Weekly DTIC: M14 vs. AK, AR-15, and SPIW, Fifty Years Ago


In the early Sixties, just as the Indochina conflict was beginning to draw serious attention from the Americans, the Army noticed a gap in effectiveness between their then-new rifle, the M14, and the new Soviet AK series of rifles (commonly known in the West as the AK-47, at the time). This gap was investigated several times during this period, and one report, Rifle Evaluation Study, published by the Infantry Combat Developments Agency of the Combat Developments Command (CDC), is available for free on DTIC. This study pitted the M14 against the M14 (USAIB) – an early incarnation of what would later be called the M14E2 automatic rifle, the AK rifle, the AR-15, and the experimental SPIW The findings of this and other reports were surprising, and led directly to the adoption and eventual replacement of the M14 rifle with the AR-15 family of weapons. From the document:

5. (S) Assessment.
a. A detailed assessment of the characteristics of the
M14, M14 (USAIB), AR-15, AK-47, and the Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) to include their competing attributes and comparative merits are given at Inclosures 1 and 2.
b, The AR-15 represents a marked improvement over the M14 rife primarily because of lower weapon and ammunition weight.
Except for the SPIW, it comes closest to meeting the desired characteristics listed in paragraph 4 above. However it has two characteristics which would have to be corrected before the AR-15 were considered an acceptable military rifle in any role: its poor rifle-ammunition reliability and its poor night firing characteristics.
c. The M14 (USAIB) is a definite improvement over the
M14(M) in the automatic rifle role and in the few tests conducted has shown itself to be superior to the AR-15 in the automatic rifle role at ranges beyond 400 meters.
d. The AK-47 is basically a submachine gun and is inferior
to both the M14, (USAIB), and AR-15 in range effectiveness,
ammunition lethality and other desired rifle characteristics.
e. The SPIW, if and when developed to design criteria,
will come closest to meeting the desired characteristics.

Despite the AR-15’s good reliability in earlier tests (in at least one case, better than the M14), by 1962 it has begun to show a few warts. Even so, the merit of the small-caliber high velocity assault rifle can already be seen, with the AR-15 besting not only the M14 for effectiveness, but also the AK rifle, which the examiner considered to be but a lowly submachine gun; less effective and shorter ranged than the other rifles tested.

Many other similar rifle evaluations were also performed around the same time, with similar results. It had become clear that the AR-15 and its small caliber ammunition represented a step forward, albeit one that needed a little more work before it was ready for prime time.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • echelon

    And yet now we’ve had to dust off the ol’ M14s and send them back out because the M4 isn’t getting it done in the sandbox…

    And the AK was designed to do exactly what the Soviets wanted it to do. It was meant as a 300-400 meter gun that could hit man size targets by a conscript with little to no training. If it is a sub machine gun then so be it, but I don’t see anyone standing around at 400 meters when one is being fired in their direction! To say that the ammunition is less lethal than the M14 or AR15 is pretty ridiculous…

    Besides once the distances get outside 7.62×39 range they just pull out the 7.62x54r guns and have at it…problem solved.

    • MOdetly

      BOOM

    • Yellow Devil

      “And yet now we’ve had to dust off the ol’ M14s and send them back out because the M4 isn’t getting it done in the sandbox…”

      Blame it on the “one size fits all mentality” the government places on the military. As you pointed out, the Soviets gave 7.62R Dragunovs to designated marksman in order to engage targets beyond the standard ranges of AKs, a similar tactic we have copied by re-introducing M14s. I also think the report was referring more to the rifle (AK47) than the ammunition in regards to “effectiveness”, not “lethality” although both terms are subjective to say the least.

      Interestingly enough, regarding ammunition lethality or effectiveness, the Soviets were seemingly fascinated by our 5.56mm rounds and pushed Kalashnikov to develop, over his objections, an AK that fired their newly developed 5.54mm round.

      • iksnilol

        Sadly one side doesn’t fit all, even though millitary can’t understand that.

        The examiner or whoever wrote the report obviously didn’t know much about the AK (possibly propaganda to boost morale). I have seen them used at 500 meters without much problem (not sniper accuracy but good enough firing from prone).

        5.45/5.56 is nice but I prefer the 7.62×39 because of subsonic ammo and SP ammo which is nice if you hunt bigger things than whitetail deer.

        • At known ranges, it is not difficult to hit targets beyond 400m with the AK. However, with unknown ranges, and in combat, it becomes much more difficult. The 5.56mm’s and 5.45mm’s flatter trajectory allows both of these figures to be pushed out further.

          And, of course, soft point ammunition also exists in 5.56mm.

          • iksnilol

            In Norway to hunt moose (legally) you have to have 2000 Joules of energy, 5.56 has 1500 while 7.62×39 has a bit above 2000.

            Regarding 7.62×39 at distance, I stand by what I said: 400-500 meters at unknown ranges is no problem from prone, having a scope so that you can walk in the rounds makes things easier. I do agree that it is easier with 5.56/5.45 though.

          • 5.56mm has a little more than 1500, with a 16″ barrel.

      • echelon

        Yes, this being a report from the early sixties you get to see the full on idiocy of the day regarding the magical AR15 and 5.56 round.

        Although our military has had other occurrences of failure to adapt to new ideas…

    • n0truscotsman

      The M14 isn’t replacing any M4s or M16s so that point is invalid. They’re intended as designated marksman rifles, because the army somehow ignored the concept even though the Soviets have been doing it since the introduction of the SVD. Similar to the IAR concept that we forgot about after the BAR was replaced.

      Afghanistan is a exception to the rule, not a trend.

      • echelon

        Frankly sir you have put words in my mouth. I did not write that the M14 is replacing the M4 or M16, only that the M14 had to be brought back into action because there were serious shortcomings in the field with the M4 regarding range and lethality.

        This is documented.

        I don’t think A-stan is an exception. I think it’s more of a factor of having the right tools for the right job. If you are in a dense urban or jungle environment that may necessitate a different set of tools than if you are in a mountainous, desert environ. It’s common sense.

        • n0truscotsman

          If that is the case, then I apologize. I didn’t intend on sticking my tongue in your mouth 😉

          more tools is a good thing. Like IARs and Designated Marksmen.

        • Sulaco

          Fighting like that seen in A-stan is more likely to be the rule in the future not the exception.

    • Seburo

      The M14 DMR’s replacement isn’t getting the job done either. Seems Big Army can’t catch a break as their already trying to replace the M110.

      • Stan Darsh

        Does anyone own the rights/IP of the original “Hollywood” AR10 No.4 model? It would be nice to see someone resurrect the design. Supposedly, the rifle weighed just under 7 pounds with an empty mag and with the hybrid muzzle brake/flash suppressor it could be fired in full auto while keeping shot placement on target.

        • Seburo

          Have no idea. As cool as that sounds it might already be obsolete by the time such a weapon reaches production.

        • Skippy

          Actually closer to six pounds, and fully automatic fire is so controllable a senior should have no problem with it.
          http://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=UCmHxieQduE

      • echelon

        Exactly. For the cost of the M110 and all of the related parts, etc. I’m sure the military could’ve just as easily retrofitted the M14s with a Chassis system to make it more optics and accessories ready and had a fine DMR, but nope, couldn’t do that.

        • Seburo

          It”s too late now. They also have aging M14’s (M39, Mk14 EBR, etc.) that will soon need to be repaired or replaced.

    • I’ve seen no compelling evidence suggesting that the M4 is having an unusually hard time in current service.

      • echelon

        I never said anything about the M4 not being a decent service weapon for standard infantry. I’m talking more about that fact of how the service had a hard on for the AR and the 5.56 back in the 60s as is made evident by the words in the report stated in the article.

        I suggest you read the book “The Gun” by C.J. Chivers if you are interested in getting not only a thorough story about the development of the AK but also a few side trips related to how the development of small arms in the U.S. Army developed. It’s quite a good book.

        And as for “no compelling evidence” I guess that’s subjective and up for debate.

        http://www.armytimes.com/article/20100521/NEWS/5210313/M4-not-suited-warfare-Afghan-hills

        http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/20/cover-up-army-historian-says-report-on-deadly-afgh/?page=all

        • “the M4 isn’t getting it done in the sandbox…”

          Perhaps I misinterpreted this line, then.

          I’ve read “The Gun”, and it contains several errors regarding the development of the Kalashnikov and M16 alike. I wouldn’t say it is the best source (Max’s website is better, I would say), though it was an entertaining read. If you’re interested in the development of the AR-15, I highly recommend “The Black Rifle” by Ezell and Stevens.

          I don’t consider journalistic articles without citations to be compelling evidence in any sense.

          • echelon

            What errors concerning the development of both guns and sources for those errors? Mr. Chivers repeats many times in the books that many details concerning arms development inside the Iron Curtain are impossible to know for sure. He documents his sources. I’m not saying I take the book as gospel but where there’s smoke there’s fire, generally.

            We can argue all day about what sources you believe carry weight and what ones I do, but it doesn’t take much study to conclude that the US Military was very short sighted in adopting the AR15/5.56 and there were very fervent players who stood to make a lot of gain from getting it adopted.

            It is a fact that M16s got American troops killed in Vietnam. Even if it only got one soldier killed that negligence is unacceptable.

    • billyoblivion

      Probably more a case of NIH/Crapping on the Op4.

  • One thing to remember about this report is that it was part of the late 1962 flurry of rushed tests ordered by the Office of Secretary of Defense in hopes of justifying the adoption of the AR-15. It was highly optimistic for the authors to promote the SPIW as there were no prototypes available for head to head testing with the other rifles.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Quite so, Daniel, quite so. A telling and most valid point — and thank you for bringing it up in no uncertain terms.

    • I agree, Daniel, but (shockingly) this appears to be the only example of those I could find on DTIC. Regardless of their merit or lack thereof, they are a very important step in the development of the AR-15.

  • Jon

    The comment by the examiner calling it a lowly submachine gun is an indication of someone who does not know what their talking about. Most likely some army desk jockey, that is how we ended up with the three round burst on the M16A2 because someone saw a way to save money on the restricted fire over at procurement. Submachine guns use pistol ammunition not rifle ammunition. The AK is a true Assault Rifle, not Submachine or MBR for that fact. All these platforms serve a different purpose and I agree the military does have a fault in attempting to procure one system that meets everyone’s needs in every situation. The M14 has it place as a DM rifle but not in place of the M4 as a whole.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Good points. However, the really frightening thing about the whole evaluation and procurement process cited in this example is how the evaluator or evaluators, who would have been experienced ordnance and weapons experts ( and hardly desk jockeys by any stretch of the imagination ) were actually either complicit in such an unrealistic and lop-sided evaluation, or had honestly told the hard, unpalatable truth, only to be misquoted and over-ridden by someone higher up with a different agenda.

    • Cymond

      I suppose to someone who was unfamiliar with the concept of an Assault Rifle firing an intermediate cartridge, the AK would seem closer to a subgun than to a true battle rifle.
      However, anyone unfamiliar with that concept should not have been involved in the evaluation in the first place.

      • Many official Russian sources refer to the AK as a “submachine gun”.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Just for personal future references, could you list some of these sources. I just haven’t been able to find any.

          • It’s most often referred to as an “avtomat”, but I know of some sources that refer to it as a “submachine gun”. I’ll dig up a few and post them.

          • Hitler decided not to put the StG-44 into production, but a few brave folks decided to make them anyway. To hide the production of the StG-44, that Hitler didn’t want made, they renamed it it Maschinenpistole 43, and mostly got away with that, up until somebody asked Hitler to get them some more of those handy automatic carbines, and the proverbial cat was then out of the bag.

          • I’m familiar with the story. My point was that the definition of “submachine gun” has been pretty malleable through history. Today, everyone seems to agree that it’s a light automatic weapon firing pistol ammunition, but previously, in certain contexts, “submachine gun” could refer to almost any light automatic handheld weapon, regardless of its caliber. Consider, for further example, that the Lanchester SMG was originally designated “Lanchester Machine Carbine Mk. 1”. Today, of course, we don’t recognize the Lanchester and the StG-44 as belonging to the same category, but there you go.

          • Back at home, I’ve checked the Izhmash website, where I recall seeing them refer to the AK as a “submachine gun” in their history section. It seems they’ve edited it to read the correct “assault rifle”.

            I went ahead and asked Max Popenker if he thought it was likely that “submachine gun” was used early on as a term for the early assault rifles, and he assured me that “avtomat” was the preferred term from the early forties on.

            However, my point was that the two terms weren’t as well differentiated in the past as they are now, and Max has something interesting to say on that, as well: Apparently the PPSh-41 was often referred to in official documents as an “avtomat”, whereas of course today we’d refer to it strictly as a submachine gun.

          • endwahl

            The AK was referred to as a “submachine gun” fairly universally under Soviet era doctrine. That’s why the East German version was type classified as the “MPiK”. Contemporary Soviet material in English referred to the AK as an SMG at least thru the ’80s. SMGs were referred to as “machinepistols”, much like former German doctrine.

          • The Chinese also consistently referred to the Type 56 as a “submachine gun”.

          • Rusty Shackleford

            That is very interesting, thank you for sharing the knowledge.

        • Clodboy

          The NVA (East German Army) referred to their AKs as “MPi-K”, short for “Maschinenpistole Kalaschnikow” (“submachinegun Kalashnikov”).

        • swede1986

          Terms like submachine gun, assault rifle, and battle rifle are not universal, and most languages use different definitions. Directly translating terms from one language to another is a fool’s errand.

        • DetroitMan

          While that is an interesting bit of historical trivia, the issue here is that an American Army officer referred to it as a submachine gun. In American military parlance, it was pretty clear that a submachine gun was weapon firing a pistol caliber round, intended for close range engagements only. The officer who wrote this likely didn’t know or care how the Russians referred to the AK, or what the original designation of the Sturmgehwer-44 was. He had American military training and was writing for an American military audience, who would have understood the term “submachine gun” to be a weapon like the M1A Thompson or M3 “Grease Gun”. Therefore, referring to the AK as a “lowly submachine gun” can be clearly understood as a dismissive statement. It shows either ignorance of the capabilities of the AK and the 7.62×39 round or “not made here” bias. Probably both. The author obviously has rose colored glasses on with regard to the AR and 5.56mm round. A more objective evaluation would show that both are effective platforms and cartridges, with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. This officer’s mindset is the same one that let us go to war with Germany believing that we had the best tank. In short, it is a dangerous one for the soldier deployed in a combat theater.

          • If that were really the case, why would they rate it higher than the M14?

            I think it’s more likely that they just had different preferences and a different mindset than the Russians. They emphasized different qualities in their rifles vs. the Soviets.

            Further, in the US there wasn’t really a strong classification of “assault rifle” by that point. Indeed, even into the ’70s we have documents referencing “submachine guns” where they clearly mean “assault rifle” in today’s parlance. Both the AK and the MP-44 were classified in post-war tests as “submachine guns” by US officials.

            The American emphasis on long-range fire (~500m) remained well into this period, and the AK is less well-suited for that than either the AR-15 or M14 due to its steep trajectory. I suspect this played a big part in the “submachine gun” classification. There has also been a longstanding misunderstanding on the part of American testers regarding the layout of the AK’s selector lever, which possibly also played a role. Even at this early point, the Americans were worried about Soviet infantry blazing away with AKs on fully-automatic in common practice, a myth that persists to today. In reality, the AK’s ergonomic design is primarily centered around usability in cold weather – something the Russians emphasize to a much greater degree than the Americans – and the selector is intended to be swiped down in one smooth motion by a gloved hand past the “automatic” setting and into semi-automatic mode. The Russians knew full well that the AK had severe limitations in fully-automatic (see Alex C’s most recent article for supporting evidence of this) and semi-automatic was and is the normal mode of fire in Russian service.

            Come to think of it, the Army during this era was pretty interested in controlled dispersion automatic fire, so perhaps the AK’s limitations in this area also contributed to its “submachine gun” classification.

            As for the Sherman, I may be risking healthy debate here, but I would consider it the best tank of WWII.

        • guest

          No they don’t. There was and sometimes is a confusion over calling PPSh-41 or PPS-43 etc as “avtomat” (literally translated: “automatic”), but that is only by people who don’t understand that the word is specifically meant to replace “avtomaticheskaya vintovka” meaning “automatic rifle”, to make the word shorter. Even in the abbreviations every soviet submachine gun had the letters “PP” in the beginning which stand for “pistolet pulemyet” (PPS, PPD, PPSh etc) meaning submachine gun, whereas “AK” as probably most know stands for “avtomat kalashnikova”, the same applies for the rest like AEK, AN, AB etc, all beginning with A. At least from technical and military sources these abbreviations and names are strictly followed.

          I have not once in my life heard anyone use that misunderstanding the other way around, as in “kalashnikov submachine gun” in neither russian or other sources, up until I read this article which obviously quotes some 60’s office jockey talking s*** about a gun he does not understand.

          • As mentioned below, the foremost source I had in mind was the Izhmash website, and they appear to have changed to the correct terminology.

            To be clear, I am not saying the AK is a submachine gun, or that it’s so woefully inaccurate that you can’t use it like a rifle. On the contrary, I find them to be very accurate in semi-automatic. My point is rather that the terms we now take for granted were not always as set in stone as they are now, particularly when talking about US Army documents.

      • John

        Well, they did say ‘basically’. Their criteria of a service rifle was presumably still following the US rifleman doctrine of lethal, accurate aimed fire at long distances and the ranges that the AK operated at were considered short.

        Its rainbow trajectory was considered inadequate. The m43 ammunition at the time also tended to punch through tissue cleanly with a small wound channel, much like pistol ammunition

        • I suspect those characteristics had a lot to do with it, yes.

    • There’s not really fixed definitions for any of these terms. Given some of the other sources available on DTIC, it doesn’t really surprise me that the Army classified the AK as a submachine gun (as do, in fact, many official Russian sources, as well).

    • scw

      China designate their AK47 clones as sub-machine gun up until the 80’s.

  • n0truscotsman

    My criticisms aside, the assertion that the AK47 is “inferior” is an example of US-centric military industrial propaganda.

    When the AK47 first entered service, the US had M1 garands and M1 carbines, then later, the M14.

    On a modern battlefield in the 1950s, the AK and infantrymen equipped with AKs could shoot circles around infantry squads with WW2 semi-automatics and M14s by far. 7.62 soviet is plenty lethal (it produces more energy than the 5.56) and the AK is not that different in terms of overall accuracy, to the M4 or M16.

    “the Army noticed a gap in effectiveness between their then-new rifle, the M14, and the new Soviet AK series of rifles (commonly known in the West as the AK-47, at the time)”

    Thats because the advisors on the ground and the few US forces in Vietnam at the time understood firsthand how much superior the AK was in the hands of modern infantry troops in mobile warfare. Funny how number crunchers and whiz kids came to different conclusions. This was always the case back then.

    • UnrepentantLib

      There’s a topic for a doctoral thesis in there somewhere. Perhaps, what was the effect on the ARVN when Uncle Ho started shipping brand new SKS’s and then AK47s to the VC while we were still arming the South with used WWII and Korean War Garands and BARs.

    • IIRC, most of these tests show the AK as being superior to the M14, but inferior to the AR-15 in effectiveness. That doesn’t seem so far fetched to me, though I’m certain the Russians would disagree.

      • Stan Darsh

        It seems that the “superiority” the report claims simply comes down to the AR15 and its ammo weighing less.

        • I consider that to be significant, especially since with the AK magazines of the period, the AR’s ammo weighs a LOT less.

          • Stan Darsh

            I didn’t say it wasn’t, I believe more than one aspect of a platform should come into play when declaring “superiority”.
            When it comes to ammo, it has been reported both M16 riflemen and M60 gunners usually carried 600 rounds of ammo even though the 7.62 weighed more.

          • Most likely because they needed the extra ammo for suppression. No belt-fed 5.56mm weapon existed in the general inventory at the time.

    • somebody

      I would say the AK47 would be about as effective as the M2 carbine, as the original M43 7.62x39mm ammunition was terrible at killing people (it would only start to tumble after penetrating about 10″, there are many angles a person can be shot from and not even have the bullet tumble while inside of them) the standard ammunition the US used in their M2 carbines started to tumble at around 7″ which still isn’t ideal but is slightly better than the M43 7.62x39mm ammunition, both rounds would produce similar size wounds in the event that they didn’t tumble. The only advantage the AK47 would have is its maximum point blank range which is about 60 yards longer than the M2 carbine’s maximum point blank range. The M2 carbine however would have the advantages of lighter ammunition, the gun being lighter, and less recoil for faster followup shots.

      • n0truscotsman

        I would question that honestly, because 7.62 soviet has more kinetic energy (1500 ft lbs versus 950 for 30 carbine ball) and a higher velocity (2400 ft/s versus 1900 ft/s), not to mention that is 10 inches of penetration before tumbling when considering that the bullet has to pass through a person’s arms or shoulders if necessary (which is why the FBI has a 12 inch standard).

        Those are valid points in favor of the M2 though. Its lighter ammunition and gun and lighter recoil are definitely advantages. That is why the M2 became a bit more popular until the advent of the M16. 30 carbine at its own right is a decent “assault” cartridge.

        • somebody

          Energy doesn’t matter as much as bullet design. There is the Yugoslavian 7.62x39mm M63 bullet that was designed in 1963 and tumbles earlier though, but the M43 is still manufactured and widely used.

          http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/RussianWP.jpg
          http://www.ar15.com/ammo/project/Misc_Images/DocGKR/M1CarbineWP.jpg

          • n0truscotsman

            Energy is NOT everything and there are certainly other ways to determine “lethality” but is the best I can do for a gross approximation for the purpose of discussing overall lethality.

            Bullet design and shot placement are paramount, of course, youll never get me to argue otherwise.

            For the purpose of that conversation, it was FMJ vs FJM. Russian M43 vs M1 carbine ball.

    • Some of them did and some of them didn’t. There was, in my opinion, quite a lot of good work done by some of the number crunchers at the time, even if this report isn’t a great example of that.

      It wasn’t my first choice of documents to post today, but I couldn’t find many of the others available on DTIC.

      • n0truscotsman

        I will say that I dont completely disagree with it either. It brings up a compelling argument for “smaller and lighter” in the big picture of increasingly mechanized military operations.

        Either way, thanks for posting this. Its been interesting.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Echelon is quite correct in his assertions. If one looks very closely and critically at many of these supposedly “objective” comparative evaluations by the Department Of The Army / Ordnance Board, it is quite clear that they are tainted by a combination of personal ( “not made here” syndrome ) and official ( read politically-motivated ) biases that are justified on the grounds of partial truths ( assuming the few grains of truth have themselves not already been twisted beyond recognition ).

    This is not meant as a criticism of the M-16, which, like any other generally effective and viable weapons system, has certain strengths and weaknesses that can be addressed over time with some experience and a willingness to adapt and modify. Rather, it is a criticism of the parochial mindset that continues to haunt the weapons procurement process to some extent even to this day — in spite of the many hard-headed, realistic, fair-minded and incorruptible individuals who have tried their level best to make the process work as it should, based on painful lessons learned — for reasons of self-gain, political gain, overwhelming ( and unrealistic ) national pride, cultural bias, etc.

    The front-line soldier, more than anything else, needs a truthful and hard, factual assessment of what he/she has to work with and what he/she is up against in order to correctly assess the situation and come up with a practical, workable solution to the problem at hand. What he/she DOES NOT need at all is an unfair, prejudiced set of so-called “facts” and false perceptions disseminated in the name of boosting morale and pride, whether it be about the humanity of the opponent he/she is likely to face, or the performance of the weapons systems that opponent is using. The failure to honestly tell a soldier who and what he has to deal with will eventually get him killed, and will more likely than not result in long-term failure in battle. We owe at least this much to our servicemen and servicewomen if we expect them to stand in harm’s way on our behalf.

    • echelon

      You stated quite well what I was getting at in my post, thank you. Although it may be TL;DR for a lot of people so that’s why I kept mine short and sweet: 🙂

  • I always thought it was odd how the AR10 never really made it into these documents/tests.

    • UnrepentantLib

      Or why they never took a step back and gave the British .280/30 a second look as a better medium power cartridge. But that would have meant admitting the Brits were right and we were wrong.

      • While the .280 gets a lot of air time on the Internet, its performance is not substantially different than 7.62×51. By 1962, the .280/30 was dead, and the merits of small caliber high velocity were realized.

        • UnrepentantLib

          For the sake of argument, the actual comparison should be with the competition’s assault rifle cartridge, and the .280/30 performed a good bit better than the 7.62×39, and is about comparable to the 6.8 SPC. But it was never likely to be given the attitude of the time. Just never been that big a fan of the 5.56mm myself.

          • .280 British has considerably superior ballistics to the (frankly mediocre) 6.8 SPC. I don’t feel a “.280 timeline” of development would have been substantially different than it was as it actually happened with the fielding of 7.62mm. .280 is very close in weight and recoil to the 7.62×51, and I suspect it would fade to a similar position behind 5.56mm or something similar, were it adopted.

        • Stan Darsh

          There are merits of the 5.56 round, and had our troops in Vietnam only been raiding hamlets, it would have been fine, but the majority of the war was fought in the dense jungle where 5.56 is more easily deflected than .30 cal.

          Everyone who has been through the USMC Sniper School remembers the sign that reads: “The average rounds expended per kill with the M16 in Vietnam was 50,000. Snipers averaged 1.3 rounds. The cost difference was $2300 vs 27 cents.” While this isn’t exactly apples-to-apples since snipers aren’t known for using the spray-and-pray method nor do the use suppressing fire, it does illustrate what better training and better equipment can achieve.

          Furthermore, the GAO released a report in 2011 stating that on average, U.S. troops fire 250,000 rounds of 5.56 for each insurgent killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

          Maj. Anthony F. Milavic, USMC has a decent article in regards to the replacement of the 7.62 with the 5.56 round. http://www.americanthinker.com/2004/08/the_last_big_lie_of_vietnam_ki.html

          • A great deal of experience was earned in World War II, and it did not go to waste. One of the conclusions that was drawn from that conflict, and Korea, was that the marksmanship theory of infantry effectiveness was illusory, and that the expert rifleman – in a general infantry role – proved much less effective under stress than previously assumed. I recommend you read the Hitchman report I posted last week for more details: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/07/08/weekly-dtic-hitchman-gustafson-reports/

            So, it isn’t that soldiers using 5.56mm are wasteful, but rather that the service can ill-afford to field a cartridge any more resource and weight-consuming than 5.56, because regardless of what you do, soldiers simply can’t rise above a certain level of efficiency, virtually regardless of training.

            Snipers being an entirely different animal entirely.

          • I don’t feel that Milavic’s use of Mein Kampf to support his argument that 5.56mm is inadequate was convincing at all.

          • Stan Darsh

            Ahh, I see what you did there, nice. After about a dozen real life examples of inadequacies that have been documented, he talks about the psychology behind it, using a quote from Hitler, a master at psychological manipulation, stating: “The .223 caliber cartridge was morphed into the 5.56mm NATO cartridge and adopted for the United States Service Rifle M16, replacing the 7.62mm M14. How could such propaganda have convinced the Department of Defense to adopt the .223 caliber cartridge? ‘All this was inspired by the principle, which is quite true in itself, that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper state of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large—scale falsehoods.’

          • His citations are atrocious and his writing is clearly agenda driven and sensationalist. I’ve read most of the sources he cited – obviously not the emails – and they don’t support his argument. Heck, The Black Rifle played a big part in convincing me that most of the “common knowledge” about 5.56mm’s inadequacy was rubbish.

          • Stan Darsh

            While the military may not afford to field a cartridge any more resource and weight-consuming than 5.56 NATO round, If soldiers simply can’t rise above a certain level of efficiency, virtually regardless of training, whats the point on spending the money for training SOF units? Why not just slap the ‘pointy spear’ patch on any soldier or Marine?

          • Special forces and snipers are entirely different. They are rigorously selected first based on merit, and intensively trained, firing many, many more rounds than the basic infantryman to develop skills that would be completely impractical to try to instill in the wider Army.

      • n0truscotsman

        I love you for bringing that up. No seriously.

        I thought I was the only ranting lunatic spouting craziness when I brought up that the 280 British was conceptually far ahead of its time. The decision for it to be shelved was nothing but bullying and US backwards thinking.

        An AR10 in 280 would have been a paradigm changer.

      • Imagine, if you will, that the U.S. had gone along with the Brits, and adopted the EM-2, and then later the SA80, and had to deal with the problems of the SA80 for decades. Or would

        • Forrest1985

          Well considering the sa80 us “brits” developed was a direct result of having to use a nato standard 5.56 catridge rather than the .280, i doubt the sa80 would have existed. Afterall had .280 become a standard nato forces would have developed their own take on the em2 to suit their needs in a similar way that they did with 5.56 (famas,m16, sig540, hk33,fnc etc…)

          • To be fair, the SA80 was developed by Brits, but some Germans were called in to get it to work, which is more than a little ironic.

            (I’m actually a bit of an Anglophile)

          • I doubt many who’ve ever had to rely on one would miss it.

    • First, the AR-10 was out of production by this point. More importantly, the Army had very little time to throw the tests together per their mandate from above.

      • While out of production, the IP was still out there and I am surprised nobody ever said “we like this gun’s light weight and configuration, but you bring out that 30 cal version they used to make in Hollywood and Holland?”. I guess I just always thought it was sad that the AR10 never enjoyed the success of its little brother.

        • The specific request was for the .22 caliber version. By this point, the merits of the small caliber high velocity concept were obvious, and moving forward the Army (notwithstanding a few holdouts like Col. Studler and Dr. Carten) was not interested in .30 caliber weapons systems.

          • Indeed. Such a shame that the AR10 (the original select fire variants) are little more than a footnote in small arms development. Few firearms at my disposal will put a smile on a person’s face faster than my Dutch AR10 on fun-mode.

          • I’ve heard they’re much more controllable with the original compensator-can attached. Without? Not so fun.

          • Mine does not have the compensator but is still reasonably easy to shoot and keep on target for someone with adequate experience. That said, I have seen the gun damn near knock a grown man over. Not a gun to hand off to your girlfriend or kid brother for sure.

        • n0truscotsman

          They didn’t I think because the US had a raging appendage for the conceptually obsolete M14 and everyone else was adopting the FAL.

          The AR10 got thrown out the front door, despite being a awesome weapon at its own right. The story behind the competition was a infuriating one.

          Im glad stoner got his revenge in the end though and he’s laughing in the afterlife. His “AR15” is the most popular 5.56mm carbine in existence right now and all efforts to replace it have failed and will continue to do so unless the brass-cased bullet becomes obsolete.

          • Though Stoner promoted the AR-15, he didn’t design it.

          • Rusty Shackleford

            With the LSAT LMG and its cased telescoped ammo doing so well in trials, and with the USMC spending its limited funds on the caseless variant, both types of ammo seem viable for near-future civilian firearms. It will be an interesting landscape in the world of firearms when that happens.

          • n0truscotsman

            Im extremely skeptical of any results from army trials given their previous history of egregious acts of fraud and waste, although, telescopic ammunition has immense potential conceptually speaking.

            If it is as good as they say it is, then that might be the justified next step to take. we live in interesting times.

            The same goes for the telescopic application of IFV weaponry, as is the case of the CT40.

          • Rusty Shackleford

            Believe me, I know. HK spent the last 30 years on military small arms programs, especially for the Army, and every one was cancelled except for the Marines IAR/HK416 and now HK is on the verge of bankruptcy. In that time frame I can think of the M9, the M82a1 and the HK416 making it through.

            That last I heard was the caseless is still 5 years from being viable for use it combat, while the scoped version has been doing even better and is supposedly on its way to Afghanistan for testing in combat.

            I’m sure pistol sized ammo is still a little ways off, but rifle sized on up is viable and could lead to very interesting applications.

          • n0truscotsman

            HK and the Army are like a domestic violence couple in my opinion.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      That would be due to George Sullivan insisting on using a composite barrel on the AR10 for its torture test which subsequently burst, leaving a bad impression. Until that point, many testers at the Springfield Armory felt that the AR10 was the best light automatic rifle ever tested at the armory. Well, that and politics.

  • KestrelBike

    How were they judging lethality? Is the 7.62*39 really less lethal than the 5.56?

    • A proper answer to that question would be the equal of a medium-length novel. However, the short answer is “yes”, given we’re talking about FMJ ammunition, for a few reasons. 1, the 7.62×39 cartridge is shorter-ranged with a shorter point-blank range; 2, the smaller caliber 5.56mm bullet will upset more readily, depositing kinetic energy earlier into the target; 3, the 5.56mm projectile’s jacket integrity is more readily overcome by the velocity of the projectile, inducing fragmentation which can lead to very severe tissue damage.

      However, this doesn’t mean that 5.56mm is always more effective than 7.62×39, nor that 7.62×39 doesn’t have any advantages vs. 5.56mm. Even so, the conclusion of the testers here doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch.

      • KestrelBike

        haha wow, perfect, easy-to-understand reply, thanks!

  • Blake

    & if only they hadn’t gone with a 55gr varmint load…

    I’d like to think that if the US military had standardized on a high BC round (say 6 or 6.5mm) we wouldn’t have anywhere near the plethora of calibers out there today, because the standard military round would have “just worked” for most applications, in addition to being legal for deer hunting..

    • The M193 specification was created empirically as a combat cartridge from the get-go. Varminting had nothing to do with it.

      • Blake

        yep, but folks had been varmint shooting with .222 rem 50gr loads long before the military became interested in a .22 cal rifle…

        It might have been developed by the military, but 5.56×45 just doesn’t have the energy to consistently & humanely take CXP2 class game, which is why it’s illegal to hunt deer with it in many US states. Maybe a max pressure load with a heavy (over 70gr) high-BC hunting bullet would be acceptable, but it’s still outlawed…

        • Weird, I’ve killed more than one deer in one shot with 5.56mm.

          Further, 5.56mm is 80-90% as energetic as the most common 7.62×39 and 5/8 oz 20 gauge slug ammunition, both considered reliable deer/black bear taking rounds. Is it really that deficient? Not with the proper bullet selection, no.

          Just because a cartridge is useful for varmint hunting does not mean it isn’t useful for other things. Relevant article here: http://196800revolutionsperminute.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-cult-of-caliber.html

          • Blake

            Excellent article; you make several good points. I also don’t doubt that you’re a great shot.

            The main point I was making is that in order to ensure consistent, humane kills on CXP2 game then a bullet with a sectional density of at least .215 (& preferably around .24) is required, which means around 77gr (or more) in .223″ cal. The vast majority of 5.56×45 ammo out there is well below that, which qualifies it for shooting coyotes but not deer, & most folks hunting with it aren’t going to figure that out.

            The idea is that even if you shoot a whitetail in a bony area the higher SD bullet will still penetrate to a vital organ & ensure a humane kill.

          • I’m not that great of a shot, really. I know plenty of people better than I ever could be.

            Really, it depends on what aspect you shoot them from. Certainly, I wouldn’t attempt a rear three quarters shot with 5.56mm on a mulie, but a side shot on a whitetail I’d be perfectly comfortable with.

            Consider further than many calibers that are considered fine for CXP2 game – such as 7.62×39 – are primarily loaded with bullets with a similar sectional density (circa .180) to 5.56mm.

            It’s my understanding that the big outstanding characteristic of Mk. 262 is its accuracy. Certainly the follow-on round, Mk. 318, was lighter (and it takes deer just fine).

  • Wetcoaster

    Shoulda gone with the .280 British way back when, but the US just had a irrepressible hard-on for full-power .30 and the post-war Brits weren’t prepared to go it alone on calibre choice.

    Mind you, I wonder if the Czech 7.62 x 45 could have bridged the gap between x 39 and x54 for the Pact?

    • While it’s gotten a lot of good press with the Internet Age (mostly for being a terribly interesting project), the .280 isn’t really that different than the 7.62mm. Very similar recoil and weight characteristics, albeit slightly better optimized. I have a hard time believing that the adoption of the .280 British would have prevented the US .22 caliber experiments and the eventual adoption of something like 5.56mm.

  • Lance

    Yet most GI prefers the M-14 over the M-16. Yet we continue to see brass retire them but bring them back when we goto war. Show the M-14 one of the best DMRs and battle rifles around.

    Shows like pistols in LE and military same for rifles. One size/caliber dose NOT fit all.

    • I’d be very interested to see compelling support for this statement.

  • gunsandrockets

    I was most surprised at the part of the report which said there was no significant difference in the cost of the M-14 compared to the AR-15, nor in the different ammo. Colt must have made quite a bundle selling M-16s to the Army.

    Of course the M-16a1 made by Colt for the Army didn’t have chromed parts or chrome lined bore either. I wonder which genius thought shipping such a rust attractor to Vietnam combat troops was such a great idea. Oh yeah it was those McNamara ‘whiz kids’ in the DOD. Because they thought they knew everything and also thought that the Army knew nothing. And they were certain the Stoner rifle was perfect as is regardless of what the Army had to say about it.

    • The Colt 601 had a chromed bolt and bolt carrier. Later, the chomed moving parts group was replaced with a parked one, and the chromed barrel and chamber introduced incrementally.

    • john4637

      Don’t overlook how many of the whiz kids held stock in the deal, including McNamara. Money talks, soldiers walk!

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Very well said. If I’m not mistaken, Daniel E. Watters and Kevin R.C. O’Brien ( a.k.a. “Weaponsman” ) have written more than a few articles to that effect.

      • While being considerable less hard on the “whiz kids”. 😉

  • gunsandrockets

    I was also struck by part “e” of the evaluation, which stressed the importance of grenade fire up to 400 meters range and the desirability for every rifle to fire grenades without compromising the function or weight of the rifle.

    And yet there was a rifle in service in the world which fit that bill exactly, the French MAS-49/56! I wonder if they had bullet trap rifle grenades back in 1962?

  • Dj Armentrout

    “However it has two characteristics which would have to be corrected before the AR-15 were considered an acceptable military rifle in any role: its poor rifle-ammunition reliability and its poor night firing characteristics.”

    does anyone else wonder what exactly they were talking about when saying poor night firing capabilities like did they mean the flash suppressor sucked or what?