Small Wars Journal

The Infantryman's Half Kilometer Reconsidered

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Does “the infantryman’s half kilometer” continue to have utility in an all-purpose service rifle in modern conflict?  I would argue that the only timeframe this specific requirement was justified was in WWI and in the interwar period that was to follow.  As a result of cultural, technical, and fiscal challenges, certain capabilities in close combat and long-range engagement were sacrificed for a fixation on mid-range primacy.  It is worth discussing the capabilities to be possibly gained equipping the infantryman with a 7.62x35 (300 BLK) chambered service rifle while supporting him with greater access to 7.62x51 (308 Win) chambered precision and automatic support weapons.

Colonial Year Zero

Starting with the colonial wars of the late 19th and early 20th century, the modern infantryman was armed with a powerful weapon.  Metallic self-contained cartridges, powerful smokeless powder, bolt-actions, internal magazines, and accurate long-range sights created not an evolution, but a revolution in the capabilities of infantrymen.  The most engaged nation during this time period, Great Britain, and its Lee-Enfield series of rifles put these capabilities to the test. 

“Then a forest of white banners appeared over the shoulder of Surgham ridge, and about the same time the guns began to fire on both sides. For a little while the infantry watched the shells exploding in the air in front of the attack.  Battalion by battalion, the Guards first at 2,700 yards [2,469 meters], then the Seaforths at 2,000 yards [1,829 meters], and the others followed according to the taste and fancy of their commanding officers, the British division began to fire. As the range shortened Maxwell’s Sudanese Brigade, and a moment later MacDonald’s, joined in the fusillade, until by 6:45 more than 12,000 infantrymen were engaged in that mechanical scattering of death which the polite nations of the earth have brought to such monstrous perfection. They fired steadily and stolidly, without hurry or excitement, for the enemy were far away and the officers careful.  Besides the soldiers were interested in the work and took great pains.  But presently, the mere physical act became tedious.  The tiny figures seen over the slide of the back-sight seemed a little larger, but also fewer at each successive volley.  The rifles grew hot – so hot that they had to be changed for those of the reserve companies.

The debris of the ‘White Flags’ joined the centre, and the whole 14,000 pressed forward against the zeriba, gradually spreading out and abandoning their dense formations, and gradually slowing down.  At about 800 yards [732 meters] from the British division the advance ceased, and they could make no headway.  Opposite, the Sudanese who were armed only with the Martini-Henry rifle … came within 300 yards [274m]; and one brave old man, carrying a flag, fell at about 150 paces [about 130m] from the shelter trench.  As soon as the leading company commanded by Captain Maxwell [of the Lincolnshire Regiment] cleared the right of MacDonald’s brigade, they formed line, and opened an independent fire obliquely across the front of the Sudanese.  Groups of Dervishes in twos and threes were then within 100 yards [91m].  The great masses were within 300 yards [274 meters]. The independent firing lasted two minutes, during which the whole regiment deployed.  Its effect was to clear away the leading groups of Arabs. The deployment having been accomplished with the loss of a dozen men, including Colonel Sloggert, who fell shot through the breast while attending to the wounded, section volleys were ordered.  With excellent discipline the independent firing was instantly stopped, and the battalion began with machine-like regularity to carry out the principals of modern musketry, for which their training had efficiently prepared them and their rifles were admirably suited.  They fired on average 60 rounds per man, and finally repulsed the attack.”[1]

These accounts from the battle of Omdurman in 1898 serve as strong indicators as to the future direction of the role of the service rifles and support weapons.  The rifles largely functioned as designed and in the hands of professionally trained and led riflemen achieved the desired capabilities of fairly effective volley fire out to 2,000+ yards [1,829m], and effective rapid individual and sectional firing out to 300 yards [274 meters].  This was the type of fight an industrialized power wanted, causing enemy attrition at extreme standoff distances, and firing machinelike rates of fire to dominate the close fight.  It is interesting to look again at the engagement ranges of different forms of fire from the above Battle of Omdurman and compare it to weapons of today.  The 300 yard to 800 yard range where the Lee-Enfield appears to have been most effective against the enemy bears similarity to 5.56x45 chambered M16 variants currently in service with a maximum effective range of 800 meters for an area target, 550 meters for a man-sized point target, and 300 meters for smaller torso and head sized targets.  Squad level automatic weapons such as the M249 SAW and M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle play key roles as bases of fire out to similar ranges.  5.56x45 platforms such as the Mk12 and Squad Designated Marksman Rifle have provided the capability for squad level precision fires generally out to 600 yards.  Meanwhile, the desired capability of 2,000 yard volley fire from the Lee-Enfield and other service rifles of over a century ago have transferred over time to the very comparative 1,800 meter maximum effective range of the 7.62x51 M240.  While the M240 is generally not organic to the rifle squad from a doctrinal standpoint, it and its M60 predecessor have long standing history acting in direct support of small units.  Since the Battle of Omdurman it would appear that the desired effective ranges of squad level direct fire assets has changed little; with weaponeering evolutions in accuracy, speed of engagement, volume of fire, handling characteristics, and reliability incrementally increasing in capability over time.

First World War

With clear fields of fire and observation, a target saturated environment, and a relatively unskilled opponent, Omdurman and other engagements like it were ideal affairs for the application of infantry direct fires.   As similarly armed industrialized nation-states faced off against one another in the First World War, the ability to utilize the infantryman’s rifle in accordance with its full capabilities was greatly diminished.  The supporting assets of heavy-machine guns and modern artillery were now going both ways.  Horse cavalry’s utility was already on decline against fixed adversaries with engagements such as “the Charge of the Light Brigades.” Modern railways and communications allowed for troops to mass in unprecedented timeframes.  The result was a significant decline in tactical mobility relative to the vast improvements in operational mobility.  It was therefore now much easier to maintain an efficient defense than significant offensive momentum. The initial movement war armies were trained and organized for quickly transformed into a positional conflict on the Western Front.  The notorious story of professional British infantryman at the Battle of Ypres pumping out 15-25 rounds a minute against German attackers reporting “machinegun fire” became a thing of the past shortly after it occurred.  In one of the largest protracted conflicts in history, the career professional soldiers that formed the core of both sides at the inception of hostilities were largely thinned out by attrition in the early years.  Massed riflemen were a target.  Artillery in particular is said to have caused 75% of the total casualties in the conflict.  The capabilities of artillery, machinegun, and to a lesser extent sniper fire were such that standard riflemen had no choice but to utilize terrain for cover in the form of trenches to the greatest extent possible in order to mitigate their effects.  

Riflemen were no longer the same kind of assets they had been historically.  Defending trenches during an enemy assault and taking enemy trenches in assaults of their own became their well-defined roles.  By the end of the conflict, the rifles they carried were arguably ill-suited for either.  Fighting in the close quarters of trenches with long unwieldy bolt-action rifles largely turned into a grenade and edged weapon affair.   The German Army was none too pleased when the US doughboys arrived with some shotguns to mix it up.  Just getting to the trenches was another matter entirely.  The Western approach ended up with the Methodical Battlefield, coordinating large scale rolling artillery bombardments with troop advances and reinforcements, and would eventually be supported by tanks.  The German approach was more at the tactical level of small groups of elite infantrymen attempting to infiltrate enemy lines under the cover of artillery fire, and even crudely adjusting artillery fire as they went, in support of follow-on assault waves.  Increasingly effective well-coordinated rolling artillery barrages meant that the defending infantrymen no longer had the same kind of standoff as before to engage assaulters.  As the last shells would rain across the trench it was a rush from the bunkers to the firing positions.  In this environment, every feasible technique was explored and implemented to degrade the effects of the devastating enemy direct fire assets. 

The ranges expected of service rifles of this conflict varied.  During the Battle of Ypres in 1914, British infantrymen reportedly engaged German soldiers effectively at approximately 600 yards [549m].[2]  Marines at the Battle of Belleau Wood apparently attempted to add credence to an unofficial nickname of the Marine Corps as “the gun club” by engaging targets out to as far as 800 yards [731m].  However, these examples are indicative of the capabilities of very well trained professional riflemen firing with inconsistent hit-percentages, and did not constitute the majority of riflemen on either side.  The practicalities of aimed fire at the time were something quite different as a British competitive hunter, shooter, and wartime sniper instructor recalled:

“I used to have some firing practice at five and six hundred yards [457m and 459m] and when I went to the First Army [Sniping] School I gave this up.  The chances of hitting a German head at six hundred yards with a telescopic sight, if there is any wind blowing at all, are not great.  I came to the conclusion that popping away with telescopic sighted rifles at six hundred yards simply wore out there barrels.  We therefore, until warfare became more open, never went back more than 400 yards [366m][3]

Despite the limitations of relatively crude early scoped sniper rifles, most nations at the time regarded them of being able to hit a man sized target at a maximum effective range around 800 meters.  With this, we seem to get almost a timeless graduation in effect for infantry small arms.  This includes future requirements for service rifles capable of hitting a head sized target at 100 yards or meters and somewhat unrealistic man sized targets at the “half-kilometer” under ideal conditions.  The expectations of the WWI sniper rifles are similar to the capabilities of 5.56 chambered semi-automatic precision rifles of today; accurate enough for head sized targets at approximately 300 yards [274m] and hits on torso sized targets at approximately 600 yards [550m].

Interwar Development

Given what should have theoretically been learned from the experiences in WWI, the interwar period should have seen a progression away from cartridges with external ballistics suitable for ranges out to 2,000 yards, when 500 yards was more likely to be the far extent of practical aimed fire during the conflict.  With less powerful cartridges, rifles with much shorter barrel and overall length, and increasing handiness in close fighting should have been realized.  With increased emphasis on augmenting small unit firepower during WWI with portable light machineguns (LMGs) and auto-rifles, the mainstay of the interwar period service rifles should have theoretically been detachable magazine fed and auto-loading in nature.  In theory, a service rifle similar in characteristics to the M14, chambered in a cartridge similar to the modern 6.8 SPC, would have very likely well reflected the lessons learned in infantry combat from WWI.  As we all know, history was a far cry from theoretical lessons learned. 

What was needed after WWI was not an evolution, but a revolution in the advancement of service rifle and cartridge design.  The three general factors that degrade firearms development are cultural, technical, and fiscal challenges; with fiscal challenges generally being the most significant.  As a result of these, armies tend to keep putting the equivalent of Band-Aid after Band-Aid on perceived shortfalls associated with service rifle and cartridge design.  The revolutions in design that really keep the momentum of firearms development strong tend to historically originate from lessons paid for in blood, and/or great innovative designers (when they are recognized, not suppressed).  In the interwar period, most of world powers were forced to limit their service rifle development to shortening the barrel lengths, improving the sights, and slightly improving other aspects of their bolt-action rifles as a result of the main three constraints mentioned above.  As countries re-armed with shorter barrel service rifles and carbines firing the same full length cartridges, muzzle flash and perceived sound signatures increased accordingly.  This is a trend that has not abated to this day.  The U.S., as a result of many economic and technological advantages, had the most innovation in the interwar period with the M1 Garand.  However, although a detachable box magazine had been proven in the fully automatic B.A.R. and numerous other designs, it was not seen as mature enough to implement into the Garand.  Furthermore, as a result of ammunition commonality concerns by the Army Chief of Staff, its .276 (7x51) Pederson intermediate cartridge was dropped in favor of the venerable 30-06 (7.62x63).  The lightweight M1 Carbine with its detachable box magazine and somewhat underpowered 7.62x33 cartridges could be added to the mix, but it was never intended to replace the Garand’s primacy in front line units.  Nevertheless, it could be reasonably argued that the U.S. was halfway there to applying the primary lessons learned of infantry combat in WWI to its service rifle, while most other nations displayed a much less capability/intent to do so.

Second World War

It can be argued the WWI rifleman may have been surrounded by problems, but the WWII infantryman was surrounded by solutions.  Organic to rifle squads were now 2nd generation reliable light-machine guns capable of moving with assaulting troops as a portable base of fire.  For the close fight, crude but effective, sub-machine guns were in the arsenals of most major combatant nations.  On the US side, the magazine fed semi-automatic M1 Carbine replaced pistols for rear-area troops, tankers, and other specialties.  Rifle grenades came more into play to cover the high explosive gap between hand grenade range and minimum safe distances for mortars.  Mortars, artillery, and the communications necessary to link the observers with firing lines were more effective than ever.  Add tactical air support, strategic bombing, armored warfare, motorized transport, airborne and amphibious insertions; and tactical mobility was back.  Unique to WWII was the unprecedented speed and scale of modern infantry combat, the varieties of terrain, and the conditions involved.  It is interesting to note the reflections of some of the major powers of their service rifles in its aftermath. 

In my opinion the countries that most effectively reacted to the nature of modern infantry combat as presented in WWII were the two nations that suffered the highest combat casualties; Germany and the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union in particular had so many KIA, that in theory if all laid from head to foot they could stretch all the way from Moscow to Berlin.[4]  Poorly trained Red Army Soldiers armed with unwieldy 91/30 Mosin-Nagants were no match for well supported veteran Wehrmacht soldiers. However, as epic urban battles of Stalingrad, Leningrad, and the like took form, the neutralizing effect of protracted struggle took form.  At the tactical level, Red Army soldiers and commanders began learning from costly early mistakes.  Professional veteran German troops suffered attrition.  The Red Army began equipping its units with large numbers of sub-machineguns (SMGs), ideal for urban warfare in engagements under 100m.  Outside of this range, their snipers and supporting machineguns could reach out.  The Wehrmacht reacted, pumping in larger numbers of their own SMGs.  As the Wehrmacht’s grip on Soviet cities slipped, they returned to the open field warfare that they should have been accustomed for.  However, this wasn’t the same Wehrmacht or the same Red Army as before.  The Soviets learned well from the kind lessons the Germans provided on the application of firepower and mobile operations.  Despite Hitler’s ceaseless desire to lock down the Eastern Front in much the same way as the Western Front during WWI, it was simply infeasible.  Engagement ranges for the majority of infantry contacts would normally remain compressed to the 300m and under range.  As Mauser manufacturers sought to decrease the production times of the 100m-2000m sights, a 100-400m sight was identified by combat units as completely acceptable to current fighting conditions.[5]  The fact that less than a generation before the minimum battle sight setting for the Gewehr 98 was 400m represents a significant evolution. 

The Wehrmacht conscious of material constraints, manufacturing constraints, and the reality of the battlefield, developed a new round by cutting its 7.92x57 Mauser cartridge down to 7.92x33.  They hoped to even the odds against their numerically superior enemy with that cartridge and an automatic, gas operated, magazine fed weapon.  After finally winning Hitler’s support for the weapon, production of the Stg-44 went into full scale. 

“…[the] K98k became more and more the weapon for the aimed single shot.  After introduction of the Sturmgewehr 44, however, the K98k becomes the ‘Sharpshooter Weapon’ for which it should be demanded that with this weapon a head [sized] target should be hit from a distance of 300 m.”[6]

The Wehrmacht developed a well-balanced combination of lethal firepower with its Stg-44s for the close to mid-range fight, K98k variants for precision fire, and MG42 LMGs for volumetric fire.  It was too little, too late.

The Soviets had similar issues and a similar response when they developed their M1943 cartridge and a little later the AK-47 family of weapons.  Anyone familiar with C.J. Chivers book The Gun has an understanding of the massive degree of research and development, ambitious capability guidelines, and intense competition that went into the design of the AK.  Like other legendary designs such as the Mauser 98, Lee-Enfield SMLE, and the Garand, these efforts paid off.  As design and manufacturing matured, the AKM possessed a 16.5 inch barrel, long-stroke gas piton operation, 30-round magazine, 6.83lb weight, and 7.62x39 cartridge.  Soviet soldiers and their allies now had a very lightweight, relatively compact, and very reliable weapon capable of effective and accurate enough fire out to around 300-400m.  It would soon become the most prolific and iconic assault rifle in the world. 

Western Response

The initial response of the West was that the AK was a crude design with poor accuracy compared to the flat shooting M14; as they secretly admired its reliability and light weight.  The more formal US response to the AK was a technologically advanced lightweight rifle specialized in engaging targets at the traditional 0-500 yards with a new lightweight 5.56x45mm bullet.  In the Great Rifle Conspiracy by Edward Ezell, the author covers the development of this rifle in great detail. 

The notable Project SALVO reports leading to the AR-15 placed the highest priority on hit probability as opposed to lethality.[7] As such, they advocated firing concentrations of flat trajectory rounds under the notion that rounds fired at an area were about just as likely to hit a target as rounds specifically aimed fire.  Getting the military to accept this rifle and round concept required clever marketing. Initially, this meant convincing Air Force base security forces and South Vietnamese troops to arm themselves with these weapons (most of who were previously armed with M1 Carbines).  This transformed into the M-16 being adopted as a theater specific weapon for the unique requirements of the conflict.  Finally, the M-16 became the US worldwide standard service rifle by the early 1970s.  Early implementation issues were immense.  The privately designed AR-15, as well as its small-diameter high-velocity bullet, did not endure the same intensity of testing and evaluation that characterized similar programs that led to rifles such as the Garand.   Some testing came out in support of a 6.35mm round as the best replacement for 7.62x51 as an all-purpose infantry cartridge.[8]  Combat reports fabricated by the M-16’s parent company of limbs and body cavities exploding after being struck by these rounds couldn’t be reproduced in stateside ballistic testing.  Nevertheless, troops appreciated its lightweight and ergonomic design, which was capable of accurate fire and with a large ammunition capacity. A victim of its own fabricated success, rifle production and deliveries outpaced the dissemination of cleaning supplies, field manuals, and trainers.  These aspects coupled with the initial lack of chrome-lining and use of ball type propellant, and serious issues became prevalent.  The M16 became synonymous with unreliability, with horror stories of troops in combat being hit while frantically attempting to clear jams.  It wasn’t until the M16A1 was issued that the Army and Marines had a reliable service rifle.

In the early 1980s the US sought to improve the M16A1 in what would become the M16A2.  Other NATO countries were planning on the retirement of their 7.62 platforms and wanted to rethink the capabilities of the 55gr FMJ M193 NATO standard 5.56 for their next generation of service rifles.  In the end they adopted the Belgian designed SS109 round (designated M855) that was designed to still yaw and fragment at short ranges, but penetrate thin steel targets at longer ranges.  This was as a result of adding a steel core penetrator, having a heavier 62gr bullet weight, and a faster 1:7 inch twist rate.  As with anything with weapons design, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  By making these changes and increasing bullet stability, they decreased the reliability in which the bullet would violently fragment, thus decreasing the biggest aide in its lethality.[9]  FMJ 5.56 bullets that fail to fragment notoriously fail to create permanent wound cavities any greater than its original small diameter.  Lack of significant conflicts, despite adverse combat reporting in the Gulf War and Somalia, generated little effective notice.

It wasn’t until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that these issues took real notice.  The “superior penetrating capabilities of M855” would unreliably penetrate auto glass and other intermediate barriers.  The reduced fragmenting reliability meant 2-3 shot drills long trained for in CQB no longer had quite the same utility as before in immediately neutralizing an active threat in combat.  14.5-inch barrel M4 carbines favored by the Army and 10.5-inch barrel CQB weapons favored by SOF were particularly susceptible to lower lethality than their Vietnam predecessors.  Certain military communities consulted competitive shooters in order to learn how to more efficiently engage targets as accurately as possible in critical zones, as quickly as possible, and with as many rounds as possible in an attempt to mitigate these shortfalls. 

Bullet Design Wins and Familiar Shortfalls

Early into the recent conflicts, US SOCOM successfully adopted heavier match grade 77 grain 5.56 rounds.  The heavier bullet weight and lack of steel core resulted in a noticeable increase in lethality.  The conventional Marine Corps followed with the 62gr Mk118 SOST round designed for improved barrier performance and bullet expansion instead of bullet fragmentation to aide in wounding ability.  The conventional Army developed the lead free M855a1 round that contained a steel tip for added penetration and an expanding copper shank for lethality.  All three of these rounds have shown to be significantly more lethal and accurate than M855 from reports in Afghanistan.

Signature reduction in service rifles has not historically been given a high priority until after WWII.  The M16’s flash hider was fairly effective, but its open pronged design was said to get snagged on vines and susceptible to damage.  The current standard A2 flash hider is actually a compensating flash hider, and isn’t particularly highly effective at either task.  In the age-old tradition, using the same cartridge for a rifle and shorter barrel carbine will result in greater muzzle blast.  In the case of 10.5-inch barrel weapons this effect is amplified.  Much more effective newly designed open-pronged style flash hiders have seen resurgence.  Additional trends include an increased use of suppressors by some units on everything from CQB weapons to M240s and even .50 cal rifles.  The idea is not necessarily to be silent, but to essentially delay the speed in which an enemy can identify the source of firing.  It is also has several other benefits to the rifleman.  When the deafening roar of outgoing friendly fire is dampened, it facilitates effective communications and command-and-control.  The rifleman doesn’t lose his hearing at the same rate as before and can now more effectively listen to changes in the environment.  Suppressor proliferation is currently anything but universal in today’s combat units, but it is possibly a picture of things to come.  The problem with 5.56 in nearly all of its forms is that it does not readily suppress well compared to many other intermediate cartridges.  It simply wasn’t originally designed for shorter barrel lengths or subsonic performance.

Current weapons trends, cartridge designs, optics, range finding aides, laser aiming devices, night vision devices, etc… have made the modern rifleman more effective than ever at accurately engaging and destroying the enemy.  Despite the drawbacks of 5.56, hit probability with the round and modern rifles and optics are excellent in common combat ranges.  Many countries have had to revise their marksmanship qualification courses of fire to make them more challenging than when they were previously equipped with iconic 7.62 rifles and iron sights.  2nd rate threats shouldn’t stand a chance in combat, and in most cases don’t.  But just as in protracted wars of the past, they begin to understand our capabilities in many ways better than we know them ourselves, and exploit weaknesses we are not readily able to counter.

Time and again in warfighting history, it is good use of terrain for observation, cover, concealment, channeling, and effective fires that has given weaker opponents an edge.  WWI was highlighted for its use of manmade terrain to mitigate the effects of direct/indirect fire, and use of manmade concealment afforded by well-coordinated rolling artillery barrages and smoke screens in support of attacks.  Fast forward to Afghanistan, and the trenches have translated to well-built houses and mountainous terrain.  Concealment depends upon excellent uses of vegetation in some areas, cave networks, and uses of natural micro-terrain.  By the end of WWI forward trenches would be lightly defended in order to further mitigate the effects of devastating artillery.  In Afghanistan, the enemy mitigates the effects of supporting arms with time, by understanding approximately how much time they have in an engagement before they need to break contact.  In WWI, the rifleman mitigated the effects of direct fire while observing in the defense through use of periscopes.  In Afghanistan, the direct fire “half kilometer” supposed strengths of the Western riflemen are mitigated by long-range precision small arms and machinegun fire.  In WWI the rifleman utilized mines to degrade the mobility of attacking adversaries, with pressure-plate IEDs being the Afghan counterpart.  This does not represent a revolution or even much of an evolution in military affairs; it is business as usual adapting to the tactical situation.

The evolution is the increasing degree to which the enemy exploits the moral and political terrain.  Third world enemies have learned that they can significantly degrade the chances of supporting arms being utilized against them if they are in proximity to civilians.  They learned that collateral civilian deaths could be exploited for greater local support for their operations. They learned that even when they feel the effects of supporting arms, that they can fabricate reporting to suggest civilians were casualties.  They learned how to set conditions so that the Western squad/section they faced would possibly be without external support for the duration of the contact.  They learned that they could move around the battle space, and as long as they weren’t observed to be armed in between they wouldn’t be readily engaged.  They learned that as a SOF raid force entered their house, they could keep their rifle away from them in the corner and be captured alive as long as there was no resistance.  They learned that despite the extent of their offenses, corruption in the judicial system could be exploited for their release.

Modern Service Rifle

As state-on-state conflict continues to lose utility, training and equipping for the small wars has a greater value than ever.   Whereas before the infantry squad could generally count on timely and effective support, we now need to reconsider how the squad should be equipped to win solely with its organic weapons.  Embodying past, present, and projected future trends, what capabilities should the infantryman’s primary weapon have?  Former SEAL and tactical firearms trainer Kyle Defoor advocates that the modern fighting carbine should “be able to shoot effectively at CQB distance, take positive head shots at 100, and engage at the max distance for 5.56 - IMO 400 yds on the body.”[10]  By many accounts, practical combat accuracy out to approximately 300-400 yards seems to be the common understanding for the capabilities of an infantryman and his rifle.

Some have taken a look at the relatively new 300 Blackout (7.62x35) as a more ideal caliber due to its better terminal ballistics from shorter barrels, better intermediate barrier performance, acceptable external ballistics for the ranges considered, and better integration with suppressors.  It is designed to operate reliably suppressed or unsuppressed, using supersonic or subsonic ammunition.  Pairing this extremely versatile cartridge with the extreme versatility of the AR-15 platform is a natural match to arm the infantryman with a more effective weapon.  At the squad level, this could materialize as a 7.62x35 service rifles, multiple auto-rifles for volumetric fire, and a squad designated marksman rifle for precision fire.  By adding some improvements such as lightweight customizable free-float rail systems, improved triggers, and good optics/lights/lasers, you earn an improved AR-15 family of squad-level weapons ready to dominate at common combat ranges.  What do we give up in terms of capabilities compared to 5.56 chambered service rifles and squad support weapons?  In the case of the US Army where current M4 training/qualifications are limited to 300 yards, there is no real change in hit-probability.  However, the 400-600 yard ranges where auto-rifles/SAWs and designated marksmen rifles have the capability to reach out is generally outside the envelope of capabilities for 7.62x35.  Nevertheless, even with 5.56 support weapons, what we see in Afghanistan is an increasing squad level reliance on 7.62x51 based precision semi-automatic rifles, lightweight variants of the medium machine guns, and essentially heavyweight variants of light machineguns chambered in 7.62x51.  To mitigate the shortfalls when compared to 5.56, the theoretical 7.62x35 armed squads would benefit from even better access to 7.62x51 weapons in order to achieve true well-rounded effectiveness from CQB distances to ranges up to 800 yards and beyond.  In this sense, the squad designated marksman would be proficient at both 7.62x35 and 7.62x51 chambered precision platforms, and have both available based on the nature of the operating environment and mission at hand.  Squad auto-riflemen would enjoy a similar proficiency with 7.62x35 and 7.62x51 chambered fully automatic weapons.  Having 2-3 M240s available for use if needed in each squad may sound excessive at first.  However, when you consider the mobile patrols in the Iraq war where each HMMWV or MRAP had a crew-served weapon mounted, it seems not so excessive.  I wanted to focus on the direct fire aspect as much as possible in this article, so integration with squad level high explosive assets hasn’t been discussed.  I can say that with increasingly capable grenade and multi-purpose rocket launchers, the future looks bright.  How does everything integrate above the squad at the platoon, company, and battalion level?  Not really in the scope of this article either, but as long as the initiative supports the squad better, it’s headed in the right direction. 

Unfortunately, given the current fiscal environment, NATO standards, and military cultural challenges, it is unlikely for 7.62x35 to be adopted on any large scale basis in the foreseeable future.  However, in my opinion, empowering the infantry squad as such will allow for the greatest effectiveness across a variety of operational conditions.  Such squads would have been sufficiently equipped should they have needed to maintain continuous accurate long-range fires out to 1,800 meters at Omdurman in 1898, assault through heavily defended urban terrain in Berlin in 1945, or identify and defeat an enemy ranging from CQB to long-range distances while minimizing their own signature in Iraq or Afghanistan during the current conflict.  The adaptability of the AR-15 platform, the adaptability of the 7.62x35 cartridge, the adaptability of the squad, and the adaptability of its access to support weapons, would together set conditions for significant increases in squad lethality and survivability in modern conflict. 

[1] Pegler, Martin. "Use." The Lee-Enfield Rifle. Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2012. 43-44. Print.

[2] Pegler, Martin. "Use." The Lee-Enfield Rifle. Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2012. 49. Print.

[3] Pegler, Martin. "Development." The Lee-Enfield Rifle. Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2012. 30. Print.

[4] Willmott, H. P. When Men Lost Faith in Reason: Reflections on Warfare in the Twentieth Century. Bedford: H.P. Willmott, 19--. Print.

[5] Law, Richard D. "The K98k at War." Backbone of the Wehrmacht: The German K98k Rifle, 1934-1945. Cobourg, Ont.: Collector Grade Publications, 1993. 225. Print.

[6] Law, Richard D. "The K98k at War." Backbone of the Wehrmacht: The German K98k Rifle, 1934-1945. Cobourg, Ont.: Collector Grade Publications, 1993. 225. Print.

[7] Ezell, Edward Clinton. "The M-16 Rifle." The Great Rifle Controversy: Search for the Ultimate Infantry Weapon from World War II through Vietnam and beyond. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1984. 167. Print.

[8] Ezell, Edward Clinton. "The M-16 Rifle." The Great Rifle Controversy: Search for the Ultimate Infantry Weapon from World War II through Vietnam and beyond. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1984. 182. Print.

[9] Ezell, Edward Clinton. "5.56mm Standardization and M16A1 Product Improvement." The Great Rifle Controversy: Search for the Ultimate Infantry Weapon from World War II through Vietnam and beyond. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1984. 270-273. Print.

[10] Defoor, Kyle. "U.S. Optics SN-4S." Kyle Defoor: U.S. Optics SN-4S. Defoor Performance, 27 Nov. 2011. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.


Categories: weapons - rifles - infantry

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Fri, 06/14/2013 - 12:56pm

In reply to by J Harlan

What do you mean by "ever increasing numbers"? I know my German WWII squad history, so I am curious how anything the Germans did relates to ideas of putting 3 M240s down at the squad level.


Fri, 06/14/2013 - 10:33am

In reply to by J Harlan

J Harlan:

Your comment reminded me that WWII saw the greatest amount of small unit fighting with fairly modern weapons ever. We didn't have a machine gun that would allow comparison but, as you say the Germans did, the British did, the Soviets did and even the Japanese had one (of course it seems they had one of everything). So maybe it would be useful to study the old anew.

J Harlan

Fri, 06/14/2013 - 9:49am

Since in WW 2 a decent GPMG wasn't available to the US Army there can't be any studies done on the effect of having more of them in the squad. BARs perhaps but that was an automatic rifle not a MG and 1919A4 and A6s are substantially heavier than a modern GPMG and are not the type of weapon I' proposing.

The Germans on the other hand had an excellent GPMG- the MG42- which they issued in ever increasing numbers leaving rifles in the hands of "snipers" and normal riflemen carrying MG ammo and panzerfausts.


Fri, 06/14/2013 - 7:10am

In reply to by johnr

It will make a damn difference when the enemy we face is not equipped with shot out AKs, crappy ammunition, pajamas, and sandals. When the level of warfare is so unrestricted that it takes the breath away of even the most experienced and hardened Iraq or Afghanistan veteran, and it can truly be termed "war", it will matter and make a difference.


Thu, 06/13/2013 - 1:38pm

In reply to by johnr

You forgot to mention those " 5 per day for 100,000 troops " were firing back with clapped out Chicom weapons, 3rd rate Made in Pakistan ammo and wearing canvas chest rigs, pajamas, cloth hats and sandals.

in 10 plus years we have killed about a total of 30,000 Taliban. probably half that has been done by infantry. that is like 5 per day for 100,000 troops. WTF difference is anything you guys are talking about going to make a difference? The Taliban are stronger now than they were 8 years ago. I do not see the problem being the cartridges we use.


Wed, 06/12/2013 - 10:30am

In reply to by J Harlan

Where are you getting your empirical data that most enemy casualties are claimed within 100 meters?

It would be interesting to see a machine gun tripod take some clues from the Videography community and introduce a fluid head system with full traverse and elevation capabilities. It looks like AMU is already looking into it for precision rifles.

A single assault team is not enough for CQB. For Personnel Recovery mission sets a single team is typically dedicated to go direct to threat and bypass open doors if the room where the hostage(s) is being kept is known. You need the additional teams to clear the rest of the objective. You cannot do this with multiple gun teams tying up the rest.

Have you ever humped or were issued the .50? The M107 is not an ideal choice for the dismounted element. Lack of magnification on the variable power optic, weight, and inaccuracy (we joked that it shot MOC – Minute Of Car) are the top three reasons. It is a niche item within most Units.


Sat, 06/08/2013 - 11:45pm

In reply to by J Harlan

Why would you need a .50 cal rifle in a platoon?


Fri, 06/14/2013 - 1:34pm

In reply to by J Harlan

"Since in WW 2 a decent GPMG wasn't available to the US Army"

What do you call the M60? (Which is based on the MG42)

You didn't look at those links I shared with you that discussed how automatic weapons went from being organized in a squad support element to being spread through out the squad and why... (in short it slowed the squad down and/or left lead elements without automatic weapons support until the support element of the squad could make their way forward)

J Harlan

Fri, 06/14/2013 - 9:55am

In reply to by major.rod

Since in WW 2 a decent GPMG wasn't available to the US Army there can't be any studies done on the effect of having more of them in the squad. BARs perhaps but that was an automatic rifle not a MG and 1919A4 and A6s are substantially heavier than a modern GPMG and are not the type of weapon I' proposing.

The Germans on the other hand had an excellent GPMG- the MG42- which they issued in ever increasing numbers leaving rifles in the hands of "snipers" and normal riflemen carrying MG ammo and panzerfausts.


Wed, 06/12/2013 - 11:01pm

In reply to by MichaelBronson

There's mountains of all kinds of stuff available and I like you invested in my own kit at times (boots and gloves).

That said Joe isn't going to buy kit or should be forced to do it. Before I issue one iota of new kit I address the training first because that's the critical mindset that ensures new kit is used properly.

Our tendency to field material solutions before addressing training issues is part of the problem adn what happens when a "geardo" mentality takes precedence over a training one. It's much easier to hit at a 1000m with a scope than iron sights but you still need the same basic skills. Unfortunately all the young soldier sees is the scope made all the difference. That's not the lesson we want.

Six of the eight areas you discussed were mental. There is an exorbitant amount of emphasis on material solutions which WILL NOT FIX the problem if the other issues aren't addressed first. Giving average shooters olympic equipment doesn't make them better shooters. It just makes them more expensively equipped average shooters. AWG missed the boat.


Wed, 06/12/2013 - 10:35am

In reply to by major.rod


Fully agree that the problem is systemic. We have failed to even define Marksmanship, let alone gunfighting. We need to look at the entire system as a whole:

1) Shooter
2) Weapon System
3) Ammunition
4) Training
5) Doctrine
6) Coaches / Mentors
7) Targetry (Electronic, Steel, Paper)
8) True Requirements Of The Duty Positions & Elements

Reference the materiel solutions cited:

There were / are warehouse full of 3x Magnifiers capable of interfacing with the USGI M68 CCO after an AWG initiative that were / are just awaiting for an Operational Needs Statement / Operational Capabilities Request, annotating the possible capabilities shortfall. They have a National Stock Number (NSN) and are capable of being procured by GPF. A free-floated rail system could be procured the same way. I purchased my own – an expensive proposition, but my life was worth the $200.

Soldiers are authorized to make non-permanent modifications to their issue weapon systems in accordance with Army Regulation 750-10 Army Modification Program. The key is to use Temporary Enhancement To Use In Combat as the reason. Removal and installation of the rail system should be a -10 Operator Level skill.

The magic and dreaded words in accomplishing the materiel request are EXTREMELY HIGH / CATASTROPHIC RISK – FATAL CONSEQUENCES – RISK MITIGATION – APPROVAL AUTHORITY. Clearly articulating the need for magnified optics for enhanced Soldier Survivability (interrogating terrain and P-IED’s, scanning for danger areas and enemy personnel) and Soldier Lethality (allowing greater chance of Positive Identification and precision direct fire striking and killing the enemy).


Sat, 06/08/2013 - 9:43pm

In reply to by J Harlan

Great comments by all. Just lost a long post commenting on everyone's input and I'm not going to retype.

Michael - I'm a huge believer in marksmanship training and leadership but not everyone has access to free floating barrels, T1s and 3x magnifiers. Nor is the military committed to training marksmanship or have the NCO leaders ready to take on that mantle. Keep doing what you're doing but the problem is at the highest levels.

Harlan - More MGs are not the answer. They slow down the squad as you will find if you read more into the WWII experiences of both the Army and the Marines. VanRiper's seminal "Development of the Infantry Squad Historical Analysis" is a fantastic read on the subject. BTW, the Infantry Squad is 9 men not eight and vehicles didn't drive that number. Fielding a large force did. Check out Karcher "Enhancing Combat Effectiveness, The Evolution of the United States Army Infantry Rifle Squad Since the End of WWII"

J Harlan

Sat, 06/08/2013 - 3:09pm

In reply to by J Harlan

One small historical anecdote about the accuracy of rifle fire in combat.

In Max Hastings 2007 book "Warriors: Portraits from the Battlefield" he discusses Rorke's Drift and how during the after action analysis the Brits found they had incapacitated a Zulu (remembering the Zulu wounded were finished off with bayonets)for every 25 rounds fired. They thought it was a good result and the fire was far more accurate than usual.

This was a from a long service professional army firing from behind fortifications at massed targets not in cover at short range.

Imagine what a single Vickers would have done.

J Harlan

Sat, 06/08/2013 - 3:03pm

In reply to by Move Forward

My comments have been about light or dismounted infantry. If mounted a platoon would have access to at least another four MGs if not cannon and ATGW.

I've always thought the rifle squad should be larger than eight men. The current eight man squad has more to do with fitting in vehicles than anything else. A 10 man squad allows for a five man gun group with to MGs and a five man assault group lead by the SL. A 13 man squad has the SL and three four man teams: two with MGs and one without. This is along the line of the USMC squads in the latter Pacific battles.

The key is that the number of people and resources providing fire support is usually about 2/3 of the squad while 1/3 maneuver. This system increases suppression of the enemy and reduces exposure of assaulting troops.

I agree that the level of organization to be more concerned with is platoon. A 60mm light mortar, a .50 sniper rifle and at least a pair of GPMGs should be in a weapons squad. The current tripod should be replaced with the Brit version which gives 360 degree traverse and far more elevation and depression.

Move Forward

Sat, 06/08/2013 - 1:16pm

In reply to by J Harlan

You and Bronson both make good points. However, perhaps Harlan and this piece's author can describe who we would give up in a 4-man fire team to equip each one with an M240 machine gun. Would it be the rifleman, automatic rifleman, grenadier, or squad designated marksman?

Substituting an M240 machine gun would effectively eliminate one weapon from each fire team since an M240 requires two-person crew. The ability to fire and suppress in four different directions would be lost. It would hinder being able to bound alternating fire teams due to machine gun weight. This would force one team with two machine guns to become somewhat stationary leaving the other ad hoc team doing all the bounding. Would we permanently create one fire team with two machine guns? That single bounding fire team would become the primary enemy target and rapidly would outrun the ability of the other team to provide local suppressing fire in dead space.

Are we anticipating doing many long dismounted patrols carrying these two machine guns per squad in mountains, through swamps, and up and down alleys where an enemy may suddenly appear and fire? I can see that fire from the hip that Harlan describes getting a lot of work out with that machine gun penetrating nearby house walls. In more confined urban and complex wooded terrain the limited fields of fire would not be able to exploit their long range. The machine gun would cause enormous civilian casualties while not being able to aim accurately or bound building-to-building or tree-to-tree as easily.

The ammunition expenditure and weight of the now three weapons being fired per fire team would probably double if not triple vs four individual weapons of lesser caliber.

Night vision devices (NVD) would not be as effective since Harlan describes that the M240 is not a cheek-to-stock weapon and NVD integration would simply add weight.

Wouldn't it make more sense to leave machine guns at platoon level where a pair can be optimally located to overwatch bounding squads using alternating talking guns? If these and more powerful machine guns are mounted on combat vehicles with elevated fields of fire, integrated high quality EO/IR optics, and surrounding armor, isn't that preferable? Don't vehicles also facilitate automated guns on manned or unmanned ground vehicles that don't require a gunner who can be suppressed by mortar and artillery airbursts and intense machine guns and RPG fire?

J Harlan

Sat, 06/08/2013 - 11:43am

In reply to by MichaelBronson

One of the most important capabilities of a commander is to realize the limitations of his equipment and troops. Wishing everyone was Audie Murphy doesn't make it so.

"If you are not willing to invest personal time and money in ensuring that your team is prepared for combat". That sounds like a fire team leader speaking. "Personal money?" Imagine the problem from the Army COS position.

I suspect the reason you have trouble understanding my points on MGs is that you see them as just another big automatic rifle as your talk of cheek welds and optics demonstrates. They are crew served area weapons.

The effort to make every infantrymen capable of reliably hitting under combat conditions at 500m is beyond the US Army. It was in WW 2, Korea, Vietnam and it is now. The vast majority of casualties are inflicted by HE and crew served weapons not rifles. Those caused by rifle (not sniper rifle)fire are usually done within 100m.


Sun, 06/02/2013 - 10:40pm

In reply to by J Harlan

If you're a manager who allows substandard performance, then you are part of the problem. If something is not being executed at or above standard, it is our job as leaders to clearly demonstrate the standard and ensure it is followed. Simply saying "These things happen, expect it" is an epic failure of leadership and you should be ashamed of yourself everytime you look at yourself in the mirror when wearing a uniform. If you are not willing to invest personal time and money in ensuring that your team is prepared for combat then you do not belong in the Profession Of Arms. Subscribing to the lowest common denominator for a profession that deals with providing swift land dominance isn't a good policy. I have never seen an organization suffer from too high of a standard.

My last tour in AFG (11-12) I never saw anyone in my organization or those we worked with carry 10 magazines outside of multiday air assaults or long term hide site mission sets.

I fail to see how a fully automatic weapon system with more recoil, a stock that is not engineered to have a proper cheek to stock weld (to include the new Savit / RFI SOPMOD combination), and an optic suite that have Eye Relief, durability, zero retainment, BDC errors, and shift issues due to being mounted on top of a feed tray with 1/8" shift in either direction will allow a Soldier to be more effective in lethally engaging the enemy at distance, especially with reduced training days dedicated to the machine gun compared to the rifle. If you are using iron sights, how are you seeing the enemy at distance and then lethally engaging them?

What are you going to do when your ideal MTOE'd element has to conduct CQB on multiple compounds in a village when everyone is rocking a 240, M72's, and standalone M320's? How are they going to even get to the fight with all those cats humping a pig, linked ammunition, rocket launchers, and mandatory theatre provided equipment? Their mobility will be severely impaired and their ability to maneuver on the enemy neutered.

If I were a member of the Taliban, I'd take going up against kids in love with their machine guns making noise blasting away laying scunion and turtling up hoping to scare me off with sustained fire superiority due to lack of mobility than precision direct fire from battle rifles all day. I'd do everything from flank and attack to reseed IED's on their projected exfil path when all I have is an AK, a mandress, sandals, a chest rig and some boom boom.

J Harlan

Sun, 06/02/2013 - 7:49pm

In reply to by MichaelBronson

You have to put away what you think should happen- careful aiming, better training etc and deal with what actually happens. Mixing up what enthusiasts do with what the mass of the army will do isn't a good basis for policy.

Very few rifle shots hit at any distance. Even fewer hit at beyond 100m. That's true now just as it was in WW 2 when the infantry had a rifle ideal for long range shooting. This is the entire basis of the move from full caliber rifles like the M1 to assault rifles.

The majority of the troops know or at least sense this. Why else would they want to carry upwards of 10 mags each? They know they're going to spray and pray.

As to MG crews being poorly trained I don't follow. You want to train all infantrymen to hit targets in combat conditions out to 500m with rifle fire but somehow the use of a M240 well within it's optimum range will be beyond them. I favor more MGs not because they are more difficult to use by because they are easier.

Will a MG crew set up a tripod in an ambush? I guess it depends at what range and how long the fire fight goes on for.

Ask yourself this. If you were a Talib would you want to fight a US Army rifle platoon armed with it's current TO&E or with an additional three M240s?


Sun, 06/02/2013 - 6:36pm

In reply to by J Harlan

You're using secondhand videos that are wide angle 1x magnification systems where the viewer cannot see the enemy or the effects of the battle which are uploaded by Untrained Soldiers to base your opinion off of. The vast majority of videos that are uploaded onto Youtube are made by lower ranking individuals who view it through the prism of CDI factor and not as a tool to ruthlessly critique their actions and capture the action which is what the Trained professional Soldiers do. These individuals are the same ones who sustain their skills on their own dime and time and seek training outside of the military. You won't find those videos on Youtube, but I can assure you well-aimed shots are utilized. Ground truth - one of my leadership principles is to listen to the guys on the ground. For those individuals who are Untrained or Partially Trained and using substandard TTP's to engage the enemy, get them trained and rein them in. This is about Skill Level One Soldiering - Brilliance In The Basics.

Let me get this straight - you're trying to parallel a weapon system capable of providing precision direct fire at long ranges when used properly as being responsible for wasting rounds...but your desired solution is to field machine guns and have Riflemen become AG's even with subpar optics for GPMG's and limited training proficiencies compared to rifles? And they're going to hit at extended range simply because its an area weapon system with the same (and arguably less trained) Soldier behind the gun? No way, no how. What they will do is provide a large volume of fire that will drive the Taliban away to fight another day. You don't win a battle by filling the air with lead. You win the battle by putting holes in bad guys.

You expect machine gunners to set up a tripod when reacting to an ambush? When was the last time you were in Afghanistan and in what terrain did you find yourself? How much weight was in Soldier's Fighting Loads and how well could they maneuver?

J Harlan

Sun, 06/02/2013 - 3:18pm

In reply to by MichaelBronson

Simply look at video of troops under fire. Most of the outgoing rifle fire is pointed in the general area of the threat. Much is fired on automatic. Some from the hip or with a rifle held over a wall.

The US has been in Afghanistan for over a decade. How much rifle fire has been expended? Millions of rounds? Billions? In any event a very small percentage has hit the enemy at long range and of course some that did would have been simply by luck. Anecdotal stories of marksmen hitting the enemy far away don't change the fact that most rifle fire is pointed not aimed and much is not even directed toward a specific target but is used for suppression or recon by fire.

My comment on machine guns stands due to two factors 1) crew served weapons tend be manned more often than individual especially if on a tripod 2) they are area weapons and thus pinpoint aiming is not as crucial to their having effect.

Your ideas on training would improve marksmanship but at what cost and would the skills provided be actually used? It would be much more effective to simply issue more M240s to each platoon and have riflemen carry extra MG ammo.


Sun, 06/02/2013 - 9:52am

In reply to by J Harlan

Negative. Rifles are used to close with and destroy the enemy out to the maximum effective range it can be employed by the Individual. Your formula is flawed from inception.

I have personally engaged lethally several bad guys at distance, the furthest out being a tango at 490 meters with an M4 ( Free-Floated barrel, stock trigger, MK 262 MOD 1, Aimpoint T1 & 3x Magnifier). Colleagues have repeatedly hit at mid to long range distances (200-450 meters) with M68 CCO / 3x Magnifier, Eotech / 3x Magnifier, and TA31 ACOG's. These were observed hits spotted by PLRF's, spotting scopes, RAID Camera's / PTIDS / Aerostat, CROW systems, and AWT's / SWT's.

I don't know where you worked, but an organization that permits Soldiers to fire without aiming has a systemic leadership problem and a severe lack of Partially Trained / Trained Gunfighters and Small Unit Leaders able to monitor and correct fire rates, and correct. Further, your supposition that if we change the caliber it won't change the fact that Soldiers won't aim contradicts your point that crew served weapons, rockets, and grenades are the big killers at distance. Just because these have a larger Wound Radius and Kill Radius, does not exempt them from being aimed. I would also contend that these weapon systems are among the least trained upon in the organization due to STRAC allocations with proficiency being comparatively low to rifles. Optic configurations for GPMG's leave a lot to be desired, the Elcan M145 is not an ideal optic for several reasons (durability issues, BDC being a mix between 5.56 and 7.62, wandering zero issues, and a substandard mount).

The Qualification system needs to change, as well as Basic Training / AIT / OSUT. Currently trainees can achieve Sharpshooter and even Expert by not engaging the 300 meter target. We are teaching our Soldiers from the beginning that they will be rewarded by not employing the weapon system well within its effective ranges. Qualifications and Marksmanship Tables need to be catered to actual mission requirements - longer ranges, partially exposed targets, moving targets, targets with varying exposure times.

J Harlan

Sat, 06/01/2013 - 10:33pm

The vast majority of rifle fire in combat is pointed not aimed. On live fire exercises a rule of thumb for determining effective range is to take whatever distance the shooter can reliably hit 100% of the time under good conditions and halve it. The M16 in the hands of a man who can always hit at 300m on a conventional range and aims has an effective range of about 150 under field conditions- unknown range, partial targets, stress and less than ideal shooting positions.(For pistols divide by 3). In combat accuracy can be expected to be even worse.

Applying this formula to most army rifle platoons would show the average effective range of an M4 for planning purposes to be around 100m. Changing the caliber won't change the fact that most soldiers don't aim. Rifles are usually used for self defence- CQB. Efforts to get hits under combat conditions at more than 100m are wasted. Crew served weapons and snipers are the killers at distance. We would be better off reducing the weight of the rifle and the amount of ammo carried and putting that effort into MGs, rockets and grenades.


Sat, 06/01/2013 - 3:25pm

BLUF: I believe this article is focused solely on materiel solutions to the detriment of everything else in DOTMLPF. I believe we need to focus on finding / fixing existing problems prior to integrating new weapons. If we integrate new weapon systems without first identifying and correcting training issues, we will simply repeat these mistakes on a new platform. It is too entrenched in theory as opposed to on the ground realities.

Define The Problem: US Forces are not detecting / identifying / discriminating bad guys at distance and then engaging them with small arms fire effectively.

As stated, the enemy can be defeated with existing weapon systems already carried by the squad. As I prefer software solutions to hardware ones, let us look at why this is and how to fix it. Note - this is written from an Army perspective.

We can be marksmen, or we can be targets.

Small Arms Lethality: Encompasses five factors.
1) The Bullet
2) The Shooter
3) His Weapon
4) His Training (It's the Indian, not the arrow - but the Warrior will not complain about a better bow if he has the requisite skillset to maximize its enhanced capabilities)
5) Bad Guy (He gets a vote, too - whether it be cover and concealment, maneuver, or simply not wanting to die after being seen and getting shot)

We need a combination package of training, ammunition, and weapon systems to give rise to a full spectrum development that does not solely focus on one aspect. I want to see Soldiers with good training, proper TTP's, accurate target identification and proper reporting, knowing when to let the situation develop.

Extract from the UNCLASSIFIED 2007 Infantry Small Arms Capabilities- Assessment Draft : "In general, target detection occurs at greater ranges than target recognition, which occurs at greater ranges than target identification. Ideally target identification should occur at ranges near the maximum effective range of a Warfighter’s or a unit’s maximum effective range."


Ground forces require magnification in order to effectively postively ID and target discriminate. In short, we must see before we can shoot. At the small unit level this means more fielding of monoculars, binoculars, PLRF's, and even spotting scopes. Magnified optics or a separate magnifier behind a RDS are also needed. A weapon system with a doctrinal maximum effective range needs to be tested and evaluated with current configurations and modifications and a Soldier's ability to employ it. Above all is the training requirement to detect, identify, and discriminate targets at distance as well as correctly rangng and reporting it.

Taliban elements are using cover and concealment to good effect and are almost always partially exposed targets with short exposure times. With the naked eye it is difficult to identify their fighting positions outside of visual signatures caused by their weapon systems. This is reactive. We need to get proactive.

Non-Reliance Upon Assets

Small Unit elements should be capable of elimnating the threat without the aid of air assets (AWT / SWT's, CAS), and artillery. With CDE and ROE restrictions this becomes even more vital. Due to inherent IED threats, the squad should be capable of successfully solving the problem at standoff distances.

I define a Designated Marksman as follows: An Infantry Soldier who is able to function interchangeably as a member of the squad and who is capable of target discrimination and precision direct fire out to 600 meters as a mission requirement. It is important to note that there is no DOTMLPF for the SDM in the US Army.

I believe a Sniper / Observer element at the PLT level has merit similar to Russian MTOE and adopted by the Serbians / Romanians when we worked with them. The issue in the US Army is a lack of qualified school-trained and time in service in a sniper section personnel within the BN capable of manning these duty positions as well as being unable to function interchangeably as a member of the squad. This is in addition to the Big Picture issue whch is that of proper training and employment by Higher, which has the bane of the sniper / observer for far too long.

An Operational Needs Statement for a Lightweight Designated Marksman Rifle (LW-DMR) for General Purpose Forces (GPF) was submitted during 2011 - 2012 during OEF and subsequently not acted upon. This was a 5.56 caliber weapon system.

The issues we identified with the M14 EBR are plethora: weight penalty, reduced basic load, lack of proper training, fielding just before or even during a deployment, unfamiliar weapon system that is not doctrinally supported today, lack of weapon maintenance plan and personnel knowledgeable of the weapon system, lack of BII and spare parts, subpar optic with a mismatched BDC for a round that has not been fielded for decades.

The solution for Product Improved Designs for the M4 have been in existence for years. Free floated rail system, sensitized trigger assembly, quality optic in quality (read: not ARMS) mount, stock that allows improved cheekweld, grip that allows a higher grip and flexibility between combat and surgical grips indexes though the last two are low in the weeds. This is a rapid COTS solution which is comparitively inexpensive and does not permanently modify the weapon system. Ammunition is the other factor in the chain - M855A1 tested in OEF as better than 2 MOA yet maintains a 5 MOA contract accuracy specification which is unnacceptable as a precision duty round. In addition, there is still an incredible amount of misinformation regarding the round being pushed down by organizations such as PM Small Arms Ammunition. As such, Soldiers are being given conflicting accounts as to whether or not they should re-zero their weapon systems from M855 to M855A1 (Answer: Yes). Certain commands are reticent about allowing the ammunition to be used because information is sparse, or no one in the formation even knows what it is.

M855 lots have been tested that were grouping at 6.5 MOA with multiple Soldiers that have graduated from several marksmanship / sniper schools confirming. This is unacceptable. For reference, MIL-C-71186 lists the accuracy standard for the Colt M4A1 as a 5" Extreme Spread at 100 yards.

Maintenance Plan: The US Army periodic weapon systems maintenance is broken and needs a complete overhaul to include rewriting of manuals. Soldiers need to be taught critical information about their weapon systems, understand how they work, how to keep it running, and then be held accountable at the Individual level following this Program Of Instruction. Endstate is for every Soldier to be comfortable in the Installation, Operation, and Maintenance (IOM) of weapon systems they are or could be expexted to be assigned. This includes all SOPMOD accessories, optics, lasers, lights.

An accurate round count needs to be kept with each weapon system as well as a master log book for the PLT. Weapons gauging needs to be redefined and include sectioning of select barrels as well as accuracy testing. You cannot gauge throat erosion otherwise.

A better system to provide for spare weapon systems forward fielded at the small unit level as well as an individual parts replacement parts kit fielded to every Soldier / weapon system is needed, as is a larger pool of spare parts at the PLT level. Personnel that like guns and are interested in them should be sent to the Armorer's Course, not the lazy and / or uninterested. We need to get out of our collective bubble and attend outside Armorer Courses to include company certifications as well as subject matter experts in the law enforcement community (examples given - Dean Caputo and Greg Sullivan). This information needs to synthesized and incorporated into Unit TACSOP's.

Several pieces of equipment in the US Army have a life cycle - why does something as critical as a weapon system not?

When looking at adopting a new weapon platform or caliber, you have to look at all of the DOTMLPF and not just "Materiel". Sometimes these things are not measured in dollar amounts, but training time. If thie issue is not approached in this fashion, it could lead to an ill-advised Course Of Action that could have severe financial and operational impacts.

"Training" - How much will it cost to retrain the force? Will be there a different manual of arms? Ancillary factors such as new zero targets, new manuals, new accessories? Cost of new ammunition as this may result in lower STRAC allocations for training?

"Doctrine" - Will there be an impact to the way we fight? It needs to be considered.

"Materiel" - Will it require a new caliber round? Not only would this impact NATO, but is also not an inexpensive or timely process to re-tool an ammunition plant for a new round.


Tue, 05/28/2013 - 11:30pm

Why not just attach a team(s) of machinegunners?

By the way, don't take my comments as being dismissive of your argument. I'm just always down for a discussion of small arms and minor tactics.


Tue, 05/28/2013 - 10:40pm

In reply to by jcustis

The intent is that if the squad chooses to employ a M240s, the fireteam it is a part of assumes the role of a gunteam, with the 240 gunner as the main effort, the team leader observing and controlling fires, and other team members supporting with load carriage and other tasks. If multiple teams employ a M240, the team leaders and squad leader observe and control fires. I absolutely agree that significantly improved small unit leader training along those lines would increase squad level lethality as much or more so than the changes to direct fire weapons I suggested. Proposed improvements in both "hardware" and "software" are always welcome. I agree that that by and large squads can already win with organic weapons, but we can always find more ways to win more decisively with less casualties.

<blockquote>Whereas before the infantry squad could generally count on timely and effective support, we now need to reconsider how the squad should be equipped to win solely with its organic weapons. Embodying past, present, and projected future trends, what capabilities should the infantryman’s primary weapon have?</blockquote>

If I understand this to be your central argument/question, I think your analysis misses a very critical reality. Embedding 2-3 M240s at the squad level is not going to give you the capability to match an opponent at 800-1,500m unless it is employed by a gun team. If you are looking at how the Taliban employs light and medium machineguns to engage us, consider that they are not as effective as many may think. Sure, they initiate ambushes with a weapon laid in on a principle direction of fire with an narrow engagement aperture (berm, compound wall, treeline, etc.) and engagement window, but where the terrain allows, they are trying to suck us onto IED-killing ground. Remove the effect of IEDs or canalizing terrain, and all you have are harassing fires. To be truly effective, they have to get as close as we do.

The gun team leader identifies the targets, spots the fall of the rounds, and provides corrections to the gunner. Without that synergy, you can't extract enough performance out of that weapon to gain a match for similar long-range 7.62x54 weapon systems. You'll simply have one man expending a lot of ammunition with little effect. You can shoot as far, but are you hitting what you are shooting at?

There is a good reason why we rely on 7.62x51 precision and GPMG systems when the Taliban attempt to engage us with RPK/RPD/PKM fires. It's because it doesn't make sense to blast away at hillsides with M4 carbines that are not going to reach across the valley.

We don't need 7.62x35 to increase our tactical lethality. We need small unit leaders who understand where they need to be when the fight is joined, well-trained individuals who can employ well-aimed fire to 300-400m under appropriate fire commands issued by team and squad leaders, and enablers who can leverage the spectrum of supporting arms to achieve the synergy required to facilitate suppression, maneuver, and the killing blows.

<blockquote>We now need to reconsider how the squad should be equipped to win solely with its organic weapons.</blockquote>
By and large, the squad can already win with its organic weapons.


Mon, 05/27/2013 - 12:59pm

One of the most memorable things an instructor told us at Infantry Officers Course was that "HE is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." I think it was an adaptation of a similar quote from "the Simpsons" about beer, but the point is made. In this article I intended to keep focused on direct-fire assets as much as possible. I do whole heartedly agree though, that the whole range of HE assets, from hand grenades to Javelin missiles (mission dependent of course) has an inseparable role in supporting small unit combat effectiveness. The HE aspect is something always worth continued discussion. Thank you all for the kind comments.


Thu, 05/30/2013 - 9:09pm

In reply to by castellanoc1

The US already employs heavy and slow 9mm (and 10mm and .45in) ammunition for semi-auto pistols and more usefully in SMGs that are widely employed for short-range use. Any demand for higher velocity will probably be satisfied by derivative pistol/SMG ammunition firing a 6.5mm or 4.7mm or other micro projectile.

Introducing 7.62x35mm Blackout would add a longer range capability, in effect a bottle-shaped successor for the 7.62x33mm M1 carbine round. You noted Blackout is useful out to about 400m and inferior in range to the 5.56x45mm. Hence for MG use Blackout is less suitable than 5.56x45mm which is itself often regarded as underpowered and underweight.

An “all-purpose” cartridge has to be usable and effective in both a readily portable all-purpose rifle and a readily portable companion MG. That all-purpose rifle and companion MG are needed to manoeuvre within and to dominate an intermediate line-of-sight zone that lies between SMGs, and heavyweight GPMGs/MMGs firing ‘full-power rifle’ or even magnum ammunition.

As a guesstimate that zone extends out to about 800 metres. Possibly less but certainly further than 400m. The projectile that succeeds in spanning such an intermediate zone will have to be lighter and faster than Blackout.


Tue, 05/28/2013 - 10:56pm

In reply to by Compost

Compost. Other popular intermediate cartridges, such as 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Grendel, are designed to perform well ballistically out to about the same 500+ yard max effective ranges as 5.56 and a little further respectively. I didn't mention them, because my argument is essentially to rely upon a highly versatile cartridge designed to dominate specifically the historically most common combat ranges 0-300m (7.62x35). 7.62x51 would continue its primacy in stand-off engagements. As far as a 7.62x35 auto-rifle is concerned, the USMC's revival of the 5.56 M27 IAR should serve at least as an indicator of its contemporary feasibility. One thing that I kept seeing again and again in firearms history during my research is that any time a military comes out with an all-purpose cartridge, and all-purpose rifle, for everything from close to long-range, shortfalls are realized at the two extremes of the spectrum.

The historical trek was informative and the analysis interesting. Compared to the 62 or 77 grain projectiles of the 5.56x45mm, the 7.62x35mm Blackout with its 175 grain projectile may be a “more ideal caliber due to its better terminal ballistics from shorter barrels, better intermediate barrier performance, acceptable external ballistics for the ranges considered, and better integration with suppressors.”

But the 175 grain Blackout projectile has to compete also against 110 to 120 grain projectiles fired from modern 6.5 to 6.8 mm intermediate cartridges. All the intermediate cartridges achieve higher velocities and flatter and hence more accurate trajectories and can supposedly defeat light armoured targets at and beyond the 400m proposed as adequate. Also effective flash and sound suppression can be achieved in rifles and to lesser extent in carbines without resorting to heavy or subsonic ammunition.

There was no mention of such intermediate cartridges. So has any testing or comparison been published - by some entity other than a manufacturer - that indicates 7.62x35 mm Blackout would be more effective than intermediates in an all-purpose service carbine/rifle ? And more suitable for use in a companion LMG ?

Move Forward

Sun, 05/26/2013 - 11:56am

In reply to by major.rod

Fascinating article Mr. Castellano. Though I had a bit of trouble finding your main point and how it correlated with your multiple historical examples. As major.rod said:
<blockquote>Not seeing the logic for a new round to engage at longer ranges if we aren't training to hit at longer ranges now. Seems we might be pleasantly surprised by what our weapons do now.</blockquote>

Like you, initially thought Castellano advocated longer range fires indicative of the Battle of Omdurman. This historical example does not appear to reflect typical squad engagements today. The the 2000m Omdurman range depended on lots of adjacent rifles firing simultaneously at enemies foolish enough to attack on-line across over a mile of open terrain with a mix of lesser rifles and spears.

He goes on to caveat this example providing good explanations of the evolution in WWI when both sides had effective rifles and artillery was killing 75% of combatants. Add current air attacks, mortars, grenade launchers, and mounted and dismounted mobile machine guns. As someone else offered, these maneuver assets and enablers seem like more effective substitutes to on-line coordinated rifle fires. They also make any enemy massing to cross 2000+ meters of open terrain against a major defending force pretty clueless. The same Sudanese leader facing today's weapons surely would not attempt the same attack. The Wikipedia account of the battle indicates that artillery may have played a role in this 1898 battle as well:

<blockquote>The British artillery opened fire at around 2750 m, inflicting severe casualties on the Mahdist forces before they even came within range of the Maxim guns and volley fire.</blockquote>
The account mentions some 4,000 casualties of the original 16,000 in two waves of attackers. Again, that does not sound like an attack defeated by squad-level weapons as much as today's mounted and dismounted machine guns, artillery, and air attacks.

In addition, a painting purporting to illustrate the battle erroneously shows red uniforms instead of khakis they actually wore. However, it does show the extensive smoke created by on-line rifles that would call into question the ability to aim accurately, relying instead on volleys of on-line fire. As he later points out in his WWI examples, an enemy equally equipped with effective rifles, machine guns and artillery (not to mention today's airpower) would not encourage friendly defenders to stand (or even crouch behind cover) side-by-side without overhead cover and dug or HESCO fighting positions to achieve those volleys of on-line rifle fire.

<blockquote>It is interesting to look again at the engagement ranges of different forms of fire from the above Battle of Omdurman and compare it to weapons of today. The 300 yard to 800 yard range where the Lee-Enfield appears to have been most effective against the enemy bears similarity to 5.56x45 chambered M16 variants currently in service with a maximum effective range of 800 meters for an area target, 550 meters for a man-sized point target, and 300 meters for smaller torso and head sized targets. Squad level automatic weapons such as the M249 SAW and M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle play key roles as bases of fire out to similar ranges. 5.56x45 platforms such as the Mk12 and Squad Designated Marksman Rifle have provided the capability for squad level precision fires generally out to 600 yards.</blockquote>

I'm pretty clueless about rifles but after brief research maj.rod's contention that today's rifles with better training, or at least the continued training of selective marksman is already a solution. Some of the mentioned rifles are special operations or Marine variants, but wouldn't solutions such as these expanded to the regular force be a better solution than squads filled with heavier machine guns and heavier and more numerous 7.62mm rounds? He kind of touches on that here showing how mounted and dismounted machine guns are today's version of the volley on-line fires of yesteryear:

<blockquote>Meanwhile, the desired capability of 2,000 yard volley fire from the Lee-Enfield and other service rifles of over a century ago have transferred over time to the very comparative 1,800 meter maximum effective range of the 7.62x51 M240. While the M240 is generally not organic to the rifle squad from a doctrinal standpoint, it and its M60 predecessor have long standing history acting in direct support of small units.</blockquote>

This is an excellent article but I had some trouble keeping up with his point due to my own ignorance about rifles. However, he again seems to be applying lessons of an ancient battle with nearly 100,000 participants on both sides with an engagement or small battle that a <strong>squad</strong> might fight today:

<blockquote>Since the Battle of Omdurman it would appear that the desired effective ranges of <strong>squad level</strong> direct fire assets has changed little; with weaponeering evolutions in accuracy, speed of engagement, volume of fire, handling characteristics, and reliability incrementally increasing in capability over time.</blockquote>

The other thing this has changed more than a little is all the enablers and range of indirect fires, CAS, and CCA against any enemy dumb enough to mass in the open. He acknowledges that urban and complex terrain play a greater role in today's battles which calls into question the need for squads filled with rifles or machine-guns capable of long-range fires.

The point about 5.56mm not penetrating walls and other cover is part of what led to the failed XM-29 due to weight and ineffective 20mm rounds. However, with more urban combat being likely on future battlefields to avoid airpower and indirect fires, do we want lots of haphazard, marginally-aimed wall-penetrating 7.62mm automatic fire proliferating urban areas with multiple non-combatants? He mentions that the enemy learned not to resist night raids. IIRC, General Allen testified that something like 92% of night raids occurred without rounds fired which is a good thing with adjacent civilians.

He mentions enemies putting down rifles and walking away with ROE not allowing engagement. Is this a weapon or ROE issue? Would an XM-29 like weapon that inserted tear gas to clear enemies out of fighting positions/buildings and marked targets with a dye for IR-spotting or later capture be a non-lethal or positive ID alternative for urban areas and firers shooting at a distance and walking away?

Night engagements are another more prevalent aspect of tomorrow's battlefield. This tends to favor night-vision systems that cannot reach out to the same ranges as dismounted rifle fire. Mounted machine guns can have the optics to see and shoot to longer ranges which is an argument for night vision devices tied to machine guns and cannons on the GCV and Stryker/LAV, and a more automated turret on the future JLTV or M-ATV. It also favors systems like Switchblade that can fly out to longer ranges and use day/night optics for positive ID and engagement of threats hiding behind cover with follow-up engagement via mortars and grenade launchers.

Isn't dispersion of squads and platoons a lesson-learned from today's conflicts? Isn't it more important for infantry to carry multiple lighter magazines and not be as dependent on outside re-suppliers to reach dispersed and isolated forces? Doesn't this excessive resupply lead to IED deaths and the revealing of isolated force location...even if an unmanned aircraft or airdrop does the resupply? Then why would heavier 7.62 rounds firing more bullets in automatic fire be an answer to tomorrow's large or small wars?


Sun, 05/26/2013 - 4:46am

If we are having an issue hitting the enemy shouldn't we first evaluate the training? Where is the data to support we aren't hitting the enemy or that he's hitting us? Seems like IEDs are the overwhelming casualty producer. The article makes the case that the enemy uses our ROE against us. Would he not stop carrying weapons at a greater distance IF that was a problem?

There is no discussion of the impact to going to a round that weighs almost twice as much on the soldier's load, maintaining high rates of fire required for fire superiority and fire and maneuver and finally logistics. Are we getting rid of the SAW?

We Americans are technophiles who also enjoy a very healthy gun tradition. Not seeing the logic for a new round to engage at longer ranges if we aren't training to hit at longer ranges now. Seems we might be pleasantly surprised by what our weapons do now.

Interesting article that has some interesting historical tidbits but it does not make the case for a need to switch calibers and assumes improved marksmanship results with no investment in training. Great for gun buffs, not a well reasoned supported argument for the military professional.

Could riflemen put out effective (meaning killing bad guys) at 1800 meters with rifles? To me one would be better off with HE such as mortars or a Javelin. How about a DMR being issued a M-25? I would think it would serve as a very good point and area weapon for long range precision type shooting for units which do not have sniper school trained shooters. Hopefully that makes sense. A HE/PDW combination weapon (not the XM29) might be the answer, but that is beyond the scope of this article and I do not want to distract from this well written article and idea.


Fri, 05/24/2013 - 11:59pm

Good article and a rifleman at heart. Regarding the comments of the other two posters the Brits are finding that there so called obsolete 51mm mortar, probably based on the Japanese Knee mortar or similar to be quite effective. One would think a 60mm would carry the day, however, the weight of the 60mm mortar bombs are a huge factor on Afghan LRPs. This leaves the 51 as "very practical kit" Fall back would be a 60mm Commando mortar & less ammunition for the sake of logistics and standardization

The other so called obsolete kit is the American M-79 single shot 40mm LV grenade launcher to compliment the squad. Single shot with superb human engineering that is still highly effective today. That picture of the Brit SAS trooper from the 1970s in Oman with the M-79 and the L-42 rifle "speaks volumes". Light, fast and on the move. "Maximum effective firepower in minimum package". Not so obsolete after all and more practical, in many applications, than a "6 shot boat anchor" or the new 40mm single shots with virtually no human engineering to their credit.


Tue, 10/15/2013 - 5:27pm

In reply to by carl

I believe that is what the Brit 51mm mortar is all about and if my memory serves me correctly might even have been used in the 1950s counter insurgency in Malaysia. Lessons from the 2" patrol mortar and the Japanese knee mortar are obvious and truly make a lot of sense


Fri, 05/24/2013 - 9:17pm

In reply to by gute

How about something like a 2" patrol mortar or a development of the old Japanese knee mortar (grenade discharger)?

IMO giving the soldier accurate, lightweight, man portable HE is of more importance and possibly provide overmatch at the squad level. I just don't know what that system would be. The 40mm is effective, but size and weight limit capacity. Besides being heavy and a limited magazine capacity the M-25 seems to lack lethality. Not everyone can or should run around with a Carl Gustav. I just think an accurate HE weapon would make the 5.56 controversey a moot point.