Deconstructing “Assault Rifle”: The Quest for Universality in Modern Infantry Warfare

Ethiopian soldiers with AKM rifles. The Kalashnikov is perhaps the quintessential assault rifle of the 20th Century, being produced in great numbers and able to be used in almost any role. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Quick: What’s the definition of “assault rifle”? I’ll give you a moment to think about it.

Now, a good definition for “assault rifle” in my opinion comes from Anthony G. Williams, a British author, ammunition collector, and military theorist, and it reads like so:

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

Williams has his own discussion of the meaning behind it, which you can read here, but I want to take a moment unpack this definition, and to provide my own corollary to it which I hope will add additional context. My aim in writing this is to provide a baseline understanding of what exactly a modern assault rifle is, and what its roles are (note the plural) in the modern infantry paradigm.

Now that I’ve said that, I already need to undermine it, just a little. Since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, there has been some modest ambiguity added to exactly what a standard infantry weapon is expected to do. Therefore, the discussion today will only address the paradigm as established in the period from 1945-2000, and not tackle the wider issue of how the role of the infantry rifle might be changing for the 21st Century.

Original caption: “DJIBOUTI–Sergeant Kris Floyd, chief coxswain with the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa Small Craft Detachment, fires the M-4 carbine weapons system during a two-day live-fire exercise here to improve weapons handling and marksmanship skills. The task force is here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo by: Corporal Paula M. Fitzgerald” The M4 Carbine is a variant of the M16 that was originally designed as a personal defense weapon, but which has since become a service rifle in its own right with both the United States Army and Marine Corps. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

 

This is a good springboard for the rest of the discussion, because the story of the modern assault rifle really begins with the planning that began by the Allies at the conclusion of the Second World War. Although the assault rifle saw its prime time combat debut in that war, it was at the time just one type of weapon among many different, specialized types filling one or two roles each. While the Germans did consider and eventually embrace the idea of fielding MP.44 assault rifles as general issue weapons, the war was already effectively lost for them before it could be meaningfully implemented beyond some field trials of “MP platoons”. By the end of the war, the Germans had brought the assault rifle idea into the spotlight, but it was now up to the Allies to fully realize its potential.

Like the first, the second World War brought with it a tremendous advancement in weapons technology which threatened once again to out-pace the tactics and organization of the armies of the world. In particular, Allied armies found themselves troubled by a broad spread of specialized infantry weapons, each suited to a particular necessary task. This variety of weapons, besides complicating logistics, created a training bottleneck as troops could only be trained so quickly and thoroughly in the myriad of different weapons demanded by modern warfare. Training could cover all of the weapons very superficially, or only a few of them very thoroughly, not both. A 1948 report from Fabrique Nationale on the state of infantry weapons at the time, which can be found in part on page 24 of R. Blake Stevens’ UK and Commonwealth FALs (part two of the FAL series, and included in The FAL Rifle Classic Edition), states the problem thus:

Examining the armament of the infantry during the second World War, there is one outstanding fact – the number of different weapons which the unfortunate infantryman had to master. What were these weapons? The revolver for close quarter use, the machine carbine for street fighting and raids, the rifle for field work and the light machine gun for longer ranges and sustained fire power. The infantryman might also have to learn to use an automatic rifle, a sniper’s rifle, medium and heavy machine guns in ground and anti-aircraft roles. His spare time could be spent learning to handle anti-tank weapons, mortars, grenades, and grenade throwers. Regarded for generations as inferior in technical ability and only of use with a rifle and bayonet, the infantryman was suddenly faced with the need to master a greater variety of weapons than any other branch in the Army.

Could they be mastered by conscripts and men hurriedly trained in war time? The answer is certainly “no” despite a multiplicity of schools and instructors. The short time available before they must be sent into the battle line precludes anything but a superficial knowledge being acquired.

Since the 19th Century, the arms used by the infantry expanded dramatically as their tasks grew from simple marching and riflery to anti-tank, anti-pillbox, anti-trench, anti-aircraft, and numerous other duties. Some kind of solution was needed, and if it started with the weapons most integral to the infantryman, all the better. Many (though not all) planners at the time felt that the assault rifle idea was the perfect fit, as it could replace several of these weapons: The rifle, machine carbine (a British term for for the submachine gun), light machine gun, and in some cases the sniper rifle (designated marksman rifle). One change that had occurred over the previous 50 years that would help facilitate this simplification was the reduced effective range expected of the infantry. The FN report continues:

Modern military thought still demands that the infantry shall be able to develop a large volume of fire. There is, however, one important change in today’s ideas – the ranges at which the infantry is expected to engage the enemy effectively have been much reduced. No longer is the rifleman expected to shoot accurately at 600 meters, 300 meters is now his firing range, no longer are light machine guns expected to take on targets at 1,000 meters or more.

In these shortened ranges of 300 meters for the rifle and 600 meters for the light machine gun lies the hope of being able to replace two or more of the existing infantry weapons. There is one very important proviso – that a suitable cartridge be available or can be designed. The pistol type cartridges of the revolver and machine carbine are unsuitable for ranges above 100 meters, owing to their low muzzle velocity and poor accuracy beyond this range. The Rifle cartridge is too powerful and ranges too far though giving good accuracy and a flat trajectory – bot important considerations.

There is a middle course between these two extremes. The Germans towards the end of the war had achieved something that was very close to being the right answer, if not the answer. By cutting down their 7.92 rifle cartridge and fitting a lighter bullet they produced a short light round, which combined with a new weapon, gave their infantry a vastly increased ability to develop a large volume of fire for a much smaller man load. This question of ammunition is discussed later, but assuming the possibility of such a cartridge what is the effect on the weapons of the infantry?

A weapon can be designed round such a cartridge that will effectively replace the machine carbine and the magazine rifle, and render unnecessary the equipment of the platoons with light machine guns and/or automatic rifles. This still leaves the sniper’s rifle and revolver as infantry weapons. Both, though of minor importance, will still be needed, the sniper’s rifle for special targets and the revolver, or preferably the automatic pistol, for the use of personnel in back areas.

Here we see the origin of the post-war assault rifle in a need to streamline and simplify the Allied war machine according to the demands of then-modern wars of economy. Reducing the training burden on the soldier and at the same time the logistical burden of the army was seen as key to being able to wage this sort of conflict in the future. Note that the volume of fire added by universal issuance of automatic weapons gets only a mention in this segment of the analysis. Later, the document does address this matter:

In the light machine gun role it must be able to fire single shots and short bursts with reasonable accuracy up to 600 meters. Fitted with a bipod which can be carried in the pocket when not required, this standard of accuracy can be attained especially if a longer barrel is fitted. But in this role it should be capable of sustained fire. In this respect there is no question that it will do this as effectively as the modern light machine gun. If however the fire power of the platoon is considered then comparison is possible. The fire power of a platoon of 30 men is about 6-800 rounds per minute using its two light machine guns and rifles. A platoon armed entirely with the new weapons can develop under the same conditions a rate of 3-4,000 rounds per minute. This can be only for a short time, but if only one third of the weapons are firing then the effective fire power is roughly the same as the platoon with its two light machine guns and rifles. Thus by careful fire control, sustained fire can be maintained for some minutes without serious heating effects.”

It has already been stated that such a weapon cannot in sustained fire test approach the standard of the modern light machine gun. It can however be claimed that within the limits of the ammunition available in the infantry unit these new weapons can maintain the fire power of the platoon until such ammunition is exhausted. A higher performance is unnecessary.

It seems then that the primary benefit of the assault rifle in the eyes of this report’s author was not greater firepower for the infantry, but standardization, logistics, and ease of training. I don’t point this out to suggest that the firepower advantage of infantry armed almost solely with automatic weapons went completely unrecognized, but rather that the logistical and training problems faced at the time were considered so central that a discussion of assault rifles during the period could almost completely neglect the subject of firepower!

Original caption: “26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Maritime Raid Force Marines fire M4 Carbines while conducting a marksmanship training exercise at a range in Qatar, April 22, 2013.” The M4 Carbine, like all assault rifles, is a versatile enough weapon to equip every member of an infantry squad. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

 

So how does this context change our picture of the assault rifle? The first thing it should do is banish any individualistic perspectives about the concept that we may hold. Questions like “which weapon would you rather take into combat?” go wide and miss the true reason for the assault rifle’s ascendancy after 1945. It is clear that for the planners of the post-war era, that concern took a back seat to the more pressing matters of arming as many men as possible for the next unrestrained economic total war. From their perspective, what was needed was a jack of all trades weapon that could be made as cheaply and quickly as possible, and which – by its universal nature – would likewise allow troops to be trained in a manner much more expeditious than before. Note that even the famously anti-assault rifle American planners recognized the same issue, and they attempted to develop a full power weapon which could accomplish the same thing, resulting in the troubled M14. Indeed, it’s not an exaggeration to say that after World War II, the most pressing issue facing small arms planners was not one of firepower, but of standardization.

Where does this leave us in refining our definition of the assault rifle itself? I think it helps clarify exactly what an assault rifle is to define what it does in the context of the World War II small arms infantry paradigm. Let’s break down the jobs performed by different infantry weapons during that period*:

Infantry Rifle (IR)
A weapon designed to be used by an individual soldier, that is capable of aimed, precise fire out to his maximum effective range.

Submachine Gun (SMG)
A weapon designed to be used by an individual soldier, that is capable of mobile, controlled fully automatic fire against close targets.

Automatic Rifle/Light Machine Gun (LMG)
A weapon designed to be carried, deployed, and used by an individual soldier, but often supported by others (e.g., ammunition bearers), that is capable of static automatic fire out to medium ranges beyond that of the Infantry Rifle.

Sniper/Marksman Rifle (DMR)**
A weapon designed to be used by an individual soldier, that is capable of aimed, precise fire to a greater degree than that of the Infantry Rifle, and which often enables the user to identify and attack targets out to further distances than that of the Infantry Rifle.

Echelon Weapon (PDW)
A weapon designed to be used by a rear line soldier or vehicle crewman, that is easier to use and capable of greater precision than a pistol, but which is lighter and often more compact than the Infantry Rifle.

*To avoid confusion, I should note that these are not definitions of the weapons themselves, but rather descriptions of the roles those weapons would perform.

**The modern incarnation of the designated marksman’s rifle concept was in its very infancy during World War II.

For the US Army in World War II, each of these roles would have been performed by a different weapon. The IR role would have been filled by the M1 Garand, the SMG by either the M1 Thompson or M3 Grease Gun, the AR/LMG by the M1918 BAR. The DMR concept had not yet been adopted by the US, but sniper weapons like the M1903A4 and M1D performed similar tasks, albeit at higher levels of organization than the squad. The US Army’s PDW duties were shared by handguns, submachine guns, and by the purpose-built M1 and M2 Carbines.

With the advent of the American assault rifle in the form of the M16, the weapons composition of the US Army could be dramatically simplified. By the early 1970s, the M16A1 had been adopted as the standard rifle for all US Army forces, replacing the M14. With this, the Army finally had a weapon which could perform all of the above roles. It was accurate and powerful enough to be an IR, was controllable enough on fully automatic to fill the shoes of the SMG, made a passable automatic rifle when fitted with a bipod, and sported provisions for optics allowing it to serve as a marksman’s rifle. Carbine versions of the M16 even filled the PDW role, although it wouldn’t be until the M4 Carbine that a true Army-wide M16-derived carbine was adopted.

Female trainees of the Aghan National Police qualify with Hungarian AMD-65 assault rifles at Kabul Military Training Center on April 13, 2010. The AMD-65 is a personal defense weapon variant of the famous Kalashnikov. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

 

It goes yet unsaid that this degree of standardization simply wouldn’t be possible with an assault rifle that was too expensive to produce in industrial quantities. In this way, the World War II submachine gun was more the parent of the assault rifle than the semiautomatic rifle, as expedient and scalable production techniques like stamping became an essential feature in virtually all post-war assault rifle designs. Although the wartime German MP.44 was not successfully implemented as a universal weapon, it too embodied this philosophy, being made of low-alloy stamped steel, and actually costing less per unit to make than the old Kar.98k bolt action rifles. In this way more than any other, the MP.44 was a milestone in assault rifle history, it being probably the first assault rifle type weapon to be production engineered in this way.

Original caption: “An Iraqi army soldier provides security on a joint patrol with U.S. Army Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment out of Vilseck, Germany, in the East Rashid district of Baghdad, Iraq.” He holds an RPK light machine gun which is based on the Kalashnikov assault rifle, but fitted with a longer, thicker barrel and bipod. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

 

This gives us a very clear picture of what the modern assault rifle truly is, and what it’s expected to do. The assault rifle is not just a convenient handheld automatic weapon with an effective range of about three football fields, but a weapon paradigm built around the needs of large-scale industrial warfare. It is functionally more like a mass-produced “all purpose submachine gun” than it is the traditional gravelbelly’s rifle, a sort of Model T of the automatic weapon world. In the decades since the end of World War II, the assault rifle has not completely crowded out other ideas (most notably, the dedicated full-caliber designated marksman rifle, and the belt-fed squad automatic weapon in the West), but its universality has been its defining trait. Unlike its specialist predecessors, the assault rifle is a generalist that can fill almost any individual weapon niche well.





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 nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

    Great read, sir
    flanker7

  • noob

    Hugo Schmeisser’s stamped steel MP44 did indeed embody the spirit of mass produced weapons with a true intermediate cartridge

    But didn’t Georgy Shpagin get his PPSh-41 out in 1941 equipping entire infantry regiments with stamped soviet steel? And didn’t those weapons chew their way right into the heart of Berlin?

    We recently saw a TFB article comparing the Tok trajectory and yes it does fall away when you start going to intermediate 300m ranges. I’m not claiming that you could put an acog on a PPSh-41 and call it a DMR.

    But we did note that asking the infantry to fight at closer ranges in the FN report opened the door to acceptance of intermediate cartridges and assault rifles in the first place.

    After the fabled “limited nuclear exchange” and before full MAD goes into effect, would the Fulda Gap mostly see MOPP 4 equipped infantry dismounting from armored personnel carriers at less than 100m to fight in ruined cities or moonscape-like no-man’s lands?

    In that case an alternate history the Cold War powers could well have standardized on the successor to the PPSh-41 or P90 – a simple easy to make and decontaminate mass produced blowback or semi-locked breech weapon with devastating short ranged firepower.

    It would be definitely easier to make and field than the cuckoo clock complexity of the HK G11 caseless.

    That way you could invest in your more survivable armored corps (who are the key to getting around the contaminated battlefield and transporting and decontaminating your infantry) and mount your longer ranged auto-cannons on the vehicles where they will be able to persist on the battlefield. Survival on the surface would be difficult at best outside a vehicle, so you’d only deploy infantry to go into structures too big to level with vehicles.

    I guess the actual historical cold war played out differently – Soviets fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan would have dearly wished for more range even from their true intermediate cartridge assault rifles.

    In Korea PPSh-41 in the form of the Chinese Type 50 variant was countered by spotters shooting tracers into the human wave attacks so the heavier weapons could destroy the troop formations before they could close to subgun distance.

    So the weapon is part of a system – you have to bring the lead to the target. Part of the way you transport it in a vehicle, part of the way it is carried by an individual in a magazine and part of the way it flies.

    The weapon for the job has to be considered along with the vehicles and terrain environment and the quest for a “universal” solution often is influenced by all the other supporting equipment that makes up that system

    • Jason Culligan

      The Mosin-Nagant was still the primary weapon of Soviet forces during WW2.

      The PPSh-41 had quite a few drawbacks when compared to the later SKS and AK pattern weapons or even contemporary SMG’s of the period. The fire rate was far too high for a conscript army (some versions matched the MG 42), the build quality and overall design was poor (good example, where do you grip the thing with your forward hand without holding a flimsy drum mag) and there were complaints about stopping power and suppressive capabilities at longer ranges.

      The AK was designed to take the best qualities of the PPSh and PPS-43 and address the shortcomings to produce a weapon that could be relied upon as a mass produced general purpose rifle.

      I really wouldn’t want to be on the front lines of an army equipped exclusively with PPSh-41’s.

      • Major Tom

        The Mosin-Nagant was the primary weapon of the Soviets in 1942. In 1943-44 it was the PPSH. In 1945, on paper it was to be the SKS but in practice it was a combination of previous stuff. (Then came this odd little man named Mikhail Kalashnikov and the SKS was not to be.)

        The PPSH was a weapon that embodied the needs of WW2 perfectly. Cheap, disposable, puts out tons of bullets so it can overpower just about anything. Only real drawback in terms of battlefield performance was it’s relatively low accuracy. (Although numerous reports suggest it was possible for well-maintained and better built PPSH’s to hit 200-300 meters on semi.) It was so well and effective that the allegedly “more professional” armies of the Germans routinely picked them up off Soviet forces and even tried to fit it into their logistics to varying degrees of success.

        As for armies exclusively armed with PPSH’s, you didn’t want to be on the business end of it. In urban engagements, those outfits tended to overmatch just about anything the Germans could throw at it except tanks.

      • Audie Bakerson

        At least the PPS-43 was pretty light for a machine gun of its era and cost (6.5 pounds. An MP40 weighed 8.75, the M3 8.15 and a Sten Mk2 weighed 7.1 pounds).

        • Blake

          & a Thompson M1928A1 weighs 10.8 lbs 🙂

          • iksnilol

            Whilst having the worst range of them all 😉

          • jcitizen

            I’ve never understood that – My M1928 could reach 1/4 mile easily, if you used the sites properly and fired down hill. Since infantry were supposed to take the high ground anyway, it made a good defensive weapon, and storming bunkers at close range wasn’t to bad either. It was stupid heavy though. I’m glad I never had to haul that thing around, especially with a couple of full 50 round drums. As much as I admired that thing I still traded it for an early 1927 A5, because of the aluminum receiver – anything to get that weight down.

          • iksnilol

            Well, my .22 can in theory kill somebody at 1600 meters. Though it’s a bit tough to get it there.

            Same applies to .45 acp. The getting there is though.

          • jcitizen

            I really doubt I could kill someone very easy at that range(that had a helmet on), because I noticed the bullet would skip an roll along the ground once it hit at that distance.

          • Audie Bakerson

            I didn’t include the Thompson because I consider it a different era of design, but yes it was stupidly heavy.

    • You’ve touched on something here. Let’s assume there are three basic elements in the true “assault rifle” paradigm:

      1. Meeting the technical requirements (Tony’s definition).

      2. Being cheap and mass produceable.

      3. Being used as a universal or near-universal infantry weapon.

      The MP.44 gets two out of those three (it didn’t quite get 3). The PPSh-41 and PPS-43… Also get two out of those three (2 and 3, up to battalion level). So do the Russian submachine guns deserve as much of a place in assault rifle history as the MP.44?

      It might sound ridiculous, but there’s a very real argument to be made that they do. I think the Russian experience fielding mass numbers of submachine guns definitely helped pave the way for their commitment to the intermediate caliber, and eventually the assault rifle itself.

      • The_Champ

        It is an interesting thought, and touches on some recent discussion on In-Range TV where Mac at HMG gave his thoughts on the STG44 after working so long on a reproduction version. His impression is that is was more of an evolution of the Submachine gun than the rifle.

        Likewise for the Soviets, it seems the AK-47 was that same evolution, coming from their experience with SMGs in WWII.

        • gunsandrockets

          The fact the German designation (before politics interfered) for their assault rifle was Maschinenkarabiner 1942 lends weight to that argument.

          “automatic carbine” certainly seems the most technically accurate and most simply descriptive form of what we now call the “assault rifle”.

          • The original designation was Schwere Maschinenpistole.

          • gunsandrockets

            Before the MKb 42? That’s news to me. Link?

          • Tritro29

            The program started as heavy SMG back in the late 30’s.

          • gunsandrockets

            Link?

          • Tritro29

            Would screens in German do? I see Nath has a lead in English.

          • It’s in Sturmgewehr, sorry.

          • gunsandrockets

            Perhaps you can at least explain why or how or when it was changed to MKb 42.

          • Screenies:

            http://i.imgur.com/CjtF6Kf.jpg

            http://i.imgur.com/eB4SJHT.jpg

            If you really want to know, you need to buy the book.

          • Which by the way means the sturmgewehrs went through no less than six designation changes over three years!

          • gunsandrockets

            … …

          • What are you still waiting for? I posted screenshots.

          • Zebra Dun

            Due to Hitler and Politics I believe.

        • int19h

          It’s worth remembering that Soviets didn’t actually develop AK as one-size-fits-all solution. The original technical requirements called for a complete set of firearms, designed around a single cartridge (M43), but covering different roles, namely:

          carbine – SKS
          submachine gun – AK
          light machine gun – RPD

          So yes, in this context, AK was really developed to replace the niche heretofore occupied by PPSh and PPS, and it was SKS that was supposed to replace Mosin. It took them some time to figure out that you don’t really need SKS if you have AK.

          • Right, it was more gradual than the usual narrative. I think the key point is that the Soviets were comfortable with a reduced power cartridge remarkably early (1943), and I think that had a lot to do with how effective submachine guns had proven even by that early point. I don’t know that anyone realized just how important the subgun would end up being in 1939.

          • gunsandrockets

            I don’t think that anyone in 1939 realized just how important the subgun would end up, including the Soviets!

          • The KP31 was initially a sort of quasi-LMG, so yeah. In 1939 I don’t think anybody understood how important SMGs were going to be.

      • Blake

        “In Korea PPSh-41 in the form of the Chinese Type 50 variant was countered by spotters shooting tracers into the human wave attacks so the heavier weapons could destroy the troop formations before they could close to subgun distance.”

        Sounds to me like the Soviets saw this type of counterattack coming a long way off. They certainly figured out in WWII that while their SMGs had a massive firepower advantage over bolt-actions, closing to SMG range while facing aimed Kar98K fire was no fun at all, & knew that bolt-actions were quickly going the way of the dodo. They got their AK-47 fielded by ’49 as a result.

        Clearly they had (as you pointed out) already figured out your points 2 & 3, & needed to get point 1 fixed ASAP. It would be very interesting to compare Soviet thinking of the time with this British analysis.

      • Joseph Roach

        I got one, the SCAR-H in a SBR configuration, maybe 10.5in barrel.

        1. Tech requirements: meets em handily, gets good punch. With a supressor (should be standard IMO) pleasure to shoot as well.

        2. Cheap: it’s only expensive because of FN markup and importation. Its really a badged-up AR-18 with a cheap manufacturing process, etrued aluminum upper and polymer lower ought to be 1000-1100 out the gate if made domestically.

        3. Universal: you can make it modular and add DMR function-upper. With some real tinkering you could make a belt-fed upper for squad weaponry. The short length and foldable stock make it a near-pdw for portability. Having only m80 ball as ammo and one true lower for all rifles does wonders for logistical capability.

        • Well, I would hope that a gun designed in the early 2000s as an assault rifle would actually qualify as an assault rifle!

      • cawpin

        Why are we suddenly trying to change the definition of “assault rifle?” It has been defined and well understood for nearly 75 years. A select fire weapon firing an intermediate cartridge, usually with a detachable magazine.

        • I am not trying to change the definition. I think there is a whole lot of important context that is lost in the standard narrative about the assault rifles, and I’d like to help change that.

    • The_Champ

      I do wonder how much of the mass sub-gun use was simply out of desperation on the part of the Soviets. They could be made quickly and cheaply, so they were. Does that mean they accidentally stumbled on a superior way to arm a platoon or company?

      Sten guns were made by the millions as well, but ultimately the western Allies were able to produce enough of their more conventional arms, and you didn’t see entire platoons and companies equipped with sub guns.

      Had the Soviets managed to mass issue SVT-40s to every infantryman, and enough machine guns as well, would their formations have faired better or worse?

      • iksnilol

        I think the cartridge has something to do with it. It ain’t unrealistic to engage at 200 meters with the Tokarev if you fire 5 round or so bursts. Much harder with a 9mm.

        • The_Champ

          Do 10-15 inches of drop at that range really make hitting a target that much harder? With either round at that distance from a subgun you are just lobbing lead out in the general direction of the enemy. I believe 9mm even carries a little more energy out there.

          I don’t really buy the notion that the 7.62 x 25 cartridge made Soviet subguns some sort of super weapon vastly superior to the subguns used by other nations. They just seemingly pushed them to the front line in much higher numbers.

          High numbers of SMG’s with your front line infantry probably worked well in some combat scenarios, and not so well in others.

          • iksnilol

            I dunno, I know that Yugoslavia tested different SMGs, and they had better hit rate at 200 meters with the 7.62×25 than 9mm. I think it is less due to drop and more due to less recoil of the 7.62 vs 9mm.

            Shoutout to the STEN which had 80% hit rate at 50 meters (whilst all the other SMGs had 95%), though.

            I just wish I could find that document again. It was some WW2 era document.

          • The_Champ

            Hah, I don’t think you’ll find many people to argue that the Sten represented a refined and great sub gun. But it worked(sometimes), and was 1/20th the cost of a Thompson.

            Now the Owen gun, that’s where it’s at. If only the Brits has mass produced that big beauty.

          • iksnilol

            Whaaaat, STEN is a beauty of cheap manufacturing.

            But yeah, they tested the M56, MP40, Beretta 1938, Thompson and Sten, possibly others but I doubt it.

            I think they had the best accuracy with the Beretta, best range with the M56 and handiness was split between MP40 and M56.

            I am going from memory now, so I might be a bit off.

          • Zebra Dun

            If a man can competently piss holes in the snow and get good groups he can be trained to shoot a Submachine gun such as the PPSH using the same method and do quite well after riding a Tank into range of the enemy who he can with his buddies drench the area in a deluge 7.62 x 25 Tok. as he assaults through the position.
            Gaining fire superiority is the main plan. The Tanks will be safe from anti tank weapons and mop up.

    • gunsandrockets

      In a practical tactical or logistic sense, it’s hard to see what gain is achieved by equipping barely trained peasants with a Type 56 assault rifle instead of a Type 50 SMG!

      • That’s a great point. In a pre-optics era with conscript forces with minimal training, a low recoil, 71rd buzz gun likely has a much higher hit probability then a more powerful, lower capacity and harder to control assault rifle, especially in the brutal street fighting seen in the Eastern front / push to Berlin.

        • gunsandrockets

          I believe the Chinese Type 50 in practice was only issued with a box magazine, not a drum. Which makes it even more like a poor man’s AK!

  • Bill

    “The Rifle cartridge is too power and ranges too far…”

    Said no one, ever. It may be heavy to carry bunches of, be more difficult and expensive to train on and in some settings pose an excessive risk of over-penetration, but there isn’t such a critter as too much power and too long ranged, or whatever that means.

    Even with my dimming eyesight I still subscribe to the “If I can see it, I can hit it” school of thought, optics included. And if I can hit it, I want the terminal ballistics to be effective and not an annoyance.

    • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

      I’d say, more things take place in general weapon manipulation in war than just the “targeting” part.
      Most have to do with weight and volume.
      Too powerful would be the burden to carry a weapon/cartridge whose potentials in range and effect would not be needed in most cases, and in those cases that they would actually be needed they would not be needed to be employed by everybody

    • Jason Culligan

      Except every major military in the globe you mean?

      I remember reading an article online which claimed that units switching from 7.62 NATO to 5.56 saw increased overall levels of accuracy. Whether it’s true or not, I can see the logic.

      Not every soldier is an experienced shooter that can use the 7.62 NATO to full effect. It’s overkill for the average conscript who’s job it is to keep enemy heads down and take ground. Armies around the globe tend to agree that battle rifles are just overkill for the average foot soldier.

      • Major Tom

        Until recently that is. The last 16 years have ushered a mild bit of decline in the traditional assault rifle firing SCHV and a renaissance of the battle rifle.

        If what military planners and academics were saying was 100% true, there’d be no need for improving M855/SS109 ammunition for better effects at range. There’d be no need for .308/7.62 caliber DMR’s and machine guns. But instead we get things like Afghanistan that like Vietnam and Korea before it, completely discards the traditional academic conclusions of wars past. Things like Project: SALVO don’t survive contact with the enemy, build an army based on stuff like that and the enemy will simply fail to fight according to your wants.

        • Paul Epstein

          So, by your logic, the M14 should have come out of the war in Vietnam with stellar reviews due to it’s full power cartridge?

          Afghanistan is an *unusually* wide open battlefield. The extended ranges you’re talking about don’t resemble fighting in most wars the US has been in, and that includes Iraq. Or, for that matter, most places we can foresee going to war.

          Your post is the worst example of ‘fighting the last war over again’ that I’ve seen any time recently. Most campaigns will not resemble Afghanistan in the slightest, we’d be complete and utter morons to try and base our entire military around a need that will likely not exist.

          • Major Tom

            Unfortunately the genie’s out of the bottle, why would any enemy go back to the way of academics when there’s a known weakness in assault rifle using armies?

            The idea of a permanently under 300 meters battlefield is one for 1812, not the modern day. Especially with the so called modern world’s obsession with reducing collateral at the expense of the mission. In the future, we won’t always be able to call in artillery or airstrikes on targets peppering us from out of our comfort zone.

          • Jason Culligan

            Major Tom, I understand your reasoning but I must disagree.

            The effective range of an M16 with iron sights and an M14 with iron sights isn’t much different. Equipping an entire force with M14’s with ACOG’s to exploit the alleged range advantage would be ridiculously expensive and heavy for the average soldier.

            Statistics are now showing that the M855A1 is more than capable of giving the 7.62 NATO a run for it’s money out to ranges of 600-800m. Also bare in mind that most major nations use some form of intermediate cartridge as their primary round while insurgent forces rely on small numbers of specialist weapons to get this ‘range advantage’.

            The US Military coming to the conclusion that the Soviets reached in the 1960’s (namely that a squad armed with intermediates should have a DMR that can hit out to longer ranges) has effectively nullified that ‘range advantage’ that you’re talking about.

          • That actually brings up an interesting question, which is, what is the minimum velocity required for the new M855A1 and M80A1 to fragment? If it’s down to 1700fps, then the 5.56 M855A1 would be terminally effective to 500 yards or more (depending on what the BC is.) That’s well past the original 3-300 yard role of the Sturmgewehr.

          • Great test!

            Curious to see what the minimum is for M855A1. I know from the Chopping Block’s test of the 62gr Fusion (which they downloaded to 14gr’s powder to simulate a 475yrd shot) that the Fusion still expands down at 1700fps.

            With the much better BC of the M855A1, if it can fragment at 1700, it would be beyond 500 yards.

          • nana

            M14 even in EBR form sucked in Afghanistan as well. You know what didn’t suck? The FAMAS, it’s very accurate and served as DMR with suitable optic. Problem solved.

        • nabba

          The need to improve ammunition performance is due to the shortcomings of the AR/traditional rifle platform, bullpup users say thanks for the upgraded bullets.

      • iksnilol

        Especially considering that 5.56 and 7.62 NATO have about the same effective range.

        • FarmerB

          errr, not sure one would 100% accept that. A particular platform (iron sights, etc) firing either round might have the same effective range. But the cartridges do not. Because once you add optics, maybe even a spotter, a bit better accuracy, and bad guys you want to kill, then I know which path I’m taking 🙂

          • iksnilol

            5.56 can be stretched out to 800 meters, and has been stretched out to 1000 (meters or yards, can’t remember which). This was with irons of course. Some 80’s testing comparing the AK-74 with the M16. At least according to the DTIC. 7.62×51 isn’t recommended by the US Army to be used past 800 meters, can be stretched out to 900 meters (1000 yards) or so. I sorta trust the US Army in shooting stuff, they’ve been doing it a smidge more than me, you see.

            Suuure, you can fire at a farther distance if you laser measure the distance, and carefuly and leisurely plot in ballistic data. But using that logic the .338 lapua would be redundant since you could to the same with 6.5×55.

            308 sucks, it’s only here because there’s massive inertia behind it. Sorry to poop on your parade.

          • FarmerB

            Yeah well, I shoot both out to 1100-1200m both with standard rifles, carbines and bolt guns – irons and optics. An iron sighted auto rifle with no spotter – there’s little difference out to (say) 400-450m (the limiting factor is whether you can see shots landing). But even M80 ball is effective out to 900-950m with good optics – much further with better bullets. But the 5.56 just struggles out there – even out of a bolt gun (we’ve tried – a lot – without going to 80-90 gn projectiles). I’d put the “limit” at about 800m (it’s not a hard limit and in fact I’d doubt the terminal performance of 5.56 at 800m). Lastly, I don’t take the 338 out of the bag unless it’s >1100m.

          • jcitizen

            We were taught to plan our fire zones to start at minimum 1100 meters with the M60 LMG. The strategy was, that engaging the enemy early to disrupt the attack was the smart way to go. Try and hurt them early while they are somewhat out of range for their intermediate cartridge AKs. Consequently all ARTEP field exercises involving fields of fire were graded on this standard in US training.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, MGs are a bit different than infantry rifles. I oughta find that military manual that said 800 meters.

          • jcitizen

            Yeah, for the M249 – for the M60 it was 1100 meters. That is always gauged with the word “effective”. I don’t think anyone would accuse an LMG of being accurate – cone of fire and all.

      • lammmd

        The extra recoil, noise and blast of the 7.62 interferes with the shooters comfort, which increases stress, reduces morale and reduces accuracy. II think recent militaries which have adopted this calibre may believe that this extra discomfort increases the morale of troops, sort of like hitting someone over the head repeatedly with a ruler increases math test performance.

    • LH

      In my time in the german military, I shot both the G36 and the G3 to which the G36 was the succesor to, and even with 6″ 2′, I would not want to have the G3 outside of the DMR role.

      • Klaus

        I’m curious,can you be more specific?

    • SCHV

      Its not about energy, rather recoil (which is 193% to 374% increased). And 5.56×45 M855A1 has excellent penetration and terminal ballistic. Also goes supersonic to 800yards anyways, just like 7.62×51. For half the weight, more mag capacity, as said MUCH less recoil, higher %hit propability in urban combat under stress.

      And good luck finding a ripped appart arm by instantly fragmenting M855A1 EPR used since 6years, or totally shredded guts and lungs, or shredded neck just an “annoyance”.

    • iksnilol

      Why use 7.62 then? Why not .338 Lapua?

      • Lederhosen-Man

        We need 80cm schwerer Gustav Rifles then!

        • iksnilol

          I like the cut of your lederhosen.

        • gunsandrockets

          Nah, bring back the 57mm M18a1 RCL rifles! Now with laser range finders!

          • jcitizen

            M3 MAAWS – but it sure gives your position away to the enemy.

          • gunsandrockets

            I’ve wondered how many rounds the M3 could fire quickly before the barrel threatens to start delaminating!

            IIRC, the old aluminum M67 90mm RCL rifle, though lightweight also had a serious limit on rate of fire due to overheating.

          • jcitizen

            It was surprising to me to find out how thin a barrel you can get away with on almost any rifle. I would think it not too difficult to damage an RCLR if one weren’t careful.

      • Bill

        Because I can’t buy .338 Lapua at the gas station?

        • iksnilol

          But muslims are buying gas stations en masse to prepare for jihad. Why would you support the enemy?

          (feel like I should put a /sarcasm tag for safeties sake).

    • gunsandrockets

      Sights matter more than caliber when it comes to limitations of true effective range.

      • Well, the combination of sights + fragmentation range of the projectile is really what determines the mechanical aspects of the effective range.

        • It’s usually the penetration of a helmet, actually.

          • I think thats a bit of antiquated standard; the M855A1 defeats IIIA out to 1,000 meters, but calling it a 1,000 meter cartridge would be a bit generous.

            Also, since we’re fighting enemies without helmets, who are high on suicidal ideology and Captagon, the standard might need revising.

            I would say the cartridges effective range is the distance at which the given projectile will expand, fragment, or reliably yaw within the first 3.”

            And the rifle/optics system’s effective range is the distance the shooter can hit a prone rifleman (so a Trapezoidish shape 18″ wide at the base, 12″ tall, with a 6″ plateau at the top) without adjusting the sights from the combat zero.

          • Yes, it’s antiquated but it is often how these things are measured, still.

          • Reminds me of some of the older tests that measured pine board penetration as a standard of effective range.

          • SCHV

            Often its supersonic range, where you loose a great deal of accuracy and your supersonic supression crack. Thats for Rifles, while LMG’s are volume of fire weapons where you can just lob bullets at a target and hit per chance therefore its effective range is higher.

          • That also seems overgenerous in terms of effective range; at 1126 ft/s the M855A1 is clocking 175 ft/lbs, yet is still supersonic range.

            At least for the purpose of academic discussion (as opposed to discussion within a maddening bureaucracy) a more realistic effective range that takes into account terminal ballistics and combat zero would be preferable.

      • Bill

        The best sights in the world wont make a .22 LR or .45-.70 anything but short range cartridges.

        • gunsandrockets

          If you say so…

          😀

          • Bill

            Yeah, I saw “Quigley Down Under” too, but it still has the trajectory of a punkin chunker and is at home at short ranges in the woods.

            I hit a plate at just under 400 yards with a 1911. Once. After a bunch of attempts. You could measure the time between the shot and the hit with a sundial.

    • I can think of a bunch of counter-examples. M2 Ball, for one.

      • Bill

        That’s being obtuse. When you shoot someone, you want to shoot them with the most effective cartridge practicable. If your only goal is to scare them into keeping their heads down at short range, a baseball pitching machine would work. Now THAT’S how to be obtuse.

        I’m guessing that you are looking at it from a strictly military perspective, whereas I’m looking at it from a LE perspective. At my house I might need to take a shot at anywhere from single digit feet to well over 300 meters, like from ridgeline to ridgeline. I don’t have to go on patrol carrying 300 rounds on my person, but I do have to go on patrol with something that can prosecute any reasonable foreseeable threat.

        • It’s not being obtuse, it’s directly addressing your assertion:

          “Said no one, ever. It may be heavy to carry bunches of, be more difficult and expensive to train on and in some settings pose an excessive risk of over-penetration, but there isn’t such a critter as too much power and too long ranged, or whatever that means.”

          Your second paragraph says something to the effect of “I want to have good terminal effectiveness if I can hit something”, which sort of clarifies the earlier paragraph and narrows its scope, however it also implicitly counters your own argument. See?

          “IF I can hit it, I want the terminal ballistics to be effective and not an annoyance…

          …It may be heavy to carry bunches of”

          This is exactly the same math being used by the person you are aiming to refute.

          • Bill

            Not really. The goal of shooting is to hit, and the goal of hitting is to anchor your target. The idea of X meter guns and Y meter guns ignores the fact that fights are dynamic, fluid, and can range from one extreme to the other. You have to fight with what you brought, and if that’s a weapon that only fills one end of the spectrum, you’re screwed. You’re equally screwed if you’ve only trained for one end of the spectrum.

            I get this from LE snipers all the time: “our shots average under 50 meters.” That may be, but by definition “average” means that some them are much farther, and I can walk outside of most places and point out a 400 to 1000 meter “shot” without much trying, not that we’d take a 1000 meter shot often in domestic LE.

          • “The goal of shooting is to hit, and the goal of hitting is to anchor your target.”

            Maybe for the hunter it is, but not in the military it’s not.

          • Bill

            I don’t claim any expertise in the field and will leave it to greater minds than mine to parse THAT statement. I also don’t have the luxury of artillery, air support or suppressive fire. I’ll go back to streetfighting now.

  • MPWS

    You just described AK, imo. The question to ask is what is proportion of small arms fire in all out conflict which we did not see since Korean war and which is (almost) inevitably upon us. I’d say, rather small and insignificant.

    Excellent write-up btw.; as usual with NathanielF.

    • clampdown

      That’s what I was thinking. The AK set the standard for universality. A standard infantryman familiar with the AK manual of arms can pick up a -47, AKM, -74, RPK, SVD, or any of the various AK sub-guns over the years and know exactly how to run the weapon somewhat effectively. We see our Marine Corps trying to accomplish this now with the whole LMG/DMR AR hybrid concept.

      • nabba

        France seems to be following their example with a vengeance with their new rifle.

    • SCHV

      Not since the Korean war? What about Iraq?

      • MPWS

        That was more of technology thing. Smart this, smart that. Less of infantry slogging.

  • gunsandrockets

    I don’t think there is any doubt that a desire for standardization influenced Cold War small arms production. Also the difficulty of training mass conscript infantry were readily apparent and influential in Cold War small arms doctrine of the worlds armies.

    And those ideas and doctrines were wrong.

    The desire for standardization always seems to take root in times of peace, and always seems to get quickly discarded when tested by actual warfare.

    For example the notion that a universal assault rifle would ease infantry training efforts is nonsensical. What makes infantry training difficult isn’t the myriad of weapons that an infantryman must use, it is the myriad of different shooting tasks an infantryman must do. And a universal weapon actually makes training more difficult, because a universal weapon by it’s nature must embody compromises to do multiple tasks halfway adequately.

    Let’s take a look at the French FAMAS as an example. From it’s various features it clearly is intended for and capable of a variety of roles, from compact SMG to accurate riflery to grenade launching and bipod supported automatic fire. But that is four quite different roles. How much training would an infantryman with a FAMAS need, to do all four jobs with adequate competence?

    No, specialization of the infantryman is the route to economy of training, not the issuing of a universal assault rifle.

    • nabams

      “the myriad of different shooting tasks an infantryman must do. ” exactly and if you overspecialize his weapon, he is barely able to do some shooting tasks. Clearing inside small mud huts with a M16 for example.
      The FAMAS was a success, while the U.S has gone through many iterations of the AR platform, and still fields two separate platforms (M4 and M16) along with pistols, the FAMAS has remained virtually unchanged. Thus it has achieved both economy of training and cost, while being as effective as the M4/M16 and it’s derivatives.
      Over specialization of the infantrymans weapon restricts his ability to fight. The concept of a universal assault rifle instead allows for the quick modification of the rifle by the soldier in the field to fit his circumstance. Allowing him to quickly exploit any weakness in the enemie defence or face new forms of attack.

      • gunsandrockets

        Plenty of people throw shade at the FAMAS. I am not one of them.

        My problem is with the promotion of the concept of the ‘universal general purpose shoulder weapon’ and the magical thinking which usually surrounds such a concept.

        And even though I favor specialized weapons for equipping an infantry force, that doesn’t mean that a general purpose firearm like the FAMAS has no place. In fact for the paratrooper job, the FAMAS is an excellent tool.

    • The USMC would disagree, as they adopted the M27 IAR to replace the M249 for exactly the reason of easing training.

      • gunsandrockets

        You are all wet about the M27 IAR. The M249 was replaced because it was too heavy and too clumsy to fit the USMC preferred doctrine for squad/platoon tactics. Standardization was not the reason the USMC adapted the H&K for the Individual Automatic Rifle. H&K just beat the other competitors during the IAR testing and evaluation.

        And you certainly missed my point about training. Training economy is accomplished by INDIVIDUAL task specialization, regardless of what specific weapon an infantryman is trained with. You don’t try to train every single infantryman to do every type of task with equal skill.

        No matter how much the peace-time thinkers want it, the days of uniformly equipped and trained infantry ended with WWI.

        • kakkand

          “You shouldn’t try to train every single infantryman to do every type of task with equal skill.”
          That seems to be exactly what is happening in the best small militaries (Australia for example). They can do it all! is the motto. After all, real skill is only gained in actual battle, during which some soldiers excel at some roles better than others. Sot hey are getting qualified for everything, and that suggests they also need a rifle that can do it all or can quickly be modified to do it, the F90 Atrax seems to be this new generation of rifle that accomplishes this with a quick change upper including optics, got from 14 to 20 inch dmr, integrally suppressed upper, 7.62 upper may also be in the works, and probably multishot grenade launcher upper, combine this with the quick change grenade launcher or shotgun breacher. And you have a rifle that really is designed to be universal. They’ll probably also have a Laser designator upper as well.

      • roguetechie

        Nathaniel,

        TBF that’s sort of a loaded example because the M249 also happens to be a pretty piss poor machine gun in a few pretty key ways…

        There’s also the fact that there’s only so many hours in a year the USMC can dedicate to training once one is out of basic and their job specific initial training.

        Unfortunately for individual soldiers, the USMC as an organization, American overseas interests, and the national security of our country choices have been made both in funds allocation and what the department of defense has allowed civilian leaders etc to prioritize over development of skillsets necessary to successfully prosecute the fighting part of warfare have become a distant last priority if time, funds, and other things allow!

        Obviously I see this as an issue.

        However, none of what I have just said should be construed as disagreement with your assertions. I very much agree with what you said.

        • The M249 is a fine weapon, they’re just getting old, and they don’t fit well with the USMC’s mission.

          • roguetechie

            Personally I don’t like it, and believe that it never should’ve won.

          • roguetechie

            To put it a different way, I think we’d have been much better served by adopting the Rodman Labs developed and Philco Ford refined XM248.

            I genuinely believe that it was the better gun. (it was definitely the LIGHTER gun!)

            It’s ability to convert to 7.62 NATO would have been much more useful than the 249’s magazine port.

            Had things went differently and the 248 been selected I could also see later versions completely displacing the M240 series of guns too.

            I genuinely believe that we could have avoided the mark 46/48 & 240L mess entirely!

            It’s adaptability and innovative construction would really pay off these days, however I’ll spare you guys the whole litany since I’ve already subjected you to it a dozen times.

          • Keep in mind, the XM235’s concept did not allow for ambidextrous operation, which was an Army requirement. Once the design was changed to the XM248 to allow ambidextrous firing, its best qualities were lost. I do like the 235/248 as well, but the M249’s biggest problems are weight and the age of the US Army’s fleet.

            I think we can do a lot better now, with FEA. It’s definitely time for a new, modern LMG design. The LSAT/CTSAS LMG is one good example of that, although I would also like to see FEA-engineered designs in conventional calibers as well.

    • int19h

      > The desire for standardization always seems to take root in times of peace, and always seems to get quickly discarded when tested by actual warfare.

      That makes no sense at all, given that the intermediate cartridge concept (which is really at the root of standardization here) has been developed by both Germans and Soviets at wartime. Indeed, for Soviets, it was during the worst fighting they’ve ever seen before, when defeat did not seem unlikely.

      • I hear a lot of this sort of thing, that this thing or another is a “peacetime idea”. In some cases that is sort of true, except that for many “peacetime” meant “only a few years after a major war once all the data collection and analysis had been completed”. So not informed by peacetime operations, but by the war they just fought!

        • autofull– kevin horning

          cool idea if everyone got along and no wars to fight. perfect for the world police division.

      • gunsandrockets

        The immediate post war plan of the Soviet Union was for three new weapons, the AK to replace SMG, the SKS to replace Mosin-Nagant rifles and the RPD to replace the DP LMG. The only standardization there was the cartridge.

        • int19h

          Yes, I’m well aware (indeed, I posted a comment about that exact thing just above). But standardization on a single cartridge is a big part of what made assault rifles attractive. It’s just that they didn’t fully realize that having a single cartridge made separate carbine and SMG roles redundant right away – but it was obvious enough that less than 10 years after both were in service, they ditched SKS and converged on AK. That was inevitable once the decision to use a single cartridge was made – and *that* was made during wartime.

  • Wolfgar

    The quest for a definition that was already answered years ago. Since the STG44 set the standard shouldn’t the question be why isn’t it called a storm gun instead of an assault rifle? If you want to confuse people more just ask them what the difference is between a missile and rocket. Anyone—Anyone……

    • iksnilol

      Missile = guided
      Rocket = not guided

      Simple.

      • Wolfgar

        You would be surprised of the amount of people who don’t know that. Good job!

        • iksnilol

          I… I learnt it from playing a space game on my phone. Galaxy on Fire 2. Rockets were cheap and unguided whilst the missiles were guided (and thus more expensive). German game developers, really are precise.

      • Major Tom

        Does that make DAGR, laser-guided Zuni, APKWS, and more a type of missile or simply guided rockets?

      • gunsandrockets

        But that is only because the contemporary use of the term “missile” originated as a contraction of the term “guided missile”, and usually only in an English speaking context.

        More generally, “rockets” are used to describe rockets with guidance systems as well as free-flight unguided rockets.

        Most specifically rockets refer to specific form of propulsion, a rocket engine, which (most commonly) is jet propulsion using fully self-contained propellents which create a high velocity jet exhaust via exothermic chemical reaction.

        “guided missiles” might use any old sort of propulsion: pulse jets, ram jets, turbofans, rockets, or even no propulsion at all in the form of glide-bombs.

        • Wolfgar

          The definition of a missile and rocket described by iksnilol is also the correct definition used by the 341st missile wing at Malmstrom AFB. According to the 341st the propulsion means nothing yet I have read the definition described by the propulsion such as your example. Thus the confusion compared to the definition, purpose of the assault rifle, storm gun, etc and my case in point.

        • FarmerB

          So guided missiles and unguided rockets both have rockets as engines? 🙂 The “missile” term actually came from Latin – and referred to something that was thrown. In British English, that term is still common – e.g. to describe fans at a football match throwing missiles onto the pitch. Don’t notice it used that much in American English.

          • gunsandrockets

            Just as “bullets” was first used to describe sling “missiles”.

    • .45

      My understanding is that a missile is “smart”, I.E. guided or seeking in flight, and that a rocket is ” dumb”, and simply flies more or less straight forward after being fired.

      I’ll take “What is a rhetorical question for $500, Alex.”

  • Johannes von’ Strauch

    Well written ?.

    • Sgt. Stedenko

      At least somebody at TFB works weekends.
      Phil is too busy eating, Nick C is running around the mall, ninja style, Pete is doing stand up, James is pumping iron and Patrick needs his leprechaun sleep.

      • Wolfgar

        Patrick is about or just had an addition to his family, he wont know what sleep is for a long time.

        • Baby boy was born a few days ago.

          • Wolfgar

            Congratulations to Patrick and his better half. 🙂

          • Leprechaun-Chief

            Does he also have red hair and beard?

        • iksnilol

          He has has been preparing for this for years. Finally his energy reserves will be of use.

          Seriously, poor guy will be chasing sleep so much he won’t be focusing much on food. Just wait and see.

          • Wolfgar

            I heard the Navy Seals tried this for Hell week, but no one was able to complete it.

  • Patrick Duffy

    Recently a 20 year Royal Marine stated that he had drilled soldiers with the SA80 but would not want to go into battle with it. It came up short (no pun intended) in Afghanistan with the Paras being first in asking for FN FALs (L1A1SLR) to be sent as support rifles. Unfortunately most were sold to Pakistan & India in the 1980’s. A retired USMC Major was telling me that likewise they wanted M14s out there. The 5.56 did not have the range and hitting power for the situation. The idea of a rifle that can be configured to suit the situation is a good one. Maybe the 300 Blackout is a reasonable compromise as a caliber?

    • CommonSense23

      300BLK has far less range than 5.56. The M14 isn’t going to do anything for us in Afghanistan. A 7.62 rifle isn’t going to match a PKM or a DSHK.

      • SCHV

        Correct. And an M249 with bidpod and 200rounds of M855A1 EPR can match/if not outperform a PKM which has the same supersonic range. Because beyond that range its all about volume of fire, and hit propability %.

    • SCHV

      You have no idea what youre talking about, and no diea about aerodynamics, in actual combat .300blk is a piece of sh*t compared to 5.56×45. The trajectory, supersonic range and fragmentation range of .300blk is hilarious and useless for combat.

      Also M855A1 EPR is used since 6years and its DAMN great.
      Better penetration than 7.62×51 M80. Extrem fast fragmentation in flesh, fragmentation range to 600meter.

      And about 7.62×51: “You get excellent penetration and exellent terminal ballistic with 5.56×45 M855A1 EPR. For half the weight => double the rounds to carry. Higher magazin capacity. Less than half the recoil (2.84 lbs-sec recoil impulse and 18.51 ft-lbf recoil energy, while 5.56×45 at 1852J has 1.47lbs-sec and 4.94 ft-lbf, thats a diffrence of 193% and 374% !) -> higher % hit propability, which can make an extrem diffrence in urban combat! And if you argument about “tearing up cover with tha 7.62×51” … you got twice the rounds with 5.56 and much less than half the recoil so it works perfectly fine, also it has a higher energy to weight ratio and you have 10more rounds in a mag.
      And BOTH are supersonic to 800y anyways, no diffrence there, (going subsonic = accuracy and supression loss)

      In everything 5.56×45 performs better than 7.62×51 inside usual ranges, at higher range, 7.62×51 has a bit less wind drift, but overall still sucks a lot because its terrible bad shape.

      Additionally the Parts of 7.62×51 Rifles are more heavy (barrel, bolt carrier, etc), and one interesting detail is that due to the longer action, you get a shorter barrel lenght for the same overall lenght.

      And to terminal ballistic-> as said M855A1 EPR is extremly good, even beyond its fragmentation range of 600meter. What the heck do he mean with “power”… just think about the fragile human body, its a sack filled with vital organs, a skull with a brain, and arms&legs with bones that get shattered in them and muscles that can snap and therefore take people out of combat, at such range noone will happly advance further at you when hit. And at any inside 600meter, M855A1 fragments, rips appart legs&arms, shred organs, lungs, necks, skulls.
      Ask someone shot by M855A1 EPR if he feels a diffrence to 7.62×51…. if you still get an answer…

      • Patrick Duffy

        Well the reports I read on the 300 blackout was that it had a similar performance to the 7.62×39 and of course you can swap barrels in and out with a AR type rifle so seems a benefit to me. However you seem to be an overly aggressive person in your reply and I was only a Royal Marine for a short time compared to the opinion of the 20 year RM NCO with much battle experience I was passing on. Their 5.56 did not have the reach which is why they wanted a 7.62 FAL or similar to give them reach and impact. Of course the RM snipers us Accuracy International in 338 Lapau. I believe a British Soldier hold the record for the longest kill with one of those?

        • SCHV

          Wrong, read it again. I dont care about peoples feelings, physic doesnt change one bit.

          • SCHV

            * it also depends on that they do NOT have M855A1 EPR as far as i know.
            And M855A1 does change the entire equasion.

          • Patrick Duffy

            That is a problem with people today. No respect, no manners and poor vocabulary.

          • SCHV

            ? physic dont change for you and anyone else, so what are you talking about.

          • Patrick Duffy

            What you meant to say was ” The laws of physics do not change…” My point made. Thank you and goodbye.

          • SCHV

            Bye.

        • CommonSense23

          You realize 5.56 has better range than 7.62×39 right?

          • Patrick Duffy

            Quote fro a test “The 55 grain .223 bullet isn’t even in the game when compared to the performance of the 300 BLK. In an AR-15 platform, there really is nothing that the 5.56 round can do that the 300 BLK can’t do better. ..”

          • CommonSense23

            Where are you getting this really bad info from. Its not even close to be anywhere close to accurate. Penetration is better with 5.56 rounds, better range and bullet design. Terminal ballistics favors most 5.56 rounds. The point of 300BLK was a specialized round for suppressed close range purposes.

          • Patrick Duffy

            Shooting times for one and Guns & Ammo but I guess they can be wrong. Personally I have a 7.62 Bolt action and a Mini14 5.56

          • SCHV

            Stupid info. Its easy to compare it to 55grain… its bs. 62grain / 70grain / 77grain is far diffrent.
            5.56×45 has a MUCH higher supersonic range = longer accurate range, longer supression range.
            Has a MUCH flatter trajectory, while the .300blk trajectory is just incredible hilarious, and fully USELESS for an actual military.
            Due to its velocity has much higher fragmentation range with HP/OTM/EPR.
            And with FMJ it tumbles much faster, compared to the utterly slow .300blk.

            Has WAY better Energy-vs-Recoil relation. KE=1/2m x v² while p=m x v. It has the same Energy while having less recoil = higher % hit propability = more usefull in actual combat under stress.

            And .300blk weights more while having the same energy, thats just stupid. = less rounds to carry.

            And .300blk sucks utterly against steel. While 5.56×45 outperforms 7.62×51 at steel.

            It would NEVER EVER be adopted as main round, thats the most stupid thing that could ever be done. A metal bottleneck cartridge has anyways no change to become adopted from now on, cylindrical polymer cartridges are serval dozend times better in every single aspect.

        • annsb

          .300 blackout is for use with silencer, it’s even in the name ‘blackout’ as in covert. It replaces the mp5sd and perhaps even the 9mm pistol with suppressor. It offers increased lethality (both in ballistics and ergonomics) along with some weight savings. (due to just being an upper and using ar mags). That’s it really, since it’s subsonic it’s going to be inferior in every sense, but still vastly superior to subsonic 9mm, which is why it’s being adopted.

  • idahoguy101

    The insistence by U.S. Army Ordinance Corp that the replacement for the .30/06 cartridge made the 7.62NATO. This was a reversal of the intermediate 276 Pederson cartridge that the M1 Garland rifle was supposed to shoot.

    The 7.62NATO was powerful for automatic fire. The M14 rifle too long. Go forward to the Vietnam war and the 22 caliber M16 rifle replaced the M14.

    Neither the 7.62NATO nor the 5.56NATO are perfect. But with billions of cartridges made that’s what there is.

    • SCHV

      Yes, and its not really the caliber, thats what people often tend to missunderstand. With a good aerodynamic shape, 5.56×45 gets incredible performance with verry high supersonic range, flat trajectory, and good energy retention. And the M855A1 EPR construction gives it excellent penetration, terminal ballistic and fragmentation range.
      People tend to increase caliber but make worse the shape, and then wonder why they end up with a useless cartridge, that is also too heavy to carry enough of.

      • iksnilol

        Too bad the AR magwell sucks, you could get much better performance outta 5.56 with heavier more aerodynamic bullets seated far out.

        • SCHV

          Jup.

          But youre wrong with heavy, more weight only creates a hinder, shape is the way to go.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah you don’t understand, a 77 grain 5.56 bullet has a waaaaaaay better shape than a 55 grain bullet (which the AR was originally designed with in mind). And a 90 grain bullet has even better shape in the same caliber (because it was specifically designed to maximize range, but sadly, Stoners stoned magwell means you have to single load it).

            To get those bullets to work in an AR you need to eat up case capacity something fierce or single load (which is obviously outta the question).

            IF you wanted to save weight while imrpoving range you’d need to go down a caliber. Go down to 4.5mm with 64 grain bullets.

          • SCHV

            Dude, if you use perfect shape and normal weight you get a really good bc and high velocity, high supersonic range, high accurate range, flat trajectory. And high steel penetration. You dont get that with a slow round.
            And you cant make a 77grain 5.56 EPR bullet anyways.

          • iksnilol

            “perfect shape” isn’t really a thing. It’s subjective. For me, a longer range is better, so a 90 grain bullet in the same caliber is more “perfect” from my standpoint, whilst in regards to makign ammo lightweight a 40 grain bullet is more “perfect”.

            5.56 is capable of wicked performance, but it is hobbled by the magwell. If the magwell wasn’t stupid like it is, you could have a 90 grain bullet with slightly less velocity than the 55 grain bullets. Which with its muuuch higher BC would result in much longer range.

            Also, yeah you can, you can definitely make a 77 grain EPR bullet.

        • uisconfruzed

          What you want is an AR-10 with a 5.56 bolt & barrel. It’s not the 5.56 mags, it’s the 5.56 brass. Go to a 6mm Grendel, or neck it down to 5.56. That will give you powder capacity, 30 degree shoulder, a long neck to support the bullet and it help’s with barrel longevity.

          • iksnilol

            Nah, 5.56 brass is fine, it’s just that the mags and magwell are too short to seat good bullets far out. See what they can do with 5.56 outta longer bolt actions or single shots.

  • Uniform223

    M41A1 pulse rifle

    • Reality

      No

    • forrest1985

      Amen! R.I.P Hudson! May your sticks stay sharp and your plasma rifles phased!

  • ARCNA442

    I do wonder if a better definition for an assault rifle would simply be “a rifle caliber submachine gun.” I think the current focus on pinning down “intermediate caliber” or “controllable full auto” obscures the doctrinal side of the designs and conflates rather different weapons.

    My read is that the M1903/M1/M14/M16 designs were all the product of a common school of thought that emphasized accurate rapid fire from a standard weapon. Whereas the MP42/MP44/STG44 and the PPSh-41/AK-47/AK-74 families were the result of a search for a cheap mass produced short range weapon that functioned as part of a combined arms force that relied on LMG’s and DMR’s to cover the rifles’ shortcomings.

    • MPWS

      Perfectly said – it is SMG with longer reach and hopefully acceptable control. If we go into playing with words, name “samopal” (in vz.58 guise) means exactly that. But it is not exactly cheap as s*it, true.

      • Blake

        One could argue that a bare-bones AR-15 carbine is pretty cheap these days.
        Granted, you’re not going to be cranking them out on simple machine tooling like an AK…

        • jcitizen

          Stoner designed the steel parts to be easy to turn out with simple tooling, but the forged receiver took a little more to stamp out, but forged is forged. No process is cheaper than forged manufacturing, it is just that no small shop can do it. I’d argue that metal stamping may not even be as cheap over all as forging – as a definition of efficiency in manufacturing. It is probably arguable but it is what I’ve read about industrial design since I was a kid. Apparently taking raw metal and rolling it out into large sheets for stamping isn’t as efficient as taking the hot metal straight to the forging machine, and making an almost finished part. Plus the aircraft metal takes less energy to process.

    • uisconfruzed

      I’ve labeled an ‘assault rifle’ as an SMG SBR for years.

  • Don Ward

    We’ve had a lot of good articles coming from the gun writing community deconstructing myths about the Garand rifle by recognizing how it’s deficiencies are offset with how it was deployed to work with the other weapons in a rifle platoon in the WW2/Korea.

    Any discussion with the military development and usage of modern assault rifles should also be viewed in the same way. How do the AR and AK (and the other lesser used variants) fit in a modern infantry platoon which are still equipped with a variety of support weapons with squad machine guns, grenade launchers and anti-tank/anti-personnel rockets/missiles?

    As for my opinion, much of the so-called drawbacks of the assault rifle that have been seen since 2000 in relatively specialized and unique combat zones – namely Afghanistan – are a result of poor rules of engagement which often has left NATO soldiers solely reliant on their personal rifles rather than being able to use the panoply of weapons available to them.

  • James Kachman

    I politely disagree with the assertion that the need for mass production and industrial streamlining was *the* driving force behind the assault rifle. The AR-15/M16 descended from the SCHV school of thought, and received its first promotion from Project AGILE. From the examinations of infantry combat in Korea to its obsession with controllability in FA, the M16 was very much driven by a desire to increase the lethality of the individual. Granted, this is specific to the US case, but I fear you are doing the same, and extrapolating from a brief written in 1948, before the assault rifle truly emerged in the West, by an industrial figure, which will perhaps inescapably tend towards an industrial view of the Assault Rifle concept.

    Of course, I don’t disagree that standardization of infantry weapons was a driving force behind weapons development post-war. I merely object to the downplaying of the individual factor in the history of the concept and its development. And, if all else fails, perhaps I shall receive a very insightful counterargument showing my mistakes. 🙂

    As always, a quality article and a pleasant read, please continue the excellent work!

    • Thanks for the kind words, first off.

      Generalizations will of course be just that; with an article like this I can’t achieve fine enough resolution to tackle the nuances of why this or that nation cottoned to the assault rifle concept. However, to give you something else to think about, let me take us back a little earlier, from before the AR-15/M16 to the Lightweight Rifle program of 1946 and onward which resulted eventually in the M14. The purpose of this program was to streamline the arms of the US Army, to replace a wide variety of weapons from the M1/M2 Carbine, M1/M3 SMG, to the M1918 BAR, and of course the M1 Rifle. Exactly what weapons were slated to be replaced by the new rifle changed over time, but throughout the program improved standardization was the drive.

      The M14 isn’t considered by most to be an assault rifle of course, but the reason for that is fundamentally the same reason it didn’t work as a “universal” rifle, either. And that program’s eventual failure to accomplish its goals led directly to the adoption of the M16.

  • The_Champ

    Another good food for thought article, I hadn’t really considered the mass production aspect of it before.

    • Oh yeah, absolutely. You pay for the forging machines up front and then pop ’em out like candy.

      Keep in mind, unit price for an M4 Carbine these days is about the same as for a G36, a rifle that is literally injection molded out of plastic.

      • The_Champ

        Any idea how the cost of production for an M-16 in 1964 compared to that of an AK-47 in the same time period? Versus now in 2017? Have production methods changed much?

        • That’s a very tough comparison because labor costs were and are so different in the East versus the West.

          However, I think we can demonstrate that the AR-15 is the cheaper design (provided the forging machines are paid for) by how expensive American-made AKs are. That backs up my own assessment which is that the AK is the more expensive gun to make.

          • The_Champ

            Interesting, thanks.

          • jcitizen

            Yes, any time you can take hot raw metal to a practically finished part in one step; forging almost always wins. Now with today’s polymer plastic guns, maybe not so much now.

  • I would say that based on the “universal” aspect of the assault rifle, the Army Universal Gewehr (Steyr AUG) still remains the design to come closest to that ideal.

    With the quick change barrels of 14″, 16″, 20″, and 24″, it can quickly be configured to serve as a PDW, Carbine, Assault Rifle, and DRM / Automatic rifle. And with the optional 42rd magazines and open bolt kit, could serve as a viable 5.56 LMG when fired from the bipod.

    Truly a universal jack of all trades, 5.56 weapons system.

    From a mass production standpoint, the AUG also took advantage of plastic injection moulding to a much further extent then had been done in the past, with not just the stock, but also the fire control group and magazines.

  • Mark Spencer

    Yes, I understand that TFB is about firearms, and NOT about politics, so I’ll not be offended if you nuke this comment. That said, should one shoot a certain cretin who is in need of a good shooting with a bolt-action Remington 700 .308, I can already hear the the press raving about an “assault rifle” shooting…

  • KUETSA

    I read somewhere that there is no such thing as an “assault rifle”. That being said the Democrat party is outlawing them in state after state.

    • gunsandrockets

      TFB: Firearms not politics, remember?

      “assault rifle” is just the rough english translation of the German word “sturmgewehr”

      But to clarify your understanding, what the Democratic Party is attacking is the imaginary firearms category of “assault weapons” (not “assault rifles”). Democrats define legal bans of “assault weapons” to include any firearms they don’t like, whether that firearm might be a rifle, shotgun, or a handgun.

      The Party and the Press though, are happy to confuse “assault weapon” with “assault rifle”, all the better to con the public into following their agenda.

      • Dougscamo

        Don’t forget the “assault knife” that was reported on in an attack on a university….or the instant condemnation of firearms by the D-pols when in actuality a vehicle was used in another university attack….and my state’s senator was one of the dumba#%ses that was jumping on this instance…

        • jcitizen

          Nest there will be “assault” trucks and vehicles, as that has been used with great dispatch by the terrorist.

      • Rock or Something

        Lol you’re never ever going to eliminate politics from a comment thread. The best you can do is limit politics from the original topic of discussion.

      • uisconfruzed

        It’s damned near impossible when the Dems continue to step all over our rights.
        Smell what I’m steppin’ in?

  • Blake

    “what was needed was a jack of all trades weapon that could be made as cheaply and quickly as possible, and which – by its universal nature – would likewise allow troops to be trained in a manner much more expeditious than before”

    Sounds like the AK-47 to me…

    Big kudos for figuring out that the MP.44 could have been the first rifle to fit this requirement.

  • Mike Lashewitz

    Is “fully automatic” a key word here?
    Meaning in the USA there are no “assault rifles” sold without special licensing and permits. Indicating the MISUSE of the term “assault rifle” by the media and leftist politicians. Bump fire and echo triggering NOT included.

    You know an easy and SIMPLE to understand definition. Because only easy and simple definitions can be understood by people who learn primarily through small words and pictures. Seeing as most do not understand the difference between Semi-automatic and full auto.

    • Patrick Duffy

      Assault rifle has a Bayonet lug? My semi Auto FNFAL was my battle rifle in the 1970’s and used in many assaults e.g. the Falklands in 1982.

      • Mike Lashewitz

        I always thought a weapon needed to be used in an “assault” to qualify. Which makes my cell phone an assault weapon. HTC 510 “brick”. Besides it is fully autocraptic.

  • L. Roger Rich

    I love my country. I have lots of about every weapon mentioned here in semi-auto of course. It has been fun collecting them.

  • uisconfruzed

    “There is one very important proviso – that a suitable cartridge be available or can be designed” The Grendel fits that bill

  • Colonel K

    Good article and good discussion. My only concern is that Anthony William’s definition of “assault rifle” does not include the term “intermediate cartridge”. In fairness, since I have not read his work, I don’t know if he was describing a general concept for a future all-purpose infantry weapon or actually defining the term “assault rifle”. If it was the latter, then he should have used “intermediate cartridge” to distinguish the assault rifle from another class of select-fire rifles which fired full-sized cartridges. These were the “battle rifles” developed during WWII and fielded in large numbers by NATO during the 50s and 60s, most notably the FAL, M14, and G3.

  • jcitizen

    HA! Must be why I’ve been single my whole life!

  • WRBuchanan

    OK this was an in depth look at Military Ordinance.

    But as far as the definition is concerned,,, Lets make it simple.

    “Assault Weapon:” a Shoulder Fired Weapon capable of Fully Automatic Fire. Simple as that.

    The main reason for Fully Automatic Fire is to provide cover fire when “Assaulting” an enemy position, or repelling a Mob Assault on your position. Otherwise there is no practical reason for the function as most other functions can be achieved with Semi Auto Fire.

    That really all there is to it.

    Randy

  • The Brigadier

    Here we go again. Another proponent of the mouse rifle claiming that its an all purpose weapon, because the poor beleaguered infantry training time is soooo limited. BS. In Iraq and in Afghanistan, the M4 was at a distinct disadvantage. Machine guns killed a lot of our GIs and our limited number of machine guns killed a lot of Taliban. In Iraq in open field shooting of 500 yards or more the M4 was inadequate to the task as were the enemy’s AKs. The snipers and the 240Bs ruled those battlefields.

    Like it or not, there is a need for a light carbine like the AR and the AK for 300 yard shooting and urban combat, and 240s and .308 rifles for longer field shooting. In the coming world war, there will be a mix of both combat conditions and we will need of mix of different weapons for each kind. As to training of grunts, the continued training they get after their basic schools is the province of their First Sergeants who become their battle fathers. Hopefully the right men have been promoted to take these babies into their hands and make fighters out of them.

    One final comment for thought. Numerous studies around the world show that in combat only around 10% of all infantry troops inflict more than 90% of all casualties on the enemy. The other infantry men are good for suppression fire, and that is why there is such a terrific waste of fire in each battle. Each society has powerful strictures about taking another life. While murders exist in any society they are done by less than 10% of any society. This is why the 90% percent of infantry troops miss their targets firing hundreds of rounds of ammo. We don’t need new rifles or standardizing on one particular type. We need to find more troops willing to kill for their country.

  • Zebra Dun

    At this time all military rifles for Infantry are Assault Rifles. They are standard.
    The name should be simply Military rifles or Infantry Rifles.
    Some are more Carbines than Rifles.

  • cwolf

    The WWII Army initially had no BCT so draftees were shipped overseas with little or no training. Once in country, they were shipped into combat units to replace casualty losses. Eventually Congress mandated minimum training for all Soldiers.

    The Big Army is as concerned with logistics and support as weapon training. Afterall, 70-80% of a system’s life cycle cost is in operations and maintenance.

    Terrain and inter-visibility distances in the AOR drive weapon requirements to a degree. Desert fighting is different than MOUT.

    Cheers.