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7.62 mm Versus 5.56 mm - Does NATO
Really Need Two Standard Rifle Calibers

CSC 1986


TITLE: 7.62 mm Versus 5.56 mm - Does NATO Really Need Two
Standard Rifle Calibers?

I. Purpose: To reestablish the 7.62mm NATO cartridge as the
optimum rifle caliber ammunition for the U. S. and NATO.

II. Problem: NATO recently adopted the 5.56mm as its second
standard rifle caliber cartridge. As a result, the existing NATO
standard, the 7.62mm, has been relegated to a secondary
supporting role within NATO's armed forces. Although the
selection of the 5.56mm was based on extensive testing, research,
and documented battle performance, this intermediate power round
is not the optimum ammunition and caliber for U. S. and NATO
forces in the contemplated battlefields of the future.

III. Discussion: Proponents of the intermediate power 5.56mm
have continuously compared their smaller cartridge to the large
full power 7.62mm. The results of these comparisons purportedly
show the superiority of the smaller ammunition in the areas of
penetration, lethality, weapon portability, and fire power.
Careful examinaton of these tests and the touted advantages of
the 5.56mm, however, shows that the 7.62mm is still potentially
superior to the smaller round. For example, in the NATO tests,
researchers have compared a modern, semi-armor piercing round of
ammunition (5.56mm) against a standard ball cartidge
(7.62mm) that has not been improved since its adoption in 1953.
An improved 7.62mm NATO, using the same technology as the
5.56mm, would definitely out-perform the smaller cartridge. With
respect to portability, second generation 7.62mm rifles are
smaller, more compact, and very comparable to certain 5.56mm
weapons. Concerning fire power, any full automatic fire with
light assault rifles, even with the low-recoil 5.56mm, is not
effective and only results in a waste of ammunition. In
addition, new tecnological developments in body armor may soon
defeat the penetration capability of the small 5.56mm. New
developments in optical sighting equipment will soon increase
battlefield engagement ranges and thereby exceed the long range
accuracy capability of the smaller 5.56mm. The large case and
projectile of the 7.62mm, however, are more than sufficient to
accept significant improvements in penetration, lethality, and
long range performance. This will allow the 7.62mm to remain
effective on futrure battlefields.

IV. Conclusion: The 5.56mm will, at best, only be an interim
NATO standard. Due to its small size, further improvements of
the 5.56mm will be insufficient to keep up with the changing
requirements of future battlefields. Overall, the older 7.62mm
NATO is a better standard cartridge since it has the capacity and
the flexibility to be significantly improved and thereby remain

V. Recommendations: The 7.62mm NATO cartridge should be
developed with current technology to improve its penetration,
lethality, and overall-performance. Modern weapons systems
should be further developed to utilize the 7.62mm. No, NATO does
not need two standard rifle calibers.

Major Vern T. Miyagi Conference Group 6



7.62mm Versus 5.56mm - Does NATO Really Need Two Standard Rifle

Thesis Statement

Although the selection of the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge was

based on extensive testing, research, and documented battle

performance, this intermediate power round is not the optimum

ammunition and caliber for U. S. and NATO forces in the

contemplated battlefields of the future.

I. Significance of the Controversy

A. Thesis statement

B. Method of analysis

II. Evolution of the Intermediate Power Cartridge Concept

A. Germany

B. Soviet Union

C. United States

III. Development of the Two Standard NATO Cartidges

A. 7.62 x 51mm NATO

B. 5.56 x 45mm NATO

C. NATO trials

D. Concepts of employment - NATO

IV. Comparison of the 7.62mm With the 5.56mm

A. Physical characteristics and ballistics

B. Penetration

C. Portability and weight

D. Firepower

V. Analysis

A. Problems with the NATO comparisons and tests

B. Factors not considered in the NATO tests

C. Effects of technological advances in optical sights and

body armor on the initial imtermediate power concepts

D. Potential for improvement and development - 5.56mm v.


E. Lethality of improved round is reduced

F. Potenial ineffectiveness on NATO scenario battlefields

7.62 mm Versus 5.56 mm - Does NATO Really Need Two Standard Rifle

On 28 October 1980, after more than four years of extensive

testing at the German Infantry School at Hammelburg, Federal

Republic of Germany, the NATO Small Arms Test Control Commission

(NSMATCC) appoved the standardization of a second rifle caliber

cartridge. The cartidge selected was the intermediate power

5.56 x 45mm (.223 Caliber) and the improved Belgian version, the

SS109, was selected as the basis for standardization.1 As a

result, NATO now has two standard rifle caliber cartridges, the

full power 7.62 x 51mm NATO (.308 Caliber), in service since

1953, and the new intermediate power 5.56 x 45mm NATO adopted in

1980. Although the selection of the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge was

based on extensive testing, research, and documented battle per-

formance, this intermediate power round is not the optimum ammu-

nition and caliber for U. S. and NATO forces in the contemplated

battlefields of the future. Let's examine the concept of inter-

mediate power rifle ammunition, the evolution of the two standard

NATO rifle cartridges, their advantages and disadvantages, and

discuss why the older, full power 7.62 x 51mm NATO cartridge can

better satisfy the present and future tactical needs of the

individual NATO rifleman.

The concept of intermediate power rifle cartridges began in

Germany prior to World War II. The standard German rifle car-

tridge used since 1888 was the full power 7.92 x 57mm which

propelled a 198 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,550 feet

per second (fps) or 773 meters per second (mps). Comprehensive

studies of the actual distances over which rifle fire was em-

ployed and of the marksmanship capabilities of the average German

infantryman, especially during the heat of battle, convinced

German researchers that a smaller, substantially less-powerful,

and lighter cartridge would be more than adequate. In addition,

the adoption of smaller intermediate power cartridges would allow

the development of shorter and lighter rifles, the ability to

carry more rounds of ammunition, and the enhancement of accuracy

due to lighter recoil. German research for a new intermediate

round commenced in 1934, and in 1938 a new intermediate cartridge

was adopted and designated the 7.9 mm Infanterie Kurz Patrone

(7.9 mm Kurz). This cartridge propelled a small 125 grain bullet

at a relatively moderate muzzle velocity of 2,100 fps (636 mps),

Paralleling the evolution of the 7.9 mm Kurz was the development

of a new, compact, select-fire rifle chambered for the new ammu-

nition. In 1940, two designs were accepted for field testing and

were extensively used on the Russian front. The final version

"Sturmgewehr" or assault rifle, the MP43, was adopted in 1943 and

significant numbers were produced prior to the end of the war.

This weapon utilized a thirty round magazine and could provide

both semiautomatic and full automatic fire. Althought the MP43,

with a fully loaded thiry round magazine, was more than three

pounds heavier than the standard bolt-action Kar 98k rifle, the

new weapon's performance in the field was excellent due to the

terrific firepower now available to the German infantryman.2

The effectiveness of the new rifle and ammunition did not go

unnoticed by Soviet forces, especially since they were the first

recipients of its firepower. Captured rifles and ammunition were

carefully studied, and in 1943 an intermediate power cartridge

designed by Soviet engineers, N. M. Elizarov and B. V. Semin, was

adopted by the Soviet Union. This cartridge was designated the

7.62 x 39mm Model 1943 and consisted of a 125 grain bullet with a

muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps (667 mps). Due to wartime materiel

and production shortages, the first weapon designed to use this

new ammunition, the SKS Carbine, was not adopted until 1946. One

year later, the famous AK-47, designed by M. Kalashnikov, was

formally adopted by the Soviet armed forces.3 In 1974, a product

improved version of the same basic design, the AKS74 rifle, was

adopted by the Soviet army. The AKS74 is chambered for a new 5.45

x 39mm (.221 Caliber) cartridge, very similar to our own 5.56 x

45mm NATO. The Soviets also adopted, at the same time, a new

5.45mm squad automatic weapon, called RPK74.4 These recent

changes in Soviet small arms development are very important

because they closely parallel the small arms concepts of the

U. S. and NATO.

Like the Germans and Soviets, the U. S. also experimented

with intermediate power cartridges during World War II. Designed

as a replacement for the pistol and submachine gun during World

War II, the U. S. .30 Caliber M1 and M2 carbines fires lighter

and smaller .30 caliber cartridges (7.62 x 33mm). This cartridge

propelled a small round-nosed 115 grain bullet at an initial

velocity of 1,970 fps (597 mps). The carbine and its cartridge,

however, were designed for issue only to officers, non-commis-

sioned officers, service troops, and members of heavy weapons

crews. The carbine, with its intermediate power cartridge, was

never designed to replace the M1 Garand and its full power .30

Caliber M2 (30-06) ammuntion. Over six million carbines were

produced during World War II and the Korean War. Although the

carbines were light, compact, had a select fire capability (M2

model), and utilized magazines with capacities of thiry or

fifteen rounds, these weapons eventually came to be unpopular

with U. S. troops due to the limited range and inadequate stop-

ping power of the carbine ammunition. Soon after the Korean War,

the U. S. M1 and M2 Carbines were retired from service.5

Such was the evolution of the intermediate power cartridge

concepts in Germany, the Soveit Union, and the United States

during the 1940's. Lets now take a look at the development of

the 7.62 x 51mm NATO and the 5.56 x 45mm NATO during the 1950's

and 1960's

The first standard NATO cartridge, the 7.62 x 51mm NATO, was

developed by the United States as a successor to the .30 Caliber

M2 round (30-06), which had served as the standard U. S. rifle

cartridge since 1906. The .30 Caliber M2 cartridge propelled a

150 grain projectile at a muzzle velocity of 2,800 fps (848 mps)

and served the U. S. very effectively in the 1903 Springfield and

M1 Garand service rifles, the Browning automatic rifle, and the

heavy and light models of the Browning machine guns. Although

the M1 Garand was very effective and highly praised during its

service as the standard U. S. rifle in World War II and Korea,

many infantrymen desired a lighter weapon with greater ammunition

capacity and a select-fire capability.6 Many soldiers attemped

to use the M2 carbine as a replacement for the M1 Garand, but

this proved unsatisfactory due to the inadequate power of the

carbine ammuniton. In September 1945, after conducting prelimi-

nary tests to improve the M1 rifle, the U. S. Ordnance Technical

Committee turned its attention to the development of a new and

lighter rifle cartridge that would replace the .30 Caliber M2

round. This interest in a new cartridge was influenced by the

battlefield success of the German 7.9mm Kurz, and Soviet adop-

tion of their Kalashnikov light assault rifles using the new 7.62

x 39mm Model 43 intermediate power ammunition. As the develop-

ment of the new U. S. service rifle cartidge progressed, however,

traditionalism took hold as U. S. Army participants began to feel

that the intermediate power ammuniton, used by the Soviets and

the Germans, were too limited in their effective combat ranges

and power to satisfy U. S. infantry requirements. The result was

a compromise. The Ordnance Technical Committee came up with a

shortened version of the old .30 caliber M2 cartidge. This new

cartridge, designated the 7.62 x 51mm T65, was not an inter-

mediate power round. Although shorter by a half inch than the old

Caliber .30 M2 round, it still propelled a 147 grain bullet at a

muzzle velocity of 2,800 fps (848 mps) -- essentially identical

to the old .30 Caliber M2 round. Newly developed ball powder

allowed the use of smaller cartridge case to produce pressures

and velocities identical to the old full power .30 Caliber M2


Final U. S. adoption of the new 7.62 x 51mm T65 cartridge

depended upon the acceptance of the new round by members of the

NATO alliance. During the early 1950's, the British conducted

their own tests to determine the optimum rifle ammunition for

their troops. They concluded that a .280 Caliber (7 mm)

cartridge was the ideal rifle caliber. The proposed British

cartridge was a true intermediate power cartridge based on German

experience and Soviet developments. In 1953, after much

political debate, the U. S. 7.62 x 51mm T65 round was finally

adopted by the NATO Alliance as its standard rifle caliber

cartidge. In 1957, after numerous trails, the U. S. finally

adopted the M14 rifle as its new standard 7.62mm NATO caliber

service rifle. The other members of NATO adopted either the

German G3 or the Belgian FN FAL as their standard 7.62mm NATO

caliber service rifles.8

The 5.56 x 45mm cartridge and the M16 rifle was originally

developed and unilaterally adopted by the United States in 1963

for initial employment in Southeast Asia. A resurgence of U. S.

interest in intermediate power rifle cartridges developed soon

after the 7.62 x 51mm NATO was adopted in 1953. A series of

tests, commissioned by the U. S. Army and conducted by the Opera-

tions Research Organization (ORO), concluded that the rifle was

seldom used effectively by U. S. troops at ranges in excess of

300 meters (330 yds). This conclusion was based on studies of

actual battles involving U. S. soldiers. According to the ORO

studies, the inability of U. S. soldiers to effectively engage

targets beyond 300 meters was due to their inability, under

battle conditions, to see and identify targets beyond that

range.9 The ORO studies, however, failed to consider whether the

enemy targets were behind heavy brush, or barriers such as

sandbags, dirt berms, and coconut logs when fired on by U. S.

soldiers. The study assumed that there was nothing between the

firer and the target to impede the flight of the rifle projec-

tile. Concurrently, ballistic experiments, conducted as part of

the U. S. Army Project Caliber, demonstrated the small high

velocity bullets, ranging in caliber from .222 to .257 inches and

weighing only 40 to 55 grains, were very effective at ranges up

to 400 meters.10 As a result of these studies, the Continental

Army Command (CONARC) asked selected commercial arms organiza-

tions to develop high velocity .223 Cal (5.56mm) ammunition and

light weight assault rifles chambered for them. After extensive

testing of candidate weapons and ammunition submitted by various

manufacturers, CONARC selected the AR15 rifle and the 5.56 x 45mm

ammunition, both developed by Eugene Stoner of the Armalite

Division of the Fairchild Aircraft Engine Corporation. The 5.56

x 45mm cartidge was derived from the .222 Remington and .22

Hornet commercial cartridges used by small game hunters

throughout the United States. After some modifications for mili-

tary use, the AR15 and its 5.56 x 45mm, cartridge were accepted by

CONARC and designated as the M16 and the M193, respectively.11

The M193 cartridge, as finally accepted by CONARC, propelled a

small 55 grain bullet at an inital velocity of 3,180 fps (964

mps) through the standard 20 inch barrel of the M16. Test

weapons and ammunition were sent to Southeast Asia in 1962 for

combat field analysis. The reports from both U. S. and allied

forces were very good and consequently, in 1963, Secretary of

Defense McNamara ordered the cessation of M14 production and

announced the purchase of 85,000 M16 rifles for the Army and

19,000 for the Air Force. Subsequent performance of the M16 in

Vietnam was marred by frequent jamming caused by improper and

insufficient maintenance in the field. Performance quickly im-

proved as chrome barrels and chambers were used in the newer

M16A1 model, and proper maintenance procedures were employed by

troops in the field. The U. S. finally had adopted an inter-

mediate power fifle cartridge and a true light-weight assault

weapon to use it.12

The adoption of the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge and the M16 rifle

put the U. S. into the situation of having two standard service

rifles. The initial U. S. Army employment concept called for the

issue of the M16 to special operations and airborne troops, and

to troops in Southeast Asia. The M14 would still be issued to

troops stationed in Europe of assigned to NATO.13 This initial

concept proved to be logistically impractical and, eventually,

all U. S. troops were issued the new M16 rifle and 5.56 x 45mm


Based on the overall success of the 5.56mm ammunition in

Southeast Asia, after the initial problems with the M16 were

solved, other nations began to produce assault type rifles using

the U. S. 5.56 x 45mm ammunition. In order to standardize the

use and procurement of 5.56mm ammunition among member nations,

NATO commenced formal adoption trials for a second small rifle

caliber cartridge in 1976. The Belgian product-improved version

of the U. S. M193 5.56 x 45mm cartridge was adopted by the

alliance in 1980.

The current NATO concept of employment calls for the issue

of the 5.56mm weapons to individual riflemen, members of crew-

served weapon teams, support troops, and officers and NCO's. The

current NATO concept also includes the development and adoption

of a squad automatic weapon (SAW) in 5.56 x 45mm NATO caliber.

The goal of NATO small arms employment is to ensure ammunition

interchangeability at the basic infantry squad level. The full

power 7.62 x 51mm NATO remains the standard ammunition for the

heavier belt-fed medium machine guns (M60, MG3, and FN MAG)

employed with infantry weapons squads, weapons platoons, and as

vehicle mounted support weapons.14 In addition, specialized

sniper weapons still employ the longer ranged 7.62 x 51mm NATO.

The foregoing paragraphs reviewed the evolution of the

intermediate power cartridge concept, documented the development

of the two standard NATO cartidges, and discussed the current

concept of employment within the NATO alliance. Let's now compare

the two cartidges, examine their strengths and weaknesses, and

analyze why the 7.62 x 51mm NATO is a better rifle cartridge in

the long run for the U. S. and NATO (Table I).

The current production 7.62 x 51mm NATO ball cartridge has

remained unchanged since its adoption by NATO in 1953. As typi-

fied by the U. S. M80 ball and the Belgian M77 ball, this

cartridge propels a 147-grain cupronickel-jacketed lead bullet

at a muzzle velocity of 2,800 fps (848 mps). Total cartridge

length and weight are 2.80 inches and 386 grains, respectively.15

Utilizing a standard 22-inch barrel with a rifling twist of one

turn in twelve inches (M14 rifle), the maximum effective range of

the 7.62 x 51mm ball cartridge is listed as 620 meters (682

yds). The U. S. M80 and the Belgian M77 ball projectiles can

penetrate the standard NATO 3.45 mm (.14 inch) thick steel plate

up to a range of 620 meters, and can penetrate one side of the

U. S. steel helmet up to a range of 800 meters (880 yds).16 In

barrier and fortification penetration tests, the 147 grain ball

projectile can consistently penetrate two test building blocks.17

The SS109 5.56mm NATO cartridge is a second generation

intermediate power round developed with 1970's technology. It is

significantly more powerful and effective than the U. S. M193

5.56mm ball round originally used with the M16 rifle. The new

SS109 cartridge propels a heavier 62-grain semi-armor piercing

projectile at an initial velocity of 3,050 fps (924 mps).18 The

improved projectile contains a 10-grain .182 caliber hardened

steel penetrator that ensures penetration at longer ranges.

Total cartridge length and weight are 2.26 inches and 182.0

grains, respectively. The increased length and weight of the new

SS109 projectile requires a faster rifling twist of one turn in

seven inches to fully stabilize the new projectile in

flight.19 The predecessor M193 5.56mm, which used a projectile

weighting only 55 grains, was only marginally stabilized with a

slower rifling twist of one turn in twelve inches. The new

projectile can penetrate the standard NATO 3.45mm steel plate up

to a range of 640 meters (704 yds) and one side of the U. S.

steel helmet up to a range of 1,300 meters (1430 yds).20 In tests

of barrier and fortification penetration however, the steel

penetrator of the SS109 could not pierce any of the test building


The primary advantages of the intermediate power 5.56 x 45mm

NATO cartidge are summarized as follows: (1) the penetration and

power of the SS109 version are superior to the 7.62mm NATO and

more than adequate for the 300-meter average combat range

documented in actual battle (ORO studies): (2) the lower recoil

generated by the 5.56mm cartridge allows more control during full

automatic fire and therefore provides greater firepower to the

individual soldier; (3) the lesser weight of the 5.56mm

ammunition allows the individual soldier to carry more ammunition

and other equipment; (4) the smaller size of the 5.56mm

ammunition allows the use of smaller, lighter, and more compact

rifles and squad automatic weapons and; (5) the lethality of the

5.56mm projectile is greater than the 7.62mm projectile at normal

combat ranges, due to the tendency of the lighter projectile to

tumble or shatter on impact. In summary, the 5.56mm NATO

provides greater firepower and effectiveness than the larger and

heavier 7.62mm NATO. This concept of more for less appears very

convincing, however upon careful analysis, this idea loses its

credibility. Let's examine each of the advantages of the 5.56mm

NATO, compare them to the qualities of the larger 7.62mm NATO,

and discuss some critical factors not addressed by proponents of

the smaller cartridge.

The penetration results obtained by the NSMATCC with the

5.56mm SS109 cartridge are impressive. The SS109 can penetrate

the 3.45mm standard NATO steel plate to 640 meters, while the

7.62mm ball can only penetrate it to 620 meters. The U. S. steel

helmet penetration results are even more impressive as the SS109

can penetrate it up to 1,300 meters, while the 7.62mm ball cannot

penetrate it beyond 800 meters. These comparisons however, do

not consider the fact that the SS109 uses a semi-armor piercing,

steel-cored projectile, while the 7.62mm ball uses a relatively

soft anti-personnel, lead-cored projectile. A semi-armor

piercing 7.62mm caliber projectile, using second generation

technology as the SS109, would easily out-perform the smaller

SS109 projectile in penetration tests at all ranges.22 With

respect to barrier and fortification penetration tests, the

7.62mm ball projectile can consistently penetrate two test

building blocks, while the SS109 semi-armor piercing projectile

cannot penetrate a single block. In light of these

considerations, the idea of SS109 penetration superiority over

the 7.62 x 51mm is not valid.

The concept that greater firepower can be achieved by provi-

ding as much infantrymen with a full automatic fire capability is

not realistic. Battle experience has shown that full automatic

fire from light assault rifles is largely ineffective and only

resutls in the expenditure of large quantities of ammunition.

Even with the lower recoil generated by 5.56mm ammunition, auto-

matic fire dispersion is still too large to be effective.23 Fire

power is normally equated with maximum "steel" on target, not with

maximum steel in the general direction of the target. Full

automatic fire with the 5.56mm NATO just as wasteful and

Confirming this view is the fact that second generation assault

rifles, such as the U. S. M16A2 and Belgian FN FNC, are not

employing a 3-shot burst control in lieu of a full automatic

capability.24 With this burst control feature, a thirty round

magazine produces only ten bursts. Do we need thirty rounds to

successfully hit and incapacitate ten enemy targets? Even with

3-shot burst control and the lower impulse of the 5.56mm

ammunition, shot dispersion is still too large to be effective.

Perhaps a single well-aimed 147 grain 7.62mm bullet would have

more effect than three rounds of 5.56mm fired in the burst

control mode. As a result, the lower recoil and impulse of the

5.56mm ammuntion does not provide greater fire power since full

automatic fire from an individual assault rifle is largely

ineffective and only wastes ammunition.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed, during the

development of intermediate power ammunition, on ammunition

weight. It is a fact that 5.56-mm NATO ammunition weight only

47% as much as 7.62 mm NATO ammunition. This weight reduction

advantage however, comes with a corresponding disadvantage in the

power and effectiveness of the ammuntion. The 5.56mm NATO

cartridge was originally derived from commercial small game and

varmint cartridges used by hunters throughout the United States.

In most States, the .223 Remington cartridge, the commercial

version of the 5.56 x 45mm NATO, is outlawed for use against

deer-sized or larger game. This restriction even includes the

explosive hollow-point versions using 68-grain projectiles.

Years of hunting experience has shown that the small 5.56 x 45mm

cartridge is incapable of consistently stopping deer-sized or

larger game. Consequently, this cartridge is limited to game

such as woodchucks, gophers, turkeys, and prairie dogs.25 Is

this cartridge really adequate for human-sizes targets?

Soldiers can definitely carry more 5.56mm ammunition, but will

they be carrying more effective ammunition? As a case in point,

battle experience in the Philippines, between government troops

(armed with the 5.56mm M16A1) and Communist rebels (armed with

vintage .30 Caliber M1 Garand and Browning automatic rifles), has

shown that the greater penetration capability of the older full

power cartridge gave the rebels superior effective firepower.26

Another stated advantage of the smaller 5.56mm NATO

cartridge concerns the employment of shorter and lighter weapons.

Current versions of the Israeli Galil and FN FAL Paratroop rifles,

however, both in 7.62mm caliber, weigh only nine to ten pounds

fully loaded with twenty-round magazines. These 7.62mm NATO

weapons also have shorter barrels and folding stocks that make

them very compact. The new U. S. M16A2 and the new Belgian FN

FNC, both second generation 5.56mm NATO assault rifles, weigh

approximately eight27 and ten pounds,28 respectively, when fully

loaded with thirty-round magazines. The purported reductions in

weight and improvements in compactness are really not significant.

The lethality of the original M193 5.56mm projectile is

awesome, at ranges under 200 meters, due to the tendency of the

marginally stable 55-grain bullet to tumble or shatter on impact

with any target. Lethality of the M193 5.56mm projectile beyond

200 meters, however, falls very sharply as range increases and

velocity decreases.29 The lethality of the new SS109 5.56mm

projectile on the battlefield is questionable. The SS109

projectile is longer and heavier than the M193 projectile and is

more stabilized in flight with the faster rifling twist used in

second generation assault rifles. The emphasis, in the develop-

ment of te SS109 projectile, was to increase stability and

therefore penetration at longer ranges. The increased flight

stability of the new SS109 projectile does effectively enhance

penetration at longer ranges, but this same stability reduces the

projectile's tendency to tumble or shatter upon target im-

pact.30 As a result, the emphasis on penetration in the new

SS109 projectile may result in a sharp decrease in lethality, as

compared to its predecessor M193 cartridge.

The adoption of intermediate power ammuntion by a large

number of countries was based on the limited ability of the

average soldier to discern and identify targets under battle

conditions. The U. S. Army's ORO studies during the 1950's,

confirmed these ideas and established 300 meters as the practical

range limit for rifles under battle conditions. The ORO studies,

however, failed to consider the technological advances of the

1970's and 1980's in the area of optical weapons sights. The

battle proven British Trilux optical sight, with a four power

magnification, has been employed by the British effectively on

their 7.62mm FN FALs for many years.31 Their newly adopted 5.56mm

NATO individual weapon, the SA 80, utilizes a built-in version of

the Trilux called the SUSAT.32 The Austrian developed 5.56mm

NATO assault rifle, the AUG, employs a 1.5 power optical sight

built in to the weapon's carrying handle.33 The U. S. Army is

also considering a new optical sight for its version of the

M16A2. These improved optical sights greatly increase the

average soldier's ability to see and identify enemy targets at

longer ranges. As the soldier's ability to engage targets beyond

the 300 to 400 meter NATO limitation increases, the long range

accuracy limitations of the 5.56mm SS109 projectile will become

evident. The 62-grain 5.56mm NATO projectile is significantly

more affected by weather conditions than the heavier projectile

of the 7.62mm NATO. For example, at 400 meters the required

windage adjustment for a 10 mph crosswind for the SS109 cartridge

is approximately 9 clicks into the wind using the M16A2 sights.

Under the same conditions, the required windage adjustment for

the 7.62mm NATO cartridge is only 4 clicks using the M14 sights.

The larger sight adjustment, required for the SS109 projectile,

produces a greater margin of error that increases as distance

increases. As the potential rifle engagement distances

increase, due to improvements in optical sights, the limited

accracy potential of the small 5.56mm NATO projectile will

severely limit any benefits that may be derived from such optical


New technological developments in body armor and individual

protection, such as kevlar and other light-weight ceramic and

composite armor, may soon defeat the penetration capability of

the small 5.56mm SS109 projectile. For example, the new Soviet

5.45 x 39mm ammunition cannot now penetrate a relatively light

5.8 pound flak jacket composed to Kevlar and a 4.8mm (.19 inch)

sheet of hardened steel plate, even at point blank range.34 The

SS109 however, with its steel penetrator still has this

capability. The primary question is how long will the 5.56mm

SS109 retain this capability? As a second generation

intermediate power cartridge, further improvements in the small

5.56mm SS109 may not be sufficient to defeat new technological

developments in body armor. The 5.56mm SS109 projectile is too

small for much significant improvement.

It has also been maintained, by intermediate caliber propo-

nents, that the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge has proven itself in battle

since its adoption by the U. S. in 1963. In most of these

conflicts, however, the 5.56mm weapons were employed against

opponents armed with Soviet weapons also using intermediate power

ammunition. When the 5.56mm weapon comes up against an opponent

armed with weapons using full-power ammunition, such as in the

Philippine example cited previously, the 5.56mm armed soldier

finds himself at a severe disadvantage.

The "obvious" advantages of the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO are not

obvious at all. The SS109 is a definite improvement over the

first generation M193 cartridge however, at best it will serve

only as an interim standard. As technological improvements in

optical sights extend the practical engagement distances for

rifle fire, and as improvements in body armor require greater and

greater power from the rifle cartridge, the SS109 and other

5.56mm caliber ammunition will have to give way to improve and

more powerful ammunition, such as the 7.62mm NATO. The 7.62 x

51mm NATO has not been improved or modified since its adoption by

NATO in 1953. This larger cartridge has a greater capacity for

growth and technological improvement and should be developed to

its potential now. The large size of the 147-grain 7.62 mm

projectile is more than sufficient to incorporate significant

improvements in lethality and penetration. We must capitalize on

the Soviet trend toward their 5.45mm caliber weapons by improving

our full power 7.62mm NATO ammunition and designing better and

more efficient weapons to use it. We have a chance to totally

outclass Soviet small arms in the area of individual and squad

weapons. Let's do it by upgrading the existing 7.62 mm NATO to

its full potential.

During the years just prior to World War II, the Imperial

Japanese Army replaced their 6.5mm (.256 Caliber) rifle ammuni-

tion with a 7.7mm (.303 Caliber) cartridge due to the smaller

round's poor lethality and its inability to penetrate barriers

and effectively stop enemy troops. During the same period, the

Italians replaced their 6.5mm rifle ammunition with a 7.35mm

(.301 Caliber) cartridge for the same reasons. Lets learn from

their examples and concentrate now on the development and

improvement of the 7.62mm NATO round. No, NATO does not need

two standard rifle caliblers.

Click here to view image


1Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) Pp. 57,61.

2IBID, Pp. 514 - 519.

3IBID, Pp. 34 - 35.

4Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Test Fires the AKS74,"
International Defense Review, October 1983, Pp. 1427 - 1428.

5Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) Pp. 779 - 784.

6Edward C. Ezell, The Great Rifle Controversy (Harrisburg:
Stackpole Books, 1984) P. 41.

7IBID, Pp. 57 - 61.

8IBID, Pp. 92 - 103.

9Norman Hitchman, Operational Requirements For An Infantry
Hand Weapon (Chevy Chase: Operations Research Office - The John
Hopkins University Publications, 1952) Pp. 2 - 3.

10William C. Benjamin Jr. and Joseph Dubay, The Effect of
Rifle Caliber and Muzzle Velocity on Experimental Probabilities
of Hitting as Obtained from Project Caliber (Aberdeen: Ballistic
Research Laboratories Report No. 964, 1955) Pp. 29 - 30.

11Edward C. Ezell, The Great Rifle Controversy (Harrisburg:
Stackpole Books, 1984) P. 172.

12IBID, P. 192

13IBID, P. 195.

14Herman Van Assche, "Small Arms and Their Ammunition - The
NATO Competition, "NATO's Fifteen Nations, August - September,
1981, Pp. 92-93.

15R. T. Huntington, Small-Caliber Ammunition Identification
Guide Vol 1 (Army Material Development and Readiness Command,
Foreign Service and Technology Center, June 1978) Pp. 32.

16Pierre Crevecoeur, "The Belgian SS-109 Round - Baseline
for NATO's Second Caliber Ammunition," International Defense
Review, March 1981, P. 302.

17Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Tests the M16A2 Assault Rifle,"
International Defense Review, September 1984, P. 1353.

18IBID, P. 1353

19Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) Pp. 59-60.

20Pierre Crevecoeur, "The Belgian SS-109 Round - Baseline
for NATO's Second Caliber Ammunition," International Defense
Review, March 1981, P. 302.

21Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Tests the M16A2 Assault Rifle,"
International Defense Review, September 1984, P. 1353.

22Edward C. Ezell, "NATO Small Arms Debate," International
Defense Review, March 1981, P. 297.

23Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Tests the M16A2 Assault Rifle,"
International Defense Review, September 1984, P. 1352.

24Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) Pp. 64, 255.

25Jack S. Chase, "Are We Arming American Soldiers to Flight
an Army of Woodchucks?" Armed Forces Journal International,
October 1981, Pp. 24 - 26.

26Interview with LTC Wenceslao Cruz, Philippine Marine
Corps, March 3, 1986.

27Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Tests the M16A2 Assault Rifle,"
International Defense Review, September 1984, P. 1351.

28Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) P. 255.

29Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Test the M16A2 Assault Rifle,"
International Defense Review, September 1984, P. 1353.

30Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) P. 60.

31W. J. G. Hancock, "The TRILUX Infantry Sight Unit,"
International Defense Review, April 1973, Pp. 113 - 114.

32Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) Pp. 298 - 301.

33IBID, P. 223.

34Andrew C. Tillman, "IDR Tests the AK74," International
Defense Review, October 1983, Pp 1429 -1430.

35Edward C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1983) P. 603.


1. Benjamin, William C. and Dubay, Joseph A. The Effect of
Rifle Caliber and Muzzle Velocity on Experimental
Probabilities of Hitting as Obtained from Project
Caliber, Ballisitic Research Laboratories Report
No. 964, 1955.

2. Chase, Jack S. "Are We Arming American Soldiers to Fight an
Army of Woodchucks?" Armed Forces Jounal International.
(October 1981) P. 24.

3. Crevecouer, Pierre. "The Belgian SS-109 Round: Baseline for
NATO's Second Caliber Ammunition." International Defense
Review (March 1981) P. 302

4. Ezell, Edward C. Small Arms of the World, 12th Revised
Edition. Stackpole Books, 1983.

5. Ezell, Edward C. The Great Rifle Controversy. Stackpole
Books, 1984.

6. Ezell, Edward C. "NATO Small Arms Debate - A Feeling of
Deja Vu." International Defense Review (March 1981)
P. 295.

7. Hancock, W. J. G. "The TRILUX Infantry Sight," Inter-
national Defense Review. (April 1973) P. 113.

8. Hitchman, Norman, Operational Requirements for an
Infantry Hand Weapon. Operations Research Office -
The John Hopkins University Publications, 1952.

9. Hobart, F. W. A. "The Next NATO Rifle." International
Defense Review (February 1971) P. 64-70.

10. Huntington, R. T. Small-Caliber Ammunition Identifi-
cation Guide - Vol 1. Army Material Development and
Readiness Command, June 1978.

11. Marshall, S. L. A. Men Against Fire, William Morrow
and Company, 1947.

12. McDowall, D. N. "Caliber Counts." Marine Corps Gazette
(January 1965) P. 29.

13. Miller, Marshall Lee. "In Changing Automatic Rifles,
Soviets Kept Faith With Bullet Hose Theory," Armed
Forces Jounal International (March 1986) P.29.

14. Tillman, Andrew C. "IDR Test Fires the AK74 Rifle."
International Defense Review (October 1983)

15. Tillman, Andrew C. "IDR Tests the M16A2 Assault Rifle."
International Defense Review (September 1984)
P. 1353.

16. Van Assche, Herman. "Small Arms and Their Ammunition - The
NATO Competition." NATO's Fifteen Nations (August -
September 1981) P. 92.

17. Watson, Mark. "Search For A Better Individual Weapons."
Ordnance (June 1964) P. 11.

18. Weller, Jac. "In An Age of Modern Sophisticated Weaponry,
Where Is Our 20th Century Rifle?" Infantry
(July-August 1973) P. 12.

10,279 Posts
Whew! I chose the 7.62x51 cartridge long ago and don't regret it a bit. The 5.6x45 has a place, I think, in an urban or wooded environment where the range doesn't exceed 250yds. I like the lightness of the AR15 and won't discard it but the M1A is what I'll carry as long as I'm physically able to. IMO its the man behind the rifle along with his tactical training that wins the fight - no matter what weapon he carries. Dead enemies will help him upgrade weaponry.

Thank you for a very interesting post Garand.


1,277 Posts
They had a good article by Clint Smith about how the cinder block walls. While both will shoot through a single cinder block, if you stack them like a wall is, you will find the compression making the blocks much stronger. 5.56 won't shoot through at all, but the 7.62 will.

Yes the 5.56 has it place, and I think for urban warfare it is the better pick. But not all, or even most, fighting is urban.

Now for me, the 5.56 makes a very good defense rifle. Not the 11" CAR stupidity, but atleast 16 inch barrel rifle, it is very much worth it as long as it does not weigh as much as a good 7.62. If the rifle weighs that much, get the 7.62.

3,467 Posts
A 30-06

makes TWICE the size hole in a C.M.U masonary wall that the 7.62x51mm

does[thought i would throw THAT card on the table] i know for a fact it will!

in the original concept of the AR the 5.56 was GREAT[super light weight/fast projo]


5,890 Posts
One thing I think is funny is the assertion In addition,
the adoption of smaller intermediate power cartridges would allow
the development of shorter and lighter rifles, the ability to
carry more rounds of ammunition, and the enhancement of accuracy
due to lighter recoil.
And then they issue full-auto rifles and adopt the spry 'n' pray tactics, negating ANY effect the "enhanced accuracy due to less recoil" -- which the author of the article debunks quite handily.

The 5.56x45mm is ok for short range engagements. But there's better. What is better? You may ask. How about the .300 Whisper. There are bothe supersonic and subsonic versions of this cartridge. In the supersonic version you have a little more hitting power than the 7.62x39mm, but increased accuracy due to western weapons manufacture vs eastern-bloc. The subsonic version gives you an excellent candidate for suppression, while retaining decent (not great) penetration capabilities. Both are doubly true if given a good armor-piercing design. The .300 Whisper requires all of an upper change to the current crop of M16-M4 variants.

The 7.62x51mm, as the Marine have been arguing since DOD took their beloved M14s away, has proven itself the superior medium-long range engagement tool. I don't give a damn what happens at paper-punching matches. Couple this with, as the author suggested, a proper armor-piercing round, and you have a fine battle rifle.

You don't even need to really have any tooling ramp-up either. Just have Springfield Armory make their M1A (the full-auto option has proven itself ineffective except maybe at over-run distances) on a FORGED, not cast, receiver in the desired trim (maybe even down to the new 16" version) and come issued with proper optics.

5,697 Posts
...Careful examinaton of these tests and the touted advantages of
the 5.56mm, however, shows that the 7.62mm is still potentially
superior to the smaller round. ...

All I can say is, "Well, duh..." No argument the 7.62's terminally superior to the 5.56; hopefully no argument, anyway.

I like the .308 and own two of them in bolt form, but will still stick with my CAR "mouse gun" for my "social" work. As some have said, much depends on the situation, and my situation involves short to medium ranges, and no large animals, so the 5.56 suffices for my circumstances. Many people's circumstances dictate otherwise.

Will admit, tho, that some days a "CAR-10" in .7.62 (set up just like my CAR-15 is) sounds like it would be just a hellaciously fun gun. :cool:

611 Posts
Now, why don't they take that extra step, and use that new technology on the 30-06? and the .45ACP?

IMO, M193 ammo is the only 5.56 ammo which should be used, and it should only be used in SMGs, notably the HK53. Still better than that 9mm.

1,484 Posts
Great summary read!

One thing that I didn't know was that the tests between rounds were w/a 1953 7.62 & a 1980 5.56 tech round.For some reason I had always assumed apples to apples.(no flames please :) I admit my ignorance.)

Something else that was brought to mind was the subject of magazines.I just wonder why,if they were all to use NATO spec 7.62 ammo,the mags for a FAL,G3,& M14 weren't built to be interchangeable?Makes sense to me anyways.I wonder why not though...?

Another Q?Who is it in the procurement process getting paid off to turn a blind eye to the facts?Why is the new battle rifle still going to be built around the 5.56?Weren't there any European versions of the 7.62 that were "better" since 1953?

Right,wrong,or indifferent-I am sure that the whole M16/5.56 subject both w/ & w/o the politics will be around for quite a while yet.

5,890 Posts
84 C4 said:
Now, why don't they take that extra step, and use that new technology on the 30-06? and the .45ACP?
Well, the .308 basically duplicated the ballistics of the .30-06 of the time. Commercial loads for the '06 do take the powder improvements to the '06 and it will outstrip the .308 by 100-150fps with the same bullet loaded in both. Then come Hornady light magnums in .308 equalling the new .30-06 loads. Then the Hornady heavy magnums, including the .30-06, which again gains about 125 fps over the .308 LMs. Of course light and haevy magnums should not be used in autoloading rifles chambered for the standard rounds, as the pressures are higher and can damage the gas system. But, there's no reason that technology couldn't be used in a new battle rifle designed around them.

Many people now a days seem to lament the "stagnation of the .45". Even to the point of trying to sell the .45 GAP (God Awful Pistol) as equalling the .45 ACP in a smaller package. Well, there is an "updated" .45 ACP using the advances in powder technology -- calle dthe .45 Super. Case size is identical to the ACP, and super pistols can fire ACP loads without rechambering, although a lighter recoil spring might be necessary (but not always).

As to why the improvements aren't fielded in teh next generation of weapons. . .I don't know. Most people will say weight, but IMHO, that is less of an issue when you give troops ammo that weighs half as much, and then give them 50% more of it. . .I'd rather see real rounds issued and old-fashioned marksmanship taught, than varmint rounds issued and spray 'n' pray taught. IIRC, Marines still teach old fashioned marksmanship. 'Course they like the M14 too, so. . .maybe everyone else should listen up?

IMO, M193 ammo is the only 5.56 ammo which should be used, and it should only be used in SMGs, notably the HK53. Still better than that 9mm.
The fragmenting FMJ rounds have proven to be much more effective than the SS109 at anti-personnel duties. As the article points out, the SS109 is kind of a political thing, making the 5.56 look more effective at long range than it really is.

9,117 Posts
I"ve told everyone the reason, DOZENS of times. MOst men cant kill at recognizable face distances. Troops fire MANY thousands of rds for every hit that they get, and most hits are POOR hits. The rifle only accounts for 10% of casulties. So having a rd that weighs TWICE as much, when you have to move BILLIONS of rds into a combat zone, is STUPID.

9,117 Posts
there is NO area at which the 308, from a battle auto, has ANY advantage over the 223, realistically, BOTH miss a LOT, in ordinary trooper hands, on fully exposed, torso targets, at 500m, and realistically, with men dodging, being prone, using cover, and firing BACK, lots, and lots of missing is done at 100m and less. The 223 hits plenty hard, and it means HALF the carry load for the same number of rds as the 308. The militaries of the world are NEVER going back to a .30 cal.

The survivalist needs to remain undetected, and a silencer and .22 unit HELP that, a lot. You just HAVE to stick to either thick cover or darkness, and under such conditions, 300m is a LONG, LONG shot at an enemy. The 223 can handle anything that YOU can handle, and a lot more that you CAN'T handle. I dont care who you are or where you live.`

10,279 Posts
Welcome back. Did you miss us? What you say is partially true but cannot possibly fit everybody's AO and MO. The MBR isn't a one size fits all proposition and never will be.


Premium Member
1,118 Posts
Then wouldn't it, by that logic, be better yet to properly train military personnel in how to shoot in combat situations so they would waste less ammunition? This would also have the effect of their hitting more targets (enmemy soldiers and getting ore kills). This would mean we would be better at winning than at whining.

Now whether of not they do this, the .308 is simply a better round as a combat weapon than is the poodle shooter .223. Even if the G fails to train troops in better marksmanship, but still give them the .308, sooner or latter the troops will realize - 'holy empty ammo cans batman we don't have as much ammo to waste anymore', so they will aim better when they shoot. If they aim better they will hit better, and with .308 they will kill or wound better.

If you want to continue using the argument about weight, they why not go to an even smaller round than the .223. It is insufficient as a man stopper, so why not setle for one even less efficient just to cut back on weight. That argument is so full of smelly Brown Stuff that I can smell it here! The government does not give a rats ass about how much all that stuff weighs to transport. Nor does it matter how much the .308 outweighs a .223 relative to the soldier carrying it into battle - when that was thought a problem years ago the rifle back then weighed substantially more than those of today. The weight lost with new age rifles makes the heavier ammo easier to carry.

611 Posts
If weight were a that much of a problem, we'd be issueing .22lr.

5,890 Posts
If weight was a big deal, they wouldn't have made lighter rifles than packed so much sh!t on them that they weigh more than the "heavy" rifle they replaced.

I always get a kick out of civilians who choose the .223 based on weight, then instead of carrying 8 20-round .308 magazines, they carry 12 30-round .223. There went your weight advantage. Then the rifle comes down with "Swiss army rifle" syndrome. . .

It makes ya wonder how so many generations of troops got along with the tiny amounts of ammo they carried (compared to what is carried today). I guess they must've aimed or something. . .:dgrin:

5,157 Posts
I have to put my two cents in here, I took basic training with the M-14, (I know I'm dating myself here) and Advanced Infantry Training with the M-16. When I went across the pond , we were ordered to carry 35 magazines of M-16 ammunition with us plus alll the other trash an infantryman carries. To carry that much 7.62 MM ammo in magazines would have been impossible. I like the M-14 and 7.62 round a lot, but for extended marches on foot you have to cut back on ammunition, or your mobility suffers. If you are mechanized infantry, the 7.62 weapons are certainly a viable option. But for long patrols in a HOT climate, I would opt for the 5.56MM M-16 every time.


31 Posts
Well 223 fan, I am a soldier in the US Army and that's why at the range we never shoot on auto, for that matter the A3 doesn't have full auto only 3 round burst for the Average Soldier, the only ones to get the full auto are the special ops guys.. I'm also a LEO and carry a Ar-15 in my car, it doesn't even have that option, semi auto and that's it... So being said, we don't practice shooting alot of rounds, the practice is now more like a sniper's point of view, one shot one kill.. carry alot but conserve ammo the best we can... the 223 is a fine round, but so is the 7.62 and has been proven time and time again, same with the the 223 both have a purpose and sometimes used for the same purpose, TO KILL PEOPLE both can do it well if used the right way.

1,944 Posts
The M16A2 has only a 3 round burst, but on the M4A1 they went back to full auto capability.

4,648 Posts
Whatever the reason may be, it's clear that long range shooting scares him. It is also true that he has admitted to having a flinching problem.

But, whatever we may think of him or about him, is immaterial.

Both the .308 and .223 are good choices and both have strengths and weaknesses. Some AO's will favor one over the other.

The type of deployment you will do post shtf is also a factor to consider. Going to be walking? have a retreat? going to hold in place? All of these influence your choices.

I just think it's funny when someone invents reasons for x or y. like if your choice is x, then you will automagically be required to cary 20lbs of extra gear, etc.

Usually those comments are just BS excuses...

oh well, I digress.


1,783 Posts
I know a man who was a LRRPer in Vietnam. When asked which cartridge he preferred, he admitted a mild preference for the 7.62x51 due to its ability to penetrate cover. When VC "snipers" hid out in bamboo clumps and harassed them, the 7.62x51 could zap them every time even when 5.56 and 7.62x39 couldn't.

On the other hand, he also mentioned that he'd killed people with all 3 cartridges, and that they all worked just fine if you did your part. His weapon of choice, in a perfect world, would "be light like the M16, shoot a round that penetrated like the .308, and was as reliable as the AK"

I think that the original FAL in .280 comes pretty close to being the perfect compromise, myself. Pity it didn't catch on.
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