Light Rifle 1.5: A Clarification

A US Army Ordnance engineer fires the prototype T47 rifle on fully automatic. Note the grimace of the man as he wrestles with the small arms equivalent of a fire hose. Image source: firearmsworld.net, original source LIFE magazine

A US Army Ordnance engineer fires the prototype T47 rifle on fully automatic. Note the grimace of the man as he wrestles with the small arms equivalent of a fire hose. Image source: firearmsworld.net, original source LIFE magazine

This is the zeroeth part of a series of posts seeking to describe and analyze the 7.62mm Light Rifle concept promoted by the Americans, and subsequently adopted by NATO in various forms. This series will cover development from before World War II to the present day, but will focus primarily on the period from 1944-1970, which constitutes the span of time from the Light Rifle’s conception until its end in the United States with the standardization of the M16.

You can read the other parts of the series by following the links below:

My series of posts on the history of the light rifle is ambitious, by the standards of the blogging I’ve so far done. I seek to cover the concept from the pre-WWII-era to the 1960s and beyond. However, I’ve already made a mistake that has become increasingly apparent over the past two months since I released the first installment, and that is I haven’t adequately outlined what I mean by “Light Rifle”. This post, which will be brief, will clarify that for my readers what exactly I mean, and why I decided to write this series. It’s important for me to avoid overly formal definitions, because I want to preclude semantic arguments over whether Rifle X or Y was or was not a light rifle, and this is why the first article lacks any such definition – a decision that in retrospect was a mistake.

“Light Rifle”, then, refers to the weapons created as a product of the post-WWII US Army effort to field a successor to the M1 Garand. This was called the Lightweight Rifle Program, and it sought to field a rifle in the requisite .30 Light Rifle caliber (which later became 7.62mm NATO) with select-fire capability, and an unloaded weight of seven pounds of less. Therefore, the two weapons that most clearly approach this requirement are Early Harvey’s T25 rifle – which came very close to that weight figure – and Armalite’s later AR-10, which virtually met it. Both weapons pushed the envelope of what could be done with the technology of the period, but both fundamentally fell short as practical weapons due to the 7.62mm cartridge – an immovable requirement for NATO nations at the time. The most successful rifles in the caliber, the M14, FAL, and G3, were at least a pound and a half heavier, but rightly speaking they too are “light rifles” since they ultimately come from the same set of requirements.

It is not the term I would have chosen for these weapons – for a start, it is a name recycled from the program that eventually led to the M1 Carbine, a truly lighter weapon than the M1. Further, the rifles that resulted from the program were hardly light: Many, especially the FAL, would get a reputation for being some of the heaviest and most unwieldy standard infantry rifles ever fielded, though at least some of that was due to their comparison with later, much lighter rifles and contemporary submachine guns.

The idea for this series of articles came from my first time shooting a fully automatic AR-10 rifle (the rifle, and the experience I had shooting it will both be discussed in later installments). The absolutely torrential recoil of that firearm solidified for me the reality that the Lightweight Rifle Program was doomed right from the start, and that piqued my curiosity. Shouldn’t it have been obvious that those goals would never be met? Why did the program take so long and produce what was essentially a product-improved Garand, especially when the private sector came closer in a fraction of the time? These questions and others led me to find every book I could on the subject, and each book I read raised more questions to be answered by others until finally I had read a stack of books that pound for pound might as well have been a stack of rifles. I’m still reading them for the second, third, and in some cases fourth times, and have put wear and tear on each from shuffling a (still plenty heavy) fraction of them at a time through airports across the country, from BWI to Love Field to McCarren.

In those books I didn’t find many easy answers, and that’s why the Light Rifle series will be so long and requires so much time to complete. For my readers, though, there is plenty to look forward to. The second and third posts are well on their way to completion, and in total I am expecting to put out at least ten posts in the series. They will be as follows (keep in mind that they are listed with working titles, and the order is not definite):

 

Light Rifle I: Prologue

Light Rifle II: Improving The M1 Rifle

Light Rifle III: The .280 British

Light Rifle IV: The .30 Light Rifle

Light Rifle V: The NATO Rifle Trials

Light Rifle VI: The Light Rifle Paradox

Light Rifle VII: Shooting The AR-10

Light Rifle VIII: The Fall of The Light Rifle

Light Rifle IX: The Light Rifle In The 21st Century

Light Rifle X: A Retrospeculative

I hope my readers can be patient, since this project has really gone beyond what I’ve done before in terms of research. Having said that, watch out for the second installment over the next few weeks!



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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  • Darkpr0

    I look forward to reading up on these. WW2 era rifles are a fascination for me, as are modern ones. I missed out a bit on the middle though, but what I do know of the M14’s development leads me to believe there are some very interesting nooks and crannies in the story. Stuff like the Gerat 03 and the T28 rifle are of particular fascination just because the roller-locked and roller-delayed systems are so different from the rotating bolts we see ad nauseum.

    Edit: Also, the full-power automatic light rifle is, in my opinion, a bit if a disaster as well. While I haven’t had the opportunity to fool with an M14 proper, I have had some range time with an AVT-40 which can only be described as “punishing”. Controlling the muzzle climb on it was a job for Sisyphus.

    • An AVT-40! You’ve gotten lucky, then!

      The whole “Light Rifle” story is fascinating, and that’s why I decided to tackle it. I highly recommend reading Steven’s M14 book if you are interested.

      • Darkpr0

        I don’t know if my shoulder would agree with you on the lucky part, but I found someone who knew somebody who knew somebody who I bribed with some range time on a G43. The AVT felt slim and light which was great until the trigger got pulled and it sort of turned into a mess. The target and all the trees around it absorbed some lead. Semi-auto, though, the SVT is one of my favourite shooter rifles.

        • James

          How does the G43 compare to the AVT/SVT from a semi-auto perspective?

          • Darkpr0

            That’s a short question with a very long answer. Functionwise, they’re both pretty similar. Semi-auto, clip fed, full-power. The operating mechanism couldn’t be more different, but from the driver’s seat they’re not so different.

            I happen to have a very nice G43 and a very nice SVT, so I feel like I can reasonably say that the G43 is ‘nicer’ but I think if you found a later war example it wouldn’t be as smooth. My late-war Kar98k is totally functional, but feels pretty gritty from machine marks when you rack the action. I imagine late G43s are similar. Compared to my early SVT, I’d say the SVT is definitely cruder but that doesn’t impede its function.

            Feelwise, it’s hard to say. I only shoot weak ammo in the G43… They’re overgassed and I’m terrified of doing any damage to it. But the action feels quite smooth, and I actually really like the weird placement of the bolt nub. It’s in a great spot if you’re behind cover and keeping your finger near the trigger, you can work it completely left handed without breaking line of sight. But it’s noticeably heavy and somewhat fat, at least as if not slightly more so than an M1. The SVT is way slimmer and better balanced for me, and of course the bolt handle is in the usual spot. The feel is really not much different from a bigger, meaner, sleeker SKS. The trigger on the SVT is pretty rough, and pretty stiff though. The G43 in contrast has a stunningly nice trigger, it’s got some creep but it’s adjustable and set beautifully from the factory.

            Accuracywise the G43 absolutely wins. The SVT actions were not well-fitted to their stocks, the wood is fairly crudely made. As a result many of them have fairly crappy accuracy, and the Russians knew it. The G43 in comparison is supremely well-made in all the necessary spots (despite the crude-looking exterior of the metal parts) and it will make better hits far out. They’ll both hold out to 300 but if I were to put an optic on either I can say confidently that the G43 places them better.

            Funwise, they’re both a blast. They both have their fair share of people coming up at the range and asking just what the heck it is I’m shooting. Plus, it’s a full-power semi auto.

            In the States, though, I wouldn’t buy either one if I didn’t place a premium on having nice examples of cool old guns. Particularly the G43, they’re expensive as hell. If you want a wooden, semiauto battle rifle I highly recommend a Hakim. They’re big, heavy, and a lil bit of a fatty (not unlike a G43) but they fire a full power cartridge you can still buy and they’re gloriously cheap.

            Postnote: These guns would both be absolutely horrific in full-auto. It would be the most hilariously stupid failure of a design ever made. But it would be highly entertaining.

          • I would not recommend a Hakim if you are planning on reloading for it. 😉

          • Darkpr0

            I would not recommend a G43 if your wallet is not gold-plated 🙂

          • A.WChuck

            A longer version of this should be a blog post here at TFB. Please.

          • Darkpr0

            If TFB wants an article about it and doesn’t mind someone bashing the AR-15 every two sentences, I’m happy to do it 🙂

    • buzzman1

      Even M-16/4’s are a joke on full auto. Only a few companies have been able to build rifles that are controllable on full auto.

      If you want to shoot a weapon that is brutally punishing then try firing an original M-240. When it was adopted for infantry use by the US we put a shock absorber system on it. Even as heavy as the 240’s are every time you pulled the trigger it felt like shooting a lightweight 30-06 six to 9 times in about a second. That and a special purpose test shotgun were the only 2 weapons that actually hurt me and I would never willingly shoot again.

  • Vitsaus

    .280 British…. if only…

    • Don’t worry! My article is coming, and it will help curb your enthusiasm for that cartridge!

      • UnrepentantLib

        Drat! You’re going to disillusion us as to what might have been with the .280?

        • Yup. Thoroughly.

          • Dracon1201

            NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

          • Tom

            Heretic we all know the .280 British was and remains the greatest combat round of all time. I suggest you check yourself in at the nearest institute for the criminally insane.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Sounds like a book in the making. If it truly brings the relevant information together in an organized form, it will be a worthwhile addition to the literature.

    I’m looking forward to the effort!

    • UnrepentantLib

      Ditto! This is an area of firearms history that fascinates me. Looking forward to it.

  • Great to have some more in depth firearms history, can’t wait for the follow up articles.

  • Jim_Macklin

    6.8 SPC vs. .280 British. Combat Arms vs. Main Battle Rifles.
    Causalities vs. DRT, How far can you see and kill or wound.
    Logistics or how many kinds of ammo can be moved to the combat front [is there a front?] or how many pounds per kill?
    The demographic question is can a 105 pound female handle a 8 pound loaded rifle and a 1 pound knife and a 2 pound handgun plus 300 rounds of spare ammunition?
    Maybe we need more trained snipers with a true long range rifle in caliber 416 Barrett, 338 Lapua or the tried and true 50 BMG and an infantry platoon dedicated to protect the snipers.
    The AR platform is modular and can be made in many calibers, barrel lengths and even weights if carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum are used.
    Optical sights, holographic sights are better, faster and more accurate that the WWI & WWII iron sights which have cost and ruggedness, now call BUIS, back up iron sights.

    • Dracon1201

      Literally what you suggested is the what the DMR is intended to do. Bolt actions don’t keep up with the ROF needed to engage multiple targets shooting back. Improving the AR platform has been suggested. Some are advocating building around a longer .260 round that would be a better middle ground between the 5.56 and the 7.62. I am inclined to agree.

      • I feel there’s a very real risk of adopting something heavier than it needs to be, without seeing an improvement in effectiveness.

        • iksnilol

          Crazy idea: What about 6.5 grendel… with polymer or aluminum cases? That way you wouldn’t save weight for regular rifles but you wouldn’t increase weight either (+ you would save weight for LMGs and sniper rifles).

          • You’ve got to address three things: 1. Does the weight savings from .22 cal vs. .26/.28 cal lightweight cased rounds matter? 2. Does going to the larger round meaningfully improve effectiveness for the rifleman? and 3. Does the recoil penalty of the larger round substantially reduce the hit probability of the rifleman-rifle system?

            Actual experiments with comprehensive documentation must be carried out to answer these questions, but I suspect the answers are yes, no, yes.

          • iksnilol

            True, won’t really improve for the rifleman. But would help out logistics if they don’t have to use heavy 7.62x51mm ammo in addition to 5.56 (that and MGs and sniper rifles could be made lighter).

            I doubt that the 6.5 rounds recoil much more, at least not enough to impair the rifleman. Nothing that can’t be more than compensated for by a compact suppressor.

            My point was that you could hypothetically ease stuff for the snipers, DMs and MG gunners without negatively affecting the rifleman with extra weight.

          • I doubt you can satisfactorily meet all the requirements, and two-caliber systems have been working everywhere in the world for half a century.

            Our logistical capabilities are extremely good and quite able to handle two calibers.

          • marathag

            The British in WWII supplied a huge number of small arms calibers.

            Lets see, off the top of my head
            38 S&W
            9mm
            455
            45
            30-06
            303
            8mm Besa
            50 Browning
            55 Boyes
            15mm Besa

          • Yeah, absolutely bonkers logistics. That’s why they gave up the ghost with .280 so easily. At the end of the day, the US could have told Britain that NATO was adopting .45-70, and they probably would have gone along with it without too much fuss.

            The British weren’t ignorant of their logistical situation during and before the war, either. At various times, the British considered adopting .276 Pedersen, .30-06, and 7.92 IS. They in fact made more Pedersen rifles at Vickers than were made in the US*, and the predecessor to the FN-49 was developed in Britain, with a mind to adoption, in the 7.92mm caliber. And, of course, there was always talk of simply adopting the Garand wholsale, in .30-06.

            *Currently fact-checking this statement.

          • Dracon1201

            That is being worked on as a possibility. You’re on the right track.

        • jay

          You already told us how you feel about this a thousand times. :p
          This one is going to be as predictable as day after night.

          • The .280 article won’t be a diatribe on the superiority of SCHV, I promise. 😉

        • Dracon1201

          Effectiveness is all relevant, isn’t it?

          • …Relevant?

          • Dracon1201

            Sorry, relative.

            Autocorrect making a mockery of my statement again.

          • I thought you might have meant that, but couldn’t tell.

            I don’t know. There are still a lot of unanswered questions I have about terminal effectiveness. Regarding my other comment, for example, for all I know the answers to those questions are “no, yes, no” instead of “yes, no, yes”, or the answers might be in-between or even situational. Add to that my suspicion that recoil causes a connection in the shooter’s brain that may change the way he perceives his rifle’s effectiveness, and I don’t really feel comfortable making broad, sweeping statements about terminal effectiveness.

            I do feel comfortable refuting some of the more obvious myths, and maybe introducing into others who are thinking about the problem some of the doubt that is in my own mind. Interested parties should think long and hard, with a critical bent, about these problems, and sound testing with exhaustive documentation should be conducted to settle the issues that now stand.

            Then, next generation weapons should be built around what we learned.

          • Dracon1201

            In terms of your first, I agree. There is some truth, however to that increase in cartridge size/recoil does mean increased effectiveness of the round, comparing the same types of bullet, provided they all hit and everything works the same. That situationally is almost never true. An end all cartridge won’t exist. Every round is purely situational.

            On the second part, I do feel as if they have learned a little bit from the war. DMRs are more prevalent, 7.62×51 is more out of the closet again on a squad level. Our image of the war we expect to fight has changed and will. Even over the last 20-30 years we have gone from our image of CQB distances of Vietnam and the imagined city warfare of a Cold War gone lukewarm to the open plains and mountains of the Middle East. Our rounds have reflected that, and I suspect we will be going to a slightly larger round with a longer effective range.

            Truthfully, I believe that the only thing that we can really change is the squad composition. That is the most effective thing that we can do. We won’t find an end-all round. However, we can give a squad the appropriate selection of tools to choose from. Diversification of the squad’s weapons would lead to a better selection of tools. It would, however, complicate logistics. This has already partially been done with the reemergence of DMRs.

            I would be one to argue that everything I have learned would lead me to believe that a 6.5mm bullet on a slightly longer case length with a low rate of fire rifle would be an upgrade, however, many would not see it that way.

          • First paragraph: You can’t kill someone more dead, and small arms projectiles poke holes that are all about the same size. So it’s a matter of consistency at closer ranges, and velocity at longer ones. 5.56 up to 500 yards retains a similar velocity to other larger calibers. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that larger calibers are more consistent.

            So where’s the additional effectiveness coming from, exactly?

            Where will the additional hit probability come from, too? Infantry small arms are capable of a certain degree of his probability and range, because they are held by people. The practical accuracy of the weapons does not live up to the accuracy possible on the static range. So where are rifleman gaining additional range and effectiveness? They are not, and so fielding a larger cartridge in infantry rifles is wishful thinking to me.

            While I am all for giving the soldier more options, I don’t see how a bigger round than 5.56 and a smaller round than 7.62 improves those options, especially if – as some would have it – the intention is for the round to replace both calibers.

            Instead, give the infantryman a hi-lo mix. It’s proven to work very well, and we can afford it. So next generation weapons should seek to improve on the paradigm we have, instead of wiping the slate clean and forcing a “one size fits all” caliber down the infantry’s throats.

          • Dracon1201

            In regards to your last two paragraphs; that is exactly what I explicitly stated is that there is no “One size fits all round.” It is physically and scientifically impossible.

            “You can’t kill someone more dead” is quite oversimplified. Simple death is not the only factor in determining the effectiveness of a round. If the only factor was the size of the holes (Which was not what I was trying to say, BTW) then I should have no problems hunting Elk with a 5.56 (I would not suggest this). The real challenge is conserving momentum and energy while maintaining a high ballistic coefficient when killing at longer ranges. I know you do understand that, you mentioned it. Larger rounds do that better. In closer firefights more rounds on target is the priority, thus, smaller rounds rule for that. Don’t ask anything to do both jobs. It just can’t. A compromise caliber is just that, a compromise.

            In all honesty, the bullet type is going to matter significantly, but we seem to be hamstringed on that.

            We keep trying to increase the bullet weight of 5.56 rounds. Every time we do, it works better for us. So why not take the step to accept that, and jump to a round like a .264 that has 1.5x the ballistic coefficient at least?

            Then take that cartridge and design a rifle to fit it.

            For increased hit probability, you won’t find that in one place. The small arms rounds expended to kills ratio for the US soldiers is atrocious. I believe that if we had a round that bucks wind better and has the accuracy potential to make the engagement ranges our troops were seeing a little more in the comfort zone of the round, it would have been a better ratio. However, and this is important, they need better small arms training. No, they don’t need to know the machine tolerances for picatinny rail, but the one greatest thing to improve a person’s accuracy is quality training. And good practice, lots of it. Qualifying could be more strict, more training earlier on in more practical situations will help this. Having a round that will play nice will amplify what they do.

            My suggestion was only replacement of the 5.56 with the new cartridge, and adding a PDW round to take up the slack in the lower ranges.

            Could you elaborate more on your last paragraph? I wasn’t quite getting what you were saying, sorry.

          • I was unclear as to my point about terminal effect. Let’s imagine two rifle rounds, big and small, hit a target and perform perfectly. The target loses the capacity to fight and soon dies. In this instance, the larger round was unnecessary; the smaller round would have also killed the target. Now, let’s imagine these two rounds do not perform well, they both icepick. Within the range of small arms, the diameter of the hole made virtually does not matter – fundamentally, each is still a hole, and not made very raggedly. If the bullet doesn’t yaw, expand, or fragment, and passes straight through, regardless of caliber it will not do more than create a clean hole.

            Both these examples can and do happen. The question then becomes, is the larger or smaller caliber more or less likely to produce the first result? I have seen almost no compelling evidence showing the larger caliber to more consistently produce the former result. So what are you gaining – in terms of terminal effect, and given a hit and penetration – by moving to a larger, more energetic round?

            This isn’t to equivocate the performance of ammunition. There is some clear differentiation we can make: Between pistol and rifle rounds. However, there is more difference than just the energy produced: Pistol calibers are qualitatively much lower velocity – about half, in fact – than rifle calibers. So velocity is a priority, and by extension, retaining it is a priority.

            This conclusion caused me to study the problem, and I discovered that there’s no easy solution to retain more velocity. To 400 meters, 5.56 and 7.62 retain nearly identical velocity, and are still highly comparable at 500, diverging more after that. My attempts to improve on this sub-500m performance meet with only moderate success when constrained by normal parameters (there are ways to game it, for example flechettes or having very overbore rounds like .240 Weatherby Magnum). For rifle-infantryman systems that simply aren’t effective in combat beyond that distance anyway, regardless of caliber, what is the point of issuing the larger calibers?

            This isn’t to say 7.62 or any other caliber larger than 5.56 doesn’t have a place. If your weapon routinely engages beyond 500m, 7.62 enjoys a clear advantage – though it’s the advantage of “crappy” versus “awful” at that distance. This is likely why the M249’s effectiveness has been so heavily criticized, and it’s certainly why 7.62mm DMRs have become so much more popular (though 5.56mm DMRs have also stayed popular, telling you that this range advantage is situational and in some cases a 5.56mm DMR is better). Both weapons – the machine gun because of its automatic fire and stability, and the DMR because of its optic and hand-picked shooter, with users of both getting additional training – can engage effectively beyond 500m in certain circumstances, though such distances still remain rare.

            So what’s the point of the intermediate? I’d agree that you can improve on both 5.56 and 7.62, ballistically-speaking, but many want the replacement of both with the same round. Why reduce the effectiveness of each unit – the rifleman because it can’t carry as much ammunition as it possibly could, and the DM and MG because the ammunition they use is a compromise for needs of the rifleman?

            Moving to paragraph three and beyond. Perhaps we should shift to email after this, mine is in my author’s description. Feel free to do so. OK, so where are you getting that the .264 cal has 1.5x the BC of .224 cal? Let’s take a given bullet, and scale it up. Doing so scales up the projectile weight via a cube function, but it scales up the frontal area by a square function. Sectional density is weight over frontal area. Cube over square means linear. Form factor does not change. This means, keeping bullet shape the same, going from 5.56 to 6.5 gives us a BC increase of 18%.

            We don’t have to scale the same bullet up, we can use heavier 6.5mm bullets, but we are still fundamentally constrained by two things: One, maintaining a good trajectory, which favors lighter ammunition. Two, stabilization of lead-free bullets. Lead-free is here to stay, for effectiveness reasons in addition to political ones, so we must assume the next generation round will be lead-free. This means going all out with 144gr 6.5mm bullets isn’t really feasible. You are stuck with weight ranges more like 108gr, maybe 123gr if you get really crazy. Scaled down to .224 cal, that gives you about a 77gr bullet. Because we are talking about next-gen ammunition, we have to consider the optimum .224 cal projectile as well, so we’re back where we started with the 18% increase.

            But that’s not nothing, right? Well, it’s something. My studies indicate that necking up will always result in a losing battle in terms of trajectory. Simply, you don’t gain back the deficit in velocity you take when the bullet gets heavier, and the BC can’t make up the difference, because the equation is unfavorable. This means you either need a round capable of flinging that 108gr bullet to 2,700 ft/s or more from a 14.5″ barrel, or you must neck it down.

            Following this process leads you back to the beginning, and shows you that while 5.56 isn’t perfect, it is pretty OK in comparison.

            This is only a ballistic analysis, too. I haven’t mentioned the issues of ammunition weight, recoil, etc.

            At the moment, I’ve burned a little too much time here in the comments section. I’ll be happy to clarify my last paragraph in my last comment if you email me. Cheers!

          • Dracon1201

            I’ll email you, just need a bit of time after work. I quite enjoy these discussions!

    • “Dead Right There” is a misnomer. It can happen, but larger calibers are no guarantee it will happen, nor will they necessarily improve the chances of it happening.

      The argument isn’t “casualties vs. DRT” it’s that the larger caliber side thinks it’s worth it to pay in weight for extra effectiveness, and I think if they have their way procurement is likely to just burden soldiers with unnecessary weight without seeing additional effectiveness.

  • Avid Fan

    Best wishes on the series.

  • Batouman

    Brilliant! Looking forward to it!!!!!

  • Tassiebush

    I’m looking forward to all of it!

  • John Pate

    The L1A1 Self-loading Rifle, SLR, was pejoratively referred to as the “Stupidly Long Rifle” in my day. It was not exactly handy in pretty much any situation that didn’t involve an open field.

  • Joe

    Does the M14 hold any significant advantages over the BM59?

    Seems like mass conversion of Garands would have been faster, cheaper, possibly more reliable.

    I understand the focus on the primary issue rifle, but would the M2 Carbine have been a better starting point?

    Rechambering the Carbine to a more effective caliber seems more practical, so long as the pressure levels and accuracy were adequate.

    If that’s what got us the Mini 14, nevermind.

    • DetroitMan

      The M14 is significantly slimmer and lighter than the M1. An M14 with a full magazine and an M1 with a full magazine are roughly the same weight. The BM59, with 20 rounds of 7.62 NATO on board, would be significantly heavier. The M1 has more weight forward due to the older gas system design. The M14 handles much better.

      The M1 / M2 Carbine was never able to approach the reliability of the Garand or M14. The design did not stand up to battlefield abuse as well. The troops loved it because it was light and handy, but a lot of front line troops had bad experiences with it. Most WWII vets who saw heavy combat will tell you that they preferred the Garand because of its power and reliability. I have known a couple who say they ditched carbines after they failed, picked up a Garand on the battlefield, and never looked back. The Carbine was intended as a rear echelon weapon and a defensive weapon for radio men and mortar crews, and it did fine in that role. It was never intended to be a primary combat weapon. The Garand was definitely the better starting point for the M14, though the Carbine did influence the design.

      The Mini 14 is sort of a hybrid of the M14 and the M1 Carbine.

      • The Mini-14 is a scaled down M14. It doesn’t really have much to do with the carbine.

        All the virtues you assign to the M14 are true, and I think the handling especially is one of the big reasons why it still has a major following. That’s why it is interesting to me that the Hitch report considered the M14 inferior to the M1 Garand. In almost all respects, I would expect the M14 to come out on top, maybe with the exceptions of reliability on the closing stroke of the bolt and possibly ease of accurizing. The text of the Hitch report indicates that the weapons evaluated had serious problems unrelated to the design itself, which doesn’t surprise me. Production of the M14 wasa nightmare for everyone but TRW.

        • DetroitMan

          The Mini 14 borrows some significant features from the M1 Carbine. It has the Carbine’s bolt release plunger on the top left of the receiver, instead of the M14’s bolt stop on the left side. The Mini lacks the M14’s bolt roller and the Garand’s pre-engagement ledge, so its action most closely resembles the Carbine. The front sight and rear aperture are more like the Carbine’s than the M14. The gas system and recoil spring assembly are an amalgamation of the Carbine and M14. Ruger bills the Mini as a scaled down M14, but it is really a very different design.

          I own and shoot both an M1 and an M14 clone in competition, and the M14 is hands down better in every way. I think that if the Hitch report had evaluated properly built and functioning M14’s, they would have come to the same conclusion. Both Springfield Armory and TRW managed to build the M14 without major production problems, and several manufacturers are making high quality clones today. It is a very complicated rifle to manufacture, but not beyond the capabilities of the time.

          Handling is definitely one of the M14’s greatest virtues. For a full size steel battle rifle, it swings readily and comes on target easily. For accuracy tuning I would rather work on the M14. There are fewer parts interacting with the barrel and they are protected inside the stock. The Garand’s dual handguards are fussy, both affect accuracy, and both can be knocked out of alignment with less-than-gentle handling. I won’t even get into the gas system. I love the Garand, but the revised gas system and handguard on the M14 were huge improvements.

          • Hi Detroit,

            The bolt release plunger is similar, but on the Mini it’s on the receiver, as opposed to the Carbine. The action does lack the roller and any anti-preengagement, but the fire control group is extremely Garand/M14-like, unlike the M1 Carbine. The gas system is its own weird thing, neither really M14 or M1 Carbine.

            I would expect the M14 to be better than the M1 if both were made to the same standard. It incorporates a number of improvements, and as you say, the M14 handles really well. You also mention that the M14 was an improvement over the Garand for accuracy tuning. I think the M14 is clearly lackluster by modern standards, but the Garand has all the same problems as the M14 and more.

            Do you think the upper handguard sensitivity of the M14 is soluble with a revised design, or not?

          • DetroitMan

            I’m not an engineer, but I would speculate that a solution could be found. For most competitors, a judiciously sanded and fitted hand guard will solve the issue. Perhaps a new hand guard made of a modern material that is more resistant to flexing would offer an improvement. With modern manufacturing it may be possible to produce a part that would not require hand fitting.

            I own a scout rail for the Garand that replaces the rear hand guard. It clamps in place around the barrel and uses set screws to maintain a constant pressure on the barrel. These are banned from Garand competitions because they can improve accuracy over the standard hand guard. It’s possible that a replacement hand guard like this could improve the M14. It may exist now – I’m still new to the M14 and haven’t seriously investigated all the upgrade options.

            The Sage chassis has made changes to how the M14 action is bedded, and the hand guard attaches to the chassis instead of the rifle. It also uses a barrel tensioning system. IMO, the Sage is overwrought and too heavy, but it works well. I think their ideas for bedding the action and attaching the hand guard could be adapted to other stock systems.

          • I had figured the handguard issue could be solved, but I don’t have specialized enough gunsmithing experience to say.

  • MPWS

    You do a good work in good intent – to capture history of futility as reflected in named subject. If those behind all those programs had vision of yours, we would be much ahead.
    in comparison, do Russians or Chinese for that matter impose on themselves such non-sensical criterions? And yet, the outcome of theirs is widely considered a benchmark of what today’s technology can achieve – for practical purpose of soldier’s implement.

  • DIR911911 .

    “Note the grimace of the man as he wrestles with the small arms equivalent of a fire hose” . . . . just looks like he’s aiming to me and grimace is at mcdonald’s , we all know that.

    • Having shot comparable weapons, I doubt he has the spare concentration to aim. But that’s a subject for a later article.

  • Car54

    Always kind of wondered why the military never adopted a 6mm/.243 i.e, 6.14×51/243 Winchester for a light rifle. It is an excellent round that is more manageable than a 7.62 and more versatile than a 5.56. I guess the answer is they were fixated on the .30 caliber. None the less it is starting to be seen in AR10 type rifles and is a very good cartridge.

  • buzzman1

    Everything the military develops for the soldier is substandard and obsolete by the time it gets to the soldier if its kept within the military equipment development system.