Future infantry small arms

Anthony Williams has just posted a new article online which discusses what is needed for the next generation of small arms.

Before the Afghan conflict began, it was assumed that small-arms engagements would continue to take place within the traditional 300 metre limit, as they had in Iraq, and ISAF forces were equipped accordingly. The rifles and LMGs carried by the infantry on foot patrols were overwhelmingly in 5.56mm calibre, using the NATO standard SS109/M855 ammunition. The US forces used three principal weapons: the M16 rifle (favoured by the USMC), M4 Carbine (increasingly favoured by the US Army because its compactness makes it more suitable for urban fighting, the typical scenario in Iraq) and the M249 development of the FN Minimi LMG. Some 7.62mm weapons, most notably the M240 (FN MAG variant) and also some sniper and marksman rifles, were available for use in a support role when required. The British patrols used the L85A2 rifle, L86A2 Light Support Weapon (effectively an IAR) and the L110 LMG (FN Minimi Para). As with the US forces, the L7 GPMG (FN MAG) was available in support, and bolt-action 7.62mm sniper rifles were also in service.

These arrangements were thrown into disarray when faced with the very different circumstances of Afghanistan, where the Taliban noted the range limitation of the 5.56mm weapons …

Tony shooting the infamous and ill-fated British EM-2 in .280/30.

At the end of the article Tony has included a brief range report comparing the SCAR-H, HK417, HK G3K, Dragunov and EM-2.

Read the article here.

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.


  • On the other hand, fighting at long range is quite useless.
    You hit rarely, give away your position, the necessary ammunition becomes heavier and the job could usually be done with sniper rifles or mortar fire.


  • MrMaigo

    And here we are again, the search for a magic bullet.
    Being smaller than 7.62 NATO, effective out to 1000m yet not over powered for CQB is a lot to ask.

    Then there’s the logistics. You can’t just swap out uppers on all the M16s/M4s because then you’d have to swap ammo and mags and optics for 5.56. No mater how well you do, there are still going to be platoons loading 5.56 into 6.8 mags, 6.8 jammed into 5.56 barrels. That won’t end well for our guys.

    Or we can pick a new gun, might as well start with the Tavor. Then we just have to retrain everyone on the new gun as well as train them as Designated Marksman.

    The way I see it it’s easier and cheaper to update the 7.62 NATO so that the M855A1 doesn’t laugh at it, put it in an AR10… and then train everyone as a DM. No one needs to learn a new gun and you still have a buffer tube sucking up the recoil. Logistically it still sucks changing guns in deferent theaters. But after 40 years we already know the AR15-10 platform and have only minor teething problems.

    OR! Or we pull out of Afghanistan in a year like promised and not fight anyone in any damn mountains and save the money. Because next war it’ll be somewhere else stupid and the new ammo/gun will under perform ever so slightly. And you know we’ll spend 40 years crying about how at first it didn’t work right on the moon, even though we don’t fight on the stupid moon any more.

    Someone explain to me why I’m wrong. ;D

  • Dikko

    I always thought the Australian army went the wrong way getting rid of the odl FAL 7.62mm, the Styer they replaced it with just doesnt have the long range ability of the old .308cal SLR

  • vtb

    good article. but it seems to me that there was the same roar about cartridge change in the 70s – when everyone was jumping from 7.62 (x51\x39) to 5.56/5.45…

    Now the allied forces carry the ZOO of the weaponry but even after one “new” or let’s say “new-holy-cartrige” will be adopted (6.5 grendel or 6.8 SPC) there will still remain ppl with bolt-action in .338LM\.300WM and for CQB M4 shotguns will still be in place.

    The funnny thing that no one listens to the outcome of mistakes made by others… the Soviets in Afganistan tested ak74 & aksu-74 and the result was DShB troops were carrying AKM in 7.62×39, PKM & SVD in 7.62x54R and still in some cases they vere outshot by talibs with old LeeEnfields.

    Again – it seems to me (i’m not the greatest mind at all – i just shoot a bit) that the tasks of main weapon of infantry is mixed in the minds of ppl who makes some kind of decisions…
    There is a weapon to hit and there is a weapon to make a cover fire.
    All roar about changing the caliber is about allow the same gun to fire and hit at 800 meters distance but still to be light enough (for cartrige) to make unguided-cover-fire at 150-300 meters distance… For me it’s looks like strange that ppl concentrate on solving these two tasks with one weapons with single barrel and single cartrige – the result will be that the cartrige won’t be accurate enough to hit a far target but will be still heavy enought to feed a gun in “cover-fire mode”.

    Why not to make .308 16-18″ inch long but heavy barreled main weapon (1MOA capable for the usial soldier) with good day\night optic system with single-fire-only capability (it will allow hit a chest-sized targets up to 800 meters at a day and up 500m at a night) + make some king of M203-like system based for example on firestorm design – to allow place airburst cartrige based covering fire on the distances 50-250 meters.

  • Alaskan

    The Corps had it right when they carried that rifle.

    Have some new ones manufactured,no select fire,and synthetic stocks..like the Fulton Armory,Sage units.


    I’d kill for one.

  • Big Daddy

    So basically the article says go with either the 6.8mm or 6.5mm or similar type round in possibly a bullpup design. And better training for all troops, plus better sights. That’s what I got from it.

  • Crabula

    He brings up a lot of great points, but I think he is overly optimistic with his emphasis on using emerging technology to develop a single, do everything, infantry rifle. While it is a great concept, I think that it depends on a lot of variables and un forseeable factors. Additionally, I think it would result in a single weapon that can kind of do everything, but not very well instead of two or three variants that would fill the gaps a little better. Also, his talk about an amazing super optic sounds a little two OICW to me and we all know how well that turned out.

    I’m not saying that any of it is impossible, the technology is all there, but designing it into one do it all package just seems a little overly optomistic to me. Especially when you consider the cost factor of both development and mass production.

    However, it was a great brainstorm. Without ideas like this, we wouldn’t get anywhere with arms development.

  • Bob

    This is going around the Army that looks at the same issue. After serving in Afghanistan I, agree and pray that we will get an bigger bullet.

  • Lance

    While I agree with his over all approach in the need of a new NATO cartridge like a 6.5 or 6.8 and think they could do well in Afghanistan. I really disagree with his love for bullpups they really lack in ergonomics and in balance. I also disagree with is attack on the Trijicon ACOG as a poor optic because its doesn’t have 1 power setting. The ACOG is a great scop and the solders agree with me on that.

    The biggest thing is the Afghan war isnt going to last forever and why do we need to suit all the military for a war which will be over in 2 years after President Obama sends our troops home. Who knows what next war will be in next? SE ASIA again??

  • Burst

    People need to stop discussing the 6.5 and 6.8 like they’re the same solution. They’re both larger calibers, yes, but that’s it.

    The 6.8 will fit into existing weapons with minor changes and would increase power and decrease range, (but improve wind resistance) especially in a carbine. It has the lighter recoil of the two.

    the 6.5 grendel would require either new rifles or adaptable ones. It would increase range significantly, and be more powerful than 7.62 at anywhere over 100m, essentially rendering it obsolete.

  • jdun1911

    Lets use logic here. What type of weapons does the majority of Talibans used? AK-47, Ak-74? Both of which have more “range limitation” then our 5.56.

    What’s the number one killer our boys face in Afghanistan? IED. What’s the number one thing that prevent our boys from killing the enemy? ROE (Rules of Engagement).

    There are always trades off when you go for larger calibers. An average US troop carried over 70lbs of gears on their back. By going 7.62 you’re going to add at least 25+ for the same layout of 5.56. That’s reaching about 100lbs.

    While larger calibers give better ranger and hit harder, people must realized that in order to take advantage of that the person that is shooting must hit their targets. That’s the problem, hitting targets in a two way range at extreme distance and stress.

    Most kids before joining the military never ever shot a firearms in their life. A few months of training won’t make them experts. Not only that military factory ammo isn’t know for accuracy. 3 to 4 MOA at 100 yards IIRC.

    Unless you have expert marksmen, match ammo, and match rifle you won’t be able to take full advantage of the increase range. All you doing is breaking the backs of young kids which is a major concern for the military.

    There are other issues involve in moving toward a bigger caliber but I won’t go into it.

    Ross Kemp in Afghanistan is a good apolitical documentary on the troops fighting over there.


    • jdun1911, Ross Kemp is awesome. I love his documentaries.

  • Lance

    I agree with Jdun1911 let the new 5.56 rounds make there mark befor 6.5 6.8 comes to debate.

  • Thanks for your comments, I like to get a good debate going.

    This article is linked to three other related ones on my website: on the history of assault rifles and ammunition, on the calibre for the next generation of rifles/MGs, and on bullpups. Read all four and the arguments should all interlock.

    You should be able to find answers to most of the issues raised here (you may not agree with my answers, of course). For instance, on the subject of whether or not Afghanistan is a special case which can be ignored, this is in The Next Generation article on ammo:

    “6. “Afghanistan is not typical in its emphasis on long-range fire; if we changed calibres we would be equipping for the last war, not the next one.” Current thinking in both the British and US Armies is that asymmetric warfare against insurgent forces will remain the most probable type of conflict. That means the infantry and their weapons will remain key elements. If you look at the less stable parts of the world, such conflicts are just as likely as not to take place in areas where there are opportunities for long-range fire. It is worth emphasising that full-power 7.62 rifles and machine guns are still in common use around the world, and facing an enemy armed with these puts troops equipped with 5.56 weapons at a disadvantage, increasingly so as the range lengthens. Besides, what would be the downside of adopting an intermediate calibre even if future combat is at shorter ranges? We would still benefit from ammunition that is much more effective than 5.56 at any range while being lighter and more controllable than 7.62. Would that be so bad?”

  • subase

    A ‘do it all’ military weapon effective up to 800 metres is just an internet fantasy. This is a military weapon not a civilian one. Jdun1911 is right. The AR is fine as it is, underpowered yes, but with the new ammunition that should be rectified to a degree.

    Weight is more important than stopping power, less weight means more bullets, more movement, more accuracy, more follow up shots, MORE ARMOUR. Which translates to less casualties and more enemy dead. (even minor wounds from the 5.56 are mortal with bad medical care)

    The only major problem is that in CQB which will only increase in future american wars (urban warfare), the 5.56 is too underpowered. Whether they can refine and improve the bullet even more remains to be seen, but that is really the only problem with the weapon system as of now. I think a change to a bullpup without much of an increase in the weapons weight would solve alot of its man stopping problems. Apart from kel tecs upcoming CFB no such bullpup exists.

  • Hockler

    Just cut to the chase; rip-off the M41A Pulse Rifle design from Aliens, word for word. Lol. XD

  • Martin

    I totally disagree with developing a new round. It’s simply a waste of money. Both 5.56 and 7.62 have their role in combat, and when applied accordingly, they get the job done.

    I truly can’t understand what people have against 7.62. It’s an excellent round, and there are many good weapons that use it.

    A military’s reluctance to use a mix of weapon calibers in their infantry is the bottom line here. Their irrational insistence that squads only carry 5.56 is the core problem. Even if they do adopt a 6.x, I would venture that the military will push for an LMG in the same caliber, which is essentially going back to square one. Part of the argument concerns logistics. They want everything to be the same. They still sit on the silly notion that adding AR-10s (or whatever in 7.62) will be a disaster in the field and they’re not capable of supporting it.

    You can’t convince me that the US Army cannot buy 80k AR-10s to send to Afghanistan. Even at retail prices, that’s only about $100 million for all new rifles. That’s only 0.15% (yes, .15 of ONE percent), of the yearly Afghan conflict budget. Of course, they wouldn’t need to buy 80k rifles, so money is clearly not an issue.

    The weight argument doesn’t fly, either. If 5.56 lacks the power to be effective, you have to use (and carry) more ammunition (weight) to do the same job as the larger 7.62. If you need less ammunition, you aren’t adding weight. Honestly, are firefights in Afghanistan really being decided by who runs out of bullets first?

    So all the arguments against 7.62 are basically groundless. It won’t break the supply system. It won’t break the soldiers. It won’t break the budget.

    An effective weapon exists for what is needed in Afghanistan. Developing 6.x is simply a huge waste of time and effort. Spend the time and money to develop something actually futuristic, like energy weapons or something. Splitting the caliber size between 5.56 and 7.62 does not create the best of both, but rather a round that is neither. You want a real step forward? Develop a new propellant that puts a 160gr 7.62 round in a 5.56 sized case.

  • Big Daddy

    I wonder if the taliban know a little trick I read about many years ago with 7.62mmx39. if you aim it very high it will have a significant drop out to 800 meters and act as mini mortars. Dropping rounds on top of your head. I doubt they know to do this, I read it was done with RPKs effectively.

    The problem seems to be getting hit with sniper rifles, RPGs and PK machine guns out to 800 meters. We can hit back with only limited weapons in our inventory, M-240 and whatever 7.62 NATO rounded weapon the unit has. We are being outgunned at those distances as we were out gunned in Vietnam because we did not have anything like the RPG and RPK/AK-47 which cranked out heavier bullets quickly, great for ambushes.

  • MrMaigo

    It might be time to change the hollow-point ban in the Hague Conventions. Bullets are delivering higher energies than they were 100 years ago as well as automatic weapons and explosives, more damage is being done that can’t be repaired. Bleeding out quickly could be the more humane option.

    Has that been tested recently?

  • I entirely agree that the 7.62×51 is effective enough to get the job done, even loaded with the rather outdated M80 ball. It is clear from reports from Afghanistan that both US and UK troops are very willing to carry the extra weight of 7.62mm guns and ammo (despite the fact that they’re overloaded already) to get more effectiveness than 5.56mm can deliver.

    The main problem with 7.62mm is that the heavy recoil makes it more difficult to train troops to hit the target (accuracy on the shooting range went up sharply when 5.56mm weapons were introduced); slows down repeat shots in semi-auto; and makes full-auto uncontrollable. So it’s far from ideal in urban combat.

    It can easily be demonstrated that a low-drag bullet in a smaller calibre can perform as well as 7.62mm at long range with a lot less recoil and ammo weight. While I don’t regard the 6.5mm Grendel as the ideal solution (it has been compromised by the need to fit it into a 5.56mm platform) it demonstrates the advantages of an intermediate calibre very clearly: it can deliver as much energy to 1,000 metres as the 7.62mm M80, with a flatter trajectory and less wind drift, plus has only two-thirds the weight and half the recoil.

  • Bill Lester

    jdun makes an excellent point regarding long range riflery. We in the Internet gun community tend to think of shooting on our terms. The vast majority of us are civilians with the time and funds to do quite a bit of shooting. Not so the average soldier in the average military unit. Just this past week I watched a tv program that interviewed members of the USAMU. One of them stated that the typical soldier qualifies twice a year and expends less than 100 rounds in practice. Most of us do more than that in a single range session! Most soldiers don’t have the optics or viewing skills to actually see a camouflaged enemy soldier at 500+ yards. And, as jdun noted, they don’t come from serious shooting backgrounds in the first place. I’ll add that they don’t often have the off time to become serious marksmen. So the odds are against them doing anything but making noise when engaging targets much beyond 200-300 yards, particularly under the stresses of fatigue and combat. You know, the maximum effective range for military grade 5.56mm rifles and ammo. Overall I think the concept of having skilled DM’s armed with scoped .30 caliber rifles organic to the squad is a good idea, one the Soviets/Russians have used for many decades. Field better 5.56 ammo for the remainder of the squad and call it a day until we start fielding phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range.

  • subase

    Sure an intermediate caliber is a nice idea but what are the real costs?

    Soldiers will become even less accurate due to the increased recoil and them having less bullets to shoot. (more bullets, equals more chances of getting lucky)

    Here you are trading increased bullet power for accuracy.

    Talented and expensively trained marksmen will get a bullet with less range and power.

    The only real advantage I see is close quarter battle and door kicking. But this is much less common in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq. And it’s advantage only truly becomes obvious with Special forces, who are much better marksmen who are more proactive in engaging the enemy. But this has largely been fixed with the new ammunition and a short barreled 7.62mm Scar heavy.

  • Alan

    So can someone explain why having a grenadier or two per platoon is a bad thing? Screw bullets, just start popping 25mm over peoples heads.

  • Lance

    The main thin is we are going to hollow point ammo. The USAF went to 147gr HST 9mm ammo for its base security and found it far far superior to M-882 9mm ball ammo. The Marines are going to a 62gr Hollow point 5.56mm round and its better than the army “green” ammo thats still FMJ.

    As per the 7.62 NATO argument. The 7.62 weapons have there place and I think 5.56mm is being overly used by the army in particular. For a rilfe man 5.56mm is just fine. For squad support a 7.62x51mm M-60 and or M-240 is far bettter than a SAW is. I dislike the whole M-249 anyway since it lacks knock down power of the 7.62 round. The Navy SEALs never went with M-249s and kept the venerable M-60 bacuse of this. Even know the weight slows them down the firepower is far better than going faster on foot patrol. As per sniper well there is no complaints about it a M-14 DMR, M-21, or M-110 is far better than any 5.56mm weapon or a bolt action M-24 for fighting. but its not need for every rifle man so a specialist or a trained sniper is used for this instead. Heavy recoil is not a issue since either a GPMG is heavy to handel it. Or a sniper rilfe is semi auto only, its not a issue.

  • Martin

    One more thought, and that is of training. I think a lot of people are still clinging to the notion that it’s more difficult to shoot 7.62. It does require more training/experience, when using a M-14/G3/FAL etc. The AR-10 shoots just like it’s 5.56 counterpart. In fact, mostly everything about it operates the same. The only noticeable difference is it’s a bit heavier (like a BB AR-15), and only has a 20rd magazine. Unlike prior 7.62 military rifles, the bolt is inline with the stock, so muzzle climb isn’t an issue. So, training with an AR-10 is no different.

    Better yet, it’s harder to find the DMs in a group of soldiers all armed with AR platform rifles.

  • vtb

    2 Tony Williams

    As Colonel said – recoil is in the mind – not in the weapon.
    there is a trick about recoil perception, shown to me one day at the range:

    If someone think 7,62 recoil is bad compaired to 5.56, he should go to the range, take M870 shotgun and put a 15 slugs thru it in fast tempo.

    then immideately take 7.62 AR-10 and put a 20 round thru it.

    the difference is so clear could be seen to the person that he’ll never ever will say 7,62 recoil is huge. Moreover – inside his mind this person will compare his feelings about the recoil to the Slugs thru pump-action shotgun and will consider any gas-operated weapon as a weapon with light recoil.

  • I agree that most troops don’t have the training or experience to shoot a rifle accurately to long range – with present equipment. But the point of the article is that the equipment is changing rapidly, especially where sights are concerned. An extract from the article:

    “What all of this means is that in the foreseeable future we will see affordable day/night variable magnification sights which will detect cross-winds and incorporate a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer linked to the sighting reticule. With this kind of technology, such issues as weapon cant and the effects of firing up or down hill can also be taken into account. All the soldier will have to do is to lase the target and the sights will automatically indicate the correct aiming mark to score a hit. This is enormously important because it means that the main objection to providing rifles with a long-range capability – that most soldiers will never be well-enough trained to hit anything at such ranges – is removed.”

    Another extract on the question of the extra recoil of a new 6.5-7mm cartridge:

    “Experience of existing cartridges in this class indicates that the weight will be mid-way between the 5.56mm and 7.62mm, but the perceived recoil will be much closer to 5.56mm, causing no problems with controllability.”

    I have tested this for myself, trying out 6.8mm and 5.56mm versions of the HK416, and timed tests have also been done in the USA which showed that people could shoot 6.8mm rifles just as quickly and accurately as 5.56mm. 7.62mm is a different matter – it gives a much more solid kick.

  • AK™

    Im guessing Tony is saying the same thing almost everywhere..bullpups and optics.

    I agree with optics..some are good(reflex sights are good for close-medium depending on the shooter,and intermediate (ACOG 4x or reflex with magnifier) is better for other shooters.

    Aren’t most bullpups more complex than say..a AR-15 or a M1A?
    Give me a M14/M1A any day of the week..even firing M80 ball rounds.

    Same reason I prefer firing most 1911 clones..the power.

    I can hit what I’m shooting at because I grew up with guns (first .22LR was *and still is* a Winchester Model 69. I have 2 variants..1 has an adjustable “sport/target” sight and a bull barrel,the other is a peep sight and “standard/lightweight” barrel.)

  • subase

    Yeah but people forget piston systems on an AR reduce the recoil even further.

    The increased range of the 6.8 is not able to be taken advantage of by normal grunts. Perhaps it’s an option for designated marksman in leui of the .308, but that’s it. It’s like combat accuracy on a pistol, doesn’t matter if your shooting a match 1911, in combat the mechanical accuracy of pistol is largely irrelevant. I think as a replacement for the 7.62 it would be good but not the 5.56. For sniper roles the .338 Lapua Magnum instead will now be used.

  • Lance

    Subbase a 5.56 dosnt kick at all why are you complaining about recoil?

    As for .338 Lapua mag. Some snipers use it but ammo is way too expensive and hard to find to replace 7.62 NATO sniper rounds.

  • subase

    The lesser recoil the better, increases the rate of follow up shots and accuracy, it’s not so much flinching as it is volume of fire as fast as possible as accurate as possible. Ideally we would be shooting lasers. With a osprey piston kit the M16 is said to kick like a .22. Due to the increased bullet weights of the 6.8 round this will be less the case.

    With the M4 the muzzle blast and noise probably has as much effect on accuracy as the recoil. The green tip ammo is said to reduce muzzle blast too.

    .338 is only more expensive cause it’s not mass produced. Physically it’s not that much bigger or costly to produce, I would imagine.

    As for advanced sights, I wouldn’t say they will filter into your grunt soldiers for a couple of decades. More importantly although they will increase precision shooting accuracy, combat accuracy will still remain largely unaffected. Wind only is a factor after a certain distance and in certain environments. Designated marksmen will profit greatly, but the dynamic intense and quick paced firefights leave little time for taking precision shots. In anycase if the new optics are all that, the bullet drop of the 5.56 won’t matter and their poor stopping power will remain since after 150 metres on an M4 the bullets don’t fragment anyway. Bigger bullets will only lesson the time for someone to bleed out (20min+) not immediately incapacitate them, which is the aim since firefights are brief and intense, due to the enemies lack of ammunition and avoidance of airstrikes.

    The good news is by then we will have a really good bullpup design and this will extend the range of the 5.56 round significantly, as will better bullet technology. (with caseless and polymer casings for example, this means more propellant)

  • Lance


    The M-4 with DI dosnt kick at all come on a AR-10 kicks more than a M-14 and a barret .50 kicks more than that. Only in full automatic dose recoil become a issue like the M-14 was in the early 60s.

    7.62 has its place but 5.56 has a place too and most infantry men in the Marines have had NO repeat NO complaints of 5.56mm shoting out of a M-16A2 or A4 the 20 inch barrel makes a differnce.

  • W

    There is a solution for this problem, it is called a 6.5 or 6.8mm bullet. Good luck trying to get NATO to change over, though we have done this before with the 7.62×51 🙂 and no-doubtedly could do it again. Its not like they have much of a choice since European ammunition production is miniscule compared to the US to say the least.

  • nazgulnarsil

    part of the solution would involve a versatile enough cartridge that could have low power and high power loadings. modern variable gas systems allow for this possibility.