Is your Sturmgewehr a “battle rifle” or what?

This is a short post intended to illustrate that terms such as “assault rifle” or especially “battle rifle” are more or less meaningless for classification, unless used in historical context and in conjunction with a particular rifle that was named as such by someone who lacked a better idea…

Usually most people agree that an “assault rifle” is a select-fire rifle firing intermediate ammunition, right?

You sure?

Let’s look at some original assault rifles which were officially designated as such:

  1. Sturmgewehr 57. Swiss select-fire rifle also known as SIG SG-510, firing rather powerful 7.5×55 GP11 ammunition.Official manual for 7.5mm Stg.57 automatic rifle7.5x55mm SIG Stgw.57 automatic rifle
  2. Sturmgewehr 58. A license-built version of the 7.62x51mm select-fire FN FAL light automatic rifle, adopted by Austrian military.
    Official manual for 7.62x51mm Stg.58 (FN FAL in Austrian service) automatic rifle7.62x51mm Stg.58 automatic rifle
  3. Fusil de Asalto CETME Modelo C, Spanish select-fire rifle firing the same 7.62×51 ammunition, and a direct ascendant to German HK G3 rifle.
    Official manual for CETME Model C 7.62mm rifle7.62mm CETME Modelo C automatic rifle

So, are those “assault” rifles “battle” rifles as well? And, considering that both Swiss and Austrian militaries are of purely defensive nature (due to political neutrality of respective countries), how they can have anything but “defensive” rifles at all?

Max Popenker

Max Popenker is a long-time firearms enthusiast and semi-amateur firearms historian from Russia. His primary interest is in automatic firearms, their evolution and use. He wrote a number of books on the subject and maintains a Modern Firearms website at


  • AMX

    Ok, three things:
    1) Just because the overall mission is defensive doesn’t mean it can’t involve “offensive” elements.
    If some foreign military invades our territory, we may have to assault their forces in order to throw them out.
    2) Some contemporary sources actually classified the 7.62×51 as an intermediate cartridge.
    They were wrong, of course – but I don’t see you advocating that we should stop using the term “intermediate cartridge” just because somebody got it wrong in the past…
    3) You can’t simply mix different languages the way you’re doing it in this article – many terms don’t map perfectly.

    • Nelson Muntz

      …Aaand the humor and irony of Mr. Popenker’s article went WHOOOSH! over your head.

      • AMX

        If this were a standalone article, I *might* accept the “humor and irony” excuse (weak as it is).
        But it’s a follow-up to his Fedorov article, where he seriously stated that the term “assault rifle” “should be dropped from scientific consideration.”

        So, no.
        This is his actual opinion, even if it’s phrased humorously.
        And his reasoning is wrong.

        • Max Popenker

          You missed an essential part of my reasoning that starts with “unless used in historical context”

          • AMX

            No, I saw that.
            It does not actually fix your position – “assault rifle” is a perfectly valid term.
            That it has been misused in the past does not change that; neither does the fact that other languages have words that literally translate to “assault rifle” but do not have the exact same meaning.

          • ARCNA442

            Can you provide a rigorous definition of an “assault rifle” or an “intermediate cartridge” that could be understood be someone who has only a most basic understanding of the subject?

            In other words, what technical criteria do you use to draw the line? Especially with the people who support intermediate intermediate cartridges that are more powerful than 5.56×45 but less powerful than 7.62×51?

          • Phil Hsueh

            In CA it’s simple, any semi-automatic rifle, in black, that has a detachable magazine, pistol grip, and a shoulder thingy that goes up.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I layed out at least a preliminary definition in the comments of the last article that Max wrote:

            “…select fire individual rifles with detachable magazines that uses an intermediate cartridge (for the expedient of discussion, I’ll arbitrarily define this as any cartridge with a COL between 40-67mm and producing muzzle energy between 1300-2800 joules from a 460mm barrel)…”

            I called my definition of the intermediate cartridge arbitrary, but it is based closely on what military studies consider the performance range at which a firearm is has an effective range that is controllable on full-auto without resorting to a serious muzzle brake.

          • ARCNA442

            That seems to be a good start, though some might say you are being overly generous. I am curious as to why you want to consider length as well as energy though.

          • ostiariusalpha

            You mean the COL? Putting some limits on the length of the action keeps the overall dimensions of the rifle and magazines into that manageable space that takes best advantage of the muzzle energy parameters that I layed out. Within those parameters, if you drop the minimum COL then the cartridges can end up being absurdly fat to maintain muzzle energy, and if you exceed the max COL then cartridges may start to develop inconsistent propellant burn rates; and the magazines get heavier also. The barrel length I mention is just for setting a consistent measure for muzzle energy of the cartridge, the actual weapon that ends up using that cartridge may have any length of barrel that you see fit. The higher end of the muzzle energy spectrum may be a bit over generous, but some countries just have larger bodied soldiers than others.

          • But most importantly, it keeps the Fedorov Avtomat off the list, so that the precious Germanocentric narrative can be preserved… 😉

          • ostiariusalpha

            LOL! Not entirely, the 8x33mm isn’t the first intermediate cartridge; that the MP-43 might be the first “assault rifle” would be just a coincidence of history. Somebody had to be first, and it ended up being the Germans. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

          • Well, except they weren’t even close. 😐

            As to who’s “first”, it was an evolutionary process. The definition being as dumb as it is, and the nature of development being what it was, that’s not really an answerable question. Then there’s the problem of trying to apply definitions to contexts where they don’t work.

          • There are a lot of problems with this, including the fact that many rounds that fit your criteria have poor recoil characteristics in full auto from lightweight weapons, and that it has no correlation to actual effectiveness.

            I’m pretty much with Max, the term “assault rifle” isn’t really meaningful beyond just “automatic rifle” and we already have a word for that.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Recoil characteristics aren’t irrelevant, but if your gun is too light for a particular round within any these parameters, then you should probably either make it heavier or use a lighter recoiling round.

          • So a BAR in .300 Savage would be an assault rifle according to your criteria?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Do you think it wouldn’t be? Perhaps people would be talking about the Americo-centric view of firearms if it had been created.

          • I’m pretty much with Max here that a BAR in .30-06, especially the 1918-nought model, is pretty much an assault rifle in its own context.

            That is why I tend to prefer “automatic rifle”, it makes a lot more sense, better reflects the actual progression (automatic rifles got lighter, and went from being support weapons outside the squad to support weapons inside the squad, and then eventually universal weapons), and ends all discussion of which was the “first” assault rifle. Not that I have any hope people will follow me in this, mind.

          • ostiariusalpha

            So, what I see you and Max arguing against here is that you find the terms “assault rifle,” “battle rifle,” and so on, too mushy and often ill-conceived. I’m convinced you are right; the terms as used are vaguely defined (if at all), often implying misleading or entirely incorrect uses of the weapons, and just generally lacking insight into the basic context that they have with & among other firearm categories. Your solution is to weed out all of the terms that don’t already have well-defined criteria so that only a few, clear general classifications would be left, with any firearms inside those broad classes being compared only individually to another. That has an attractive simplicity to it, but as TwiSpark has pointed out, those terms you wish to downplay actually cover plenty of relevant sets of features despite their limitations; and I agree with him. And it’s not as if there aren’t ways to preserve these firearm groupings and just dump their useless names.

            Just to spitball a bit here, you can try starting over with a series of relatively broad categories that have more clearly defined criteria, and from there create context by simply adding category names together. Such as:

            Individual Rifle – any non-crew served firearm with a rifled bore, capable of being shouldered with a length of pull no less than 150mm.

            Abridged Rifle – any Individual Rifle with an overall length no more than 1150mm, and barrel length no more than 525mm.

            Machine Rifle – any rifle with a select fire capability.

            Detached-Mag Rifle – any rifle that neither feeds from nor stores rounds in an internal magazine.

            So, drawing from these, we can take and create a class of firearms called the Abridged Machine Rifle, which is essentially identical to the Автомат, but without having to redefine what exactly a “carbine” is. An M16, AKM, or MP-43 would be a Detached-Mag Abridged Machine Rifle, and there’s no longer the implication that they are somehow special snowflakes like the term “assault rifle” conjures up; context is maintained. You can add further category criteria from there, such as cartridge types:

            Intermediate Cartridge -any cartridge with a COL between 40-67mm and producing muzzle energy between 1300-2800 joules from a 460mm barrel.

            So then, the MP-43 is an Detached-Mag Abridged Machine Rifle, Intermediate Cartridge, and really nothing more than just that. It may be a slight rough system, it’s just what I came up with over a half-hour. Also, you might object that it is not be exactly concise, but conciseness is overrated, and that’s what acronyms are for anyways.

            Fedorov Automat – AMR, FC (Abridged Machine Rifle, Full-Power Cartridge)
            .300 Savage BAR – DIMR, IC (Detached-Mag Individual Machine Rifle, Intermediate Cartridge)
            MP-43 – DAMR, IC (Detached-Mag Abridged Machine Rifle, Intermediate Cartridge)
            SVT-40 – DISR, FC (Detached-Mag Individual Self-Loading Rifle, Full-Power Cartridge)
            AVT-40 – DIMR, FC (Detached-Mag Individual Machine Rifle, Full-Power Cartridge)

          • I really don’t think that much detail is necessary. Having a 2-dimensional definition set with one axis based on features and another axis based on use works just fine, and handles a lot of the nuance I think you’re worried about.

          • ostiariusalpha

            That’s the nice thing about the system I’ve presented, crude though it may be, it’s only as detailed as you require it to be. Any degree of detail in a category that you might consider “superfluous” or “useless” can be pared off. If you want more nuance, you just add it in.

          • It’s extremely clunky and hard to use. What’s wrong with what we’ve got, as long as you don’t stare too long at “assault rifle”?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Hard to use? In what way? I think it is pretty intuitive. As I’ve presented it, this modular category system is more of a proof of concept to show what is possible; a more refined version of modular categories would be very convenient for ordnance departments or engineering and design analysis. Even just for an amateur firearm enthusiast, looking at the categories can show at a glance the overall design trends of alteration and evolution in features over time. As for what’s not ideal about the terms we presently use, other than they lack what I consider the quite useful aspects of modular categories, I guess I’ll just repeat that I consider them vaguely defined and misleading names for groups of firearms and ammunition with clear & easily definable features.

          • Just to categorize stuff, you have to start doing ballistic simulations and math. The barrier to entry is very high for the novice, and the nomenclature is extremely unintuitive and non-informative in acronym form. Not to mention wordy!

            Nah, just tell me whether it’s got a selector switch or not.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Uh, no, you don’t have to use the math yourself to be get use out of the category, though it wouldn’t hurt; any category would probably have pre-calculated tables, just like all those layman precision shooters use on a regular basis. And the firearm community is addicted to acronyms, so that objection is patently ridiculous. I’m sorry, but you should buff up this counter-argument somehow, because it’s pretty weak sauce at the moment; just seems to imply that all shooters are either lazy or stupid.

          • A little prickly there.

            It’s not a good system, and that’s why things like it aren’t in use right now. There’s not even a good argument for trying to optimize the definitions, either. They are what they are, what’s in contention here is the needless arguing over what was the first of a category that’s arbitrary and soft around the edges.

          • ostiariusalpha

            No prickles, your argument was just weak. Lots of things don’t get used until they do, it’s called innovation. In the end, I’m not so very attached to having a new category system adopted in the real world as my lengthy argument may imply, its more of a fun mental exercise. I just don’t see any reason why something similar shouldn’t be used, and your half-hearted counter-arguments actually confirm that it’s mostly inertia that keeps it the way it is. A contention about a firearm definition is even less worth worrying about than the definition itself.

          • Uh, alright, I guess. Not terribly interested in arguing about it.

          • disqus_f62emCdwDh

            Nathaniel, agree. “We” are arguing semantics. By your analysis, the original M1918 BAR automatic rifle was surely used to sweep trenches by “assaulting” them by a volume of fire that could not easily be countered by the Gewehr 98.
            Thus, you are correct. It is much more a matter of actual usage than how the now-traditional appellation of “AW” has come to be known in common vernacular. Next thing you know we’ll be trading epithets about how a “PDW” is a very shortened “AW” that shoots an even more attenuated cartridge. .

          • The_Champ

            As I stated earlier, I don’t see the need to stress over the definition of “intermediate cartridge” when realistically in the last 60 years there have only been three such rounds to see, and continue to see widespread service anywhere in the world; 5.56, 5.45, 7.62×39. In practical real-world terms, these are THE intermediates, that’s it, that’s all.

            I can think of a few that predate these big 3 and saw fairly widespread service; 8mm Kurz, .30 carbine(ish). These have both come and gone active service long ago.
            The point being we are dealing with a very limited field of actual cartridges in use.

            On the other hand I do understand over analysing such topics because we are all firearms enthusiasts and we enjoy doing so ?

          • 5.8x42mm Chinese is sad that you forgot it. 🙁

          • ostiariusalpha

            I think the Chinese would find your dismissal of the 5.8x42mm somewhat perplexing. Also, civilian rounds are just as legitimately intermediate as any service cartridge; 8x33mm is still very common in some Muslim countries, and .300 BO, 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Grendel, and several others each sell millions of rounds every year.

          • The_Champ

            Oops I did forget the Chinese round. So make it the big 4, not the big three.

            And yes I’m aware there are about 100 other rounds out there we might call intermediate. My point was none of them are in widespread service, and most of them, even civy side, are niche cartridges. Most have never been chambered in a select fire rifle. And I would not call the 8×33 very common in 2016.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Those are some pretty big “niches” you are claiming aren’t widespread, and every last one of them have been shot through a select fire weapon; it’s actually neither impossible nor as uncommon as you seem to think for someone with a full auto sear lower receiver to try an alternative chambered upper. And just because a round is common in your particular area, doesn’t mean it’s not as common as sunshine in other parts of the world.

          • The_Champ

            I get what you are saying, and it’s cool to try and define solid boundaries as to what an ‘intermediate’ cartridge really is. I rather like your efforts using cartridge length and energy.
            But let me clarify what I mean by widespread:
            In how many nations outside of the USA can a citizen legally own and operate a select fire rifle? Not many that I know of. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say 90-99% of all select fire assault rifles in the world are in the hands of legitimate militaries, and para-military like organizations. Of that vast majority, 99% of those individual rifles are chambered in one of the 4 above mentioned cartridges.
            99% of 99% is what I mean by widespread ?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Touché. ?

          • Max Popenker

            why do you think that whatever defintion of AR you use (btw, what exactly it is?) is correct, and samples shown in the root post were actually “past mis-uses”?

        • Nelson Muntz


      • Twilight sparkle

        This wasn’t humorous or ironic, he was obviously trying to make some sort of a point here but this article was so poorly written that it feels like half of it is missing and he tried to cover that up by calling it a “short post.”

        I don’t get by TFB hates terms like assault rifle or battle rifle but they’re historically relevant.

        • Hm, I challenge you to write something better in Russian, then.

          • Twilight sparkle

            I see, I didn’t realize he was from Russia. This is rather respectable for a non native language and could explane why a lot of us didn’t really get what he was trying to say.

          • Ah. Max Popenker is from Russia. I figured everybody knew that, so that’s my fault. Didn’t mean to be sassy.

          • Twilight sparkle

            Nah, I deserved the sass. I should read the about the author segment thing more often.

  • Major Tom

    And don’t forget the Federov Avtomat and how in Russian “avtomat” these days comes to mean “assault rifle”. (Nevermind that contextually “avtomat” can be more broadly translated as “automatic rifle”.)

    Of course the whole “battle rifle” vs “assault rifle” thing has several snags. For example, define “intermediate cartridge”. What actually makes one qualify as one? Strictly dimensions? Gas pressure? Muzzle velocity? There’s no universal standard definition.

  • Robin

    We have to take in consideration the “marketing” effect of such name particularly on Military and political buyers/legislators. Gun manufacturers, even if they are state-owned enterprise are sellers.

    • Max Popenker

      Both SIG and FN rifles were known under different names before adoption by Swiss and Austrian militaries, respectively (SIG AM55 and FN FAL)

  • Ron

    A battle rifle is any rifle you take to battle.

    • DIR911911 .

      I got my 10/22 . . . where’s the bad guys?

      • Greg Thompson

        They’re on Tumblr, mostly.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Firearms nomenclature is so crystal clear… .38 is really .357–and on and on…

  • MPWS

    You hit it right. This clears a lot of BS out of terminology. To me “automatic”, “semi-auto” or “repeater” suffice a plenty.

  • The_Champ

    It’s true they don’t have strictly defined definitions, and exactly when a term like battle rifle came into common use isn’t exactly clear. However I believe they are still generally useful terms in our contemporary setting. Of course you can break it down into semantics to the point where they become so ill defined that they are useless, but that isn’t how most people use the words.

    I believe firearms enthusiasts(aka everyone reading this blog) generally understands an ‘assault rifle’ to be a select fire rifle firing 5.56, 5.45, or 7.62×39 (aka intermediate cartridges). At what point do other cartridges reach a point powerful enough to go beyond intermediate? No one really cares because no militaries and few civilians use anything but the above in ‘assault rifles’.

    Likewise, a battle rifle is I think considered a select fire rifle firing 7.62×51 and is generally considered to encompass the post-war designs (FAL, G3, CETME, M14).
    This is simply the modern, evolved terminology we use. What’s so wrong with it?

    As an aside, worried that the Federov Avtomat doesn’t fit either definition because of its caliber? Who cares, it was a one off design of which only a few thousand were made that was a developmental dead end. Does one odd duck rifle really ruin the terms battle rifle and assault rifle for you?

    • The Fedorov really isn’t a dead end, I’m of the opinion it really set the stage for the USSR’s universal adoption of select-fire carbines starting in 1943.

  • Don Ward

    The term “assault rifle” is a handy catch-all term that is useful as a general description. The issue is the arbitrary terminology used to describe it. Prime among these is the useless term “intermediate cartridge” which is basically meaningless since it has changed historically. 7.62 NATO is an “intermediate” cartridge. But now it’s consider a “full size” round because of handwaving reasons.

  • Anonymoose

    I look at it like this: battle rifles (6.5mm+ cartridge-firing rifles) are a subset of assault rifles (any rifle that can be used in an assault), which are a subset of assault weapons (any weapon that can possibly used in an assault, to include eyeglasses, pencils, silverware, cars, and bodies of water). I see this as a deterrent to the antigunners, since everything is potentially deadly.

  • Darren Hruska

    Nomenclature and terminology are so muddled that arguing what’s what is almost pointless since both sides within the firearm community generally have legitimate reasons behind their claims. Hell, look at the classic M1 Carbine, or more-so its selective-fire variants (M2/M3). Bring that up, and then you’ll have one side arguing it’s a “personal defense weapon” and another side arguing it’s an “assault rifle.” My solution? When it doubt, just refer to it as an “automatic rifle.” It may not be as specific of a term as “assault rifle” or “battle rifle,” but it’s never incorrect anyways.

    As for a “full-power rifle cartridge,” I’d personally say that’s one that generally produces muzzle energies in excess of 2,000 foot-pound force with standard ammo and standard barrel length for such cartridge. “Intermediate-power” would more-so be in the 1,000-2,000 foot-pound range, maybe starting a bit less than that (like 800-900 foot-pounds). Then you have some cartridges that sit dangerously close to that line between “intermediate-power” and “full-power” that they become very difficult to classify, but that generally doesn’t matter much since most of those cartridges are rarely chambered in selective-fire rifles…

  • Able_Dart

    Just to add to the meaninglessness: my understanding is that during the Soviet era the doctrinal english translation for “Avtomat” was “submachinegun.” Which is one explanation for why the East Germans type classed their Avtomats as MPiKs…

  • Lee

    Marketing is in a name… Spray paint it black, call it “tactical” and mark it up $100 bucks…
    Its all semantics…

  • Zebra Dun

    Any rifle used in the assault is an assault rifle, any rifle used in battle is a battle rifle.
    Assaults take place in battle so both are assault rifles and battle rifles.
    The distinction is clear a rifle is either a military rifle or a sporting hunting rifle.

    What does this say about Machine guns?
    Those on a bipod are assault machine guns while those on a tripod are battle machine guns?
    Those shooting rounds 7.62 x 51 NATO are battle machine guns while the 5.56 x 45 mm is an assault machine gun?

    There are pistols also that meet these criteria.

  • Anon. E Maus

    I will continue to call intermediate select-fire infantry rifles “assault rifles”, and I will continue to call self-loading/select-fire full-powered infantry rifles “battle rifles”

  • Miguel Raton

    Yes, it gets confusing when someone recklessly applies the “STG” acronym to a full-auto rifle firing a full-power [1000yd/900m] round. It’s best to keep the distinction based upon what kind of ammunition the rifle fires: full-power rounds that rapidly get out of control on anything weighing less than 12#/6kg [& therefore pretty exhausting to carry around all day] = BR, or medium-power rounds that begin to poop out after 500yd/440m = AR. End of confusion.

  • CavScout

    Doesn’t it mean ‘Storm Rifle’? So wouldn’t they be refering to to the ‘Storm’ tactics they used in WWI? If so, then I think it’s any rifle made for ‘Storm/Shock/Assault Troopers.’

    I will claim here, that in fact maybe that horrid ‘Gun Safety’ video of what Assault Rifles are is more than possibly correct in that it was an idea for WWI that only extended into WWII and even present day; that troops would get into the trenches and cut down as many of the enemy as they could.

    The same tactic that lead to waves of grenadiers and burp gunners by Chinese forces in Korea.

    I don’t speak German, but I could confidently say I own many semi-auto ‘Storm Rifles’.

    • CavScout

      Pardon my extra indentations. I was using >br<'s because I didn't think the 'enter' key ones would actually show.

  • Mazryonh

    Given that the 7.62x51mm in use around NATO countries is a slightly shortened .30-06 developed by the US armed forces, couldn’t we consider long guns in that caliber (and similar ones, like the 7.62x54mmR used by the Russians) to be “battle rifles,” while rifles using much smaller cartridges to be “assault rifles”?

    I was under the impression that “assault rifles” with their “intermediate cartridges” were intended to provide more controllable bursts than was possible with the older, larger cartridges. A G3KA4 rifle and an HK33KA3 rifle use very similar mechanisms and are part of the same rifle family (the G3 series), but I’m sure that without compensators/suppressors they’d handle very differently, especially in bursts.