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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.”
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]. 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]
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].
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. 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. 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.”
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.
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