Monday, September 30, 2013

Why the U.S. Military has never understood the Assault Rifle. Part V

Top: M16A1 Bottom: M16A2

The M16A2.  After two decades of service, the M16A2 replaced the M16A1. The differences between the two weapons effectively converted the M16A2 into a more traditional military rifle.  This fit the Marine Corps vision of a general issue rifle.  In a nutshell, the M16A2 had an increased rifle twist for a new 5.56 NATO cartridge, a lengthened butt stock, finger grove pistol grip, three shot burst control replacing the full auto capability, a redesigned rear sight which increased the range graduations to 800 meters, an improved flash suppressor, and a heavier barrel which gave the rifle improved balance in the offhand shooting position. 
M16A2 fired offhand
While these “improvements” were great for target shooters, a lot of the handling characteristics of the assault rifle were lost.  The Army was warned about the M16A2 and its 5.56 caliber Ball M855 ammunition by a report prepared by the Army Research Institute Field unit located at Fort Benning, Georgia.   The M16A2 rifle was now longer and heavier, well suited for the National Match Course and other target shooting competitions.  Its sighting system was redesigned to provide settings for distances up to 800 meters. The intent of the assault rifle, the ability to reliably hit enemy soldiers at ranges of 300 meters and less, was lost.     The 3 shot burst was in response to the old full auto, and presumably soldiers, waste ammunition argument.

M16A2 fired with an incorrect stock weld with MILES
Another unhappy coincidence was the widespread use of kevlar body armor by U.S. troops in the late 1990s.  While in the vests, many smaller stature soldiers could not effectively sight their longer stocked M16A2 rifles. The M16A2 is outstandingly accurate, very reliable, and provided good service to U.S. troops in Panama, Desert Storm, and in the early stages of the Global War on Terror.  In the end, it really turned out to be a heavy, intermediate cartridge, battle rifle, designed to hit targets well beyond the effective range of its “improved” cartridge.   

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why the U.S. Military has never understood the Assault Rifle. Part IV

The M16A1.  The development of the M16A1 is too long to recount here. The basics of the story are the AR-15/M16 was privately developed by the original Armalite and sold to Colt.  The M16 favorably impressed the Air Force and the Army in early trials.  The disappointing handling and performance characteristics of the M14 in the jungle environment of Vietnam, as well as internal Department of Defense politics hastened the adoption of the M16A1.  The Marines, with very conservative views on long arms, were understandably skeptical about the M16A1. The M14 was a perfect fit with the Marines views on rifles. The M16A1 was too different and did not lend itself to match or known distance range firing at which the Marines were masters.  

In the urgency to deploy the weapon to Vietnam, several disastrous mistakes were made. The first mistake was a lack of training and understanding of the M16A1 and its usefulness as an assault rifle.  The second mistake was selling the rifle as self-cleaning and maintenance free.  The third mistake was not chrome lining the chamber and bore, this was later corrected. The fourth mistake was a change in powder which increased the carbon residue in the action of the rifle. 
 These mistakes led to a wave of criticism and even a Senate investigation.  The M16A1’s reputation was seriously damaged, even though these faults were quickly corrected.  The M16A1 may have been the best assault rifle in the world, but U.S. Soldiers and Marines never had real confidence it the rifle. 
 Negative impressions about the M16A1 were reinforced in the post-Vietnam period by several peacetime practices. First, the blank cartridges used in the rifle during training exercises created a mess in the chamber and action, this build up caused the weapon to jam. Second, the blank cartridges were not designed well and would hang up on the feed ramps, also causing a jam. Third, the weapon was usually poorly lubricated, many rifles were taken to the range dry and could occasionally jam. Fourth, Army and Marine policy required the weapon to be spotless for inspections and storage in the unit arms room. This high standard required many hours of weapons cleaning, which did not endear it to its users. All of these reasons helped grievously damage  the M16A1’s reputation among U.S. troops and the public. For the rest of its service life the M16A1 and the assault rifle concept was derided by rifle traditionalists in and out of the military.

The M16A1 was an excellent assault rifle, the ground breaking 5.56 NATO eventually became a world standard. Its performance was copied by the Soviets in their 5.45x39 cartridge. The M16A1 was accurate enough to hit man sized targets at 500 meters. Both the rifle and the ammunition were light weight and reduced the infantry soldier’s burden.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Why the U.S. Military has never understood the Assault Rifle. Part III

U.S. M1 Rifle
The M1 “Garand” Rifle. The M1 Garand rifle was the best semi auto rifle of World War II.  It completely outclassed the rifles of the Axis. The magnificent performance of the M1 rifle on the battlefield must have pleasingly surprised the rifle’s enthusiastic supporters.  It fulfilled every expectation of the Army and Marine Corps.  Powerful, accurate, robust, durable, and was available in vast quantities. The M1 would soldier on through Korea and into the early phases of Vietnam.  In the hands of the National Guard, The M1 served until the early 1970s. A few M1D sniper rifles even deployed to Desert Storm in 1991. As a match rifle, the M1 ruled the ranges until the middle 1990s.

The positive attributes which made the M1 successful, hindered the U.S. Military’s understanding of the assault rifle.  The U.S. Military thought the answer in future rifle development would follow the path of the successful M1, which would lead to an improved M1 style rifle with a new more efficient 30 caliber cartridge, familiar ergonomics, and with the addition of a 20 round magazine and an improved gas system.     
German STG 44

The first assault rifles. The U.S. Army faced a true assault rifle in battle during 1944-45 in Europe. The German STG 44 was a truly revolutionary weapon. It fired the first true intermediate cartridge the 7.92 x 33 and used 30 round magazines, which could be quickly changed.  The Army did not fully grasp the impact of this weapon for a number of reasons. First, the M1 rifle performed so well in combat it had the complete confidence of Army leaders. Second, the STG 44 was seen as a carbine, something in the class of the Army’s M1 Carbine, and not a universal or standard rifle. Third, the STG 44 was not encountered in large numbers, where its advantages would be seen and understood. Thus the STG 44 was dismissed as a major advancement in small arms until it was almost too late.  
Soviet AK-47
The Soviet Army experienced the effectiveness of the STG 44 where it was used against them in large numbers. They quickly started developing their own version of this rifle and its intermediate cartridge.  Many believe the Soviets were on a parallel development course with the Germans, other opinions are the design of the STG44 and the 7.92x33 cartridge were essentially copied by the Soviets.    
The U.S. M14 Rifle
The M14. The U.S. Army knew of the STG 44 and captured numerous examples.  This weapon was largely ignored by the Army and Marine Corps. Instead the next rifle for the U.S. Military would be an improved magazine fed M1 Garand type of weapon, chambered for a new cartridge, shorter than the 30-06 but comparable in performance. After 0ver a decade of development, the M14 emerged.  I may be the finest battle rifle ever produced, powerful, accurate, robust, and reliable. Unfortunately it is not an assault rifle, or even close. The M14 did have a provision for fully automatic fire, which was impossible for the average soldier to control. The heavy barrel squad automatic M14, known as an M15, was an abject failure. Heavy recoil and overheating were problems which could not be solved. In addition, the M14 was supposed to replace the M3 Grease gun, and M1 Carbine, the M14 was not able to do so, as it could not perform in these roles as well as the weapons it was supposed to replace. 

The M14 was the embodiment of the virtues the U.S. Military wanted in a rifle.  It graced the National Matches at Camp Perry and was lauded by military target shooters.  The U.S. Marines, with a long tradition of marksmanship excellence enthusiastically embraced the new rifle, unlike the M1 20 years earlier.  One consequence of the development and adoption of the M14, was the T65 cartridge, later known as the 7.62x51 NATO. As the designation infers, the cartridge was adopted by NATO, at the insistence of the United States. This caused the western Europeans to redesign or abandon their post war weapons designs. The power of the 7.62x51 NATO prevented the Belgian FN FAL, or the German G-3 from attaining assault rifle performance in fully automatic fire.  Those rifles were as uncontrollable as the M14 for the individual soldier. In a quick turn of fate, even the Europeans who created the original assault rifle, would not have one for over three decades.

German G-3 Rifle
The M14 remains an excellent weapon and many uses today as sniper weapons in U.S. service in the War on terror.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why the U.S. Military has never understood the Assault Rifle. Part II

Early Semiautomatic Rifles.  The bolt actions rifles of the late 19th and early 20th century were excellent military arms. Robust, reliable, and powerful, they can turn in some astounding displays of long range accuracy and kill even the largest game on the planet.  They could not, however, provide enough firepower. This was validated by the experiences of all the combatants in the First World War.  In fact, during the First World War, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States all experimented with the imperfect Winchester Model 1907 & 1910 semi-automatic rifles. The Winchester 1907 possessed many assault rifle traits, detachable magazines, some models were converted to select fire, It also introduced an intermediate cartridge of sorts, the 351 Winchester Self Loading. The 351 Winchester compares favorably to the much later 5.56 NATO in would ballistics out to 50 meters, beyond this, its performance drops quickly. Originally conceived as a hunting arm, it became the experimental armament of early aircraft. The Winchester 1907 was quickly replaced in the aircraft use by drum or belt machineguns. It did become a favorite of post-World War I law enforcement agencies, the Model 1907 hung on with a few until the early 1970s.   The Winchester 1907 is a complex design, very difficult to field strip and clean, it was not a weapon which could be massed produced and issued as a standard rifle or carbine.

Both France and Germany attempted to design and produce semi-automatic rifles in World War I.  These efforts were hampered by the use of the full powered rifle cartridges, difficulty in manufacture, and the urgency of the conflict. After the war, many countries experimented with semi-automatic cartridges.  Some eventual products of these efforts were the U.S. M1 Garand and Soviet SVT 40.

In 1940 the U. S. Army realized certain soldiers needed a light weight rifle to replace the pistol.  Certain t soldiers such as staff officers, mortar men, truck drivers, cooks, etc. were traditionally unarmed or armed with a pistol. The Sub machineguns did not provide a reasonable answer as they nearly as heavy as the M1 Garand Rifle.   
The Winchester design was quickly accepted and put into production.  Although called the M1 Carbine, the carbine was not a shortened M1 Rifle, but an entirely new design and cartridge. The M1 Carbine, like the Winchester Model 1907, had a detachable magazine and a 30 caliber pistol type cartridge, developed from the 32 Winchester self-loading cartridge. 
The M1 Carbine is not an assault rifle, some were converted to select fire 1945 and used extensively during the Korean War.     

Sub-machineguns. The sub-machinegun is a class of weapon designed to meet the conditions of trench warfare. Using controllable pistol ammunition, the submachine gun was seen as a trench “broom”. It provided firepower which the bolt action rifle could not. Few submachine guns were used in the First World War, however they were extensively developed after the war and nearly every army deployed significant numbers during the Second World War. 
The United States used the Thompson (several models) and M3 “Grease Gun”   sub-machineguns in large numbers during the war.  Both were nearly as heavy as the M1 rifle. Both the Thompson and M3 Grease Gun provided excellent close range firepower, but beyond 50 yards their power and accuracy greatly diminished.  While the Japanese used very few submachine guns, the Germans, Soviets and British used large numbers.  However, they all faced range and power limitations inherent in their cartridges.    

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why the U.S. Military has never understood the Assault Rifle. Part 1

 U.S. M16A1

Prologue: This is not about the civilian legal military look alike rifles.  Those rifles DO NOT possess fully automatic or burst fire capability. True assault rifles are not available to the public, outside of carefully licensed collectors, only the military and police possess them.

The U.S. Military has never had a comfortable relationship with the assault rifle.  Deep seeded ideas of rifle marksmanship, fear of ammunition wastage, and the traditions of the rifleman going back to the Revolutionary War, have influenced U.S. rifle design to the present day.

Since 1945 assault rifle have established an enormous presence on the world’s battlefields. Armies and revolutionary groups have sought the advantages of the assault rifle.

The assault rifle was the result of a long evolutionary process which sought to provide usable firepower to the individual soldier.

Repeating rifles. The U.S. military establishment had an aversion to the repeating rifle starting in the Civil War.  The Army ordnance establishment was very afraid that soldiers would waste precious ammunition in battle. This false fear was reinforced by a distrust of the new systems, such as the Henry, and Spencer rifles, which achieved substantially higher rates of fire that the rifled musket or early breach loading carbines. Early repeating rifles were essentially forced on the Army ordnance establishment during the war. This same establishment quickly returned to single shot rifles and carbines, shortly after the end of the war.  Although these post war rifles and carbines used metallic cartridges, their rates of fire were well below the rates achieved by repeating rifles.

The Army steadfastly clung to the single shot rifle until the 1890s. The single shot black powder rifles were still widely used by National Guard or volunteer soldiers in the Spanish American War. Smokeless powder high velocity cartridges facilitated the adoption of a magazine fed bolt action rifle. These rifles fired powerful cartridges which could engage enemy soldiers at ranges up to 700 yards. Interestingly, the magazine fed bolt action rifles adopted by the Army, the 1892 Krag and the later 1903 Springfield rifles, incorporated a magazine cutoff which caused the rifle to function as a single shot, thus saving the cartridges in the magazine for “emergencies”. The phobia that soldiers would waste ammunition would rear its ugly head again and again.   


Monday, September 9, 2013

Five things, which will go extinct in the shooting world.

1. AR-15 s upper receivers with fixed carry handles. These have been going away and they will be gone in five years. The only ones, which will survive, will be for nostalgia purposes.

2.  Bolt action “sniper” tactical rifles. Comparably accurate semi automatic rifles will replace the bolt action, for hunting and tactical uses. Even in areas where the AR is prohibited, a compliant semi automatic will be available.

3. Pink and purple guns, which are designed to appeal to women. Women will want their guns to look stock and not in feminine colors.

4. Sharp pointed, wicked looking flash suppressors. These tear up gun cases and could snag on cover and barriers. In this case, function will trump looks.    

5. Zombies will disappear.  Zombie guns, ammunition, targets, and neon green stock furniture will go away and be remembered as a bad fad.  


Friday, September 6, 2013

M1 Rifle Seen is Syria

I would suspect that M1 rifles found in that conflict came from the stocks of the old Lebanese Army.  The Lebanese Army used M1s in the 50s and 60s. Many armed groups used the M1 after the country effectively disintegrated in 1975.  I saw several recovered in the early 1980s.  The M1 was still used in some circumstances with AP ammunition to defeat light cover.  The M1 is still an awesome weapon and can hold its own against newer designs in many cases, especially with excellent quality US AP ammo..