Modern Intermediate Full Power Calibers 015: The 7.62x51mm NATO

On the right are two types of 7.62 NATO round, the M80 and M80A1, alongside two of its predecessors. Center left is the .30 T104 ball cartridge using the 1948 T1E1 case. Left is the .300 Savage, which was the starting point for what became the 7.62 NATO.

On the right are two types of 7.62 NATO round, the M80 and M80A1, alongside two of its predecessors. Center left is the .30 T104 ball cartridge using the 1948 T1E1 case. Left is the .300 Savage, which was the starting point for what became the 7.62 NATO.

Shouldn’t “Modern Full Power Calibers” be its own series? No, because then there would only be two episodes! So instead, we’re rolling today’s two most popular full power .30 cal rounds into the series on intermediates, primarily as comparison pieces. There are really two pieces of information I want to disseminate with this, which are the answers to “how do these full power rounds compare with intermediate calibers?” and “how do they compare against each other?”

A quick introduction to the 7.62 NATO caliber which we will be covering today: It was the first caliber standardized by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and remains the standard “full power” round for the Organization, even though it has been largely replaced by the 5.56mm in the infantry rifle role. Development of what during development was commonly called the “.30 T65” began in late 1943 or early 1944; memos from Winchester CEO Edwin Pugsley’s files early in 1944 spoke of a “feeling” that the ideal next generation rifle would fire a round based on the .300 Savage. This proved to be very prescient, as the earliest experiments in the program involved .300 Savage cases loaded with 152gr M2 bullets developed for the .30-06 cartridge. One of the impetuses of this program was the material saving promised by the new, shorter round. Page 304 of The Great Rifle Controversy cites that Colonel Studler had calculated in 1949 that if the new round had been used instead of .30-06 during World War II, 92 million pounds of brass would have been conserved, along with 70 million pounds of packing material!

The attraction of this smaller round was obvious, and after an controversial several year trial period, the .30 T65 was recommended for adoption in 1953 as the first NATO standard round, designated the 7.62x51mm NATO by Ordnance in 1954.

Ballistically, there are three rounds we need to consider here: The common lead-cored M80 Ball round, which in terms of ballistic coefficient and velocity is identical to the steel-cored M59 Ball round, the M61 armor piercing round, and the improved M80A1 Enhanced Performance Round (EPR). Note that the ballistic coefficient of M80A1 was calculated by me, but also that according to the paper Aerodynamic Characteristics of the 7.62 mm NATO Ammunition M-59, M-80, M-61, M-62, the M61 AP round experiences 10% higher drag than the dimensionally similar M59 Ball round because of the additional cannelure on the projectile. Now, let’s look at the graphs:

KvDNkpE Gmdacio 1Llsh7V 65gRPWD

Great performance! Of course, the elephant in the room with 7.62 NATO is weight. And it’s a doozy, as 7.62 weighs about double what 5.56mm does, at 24.2 grams for M80, and 23.7 grams for M80A1.

Note: All ballistic calculations are done with JBM’s Trajectory calculator, using the ballistic coefficient appropriate to the projectile being modeled, and assuming an AR-15 as a firing platform. Also, keep in mind that there is no single true velocity for a given round; velocity can vary due to a large number of factors, including ambient temperature and chamber dimensions. Instead, I try to use nominal velocity figures that are representative of the capability of the round in question.



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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  • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

    Great! Will the other one be the 7,62X54R? If so, will you also scratch of “Modern” from the title? 🙂

    Have you considered covering any of the Chineese calibers?

      • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

        Wow! That was fast! Thank you!
        flanker7

      • Sermon 7.62

        To be fair there has to be one more on 7.92x57mm

        • I don’t there’s a country out there that still uses 7.9mm as its standard round. Serbia, maybe.

          If I do that round, it’ll be as a separate series on historic cartridges.

          • Sermon 7.62

            Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq.

          • I don’t believe Serbia uses the M76 as standard anymore; I think they replaced it with the M91. M76s might still be in inventory, but that’s very different than “standard”. The M1 Garand is still in US Army inventory, doesn’t make the .30-06 a standard round.

            Croatia does not, so far as I know, still use the M76 as a standard weapon.

            Macedonia seems to still use M76s for training, I don’t know if that’s what they consider “standard” or not.

            I think Montenegro is the same as Serbia.

            I don’t think I’ve seen any photos of Slovenian troops using M76s, either.

            Bosnia & Herzegovina does actually seem to use the rifle as standard, based on photos.

            Iraq got a shipment of them, and they are common over there, but calling any piece of equipment “standard” in that army is a stretch.

            So like two, two and a half countries still use it, but only in the sniper role.

          • Sermon 7.62

            “Military Issued Sniper Rifles” page on Snipercentral states that Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia still use M76. You are correct about Slovenia. Used to use it but no longer does.

          • Uh, yeah, that page may not be the best source, seeing as how it also lists Yugoslavia as a country…

            I usually go by photographs of the units in question.

  • toms

    Your m61 load is very light. Both FN and imi m61 chrono higher out of a 18″ barrel than your 22′.

    • “Also, keep in mind that there is no single true velocity for a given round; velocity can vary due to a large number of factors, including ambient temperature and chamber dimensions. Instead, I try to use nominal velocity figures that are representative of the capability of the round in question.”

      My figures for M61 come from the original specification.

  • Peadair

    AHHHHH, mixing Metres and inches AHHHH

    • Giolli Joker

      Yep, it’s terrible, already discussed.
      It’s not Nathaniel’s fault, he adopts a silly mixed standard from the US Army…

      • Major Tom

        I use both metric and American Customary systems interchangeably. I find it better than knowing just one or the other.

        • FarmerB

          Me too, happy with either, although I reload in thousandths of an inch, which just works better for me with headspace, set back etc. I don’t see the USA moving any time soon, after all they never adopted the solution to the gallon problem that the Brits fixed in 1824.

          • Major Tom

            Gallon problem?

          • FarmerB

            The problem was too many gallons, some with dubious definitions 🙂 The U.K. standardized around the ale gallon at that time, whilst the US stayed using the old Queen Anne wine gallon. It was a bit of a dig at the fact the US has their own gallon which isn’t used elsewhere.

      • Peadair

        I know it’s not his fault, my outburst was mainly for humours sake.

        It doesn’t make my brain work when dealing with it, imperial and maths screws with my mind.

      • Sunshine_Shooter

        People just need to get it together and drop the metric system. The American public will (probably) never fully adopt the metric system, and trying to navigate 2 completely different systems of measure is unmitigated hell.
        *EDIT* This is mainly for the USA, Europeans figured it out a long time ago. I would have stayed with the old system, but everyone working off the same units is much better than the mixed environment Americans deal with today.

        • iksnilol

          Drop the metric system?

          *facepalm*

          • Kivaari

            I can see it now, everywhere except the USA and two little nations of no significance in the world use inches and pounds, so we need to change the rest of the world to go backwards. We could have done the change to metric decades ago. In fact when I was in grade school in the 50s there was talk of doing it then, since it made sense. Had we done so then, the cost of change would have been much less, even in adjusted dollars, than today.

        • Giolli Joker

          “everyone working off the same units is much better than the mixed environment Americans deal with today”
          In a world being everyday more global, this will always happen as long as the USA uses a system that no other country officially adopts. Simply think what it is for the industry to deal with foreign suppliers.
          NASA famously lost a spacecraft due to misunderstandings caused by the dual system and they then made the sensible choice of moving completely to metric.
          Sooner or later the whole country will follow, imho.
          Like in the UK the older system will be the one colloquially used, with the metric as the official standard.

        • Kivaari

          We just need to adopt metrics across the board. The biggest reason not to is the expense to government, especially in highway signage. Science has used it since time one.

          • Gary Kirk

            The metric system is too easy, and makes too much sense for the US government.. Hence their motto. “If it ain’t broke, fix it until it is”

      • Hell, at this point I work in both systems so often that sometimes it is my fault because I don’t notice which one I am using.

  • Sermon 7.62

    7.62x54R is better.

    • RocketScientist

      Yup, it’s got the advantage of being a rimmed round. We all know how popular those are in modern cartridges.

      • Anon

        But, but, it’s Russian, so that means it’s better, right guys?

        Seriously, it’s getting rather annoying to hear this guy go on about how Russian guns and cartridges are “better”, isn’t it?

        • Sermon 7.62

          Truth hurts!

          • Anon

            Yeah, like how steel guns like the AK can’t have a catastrophic failure because it’s “heat treated steel” and AR-15s suck because some moron loaded .300 Blackout into a 5.56 rifle and it blew up, or how a rimmed cartridge is obviously superior despite the fact that essentially no battle rifles (an SVD is not a battle rifle) use it.

            Seriously, this garbage stopped being funny a long time ago.

          • Major Tom

            “or how a rimmed cartridge is obviously superior despite the fact that
            essentially no battle rifles (an SVD is not a battle rifle) use it.”

            Soviet and thus current Russian doctrine has little preparedness for the need of a “battle rifle”. There’s no intermediary between a DMR like the SVD or line infantry assault rifles like the AK-74M. There is use of 7.62×39 arms such as the AK-103 when greater penetrating power is desired (such as operations where there may be more hard cover) but ultimately nothing like a SCAR-H.

            Unless you count the SVU-A.

          • Sermon 7.62

            Not true.

            AP rounds like 7N39 in 5.45 are the best. From 100 m these rounds penetrate 25 mm of St3 steel. There is a cheaper AP round, 7N24, that is just as good as 7.62 7N23 AP round.

          • Sermon 7.62

            That’s right, fool. SVD is not a battle rifle, it’s a sniper rifle and it uses 7.62x54R.

          • Anon

            Actually, if there’s any role that it fulfills, it’s a DMR role, not a sniper rifle role.

            And thanks Sherlock, I didn’t know that the Russian SVD used 7.62x54R, I don’t know what we’d do without you.

          • Sermon 7.62

            “Designated marksman” is a term used in the US to refer to platoon snipers. The concept, the tactics, and the first DMR itself is of Russian origin, so chill out kid. And the longest recorded sniper kill from a rifle of a regular caliber also belongs to the Russians: 1,350 m.

          • Anon

            And your point is…?

          • Sermon 7.62

            Point is: be humble kid.

            Russians don’t like using complicated definitions and rigid formulas. There is a more flexible approach. Snipers have 6 rifles to choose from.

          • Anon

            “Be humble kid”

            And then after that lovely bit of wisdom, you follow-up with a speech on how the Russians do this better.

            Stop embarrassing yourself.

          • Sermon 7.62

            I said that Russians do this more flexible.

          • Anon

            Given that you’re essentially a confirmed Russophile on this site (defined here as you liking Russian weapons and such, which makes sense considering you’re a Russian and there’s a good chance you’ve never actually used anything that you either praise or s**t on, especially the AR-15, and national pride is a thing over there too I presume), what reason would I have to not believe that you’re implying that the way Russians do things are better by saying that they’re more flexible?

          • Sermon 7.62

            Read it all again, kid.

            You said that SVD is not a sniper rifle. I said that it is. I explained that a sniper rifle in Russia is a rifle that snipers use. That for the Russians it does not depend on the terms used in the US. Because, like I said, there is a more flexible approach to these “roles”. And as the rifle that is being discussed is a Russian rifle, so should be the terms.

          • Anon

            You do know that comment was addressed to you in general, right?

            And yes, you can use an SVD in a sniper role (along with pretty much any DMR), I was saying that it was designed more around the DMR role than anything else, I never meant to say that you couldn’t use it in a sniper role, but I did word that awkwardly.

            To get back to my original point: Have you ever actually fired an AR-15 or AK or pretty much anything else that you chime in on? I ask this because I’m getting the distinct impression that you haven’t.

          • FarmerB

            SVD is only a DMR when compared to an AK. Compared to a half decent 7.62×51 semi-auto or even a 50’s era Swiss StGw 57, it’s nowhere near as effective at decent ranges (beyond 6-700m). Almost got to try the Yugo one in 8mm last month, but it broke a firing pin on the first mag. And yes, I shoot them all fairly regularly at distance.

          • Sermon 7.62

            DMR is a rifle that is supposed to be accurate at ranges up to 600 m, because its mission is to complement regular troops during a firefight. Ranges longer than 600 m, according to the NATO definitions, are the domain of a sniper. But the Russians, the originators of this concept, use the term “sniper” for marksmen, too. For them, a sniper is someone using the sniper’s tactics, and the rifle that he uses can be for example the VSS, that has a range of 400 m.

            I doubt that there is a decent SVD available in some place for some farmers to shoot. Perhaps Tigers are, but Tiger compared to SVD is like Remington 700 compared to M40. I heard about 100 rifles or so, brought to the US in the late 90’s. Those rifles are old.

          • Sermon 7.62

            DMR is a rifle that is supposed to be accurate at ranges up to 600 m, because its mission is to complement regular troops during a firefight. Ranges longer than 600 m, according to the NATO definitions, are the domain of a sniper. But the Russians, the originators of this concept, use the term “sniper” for marksmen, too. For them, a sniper is someone using the sniper’s tactics, and the rifle that he uses can be for example the VSS, that has a range of 400 m.

            I doubt that there is a decent SVD available in some place for some farmers to shoot. Perhaps Tigers are, but Tiger compared to SVD is like Remington 700 compared to M40. I heard about 100 rifles or so, brought to the US in the late 90’s. Those rifles are old.

            Last but not least, looking at the specs, all the “decent 7.62×51 semi-auto” including such as M110 and the aforementioned Sturmgewehr 57 claim the range of 800 m. Just like SVD. And no, the “Yugo one in 8 mm” is not the same rifle at all. And also, for best results the ammo is supposed to be sniper grade. That is, the 7N1 or 7N14 rounds. I doubt that this ammo is available for farmers, too. But at least farmers can read the article on the Internet? So please do.

          • FarmerB

            Logistics Boris, Farmers have a good supply line. And the difference you see in Internet lore around StGw57 is based on having no optics. “Range” is in the eye of the beholder. I can tell you for sure that a ’57 with some optics but still using standard ball GP-11 will ruin your day if you are closer than 1000m.
            Funny, originally I thought you were Slovenian, but you have all the typical hate + bluster+ paranoia of a Russian troll.

          • Sermon 7.62

            Don’t project on me, Farmer. I am as polite as I can be, considering the amount of ignorance I had to deal with responding to your comment.

          • Anon

            Calling people ignorant doesn’t make you smarter.

          • Sermon 7.62

            I don’t care about people’s impressions, but I don’t like being attacked by idiots accusing me of not hating the Russians. I don’t like it that cunning people take no notice of the arguments I present, and ask me some personal questions instead of responding to them. Besides, I can’t stand a liar.

            Be humble, kid.

          • Anon

            “Arguments”?

            Like how armor-piercing intermediate cartridges are supposedly an adequate counter to battle rifles firing full-power cartridges that also have armor-piercing ammo available?

            Like how AR-15s are supposedly cheap pieces of aluminum crap because some idiot put the wrong cartridge in them out of negligence and they blew up, but the AK is supposedly invincible?

            Like how 7.62x54R is a superior cartridge just because you said so without anything to back it up?

            And who are you calling “liars”?

      • Gary Kirk

        And magazines love them

        • Sermon 7.62

          Dragunov rifles are as reliable as AK.

          • Gary Kirk

            Yep, the svd is.. With a 10 round mags that are 3/4″(18mms) longer than they need be

          • Sermon 7.62

            Jesus! 18 mm longer than “need be”.

      • Sermon 7.62

        “Not popular” is a serious argument.

        • RocketScientist

          Ok maybe English isn’t your first language, but that term was used in a sarcastic understatement, a kind of droll humor.

          • Sermon 7.62

            Don’t bother, I am not good at speaking English but I understand it.

          • Gary Kirk

            Yes!!! Same should be said about belted magnums. But rarely ever is, never got the army’s want to go to .300 win.. Don’t get me wrong, love my .375 H&H. But why, WHY use a belted barrel burner? Hell of a round, for 100 or so, downhill from there.. Great for deer, not consistent high round count shooting

          • What are you talking about? .300WM is a fabulous round out past a klick.

          • Gary Kirk

            Didn’t say it wasn’t, just that they tend to burn the throat out of barrels fairly quickly, and Idk if the army is using id’d (once fired to same rifle) brass or are they cutting the belt extra deep in chamber and headspacing off the shoulder instead of the belt? Just better options than using the good OLD 375 parent case for modern day.. I know the inherent reason for the belt, just doesn’t necessarily need to be there anymore

          • Gary Kirk

            Oh, and should have clarified that I was talking about rounds fired, not yardage.. My fault, will edit, and it will last more than 100 or so rounds I know.. But hopefully you get where I was going there, being a bit dramatic..

          • Oh, sorry, I thought you meant “100 yards”. I was thinking “what’s this guy on about…”

            You can definitely zap deer with a winnymag, but I am one of those horrible examples who likes to use marginal rounds like 5.56mm on oversized rats.

          • Gary Kirk

            Nothing horrible about that.. I’ve used less successfully, just have to know what you are doing

          • The_Champ

            Come to Saskatchewan sometime, I’d wager our rats are a little bigger than yours 😊

  • LG

    It is simply the 30-06 Kurtz.