The Case for a New NATO Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge

Tony Williams, the co-editor of Jane’s Ammunition Handbook, gave a presentation entitled “The Next Generation: The Case for a New NATO Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge” at the National Defense Industries Association (NDIA) Joint Armaments Conference last month. He has posted an extended version of the presentation on his website. It is well worth reading.

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.


  • Canthros

    I’ve heard too many complaints about the quality of training in the US military to think a new cartridge/rifle/etc. would be the solution to all marksmanship woes.

    OTOH, I don’t see why it wouldn’t help, which seems to be the counterargument.

  • jaekelopterus

    Yes, 5.56 NATO is very small. So is the 5.45 that most other modern militaries use. That’s the entire point. If you switch to something larger, you’ve effectively reduced the amount of ammunition each solider can carry into battle. I doubt 5.56 is going to be replaced until the next major leap in cartridge technology.

  • Harald Hansen

    My two cents, FWIW: The most practical seems to me to optimize the 5.56 loading, and introduce maybe two designated marksmen with 7.62 semiautos in each squad. Rifle and ammunition development seems to have hit a plateau, and I don’t expect a new NATO caliber in the next two decades.

  • drewogatory

    Good breakdown of the issue as usual for Jane’s. It’s too bad subscriptions are $3500.00 PER subject. Anyone know of a free or low cost archive? Although, I just moved to Newport Beach, so I might get lucky at the local public library.

  • Vitor

    Quite cool to see the Grendel coming on top.

  • JustinR

    That’s a great presentation, now if only the higher-ups in the DoD could be convinced…

  • Jared

    I’ve never really understood the issues with the recoil of the 7.62 M80. Seems like for a soldier, the bump of that round would be the least of their hardships in the field. Why not just go with one of the modern 308 platforms that get you down from the weight of the M-14 platform and call it good.

  • Owen

    If you are going to discuss that presentation, then you should discuss this one too…it was given immediately after Mr. Williams’.

  • Mu

    Reading the article I cannot help wonder why he didn’t just propose the 6.5×47 Lapua as the new standard cartridge, maybe with a 10% slower loading. Otherwise it’s exactly what he’s asking for.

  • Graham

    That’s a very interesting read. It seems like we should have been going with a 6ish to 7mm intermediate cartridge all along.

  • Lance

    6.5 Grendell theres the best new cartage.

  • Todd S.

    Wow. This guy did some homework and I think e makes some great points. I wouldn’t hunt deer with 5.56 and they don’t shoot back.

  • Nathaniel

    Tony Williams’ website:

    Earlier, more comprehensive article on the history and prospects of assault rifles and their ammunition:

  • What is clear is that a cartridge should be chosen, then a new rifle/carbine/CBQ/automatic rifle and light machinegun designed for the new cartridge, not try and cram it into the M-16 family.

  • MrSatyre

    My facts are probably faulty, but I seem to recall reading somewhere years ago that the Soviets switched to the 5.45×39 round with the AK-74 design—among other factors, like weight and accuracy—due to the greater yaw and destructive potential of the 5.56 round used by our M-16. Lately I read that Russian special forces prefer the AK-47 over the AK-74, so I wonder if the Russians are also investigating a round somewhere in between? Anyone heard one way or the other?

  • I think what the army needs is something like a hot .243 round, maybe 80 grains@3000 with a steel or tungsten core and a longer range 100 grains@2800 with a lead core.

    This would add at least 100 yards effective range and still be within recoil tolerances for most soldiers.

    Of course figuring out a way to put this into say a 6 LB, 18″ barrel AR with a 30 round mag and keep pressures sane is a bit tricky.

    If it could be done it would add (with 20 mags) about 6 lbs to the total carried load, a manageable amount I’d say.

  • DavidR

    The “Range Problem” slide is central to the whole argument being presented. So we have to ask: what are his sources and is it really true that 50% of the engagements in Afghanistan take place at rangers over 350 meters?

    If true, what then constitutes an “engagement”? Is a 400 meter “engagement” a full-blown force-on-force action or is it closer to being just of a couple of enemies taking long-range pot-shots? This is a very important distinction to make before proceeding with the analysis.

    From my moderate knowledge of military history, long range engagements are much more-easily controlled as there are more opportunities for disengagement by the defending side. Therefore, it seems clear that the engagements we **really** need to focus on and be concerned about are those that occur close up (<200m?). These are the fights where our soldiers need accuracy, reliability *and* a sufficient supply of ammo.

    So, I still think it still comes back to the decades-old question: are longer-range cartridges (like the 6.5 Grendel) worth the 50% penalty in round-count per soldier? (and I don't have the answer, but my gut tell me "no")

    IMHO, the only way that this dilemma–round count vs round effectiveness–will ever be resolved, will come either a) with the adoption of non-ball ammo (and hence, we stick with lighter 5.56) or b) with the invention of a field-able case less cartridge system (and hence, a larger/heavier projectile).

  • Canthros

    Owen: The conclusion of that seems to be:
    1. Training
    2. Use 50-caliber machine guns at longer distances
    3. Exclamation points!

    I realize I’m being horribly unfair and maybe it would be more persuasive with the rest of Arvidsson’s talk to go with it, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem convincing to me, though.

  • Big Daddy

    Russian special forces called Spetsnaz are using a lot of high powered 9x39mm rounds. Some are subsonic.

    Yes they found out that you need a bullet with some mass to it. I do read as much as I can about ballistics and the consensus from everybody is that you need a certain amount of mass to be effective. The original M-16 5.56mm system got around that with bullet yaw causing huge wounds and trauma. Making the weapon accurate destroyed the whole concept. The M-16 was a short range weapon designed for the air force and more like a police force weapon for guard duty. NOT as a main battle rifle.

    The 6.5mm is superior to the 6.8mm but needs a longer barrel. So in fact the 6.8mm is better for an Army and maybe the 6.5mm for hunting. Maybe something between them not yet made in the USA would be best??? It has to be able to be accurate from a shorter barrel and have more kinetic energy than a 5.56mm and not depend on yaw for wound maximization.

    I hope the more educated people on ballistics and weaponry chime in here. As an ex GI who toted and fired the M-16 to me it’s a piece of junk and the round is totally underpowered. Again I am NO expert just from my limited experiences I could tell immediately as soon as I fired it that the M-16 was not something I wanted to take into battle. I was very happy when issued an M-3 grease gun at my first permanent party.

    The Russian 7.62×39 was on the right track by copying the Germans who understood modern battle better then anybody. Some of the rounds NATO countries came up with in the 1950s took to the next level. The USA screwed everything up in NATO. And thanks to McNamara who was totally clueless about everything like the M-16 and fighter jets without guns, made things worse.

    Case in point was the M-60. We should have accepted the MAG then instead of 25 years later as the M-240. If you study history the US DOD has been screwing up since the civil war by not arming the North troop with Henry’s, it probably would have ended the war in 6 months devastating the South’s troops in battle. Yet even the president was over ruled, Lincoln wanted the troops to get the Henry, he was a shooter and knew a good weapon when he shot it. I am NOT a shooter but knew when I had a POS in my hands when I fired the M-16A1.

    We need new weapons and a new rounds, period, not only the 5.56mm but rid ourselves of the 9mm too, even the 7.62mm NATO is outdated. The 50 cal is great but it too is outdated……the Ma Duce is 100 years old!!!!

    Like the DOD every other aspect to our government in the USA it is broken and cannot come up with the correct answers and do the right things due to their ignorance, prejudice, nepotism and corruption.

    Rant over.

  • Whatever

    When they give velocity/energy as a function of range, do they really measure it directly or are they using a computer program/algorithm to estimate it? I wonder because the 6.5mm Grendel seems just a bit too good to be true.

  • Canthros

    The Grendel poses some mechanical challenges as a replacement for 5.56NATO. It doesn’t get along with links, for instance. I think it’s used as a point of comparison, with the entirely hypothetical 6.5, 6.8, and 7x45mm cartridges as a more likely point of departure. At least, that’s what I get from Williams’ presentation.

  • Cymond

    jaekelopterus – I am unsure of the accuracy of the study, buts it does not matter how much ammo you have if you cannot reach/hit the enemy.

    Big Daddy – “The Russian 7.62×39 was on the right track by copying the Germans who understood modern battle better then anybody.” While the Germans engineered some amazing weapons in WW2, I have to point out that they lost the war. Obviously their knowledge of warfare was somewhat incomplete.

    “Yet even the president was over ruled, Lincoln wanted the troops to get the Henry, he was a shooter and knew a good weapon when he shot it.” – I’m under the impression that Lincoln favored the Spencer. The .44 Henry threw a 200 grain slug with 1000 foot pounds of energy.

    I think the most efficient and reasonable solution is to issue a portion of the troops with something in the 7.62 class. Obviously 7.62×51 has drawbacks, and issuing it to an entire group of soldiers would create some combat deficiencies in a similar manner that issuing only 5.56 creates problems. Each cartridge has advantages and both should be issued. “Over specialize and you breed in weakness.”

  • MrMaigo

    The problem as I see it is every war, the weapon system isn’t perfect enough and we do a total 180.
    WWII: 30’06 is tooo heavy, carbines are perfect
    Korea: SMGs/Carbines don’t do any thing, big and heavy is they way to go
    Nam: 7.62 is tooo big and heavy, a space age carbine/rifle baby is best
    Iraq 2: we’re fighting in cities, this ammo is perfect but the gun is too long. 6″ shorter!
    Afghanistan: they’re 920m away popping RPGs over our heads and our gun is too short…

    You just can’t clear buildings w/out killing kids a block away AND pick people off of mountains with the same bullet. So just mill some AR10s then when you’re in the mountains you break them out and when you’re in the cities… you go back to the M4s

  • Big Daddy

    Cymond the Germans lost the war because they had a madman running the show. He started with the wrong people to mess with, the Big bear and the USA. You cannot fight on 2 fronts against one country out of your range with unlimited resources and another country with almost unlimited manpower on the other front.

    Germany’s lack of long range bombers made them unable to counter the movement of Russian industry to the Ural mountains. Plus the fact that they killed so many of the population and enslaved others from theirs and other countries. They were the bad guys to most although sadly not all.

    As for the Spencer or the Henry if the Union troops had quantities of either or both the war would have been the war that never was. My point being the difference in technology was so great as to counter any attempts by a force to get an advantage making it impossible. The South had less troops, an Army with either or both weapon and with greater numbers would have quickly dispatched their adversaries. That’s the point……

    The Henry made a huge difference at Allatoona or Altoona?? pass. It was also the rifle that beat Custer. It was issued to Union troops before the Spencer. So whether it was the Henry or Spencer that Lincoln wanted either would have made a HUGE difference in the war since it was a simple infantryman’s war, mostly.

    We are doing a disservice to our fighting men by not giving them the advantage during combat. Patton said the Garand was the best weapon of the war. It gave our troops an advantage. Too bad we did not have that advantage during WWII with our tanks and anti-tank weapons.

    I think the people at the DOD are too gadget oriented and not into just having simple reliable effective weapons.

  • jaekelopterus

    @ Cymond: That’s what designated sharpshooters, artillery and arial drones are for. Take away our superior carrying capacity and we’ll be outgunned up close. This is modern warfare and combat past 300 meters is for specialists.

  • jody

    tony williams is also up on the US army’s project to develop caseless ammunition, which actually seems to be coming along at a good pace. if that stuff is ready for production in 10 years, which it might be, the US military would be missing one of the greatest opportunities in small arms history to not both go caseless and move up to a bigger caliber at the same time.

    of course instead of simply getting better rifles and machineguns they are almost certain to try to figure out how to ram caseless 5.56 remington into an AR-15. anything but move away from 5.56 remington and AR-15. i think it will be the year 2100 and the US army will still be doing a study every decade which concludes that AR-15s firing small 62 grain FMJs are still the only thing which any military force would ever need.

    it’s downright laughable considering how much money the US air force and US navy spend every single year on new jets and new submarines. they can’t get new technology into the field fast enough.

  • Martin

    The article in question seems to make some silly claims against 7.62×51. Such as it’s weight and recoil. I don’t think they’re testing 7.62 in an AR type platform, where the recoil is much more manageable over a traditional rifle platform. Besides, who says you can’t use 7.62 close in? That’s the most absurd thing ever.

    The second, NATO slide show is blatantly pro-5.56. Almost in a head-in-the-sand sort of way. It drips with bias.

    Ultimately, I still contend the job needs to be done with both 5.56 AND 7.62. The new in-between rounds have their merits, but are either too much like 5.56, or too much like 7.62.

    Go back to the golf bag approach and use an appropriate mix of the two already established rounds. Because both rounds are common in the AR platform, training is easier, and the enemy cannot identify who the heavy and light hitters are.


    What never seems to be mentioned is the enemy’s experience with using 7.62×39/AK-47s. Are they just wasting a lot of ammunition at the ranges in question? Is their ability to use a greater volume of AK fire against small patrols a factor? Are they more effectively using support weapons at longer ranges in ambushes? Is the enemies ability to use RPG’s in an anti-personnel role giving them an advantage?

    The answer is pretty much a YES. Negating the enemies capabilities is a much more important, and broader question than simply arguing about the shortcomings of the M4/5.56.

  • AK™

    For Afghanistan..let’s bring back the M1 Garand.
    Forget all this M1913 railed weapon nonsense and go back to something more reliable in the desert,either that or trade in some M4s for M14s.

    M14=”this is my rifle,this is my gun”

    M4=”this is for fun”

  • Nicholas

    @Big daddy, Repeaters were not the only factor that caused Custer to lose the battle, and Major Reno did manged to hold off the Sioux during the battle with the Springfield.

    Also already adding m14s to our squads, probably in place of m4s. Unless something has changed I believe we are still winning in Afghanistan, it’s just we are at a disadvantage at range, which I believe we can overcome to greater extent then at short range.
    There are definite short comings to the 5.56 NATO round but I think a lot of people are going overboard. I think the Armed Forces slow response is perfectly understandable, being reluctant to trade the evils of the current but viable system for the unknown possibilities of the future, a natural response when lives are the line.

  • snmp

    That’s not the 5.56, but the lenth of the Barrel of M4 that not give more effective range than 7,62X25 Tokarev in PSSH41 or M1/M2 Carbine.

    @Big Dady
    * The 7,62X25 Tokarev in PSS43/PPSH41 or the .30Win of the M1/M2 carbine have the same effective range than the MP43/STG44 (7.92x33mm).
    * In WWII Russian have the T34 and the IS2 who outclasse in number and in power the german’s tanks.

  • Dan 257scramjet

    the venerable m14,,,,yes in deed.But in the real world you got to many whiners&moaners so you gotta come up with a 6.5 grendel or lapua for them sissy stoner ray guns(although I do like that SR25 that knights {KMC} puts out(if we could get jr to let em go for a considerable amount less..well enough of my dribble as you can see im not to big on that little .224 bullet …ID like to piddle with that HK416 chambered in the grendel….should be doable

  • Dan 257scramjet

    One more time,pretty nice blog here just stumbled in here bout 1 1/2 hrs ago.most of yall seem pretty cordial&interesting so howdy howdy.I know I mentioned it earlier but if any of yall like machine guns&surplus stuff lotsa good times at knob creek machine gun shoot.Not trying to push it in here,lol just thought maybe some of ya liked that sort of just glad we have a good sized gun culture here in america,nothin better then gun folks IMHO

  • Brad

    The most fascinating tidbit of info to me from the Williams paper is the relationship of caliber to sound. Is it true that the sound generated by a passing bullet is so directly related to the bullet’s diameter? That’s new to me.

    If that is true, the best caliber for LMG duties may actually be the old 7.62 x 39 cartridge. It has most of the benefits of lighter weight and lower recoil, while in theory it should provide just as much a suppressive effect as the larger 7.62 NATO.

    One point I very much disagree with the Williams paper is his willingness to throw out some assumptions regarding new small arms while still clinging to others. That doesn’t make sense. Why must the new individual weapon be a carbine length selective-fire weapon? I suspect it’s because that combination of assumptions leads to his preferred outcome of a new replacement cartridge for universal use.

    If anything, current practices and experience shows that a mix of specialized weapons and calibers may be the ideal small arms selection. At the Fire-Team level, how about a red-dot sighted 7.62×39 RPK for the fire team automatic weapon and ACOG sighted 7.62 NATO semi-auto AR for the individual rifleman?

  • Rick_A

    If a cartridge is developed that has the terminal ballistics of 7.62×51 and all of the advantages of the smaller 5.56×45 with none of the disadvantages of either, I say hell ya. Developing/integrating a whole new set of weapons systems is the real hurtle.