This article was originally intended to comment on the G2mil article on 10mm rifles in the May 2002 edition. Unfortunately room of this letter could not be found in the June edition and the Editor has suggested that I place it on this site. This also gives me the chance to comment on some of the other feedback on the 10mm Rifle Article.
Comments on Feedback
A couple of correspondents mentioned the H&K 9x90mm rifle. This weapon only ever existed as a prototype and was still undergoing development when the project was cancelled in the mid-1990s. The fire control system in particular does not seem to have been finalised.
The 9x90mm lost out to the .338 Lapua round, and weapons using the latter round are already in service in Afghanistan with the British forces. All current .338 Lapua weapons are bolt actions, but Browning makes a .338 Winchester Magnum self loader. It may be possible to adapt military autoloaders such as the FAL, M14 or BAR M1917 to larger calibre rounds.
Another suggestion was to re-introduce rifles using the 7.62x51mm round. If this was done a suggestion for improving their versatility further can be found here. The weight of ammo could be reduces somewhat if during active service soldiers were issued with ammo with disposable Aluminium cases rather than heavier re-useable brass. This would reduce the weight of both 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds.
Using a weapon chambered in the .300 Whisper round has also been suggested. In its highest velocity loading the .300 Whisper has similar ballistics to the AKM 7.62x39mm round, including a bullet a little light for its calibre. Heavier bullet weights are on offer but at much lower velocities -which means a longer flight time and a corresponding lower hit probability. One might also suggest that if you are willing to accept 7.62x39mm performance why not issue weapons in this chambering? On this page I've suggested that such a weapon might find many uses in the US's Inventory.
Do I have any better ideas? Read on.
Improving Individual Armament After 39 years in military service and two incarnations the terminal ballistics of the 5.56mm still seem to be, at best, "variable", or at least it is in FMJ configuration. A quick and effective fix would be to fit 9mm barrels to all M16s and M4s. These already exist as a component for the Colt 9x19mm SMG, although rifling rate may need changing. With these weapons would be issued two varieties of round, both using the same brass as the 5.56x45mm.
One would be a heavy subsonic flat nosed 9mm round of around 240-260gr. This would be used for suppressed shooting, CQB and use in short barreled SMG versions of assault rifles.
The second would be a saboted 7mm round of around 140gr. This would have a good ballistic characteristics, a flat trajectory at battle ranges, high sectional density and good penetration. It also makes a bigger hole in the target and is less likely to be deflected.
This increased flexibility and performance can be gained just by the simple expedient of issuing new barrels and ammunition. All other parts currently in service can be used.
The bad news about this idea is that JD Jones, inventor of the Whisper® rounds has told me that the .300 Whisper® and larger calibre Whispers® will not feed relieably in some M16 magazines unless they are modified slightly.
For further and updated discussion on alternatives to the 5.56mm see this page
As far as the M9 pistol goes (or rather the 9x19mm round), you can't turn a tabby into a tiger. The US army should buy .45 Glock automatics. The military model can hold 13x .45 ACP rounds and there are even compact and slimline models for special applications. These are a proven design that are actually mechanically simpler than M1911A1s and M9s and have a double action trigger that is as light as a single action. Operation is about as simple as you can get too. Insert magazine, chamber round pull trigger. Insert new mag when empty and release slide.
Using 1940s materials this weapon weighted the same unloaded as a modern 5.56mm Minimi, so a light SAW in 7.62x51mm is entirely feasible. Would this require an entirely new weapon with years of development? Not necessarily.
Take a proven selective fire weapon such as the M14 and fit it with a heavier/fluted barrel. This is going to be a fire team/squad level weapon, not a replacement for the M240 GPMG, so it doesn't need a long barrel for 1000m+ accuracy. Keep an overall length of around a metre.
A cyclic rate of around 600rpm should be suitable
Fit a light bipod and remove the wooded furniture and replace it with lighter synthetics. A forward handgrip would be good, so would a folding stock. Give the weapon a straight line configuration to handle recoil more effectively.
Fit a belt feed mechanism so the weapon can use the same belts as the M240. Ciener made a belt feed conversion for the M16, so this device could be scaled up -they may make such a device already.
I've suggested the M14 since there are plenty of these in storage. Designs such as the FAL and SR-25 would need less adaptation. The latter has the same manual of arms as the M16, which is no bad thing. My personal preference would be for a belt fed SR-25 based weapon. It will probably be argued that the recoil will be too much for such a weapon. The Johnson seemed to manage with more powerful rounds, but to answer this the weapon will be fitted with a Blast Supressor which will reduce firing signature as well as reducing recoil. In fact I'd design the weapon a shade "too light" and make up the weight with a Gunshield and Scope. This site lists the weight of the FAL-HB as 6kg. Many armies have used this as a squad automatic.
Another potential squad level LMG is the Mk 48 Mod 0, a 7.62mm version of the Minimi sharing parts with the M240 GPMG.
The Russians found that AGLs were very useful for demolishing afghan rock sangars. Trouble is that the Mk-19 is not something you really want to lug up a mountain, and being a battalion weapon is often not available to small units. This could partially be redressed by the issue of revolver grenade launchers, as are currently in service with several armies including those of South Africa and Russia. Three shot underbarrel grenade launchers would also be useful. Both these types of launcher have the advantage over the single shot M203 in that they can walk shots onto a target. Issuing riflemen with rifle grenades would also be a sound move.
UPDATE The Whisper® range of rounds includes a subsonic .338 (8.58mm) round based on .221 Fireball brass that can be fired from M16 series weapons. The bad news is that JD Jones, inventor of the Whisper® rounds has told me that the .300 Whisper® and larger calibre Whispers® will not feed relieably in M16 magazines unless they are modified. For further and updated discussion on alternatives to the 5.56mm see this page