At Long Last, Sanity

Yeah, and it’s about time.

After carrying the M16 or one of its cousins across the globe for more than half a century, soldiers could get a peek at a new prototype assault rifle that fires a larger round by 2020.
Army researchers are testing half a dozen ammunition variants in “intermediate calibers,” which falls between the current 7.62 mm and 5.56 mm rounds, to create a new light machine gun and inform the next-generation individual assault rifle/round combo.
The weapon designs being tested will be “unconventional,” officials said, and likely not one that is currently commercially available.
Some intermediate calibers being tested include the .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, .264 USA as well as other non-commercial intermediate calibers, including cased telescoped ammo, Army officials said.

All those who’ve heard me rant endlessly about the Mattel (M16/M4) rifle and its poodleshooter (5.56mm/.223 Rem) cartridge may now breathe a sigh of relief at the upcoming cessation of ranting, as the Pentagon is finally facing up to the reality that the aforementioned were inadequate pieces of shit that our kids should never have had to carry into combat.

I really have no input into what rifle/machine gun/”delivery platform” the Army is going to implement, other than I hope its an adaptation of an existing, proven design — “ground-up” (i.e. wholly-new) designs are generally shit unless created by John Moses Browning (BBUHN) — but considering that the Army always has to dabble with the new-and-untried (because otherwise how else could they kill more of our troops unnecessarily?), I’m probably wasting my time.

As for the cartridges: Doc Russia and I had a long and detailed discussion about this topic. I like the .260 Rem because of its meaty energy at 500 meters, while he likes the 6.5 Creedmoor because of its proven accuracy — as he says, all you need for a combat round is accuracy, range and power. Any half-decent quarter-inch- to 6.8mm bullet with a mass of about 140-150gr will do the job, almost without exception. Here are two of the cartridges mentioned in the article (from left to right), the .260 Rem (142gr) and the 6.5 Creedmoor (140gr):

  

Either would be an excellent choice, and there’s absolutely no need for the Army to come up with any new cartridge. Why? Because over the past century of cartridge design, just about everything has been tried and tested, and quite frankly, the answer is already out there e.g. with either of the above cartridges.

All the talk about the need for a bullet to penetrate body armor is mostly silliness, by the way. If you’re hit at short range in the body armor with a high-velocity medium-caliber bullet, the bullet will penetrate any armor, and even if it doesn’t — say, with a glancing blow — the impact is most probably going to knock you unconscious and/or cause massive internal trauma — broken ribs, collapsed lungs, etc. (Steel-core 6.5x55mm Swede — my favorite of all medium cartridges ever made —  can blast straight through both sides of body armor at 300 yards, but it’s not an optimal cartridge in today’s world because of its weight and length.) Penetration is also a moot issue because anything would be better than the current poodleshooter 5.56mm cartridge, which can barely penetrate drywall at 300 yards (some hyperbole there).

Regardless of the bullet size, though, I love the idea of lightweight polymer cartridge cases — brass is great but heavy, relatively speaking — and the Army doesn’t reload, so polymer seems to fit the bill. And brass is a commodity metal, prone to supply shortages, whereas if you’re running low on polymer sheets, you just build a new factory and the problem goes away. (Of course, should the military demand for brass slacken, that could make regular ammo cheaper for the civilian market, but let me not be swayed by base personal motives here.)

I worry, of course, that too much time will be spent trying to create a perfect cartridge (to do “everything”) and the perfect rifle (with a jillion bells and whistles), instead of getting something which is a 90% solution and running with it. In truth, I think an intro date of 2020 is far too distant, and the M4/5.56mm system sucks so badly, it should be replaced now, let alone three years hence.

I welcome additional thoughts and input in Comments.

29 comments

  1. I agree completely that the long time frame is a colossal mistake, as is the hunt for yet another “perfect” cartridge. As is often the case, I believe, the answer may likely lie in the past. The need to invent “new” cartridges that perform similarly to existing cartridges seems to exist solely as an attempt to garner market share or the wild elusive trophy of the military contract. Plus, the military seems to be especially good at solving problems that do not exist instead of those that do. Witness the degradation of the “battle rifle” — which brings us back to “D’oh!”

    You want a cartridge to replace the 5.56/.223? One that is easy on the shoulder? One that is flat-shooting? One that carries enough “oomph” to get the job done at ranges longer than the current option?

    Problem solved. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present . . . the .243 (6x52mm) Winchester.

    They could look it up.

    1. I love the .243 Win, and have owned a couple of rifles thus chambered. My only quibble is that the bullet is a little light for combat: I don’t think that a 100-120gr bullet performs as well at, say, 400 yards than does a 140-150gr bullet. (I also know that the “typical” combat range is less than that — except when it isn’t, as both Iraq and Afghanistan have proved.)

  2. Does the 6.5 Creedmore suffer from the same drawbacks as the 6.5 Grendel? Meaning to achieve optimum performance requires a heavier bullet and longer barrel? From my comfortable armchair, I would vote the 6.8mm Remington, particularly if the Pentagon is going to retain short barrel M4 style rifles. I do think that the special operations branch there is some favoring the 6.5 Grendel for distance combat and 6.8 Remington for CQB.

    1. I don’t know the answer to your first question. Doc Russia has an AR-15 chambered in the Grendel, so I’ll ask him when he gets back from work.The 6.8 Rem SPC typically uses a bullet weighing less than 120gr… as does the .243 Win.
      I think the Army’s looking for something a little heavier, judging from the calibers mentioned in the article.

      1. I’m waiting with bated breath for his answer. I’ve been on the fence about getting a 6.5G upper from Alexander Arms for several years.
        IB

  3. The British proposed something close to that back in the 1950s; the .280 British Then the Ordnance Department of the U.S. Army bigfooted all over that. The M-14 couldn’t really be made to work as a select-fire weapon with the cartridge we insisted upon, 7.62 NATO, and the British were forced to abandon the rifle they very briefly adopted, EM-2, because that wasn’t a good fit with the full power round.

    I like to think what might have been if we had gone along with the British idea. Imagine M-14 developed with the British round, it could have been lighter, and unnecessary to remove the fire selector. The idea to have a squad automatic version might have been practicable (maybe with a quick change barrel).

    Instead, we threw our weight around for not much return at all. Less than ten years after adopting M-14, we changed to a cartridge much worse than the one the Brits proposed, got everyone else to change over, and are now about to adopt something damn close to . . . .280 British.

    Video of test-firing a 7.62 NATO EM-2

  4. Sectional density is a real thing and long enough and skinny seems to work well. The 6.5 x 55 Swede is my favorite, I have two rifles that shoot the 6.5, one is a surplus Swedish Mauser with a real clean bore and the other is my CZ 550 FS with a set trigger. With the right cartridges these guns are great fun to shoot and they carry a lot of energy down range and hold tight groups when I do my part. If MacArthur had not stepped in out WWII battle rifle would have been a .276 (7mm) but he insisted the Garand shoot the WWI 30-06 because the US military had so much inventory of that round on hand. And so it was until the mid 50’s and they decided to use the .308 which is a decent round in the M-14, my rifle for four years in the Army where I never had to do anything with it except clean it and shoot it once a year after basic training. I was never in a combat unit or on the same continent as any warfare. I put my life in danger driving on the autobahn to Munich to drink beer at regular intervals.

    Then one day an Air Force general saw a watermelon explode with the AR shooting the .556 and for the next 50 years the US Army had the pray and spray gun which, if I can believe what I read, took over 200,000 rounds per enemy causality, we left a lot of brass in Nam and I suspect all the guys with the exception of snipers still do.

    I have shot the AR in 5.56 and 6.8 SPC and at 100 yards the accuracy difference really shows up and the retained energy is significant which results in lots more torn up flesh and bones and that is what bullets are supposed to do. Here in Texas the 6.8 SPC is a decent hog gun and the 5.56 kind of makes them mad and unhappy when they run away. There is no logical reason for keeping the same gun, with some upgrades and the same rounds for the past 50 years.

    One last thing, I have some black guns AR platform and have shot a bit with them but they have no soul, using one has the same feel as using a weed-eater or drill press, just a tool while my old surplus battle rifles and hunting rifles with wood and steel have something that makes us a team when I use them. I also understand why the new stuff is so much better but I am an old man and I like what I like. Old whiskey, old music and older women, like my wife in her 70’s.

  5. The problem with military procurement is money. We have too much of it.

    Think about it: Imagine that you are the Defence Minister (see how I spelled it? 😉 ) for the poor nation of East Fuckistan. You go to your president and say “Mr President, our rifles are all falling apart, we need new ones.”

    The president then says “OK, you have three million Euros. Buy something off the shelf that is reliable and will work.” Done, because three million euros is all they have in the budget for new rifles.

    But here in the USA, it’s different. You start out with a set of specifications and requirements – the rifle must be no longer than this, no heavier than that, etc etc. Then you start soliciting bids.

    But wait, here comes a contractor whispering in a congressman’s ear “You know that new rifle? Wouldn’t it be great if, in addition to the requirements already put out by the Army/Marines, it could also do X, Y and Z?” (where X, Y and Z were NOT part of the original requirements.)

    And it just so happens that the contractor promises to build the factory producing the X, Y and Z rifle in that congressman’s district, bringing jobs and millions of dollars of sweet, sweet federal cash money to that congressman. Now Congressman Crank is going to go to the floor of the house and DEMAND that the X, Y and Z rifle be built, and if they don’t, well, then by God, they must not “support the troops” or something.

    Now multiply that by 435 congressional districts and hundreds and hundreds of military contractors and their lobbyists and you can see the problem. Any time the military says “we need a new ________” those congressmen and lobbyists get those cartoon $$$ in their eyes because they know there’s money to be made.

    Buy something off the shelf that’s ‘good enough’ ? Nonsense! Where’s the profit in that? Next you’ll be telling them to keep their dicks in their pants or to live within their means or similar nonsense.

    If we were a poor country like East Fuckistan, this wouldn’t happen because there wouldn’t be enough money to be made.

    Sorry to come off as so cynical (really I’m not that cynical) but when it comes to weapons procurement we’ve seen this happen enough to know it’s the exception, not the rule. Look at the cluster-fuck that accompanied the search for a new pistol – a weapon that is hardly ever used in actual combat and that primarily serves as a badge of rank and office.

  6. This is not the first time that the powers that be have said they will replace the M-16 family and the 5.56 NATO with something better. Will this time be different? When I see it, I will believe it. I will not be surprised if my three year old grandson is using some “new M-16 type” 20 years from now. Oh Hell Son, it was good enough for your granddaddy to use to use 70 years ago in Viet Nam. It is good enough for you.

  7. I understand much of the distaste you have for the M-16/M-4 platform, but if you stop for a moment and consider, it does have it’s place in the modern military. What is actually needed is two different rifle systems designed for different tactics. With the current rifle, the small combat unit encounters an enemy force, and they usually are not interested in engaging in a long, drawn out fire fight. What is more often going to happen is that they will call in air support that will then put out the fire of the bad guys. Now, in the other type of military engagement that we find ourselves in at the current time, in the mountains of Afghanistan, a different weapon is needed. There are many Taliban fighters who are the proud owners of scars inflicted by nearly spent 5.56 mm rounds fired at 800 meters by American warriors. The gun itself is not a bad gun, nor is the cartridge bad, for what it was designed for, close up, jungle type and urban fighting. I can see the idea of a 6 mm caliber, but then again, we also have the .270 winchester. And don’t forget that the 7.62 nato is a very proven round. The only thing needed would be to engineer a modern rifle platform for it that could take advantage of not only it’s power, but also be user friendly. I love the M-14 as much as the next guy, the M-1 Garand is a thing of beauty, but it was a heavy bitch, and even though my son bought one just because he loves military weapons, the Garand is past it’s prime, and would not be a good choice today. Now that I think of it, the M-14 might not be a bad place to start, and then play off of that. It might be such a thing that we find that we outfit our teams with different types of weapons, some light, M-16 types, and something else, shooting something that will reach out farther with more authority. I never served in the military, however, of the 8 or 9 friends who served in the sandbox that I have discussed this with, they all had nothing but good things to say about the current weapon system. The ones who carried the M-9 pistol both liked them as well, for what it is worth. Those 2 who were in Afghanistan that I know were happy enough with the gun, but thought the round lacked enough energy for the mountains, where 1000 meter shots were common. No matter what happens, it is fun to watch, and speculate what the wise ones in power will do. After seeing what they did with the new pistol, anything is possible.

  8. I’ve always liked the ballistics of the .25-06. I’ve got an old Remington 700 BDL in that caliber and its a great coyote and smaller white tail gun. However I understand that the military wants a short action and that pretty much shoots down cartridges based on the old full sized .30-06 brass. Even the .308 form factor which is just a shortened 06 is probably too big. I liked the old Jeff Cooper “Thumper” concept but I know that will never fly. I’m thinking a 6.5 to 6.8mm cartridge with a 130 to 140 grain bullet in a piston AR platform

  9. The problem I’m seeing with the solutions being espoused here is that they’re either necked down .308’s or pretty much the same length and case width, which would necessitate an AR-10 length action and bring us down to 20rd mags. If we’re going to go with battle rifle size, weight, and capacity, why not just stick with the 7.62 NATO round we’ve already got tons of?

    My recommendation is as follows. First, we keep the 5.56 in service, but expand the use of hollow points, which we do already have in the arsenal to a lesser extent. A 77gr JHP expands to about .45 caliber in soft tissue and is more effective at range than lighter bullets. Second, increase the use of 7.62 NATO battle rifles, such that troops can draw on either caliber as is appropriate to the environment. Third, standardize a common platform between the two for the same manual of arms and as many common parts as possible. We’re going to keep both rounds in the inventory for belt feds, so why not a two rifle solution?

    If it was up to me, I would probably recommend the Sig 516 and 716. Sig’s piston guns do everything HK’s popular offerings do (sometimes more) at half the cost, and 516 uppers would be a comparatively inexpensive upgrade to our existing M16 lowers.

  10. We have a perfectly suitable cartridge for infantry use, in both battle rifles and LMGs: The 7.62×51. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Standardize everything north of a subgun and south of a HMG on it.

    Can’t fit 30 7.62s in a magazine? Design one properly. Can’t hump ten mags of 7.62? Join the Air Force.

  11. I have heard this song played before. I’ll believe that the Army is scrapping the M4 when I get to qualify with a different gun.

    Although we did just get a new pistol, so anything is possible. But still… I’ll believe it when I see it.

  12. Gentlemen, and Lady.
    My two-bob’s worth is relatively short, because I have not thrown around lots of lead (bullets). A time with the .303; a few shots with a 6.5×54; some .204; and lots of .22.
    So may I refer you to the site of someone who knows a great deal more than I do?
    quarryhs.co.uk
    On the home page I suggest you select “index”, and from there go to the item about the case for a general purpose rifle and machine gun cartridge.
    There are many other articles on his site, but some of us are still working in the day, and scrutineered at night.
    Cheers

  13. Got to say that it is good news. Most guys I know who have been in the military get an AR-10 (308) for there own rifle. I have a couple of the 5.56 but might re-chamber one to 6.5. But I think I will wait till the Army makes up its mind. Without some pressing force, it will take them at least a decade to change.

  14. If the 5.56mm poodleshooter is too light, and the 30 cal is too powerful, then the Österreicher nearly got it right with the 6.5x53mmR Mannlicher Steyer in 1892 and later with 6.5x54mm Mannlicher Schönauer in 1903 (hat tip to Monty1950). Just replace the original 160 grain round nose bullet with a lighter-weight spitzer, and you’re looking at the 6.5 Creedmoor or the 264 USA. The special forces made a good attempt with the 6.8mm SPC, but it just wasn’t that much better than the 5.56mm because it had to fit in the M-16 platform. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  15. I’m afraid I have to be cynical. Change calibers, and you’re looking at replacing all the rifles, squad automatic weapons, and possibly general purpose machine guns. And the ammo stocks. Never forget that the M-1 was in .30-06 because of the vast stocks of ammunition, not because the Army loved the caliber.

    The Army has a track record of this sort of sham-show. I’ll believe a new cartridge when I see it.

  16. Past it’s prime? pffft. I could make a case for the Garand, but as a concession to those who think not having a detachable mag is just too much work (or might make them chip a nail or sumfin) I propose the BM-59 in a hot little 6mm or 7mm would be the ideal general issue long gun. I lean towards the .260 Remington in this instance. Nothing wrong with the 6.5 Creedmoor, it’s just the Creedmoor is spelled in metric, while the .260 is spelled in American.

    Replace the rear handguard with a rail mount for an electronic sight or LER scope, add a tritium front sight, make sure the elevation knob is calibrated in yards (cause Murica) & add 3 & 1/3 inches to the bayonet – cause size does matter. Keep it in walnut or a laminate – anyone suggesting plastic stocks should have things done to them which will make PETA file a civil suit on their behalf.

    There’s a full size model (23 & 1/2 ” barrel) and several carbine length models (19 & 5/8th & 17-ish inch barrels) plus standard, pistol gripped & folding stocks. The tri comp resized to .26 caliber should make it even more controllable in full auto than the 7.62 NATO version were. Same platform, different models for different situations.

    Using a cast receiver should bring down cost enough to make it competitive-ish. Magpul shouldn’t have a problem making new mags, maybe even adding 5 or 10 rounds to the design (though the original mags were a thing of wonder, slightly less impervious to damage than a dump truck).

    It’s gonna weigh more than the M16Awhatev, but the smaller .26 cartridge & polymer mags would keep things in the same ballpark (a pound or so I’m thinking).

    But, since the decision is in the same type of hands that demanded a magazine cut off so the troops wouldn’t waste ammo with blithering fire from those ’03 Springfields, (not to mention how this could be tweaked for graft by congresscritters) I’m not holding my breath for a logical outcome.

  17. This is the third or fourth time I have seen the Army say they want to replace the M-16/M-4 family of weapons.

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

    In the mean time, if the service is really having issues with planting people at extended range, they could standardize on 77 grain OTM ammunition, which extends the range at which the 5.56 will yaw and fragment in flesh out of a 14″ barrel out to where it was when the 20″ full size M-16 smokepole was still standard issue. Such a round is already type classified, DODAAC AA53. MK262 Mod 1 Special Ball.

  18. Friend of mine up in New York used to build AR platforms in 6.5X45 for the Japanese market. They can’t own military calibers… It seems to me that with modern powders something like that would work well.

  19. I was about to say .280 British, but I see someone beat me to it so I’ll just second them. Frankly, anything in the 6.5-7mm range with a 120-140 grain bullet would be an enormous improvement over the poodleshooter. Sure, a whole lot of people would have to butch up a bit and stop being such recoil sissies and become strong enough to ruck the load, but so what? They’ll get over it.

  20. Don’t forget though, any new rifle/cartridge must not be too heavy, kick too hard, have too many moving parts, be too hard to assemble/disassemble for our modern warriors or be made from non-sustainable materials or cause major ecological damage.

  21. Keep in mind, they are not doing this because they woke up one morning and decided all of the criticism of the M16/5.56NATO are valid. What is diving this is the advancement in body armor. The best body armor plates will now stop 7.62×39 up to relatively close range. The 5.56 NATO has a higher velocity and lower cross section does better (especially with rounds designed to penetrate body armor) but it does not retain enough velocity at longer ranges to be effective. Also, the harder/slicker bullets required to penetrate body armor make it even worse as a stopper (from a very low base there anyway). So you don’t want to go back and pick a 7.62NATO (great round though it is) – you want something with enough development room that it is future proof enough to be developed for the next few body armor development cycles too.

    This is not an academic point, even the Taliban was starting to wear body armor when I was there in ’09-10. I am sure it is more prevalent now than then.

    So it will not be an off the shelf round. They may look at them, but in the end it will be for bench marking only. They are also going to end up wanting to keep a similar magazine load-out, weight, etc. To do that will take a new design form factor. This will mean either caseless or telescoping rounds http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a23094/this-experimental-army-rifle-uses-telescoped-ammunition/ My guess is that it will be telescoping as the caseless rounds have some specific technical challenges which have been sticking points for a long time and IMHO are not practically solvable (but I am not working on the problem either, so who knows).

    So what you are probably going to get is something that looks like either an HK M416 or an FN SCAR (not necessarily made by one of them) and shoots a 6.5mm telescoping round. It will probably fit in the 5.56 form factor close enough to make new uppers to shoot it to manage the transition.

    Just my $0.02

  22. Meh.

    Having carried both the M4 and SAW within the past decade, I can’t get my hate on. They both work well enough, and the times 556 wouldn’t reach out far enough were few, and we had M2’s, 240’s and other assorted goodies.

    Would a more robust caliber be beneficial? Probably, but our current stuff isn’t some Vietnam era travesty of anemic weapons that fail constantly.

  23. I’d suggest either the 6.8, or a 6.5 variant.

    The 6.8 can be beefed up with a heavier .270 bullet.

    If current stocks can’t be easily upgraded, it probably won’t happen. Any of the above require barrel and magazine replacements, and nothing else.

Leave a Reply