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

During 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 badly infected.

As 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

For 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 extremely durable.

            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:

  1. Use a flat-based bullet, like the Yugoslav AK round.

  2. Use a thin bullet jacket. The 150-grain ball ammunition (M80) we use in our 7.62x51mm (.308) weapons usually does not fragment. It is reported a Somali took four hits from an M60 machine gun and kept on fighting. Some European countries load their own .308 weapons with a thinner bullet jacket composed of steel (which is more brittle than copper) that does fragment. This produces superior wound ballistics than the 5.56 because the .308-caliber bullet is more massive. However, if you design a bullet to fragment in tissue, you usually diminish its performance against barriers. I do not know specifically how the European designs compare against M80 ball in steel plate penetration.

  3. Design a new bullet with a thick jacket and with a dual core, the forward portion being mild steel and the rear being lead. This is similar to the M855 5.56mm round, only the bullet Iím suggesting is not designed for fragmentation. Because the forward portion of the bullet will be less dense than the rear, it should tumble in tissue. The British used something like this for their .303 ammunition. The nose was composed of aluminum, though other materials less dense than lead also were used (e.g., wood, fiber, etc.).

Really Big Bores

For 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.

I 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.

A 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.

Another 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 ( Cor.Bon ( 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.

The 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 take longer.

Long Range Rifles

   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.

barrett.JPG (68547 bytes)

            Another company, Cheyenne Tactical ( 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

Iím 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.


The 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 on it.

With 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.

Muzzle Lift

It 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 particles.

            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 suppressors.

            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.

One of the Best Automatic Rifles?

In 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

The 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.

  SAIGA-12K, with folding buttstock, pistol grip and 430-mm long barrel.

            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.

            Ammunition companies have produced buckshot that delivers very tight patterns (the more pellets on target, the more trauma inflicted). They accomplish this with plated, buffered shot, and a reduced powder charge. The reduced charge decreases recoil and seems to shrink patterns. I believe the ammunition manufacturers have done this with #00 (.33-caliber) and #000 (.36-caliber) shot. They might have done this with #4 buck, but #4 is too small. The International Wound Ballistics Association ( argues the best buckshot size is #1 (.30-caliber), because it is the smallest buckshot that consistently penetrates deep enough into the body to produce disabling wounds. That it is smaller permits more pellets to be loaded into the shell. With a 2.75-inch Standard shell, you can load nine #00, eight #000, or sixteen #1 pellets. This means more overall trauma. The ammunition companies should produce a reduced-recoil version with #1 buck.

                                                                         Phillip Park