MISTAKE: Ditching the M4 for a 7.62 Interim Rifle

Posted on: June 28th, 2017 by Will Rodriguez 8 Comments

If you’re a “gun guy” you’ve read a flurry of articles on the Army considering fielding a 7.62mm rifle to replace the 5.56mm M4 as an interim step to eventually adopting a new caliber next decade.  The driving force is a perceived overmatch by our current and future potential enemies. It’s an effort fraught with errors in logic, understanding how we fight and forgetting history.  The only positive is it’s about a new gun and who doesn’t like a new gun?  The problem is buying new stuff doesn’t necessarily fix a problem unless you understand the problem. Try fixing your trucks steering alignment problem by buying new bigger tires.  Sure the truck looks cooler but you didn’t fix the problem and probably created some you didn’t intend. (Hope you got that lift kit.)

The driving force behind this initiative is a perceived overmatch the enemy has over the average Grunt.  The problem is the shortfall relies on an apples and oranges comparison.  Anecdotal reports from the field are that snipers equipped with Enfields and Dragunov sniper rifles as well as medium machine guns like the PKM and the PKP are outranging the Grunt’s ability to shoot back.  Yes, they do and to someone who doesn’t understand how we arm units (not individuals) or who has never been in a firefight, it would seem to make sense.  Contrary to what may at first look seem reasonable, it isn’t how we fight or counter a threat.

We have our own sniper systems, fielded all the way down to squad level as well as our own medium machine guns to counter those enemy systems. Admittedly we do need a new machinegun to match the PKP’s 1500m range but that doesn’t make the case for a new individual rifle. Equipping every grunt with the ability to fight a sniper or crew served machine gun is as logical as equipping every infantryman with an anti-tank weapon because he might have to fight a tank.  We don’t fight that way and that type of thinking weighs down our already overburdened Soldiers and Marines.

Slide 10 “A Path to Overmatch Next Generation Individual Weapon System” By Jim Schatz

Here’s another thought, let’s assume despite no actual scientific research (another logic error) that the enemy is effectively engaging us at beyond 300 meters on a consistent and operationally significant basis. For arguments sake let’s say the case is actually better supported than just the anecdotal situations that are the basis of this perceived overmatch.  Wouldn’t it behoove us to teach our troops to shoot at greater ranges NOW even before evaluating a new interim rifle on the way to determining an unknown new round?  Developing a training program is exponentially simpler than fielding a new weapon system and could squeeze out a couple of hundred yards of effectiveness from existing systems.  Heck, it would be a down payment on the required longer-range training program the future desired weapon system would demand.

Our military does a generally poor job of training longer range engagements.  Heck, we don’t train to the max effective range of our current assault weapons.  A little over 20% of the Army’s individual qualification course is dedicated to shooting at 300 meters (THREE engagements with a 10 second engagement window per).  The Marines devote TEN rounds to shooting at a six-foot by six-foot barn door at 500 meters with a full minute to fire each round at that range.  Realistic?  Adequate?  I think not.

Unfortunately, it’s not sexy to improve training instead of getting new kit.  The military doesn’t have a “Training Corps” but they do have an “Acquisition Corps”.  There’s a profundity there.  Also, vendors don’t make much money from training versus selling a product outright.  Our military still conducts most of their training in house with uniformed staff.  Those troops aren’t siphoning off campaign contributions from a new training initiative.   Major weapons sources habitually grease the political skids with cash, another factor that pushes for material solutions to potential training problems.

What about the efficacy and efficiency of switching to a 7.62 rifle just to be able to have a system that can be upgraded to another caliber in a decade?  Ignoring the default bottomless pit of money approach, why limit ourselves before this new super caliber is selected?  What if there is a better super caliber specific rifle available in the future when this super round is selected versus the interim rifle being proposed today?  Do we just start again from scratch from a new bottomless pit of money?  Hey, I’m all for giving troops the best tools AND TRAINING to address the threat but maybe we should confirm what the actual threat is, create the training and then select the caliber instead of a step backward to maybe take a step forward?

There exists a train of thought that adopting 7.62 distances us from 5.56 putting us on the right path to getting to a supposed better and larger round.  Ignoring that this better round hasn’t been identified yet, this approach ignores the proverbial 800-pound gorilla.  That supposed better round is always a bigger round.  Why did we leave 7.62?  Well it wasn’t just because of McNamara’s overarching influence on the Department of Defense in the 60’s.  7.62mm ammunition and rifles have downsides to being generally issued.

Most of the negative challenges resulting from the selection of a 7.62 battle rifle derive from weight.  A slightly heavier rifle is required to fire the round but the real debilitating factor is the weight of the ammunition.  7.62 is almost twice the weight of 5.56 ammo.  This is not a small matter especially considering how overburdened the Soldier and Marine is today.  The choice then becomes to either add to the combatant’s load or do with less.  More weight will slow the troop down further as well as cause him to tire more quickly.  This is a cumulative phenomenon.  Carrying a heavier load for a day is unpleasant. Carrying it for weeks on end is soul crushing.

Lightening the load by carrying less ammo has even worse second order effects.  We rely on fire and maneuver to close with to kill, capture or destroy the enemy.  The ability to suppress the enemy is critical to being able to maneuver to a position of advantage against him. Suppression requires ammo.  Less ammo means less suppression which means less maneuver.  That can result in mission failure as well as more casualties.  Less ammo also means more frequent resupply.  Solutions to ease supply constraints often require minimizing the distance between the source of supply and the user which makes for slow progress. Another solution is stockpiling supplies on the warfighter, a return to the weight problem.

Weight is a major issue often ignored by fans for fielding an intermediate rifle.  A recent counter to the weight conundrum is a belief that polymer or telescoped casing will fix the issue.  We’ve been chasing this solution for decades.  We should not field an intermediate rifle and pin our hopes on a technology breakthrough.  It first needs to be proven. The promise of a lighter round does little to address the increased weight on one’s back especially since adoption of a 7.62 interim rifle would but that weight on a warfighter’s back for at least five years assuming no setbacks with selecting a new round and the weapon to fire it.  Fat chance.

Compared to weight a relatively small but hardly if ever mentioned disadvantage to fielding a 7.62 battle rifle is the additional training that will be required to handle the increased recoil.  It’s also worth considering the role of women in the Infantry.  The growth of women serving was a small part of the reason we moved to a 9mm pistol round in the 80’s.  Women’s increased integration is an important criterion cited by law enforcement organizations when adopting a new pistol and was undoubtedly at play as part of the Army’s demand for modularity in the newly adopted Sig 320 pistol.   This isn’t the biggest issue but it is one.

There are many reasons we should not take the interim rifle course.  The overmatch argument is a flawed apples to oranges comparison. The inevitable and at one time correct comments that 5.56 isn’t effective rely on old experiences and not the Army’s latest and highly effective round, the M855A1.  Giving front line troops a bullet launcher with more range while not giving him the training necessary to employ that weapon creates capability on paper alone.  Considering that we don’t train to our current weapons’ max ranges today and haven’t for decades should give one pause.

Switching to an interim rifle because it will handle a bigger round than the current platform is capable of seems to be the opposite approach if we haven’t even identified the new round.  That study isn’t going to happen until the next decade.  Most importantly though, the weight considerations of 7.62 should be a HUGE red flag for those thinking about fielding a 7.62 battle rifle and a STOP sign for those that will have to actually carry it.  How can we invest in an interim rifle to host that unspecified round if we don’t even know what the round will be?  What if that new round comes with an ideal platform? Do we start over yet again?

Having listed many reasons as to why the interim rifle shouldn’t be the path what is?  Immediately improve longer range marksmanship training so we can get the most out of the rifles we have.  Keep the M4 and do the ammo study now.  Not because of a fictitious overmatch issue but to see what demonstrable advantages a different round may have and identify the requirements for a rifle to shoot it should a new round substantially increase lethality, accuracy or range at no additional weight to the soldier.  That means perfecting polymer or telescoped cases to generate a 40% weight savings.

I suspect this article will cause a stir and be deeply dissatisfying to “gun guys’ like myself.  It is a very different take on the “Interim Rifle”.  Every article out there seems to focus in a glowing manner on the different potential candidates for an interim rifle.  A few will even list a disadvantage or two reference the effort but even then, it’s a cursory nod.  It seems that with the potential of a relaxed defense budget the Army feels it has money burning a hole in its pocket.  It can be predicted with a high degree of certainty that spending for spending’s sake is hardly ever wise.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • Yankee Papa

    .
    …I would agree that the SAW needs replacing… but the average rifleman back to 7.62 mm? We figured that one out decades ago… or at least should have.

    …I go into some detail on this argument in my article published here some years back re the history of U.S. Ordnance…

    http://gruntsandco.com/u-s-ordnance-rogue-fiefdom/

    …The U.S. Cavalry in the 1870s went with the .45/55 Trapdoor Springfield Carbine. Aside from bad quality cartridge cases resulting in extraction problems… the weapon was good… and at range better than various pistol caliber repeating rifles that were carried by the Sioux and their allies.

    …It had been a dry Spring near the Little Big Horn. Lot of dust kicked up during the battle… along with powder smoke. According to S.L.A. Marshall, the realistic range that day to see a target was approximately 50 yards. At that range the “range superiority” of the Springfield was irrelevant. It became a matter of fire superiority…and the Indians (who mostly rode to the battlefield, but fought on foot) were largely behind concealment if not cover. The troopers were in the open, at least on three sides.

    …Fast forward to Vietnam in 1965 when most of our forces using M-14 rifles… effective range of 500 meters. Opportunities to use at even 300 very limited. M-14s firing 7.62 rounds… which simply can not be fired from a shoulder weapon on full auto with any accuracy. In North Africa the M-14 would have some advantages over the AK 47… but not in the bush and jungles of S.E. Asia. Like the Little Big Horn it too often came down to fire superiority. Rhodesian Security Forces got by using the 7.62 (FN’s) against AKs… but the military worth of the vast majority of terrs was so pathetic in comparison to the Rhodesians that it mostly made little difference.

    It would be a mistake to arm our military as if our future opponents will be so incompetent. (Pronounced unsteadiness in the face of competent forces… but excelling at sickening cruelty to unarmed civilians…)

    …Later in 1965 the Air Cav went into close combat against superior forces… North Vietnamese regulars at the Ia Drang. Lt. Colonel (later Lt. General) Hal Moore made it clear that his men having M-16s made all the difference in the fire superiority contests that took place at very close range. Units in Vietnam still armed with the M-14 loudly requested replacement with M-16 as far more appropriate to the facts on the ground.

    …The Germans figured it out in WWII. Their full size rifle rounds had a theoretical range far beyond the vast majority of combat… the majority of which took place within 300 meters. Submachine guns had a good rate of fire, but pistol caliber rounds not up to what was required.

    …So an intermediate round… larger than pistol caliber but less than rifle… was developed. The MP 44 was the first true assault rifle.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c903eb5c8f4074d27f6f24abf3cca2152559d2578529a098721da25d78553f37.jpg

    …Ordnance was opposed to the average U.S. infantryman having such a weapon and used all means possible (including criminal actions) to try to prevent it… and when they couldn’t they sabotaged the weapon’s effectiveness. (See article for full details…)

    …So the wheel has turned and now we are supposed to issue 7.62 shoulder weapons to our grunts. Obviously in semi-auto… since even Arnold the Barbarian can’t really control a 7.62 rifle on full auto.

    …Situations where an enemy has a .303 and open terrain require specific fixes for the time and place… But junking the assault rifle and going back to 1960 isn’t going to help our soldiers or Marines who maybe wind up in Venezuela or the Philippines…

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3a5bf46ea85096e646d374eef93565a118694565246962eaac6ef217c542decf.jpg
    (Yankee Papa on second full day of recruit training, 1968… getting first M-14)

    -Yankee Papa-

  • Yankee Papa

    .
    …I would agree that the SAW needs replacing… but the average rifleman back to 7.62 mm? We figured that one out decades ago… or at least should have.

    …I go into some detail on this argument in my article published here some years back re the history of U.S. Ordnance…

    http://gruntsandco.com/u-s-

    …The U.S. Cavalry in the 1870s went with the .45/55 Trapdoor Springfield Carbine. Aside from bad quality cartridge cases resulting in extraction problems… the weapon was good… and at range better than various pistol caliber repeating rifles that were carried by the Sioux and their allies.

    …It had been a dry Spring near the Little Big Horn. Lot of dust kicked up during the battle… along with powder smoke. According to S.L.A. Marshall, the realistic range that day to see a target was approximately 50 yards. At that range the “range superiority” of the Springfield was irrelevant. It became a matter of fire superiority…and the Indians (who mostly rode to the battlefield, but fought on foot) were largely behind concealment if not cover. The troopers were in the open, at least on three sides.

    …Fast forward to Vietnam in 1965 when most of our forces using M-14 rifles… effective range of 500 meters. Opportunities to use at even 300 very limited. M-14s firing 7.62 rounds… which simply can not be fired from a shoulder weapon on full auto with any accuracy. In North Africa the M-14 would have some advantages over the AK 47… but not in the bush and jungles of S.E. Asia. Like the Little Big Horn it too often came down to fire superiority. Rhodesian Security Forces got by using the 7.62 (FN’s) against AKs… but the military worth of the vast majority of terrs was so pathetic in comparison to the Rhodesians that it mostly made little difference.

    It would be a mistake to arm our military as if our future opponents will be so incompetent. (Pronounced unsteadiness in the face of competent forces… but excelling at sickening cruelty to unarmed civilians…)

    …Later in 1965 the Air Cav went into close combat against superior forces… North Vietnamese regulars at the Ia Drang. Lt. Colonel (later Lt. General) Hal Moore made it clear that his men having M-16s made all the difference in the fire superiority contests that took place at very close range. Units in Vietnam still armed with the M-14 loudly requested replacement with M-16 as far more appropriate to the facts on the ground.

    …The Germans figured it out in WWII. Their full size rifle rounds had a theoretical range far beyond the vast majority of combat… the majority of which took place within 300 meters. Submachine guns had a good rate of fire, but pistol caliber rounds not up to what was required.

    …So an intermediate round… larger than pistol caliber but less than rifle… was developed. The MP 44 was the first true assault rifle.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c903eb5c8f4074d27f6f24abf3cca2152559d2578529a098721da25d78553f37.jpg

    …Ordnance was opposed to the average U.S. infantryman having such a weapon and used all means possible (including criminal actions) to try to prevent it… and when they couldn’t they sabotaged the weapon’s effectiveness. (See article for full details…)

    …So the wheel has turned and now we are supposed to issue 7.62 shoulder weapons to our grunts. Obviously in semi-auto… since even Arnold the Barbarian can’t really control a 7.62 rifle on full auto.

    …Situations where an enemy has a .303 and open terrain require specific fixes for the time and place… But junking the assault rifle and going back to 1960 isn’t going to help our soldiers or Marines who maybe wind up in Venezuela or the Philippines…

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3a5bf46ea85096e646d374eef93565a118694565246962eaac6ef217c542decf.jpg

    (Yankee Papa on second full day of recruit training, 1968… getting first M-14)

    -Yankee Papa-

  • John Westlake

    Had to dig up my diqus credentials for this one. I’m guessing you get paid by the word. Very wordy, and I’m guessing your final point is M-4 / 5.56 is perfectly fine if we train to hit center mass at 500 meters (maximum effective range). Pretty sure the reason that hasn’t been done is because most battlefield engagements take place at 200 meters average, hence “battlesight zero”
    You mention suppression as an argument for 5.56mm. I agree 100%. M249 SAW gunner with a 600 round combat load has plenty of suppression potential. That, to me, is the only use/purpose for 5.56. It is nowhere as lethal as 7.62mm.
    How did the Germans tackle this issue over 60 years ago? To reduce weight for use in history’s first assault weapon, they decided to take the 8mm cartridge, as used in their battle rifles and machineguns, and shorten it, into what they called 8mm “Kurtz” or “short” The Russians carried this forward for use with their AK-47 series select fire assault rifles. 7.72×39, as opposed to the 7.62x54R used in rifles and MG’s.
    The 5.56mm round went in a different direction; reduced caliber, reduced terminal energy. A compromise. Looking back at history, we stopped winning wars after we ditched 7.62 for 5.56. You just can’t kill as many people with little bullets that are sold to the public as varmint ammo.
    5.56 – fine for suppression, female shooters, rear area troops, transportation, combat service support. etc.
    7.72 (or new round, prob 6.5 or 6.8), better lethality.
    The new round (6.5mm or 6.8) will weigh more than 5.56, but less than 7.62×51.
    You mention the USMC….in their Infantry squads, they have Grunts with MOS 0351 – Assaultman. They have the right idea. Those people do not suppress. They shoot and move, and not at 500 meters.
    Dang – I got wordy too. 😉

    • majorrod

      No, I’m not arguing for 5.56 (but you should check out M855A1, it fixes the through and through problem, penetrates better than 7.62 ball and is extraordinarily lethal). I’m saying 7.62 as an interim step is a step backward. Just make the jump to the new caliber vs. saddling our troops with heavy 7.62 rifles for years and then run the risk that the 7.62 lower isn’t the best solution for the new round. Doesn’t pass the common sense test.

      7.62 is too heavy to equip every soldier with, a big reason we left it half a century ago. 7.62 ammo is almost twice the weight of 5.56. Remember they are wearing body armor now. So you are talking about going to 105 rounds basic load. That can go awful quick. While SAWs have a primary responsibility for suppressing they aren’t the only weapons that suppress. Remember they are wearing body armor now.

      You seem to misunderstand my key points. Reread what I wrote. Besides not training to shoot at long range the whole driving force is taking fire from snipers and crew served weapons. We have snipers and crew served weapons. (Note: It’s not a lethality issue.)

      Arming every soldier to take on snipers and crew served weapons is as silly as arming every soldier to take out a tank.

      Marine Assaultmen aren’t what you think. First they are only in the weapons platoons of Marine rifle companies and they are responsible for assaulting fortified targets with rockets, demolitions and breaching/infiltration techniques. They are a cross between an anti-tank missile man in our weapons squad and a combat engineer. Their Infantry squads are just like ours. We even use much of the same manuals

      Finally the Russians followed our lead. Their front line infantry were armed with AK74’s (5.45×39mm) for decades to include when we served. They have since fielded AK105 (same 5.45 caliber).

    • Yankee Papa

      .
      …I promise you, he is not paid by the word. I am far wordier than the Major… and after four years and millions of words in articles and comments, I am still saving up to buy a pet tumbleweed.

      -YP-

      • majorrod

        LOL, very true.

        That said it takes a certain level of verbosity to make one’s point and sometimes the journey is half the fun. One can make a case in bullet points and assume the reader can fill in between the lines. I took the longer path.

  • Yankee Papa

    .
    NOTE: PROGRAM KEEPS BOUNCING THIS: THIRD TRY…
    .
    …I would agree that the SAW needs replacing… but the average rifleman back to 7.62 mm? We figured that one out decades ago… or at least should have.

    …I go into some detail on this argument in my article published here some years back re the history of U.S. Ordnance… Below is link to article of mine on *this site* which may be what is
    causing bounce…

    http://gruntsandco.com/u-s-

    …The U.S. Cavalry in the 1870s went with the .45/55 Trapdoor Springfield Carbine. Aside from bad quality cartridge cases resulting in extraction problems… the weapon was good… and at range better than various pistol caliber repeating rifles that were carried by the Sioux and their allies.

    …It had been a dry Spring near the Little Big Horn. Lot of dust kicked up during the battle… along with powder smoke. According to S.L.A. Marshall, the realistic range that day to see a target was approximately 50 yards. At that range the “range superiority” of the Springfield was irrelevant. It became a matter of fire superiority…and the Indians (who mostly rode to the battlefield, but fought on foot) were largely behind concealment if not cover. The troopers were in the open, at least on three sides.

    …Fast forward to Vietnam in 1965 when most of our forces using M-14 rifles… effective range of 500 meters. Opportunities to use at even 300 very limited. M-14s firing 7.62 rounds… which simply can not be fired from a shoulder weapon on full auto with any accuracy. In North Africa the M-14 would have some advantages over the AK 47… but not in the bush and jungles of S.E. Asia. Like the Little Big Horn it too often came down to fire superiority.

    …Rhodesian Security Forces got by using the 7.62 (FN’s) against AKs… but the military worth of the vast majority of terrs was so pathetic in comparison to the Rhodesians that it mostly made little difference.

    …It would be a mistake to arm our military as if our future opponents will be so incompetent. (Pronounced unsteadiness in the face of competent forces… but excelling at sickening cruelty to unarmed civilians…)

    …Later in 1965 the Air Cav went into close combat against superior forces… North Vietnamese regulars at the Ia Drang. Lt. Colonel (later Lt. General) Hal Moore made it clear that his men having M-16s made all the difference in the fire superiority contests that took place at very close range. Units in Vietnam still armed with the M-14 loudly requested replacement with M-16 as far more appropriate to the facts on the ground.

    …The Germans figured it out in WWII. Their full size rifle rounds had a theoretical range far beyond the vast majority of combat… the majority of which took place within 300 meters. Submachine guns had a good rate of fire, but pistol caliber rounds not up to what was required.

    …So an intermediate round… larger than pistol caliber but less than rifle… was developed. The MP 44 was the first true assault rifle.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c903eb5c8f4074d27f6f24abf3cca2152559d2578529a098721da25d78553f37.jpg

    …Ordnance was opposed to the average U.S. infantryman having such a weapon and used all means possible (including criminal actions) to try to prevent it… and when they couldn’t they sabotaged the weapon’s effectiveness. (See article for full details…)

    …So the wheel has turned and now we are supposed to issue 7.62 shoulder weapons to our grunts. Obviously in semi-auto… since even Arnold the Barbarian can’t really control a 7.62 rifle on full auto.

    …Situations where an enemy has a .303 and open terrain require specific fixes for the time and place… But junking the assault rifle and going back to 1960 isn’t going to help our soldiers or Marines who maybe wind up in Venezuela or the Philippines…
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3a5bf46ea85096e646d374eef93565a118694565246962eaac6ef217c542decf.jpg

    (Yankee Papa on second full day of recruit training, 1968… getting first M-14)

    -Yankee Papa-

  • Yankee Papa

    Tried wordy posting three times. All three times bounced as junk. Sigh…