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"The U.S. Army Wants a More Powerful Rifle" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2017 10:32 p.m. PST

"On May 30, 2017, the U.S. Army officially asked industry for information on a new 7.62-by-51-millimeter rifle. The request signals the Army's intention to begin moving away from the 5.56-by-45-millimeter M-16 and M-4 that have been the ground-combat branch's main firearms for generations.

The Army's RFI comes hot on the heels of the U.S. Marine Corps' own RFI for a new off-the-shelf infantry rifle.

But the Army's so-called "Interim Combat Service Rifle" could be a stopgap a weapon the service buys quickly while it considers longer-term solutions to its firearms needs. In the short term, the ICSR could complement the 7.62-millimeter M-14, itself a stopgap…"
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Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Jun 2017 2:19 a.m. PST

Back in 1916, the French wanted to equip their troops with an automatic rifle, among other projects they had the Ribeyrolles 1918 Automatic Carbine, which didn't use the then standard 8mm Lebel, but a necked down Winchester .351 which would be lighter to carry and have significantly less recoil than a full-blown rifle cartridge.

Ditto for Vladimir Fyodorov's Fedorov Avatomat, a 1915 design that didn't use a proprietary cartridge, but the 6.5mm Arisaka, which was less powerful than other rifle cartridges.

Right before WWII, the US military was looking into equipping their troops with a lightweight weapon that would be more effective than the 1911 pistol and lighter than either the M1 Garand or the M1 Thompson. They came up with the M1 Carbine, which used its own .30 ammo.

During WWII the Germans introduced a compact, reduced load 7.92mm Kurz bullet, designed a new rifle with automatic fire capability which is generally considered the ancestor of the assault rifle.

The Soviets came up with their own variant, the AK-47, which used a 7.62x39 bullet which was less powerful than the standard 7.62x54 rifle bullet and therefore easier to control on semi-automatic fire.

The British, understanding the limitations of their own .303 ammo decided they would replace it with a new .280 intermediary cartridge. FN in Belgium had similar plans and was working on the FN FAL.

Pretty much everyone had figured out that if you wanted to give soldiers an automatic weapon, you needed a weapon that could fire an intermediary cartridge so that the useful feature called "automatic fire" would be viable.

And in a haze of a testosterone-filled fever dream, fuelled by steaks, Cuban Cigars and an elephant hunt, the US came up with the full-blooded 7.62x51mm, because Uncle Sam would rather be damned than to give his brave boys anything less than a turbocharged bullet that could blow a commie in half a mile away !

It didn't matter that the M14 rifle was a serious threat to the sky after two shots, it was the whole hog or nothing and the rest of NATO better comply or else …

The British dropped the .280 and FN reconfigured the FAL to 7.62mm, despite having designed it for a much lighter cartridge, the weapon went on to become the right arm of the free world.

The M14 was introduced in 1959, three years previously, Eugene Stoner and a team of clever engineers came up with a lightweight rifle that used plastics and aluminium parts and most importantly, used an intermediary cartridge.

In 1960 Curtis LeMay was sufficiently impressed by this new rifle that he ordered some for the Air Force.

A few years later the US army finally gave up on giving their infantry portable autocannons and switched to the M16 rifle in 5.56mm.

Now, until then most intermediate cartridges hovered around the .30 mark, 6.5 to 7.5mm. Several 6.5mm calibers were found to have a very high ballistic coefficient. The 5.56mm was relatively underpowered and fired a small, lightweight bullet.

There were some concerns that such a light bullet might not be very effective, but the marketing department came up with a brilliant sales pitch. They filled plastic and metal containers with water, sealed them tight and shot them with 5.56mm bullets. If a container filled to the brim with incompressible water explodes when hit by a high velocity bullet, imagine what will happen when a human, which is 70% water, when hit.

In short the 5.56mm rifle was sold in the idea that if you hit a commie in the pinkie finger, his kidneys would explode because of some pretty funky voodoo magic called "Hydrostatic shock"

Meanwhile the Soviets, who didn't have a marketing department nor a bunch of brass that needed to be sold a fantasy, decided that they would also drop their intermediate caliber a notch and went for the seemingly even smaller 5.45mm bullet.

Note there is a world of difference between 5.56mm and 5.45mm. A simple side-by-side comparison quickly tells you that the Soviet design uses a much longer bullet, longer bullet means physically larger, means more mass. The longer longitudinal axis means it's more stable in flight, but while it has more mass it is inherently unstable because it's still a very light bullet by any standards going at very high speed. When it hits anything it's like an F1 car that hit a pebble and has gone out of control, it flies off in a random direction. The result is a bullet that performs like an Olympic gymnast cartwheeling inside your body and tears it up due to the long bullet.

The 5.56mm behaves much in the same way, except that it's shorter, lighter and does the most damage when it fragments.

But why switch to the 5.56mm in the first place you ask ? Smaller, lighter bullets means a lighter rifle, you can carry more bullets and a soldier with a lighter rifle and more bullets is a happy soldier.

Solid logic, except for one tiny problem called long-range performance. You see back in WWII they figured that the majority of firefights occurred within 300m, which means that the old ammo from the age of the bolt action rifle that could nail an enemy soldier a mile away was a waste of time and energy as most soldiers couldn't even hit a target that far.

The undue bout of nostalgic madness that overcame the US military in the 1950s and prompted them to ignore what everyone else on the planet had figured out was only compounded by the overcompensation in picking the rather weak (but still deadly) 5.56mm which doesn't perform very well beyond 300m.

So NATO is stuck between the overpowered and obsolete 7.62mm and the underpowered 5.56mm which has major issues like barrier penetration and long range effectiveness.

In the 2000's some clever designers came up with an answer, they used a case the same size as a 5.56mm and mated it with a long 6.x mm bullet with superior ballistics, rivaling and even exceeding the 7.62mm in performance.

Every gun expert figured that the 6.x would soon replace the 5.56mm in the US arsenal as this was the most logical choice, by retaining the same cartridge dimensions any 5.56mm rifle could be converted by simply swapping out the barrel and maybe a few minor modifications to the receiver and chamber. A new, better bullet, which didn't require introducing a whole new rifle, how could this possibly fail ?

By now you'll have realized that the US military's ability to jam a crowbar in even the best of plans is beyond compare. The first M16 hadn't even reached the hands of the first soldier when they were already planning a replacement. The list is nearly endless, it includes the SPIW, SALVO, the ACR, the OICW, the Individual Carbine project etc. Each and every one of these projects promised to revolutionize warfare and get the average rifleman to a completely new level. Each and every one died a slow death hemorrhaging money.

And now we finally come to the OP, there have been a zillion opportunities to come up with something better than the current service rifles. Logically you'd simply update existing M16 (or H&K 416 and FN SCAR) and M4 weapons with a conversion kit to 6.x mm and the problem would be solved. But it wouldn't be the US army if they didn't spend a fortune to throw money down a well and still get nowhere.

Odds are they fiddle around and come up with some Frankenstein creation in 5.56mm, based on the H&K 416, most likely a featherweight lower and receiver M4-style with a folding stock mated to a longer heavy barrel for improved long range fire while still keeping it compact enough to clear a phone booth or a really small closet.

They will not go for a bullpup or anything that varies from the M16/AR-15 platform because far too many soldiers have grown up shooting rifles that have the same controls as military rifles, they will continue to try to stretch the 5.56mm as far as it goes because switching to a new caliber is not an option.

goragrad20 Jun 2017 3:50 a.m. PST

Articles on the various 6.x mm rifles in the American Rifleman have hailed each as the new solution for the Army for years.

Looks like all of them were over optimistic.

I like my 7.62x54r, but then I don't have to carry it in combat with a boat load of ammo either. 10 rounds is quite plenty when hunting.

Also not traveling more than a few miles in a day.

It is nice to be able to reach out though and know that what is hit is probably going down.

Per Patrick R's post seems that a 6.x mm that uses the same basic cartridge would be the logical answer, but then logic is not always at the fore in military procurement.

panzerCDR20 Jun 2017 4:08 a.m. PST

Patrick R: ". . . because Uncle Sam would rather be damned than to give his brave boys anything less than a turbocharged bullet that could blow a commie in half a mile away !"

LOL! Amusing and informative. Thanks.

foxweasel20 Jun 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

Everybody wants a more powerful round. Unfortunately gun bearers went out with colonial times, which means we have to carry our own ammunition and rifles, I'll stick to 5.56 thanks (not that I have any choice)

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Jun 2017 6:28 a.m. PST

Let me add a little clarification.

The 7.62mm (or .308 to some) is a pretty good round, it's a staple for hunters, marksmen, snipers, proper machineguns etc.

The downside is the recoil, it needs more weapon mass (and therefore a heavier rifle) to avoid bruising your shoulder and full auto fire out of a rifle is a big strain on the shooter. Granted modern weapons like the SCAR help tremendously in absorbing recoil and keep the weapon more manageable.

As for the 5.56mm it's absolutely deadly and has proven to be quite effective in many cases, the recoil is much lower, and firing a 5.56mm rifle is far less of an assault on the senses compared to a full auto 7.62mm.

The problem is the overall performance. At longer ranges the bullet has a tendency to wound rather than to kill. Yes, the marketing department managed to sell this flaw as a feature, saying that a wounded soldier was a major drain on enemy resources. Let's say this argument has more than a few flaws.

Some British troops in the Falklands were issued with trial M16 rifles. The soldiers did appreciate the light weight and handyness vs the bulk and weight of the L1. It wasn't until they traded long range fire with dug-in Argentine troops that the M16 lacked the ability to knock out enemy soldiers as wounded enemies were able to return fire. This encouraged some soldiers to pick up L1 or Argentinian FAL's as they had a good chance of disabling enemy troops at long range.

The big weaknesses of the 5.56mm are barrier penetration and range. Things like car windshields have been known to deflect or cause a 5.56mm to shatter on impact. The new M855A1 bullet is longer and has a steel core which goes some ways to finally improve the overall effectiveness of the bullet, but the need to reduce the load on soldiers and switching to the M4 Carbine with a shorter barrel makes it hard to squeeze out much performance out of it.

Until a few years ago, it was the opinion in certain military circles that rifles were obsolete, the most important item in a squad was the radio, with which troops could call artillery and deal with any threat far better than a thousand riflemen.

In theory, yes, in practice, not so much … Troops often end up in built-up urban areas where artillery is not an option. Enemy forces have also learned to spread out and attack from different angles and displace after a few shots. Preferably shooting from an area that contains civilians.

For many soldiers the only option is to engage at unfavorable ranges. A majority of hostiles use Type 56 AK clones in 7.62r which while not match grade accurate is still effective enough to pin down troops, forcing them to shoot back at troops in cover at long range.

It's a far cry from the hapless hordes being mowed down storming the firebase in the Green Berets.

And now for some bad news, while the various 6.x mm bullets are the same length as the 5.56mm, they tend to be "fatter" and heavier, which means less bullets per magazine and more weight to carry.

VVV reply20 Jun 2017 8:30 a.m. PST

I would say its simple. The 5.56 round for up close and personal. The 7.62 round for long range shooting. The British army issued 7.62 rifles down to squad level in Afghanistan about 7 years ago. I heard from friends serving in Iraq that they were allowed to pick what weapons they wanted when they went out on patrol.
Of course – and this is the biggie – the idea is not to equip your troops based on the last war you fought. That way you always seem to have the wrong weapon for the job.

goragrad20 Jun 2017 5:18 p.m. PST

One other note – I have read that the Russians in Chechnya even given the better performance of the 5.45 compared to 5.56 preferred the 7.62x39 for use in built up areas where ranges were short.

The 5.45 was more accurate at longer ranges, but the 7.62 still beat it in terms of lethality.

JMcCarroll Inactive Member20 Jun 2017 5:26 p.m. PST

May I recommend the .25WSSM. "There are basic advantages inherent to the Short Magnum concept. The idea is that the short, fat powder column gives a more uniform load density and ignition rate and therefore a more consistent burn. This in turn should translate into improved accuracy and potentially moderate recoil due to more efficient use of propellants.

Another advantage is the action size. For example, if we compare the .25 WSSM to the .25-06 Remington, we find that the .25-06 requires a .30-06 length action, commonly called a standard or long action. The .25 WSSM case which is almost a full inch shorter, can make use of an existing short action such as used by the .308 Winchester family of cartridges. Some manufacturers have even created extra short actions to accommodate newer short rounds. The intrinsic accuracy benefits of a short, stiffer action over a long action are well-established principles of rifle design. The resulting rifle is smaller, lighter, more compact, and quicker handling as well."

Lion in the Stars20 Jun 2017 11:02 p.m. PST

6.8SPC or 6.5 Grendel only cost you 2-4 rounds per magazine.

Honestly, I hope the Army pulls it's head out of it's butt and delays the caliber change until the LSAT guns come on-line. IMO, those would ideally be 6.5mm (I will point out that 6.5 Grendel is functionally identical to 6.5 Arisaka with the same bullet weight and muzzle velocity, which was plenty effective at killing back in WW2), which gives you a controllable full-auto rifle for Final Defensive Fire and still lets you engage targets at 500-800m effectively.

VVV reply21 Jun 2017 5:12 a.m. PST

"6.5 Grendel is functionally identical to 6.5 Arisaka with the same bullet weight and muzzle velocity, which was plenty effective at killing back in WW2"
I would say not. Which of course is the reason for the calibre change to 7.7

shirleylyn Inactive Member21 Jun 2017 10:40 a.m. PST

Now, I don't have a lot of experiance with rifles, but I have shot my husbands AK74(in 5.45x39) and I'm a pretty good shot if I do say so myself.

My husband is a vet of Afghanistan, and he says the 5.45x39 is VERY deadly.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP21 Jun 2017 11:01 a.m. PST

What's the problem, Buy a shedload of 417 or SCAR-Hs.
The guns exist today, both are battle-tested and work.
No need for expensive and time-consuming testing etc.
Both guns come in various types. From Semi Sniper, Marksmen, infantry rifle, and CQC rifle.

Yes, you carry less ammo(up to 8 20 round mags instead of 12 30 round mags for max load. Or 4-5 20 mags instead of 6-8 30 mags for more standard load out. Given the now total lack of Auto fire use by riflemen, The recoil, and ammo thing is negated a lot. And while you'll have less ammo, the weight is kinda negated too. As modern Plate carriers are a lot better at supporting heavy loads than an ammo belt with ammo pockets or LBV. The ammo is fixed close to the body so the actual weight of 6-8 20 round mags isn't that bad.

Lion in the Stars21 Jun 2017 2:59 p.m. PST

@Gunfreak: NO, you carry 26-28 rounds of 6.x instead of 30 rounds of 5.56 per magazine. Which all fit in the same magazine pouches. So instead of 600 rounds per man, you're carrying 540-580.

"6.5 Grendel is functionally identical to 6.5 Arisaka with the same bullet weight and muzzle velocity, which was plenty effective at killing back in WW2"
I would say not. Which of course is the reason for the calibre change to 7.7

Hey, I'm just quoting a Marine who fought the Japanese for 4 years, his opinion (in a government report!) of the 6.5 was that it was plenty effective at killing men. The 6.5 is certainly more effective at putting a man down than 5.56 or 5.45.

I thought the change to 7.7 was foolish, what with several million 6.5s already in service. But sometimes I swear that only the US and the Soviets really understood industrialized warfare in WW2.

VVV reply22 Jun 2017 4:13 a.m. PST

Well just pointing out that the Japanese did not think so. Italians did not think much of their 6.5 round either, feeling that the bullet quickly lost velocity. They changed to 7.5.
The assault rifle concept is only supposed to be good out to 400m. In the British army the 7.62 L129A1 takes the squads range of engagement out to 800m.

goragrad22 Jun 2017 12:16 p.m. PST

As to the Japanese 6.5, I have read (Glory of the Solomons) that there was a higher ratio of wounded to dead when facing it.

One of the points made based on this was that in terms of a particular battle that wounding soldiers removed them from action nearly as effectively as killing them and created more demand on resources in getting them off the battlefield and treating them.

One of the arguments used later for smaller caliber firearms.

Lion in the Stars22 Jun 2017 2:32 p.m. PST

Yeah, the Italian 6.5 has a round nose, it has crappy ballistics. Pretty much useless beyond 250-300m, as it lost velocity very quickly.

The Japanese 6.5 had a pointed 'spitzer' bullet which gave it much better range.

The 6.5 Grendel shoots flatter and carries more energy than 7.62mm NATO from 500-800m. So yeah, if you re-armed a squad with 6.5 Grendel rifles and M249s, you'd have the same reach as if you'd armed them with 7.62 NATO rifles and MGs. With about two-thirds the weapon&ammo weight for the same round count. Also, the 6.5 has a long bullet for the weight, which tends to increase wounding capability.

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