Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Groundhog Day



Ranger Question of the Day:
"Why are sniper rifles usually 7.62 and not 5.56?"


In a previous piece (Colt and the M4), Ranger opined that the 5.56 mm was not the appropriate weapon for fighting in Afghanistan and is marginal at best for fighting in Iraq. Now the Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey says the military is reviewing complaints that the bullets aren’t powerful enough (Chief of Staff: Army Reviewing Complaints over Bullets.)

Current and former soldiers told the Associated Press the military's M855 rifle rounds are “not powerful enough for close-in fighting in cities and towns in Iraq and Afghanistan .”

A little history: The 5.56 or .222 Remington is what used to be called a “varmint class cartridge” back in the 50’s and 60’s. The sort of think you might expect to find Mitt Romney toting around, if you will. The military may consider their adversaries
varmints, but we are talking small mammals here. The current .223 / 5.56 is a slight variation of the .222, and was modified for use in a box magazine and for feeding in semi- and auto weapons.

The .222 fed well in bolt-action rifles, but did not adapt well to feeding in assault rifles due to the overall length of the neck, hence the 5.56 mm. But ballistically they are similar, varying only in the length of the neck of the cartridge.

Over the years the bullets have been made heavier and longer, with tungsten carbide cores to assist in penetration of body armor. However, this modification also degraded the round for use versus non-armored human targets.

The round now punched clean through, often leaving the target still in a combative posture. This is why Ranger favors the 7.62 NATO, a round which effectively knocks down targets when they are properly hit.

Not only are our riflemen armed with 5.56 rifles (.223) but our Squad Automatic Weapons are belt-fed 5.56’s. Same-same rifle. The platoon level machine gun is still the 7.62 mm. The 7.62 machine gun fired from a tripod with transverse and elevating equipment is effective to 1,100 m and will still kill people quite nicely at that range.

However, the SAW is not equivalently effective. It is a fine weapon, but it lacks knock-down and long-range effectiveness. These factors are usually not critical in a normal corps scenario combat situation, in which the infantry in the offense and defense will utilize indirect fire assets (aviation, et. al.) to neutralize the enemy before engaging in close combat. In that scenario, the rifle is secondary, becoming a clean-up tool.

But in Iraq and Afghanistan, the COIN requirements often preclude the use of artillery and aerial support, thereby placing a greater reliance upon squad and platoon resources.

A quick fix IMHO would be to pull the SAW’s and issue 7.62 general-purpose machine guns at squad level and to train the gunners and leaders to effectively utilize the heavier nature of the weapon.

A seeming benefit of the 5.56 is that the gunners and assistant gunners can carry more ammunition, but that is a necessity anyway as more ammo is required to neutralize and chop up defensive positions, both hasty and prepared. This increases reliance on the machine guns to neutralize the strong points.

If the U.S. forces are attacking in-depth, then this direct support should come from the fighting vehicle's organic suppressive weapons (7.62 machine gun, 20 0r 40 mm, or 50 Cal.) However, close fighting would also expose these vehicles to RPG fire, making it unwise to put them in restrictive street scenarios that enhance their inherent vulnerabilities.

Another quick fix would be to place one M-14, 7.62 mm-type rifle in each fire team for increased firepower -- not necessarily by volume but by power factor and increased range. These personnel would not be snipers but designated marksmen, and sniper-type scopes would not be a requirement.

The above items have been an item of discussion since 1965. The best choices should be made based upon analysis of both past and present performance of the ammo and weapons in question.

The M-16 family and the 5.56 are not adequate for our front line troops today. They suffice for Combat Support and Combat Service Support, but it just isn’t the rifle for Iraq, and especially not for Afghanistan.

~~Cross-posted at Main and Central~~

FOLLOW-ON: Rifle's Handloader (April/May, 43:2) features an article, ".222 Special: On the Road to the 5.56 x 45 mm and M16."


Please vote for Ranger Against War as Best Florida Political Blog in the
Florida Progressive Netroots Competition here --
voting extended through June 8th:


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Blogger SPIIDERWEB™ said...

The above items have been an item of discussion since 1965.

That's really pathetic.

Forty three years to make a decision affecting the lives of the people in combat?

You would think the people in charge would have had experience enough to understand the troops' concerns and switch weapons.

Oh yeah, this is the military. I forgot.

My father-in-law was a civilian employee at Fort Lewis. He was ordered to put anti-freeze in several pieces of equipment loaded on rail cars for shipment to the far north.

A week later he got instructions to drain all the radiators and engine blocks so they wouldn't freeze.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 7:22:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

spiider, actually weapons questions and doctrine have been going on since Christ was a corporal.
For some unknown and inexplicable reason the DOD went to the 5.56 and took 7.62's out of the hands of the Riflemen, now spray and pray is order of the day. jim

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 9:16:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Labrys the Bitter said...

But Ranger? It is a matched set with inadequate armor, inadequate leadership, and inadequate post-war treatment and benefits.
Gee, you would have women leave off half the sweater set, too, wouldn't ya? (turns off sarcasm font and runs, hoping all Ranger has is a similarly inadequate weapon)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 10:04:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

lsbrys, i just won't go there! jim

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 10:59:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


I find men don't like it when we question the adequacy of their weapon ;)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 11:02:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Arkhamite said...

You'll get my "weapon" when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 11:56:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Ark, have you said your prayers? jim

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 1:20:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Labrys the Laughing said...

ROFL! Gee, Lisa, and I thought we outgrew all that kind of thing? And ooooh, that "cold dead weapon" image implanted on my brain by the last poster....oh, do, please do, pass me the mental floss?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 2:41:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Two observations on the not inconsequential matter at hand:

[1] We have a lot of droll posters here. Knowing something of Arkhamite, he is one, so know tongue is in cheek.

[2] I have been amazed stumbling on some of the tough-boy military sites to find not-stupid men devolving into challenges over the meetness of their weapons. While it is done somewhat in jest, one can also divine the seriousness with which they defend their honor.

I find it oddly quaint. Their weapons loom large in their persona.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 2:49:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Labrys the Laughing said...

Ah, quaintness. Nostalgia, then insists I must recite from Army basic training (w/o hand signs, as it was impossible for us females) "This is my weapon and this is my gun; one is for fighting, the other for fun!"

Being of the bitch tradition, I expect efficacy from both weapons AND guns!
And I'm seldom disappointed!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 3:15:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Publius said...

OK, now I've cast my second vote for Ranger. Man, the things I have to find time for in my busy day.

Ranger, I hope this will result in even higher quality posts. Or, you could just buy me a beer.

Best of luck.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 6:01:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Publius said...

Well, I managed to post my vote comment on the wrong thread. Sorry about that.

WRT the M16 and 5.56 mm in general, the Army went in the tank more than 40 years ago. There was some rationale for the switch in Vietnam, e.g., weapon and ammo weight, jungles, etc. But I recall thinking in the mid-70s, whilst looking over the sweeping vistas of Western Europe, just how much fun it might be for infantrymen trying to repel modern Warsaw Pact formations with guns made by Mattel. The M14 is a great rifle.

I also never understood why they got rid of the Thompson (I had one in Vietnam) and its cousin, the grease gun. .45, baby, that's where it's at for combat in cities. Further, who besides me thinks now and again fondly of the BAR?

Lowest bidder and standardization. Yep. Really helps the GI.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 6:09:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


It's not all beer-and-skittles here in the sweltering Sunshine State. Thanks for re-voting; at least I understand we won't get just 1/2 a vote. And I always have hopes of perfectibility. Ranger, OTOH, feels he's already reached nirvana. (I think that's what happens when you mix SF + Ranger at an early age.)

The beer offer is in the can, as you know (not literally), whether down here or up there!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 7:06:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


I looked up the 7.62 Nato v. 5.56 mm on Wikipedia and the knock down power of the former is double. I advocate any new generation 7.62 or even 243 Win v. the varmint calibers.

The 5.56 requires twice the ammo to do the job so the weight thing is irrelevant.

The .45 is a much finer choice of pistol for close quarters combat, as you point out; adopting the 9 mm was a nod to women in the service, who couldn't handle the .45. I'd rather lose a woman than my .45.

The weapons you mention are all golden oldies, and we remember them b/c they took away our innocence. the bren gun and the BAR were probably the most successful auto weapons of the 20th century. The BAR was issued in several different calibres worldwide.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 7:29:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous tw said...

Whatever happened to the deal to take the AK's away from the Iraqi Army and give them Colts? Haven't heard anymore on that one.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 10:54:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous mike said...

I recall that in Nam there was an outfit where the Platoon Leader looked the other way gladly while at least one man in every squad carried a repatriated M-14 in addition to his M-16.

I second Publius on the BAR. He has put me to shame though with the voting. I will try to catch up.

I liked the M-1 also and once scored a perfect 250 out of 250 with every shot in the bull. That was with a weapon almost 20 years old, never rebarreled. The M-14 was a little looser but still an accurate weapon.

Ah - everything was better in the old days!! Maybe our "weapons" were no bigger but we aimed to please when we used them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:23:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Re. your weapons: remember what I wrote about the pthalates a while back: your weapons might have been bigger. . .

But that you aimed to please is the most important thing.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:59:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Terrible said...

I can't find a link for it but in Cartridges of the World they discuss a shortened 458 Win Mag cartridge. 1 1/2" if I remember correctly. It was used some in Nam to cut through palm leaves cleanly and take out what was behind them. And did so very effectively but was never adopted by any of the ground force services. A shame if you ask me. It had similar ballistics to the 45-70 which is an awesome close range combat round in the right weapon. I sure as hell wouldn't want to face a Marlin scout rifle in 45-70 with something using the 5.56 in any combat situation, close range or long range. But with the 458 x 1 1/2 you had the same power in a shorter case and therefore faster action time. Personally I'd take ANY WWI or WWII military weapon over anything shooting the diminutive 5.56. Heck I'd probably even feel safer with any of the old late 1800s cartridge military rifles that were repeaters. The 11mm Mauser ain't no light weight in any fight. Nor were any of it's contempories. Glad to see the issue being discussed but of course the military contractors with the right connections are the ones who control what the grunts get stuck with.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:56:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tanker" Garands, perhaps?

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 3:54:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Anon, to the best of my knowledge the Tanker M1 was never an item of issue-it was an aftermarket fantasy gun. Tankers used Greaseguns for personal defense.The Tanker brings to mind the Berretta M59 which was a fine rifle. jim

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:07:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

TW, i saw photos the other day of Iraqi units armed with the Black rifle. jim

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:11:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Mike, the m14 has beaten all records set by the M1. The operating rod makes the weapon inherently more accurate since it is shorter and more rigid than the M1 op rod.I,ve seen M1 op rods go out in a match and visually there is no noticeable indicators.
Local commanders usually allow reasonable adjustments such as 1 substitute M14 per unit.It's really wise to do so .
As for your 250/250 score i was unaware that Marines could count that high.:) Good shooting. jim

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:20:00 AM GMT-5  

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