firing at you if you don’t hit the right spots – no matter what rifle ammunition you use.

Caliber: .50BMG (= 12,7x99mm NATO)

This caliber is widespread and has loyal fans in the USA and also elsewhere, but it wasn’t adopted in some NATO forces and has some drawbacks.

It was originally a tank-penetrating caliber for machine guns (M2 Browning, later M2HB). Similar cartridges were used during the World Wars by anti-tank rifles (which were only able to penetrate light armor plates). Tanks got thicker armor plating by the mid-1930’s, leaving only light armored vehicles and certain vulnerable spots on heavier armored vehicles as vulnerable to .50BMG. This application has been revived in the 1980’s for long-range and “anti-material” sniping.

There’s no very lively discussion about this caliber in the public. Attempts to replace it focused on intermediate sniping cartridges for long-range and armor-penetrating sniping (like .338LapuaMag), 40x54mm HE cartridges for automatic grenade launchers that replaced many M2HB (.50BMG) machine guns on vehicles and finally a high-tech 25mm air-burst HE cartridge in the failed OCSW program.

The primary problems of .50BMG are weight and volume. Both ammunition and weapon are much bigger than their 7.62x51mm counterparts. The ammunition supply for a .50BMG is usually very small in comparison to the 7.62x51mm alternative. .50BMG is also too heavy for dismounted machine gun use on the move; it can be done (with a tripod), but the effort isn’t justified in most situations.

This caliber is probably only justified if the extra penetration is really necessary. One example: Reconnaissance vehicles need to be able to take on enemy reconnaissance vehicles which are usually armored against 7.62x51mm AP, so something heavier is desirable even for the lightest recce vehicles.

An intermediate machine gun caliber close to the .338LapuaMag sniper cartridge could match the utility of .50BMG in most situations with significantly more ammunition for the same weight and volume.

Both .50BMG and 7.62x51mm are quite well-established and not much under criticism, so there’s no good reason to expect a new, intermediate caliber standard for machine guns.

Ideal caliber discussions

The “ideal” infantry rifle caliber needs to be suitable for rifle, carbine, light machine gun and possibly even squad sharpshooter and medium machine gun applications. Penetration is important, bullet drop and effect at ranges like 400 or 500m is important, soft tissue damage needs to be good and consistent at all ranges and both weight and volume need to allow for a good ammunition load.

Historical and recent conclusions about an ideal infantry caliber almost always agreed on a calibre in the range from 6 to 7 mm. The larger ones tend to have better effect and to be heavier while the smaller calibers in that range tend to offer superior external ballistics (flatter trajectory, more useful at long range).

The optimum is probably close the the center; a 6 or 6.25mm caliber would probably be too close to 5.56mm to convince the 5.56mm critics (maybe for good reasons).

The 6.5mm Grendel and 6.8mm SPC calibers have become famous in the last few years as optimal caliber candidates. Both use conventional cartridge technology – it may be that confidential details from plastic case technology development would favor something like a 6.5-6.8mm plastic cased cartridge instead.

Links for additional reading (and graphics)

There are thousands of possible links, but most would lead you to misleading information.






Keep in mind at this link that bullet technology has advanced significantly since 1904:


Bullet categories:

An overview over PDWs:

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • I wonder why there are no machine guns chambered in .338 Lapua. It would be a good step up from 7.62mm NATO.

  • Sven Ortmann

    “I wonder why there are no machine guns chambered in .338 Lapua. It would be a good step up from 7.62mm NATO.”

    I wonder even more why FN believed to have spotted a market niche between 12.7mm and 20mm in ’83. They developed the (canceled) 15x115mm BRG-15 machine gun in the 80’s instead of looking at an intermediate caliber in the 7.62/12.7mm gap.

    .338LapuaMagnum is claimed to be well-designed for belt feeding.
    The ammunition standardization advantages would be marginal, though – snipers demand match, subsonic and high-end AP while machine gunners need ball, tracer and normal AP.

  • Jesse

    Nothing about the 7.62×39 or 5.45×39?

  • Sean

    It’s cute when know-it-all Europeans pretend they’re more competent with firearms and firearm design than a nation with 70 million gun owners and the most effective military on earth.


    • Sean, that is an unfair statement. H&K, Glock, Sako, Sig, FN, H&H, Beretta, Mauser not to mention all the former State armories of former Soviet states … the list goes on.

  • Vitor

    The .338 was made with snipers in mind, but yeah, if its good for a sniper, it will probably be great for a machine gun.

    Im a big a fan of the 6.5 Grendel. At 1000 meters, it still packs more energy than a 9mm that just came out of the barrel.

  • Fred

    It’s a relatively new round, and it’s bigger enough that you can’t easily convert a present design to fire it would be my guess.
    Plus it has so much hype as a sniper round that people (machine gun manufacturers) just might not have put serious thought into it.

  • Mac45

    9mm v. 45cal:

    With militarily accepted fmj ammo, there is no question that the fight-stopping wound capability of the latter is greater. When you throw frangible ammo into the mix, the question becomes murkier. But, if both calibers expand as designed, you still get a larger wound cavity and increased blood loss. Forget about any handgun with military grade body armor. Armor designed to accept multiple hits from 7.62 NATO rounds will be an efficient shield against pistol caliber rounds, including the 5.7mm. Why was the 9mm cartridge and the M9 [Beretta] pistol adopted by the US military? Politics. The US government wanted to please our NATO allies and the Italians in particular and adopted both.

    5.56mm v. 7.62mm:

    The 5.56mm cartridge was adopted for one reason. To allow Air Force Security Police to have a short range, high capacity carbine, that was easier to carry and shoot than the m14, to defend air bases the M16 was adopted by that branch of the Armed Services. McNamara forced it upon the true ground combat services who did not want it. Since then, many “reasons” have been put forth to attempt to lend some legitimacy to the cartridge choice: soldiers can carry more ammo, it can be more effectively controlled than a full battle cartridge in automatic fire, most soldier to soldier engagements occur within 300 meters, etc. The problem is, that most armies teach their troops not to utilize full auto fire, but rather to use aimed semi-auto fire; the extra ammo is used up faster than that from a heavier battle rifle due to multiple rounds being fired at a single target rather than the single shots utilized by the larger rifle; and, finally, as we discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan, battle distances are very often as great as 800 to 1000 meters, far beyond the effective range of the 5.56mm round. Once again, frangible ammo is not in general use by standard military organizations, so its inclusion in the argument is fallacious.

    Is there a better military handgun cartridge and battle rifle cartridge out there? Who knows. There probably is, but it is unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon. Why? Politics and money.

  • Sven Ortmann

    @Jesse; the Warsaw Pact standard calibers are emntioned in some of the links.

    5.45 is slightly worse than 5.56 usually and 7.62×39 can be anything from terrible to good, but I recall reports that it’s penetrating cover much better than 5.45 at least.

    The bottom line is that bullet design is extremely important and anecdotal evidence is useless, but some calibers (those below 6mm) simply don’t have enough potential to satisfy against soft tissue, soft cover and armor in one design.

  • jdun1911

    His position is weak at best. At worst he doesn’t know the subject.

    Firearms and munition are two different breed. Being an expert in one doesn’t mean you’re an expert in the other.

    .338 Lupua is 20 years old and I don’t considered it new. The US military doesn’t want to ship another cartridge to the front line.

    The US War College has a saying: “Armatures talks about tactics. Professions talks about logistic.” Battles are won before the first bullet are fire and believe me the US military is very good at logistics.

    Logistics not money or politics is what determine the type of weapons, vehicles, munitions, gears, food, etc that the military use.

    Keep in mind in all the wars we have entered, only three were fought on US soil. Because of this realization the US military place a premium on logistics.

    With that said there is no magic bullet.


    • lol, good saying.

      I think a new saying should be invented: “Shooters talk ballistics. Generals talk politics.”.

      The thing is that every once in a while there time when, for whatever reason, things need to be redesigned. The 7.62mm NATO should have been the 7mm NATO (.280 British) and the 5.56mm NATO and its’ shortcomings would probably never existed.

  • Sven Ortmann

    You didn’t write what’s “weak” in your opinion.

    Logistics are an entirely different matter (and many would disagree with you about it, as an emphasis on supply consumption is a typical U.S. American trait in warfare).
    Besides; I touched the logistics/standardization issue by mentioning that .50BMG is well-established.

  • jdun1911

    Steve it should go this way: “Armchair Generals talks ballistics. Shooter practice shot placements.”

    I had a very long discussion few years back on the 5.56 and I really don’t want to repeat it. I will said this.
    1. Recoil is in burst and auto is controllable.
    2. You can carry twice as much ammo as 7.62.
    3. It is effective over 400 meters.
    4. The ability for faster follow up shots.
    5. The ability to engage multiple targets faster.
    6. Operator accuracy won’t deteriorate due to pain over long engagements.

    There is no such thing as one stop shot. You always double tap and if your opponent is still moving, you double tap him again. The placement of the second shot for the 5.56 will be in the same area as the first. This isn’t always true for a battle rifle rounds like 7.62NATO.

    I can engage 6 six targets with the 5.56 before the 7.62 guy finish his third target.

    I don’t want to diminish our service men and women sacrifice. I just wanted to point out some facts.

    The US has lost over 4000 brave service men and women due to combat and non-combat related deaths in Iraq and Afghan since 2002. That’s almost 7 years. Each month over 35000 Americans die in car accidents. Around 10 Americans die each day to drowning. That amount to 3500 per year. Homicide deaths in Chicago outpace Iraq/Afghan combat deaths. The list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

    If the the 5.56 rounds were so bad and ineffective one would assumed that the combat deaths rate should be higher then 3500 in seven years.

    My cousin building a service grade A2 rifle to complete in 600m-1000m at blackwater. Anyone want to volunteer as a target? I don’t think so.

    The above link I posted, the police officer placed 22 rounds .40 caliber Ranger STX into the criminal. 17 of which went into the COM. The criminal was able to keep fighting until he die from blood lost.

    In “Lone Survivor” (good book, true story), Navy SEAL guys took multiples 7.62 hits in COM areas. Those injuries did not stop them from fighting and moving.

    There is no such thing as one shot stop. Lean shot placements. Learn how to double tap effectively.

    • jdun1911, you make a valid point. I got a big laugh the other day reading a recent issue of Rifle magazine (or possibly another magazine) where they had an article on big bore bullets “failing” on elephants. The kind of calibers they were using I can’t see how decent shot placement of a huge chunk of lead traveling relitivly fast would not take down any living thing, regardless if the bullet fractured or bent in an undesired manner.

  • Sven Ortmann

    jdun1911, you ignored the lacking penetration of cover in forest and urban combat. That’s a serious problem.

    Combat is rarely a contest about kills per minute – most often the battlefield is empty and competent opponents are fleeting targets. There’s often no opportunity for a second shot, especially none that’s aimed for certain parts of the body.

    You mixed up cartridge and rifle design with “The placement of the second shot for the 5.56 will be in the same area as the first. This isn’t always true for a battle rifle rounds like 7.62NATO.” That’s because barrel-shoulder stock-shoulder are in a straight line in most 5.56mm assault rifle designs. This is a newer design feature than the the 7.62NATO rifles. There’s no reason why you couldn’t have that feature in 7.62, though.

    Btw; nobody argued for a 7.62NATO assault rifle – a proper comparison of 5.56NATO should better compare it with the supposedly ‘ideal’ caliber group of 6-7mm, like 6.5Grendel or 6.8SPC.

    The losses in Iraq are a result of thousands of variables – certainly not all favorable. It’s no logical argument to justify a caliber with low war casualties as that can have many reasons.
    Try to fight a war like that with as little (body) armor as the opponent and the statistics would look extremely different, maybe the whole face of war would look very different.

  • AfgDesertCat

    My $0.02

    I served as a Squad Designated Marksman (M14-ERB) on my first tour and a Team Leader (M4) on my second. Both rifles have niche roles. I think that is due in part to the rifle design. However, I think this is primarily because of their respective ammunition’s characteristics. I can’t talk about terminal ballistics vs. external ballistics or muzzle energy or anything like that. What I can tell you is this:

    People shot with a M14 drop with noticably greater frequency then those shot with a M4.

    I don’t care what anyone says 762s are more predictable at greater distances than 556. Learn how to account for bullet drop and get over it.

    Most soldiers can become proficient with an M4 rather quickly. (I think that is why it is so popular with wannabees.)

    Most soldiers (even experienced ones,) have trouble with a M14.

    SAWs (556) are great for surpressive fire. 240-Bravo (762) not so much.

    240-Bravo will bust up a mudhouse. SAW not so much.

    556 rounds don’t penetrate car windshields very well. 762 rounds do.

    M14s will wear your ass out (shoot em and carrying em).

    Hope it helps. But then again, what the hell do I know.

  • AfgDesertCat

    Oh, jdun1911.

    I love the passion man, but don’t get tunnel vision. They’re two different rounds and serve two different purposes.

    BTW Anybody who defends the M4 platform by rifle maintenance or shot placement arguments probably hasn’t had a whole lotta rounds thrown their way.

    It stands on its own as a trainable platform that is light yet controlable and has good eurgonomics.

  • Sean Nack

    i’m a big fan of less body armor at the moment, but that’s a discussion for another time.

    sorry sven, here’s a semi-useless anecdote: i think that in today’s infantry doctrine, which pretty much amounts to “pin them down and kill them with indirect and air power” (that was my experience in afghanistan anyway, i’m sure iraq is different), that the ability to carry more ammunition for a sustained gun battle is just as if not more important an argument than the ballistics themselves.

    accuracy a secondary characteristic? blasphemy, i know.

    all in all, great article. i learned a lot and i appreciate your contribution.

  • Ed

    As to why the .338 Lapua hasn’t been adopted for belt-fed machine guns, I think cost and logistics play a huge role. The ammo manufactures can churn out 7.62 NATO by the hundred-million because they have the tools and presses set up for it. Also, as the .308 Win. is nearly identical, they have a commercial reason beyond the military to produce this caliber in similar loads/bullets. I’d love to see a belt-fed .338 though.

  • knot

    there are too many misleading anecdotes and rumors . . .

    All of this article can be boiled down to a few bullet points.
    1. Adequate accuracy is required, even under combat stress.
    2. Handgun wound mortality is due to exsanguination (bleed out), unless you are lucky or have time for a great aimed shot.
    3. More holes bleed faster.
    4. Different rifle calibers are suitable for different tasks. Unfortunately, you will only be carrying one rifle in one caliber regardless of the task. So, learn the fieldcraft and be excellent with what you have.
    5. In war, logistics DOES matter. It doesn’t guarantee a win, but lack of it can sure make winning a lot less likely. It’s no fun going without even a sears catalog for months at a time in a desert. :|—<
    6. We should listen to the wisdom of our combat veterans and modify our T.O.E. to accomodate the needs of the troops in the field.
    7. We all hope we don’t have to learn the wisdom in all the anecdotes personally.

  • Good post.


  • darshan

    Hi Steve,I have been following your blog for some time now and I really like your blog.However this guy sven ortmann doesn’t deserve to be on this blog.He hatred for America would humble even OBL.You don’t have to believe me.I think he also has a blog which goes by the name of “defense and freedom” or something like it.You can sense the hatred in his articles.

    Constructive criticism is one thing but such vitriol is completely unnecessary.
    In this article also he is more focussed on criticizing Americans

    I can only request you not to devote precious bandwidth to such people.


    • darshan,I am pleased you enjoy the blog. Even though I do not discuss politics you are sure to have figured out I am a conservative. I am in fact very conservative in my political views and would never dream of publishing anti-American views nor do I allow such comments on the blog.

      But the blogs’ slogan is “Firearms, not politics”. Mr Ortmann can publish whatever he wants on his own blog, that is his right. I did not find his article to be offensive but his merely his opinion on current NATO cartridges. The European NATO members are sure to have different opinions than the US military.

      Gentleman, lets keep this discussion on track. Comments should be related to the article.

  • jdun1911

    The AR action makes bad shooter into good shooters. It is by far the most accurate auto action ever made.

    A $800 AR15 will out shoot a $10,000 PSG1. Here are some wannabe shooters results.

    http://www.ar15.com/forums/topic.html?b=3&f=118&t=414599&sr=0 (also a link to a good program software)

    Never did I said kill per minute. My main point is there is no one shot stop. Period. You keep shooting until your opponent is dead.

    My other point is that the 5.56 is good or exceed at the range it was designed. From house to house to long distance shooting.

    I also forgot to mention that the smaller bullet provide for larger size magazine.

  • He speaks quite approvingly of bullets which fragment, and about how serious the resulting wounds are.

    He apparently isn’t aware that it’s a war crime, a violation of the Hague Convention, to use bullets which are designed to flatten or fragment.


    It’s true that a 9x19mm hollowpoint bullet is immensely lethal. But soldiers aren’t permitted to use hollowpoints. Nor any of the other bullets he speaks approvingly of because of their fragmentation.

  • Steven;
    the fragmentation effect is afaik not forbidden – not fully jacketed bullets (which have that effect) are.
    Standard 5.56NATO and 7.62NATO has fragmenting effect at right conditions and was approved by NATO, governments and JAG Corps.
    The summary of pistol munitions extends beyond the military legal munitions, but has all that I would have written if it was only about military applications. Pistol calibers are more relevant for the police (which is allowed to use hollowpoint and does so in many countries) than for the military anyway.

    “hatred”/”hate” are in inflationary use by the American right wing (Europeans rarely talk about other’s hatred for some reason), I “hate” America as much as the “liberals” do – not at all, I’m just criticizing it (rarely).

    • I let Sven defend himself, but now *all* comments on this post must be on topic.

  • Mac45

    Excellent discussion, here. If no one minds, I would like to inject a few points for discussion.

    First, the basic purpose of an infantry rifle is not to suppress fire, destroy structures or shoot small holes in paper targets. Infantry rifles are supposed to do one thing; render harmless enemy soldiers through death or incapacitating wounds. And, it is highly desirable to be able to do this at as great a range as possible.

    Second, this objective should be attainable through the use of as few rounds as possible. Most firefights are not conducted with both combatants standing in the open pegging shots at one another. Most exchanges take place from some type of cover or concealment. This usually makes multiple hits a hit and miss proposition.

    Third, with the exception of central nervous system wounds, most wounds are not immediately terminal. Incapacitation is largely a result of blood loss and tissue damage. Every human being reacts differently to bullet wounding, but generally, upper torso wounds are very effective if a large enough wound channel is created by a single round.

    Fourth, any rifleman can be trained to adequately control almost any shoulder fired combat rifle.

    Fifth, there will always exist niche situations that are more adequately addressed by certain types of weapons [sniper rifles, machine guns, submachine guns, shotguns, pistols, hand grenades, etc.].

    So, the argument boils down to what rifle/cartridge combo is the most effective for the bulk of situations that the infantryman will encounter. Military planners have apparently decided that the situational needs, of the infantry, can be adequately met with the current light 5.56mm cartridge and its platforms. That the venerable M14/7.62mm weapon system was re-introduced as a squad marksman weapon in the current conflict points out a significant shortcoming in current operational doctrine. I, for one enjoy shooting the 5.56mm round and for short range contacts [under 200m] find it to be effective. At longer ranges, I much prefer the 7.62mm [and larger] cartridges.

    Just a few thoughts, here. Carry on.

  • Sven, in an era in which soldiers are considered “innocent until proven American” (or Israeli) when it comes to accusations of war crimes, I’m not reassured by claims that certain kinds of ammunition are approved for use by German soldiers or other NATO countries. As a practical matter, Americans have to be more scrupulous. (Not that this helps with the rate of accusations of war crimes, but at least it does tend to discredit the people who fling those accusations around.)

    So, for instance, American soldiers who carry 9mm sidearms use bullets which don’t spread or fragment at all. Maybe there are rounds available which soldiers of other countries are permitted to use which are more lethal, but our guys don’t get to use them.

    I personally think that clause of the Hague Convention ought to be revoked, but that’s unlikely any time soon. I think that American soldiers ought to be held to the same standards as everyone else, but that too is unlikely any time soon. So absent the ability of American soldiers to use anything I’d consider an effective 9mm round in their sidearms, I’d prefer to see them carrying something heavier which, even when using a steel-jacketed bullet, would be more lethal than the 9mm. I’ve seen too many (anecdotal) stories out of the Iraq invasion of cases where Americans using 9mm sidearms had to empty an entire magazine into a single enemy in order to stop him. We don’t know how many of our guys were in that situation and came out second-best in the exchange.

    Mac45, it’s true that the powers that be have selected the 5.56mm cartridge to be the standard, on the principle that it’s lethal enough and the soldier can carry more of them. But practice belies the theory: most of the weapons which fire the 5.56mm round have a triple-burp setting, where each trigger tap fires three rounds. The reason they do that is because one round isn’t usually enough. The triple-burp is the norm when using those weapons, and some of them don’t even have a single-shot choice. (Or so I’ve read; I’m far from being an expert in this kind of thing.)

    Historical evidence was that the .30-06 round really was good enough when fired one at a time. So when we measure how many times a soldier can tap his trigger before running out of ammo, can he carry more trigger-taps with .30-06 or with 5.56mm which are being fired three at a time?

    I’m not specifically arguing for a return to the .30-06, but I’m saying that I don’t find the argument in favor of the 5.56mm to be compelling. The fact that we’re using it doesn’t mean it’s the best choice available.

  • By the way, even if the 5.56mm infantry rifles don’t have a built-in triple-burp mode, the soldiers are taught to hold the trigger down long enough to fire three times.

  • Hague Convention was not ratified by the US. Its purpose was to ban exposed lead bullets used by Britain, and require use of full metal jacket spitzer bullets used by Germany.

    Of course exposed lead rounds are used in shotguns!

    During Vietnam Sweden wanted to put their 6.5 mm round into a position of competitive advantage, so they asserted that the US 5.56mm round which was smaller, lighter, and had higher velocity was somehow not fair…
    After spending lots of money on a factory to make rounds similar to the US M193 round, Switzerland asserted that the NATO 5.56 round (Like the US M855 round) was unfair….

    I liked it better when the US didn’t engage in these bouts of international politics to justify and leverage government investments in weapons design and munitions.

    The IRA used to complain about the UK soldier’s use of rubber bullets. The IRA wouldn’t use such a weapon….

  • The BAR used the .30/06 round and was considered TOO accurate. This was due to the location of the bipod at the end of the barrel, and it’s weight.

    By comparison, the automatic rifle variant of the M-14 was less accurate, but lighter weight.

    A heavy round still gets more dispersal through a full automatic burst even with a straight line stock. The recoil line doesn’t go through the shooter’s center of mass, and therefore tends to turn the shooter.

  • Mac45


    Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I don’t think you got my drift.

    I believe that the basic infantry weapon should be a weapon/cartridge system that allows the rifleman to effectively engage his target at the greatest range possible using a shoulder mounted weapon that is light enough to carry for extended periods of time with an adequate ammo load. The M1 carbine was popular with field officers in WWII, until they got into combat. Then the underpowered cartridge and the reduced range and stopping power it exhibited found this weapon abandoned, in field, for the Garand.

    In terms of rendering an opponent harmless, the larger, heavier caliber is more effective. And it has a significantly greater range. The assault rifle was designed, by the Germans during WWII, to utilize a sub-powered rifle cartridge to engage targets at ranges signifcantly shorter than those available to the full sized battle rifle. It was an attempt to exceed the semi-auto Garand [representing a more controllable BAR] as well as replace the Erma submachine gun.

    Now I enjoy firing the 5.56mm. It is easy on the ears and the shoulder for extended firing. Its drawbacks are reduced effective range and wounding capability. That being said, it is effective against unarmored troops within 200 yards, though it usually requires more hits to put down an opponent than the 7.62 NATO. In terms of effectiveness, within and beyond that distance the 7.62 is clearly superior. Automatic fire has traditionally been discouraged in the infantry as it is tremendously wasteful of ammunition. That is the real reason for the three-round burst capability on the M16/M4, to stifle the tendancy of troops to hose down a target with an entire magazine. At ranges other than CQC, a controlled single or double tap can easily be employed against a single target, in the open, and then an assessment can be made as to the desirability of a follow-up shot. At close range, this changes and multiple shots become desirable irregardless of the weapon employed.

    The M16 was introduced to the ground combat services during the McNamara ear when civilian authority decided that standardization was more important than effectiveness. Now these, relatively, less effective weapon systems are still with us because of money and politics. Entire combat doctrines have evolved around the weapon system, rather than evolving a weapon system to fit an effective combat doctrine.

    The same can be said for the 9mm v 45cal debate. Bigger is better. But, given the amount of money and political capital that is invested in the current M16 weapon/cartridge system, it is unlikely that it will be changed very soon.

  • darshan

    Point taken steve.I apologize to Mr. ortmann for my outburst.


  • Daniel

    Declaration on the Use of Bullets Which Expand or Flatten Easily in the Human Body; July 29, 1899

    “The Undersigned, Plenipotentiaries of the Powers represented at the International Peace Conference at The Hague, duly authorized to that effect by their Governments,

    Inspired by the sentiments which found expression in the Declaration of St. Petersburg of the 29th November (11th December), 1868,

    Declare as follows:

    The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions.

    The present Declaration is only binding for the Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them.

    It shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Parties, one of the belligerents is joined by a non-Contracting Power.

    The present Declaration shall be ratified as soon as possible.

    The ratification shall be deposited at The Hague.

    A proces-verbal shall be drawn up on the receipt of each ratification, a copy of which, duly certified, shall be sent through the diplomatic channel to all the Contracting Powers.

    The non-Signatory Powers may adhere to the present Declaration. For this purpose they must make their adhesion known to the Contracting Powers by means of a written notification addressed to the Netherlands Government, and by it communicated to all the other Contracting Powers.

    In the event of one of the High Contracting Parties denouncing the present Declaration, such denunciation shall not take effect until a year after the notification made in writing to the Netherlands Government, and forthwith communicated by it to all the other Contracting Powers.

    This denunciation shall only affect the notifying Power.

    In faith of which the Plenipotentiaries have signed the present Declaration, and have affixed their seals thereto.

    Done at The Hague the 29th July, 1899, in a single copy, which shall be kept in the archives of the Netherlands Government, and of which copies, duly certified, shall be sent through the diplomatic channel to the Contracting Powers. ”

    Important things to note:
    1. Only applies when fighting against another party who has signed the treaty. Insurgents, almost by defination, haven’t signed any treaties.

    Same convention also banned the launching of projectiles or explosives from balloons.

    “The Contracting Powers agree to prohibit, for a term of five years, the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons, or by other new methods of a similar nature. ”

    Interesting how the whole bombardment from the air aspect has been ignored and the hollow point thing has be focused on.

    Also amusing: St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 or in full Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight

    Signed by: Austria-Hungary, Bavaria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain (representing the British Empire), Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, the North German Confederation (i.e., Greater Prussia), Russia, Sweden and Norway, Switzerland, the Ottoman Empire, and Württemberg.

    Wonder how many of those countries are following that treaty.

    Time for those treaties to get swept into the dustbin of history.

  • This is a more recent UN resolution on small arms.


    It basically appeals to all governments not to advance small arms lethality beyond the state of the art.

  • crunluath

    I think the 6.5 Grendel would be a great happy medium for a new AR round; it’s perhaps the best replacement for the 5.56 in the AR platform. Unfortunately, politics in the acquisition field and government will undoubtedly prevent any “better” cartridge or design to be adopted. Compounding the issue, all the NATO countries would be affected by a change by the U.S. (NATO agreements, logistical support, etc…) I think we are all stuck with the 5.56 for a very long time…

  • crunluath

    I forgot to add comment related to Sean’s earlier post quoted below…

    Asians invented firearms and Europeans modernized them. Americans, such as Colt and Browning, provided great innovations. Some of the best are manufactured outside the U.S. HK, for example, is the number one supplier for Direct Action (DA)/CQB weapons world-wide. It is used not only by almost all LE special units but also by all U.S. military DA teams. I find it also humorous that when we study warfare in our training, we almost always study the teachings of one “dead German” or another (“dead German” used with levity but also respect). We even refer to lessons from French tacticians at times (such as Jomini). Incidentally, did you forget that we are descendants of Europeans (mostly)?

    “Sean on 08 Jan 2009 at 4:01 am link comment

    It’s cute when know-it-all Europeans pretend they’re more competent with firearms and firearm design than a nation with 70 million gun owners and the most effective military on earth.


  • steve

    I think the “know-it-all Europeans” comment probably stemmed from the “clearly superior British design” bit, which is a little ludicrous, given the usual complications and continuous tradeoffs involved in cartridge design. Yeah, the smaller boars yield better sectional densities per bullet weight, but they also yield poorer energies delivered per powder charge weight, because of the inferior surface area for the pressure to act on. It’s also harder to make narrower bullets as uniform in moment of mass about their longitudinal axis as the larger bores. The .308 is widely considered one of the best designed cartridges ever.

  • Bill Walsh

    I’m reminded of Ian Hogg’s remark that every time a committee has been convened to study the ideal rifle cartridge, they’ve said that 7mm is optimal, and yet no country has ever adopted a 7mm weapon…

  • Jeff M

    I have both AR-10 and AR-15 rifles and take them out shooting all the time. I gotta say the AR-10 is just over the threshold where you get really tired of lugging it around all the time. I’m not a small guy either, I imagine for a welterweight it’d be much worse. When I pick up the AR-15, I think “Ahhh, nice and light”.

    I guess that boils down to logistics, do you want your guys tired and angry?

    My cousin carried the m-249 saw through his tour of duty, the funniest thing he ever told me was when his predecessor convinced him to carry it. He said he couldn’t get anybody else to carry it through his whole tour.

    Now if the army would put up the cash and come up with a lightweight, titanium and composite ar-10, that’d be something. Seems the 7mm and 6.8mm calibers are more economical though.

  • Cris Murray

    7x46mm UIAC
    (Universal Intermediate Assault Cartridge)

    1.The 7x46mm UIAC is a true intermediate cartridge in caliber, length, case diameter, and recoil. Performance envelope is 7x43mm and 7x50mm circa 1950, but in a smaller package by using the Pedersen/M43 base instead of the Mauser/30-06 base. Smaller cartridge = smaller weapon.
    2.7x46mm UIAC test cartridges outperform all current and purposed military cartridges used worldwide.
    3.7x46mm UIAC would comfortably replace all current US and NATO rifle and machine gun cartridges without losing any lethality or range. One cartridge for all our infantry weapons, what a novel concept.
    4.Test Cartridge: Muzzle Velocity: 2650 fps; Bullet Weight: 130 grains; Bullet Coeffiency: .411, this is better BC than either the 62 gr. M855 or 150 gr. M80.
    5.Projectile is 130 grs. Spitzer Boattail with .411 BC. At targeted velocity. Purposed projectile would be 130gr. FMJ with the profile of a 140 gr. Spitzer Boattail, constructed similar to the 7.92×33 126gr. Polte bullet, this would further enhance the BC. The Polte design insures a rear biased weight, causing rapid upset on impact with soft tissue.
    6.Velocity is held at 2650-2700 fps to regulate recoil, heat, pressure, and to allow controllability at combat firing rates in an assault rifle.
    7.Purposed DDM cartridge would use .284 Sierra 175 gr. MK, with a BC of .608 even at 2400 fps this projectile has better flight performance than the current M118LR.
    8.The 7x46mm UIAC was designed for combat in performance, recoil, and weight.

  • The Spanish used 7mmX57 Mauser rounds in 1898. I own a 1913 date of production 7mm Mauser rifle converted to 7.62 NATO. I shoot it carefully and seldom. The US used them too, after enough Spanish ammunition was captured to feed the 7mm “Potatodigger” Colt-Browning machineguns brought by the 1st Volunteer Cavalry.

    Roosevelt said that soldiers shot in the brain, spine or heart died quickly, but soldiers who were hit in other places recovered quickly.

    “Optimum” only has a practical meaning with respect to some optimizing function. If you have to carry your own bullets, optimum will be a smaller caliber. If you have someone else, or a vehicle, heavier makes more sense. If you don’t know the future, you guess, and hope that you can change your mind if it ends up being important. To the extend that you can control the future, you do so by selecting proper tactics.

    Smart soldiers adapt their tactics to make the best use of the difference between their weapons and their enemys’ weapons. If you have a light bullet that doesn’t penetrate well, you keep up a steady fire to keep the enemys’ heads down, and maneuver around to shoot past their cover, or to use supporting fire. If you have a heavy round like the .50 BMG you can shoot through enemy cover, but maneuvering is slower, so you have to watch your own flanks more carefully.

  • RCG

    Any discussion of the performance of hollow points is irrelevant when the subject is military calibers.

  • Chris H

    The part I thought that was funny was where Sven talks about a disintegrating bullet causing much more damage. Have you ever hunted large game like Deer, Elk, Caribou ? Then you’d know that when a bullet disintegrates you almost never drop the animal. When it stays together and expands is when we get the most damage. That was the whole reason behind partitioned bullets and jacketing.

    What is that in your picture, a Red Ryder BB gun? That’s all they allow civies to own in Svenskapoika.

  • Robert

    I came across a dead NVA soldier who had been hit by a bullet from an M16 rifle. The bullet hit him in the right shoulder and exited by tearing off a good hunk his left buttock.

    That said, the powers that be who outfitted the troops in Nam with the M16 in 1967 should be indicted brought to trial for murder for giving an unproven peice of s–t to the troops.

    In most narratives of the Vietnam war, the protagonist cites that his M16 jams in the instant of need.

  • david

    hey sean you cant sa that u.s army is the most effective in the wold=) the reason for that is russia=)) they are the best at 4 things having hot chiks msking the best vodka making the best weapons and fighting=)) lol

  • Norvegiansniper

    as a soldier in the norwegian army i have fired both 7.62 and 5.56 and the only thing i can say is that it has it own use.
    the 7.62 at longer range or where bullet penetration is important
    and the 5.56 at shorter ranges instead of a SMG
    untill i can find a weapon that is identical in both calibres i wont say one is better than the other

  • Destroyer

    6.5x39mm grendel. Bridge the gap between the assault rifle, designated marksman rifle, and light machine gun.

  • Tim

    Even though this thread is old, it begs for a more proper response judging from the sampling I’ve read. Which are probably perpetuated by a less than knowledgeable article to start with.

    To sum it all up easily, there is NO ideal caliber in warfare. On today’s battlefields a bullet is required to penetrate armor to be practical, and it doesn’t matter if that armor is heavy or body. Bullets that do a good job of armor penetration are lousy expanders and/or exploders. So if you develop one that does a good job of making a nasty wound, it’s going to do a so so job of armor penetration. And if it does a good job of armor penetration ……… well you get the idea.

    The 5.56 actually follows a really good principle. If the bullet tumbles in the wound by design, it’s going to do far more damage than it normally would by driving straight through. Which also gives it a solid chance at penetrating armor. To be honest, we probably should have left the 30-06 in place for a light machine gun round. It did a good job of penetrating, as well as creating wounds. Its problem was flawed design in the more portable models (BAR for example) that were used. Almost every complaint fielded in the article and the comments has more to do with weapon design than caliber.

  • Spiff

    Solution: For a handgun/smg caliber – .38super. For an infantry rifle/mg caliber – 7mm/08. Both available and capable…

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  • idahoguy101

    In WWII the USA the M1 Garand to our infantry. The Garand was a weapon which excelled against the Mausers and Arisakas used by German and Japanese infantry. But since most US soldiers and Marines were not infantry for self protection 5x as many lighter M1 Carbines were issued.

    This logic still makes sense. The USMC has recently replaced most of the M9 pistol with the M4 Carbine in their doctrine. The Marine infantry use the longer heavier M16A4.

    Their probably is no Universal Military Cartridge. The closest the US Army ever came to one was the proposed 276 Pederson cartridge in the 1920’s for the then experimental M1 Garand.

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    One do-able compromise would be to adopt the 243 Winchester as the 6x51mm NATO.The FAL/G3 platforms, et al, would only require a different barrel and some adjustments to fire reliably using the lighter 100 grain bullet. The reduction in recoil would be significant enough that the Infantry could have the advantage of controllable full automatic fire.

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