Ed: My May 10mm Rifle article about the need for a powerful rifle at the squad level brought many comments and resulted in the article below by Phillip Park. I did not focus only on its use as a sniper weapon, but something that can also shoot through light armored vehicles and light barriers. Phil West sent a link about a very light .50 caliber rifle called Ferret 50 that is interesting, but bolt action limits infantrymen. If the US military devoted some research funds, I think a six-shot ~20lbs semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle could be designed.
The 7-29-02 Marine Corps Times carried a cover story about the Corps' new effort to establish one or two "designated marksmen" in each infantry squad. These sharpshooters will undergo three weeks of additional training, compared to a nine-week Scout-Sniper course. This effort is led by the 4th Marine Brigade in response recent conflicts were Marines needed accurate rifle fire in populated urban areas. The big question of what rifle remains open. The 5.56mm match grade will allow use of common squad ammo, but it is considered too weak. An automatic 7.62mm is more appealing, but the Marines think better options exist. Small arms expert Stanley C Crist favors the 6mm Optimum round, and presented his data in the Sept-Dec 1999 issue of Infantry magazine. Here is an overview of modern small arms.
Small-Bore, High-Velocity Cartridges in Assault Rifles
the Vietnam War, the Soviets observed that the 5.56mm bullets fired by M16s
did more tissue damage than the 7.62mm bullets used in AK-47s. This is because
the M193 5.56mm bullet tumbles and breaks in half in tissue, while most
bullets for the 7.62x39mm cartridge neither tumble nor fragment. In the 1970s
the Soviets introduced the AK-74, firing a new 5.45x39mm cartridge. (This is
not a necked-down 7.62x39 round; the case is a different design.) In
Afghanistan the 5.45mm round inflicted severe wounds, leading to accusations
the Soviets were using poisoned ammunition and speculation the new cartridge
exceeded 4,000 feet per second (FPS).
Actually, the 5.45mm bullet tumbles but does not fragment. The
5.56x45mm NATO has greater case capacity, and both the 55-grain M193 and the
62-grain M855 rounds outperform the Russian bullet in regards to wound
ballistics. If you are using the standard M16A2 rifle, the bullet will tumble
and break in half in tissue at out to 200 yardsí range. The M4 carbine, with
its 14.5-inch barrel, reduces this effect to 150 yards. The reason the 5.45mm
developed such a fearsome reputation is the Afghanis frequently did not have
medical care more sophisticated than bandages and aspirin; wounds soon became
mentioned above, most AK-47 bullets do not tumble or fragment. The former
Yugoslavia makes (or made) a flat-based bullet (as opposed to a boat-tailed
bullet) for its version of the AK. The flat-based bullet is less aerodynamic,
but it has a different center of gravity that causes the bullet to tumble in
tissue, creating bigger wounds than would be indicated by the caliber.
Having said this, am I discounting the reports we have from Somalia and
Afghanistan? No! Absolutely not. A determined attacker can be very hard to
stop, and we need something more potent than the 5.56.
Another issue is penetration of tactical barriers. It is likely that
our troops will be doing a lot of fighting in urban areas. Iíve read a lot
of reports on the 5.56ís performance against steel plate, automobile glass,
building materials, and vegetation. Even with specialized ammunition, its
performance is marginal at best. In Chechnya, Russian special operations
troops have turned in their AK-74s for AK-47s; with a properly designed
bullet, the 7.62x39mm cartridge can yield a lot of penetration.
My comments about the performance (wound ballistics) of the 5.56mm may
be controversial, but everything I stated is well documented by the
International Wound Ballistics Association and other entities.
Big Bore Conversions for the M16
some while now, the M16/AR-15 has been available in 7.62x39mm caliber from
several manufacturers, including Colt. This is a straight conversion using a
new barrel and bolt; all you need is a new upper receiver/barrel assembly. The
lower receiver is the same. At first, modified 5.56 magazines were used, but
eventually magazines purpose-built for the 7.62x39 cartridge became available.
These are not the same as AK magazines. I just learned that Knightís
Manufacturing Company/Knightís Armament Company has developed a new M4
carbine chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge. This weapon features a new
upper and lower receiver and feeds from standard AK magazines. It sounds to me
like a new weapon with an M16 interface rather than a conversion. I read about
this in a print magazine; I havenít seen anything about it on the
companyís Web site. That it uses regular AK magazines is a good thing, in my
opinion. There are millions of the things all over this world, and they are
Iíve also read the military is experimenting with a 6.5mm cartridge
in response to complaints about the 5.56ís performance in Afghanistan. I
donít know any more about this. If this cartridge is created by re-necking a
5.56x45mm case to 6.5x45mm, it could use existing magazines. Some people think
that 6.5mm (.264-caliber) is the ideal size for a service rifle. With a
similar bullet weight, a 6.5 exhibits a superior ballistic coefficient and
sectional density when compared to a 7.62mm bullet.
Larger calibers like the 7.62x39 and a 6.5x45 should perform better
against tactical obstacles than the 5.56. But unless something special is
done, a bigger bore might be a step backward in wound ballistics. I can think
of several solutions:
Really Big Bores
some years now, tactical guru Jeff Cooper has been telling us the ideal
infantry rifle would be a carbine firing the .44 AutoMag cartridge. His
concept, which he calls Thumper, would have a barrel 10+ inches long, and
propel a 250-grain bullet at 1,800 FPS or so. Thumper would have a 20-round
detachable box magazine and be semiautomatic. Mr. Cooper estimates the
effective range to be 250 yards.
am not familiar with the THUNDER CAR-10, but a number of companies have
converted the M16/AR-15 to fire various pistol cartridges. If you fired
full-pressure 10mm ammunition in that weapon, it should develop .41 Magnum
ballistics in that 11.5-inch barrel. Heckler & Koch makes (or at least
made for a while) its MP-5 submachine gun in 10mm caliber. The barrel length
is 7 or 8 inches, but with full-powered ammunition, a 170-grain bullet
developed 1,400+ FPS velocity, and that is .41 Magnum ballistics. The MP-5/10
has a 30-round box magazine and can be made in semiautomatic only or selective
fire. Heckler & Kochís new submachine gun, the UMP, is available in .45
ACP, .40 S&W, and 9mm. I do not know if it has a 10mm version.
company called LeMAG makes several interesting weapons. For example, the MAG-1
Carbine is the old .30-caliber M-1 carbine converted to powerful cartridges
like the .45 Winchester Magnum and .50 Action Express. This weapon uses
modified carbine magazines; a 15-round magazine will hold six .45 Magnum
cartridges, and it can be adapted to hold five .50 AE rounds. The .45 Magnum
develops 2,000 FPS with a 230-grain bullet and the .50 AE has a muzzle
velocity of 1,800 FPS with a 300-grain bullet. The company also offers a large
bore AR-15. It fires a new cartridge called the .45 Professional, created by
cutting down .284 Winchester brass. The .45 Professional propels a 230-grain
bullet at 3,000 FPS! That ought to perform well against body armor. Even if it
does not penetrate the plate, the blunt trauma ought to be significant. LeMAG
says some special operations units have used its products with good effect.
inventor developed a new cartridge called the .458 SOCOM. He named it after
the Special Operations Command because it was inspired by a conversation he
had with some Rangers who were dissatisfied with the 5.56 in Somalia. The .458
SOCOM can propel a 300-grain bullet at 1,900 FPS. With a long barrel,
velocities are even higher. There are also 500-grain subsonic rounds. A
company called Tromix made AR-15 upper receivers designed for this cartridge.
This has been taken over by a company called Teppo Jutsu (www.teppojutsu.com).
Cor.Bon (www.corbon.com) sells .458 SOCOM ammunition. The feed mechanism is an
ordinary M16 magazine; a 20-round magazine holds seven .458 cartridges and a
30-round magazine will hold ten.
only problem with these caliber conversions is magazine capacity. I am not
criticizing the inventorsówe need creative people like them, and developing
magazines is an extreme challenge. If the military were to adopt one of these
big cartridges, one of the magazine manufacturers could develop a drum or
snail drum magazine holding at least 25 cartridges. The ultimate solution
would be to develop a new weapon with an entirely new receiver, as Knightís
Manufacturing seems to have done with its new 7.62x39mm M4, but that would
The "10mm Rifle" article mentioned a use for the Barrett M82, but noted it is too heavy for an infantry weapon. Barrett also has developed a semiautomatic rifle called the M98, chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum (below). It weighs less than the M82. It is not as potent as the .50 BMG, but it does out-range the 7.62x54R cartridge used in the PK machine guns.
Another company, Cheyenne Tactical (www.cheyennetactical.com) has
developed the .408 Cheyenne Tactical, designed to be more potent than the .338
Lapua. The company has developed bolt-action rifles for this cartridge, though
it could be used in a semiauto.
Squad Machine Guns
familiar with the historical analogy: In WWII, the Browning Automatic Rifle
(BAR) and the M1 Garand both fired the .30-06 cartridge, but the BAR offered
fully automatic fire, which the M1 did not. Both the M16 rifle and the M60
machine gun fire on full auto, but the M60 uses a heavier round. Now we have
the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) at the squad level, which uses the same
5.56mm cartridge as the M16. The M249, being a true machine gun, has a
quick-change barrel and offers a sustained fire capability. Nevertheless, a
squad all armed with 5.56mm weapons facing a competent man with a PK machine
gun will be in deep trouble. We need a stronger SAW.
The FN MAG-58 (M240) machine gun is one of the best ever made. However,
it is awfully big and heavy. It seems better suited to the platoonís heavy
weapons section than the average squad. I suggest two possible alternatives:
One is the Heckler & Koch HK-11E, a 7.62x51mm machine gun that
feeds from a 20 or 30-round detachable box magazine, or a 50-round drum
(below) or an 80-round double
drum. It has a belt-fed cousin called the HK-21E, but with magazines and drums
you donít have belts snagging on things or collecting dirt. Earlier versions
of these weapons had problems with excessive vibration, but the E models have
longer and heavier receivers that are supposed to alleviate this.
If the HK machine guns are unsatisfactory, there is the old Bren gun.
This may be heretical to say, but the Bren has advantages over the mighty BAR.
The BAR has a 20-round magazine; the Bren is available with a 30-rounder. The
Bren, a true machine gun, has a quick-change barrel; most versions of the BAR
do not. After WWII the British converted the Bren to fire the 7.62x51mm NATO
cartridge. The top-feeding magazine may look funny, but it allows the shooter
to get low to the ground.
M9 is not my idea of a good service pistol; it does not tolerate dirt and dust
very well, and a lot of people have difficulty achieving a proper grip index
the 9mm, there are many documented cases of it being necessary to shoot a man
more than a dozen times to put him down. It should surprise nobody that it is
not performing well in Afghanistan. The military should start procuring .45
ACP ammunition right now. If the M1911 pistols are worn out, there are a lot
of reputable manufacturers offering new (and improved) 1911 pistols today. If
a double action design is required, Ruger pistols are supposed to be durable
and reliable, and they donít cost too much. Overseas designs? The Swiss Sig
P220 is an excellent service pistol. Heckler & Kochís USP45 is a
commercial relative to the new Mk 23 special operations offensive handgun. One
variant, the USP45 Compact, is marketed for concealed carry but is big enough
to be a service pistol. Its grip frame is narrower than the standard pistol,
meaning most people should be able to get a firm hold on it. The USP series
comes with a variety of trigger mechanisms; thereís something for everyone.
seems likely that in this war our troops often will be outnumbered. It is
essential they have weapons that are easy to control. This means they need to
be able to keep the muzzle on target, to put several rounds into an enemy or
engage multiple assailants.
Muzzle brakes reduce muzzle lift and felt recoil by venting gasses to
the side or upwards at the muzzle. The problem with these devices is they
increase noise and muzzle flash. The AK-74 uses a muzzle brake, and the
Soviets found the troops suffered hearing damage. Also, because some of the
blast was vented backward, heavy metals (or something) in the primer were
directed towards the shooter, who could inhale them in the form of tiny
Perhaps it is possible to enclose a muzzle brake in a sound moderator,
a device that is less ambitious than a sound suppressor (a.k.a. a silencer).
The sound moderator would reduce noise and conceal the muzzle flash. I am
aware that attaching anything to the barrel increases the heat in the barrel.
We might mitigate this problem by making the barrel free-floating, as is being
done with the new forearm on the SOCOM carbine. The SOCOM carbine is a new
version of the M4 in which all attachments, like flashlights or grenade
launchers, are attached to the forearm, not the barrel. With the SOCOM
carbine, sound suppressors still must be directly attached to the barrel, but
at least attachments are kept to a minimum. We might improve the barrel by
fluting it; theoretically this increases a gun barrelís ability to shed heat
by increasing the surface area exposed to the air.
Another possibility would be attaching the sound moderator to the
forearm so it does not directly touch the barrel/muzzle brake. Something
similar to this was done with MP-5 submachine guns that had integral sound
I also am aware of mercury-based recoil reduction devices, but I do not
know much about them. If they are sufficiently durable for military service,
and do not affect reliability. we should use them.
of the Best Automatic Rifles?
WWII, Germany developed an automatic rifle called the FG42 for its
paratroopers. It had a straight-line stock and fed from a 20-round magazine
inserted in the side, rather than the bottom of the receiver. It was selective
fire, and had a big muzzle brake that made it easy to control, though it
generated a lot of flash and blast. Maybe we could improve on that (see
above). The FG42 weighed about 10 pounds, comparable to many 7.62x51mm NATO
battle rifles that are not easy to control in fully automatic fire. An updated
FG42 could give our troops a powerful and controllable weapon, whether they
have to hit an enemy soldier hundreds of yards away or shoot through walls to
take out a machine gunner.
Shotguns and Ammunition
U.S. military adopted the Heckler & Koch/Benelli M4 Super 90 shotgun,
calling it the M1014. In many ways, this is a 21st Century shotgun,
and its reliability is impeccable. But it uses a tube magazine, a 19th Century
piece of technology. Why not a detachable box magazine? Because our military
is just too conservative.
Some would argue that shotguns are usually used for security and other
missions in which firepower is not that important. But wait! The infantry used
shotguns in Vietnam (where they had a better hit probability than did the
M16). During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the Marines were preparing
to acquire several thousand semiautomatic shotguns for trench warfare.
Probably the best combat shotgun is the Russian Saiga 12, a 12-gauge
version of the AK-47 (above). It is said to deliver the reliability you would expect
of a Kalashnikov, even with the 13-inch barrel (one of several lengths
available), and even with 3-inch and 2.75-inch shells mixed in the magazine.
The weapon has a 7-round detachable box magazine. The only problem with the
weapon is its AK-type safety. That may not be so much a problem because people
have developed thumb-operated safeties for AK-type weapons.