- Assault rifle
An assault rifle is a
selective fire rifleor carbine(not to be confused with a semi-automatic only replica) firing ammunitionwith muzzle energies intermediate between those typical of pistoland high-powered rifleammunition. Assault rifles are the standard small armsin most modern armies, having largely replaced or supplemented larger, more powerful battle rifles, such as the World War II-era M1 Garand and SVT-40. Examples of assault rifles include the AK-47, the M16 rifle, the FAMASand the Steyr AUG. Semi-automatic rifles, including commercial versions of the AR-15, and "automatic" rifles limited to single fire only, even though classified in the United Statesas assault rifles by the now defunct 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, are not generally counted as assault rifles as they are not selective fire. Belt-fed weapons or rifles with fixed magazines are also generally not considered assault rifles.
The term "assault rifle" is a translation of the German word "Sturmgewehr" (literally meaning "storm rifle"), "storm" used as a verb being synonymous with assault, as in "to storm the compound". Sturmgewehr was coined by
Adolf Hitler[" [http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/ttt07/stg44-assault-rifle.html Machine Carbine Promoted] ," "Tactical and Technical Trends", No. 57, April 1945.] to describe the Maschinenpistole 44, subsequently re-christened Sturmgewehr 44, the firearm generally considered the first true assault rifle that served to popularize the concept.The translation “assault rifle” gradually became the common term for similar firearms sharing the same technical definition as the StG 44. In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle: [C. Taylor The fighting rifle – A complete study of the rifle in combat, ISBN 0-87947-308-8] [F.A. Moyer Special Forces foreign weapons handbook, ISBN 0-87364-009-8] [R.J. Scroggie, F.A. Moyer Special Forces combat firing techniques, ISBN 0-87364-010-1]
*An individual weapon with provision to fire from the shoulder.
*Intermediate-power cartridge between pistol and traditional rifle.
*Ammunition is supplied from a detachable box magazine.
*Fires from a closed bolt with the breech locked.
The following features are commonly found on assault rifles, but are not exclusive to assault rifles, as those features are shared with many
submachine guns, battle rifles, automatic rifles, machine guns, and semi-automatic rifles. These features are simply common on assault rifles, they do not affect whether or not a weapon qualifies as an assault rifle:
*Protruding pistol grip.
*Muzzle device like a
muzzle brakeor a flash suppressor.
There are commentators who use the expression “assault rifle” more loosely to include other types of arms, particularly arms that fall under a strict definition of the
battle rifle, or civilian semi-automatic off-shoots of military rifles for commercial or political reasons. Some militaries of nations outside of the English-speaking world also have a different definition of assault rifle. For instance, the analogous term in the Swedish Armed Forcesis "automatkarbin" (literally "automatic rifle") which includes both assault rifles and battle rifles.
The US Army's definition of "assault rifle"
From the "Assault on Gun Language" section of [http://www.gunfax.com/gf0903.txt the Sep. 2003 edition] of [http://www.gunfax.com/issues.htm GunFax] :
While preparing to write about the many definitions of assault rifle or assault weapon, I wanted to be as accurate as possible. I had seen many references to an "official" US definition, variously credited to the US government, the US Army, the Defense Department, etc. The wording of the quote varied, too. I just had to track down the truth on this one.
In the Indiana University main library, I found the source. It is Army intelligence document FSTC-CW-07-03-70 from November 1970, and was also published in later editions. The book is "Small Arms Identification and Operation Guide - Eurasian Communist Countries", written by Harold E. Johnson. It was prepared by what at the time was the U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center of the Army Material Command.
"Assault rifles are short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges."
You can see scans of relevant pages of this Army manual online [cite web|url=http://www.gunfax.com/aw.htm |title=GunFax.com - the unofficial Calico fan site and Rockin' Rimfires |publisher=Gunfax.com |date= |accessdate=2008-09-05] .
The changing face of infantry combat
From ancient times, light infantry had fought in dispersed formations, while heavy infantry had fought in tightly packed formations. This continued as the sling and
spearwere replaced by musketand bayonet. Bright colored uniforms ( _de. Blue, Russian: Green; British: Red, French: White) became a standard for unit cohesion in the midst of clouds of black powder smoke. Muskets were inaccurate at distances greater than 50 to 100 meters, and multiple ranks and a reserve were necessary so that some part of the unit would be ready to fire at all times. Tight formations also aided officers in controlling their men during combat.
The adaptation of
rifled muskets for military use in the mid-19th century increased range and firepower and made battle from dense formations an increasingly bloody affair as witnessed by the high level of casualties in the American Civil War. Skirmishertactics were given greater emphasis as gunpowder weapons increased in reliability, accuracy, and rate of fire. Cavalry adapted by dismounting, and using skirmisher tactics with breechloading rifles (which could be reloaded from a prone position, reducing vulnerability to enemy fire).
After the American Civil War, further developments such as the adaptation of magazine-fed
rifles, rapid fire machine guns and high explosive shells for the artillery, spelled the end of the dense infantry formation during World War I. What this meant in practice was that infantry units no longer engaged each other at long range in open fields; the high power of relatively unwieldy bolt-actionrifles of the day (which had been tripled by the adaptation of smokeless powder, along with a corresponding increase in recoiland report) was no longer suited to the close range engagement of modern warfare. Military leaders and arms manufacturers thus began grasping for a new type of weapon for this new era.
1900s–1930s: Pre-Sturmgewehr Light automatic rifles
"These automatic firearms tended to use used pre-existing rifle cartridges,
kinetic energyranged between 3,000–5,000 J (2,200–3,700-foot-pounds), velocities of 750–900 m/s(2,460–2,950 ft/s) and bullets of 9 to 13 g (139–200 grains)."
If the term is applied retroactively, the first assault rifle was the Italian-made
Cei-Rigotti, which was developed in the 1890s and finished around 1900. While tested in Italyand the United Kingdom, it never entered military service, however. The first service precursor of the assault rifle was the Russian Fedorov Avtomatissued for the first time in 1915, chambered for the Japanese 6.5x50mm Arisakarifle cartridge, which was only used in small numbers. However, the Fedorov Avtomatcannot be considered a true assault rifle in the modern sense as it did not fire an intermediate cartridge.
During World War I the French
Chauchatwas introduced, a light machine gunthat was produced in large numbers (250,000). Like the later assault rifle it was capable of both single and automatic fire, and was loaded with a magazine and also featured a pistol grip. Compared to other light machine guns of the time the Chauchat was fairly light at the weight of nowrap|9 kg but it was still too cumbersome for closer quarters and had recoil that was too heavy to control when firing fully automatic due to the use of full powered rifle rounds like original French chambering of the 8 mm Lebel(8x50mmR) or variants produced later for US forces in .30-06 Springfieldand other international customers in nowrap|7.92 mm and nowrap|7.65 mm rifle calibers. Despite some serious flaws it was so important to infantry combat that desperate German troops who had no comparable weapon of their own started using captured Chauchats. [ [http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/House/House.asp Toward Combined Arms Warfare: a Survey ] ] While it was chambered for the full-size .30-06 caliber and therefore did not use an intermediate cartridge, it was an intermediate weapon between submachine guns and heavier machine guns such as the Lewis Gun.
The Ribeyrolle 1918 may be the first real select fire compact weapon using an intermediate round fitting today's definition of an assault rifle. The cartridge was based on the 351 Winchester self-loading case necked down to accept a 8 mm Lebel bullet. It was first introduced to the Army Technical Service on July, 6, 1918. Its official designation was " _fr. Carabine Mitrailleuse" ( _en. machine carbine; _de. Maschinenkarabiner). It was finally rejected in 1921 because it was not accurate enough at distances beyond 400 meters.
M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle(BAR) copied the Chauchat concept in a more reliable design but was not introduced or used in any significant numbers before the end of the First World War. Later developments added heavier barrels and bipods that made it more like today's light machine gun or squad automatic weapon, though it did help establish the doctrine of use for light selective fire rifles. These versions of the BAR were produced in large numbers, widely adopted, and served well into the 1960s with the U.S. military and other nations.
During World War I, submachine guns also entered service, such as the Villar Perosa, the
Beretta Model 1918and the MP18. These weapons fired cartridges derived from pistol chamberings — 9 mm Glisentiand 9x19 mm Parabellum. The developers of the Thompson submachine gun(also developed during the 1910s) originally intended to use rifle-powered rounds. However, a mechanical system that could handle their power was not available and the .45 ACPcartridge was chosen instead. These firearms are considered part of the submachine gunclass, but were an important step in the development of assault rifles.
1930s: Automatic intermediate weapons
The M1 Carbine was really a cross between a submachine gun and an assault rifle, but giving infantrymen a reliable weapon with moderate
stopping power. Continuing evolution of the intermediate-caliber automatic rifle was primarily driven by ammunition. Handgun ammunition used by submachine gunswas limited in effective range. Conversely, full-sized military rifle calibers were uncomfortable to fire repeatedly and difficult to control during fully automaticor rapid fire because of significant recoil; the cost of design and manufacture was also higher. One attempt to combine an intermediate cartridge with an automatic rifle by the Italian arms company Berettaresulted in the MAB 38 ("Moschetto Automatico Beretta 1938"). The MAB 38 used a Fiocchi"9M38" cartridge, a higher-powered version of the 9x19mm Parabellum pistol cartridge, which could provide longer effective range up to nowrap|200 m.
In 1942, the United States introduced the
M1 carbine, which was an intermediate power weapon chambered for the .30 Carbinecartridge. While select-fire capability was initially planned for the M1 carbine, this was dropped from the initial version. Later in the war, selective fire variants were made (M2 and M3). The weapon had greater range and accuracy than submachine guns, but was not as powerful as full-size automatic rifles such as the M1918 BAR. The longer barrel provided the carbine with a higher muzzle velocitythan pistols and submachine guns chambered for the same .30-caliber round.
Originally the carbine was envisioned as an inexpensive lightweight weapon for issue to rear-echelon and support troops (truckers, tankers, cooks, etc.) in place of the more expensive
M1911 pistolor M1 Garand rifle. The M1 series was soon found suitable for close quarter battle engagements, a concept that would be re-applied later. The M1 carbine series would remain in service with the U.S. military primary forces until supplemented and finally replaced by the M16 riflein the 1960s; it continued to be used in limited roles, particularly by the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and many Training Commands in the various branches of the U.S. armed forces well into the 1980s.
The 1930s was also the beginning of the important German "Maschinenkarabiner" program of arms development that resulted in the
prototypeMaschinenkarabiner M35 that was however not adopted for service. [ [http://www.cruffler.com/historic-february00.html Historic Firearm of the Month, February 2000 ] ]
1940s–early 1950s: Maschinenkarabiner, Sturmgewehr & AK-47
"Some of these automatic firearms used pre-existing rounds; others used new intermediate cartridges. Kinetic energy ranged between 1,400–2,100 J (1,033–1,550-foot-pounds), muzzle velocities of 600–800m/s (1,970–2,625 ft/s) and bullets of 7–9g (108–139 grains)."
Germany, under the Versailles Treaty was limited to a professional army of long service soldiers numbering only 100,000 men and forbade tanks or military aircraft. This encouraged an approach that emphasized high quality, and reduced emphasis on low cost. Infantry tactics became based on teams of
General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG) supporting and supported by a section of infantry. GPMG had high rates of fire to permit small numbers of men to fire at long range to defend a wide front. Enemy soldiers, briefly exposed, would be engaged with a high rate burst of fire to cause casualties before they could take cover. Close range assaults would be conducted by units with submachine guns, for greater mobility, and higher rates of fire. This tactical approach was a refinement of the "Hutier" tactics used by Germany in the last year of WWI.
Germany, like other countries, had observed and studied the emerging demand of infantry rifles evolving since
World War I, and their factories made a variety of non-standard cartridges, therefore having less incentive to retain their existing calibers. The 7.92x30 mm (Kurz) cartridge was an example of these experiments; in 1941, it was improved to 7.92x33mm Kurz"Infanterie Kurz Patrone" ("Infantry Short Cartridge"). In 1942, it was again improved as "Maschinenkarabiner Patrone S", and in 1943, "Pistolen Patrone 43mE"; then, finally, "Infanterie Kurz Patrone 43". The similarity in size between the 7.92x33mm German cartridge and the 7.62x33mm developed for the M1 Carbine is a curious coincidence, but was ultimately nothing more than independent yet similar solutions to the same problem. The 7.92x33mm round used the same cartridge case head as the standard 7.92x57mm Mauserand the bullet was made from the same diameter rod.
Waltherpresented the "Maschinenkarabiner" ("automatic carbine", abbr. MKb), named MKb42(W). In the same year, Haenelpresented the MKb42(H), designed by Hugo Schmeisseras a result of this program. Rheinmetall-Borsig (some said Krieghoff) presented its FG 42("Fallschirmjäger Gewehr 42", sponsored by Hermann Göring) though this was in a different role, and using a heavy 7.92x57mm Mausercartridge, which was not an intermediate round. War-time tests in Russiaindicated the MKb42(H) performed better than the other two. Schmeisser developed it first as the MP43, then MP43/1, and finally as the MP44/Sturmgewehr 44 (abbreviated StG44). It immediately entered large scale production. More than 5,000 units had been produced by February 1944, and 55,000 by the following November.
Following the end of the war in 1947,
Mikhail Kalashnikovdeveloped the AK-47, which was clearly inspired of the German concept and layout to the German StG44 but quite different mechanically. It fired the 7.62x39mmcartridge, which had been developed as model 43 for use in their SKScarbines that were developed by Simonovin 1945 and subsequently adopted as the SKS-45. The round was similar to the StG44's in that the bullet was an intermediate round of the same caliber than the larger, full-size Russian rifle ammunition. Hugo Schmeisserwas sent with his team to Soviet Union where they worked with Kalashnikov team. Prototypes, machinery and blueprints of the MKb42, MP43 and StG44 were sent to Soviet Union as well. Schmeisser was released in 1952 and assigned to residence in Suhl where he died in 1953. Mauserhad developed several prototype Sturmgewehr 45assault rifles, first with the Gerät 06 (Device 6) using a roller-delayed blowbackmechanism originally adapted from the roller-locked recoil operation of the MG42machine gun but with a fixed barrel and gas system. It was realized that with careful attention to the mechanical ratios, the gas system could be omitted. The resultant weapon, the Gerät 06(H) was supposedly slated for adoption by the Wehrmacht as the StG45.This mechanism would later be developed by former Mauser engineers Vorgrimmler, Loffler and Kunert at AME, Ateliers Mecanique de Mulhouse in Alsace between 1946 and 1949. Three versions were made using .30 US Carbine, 7.92x33 mm as well as the 7.65x35mm developed by Cartoucherie de Valence and adopted in 1948, a 7,5x38mm being abandoned. Engaged in the Indochina war and being the second NATO contributor, France canceled the adoption of these new weapons. The German technicians moved to Spain and began production of CETMEModelo A,B and C precursors of Heckler & Koch's G3 battle rifle and MP5 submachine gun
Late 1950s–1960s: Lighter rifles & smaller bullets
"Many of these automatic firearms used intermediate cartridges with much lighter bullets and smaller calibers, but fired at very high velocity; kinetic energy ranged between 1300–1800J (960–1,330-foot-pounds), velocities of 900–1050m/s (2,950–3,450 ft/s), and bullets of 3–4g (46–62 grains)."
Following the end of World War II, the U.S. Army conducted a number of studies of what happened in the war and how it was actually fought. Several things were learned which applied directly to personal weapon design. Perhaps most important, research found that most combat casualties caused by small-arms fire took place at short range. So the long range and accuracy of the standard rifle was, in a real sense, wasted. Second, the research found that aiming was not a major factor in causing casualties. Instead, the number one predictor of casualties was the total number of bullets fired. [ Ezell, Edward Clinton (1983). Small Arms of the World (in English). New York: Stackpole Books] Third, psychological studies found that many riflemen (as much as 2/3) never fired their weapons at the enemy. By contrast, those soldiers equipped with rapid-fire weapons (submachine guns and the early assault rifles) were far more likely to actually use their weapons in battle.cite book |last=Marshall|first=S.L.A. |title= Men against Fire:The Problem of Combat Command in Future War|year=1966|publisher= Morrow|location=New York|pages=50-60 ] This combination of factors led to the conclusion that a fairly short-range weapon capable of rapid fire would be the most effective general purpose weapon for infantry.
While these studies were being digested, the United States insisted on introducing their own 7.62x51mm full-power cartridge as the standard for
NATOarmies. It could kill at distances of more than 500 meters (though this was increasingly seen as irrelevant). At the time, the British were developing their own 7x43mm ( .280 British) intermediate cartridge for their very modern and groundbreaking EM-2bull-pup assault rifle. Due to political pressure from the Conservative Party, which agreed with the American standardization campaign, the whole project was shelved at the eve of introduction. In Belgium, the famous arms producer FN Herstalstarted experimenting with the German 7.92x33mm Kurzpatrone. They built a prototype of a rifle using this cartridge, but the impending NATO standardization forced them to rebuild it to use American ammo, giving birth to the FN FAL, Switzerland introduced the SIG 510that still fired Swiss service full-length rifle rounds but also produced the SIG 510-4 that fired the 7.62x51mm NATOround. Boliviaand Chileadopted the SIG 510-4 as their service rifle, Bolivian/Chilean exports were licence produced by the Italian firm Beretta.
M14rifle, chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO (more commonly known as the .308 Winchestercartridge among civilians), had a very high recoil due to the weapon's powerful cartridge, and this made it almost impossible to control the M14 in full automatic fire. The weapon recoiled both up and back, putting the shooter off target very quickly. This could be corrected by making the stock straight so that it only recoiled back, minimizing the need to re-aim after each shot or burst of fully automatic fire. To compensate for the straight-stock design, the sights were raised above the line of the rifle's recoil. A new cartridge was matched to this redesigned weapon: the 5.56x45mm NATO. The small cartridge made for doubts among the armed forces and they questioned the rifle's stopping power. However, after some study, it was found that the 5.56mm bullet, after entering the body, started to tumble end over end, creating massive damage. They christened their new rifle the M16. But soon after the rifle was made the standard weapon of the US armed forces, it was found that the M16 had a very high tendency to jam, making it unsuitable for jungle warfare. The M16's jamming problems were attributed to improper care and cleaning, which was soon fixed by supplying adequate cleaning equipment and training.
The Russians saw no reason to make a rifle that shot beyond a rifleman's ability to aim, and therefore considered a lighter, less-powerful cartridge to be more effective. This permitted a lighter rifle and allowed a greater amount of the lighter ammunition to be transported in the same amount of space. Moreover, the smaller cartridges lessened recoil, which allowed riflemen to sustain a higher accurate rate of fire and facilitate marksmanship training. In addition, the smaller size and handiness of an assault rifle would benefit
tankcrews, support troops, and units with missions other than front linecombat.
The 5.56x45mm with convert|55|gr|sing=on bullet, aka M193 cartridge) was developed in the late 1950s, and was adopted for use in the M16 assault rifle. The M16A1 version soon followed to rectify issues found during use in the
Vietnam War. The M16A2 was a further refinement and upgrade introduced in 1986 meant to use the Belgian-updated 5.56x45mm NATOcartridge with a heavier convert|62|gr|sing=on bullet known as the SS109 or M855.
The smaller-caliber military cartridges such as the 5.56x45mm and
5.45x39mmwere sometimes considered less lethal than the previous generation of assault rifle rounds, such as the 7.62x39mm, which were large-caliber bullets with reduced propellant or cases. However, the lighter, small-caliber bullets achieved higher velocities, more favorable ballistic properties, and reduced carrying weight.
One aspect of the smaller caliber ammunition that is sometimes hotly debated is its fragmentation behavior. Stopping capability is the effectiveness of the round in completely stopping the target when it hits—either killing or fully incapacitating. Within a certain range of ballistic conditions, the lighter nowrap|5.56 mm and nowrap|5.45 mm will, upon striking tissue, first tumble and then fragment. Beyond convert|100|yd, or when fired from shorter barrels, such bullets can often fail to fragment upon impact because of insufficient velocity. Thus, the result in a target is a rather small .22 caliber bullet hole, instead of a much larger wound channel. Effectiveness depends on what tissues of the enemy body the round destroys. Larger destroyed areas increases the probability that sufficient damage will be done to end enemy resistance. Ultimately, any pointed (spitzer) round will tumble in soft tissue. If the jacket has a cannelure, such as the U.S. 5.56x45mm M193 round, and the bullet is in the proper ballistic state and high enough velocity, the bullet will fragment, inflicting significant blood loss and internal damage, as well as a wound channel profile that is more complex to address medically. If the bullet acts as a solid, and doesn't fragment, full effectiveness occurs only if striking the brain or spinal cord, causing immediate loss of control. There is a distinct, though lesser effectiveness if the heart, large blood vessels, or liver (which last tends to tear) is hit causing fairly quick loss of blood pressure, and consequent unconsciousness.
Part of the dispute over small-caliber rounds arises here. Blood loss leads to indirect incapacitation, but often takes longer than direct destruction of tissue. Defense Secretary
Robert McNamarapresented wounding ability as a reason for adoption of the M16 over the M14 as a question of battlefield efficiency - that it is better to wound an adversary than kill him, as wounded must be tended to by their comrades, taking them out of the fight and demoralizing them in the process. [Edward Clinton Ezell "The Great Rifle Controversy: Search for the Ultimate Infantry Weapon from World War II Through Vietnam and Beyond", ISBN 978-0811707091] Many claim that this theory was wed to the findings of Project SALVO, but nowhere in the SALVO findings was reduced lethality of rifle rounds ever stressed or presented as an argument for adoption of a lighter/smaller caliber round. SALVO concluded that the main factor in inflicting casualties in infantry combat was solely rounds fired - aiming had negligible impact.
The general effectiveness of the 5.56 x 45 mm cartridge was questioned; experience had shown that it did not always fragment, and that the bullet was light enough to easily deflect or divert radically from its path after passing through even a soft or very thin object. The theory that enemy soldiers would stop to aid a wounded comrade was questionable. The heavier 7.62 mm bullets in use were claimed to hit harder with more mass, would not deflect or destabilize as readily, and more reliably killed what it hit. (Some of the substantiated issues were later addressed in 1982 with the changes made in the M16A2, which used a heavier convert|62|gr|sing=on bullet with different ballistic characteristics than its M16A1 predecessor.)
1970s–1990s: New form factors, features & battlefield
"Many of these automatic firearms usually used the same rounds as in older eras, but focused on using new form factors, materials, and added features like standard telescopic and reflex sights."
The running debate over nowrap|5.56 mm vs. nowrap|7.62 mm ammunition, and the prominent argument by nowrap|7.62 mm proponents that "the Russians got it right with a .30-caliber (7.62x39mm)" cartridge, was stirred significantly in 1974 when the
Soviet Unionalso developed its own smaller-caliber cartridge, the 5.45x39mm, which was used in the AK-74, the successor to the AK-47/ AKMseries.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the most notable changes since adoption of high velocity, smaller-caliber ammunition were designs that utilized new form factors, sights, electronics, and materials, as well as modularity. A number of
bullpuprifles entered service in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Although bullpup rifles had existed since the 1930s, the United Kingdom's EM-2was one of the few bullpup assault rifles prior to this time. Examples of the new trend include the FAMAS, Steyr AUG, and SA80. All three are bullpup rifles that make heavy use of composites and plastics, the FAMAS and AUG both have ambidextrous controls, and the AUG, and L85a1 both added a low-power telescopic sightto the standard service version. The QBZ-95, SAR-21, and the Tavor TAR-21follow a similar trend as well, with a bullpup configuration and heavy use of composites.The Heckler & Koch G36, adopted in the late 1990s by Spainand Germany, is of the traditional configuration, but also has integral telescopic and red dot sights and a composite exterior. The G36C variant uses a different barrel assembly, foregrip to make the weapon carbine length, and features a low MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny railmount along the top of the receiver, in place of the carrying handle and sight assembly, plus shorter rails on the foregrip. The XM8 rifle, developed from the G36, had similar features, but also added more electronics such as lasersight, round counter, and integral infraredand visible light laser pointers.
Through the 1990s, modular accessories for use on rifles, of a variety of types, started to become widespread with the rapidly increasing practice of mounting Picatinny pattern rails on firearms. This was primarily driven by the growing visibility (and number) of tactical police, counter-terrorist units, special forces, and other groups that desired the capability to specifically tailor their weapons, be it to the situation at hand, their operational specialty, etc. Flashlights, visible lasers, infrared lights, drum magazines, ergonomic accessories such as vertical foregrips and folding or collapsible buttstocks, and a plethora of other options appeared. Many law enforcement and tactical groups, including some of the most influential, also contributed to the progression by shifting from using submachine guns to very compact assault rifles, usually with small-caliber (5.56 mm) ammunition.
Intertwined with the growth of the modular accessories was the concept of rifles being modular themselves. The G36, for example, can be converted to a compact carbine, a standard rifle, or a squad support weapon (light machine gun) and back again simply by swapping modular parts in a matter of moments. Interchangeable or quick-detachable barrel assemblies of different lengths are emerging for some weapons, with ingenious retrofit kits to provide similar capabilities on older types. The AR-15 in particular has an entire industry that has grown to make variations of every component of the rifle. An incredible variety of upper receivers of many types of operation (bolt, direct gas impingement, gas piston, blowback) utilizing different ammunition than the original 5.56x45mm have been developed, firing both pistol and rifle cartridges ranging between target rounds such as .17 and .22 Rimfire, pistol rounds of .380 ACP to .50 AE, and more common assault rifle rounds such as 7.62x51mm, all the way up to heavy machine gun rounds such as the
.50 BMG. In a paradox many never expected, an AK variant has been developed that fires the 5.56x45mm round, while a variant of the M4 carbine (a compact M16) has been created that can use AK magazines and its 7.62x39mm ammunition.
The trend in the new designs, and very likely future ones, is towards more integrated features and lighter weight with new materials and configurations. Introduction of a new ammunition would require retooling factories, phasing out conventional ammunition, and making general infrastructure changes that are considered by many military planners to be too expensive to undertake. In an effort to avoid the problems of a completely new cartridge, the convert|77|gr|sing=on Mk 262 Mod 0 bullet for the 5.56x45mm chambering, developed to address continuing issues in some cases with the effectiveness of the nowrap|5.56 mm round, has started to gain acceptance.
Since the adoption of the M16 over the M14, some groups of shooting pundits have supported the return to, or reintroduction of, larger caliber rounds—usually the
7.62x51mm NATOspecifically, which is made to perform like the full-sized 30-06 in an assault-rifle sized cartridge. Going back to the nowrap|7.62 mm, it is argued, would improve conventional lethality. Other individuals have suggested an increase in caliber, to the 6–7 mm range, with rifle round velocities and lower mass bullets: a kind of intermediate philosophy between the smaller caliber–faster modern rounds and the standard caliber–slower rounds of the previous generation. China in the late 1980s introduced a 5.8x42mm round, with an initial velocity of nowrap|930 m/s, nowrap|4.26 g bullet and 1,842 J of energy, China claims the new round provides superior performance and lethality to NATO (5.56x45mm) and modern Soviet (5.45x39mm) intermediate rounds.
A promising development of the German
Heckler & KochG11 rifle nowrap|4.73 mm caseless ammunitionand advanced assault rifle in the 1970–1980s was effectively halted by German reunificationand heat-dissipation issues with the caseless ammunition in 1990, and the rifle never entered full production.
21st Century Developments: Shorter barrels, larger bullets and more energy
A renaissance of nowrap|7.62 mm weapons has begun to occur recently. To some degree in Iraq, but particularly in Afghanistan, soldiers are beginning to use modernized M14s, M21s, and M24 SWS. With a longer effective range, the 7.62x51mm is proving useful at fighting at long ranges. The 7.62x51 NATO round has also shown its usefulness against enemies who have been seen to take several hits from nowrap|5.56 mm bullets and not be killed, incapacitated, or, on occasion, even deterred.Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden. See for more information] That unpleasant surprise is attributed to long-range ballistic deficiencies of the 5.56 bullet. Similar stopping-power problems against unusually-tenacious opponents were noticed in Somalia in 1993 against militia fighters high on
khat. Lastly, the heavier rounds are more effective in urban combat because they can more readily penetrate walls.
In the United States there have been developments of new cartridges. Two have developed some notability as possible replacements for the venerable 5.56, the
6.5 Grendeland the nowrap|6.8 mm SPC. Remington has developed the 6.8 mm Remington SPCcartridge, which has the same cartridge overall length (COAL) as the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge but fires the larger .270 caliber bullets. Likewise, Alexander Arms at Radford Arsenal developed the 6.5 Grendelcartridge, which combines long range accuracy comparable to the nowrap|7.62 mm NATO with close range stopping power similar to the 6.8 SPC. With both bullets, by matching the 5.56's COAL, conversion of existing AR-15, M4 and M16 rifles requires only replacement of uppers and magazines. Other cartridges have been developed for the AR-15 platform such as the .50 Beowulfand the .458 Socom - but these cartridges are much heavier and relegated to a specialty role rather than as a pure assault rifle cartridge.
In addition to these new designs, the future may well be the redesign of the past. Recently, weapons manufacturing giant
Heckler and Kochredesigned the M4 assault rifle. The new weapon, the HK416, has updated features. The include: a piston action, not gas, the bolt is sealed from the action, reducing dirt, heat and chance of failure, 1913 Picatinny rails, drop free magazine release and other subtle, but useful additions. These and other redesigns are quickly pushing it to the top of the ladder.
Small arms technology including the assault rifle can be described as a
mature technology, meaning that no major technology changes can be expected in this area. However, minor improvements can still be expected that make the assault rifle more effective and efficient to accommodate the changes on the battlefield. Diminishing the effect of the assault rifle are improvements to personal body armor, which allow it to stop or hinder bullet penetration from intermediate caliber small arms.As weapons evolve, the delicate balance for assault rifle systems between power, weight, recoil and terminal effects will likely shift once again in an attempt to defeat body armor, to match the range of full-power cartridges, and to penetrate through windshields and thin-skinned vehicles while still producing good terminal effects. Possible future directions are armor piercingor exploding tip bullets or saboted sub-caliber tungstendarts, more powerful cartridges, carbon fiberbarrels and exotic metals such as titaniumand scandium.
The future of the assault rifle may not be entirely in the design of the firearm itself, but rather in the ammunition it fires. Reducing weight and cost being one of the original reasons for the development of the intermediate powered round and subsequently the assault rifle, that goal has been taken to a whole new level with the development of
caseless ammunitionwhich does away with the weight and cost of shell casings. Limitations of current technology prevent this idea from being successful but the concept is still being researched.
Assault weapons vs. Automatic weapons
Primarily limited to the
United States, the term " assault weapon" is a political term, separate from the military definition, used to describe a variety of semi-automatic firearms that have certain features associated with military or police firearms. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired on September 13, 2004, defined the rifle type of assault weapon as a semiautomatic firearm with the ability to accept a detachable magazine, and two or more of the following:
* Folding or telescoping stock
Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
A common public misconception persists that the assault weapons ban restricted weapons capable of fully automatic fire, such as assault rifles and
machine guns. Fully automatic weapons, however, were unaffected by the ban, and have been continuously and heavily regulated since the National Firearms Actof 1934 was passed. Subsequent laws such as the Gun Control Act of 1968and the Firearm Owners Protection Actof 1986 also affected the importation and civilian ownership of fully automatic firearms, the latter fully prohibiting sales of newly-manufactured machine guns to non-law enforcement or SOT (special occupational taxpayer) dealers.
Questions over the definition, manufacture, sale and ownership of assault weapons still continue; supporters of the
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violenceand the National Rifle Associationconstantly debate these topics. The Brady Campaign's position has been that it is unnecessary for civilians to have such weapons, they are designed to incur an emotional response from potential victims above and beyond the sight of other guns, and they have high ammunition capacities and fire rates that make them dangerous in the hands of a criminal. The NRA contends that such weapons are no more dangerous than "hunting-styled" semi-automatic rifles (and in fact such rifles often use more powerful rounds than assault weapons), that an insignificant portion of crimes are committed with such weapons, that many of the premises under which the criteria were chosen (such as a pistol grip facilitating "spray fire" from waist level) are false, and that the Brady Campaign wishes to use the term, along with the similar term " sniper rifle", to encompass an ever-widening group of "scary weapons" that, if unchecked, would eventually include most or all firearms. Fact|date=October 2008
*Crawford, S. (2003). "Twenty-First Century Small Arms". MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7603-1503-5
*Cutshaw, C. (2006). "Tactical Small Arms of the 21st Century". Gun Digest Books. ISBN 0-87349-914-X
*Halls, Chris. (1974) "Guns in Australia", Paul Hamlyn, Sydney. ISBN 0-600-07291-6
*Lewis, J. (2004). "Assault Weapons: An In-Depth Look at the Hottest Weapons Around". Krause Publications. ISBN 0-87349-658-2
*Popenker, M. et al. (2004). "Assault Rifle". Wiltshire: The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1-86126-700-2
*Senich , P. (1987). "German Assault Rifle: 1935-1945". Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-400-X
List of assault rifles
List of firearms
List of service rifles of national armies
* [http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/Assault.htm Assault Rifles and their Ammunition: History and Prospects]
* [http://www.thedonovan.com/archives/gunstuff/12_fa02.pdf Infantry Magazine on Assault Rifle Cartridges]
* [http://www.military.com/soldiertech/0,14632,Soldiertech_Ammunition,,00.html Sharper Shooting: Upgrading Ammunition Lethality]
* [http://www.gunslot.com/guns/assault-rifles Assault Rifle Database Video and Review]
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