Firearms Semantics: “Battle Rifle” and “Assault Rifle”

To most TFB readers, the terms “battle rifle” and “assault rifle” are probably familiar ones. A “battle rifle” is something chambered in 7.62mm, or maybe any full power rifle cartridge, which has a big 20 round box magazine and fires semi-automatically (perhaps also with a fully automatic setting of limited usefulness). An “assault rifle” is, of course, a military rifle firing an “intermediate” cartridge with selectable fire control, to most.”Assault rifle” is a term that has been thoroughly entrenched in military literature ever since the late ’40s, and “battle rifle” may be getting there, too, as specialized 7.62mm selfloading rifles become popular. Even so, some of us firearms researchers aren’t entirely happy with either term. “Battle rifle” in particular is fairly distasteful to some of us as it was used before the 21st century to refer to simply any military infantry rifle, and the inclusion of the adjective “battle” appears to be an attempt to legitimize the older concept of 7.62x51mm selfloading weapons over newer, lighter, smaller-caliber weapons like the M4 or M16 which replaced it, usually by marketeers.

This subject was one I had been contemplating for a while, when, in the process of writing my article “Before The Sturmgewehr: Assault Rifle Developments Prior to 1942”, I contacted Maxim Popenker, who runs the Modern Firearms website, about this and other subjects. Afterward, Max updated his Assault Rifle page header article, featuring these paragraphs:

Here we must stop again and re-evaluate the term “Assault rifle”. It was officially used to name several weapons in various countries after the WW2. First of these post-war “Sturmgewehr” rifles were Swiss Stgw.57 (also known as SIG 510, caliber 7.5×55) and Austrian Stg.58 (License-built Belgian FN FAL, caliber 7.62×51), both being selective-fire rifles firing full-power ammunition. Probably the most ironic fact about these “Assault rifles” is that both Austria and Switzerland are neutral countries and their weapons serve primarily in the defensive role. In most English-speaking countries new weapons were (and still are) designated simply as “Rifle” (i.e. “Rifle, 7.62mm L1A1”, or “Rifle, 7.62mm M14”), without mentioning any specific role, be that assault, defense or anything else.
Now we see that second generation of “assault rifles”, spawned by Stg.44, was in fact split into two groups – one firing “intermediate” ammunition, such as German Stg.44, Soviet AK-47 or Czechoslovak SA Vz.58, and another, firing full-power ammunition, such as American M14 and Ar10, Belgian FN FAL, German G3 or Swiss Stg.57.


Therefore we must admit that “Assault weapon” is an artificial moniker which offers little of value compared to more generic “automatic rifle” and “automatic carbine” terms. In some cases it is used to specifically separate “intermediate power” automatic rifles from their “full power” cousins (which also has their own class name “battle rifles”, equally pointless), but its actual historical use proves that it’s not the case. Possibly the most correct designation for “reduced” or “intermediate” power automatic rifle from technical standpoint is the original German term “Maschinenkarabiner” or its English equivalents “Machine carbine” or “Automatic carbine”, because “carbine” in general means “short and light rifle”. The Russian term “Avtomat” in its modern sense is appropriately and officially defined in as “automatic carbine” as well. Despite that, the term “Assault rifle” however misleading it is, has certain gravitas, is in widespread use and, let’s accept it, sounds just cool, so, most probably, it still will be widely used to describe automatic carbines and rifles despite all facts pointed out above. Same applies to the “battle rifle” term, which is often used to describe modern “full power” automatic rifles such as M14, AR10, HK G3 or FN SCAR-H. In fact, there’s no significant tactical or ballistic difference between old 7,62x54R AVS-36, AVT-40 or FG-42 automatic rifles of WW2 era and most modern 7.62×51 automatic “battle” rifles.

This echoed my own thoughts on the subject. A solid definition of the term “assault rifle” was possible, and the best include Tony Williams’ very specific definition, but doing so led to some problems: First, there were rifles that were clearly thought of by their home countries as “assault rifles” that wouldn’t fit most definitions (more on that in a minute), second, the word “assault” doesn’t really tell you anything about how the rifle is used or its characteristics – in fact the diagnostic feature of an assault rifle, its full automatic fire capability, is primarily used to repel ambushes, and third, in certain circumstances a rifle can qualify for one or more definitions of the term when configured in one way, but not qualify for those same definitions when configured another way (e.g., a SCAR-H configured with a highly effective muzzle brake meets Mr. Williams’ definition of the term, but remove the muzzle brake and it’s suddenly not an assault rifle anymore).

The discussion came to a bit of a head a few days ago, after I had read Max’s new article, and chatted with him about the subject. Max posted to Facebook a picture of an Austrian FAL – which they call a “Sturmgewehr 58” – and asked “It’s a Sturmgewehr (oficially), but is it an Assault rifle?” What follows are some of the responses he received.


Sturmgewehr yes, but assault rifle?

From Pierangelo Tendas, a staff writer at

Maxim, I am not an expert of Russian language, but somebody has a point here.

Nowadays, the “first generation” of assault rifles are better categorized as “battle rifles”.

The denomination of “battle rifle” should be given to any military service weapon that’s either semi-automatic or select-fire in nature (although most of them are actually pretty much not controllable in full-automatic!), firing a non-intermediate cartridge and being considerably longer and heavier than modern smaller-caliber assault rifles, also however offering a longer range.

Under this point of view, the FN FAL and all its variants (including the StG58 in this case) would be “battle rifles” because they fire the 7,62x51mm cartridge, which is not intermediate. Same goes for the M14, the Beretta BM59, the Heckler & Koch G3, the SIG StGw.57 and SG-542, and the Howa Type 64.

I suspect many readers will agree with Pierangelo. In a comment in this thread, I pointed out that no US document that I could find actually uses the term “battle rifle” in this way until after 2001, after which point they appear to be borrowing it as a term of art from the civilian sector. Following my comment, Remiguiz Wilk of the excellent Broń i Amunicja Facebook page came down firmly on the side of any derivatives of the FAL being “battle rifles”. He followed this up by posting an interesting breakdown of Polish rifle classification:

For me it is simple, but it comes directly from Polish military norm from 2004 and current Polish Armed Forces military firearms classification system. It is based on tactical and technical characteristic combined with a cartridge type.

There are four basic cartridge types – pistol, intermediate, rifle and heavy rifle, distinguished by combination of T&T characteristics and muzzle energy.

So every weapon fed by pistol cartridge is “pistolet”, by intermediate is “karabinek”, rifle is “karabin” and heavy rifle is “wielkokalibrowy karabin”.

So, the rifle cartridge (7,62 mm x 51 in this case) selective fire rifle which is individual armament of the soldier is “karabin automatyczny” which is “battle rifle”.

The intermediate cartridge (for instance 5,56 mm x 45, 5,45 mm x 39, 7,62 mm x 39, 5,8 mm x 42) individual weapon is “karabinek automatyczny” i.e. “assault rifle”.

Every country has a different classification system and when you take a look at the weapon only from tactical and technical point of view, the tactical role of the battle rifle and assault rifle was basically the same back in time, but it has changed recently, when intermediate cartridge won (not in every country like Turkey, but still).

Now the basic individual firearm of the soldier is assault rifle (selective fire, fed from relatively high capacity magazine etc.) while the low level support rifle fed by rifle cartridge with an option for full auto fire (but it is not necessary) is battle rifle.

Daniel Watters of the 5.56mm Timeline sought to find an origin for the use of the term “battle rifle” used in this context:

In his 1984 book “The Fighting Rifle,” Chuck Taylor defined the separate classifications of assault rifle, battle rifle, and automatic rifle. I suspect that he had used these definitions in his earlier articles in one or more of the following magazines: Soldier of Fortune, SWAT, and Harris Publications’ “Special Weapons” annuals.

Just found my copy of the “SWAT Showdown ’83” copyrighted 1982. Taylor was the editor of SWAT Magazine at the time, and wrote the following:

“A ‘battle rifle’ is a full-powered, full-sized rifle, fires from a locked breech, may or may not utilize a detachable box magazine, and may or may not be capable of fully automatic fire.

The premiere issue of Harris Publications’ “Special Weapons” was published in 1981. Taylor lays out his definition of an assault rifle as a selective-fire carbine, chambered for an intermediate cartridge, that uses a high capacity magazine. He then states that it is improper to use the nomenclature assault rifle to refer to full-size service rifles chambered for full-powered cartridges as these are battle rifles.

I’ll need to dig out my old issues of SOF to see if there is an earlier incidence of Taylor using his definition of a battle rifle. I suspect that Jeff Cooper may have done the same in one of the many magazines to which he contributed.

(It remains a piece of speculation on my part that “battle rifle” was invented by M14 manufacturers to help sell their rifles in an era when 5.56mm rifles were the hot new thing, but I do not have the evidence to back this up.)

And Max further clarified his position:

Daniel, the way I see it there are at least two different types of classification that may apply to these terms – tactical and technical.

In a tactical sense, automatic rifle is an automatic squad support weapon, manned by a single soldier. Historically, in US Army this role was fulfilled by various types of guns – M1918 BAR (THE automatic rifle), M14 (“battle” rifle), M16A1 (“assault” rifle), M249 (LMG) and M27 IAR (“assault” rifle).

The “assault” rifle in a tactical sense is an individual weapon of an infantryman. “Battle” rifle in a tactical sense? Really in a technical sense, all those weapons except M249 are “automatic rifles” by definition. Assault and battle rifle terms are further attempt to create sub-classification by physical properties of weapons (its cartridge and “power”). Technically, assault rifle is an equivalent of automatic carbine (light and compact), and battle rifle is an equivalent of “standard” automatic rifle.

Therefore I see the “battle rifle” term absolutely excessive and unnecessary, and “assault rifle” (in its technical sense) somewhat misleading.

What do our readers think? Is “battle rifle” the terminological equivalent of an appendix? Is it a useful new piece of nomenclature for describing specialized full caliber rifles? Let us know in the comments!

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • iksnilol

    I never really understood the necessity of the terms “assault rifle” and “battle rifle”.

    I just call them what they are: automatic or semi automatic rifles.

    • I rather like the Russian term “avtomat”, but I doubt it would ever catch on in the West.

      • Grindstone50k

        Sounds like commie-speak to me. BETTER DEAD THAN RED

      • iksnilol

        That’s the the term I use.

        automat = FA gun
        polu-automat = semi-auto

        Translated (from Bosnian) it means automatic and half-automatic. I do the same in Norwegian, “automatgevær” and “halvautomat”.


        I really hope you aren’t being serious.

  • Don Ward

    Clearly we need to all adopt the more practical term of “Homeland Defense Rifle”…

    • Grindstone50k

      Or the “Rooty-tooty, point-and-shooty”.

  • allannon

    I don’t think it matters, really.

    It can be useful, if there’s at least a generally agreed-upon definition. It probably won’t get such a thing, and far too many gun designs span easy definition anyway, though.

    The military could probably use it, but I think they’ve landed on “designated marksman rifle” instead, which probably better fits current use anyway.

  • Anonymoose

    I classify any rifle of the type used in an assault (be it the crime or a military maneuver, to include bolt, lever, and single-shot rifles) as assault rifles, and a battle rifle is any “assault rifle” that fires a 6.5mm or larger cartridge (so as not to exclude a lot of service rifles like the Carcano and Arisaka). The major benefit to this inclusive classification is that when gungrabbers say they “only want to ban dos dangerous, scurry, babbykillin salt waffles,” it applies to great-grandpa’s ’73 Winchester durr gun, and thus fence-sitters and fudds will finally see that the grabbers are out to ban ALL guns, not just the black plastic ones. Likewise, an “assault weapon” is ANYTHING used as a weapon in an assault, so eyeglasses, pencils, screwdrivers, spoons, and the human body are so classified.

    • iksnilol

      You are trying to say that my head is an assault weapon? I don’t know what to do now.

      • Anonymoose

        Thinking is what they fear the most.

        • iksnilol

          I was referring to the fact that I headbutt people if I get in fights. I don’t like fighting and a good headbutt ends the fight quickly… though it is usually messy, so much blood.

          • Anonymoose

            Yeah, I know.

          • iksnilol

            I feel like you understand me. If I meet you in reality I would probably give you a hug. Like , totally an emotional one.

          • Sable

            *cough* you forgot the obligatory “no homo”….

          • iksnilol

            No “no homo”.

            Bow chika wow wow

    • Tierlieb

      “and a battle rifle is any “assault rifle” that fires a 6.5mm or larger cartridge” That makes both the Sturmgewehr 44 (7.92×33) and the AK (7.62×39) battle rifles.

  • USMC03Vet

    While in the military these terms were never used. It was always a rifle, a pistol, a machine gune. In fact only until I was out of the military for sometime did I ever hear the term “battle rifle” ever used. These are just sensationalist terms. “Battle rifle” is used to portray the myth that larger caliber is more legit or capable for combat, while assault rifle today is simply used by political forces to deny access to weaponry.

    Both are stupid. It’s a rifle.

    • mechamaster

      If it has stock, it’s a rifle… If it don’t have, it’s called a ‘pistol’… ( a joke about pistol arm-brace LoL )

  • Don Ward

    Great post Nathan! Anachronistic terminology and marketing fads have long been a part of firearms culture as has “insider” jargon. That’s really no different than any group or organization that needs shorthand terminology to quickly discuss more complicated ideas. You’d probably find a similar argument in car culture over the correct use of “muscle car” or “sports car”.

    The problem is when we start trying to put action to that arbitrary terminology. I don’t need to repeat here to the choir the futility of Congress-weasels trying to define a vague term like “assault weapon” over the past few decades. Or when you have folks that are advocating that the military must adopt a particular piece of hardware because of their belief in some useless piece of arbitrary terminology (See the General-Purpose Cartridge). Similarly annoying are those that try to win Pedantry Wars by correcting others in their “misuse” of similarly vague and arbitrary terminology.

    I hope everyone has a chance to enjoy their semi-automatics, auto-loaders, self-loaders, Avtomats, repeaters, battle rifles, assault rifles, automatic rifles, machine carbines and pew-pews.

  • Rodford Smith

    I believe the first time I encountered the term “battle rifle” was in Mel Tappan’s _Survival Guns_, which originally came out in 1976. However, he also refers to 7.62 rifles such as the BM-59 as _sturmgewehre_.

    • “Battle rifle” has been used for a very long time to simply mean “military rifle”, so the context is important here. Did he use it to mean 7.62x51mm selfloading rifles specifically?

      • Rodford Smith

        Yes. He used the term for several then-current semi-auto rifles using that cartridge. Without going through the whole book to check, I believe he also used it for some rifles chambering the .30-’06 (specifically, the Garand) and maybe the .303 and one or two other classic full-power military cartridges.

        Unfortunately, neither edition of the book I have has an index. 🙁

        • Hmmm. It seems we must did deeper to find the origin of the term “battle rifle”. I suspect Jeff Cooper may be the culprit, after talking with Daniel Watters.

  • Ron

    The term assault weapon is actually a class of military weapons; normally used to breach fortified/hardened positions through high explosives. Most assault weapons are rocket powered or recoilless in nature. The US military currently uses several assault weapons, the Mk153 Shoulder Fired Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) and the M3 Multi-role Anti-armor Anti-tank Weapon System (MAAWS) being the most often seen.

  • MatKep

    What do we gain by adopting the term? Nothing but cool derp lingo. What do we lose by self describing certain rifles as instruments of “assault” or “battle”? …Hmm, that will never be used against us… Semi automatic rifle chambered in 7.62, 5.56, etc, etc. Think before you speak. Your words can and will be used against you.

  • Grindstone50k

    It’s all just a rifle to me.

    • iksnilol

      What about shotguns?

      • Grindstone50k

        “Biden specials”

        • iksnilol

          So we have rifles and Bidens?

  • spoonyluv

    In my opinion…
    Rifle: any firearm which uses amunition with rifle powder (you know difference between pistol and rifle powder)

    Carbine: is a shortened/lighter rifle -> point is, its a derivat of a rifle

    Assault/Automatic Rifle: from tactical view any rifle which is able to provide surpressive fire. By russians called as avtomaticheskoe rushye (engl. automatic rifle) or short avtomat. In this case BAR is an assault rifle just like Avtomat Federova. The meaning of “Assault” is here in a tactical use.

    This leads to conclusion that: m4, m16, ak derivats and etc are all “assault” or automatic carbines. They are shorter, lighter than usual rifles (carbine) and they can provide surpressive fire (“assault / automatic”).

    For me personaly i dont like the word assault, because this word was chosen for propaganda. You know Hitler “Sturm und drang” (assault and urge).

    Here in germany we call G3 as Assault Rifle and this, is in my opinion exact. Because it is an Assault Rifle… Battle rifle is any rifle for military use.

    Intermidiate cartridge was only designed to smooth down the recoil and most of all because of knowledge that next all wars will be done in urban environments, where most engagements do not exceed 300 meters.

    Everything else is just for comercials nerds

  • ixlr8r

    All the rifles I own are “Defense Rifles”. I have no need to “Assault” anyone with my rifles.

    The term Battle Rifle is described very accurately in your article IMHO. An Assault Rifle is described by the role of the operator using it. If you are using a mid caliber self loading rifle in a defensive role, it should be a self loading rifle, or defensive rifle.

    It should not be what it is capable of, but its intended use that best decribes it.

  • Nicholas Chen

    Very interesting read Nathaniel. Thanks!

  • iowaclass

    This is nothing new in the gun world.
    Centuries ago, people were talking about muskets, musketoons, carbines, saddle pistols, arquebuses, wall guns and whatnot, and getting just as confused as we are today.


    Huh, I didn’t know people were confused or debating the meanings of “battle rifle” and “assault rifle”.

    The whole clips vs. magazine thing seemed more appropriate.

  • James Kachman

    As someone who prefers 30 caliber rifles, be it .308, .30-06, or 7.62x54R, I find “battle rifles” to be a handy, commonly understood term to refer to this class of firearms. I don’t mean it to have any particular context in terms of tactical specialization; I call my DSA SA58 a battle rifle, and its lower accuracy (I refer to it as minute of infantryman) precludes it from a DMR, which implies something else entirely. Battle rifle may overlap DMR, but the two are not synonymous.
    Both battle rifles and assault rifles are exactly that, rifles. The “assault” came about because people copied the Sturmgewehr concept of an intermediate round, and wanted a cool name. An etymologically perfect name? Nope, a cool one. These are people who make guns for a living, not English papers. “Battle” came about because they needed a different word, and battle rifle sounds cool. I use it not because it’s a nuanced and well suited term, but because if I say “I prefer battle rifles” while holding the Right Arm of the Free World and wearing a “Be a Man amongst Men” shirt, all those who use puny 7.62×39, 5.56×45 and 5.45×39 will curl up into a ball and cry themselves to death in the face of my superior chamberings, while I steal their women and ride off into the sunset to slot floppies, ekse. (No offense intended to puny weaklings using .280 British. You can live.)

    • By the Pantheon of Stoner and Gustafson, I cast ye devil OUT!

      • Don Ward

        Now. Now. It’s just the way he was raised. He probably thinks .45 ACP is the best man-stopper round available in “tactical self-defense” handguns…

        • Anonymoose

          I’ll stick with my .45 Long Colt, thank you very much!

          • Don Ward

            Since we’re in a post about semantics… Technically it’s just .45 Colt not Long Colt. There’s no need to brag about the case length.

            *Backs off very slowly*

        • dan citizen

          Are you implying it isn’t? ….Sacrilege.

          (BTW the correct answer is 12 gauge)

      • James Kachman

        Stoner created the AR-10! You have no power here!

        • The High Lord Gustafson shall swiftly carry out his small caliber justice on you!

          • James Kachman

            Good luck! I’m behind seven sandbags!

          • Havok

            Your head has to poke out eventually…..

    • Ge

      Be aware of the history of terminology though. such as when the military started using the term ‘DMR’.

      I’ve seen way too many old timers scoffed at by the new generation for calling the SVD a Sniper’s rifle. But that’s what it was at the time, a sniper’s rifle. The term DMR didn’t exist during the cold war

      • James Kachman

        True, though the point I’m trying to make is that a SCAR 17S with bipod and ACOG could theoretically be called both a DMR and a battle rifle, while my unaccurized FAL could only be called a battle rifle.

      • dan citizen

        I consider the SVD a sniper rifle, because that’s what it is.

        The Eastern European approach to snipers (post WW2) is valid, even if it isn’t what we use here in the west. Not every country wants to invest very much in their sniper’s or equipment.

        In Yugoslavia the SVD and it’s variants took a lot of lives and made anyone think twice before crossing a street or looking out a window. Everybody there knew somebody who incautiously exposed themselves for a second to long and fell to a sharp eye and an SVD.

        • Nicholas Mew

          Well technically the Zastava M76 is an AK variant but point taken.

          • dan citizen

            Agreed, but the M76 isn’t really an assualt rifle or a battle rifle, the Saiga 12 (aka, best AK varient ever) is most definitely in neither category.

            I have heard some interesting arguments by folks that feel the krinkov is a submachine gun, vs assualt rifle (though I do disagree)

          • Nicholas Mew

            Weapons like the AKS-74U or the 9A-91 really blur the lines and I can certainly see why.

  • Blake

    At least no one’s trying to simultaneously define “PDW”…

    • I actually think “PDW” is a great term, it just describes a role, not a type of firearm.

      • Blake

        Agree wholeheartedly.

        But folks will debate the subject to death attempting to define the difference between a PDW, SMG, and whatever kind of weapon you want to call an M4 carbine…

        • iksnilol

          Ruskies/Slavs did this the easy way too.

          SMG = smaller FA rifle. It makes sense, SUB-machine-gun, sub as in smaller than usual.

  • Steve Truffer

    Eh, I draw the line at 2,000 foot-pounds. More? Battle rifle. Less? Assault rifle.

    • Why is that distinction relevant?

      • Steve Truffer

        Its an easy mark, and the major calibers fall on the appropriate side. 7.62×39, 5.56, 5.45, 5.8, in all military loads, fall below the 2,000 mark, and all are considered intermediate or smallbore. 7.62×51, 30-06, .303, 7.62x54r, all generate more than that. With all the new wildcats & commercial chamberings, its nice to know what they can be considered, rather than just “I know it when I see it”

        • I guess that’s more or less true, though I’m still unclear as to why “battle rifles” need to be delineated as a separate class, other than for marketing purposes.

          • Steve Truffer

            “Assault” rifles usually are built with shorter ranges in mind, like those found when a position is being assaulted. Battle rifles are designed to be able to be usable in some capacity across the battlefield. Cartridges suitable for these roles have fallen on each particular side of that 2,000 mark.

          • Well, I think that’s in theory true, but in practice soldiers really can’t take advantage of that sort of extra range.

            Now, by your definition, what’s a short-barreled SCAR-H qualify as?

          • Steve Truffer

            Does it generate more than 2000 ft-lbs of energy? If it does, then it is still a battle rifle.

          • Muzzle energy really doesn’t inform range all that well. I’m still unsure why dividing these categories is useful. :

          • Georgiaboy61

            Re: “Well, I think that’s in theory true, but in practice soldiers really can’t take advantage of that sort of extra range.”
            The evidence says otherwise – U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan have been fired upon and outranged by Afghan tribesmen firing .303 Lee-Enfield bolt-actions which were older than their grandparents; being armed primarily with weapons chambered with 5.56×45, they lacked the range to deliver effective counter-fire. That’s why the “obsolete” M14s were dusted off, refitted and send to the U.S. Army and Marines as EBRs, DMRs, etc. – where these “obsolete” weapons saved the lives of many of our grunts.
            Full-sized rifle bullets also offer fight cross-winds better, retain more energy downrange, and often offer superior barrier penetration than smaller, lighter projectiles.
            There is also no comparison in terms of wound (terminal) ballistics produced by a small, light round like the 5.56, and a .30-caliber round; the larger, heavier bullets do much more damage in most cases. As a trained medic, I know whereof I speak – as I have seen and treated both kinds of wounds while working the trauma ward and in the field.
            Not to sound all old-and-grumpy on you, Nathaniel, but newer isn’t always better, and older doesn’t necessarily mean useless and obsolete. Sometimes, what’s old becomes new again. There’s a role for both kinds of rifles in today’s forces.

          • Georgiaboy61

            Preferences are fine – everybody has them, but it is fact – not conjecture or opinion – that (all other things being equal, i.e. similar ballistic coefficients, etc.) heavier, larger caliber bullets out-perform smaller, lighter slugs in certain circumstances and types of missions.

            A good friend of mine is a recently retired Special Forces scout-sniper – a guy with tons of real world operational experience. He has told me that while he remains a fan of the M4 carbine and the AR platform, the best distance at which he has ever been able to deliver consistently accurate fire with the 5.56x45mm NATO rounds tops out at 600 meters – maybe 800 on a really good day. In contrast, using larger caliber weapons, he has taken operational shots for kills at up to and beyond one mile.

            Which is why if he was doing hard target interdiction or another LR mission, he fielded with a Barrett .50 or maybe something in .338 Lapua or .408 Cheytec – and not a weapon chambered in 5.56 NATO.

            Sometimes, size does matter – that’s the bottom line.

          • You seem to be characterizing my argument as against using anything but 5.56mm in any role, be that infantry rifle or dedicated sniper rifle.

            This is simply not the case. If shots are to be taken at very long (greater than 800m) range, 5.56mm is obviously not an ideal choice.

            What is clear, however, is that your argument that M4 Carbines are being shown up by .303 Enfield rifles is… Simply not correct. I have a great deal of experience with the Lee-Enfield pattern weapon, and it’s no more effective beyond 200m than an M4. In fact, it’s decidedly easier to affect a hit at 800m with an M4 sporting an ACOG than it is with a Lee Enfield pattern rifle with the stock sights. I know this because I have tried it with both.

            The pairing of your two comments, in fact, implies a baffling argument on your part, that a Lee-Enfield rifle firing a 174gr .311″ bullet at 2,450 ft/s (or an M14, for that matter) is somehow interchangeable with an Accuracy International AWM in .300 WM or an M24 or M2010. Maybe this isn’t what you intended, but it does appear to be the argument you’re making, and it’s just silly. The Taliban have nothing in their inventory like our precision rifles.

          • Georgiaboy61

            Re: “What is clear, however, is that your argument that M4 Carbines are being shown up by .303 Enfield rifles is… Simply not correct.”

            Nathaniel, you are engaging in a straw-man argument, i.e., attributing words to me I didn’t state. That in itself is a logical fallacy which renders your argument flawed from the beginning. Here are the exact words I wrote originally,

            “The evidence says otherwise – U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan have been fired upon and outranged by Afghan tribesmen firing .303 Lee-Enfield bolt-actions which were older than their grandparents; being armed primarily with weapons chambered with 5.56×45, they lacked the range to deliver effective counter-fire.”

            That is, wrote that old bolt-actions – like the Lee-Enfield – were out-ranging weapons like the M4 carbines used by the majority of our forces.

            Re: “The pairing of your two comments, in fact, implies a baffling argument on your part, that a Lee-Enfield rifle firing a 174gr .311″ bullet at 2,450 ft/s (or an M14, for that matter) is somehow interchangeable with an Accuracy International AWM in .300 WM or an M24 or M2010.” Another straw-man argument…. my, you are certainly on a roll…
            I do know one thing for certain after our little exchange: you aren’t man-enough to concede that the arguments of others have merit – or that yours are anything less than flawless.

          • Ah, I see. Now it is a question of my masculinity.

          • Georgiaboy61

            As usual, you miss the point completely – it isn’t your masculinity which is in question, but your character and intellectual honesty – both of which are evidently lacking. Look up the word “ideologue” in the dictionary; you might learn something – and recognize yourself in the process.

          • It is clear to me that you not only do not read what I write, but you actually do not read anything you write, as well.

          • Ron

            Our number one small arms problem in AFG is not what we are shooting with but positively IDing the target; than delivery hits to the target. In those instances, outside of the few random snipers, where the enemy has a material advantage it is not so much rifle versus rifle. But instead TB with multiple belt feed weapons and often mortars engaging small elements without equivalent weapons, often from concealed positions that are difficult to PID.

          • Georgiaboy61

            Your comments are undoubtedly correct, and you are not the first military man to make them. Back during WWII, Marine Colonel Merritt Edson, Medal of Honor recipient for his actions on Guadalcanal, spoke of the difficulty of identifying targets in the field, especially when they were properly utilizing cover-and-concealment. He had plenty of guys who could bring accurate fire to bear – if the targets could be identified and located. That was the toughest job for his Marines.

    • Sable

      And here I thought I was the only one to use that cutoff

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    I really enjoyed that wonderful tongue-in-cheek exchange among James Kachman, Nathaniel F. and Don Ward — thanks, guys, it made my day!

    Although I am inclined to agree with Max Popenker and Daniel E. Watters regarding the definitions of “battle rifle’ and “assault rifle”, USMC03Vet also had an equally valid point when he stated that small arms were — and generally still are — categorized in most military forces as pistols, rifles or SMG’s ( add to that “carbines” to cover modern updates ), and without the complications of sub-categorizations such as described above.

    On the other hand, I can see where the terms “battle rifle’ and “assault rifle” can be very useful in helping us define and understand what general types of rifles we are referring to without having to go into detailed descriptions regarding model, caliber and function, even if it turns out that these terms are artificial constructs without a formally-defined basis. In this process, I think I see what actually amounts to a continuing evolution of the morphology and syntax of language more than anything else when one takes into account all the possible factors.

  • 1leggeddog

    They all boomsticks in my book.

  • big daddy

    I think people with a military background have a different view of things. A rifle is a rifle, the whole term thing is totally ridiculous on so many levels. I think people that use those terms are either trying to dumb down things for a reason like trying to explain it to people who don’t know or understand. Or they do not know the difference between models of military rifles. By definition an assault rifle is for attacking troops or stormtroopers or shock troops= assault troops. The US military does not have those types of troops, therefore the USA does not have assault rifles only battle rifles and carbines. The old cold war Russian troops where more like shock troops to me, mass attacks, like the Chinese during the Korean war. Therefore the AK series of rifles are assault rifles, being their infantry rifles they are also battle rifles. A battle rifle is just that, a rifle not a carbine, a carbine which is a short rifle and fires a less powerful round. The AK is a short rifle but not a carbine because of the fact it is by design a battle rifle for assault troops. The problem lies in the difference between the shock troop mentality of tactics which are like the hoards of barbarians from the past and the Western armies which operate still with the standard military use of soldiering going back to the Greeks & Romans. That’s what confuses people, it’s not the weapon it’s how they are used, that’s what confuses people. Did I make any sense? I hope so….The USA does not, by definition, have an assault rifle.

  • Unifrom223

    one word…. semantics.

    In all my time in service I have never heard the term “battle rifle”. When referring our firearms I only heard these terms; rifle, weapon, SAW ( M249 ), crew serve, sniper rifle, side arm, and DMR. Though DMR I heard very late in my service and my time in the sand box when I asked a fellow soldier why he had an M14 and everyone else had your standard M16 or M4.

  • Carl P

    Blah blah BATTLE blah BLAH blah ASSULT blah blah blah blah BLAH Blah blah rifle.

    Call it any way you want, however you learned it, by any definition you may choose, in any language you like, standard or metric, bolt, semi, full auto, mid size round or large round, pre-1948 or post, it’s all BS semantics and as the old saying goes … “It don’t mean nothing, it just doesn’t matter!”

    The ONLY fact that has any relevance here is that the target, whatever it may be, doesn’t care or is going to ask what the name one chooses to call their platform is that puts a round or four center mass of in the nine ring. They just don’t give a damn. Call it anything you like cause down range . . . . It just dosnt matter.

  • TFB Reader

    So, was this worth all of the time, energy and brain power? Let’s just use BHLC, pronounced “ByHeLaCah” instead: Big Heavy Large Caliber. “The M1 Garand was a BHLC rifle.”

    • Didn’t really take me that long to write, honestly, and the subject is interesting.

      • TFB Reader

        I was referring to everyone, not you individually, but you did set off a firestorm . I’m not sure if the “a rifle is a rifle” guys missed your point. I don’t think you were suggesting abandoning adjectives completely. “Battle rifle” might have been created after the fact, but there is a big difference between an M-14 and an M-16, and similar comparisons, and SOME adjective distinguishing them would be helpful.

        • I think “assault rifle” is definitely here to stay, regardless of what I have to say about it. “Battle rifle” might be, as well, though if you ever talk to me in person, you’ll know my distaste for that term is palpable. 😉

  • SVFM

    In the swedish army we call “assault rifles” Automatic Carbines (Automatkarbin,AK for short), because they are semi or full auto and the barrel being under 20 inches, not making any difference between 7,62 or 5,56. If the barrel is longer than 20 inches they are called Automatic Rifles (Automatgevär, AG for short).

    For Example the Barret .50 i semi-automatic and has a barrel over 20 inches and was purchased in 1990 therefore the name is AG-90.

  • JA$

    Alas this is another case of terminology being deformed for commercial reasons or because somebody wants to make a point.
    The term Battle rifle is not much more than a misnomer intended to give a name to a certain type of rifle that assumedly has better capabilities than any other. Not necessarily caliber but more sturdiness and reliability. I definitely consider the Mauser K98 in 8x57IS a battle rifle.
    However, the term assault rifle (in German Sturmgewehr, in Dutch Stormgeweer) is a LEGAL term, used to differentiate between two classes of firearms.
    An assault rifle is a shoulderweapon that fires a rifle cartridge and can fire either semi- of full auto. The latter puts it into a higher category, making it impossible to get a license without ministerial permission.
    That’s it. The difference between an assault rifle and the rest is that it fires fullauto, no matter what it looks like. One could talk about “an assault rifle in the sense of the Law”.
    Probably the field will stretch from M2 carbine to the first version of the BAR.

    Note that fullauto firearms that fire pistol cartridges are referred to as submachineguns (Maschinenpistole, Pistoolmitrailleur) but these are legally in the same category.

    It is a similar discussion as with the terms magazine and clip or weapon and ammunition. Specific definitions were put into the law (in Holland) in order to differentiate between. Those definitions will not always be the same as in military terminology. A LAW is considered legally as a weapon while the military calls them ammunition.



  • JustAsking

    Wasn’t the term “Assault Rifle” coined by a California politician a few years back who was trying to get AR’s banned?

    • No, it’s been around since World War I. Some pokiticians have appropriated the term for their own ends, including a bizarre misappropriation of the term “assault weapon” to mean “scary black gun”. The original military meaning of “assault weapon” has been covered elsewhere in the comments: There it refers to an explosive projector for attacking bunkers.

  • Nimrod

    Battle rifles are assault rifles and assault rifles are battle rifles….a distinction without any difference.

  • KevinTheCynic

    We humans love to have handy to use labels for everything and I think this is nothing more sinister than that… although there are some military organizations with a history of changing the trade lingo to bamboozle politicians who might be vets of earlier wars and who also just might be on the defence committee!
    However I agree that it’s a case of pendatic semantics to break them down as such when more useful labels would be “semi-auto” or “select fire/full auto” and “rifle” or “carbine”.

    People might be interested to know that the “assault” notion comes from as far back as World War One when automatic rifles were being developed for the “assault phase” of battle whereby the rifleman would switch from using single, aimed shots to bursts of automatic fire for suppressive effect when assaulting the enemy position (know at the time as “walking fire” due to the notion that the rifleman would advance on the enemy in the standing position firing bursts from the waist/hip and correcting fire by observing fall of shot).

    As mentioned by Nathaniel F in his other post, the M1918 BAR was one such automatic rifle developed for that purpose along with the Chauchat that although called a light machine gun in todays terms was originally called a machine rifle/automatic rifle. They’re in the group of military firearms that actually were intended for “assaulting” but they certainly wouldn’t get called that these days!
    So yeah, what’s in a name…

  • joe

    The first time I saw the distinction was the early 80’s game Twilight 2000.

  • Fruitbat44

    Random thoughts:
    1. An assault rifle is:
    A) A shoulder fired selective fire weapon firing an intermediate power round such as 5.56mmNATO or 5.47mm etc
    B) Any sort of gun that looks *mean* . . .
    2. Wasn’t the term assault rifle first coined by Adolf Hitler? The Stgwr44 having first been designated the MP43?
    3. Then what do you call SMG sized weapons firing rifle cartridges like the AKS-74U or the MC51?
    4. Does it matter? Well yes. It’s important to call things by their correct names e.g. “Safety-catch” and not “Thingummy-bob.” And as any former soldier will tell you, it is a rifle and not a gun.
    5. But don’t get too hung up on semantics.
    And here endeth my random thoughts. 🙂

    • LCON

      Adolf Called the STG44 the “Sturmgewehr” Which is translated as Assault rifle most of the time but Sturm is literally Germanic for Storm. hence Storm Troopers or Sturmtruppen
      Personally a battle rifle is rifle with semi to selective fire. firing a round of a caliber longer then 6x50mm and a barrel length longer then 16.5 inches. A battle carbine would be the same save fore a barrel length shorter then 16.5 inches.
      A Assault Rifle is a selective fire fire firing a round of a caliber shorter then 7.49mm’s with a barrel of longer then 16.5 inches a Assault carbine being again the same but with a barrel shorter then 16.5 inches.
      A PDW is a selective fire weapon either Rifle or pistol firing a low caliber round with a length of less then .40mm.

      • I don’t know of any official source that defines these terms the way you do. Maybe they work for you, just don’t expect anyone else to know exactly what you mean. :

    • I don’t know that Hitler coined it, but the legend has it that he named the MP-44 “sturmgewehr” (someone with a copy of Sturmgewehr! From Firepower to Striking Power will surely be along to tell me that this is not just a legend or that it’s wrong) and that became associated with the type ever since.

      According to Max, “assault rifle” actually comes from Colonel Lewis, of the Lewis Gun fame. In his article on assault rifles, Max says that Lewis’s automatic rifle proposal was envisioned as an “assault phase rifle”, i.e., a gun to be used when going over the top, to break trench stalemates. This role would be filled operationally by the BAR and CSRG 1915.

      If you think about it, Max’s story makes a lot more sense. Why would Hitler coin the term “assault rifle” for a weapon designed with anti-ambush and maneuver fire capability? Perhaps he was still thinking in terms of the World War I mindset (there’s considerable evidence to suggest this was the case in a general sense), or perhaps Lewis’s terminology became more popular than we now know, and Hitler saw some resemblance there. It’s hard to tell, as the ability of the modern researcher to get inside the heads of the history-makers is sadly very limited.

      • Fruitbat44

        I’ve come across the idea that Hitler named the MP43 “sturmgewehr” as a “Battle honour.” The story being – which I think I first read in Ian V. Hogg’s ‘Infantry Weapons of WWII’ – was that it’s development was carried out in secret, because Der Fuher did not consider the 7.92mmK cartridge to be a suitable rifle cartridge, but when it was finally unveiled he was very impressed with it. Hmmm . . . true or not???
        I hadn’t heard about Colonel Lewis and the term “assault phase rifle” before. Interesting. Though I do recall hearing that the BAR was originally intended to be fired from the hip crossing no-mans land, which is why the first models lacked a bipod. I guess the Petersen device may have had a similar intent, and I *think* the Italian Villar Perosa was used in that role.
        It’s just that the BAR and the MP43 are quiet different beasties. If the BAR had its origins in France in WW1, the MP43 had its origins in Russia in WW2 and it’s intent, I believe, was to provide a weapon which gave the close quarter fire -power of an SMG with longer range of a rifle.
        Getting into semantics again, but an important definition of the term assault rifle is the intermediate power cartridge. It means that a weapon of reasonable weight is able to be controllable firing full auto. And German experience in WW2 suggested that a rifle cartridge didn’t need to shoot out to a thousand metres plus.
        All of the above is book learning – and not even serious academic study – but I have fired automatic weapons. (Only on the range though.) A .303 Bren fired prone is comfortable, accurate and controllable. A 5kg(-ish) 5.56mm rifle the same. Would 30-06 be controllable in full-auto? From a twenty-pound BAR, yes, from something weighing in at nine-pounds . . .
        The BAR does bring us to another area of semantics; what do you call it, or something like it? An assault rifle? An LMG? An Automatic-rifle? Or a Squad Automatic Weapon?
        But perhaps that’s a can of worms best left un-opened . . . 🙂

        • Mostly true. The original MKb. 42 (H) was developed in the open, but in 1943 Hitler put a moratorium on developing “new kinds of weapons” (this didn’t stop them from doing goofy things like building 200 tonne tanks, of course), at this point the rifle was renamed “MP-43”, because it’s a machine pistol, you see? That allowed the engineers to continue their work. Then the weapon was demonstrated to Hitler, and allegedly, that’s where the “sturmgewehr” moniker came from.

          You bring up a good aspect of the topic, which essentially re-iterates Tony Williams’ definition:

          First, I need to define what I mean by an “assault rifle”, as there are various definitions around. The one I use is:

          “A standard military rifle, capable of controlled, fully-automatic fire from the shoulder, with an effective range of at least 300 metres”.

          Williams’ definition sounds very good at first, but it tends to fall apart as I examine it. Controlled? By whom, and for how long? At what rate of fire? An FAL may be controllable to some very large persons when firing short bursts, but not for most people, and an AKM is not nearly so controllable a weapon as Tony seems to believe, especially when you fire more than one or two rounds. Next, you would need to pin down effective range. You can, if you are skilled enough, make shots with an M2 Carbine at 300m. Should it then be considered an “assault rifle” under Tony’s definition? Tony would say “no”, but still the question remains. As per the example I used above, the SCAR-H is an inline 7.62x51mm rifle with a relatively soft-shooting action. When a sufficiently large and powerful muzzle brake is applied, it is in fact capable of “controllable” full auto fire when handled by a normal full-grown man, as long as the bursts aren’t too long:

          If the brake is removed, does this somehow change the SCAR-H from an assault rifle, to something else?

          In my opinion, standard infantry rifles should be just “rifles”, or perhaps “automatic rifles” if you must emphasis that they have the fun switch.

          • Fruitbat44

            Hmmm . . . perhaps it does come down to semantics. If you do remove the “intermediate round” requirement from the definition of assault rifle, the definition becomes so loose as to be meaningless.
            Ah well. We could always define assault rifle as “the sort of rifle we point to when we talk about assault rifles.” Or perhaps not. 🙂
            And maybe, as has been suggested, the term Battle Rifle was coined because those shooting 7.62NATO or 30.06 got tired of not having a cool name for their guns.. Or maybe not. 🙂

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        That’s a good deduction about Hitler possibly thinking in World War One terms. We do know that some of his horrifying personal experiences as an enlisted soldier in the trenches of the First World War left an indelible impression on his psyche, eg., his stubborn refusal to use gas and other chemical weapons en masse on the battlefield against the entreaties of some of his more sanguine advisors during the Second World War probably stemmed from his own terrifying encounters with gas warfare.

        Since we, as human beings, are all generally products of our past experiences to a large extent, your point about Hitler seems to make a lot of sense.

  • Hank Seiter

    Actually, I prefer the term “Second Amendment Rifle”. The Kentucky/Pennsylvania rifle was certainly the “assault rifle” of America’s revolutionary period.
    Having snarked this, I’m quite comfortable with the term “battle rifle” being used for military rifles shooting full-powered military smallarms ammunition in semi-automatic or full-automatic modes. The term “assault rifle” should apply to any SELECT-FIRE rifle with a pistol grip shooting sub-caliber ammunition like the 5.56, 7.62 x 39, 5.45 x 39 or 7.92 x 33 Kurtz. I suppose the P90 PDW shooting the 5.7 round could be technically considered an “assault rifle”. However, any SEMI-AUTOMATIC civilianized versions of military arms shooting the calibers above is NOT an “assault rifle” or an “assault weapon” (sic).

  • hal

    I am quite amused at how much time and ink has been devoted to the debate over proper naming conventions for small arms of this type. Why not just follow the designation and naming convention of the person/maker/country who first originated the weapon? Wikipedia seems to be the place where the definitions of things are hashed out to the most widely accepted term. They seem to have settled on the generally accepted terms among firearm enthusiasts and experts. ( and ( The real problem that we face are the gun hating anti 2nd Amendment political elites that choose names for these weapons based on what sounds most sinister to the uneducated public. To them, if its black, magazine fed, and fires in semi-automatic mode only, then its an evil ” Assault Rifle” designed to kill as many as one can. Perhaps we can gain the high ground by calling all types and calibers of these modern rifles an innocent name, such as “Sporting Weapons” with the manufacturers following suit. The leftists use such wordsmithing all the time and with great success, most notably with the sinister word “Communism” being replaced by the commonly used word “progressivism” or “progressives.”

  • dan citizen

    I disagree with the statement:

    “in fact the diagnostic feature of an assault rifle, its full automatic fire capability, is primarily used to repel ambushes”

    • I am going to assume here that you are a very tall, very muscular Samoan man.

      • dan citizen

        I am fat like a Samoan 🙂

        But I am an old man now, And It is true that I am quite a bit taller than average, and I guess I am rather thickly built.

        But come on, I’ve seen a lot of rather average statured African conscripts handling the FAL, which has the length and ergonomics of a sculling oar.

        Soldiers under say, 6 foot, or ones who are of a sickly build could reasonably be issued some sort of scaled down pdw or light carbine like a P90 or maybe an m1 carbine.

        But come on, the G3 is completely manageable in full auto…

        • Alright, it’s settled. That gentleman is more man than I, since I would not let that cheek tenderizer anywhere near my face if it were mounted to an MP5, let alone a G3.

          • dan citizen

            I always wondered about the HK collapsible stock…

            We used to joke that somebody in Germany had a seizure and accidentally placed the design on the “approved pile” vs the “WTF were you thinking? pile”

            Sadly, some engineer somewhere has the original design posted on his wall with the title “I made this!” Here is what I suspect is some of his other work….


          • To cut the banter, I do actually think 7.62mm rifles are more “controllable” if you’re a big guy than it’s portrayed sometimes.

          • dan citizen

            Absolutely, and since militarys have a wide range of recruits it makes sense to have a weapon system that works well for all sizes.

            I like to nit pick tiny points, but I agree with this article. I grew up in the era/regions where weapons were labeled as follows:

            Machine Pistol: MAC 10, Skorpion, Stechkin
            Submachine Gun: Uzi, MP5, Beretta 12
            Assualt Rifle: ARs, AKs
            Light Carbine: ARs, M1 carbines,
            Main Battle rifle: G3, M14, FAL
            Sniper Rifle: Pretty much anything with a scope.
            Anti Material RIfle: Barrett, Lahti,

            But my era is past and anyways, I always felt the “battle rifle” term was essentially a way of looking down the nose at 5.56 and 7.62×39

  • Kivaari

    The Chinese call the AKM-type weapons, submachine guns. It is shown on advertising material in Ezell’s “The AK47 Story”. A great book by the way.