Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

ATF Says Nyet to SIG MP-X-Carbine, SIG Sees ‘Em in Court

SIG MPX-CThe Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has ruled that the muzzle brake for the SIG-Sauer MP-X Carbine model is “intended only for use” as a silencer. (We covered the introduction of the MP-X in January, 2013). The timeline of the whole SIG-ATF interaction also serves as an illustration for the glacial pace at which the payroll patriots of ATF do, or don’t do, just about anything:

  1. 4 Apr 2013: MPX-C submitted by SIG to ATF’s FIrearms Technology Branch (FTB)for evaluation.
  2. 26 Aug 2013: (note, 153 days later — ATF speed) FTB rules that the muzzle brake is a silencer. It is, says FTB, a “monolithic baffle stack. Welding it to a barrel does not change its characteristics or function.”
  3. 6 Sep 2013: (10 days later — private sector speed) SIG responds to ATF with the results of tests that show that the device does reduce recoil and muzzle rise, but that instead of silencing a weapon, the gadget the bozos at FTB think is a silencer actually increases the sound level of the rifle’s report. SIG also shows other examples of similar devices that have not been classified by the arbitrary FTB examiners as silencers — just SIGs. SIG’s letter includes comprehensive documentation.
  4. 21 Feb 2014: (141 days later — ATF speed) The FTB responds, ignoring but not disputing SIG’s evidence, and reasserting that the part looks like it might go in a silencer to FTB’s GED-level experts, therefore, it is a silencer. Amazingly, to the FTB, the fact that it does not silence, suppress, muffle, or reduce sound is irrelevant. So it’s a non-silencing silencer, and SIG can lump it.
  5. 7 Apr 2014: (47 days later — getting lawyers involved slows even the private sector down) SIG files suit in the US District Court of New Hampshire.

SIG’s is being represented by two excellent attorneys, NH’s Mark Rouvalis and Virginia-based national and international gun-law expert and legal author Stephen Halbrook.

SIG MPX-C-right

Although the technology exists to conduct clear and simple tests of suppressor noise reduction — one example protocol, developed by Dr Phil Dater, is used by the military — the ATF’s supposed experts at the Firearms Technology Branch don’t have this capability, and so they don’t evaluate items they think are suppressors or suppressor parts on it: instead, they eyeball the piece, based on their past training (which is in-house and shallow), and experience. They do not need to look at ATF precedents — FTB rulings are non-precedential, sometimes ephemeral, and each one is approached de novo. They are never retracted, unless they favor the applicant, and then they’re subject to a revocation process that’s as arbitrary and capricious as the original process was.

ATF may be relying on erroneous media reports, when the MPX was introduced, that the MPX-C muzzle brake was identical to the suppressor innards and “all you need to do is add a registered tube” to have the same suppressor.

But in a very similar case just last month, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Innovator Enterprises “Stabilizer Brake” is not a suppressor, and that ATF’s method of guessing the effects of a device based on hunches and eyeballs is “arbitrary and capricious” and not a “reasonable construction” of the law. (Here’s the write-up of the case at and at; here’s Innovator’s complaint; here’s the Court Ruling — the last two courtesy J Frazer Law).  The judge’s opinion is definitely worth reading; it looks like the Department of Justice attorneys played fast and loose with the truth.


Bullets with dimples?

Nammo Reduced Range

Nammo BNT 6 Reduced Range 7.62 x 51 mm

We all know that dimples can make a smile irresistible. But a bullet?

Nammo is making 7.62 x 51mm rounds with dimples, and it’s about their physical attraction — sort of. That’s if you’ll accept the meaning of “physical” as in “laws of physics,” and to be more specific, aerodynamics. By making the projectile more physically attractive to the air it passes through — sort of, reversing centuries on progress in making wind-cheating bullets — they can make rounds that work for training on tight, urban ranges.

The Nammo BNT 6 Reduced Range load contains a unique dimpled round weighing 6.2 grams or about 95.7 grains, so it’s very light for a 7.62 round. Its muzzle velocity is in the usual NATO ballpark at 860 m/s (2822 fps). At short ranges (<200m) Nammo claims that the round is equivalent to the usual NATO loads. But it spends its energy very rapidly and can be used in a range fan of only 1500m. (The standard NATO round demands a 4 kilometer range safety area minimum, without safety margins).

The dimples are the key. They are optimized for the round’s Reynolds Number and increase drag two ways, in terms of downrange motion, and, more critically, in terms of spin (which, if we’re doing the back-of-the-envelope right, implies two different RNs based on the different surface velocities). The increased drag and reduced weight make for a projectile that sheds its velocity (both rotational and longitudinal) much more rapidly than normal.

These are quite a different thing from the dimples used to increase the boundary-layer size and reduce drag on golf balls and some experimental target bullets. (Yes, that’s an April Fool’s spoof. And it fooled us on first reading).

Nammo BNT 6 in a belt. (Nammo photos).

Nammo BNT 6 in a belt. (Nammo photos).

BNT 6 is also available in standard links for MG training (including firing from vehicle crew positions), but at present, is only available in ball, not tracer. (A tracer and a “dim tracer” for use with night observation devices are in development). Like most recent Nammo introductions, BNT 6 is “green,” leaving no toxic contaminants behind. BNT stands for “Ball, Non-Toxic,” in the company’s nomenclature, and the BNT 6 projectile reportedly has a soft-steel core only. (Nammo’s combat-load BNT rounds have soft-steel cores with hardened-steel penetrators).

The technology could be adapted to 5.56, at least in theory, if Nammo had a customer for the reduced-range rounds.

Most of the demand for such a round is in Europe, where training areas are at a premium; several European ammo makers often reduced-range non-toxic rounds, although none of them are using the Nammo dimples. (Ruag, for example, uses a near-cylindrical copper round with a central spike). We were unable to find a patent filing for the BNT 6 style projectiles, but suspect one exists.

While the principal use for such reduced-range loads is training, Nammo points out that it’s also useful in urban-warfare and CT applications or “populated sensitive areas,” where minimizing the beaten zone of rounds that miss their targets is a priority.

Marksmanship for the Squad Designated Marksman

In this video, You Are There™ as SSG John Arcularius of the US Army Reserve Shooting Team delivers a class on Marksmanship for the Squad Designated Marksman for designated marksmen of the 2/504 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.

As it is classroom, mostly podium, instruction, it may be a bit slow for some of you. Pay attention, though! Even though Arcularius spends most of his time on the boring old fundamentals of marksmanship, centuries (literally!) of experience has taught the Army as an institution that the boring old fundamentals are still the best way of putting warheads on foreheads — when the “warheads” at issue are M118ER 158-grain M118LR 175-grain (thanks, Dan in the comments) slugs.

The M14 in general is not a sniper-accuracy weapon, although the M21s once built by the National Match armorers, and any gun built by one of the dwindling set of smiths initiated in the dark art of M1 and M14 National Match accuracy tuning, can be. But these rifles the SDMs have are M14EBR-RI models, which stands for M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle – Rock Island. As the name suggests, they’re built at the Rock Island Arsenal from stored M14 generic rack grade rifles. While they’re thoroughly inspected and adjusted, they’re not match guns by any means. The M14 is removed from storage, cleaned and inspected, repaired if necessary, then mated with a SAGE Industries chassis, a scope mount and an optic. Then they’re repacked with magazines and accessories and either delivered to Army units or stored against future requisitions.

The M14EBR-RI and its Squad Designated Marksman operator are meant to fill the tactical gap between the other components of the squad’s firepower and the true precision sniping systems and tactics, which are wonderful but unavailable to the rifle squad.

Chinese 5.8 x 42 Type 95 Bullpup Rifle

Here’s a Chinese defense show from 2008 with an attractive lady interviewer asking rather incisive questions of an Army ordnance officer involved in the development of the weapon, Senior Engineer An Bao Ling, and the Chinese version of a think-tank guy, Professor Zhang Zhao Zhong.

This is a playlist that should play all three sections,

And here are all three parts individually if you want to do this the hard way.

Part 1 of 3 (7:05)

Part 2 of 3 (6:05)

Part 3 of 3 (6:00)

There are subtitles for those of us who are dumber than 1 Billion Han Chinese, including their kids and mental defectives.

While we’re impressed with the interviewer, Professor Zhong comes across as a bit of a pedant. Senior Engineer Ling, on the other hand, seems like he’d be a great guy to talk guns with at great length.

Just as many Americans assume that Russian weapons development is frozen in 1992, Americans have largely lost track of Chinese small arms development. Perhaps this is due in part to the 1989 ban on Chinese imports of civilianized weapons, leaving us with nothing newer than a Type-56 in our collections.  But the Chinese have neither stood still nor remained on their 1949-89 or so path of copying and modifying Soviet firearms. There is nothing radical about the Type 95 and its ammunition, but both are indigenous to China and world class.

The Type 95 is made in three variants: rifle, carbine and squad automatic weapon. As a bullpup design, all are compact and handy. The Chinese developed their own caliber for several reasons: they did not want to have ammunition interchangeability with potential enemies; they thought they could make a better round than either the Russian 5.45 or the American 5.56, both of which they know well; and, not least, there is a considerable amount of national pride at stake.

Development of the Type 95 began in 1989, in response to the US and USSR conversion to high velocity small caliber weapons. They began with studies, presumably paper studies of “all calibers from 5.2 to 6mm.” The objective was to make a smaller, lighter cartridge that still met or exceeded the combat effectiveness of the proven 7.62 x 39mm cartridge. The bullpup configuration was selected for the usual reasons, and extensive human interface testing was done. Troop tests involved “7 battle groups comprising 23 units” according to Ling.

While it was not designed with rail-mounted modularity in mind, the Type 95 has since been adapted to rails. From the beginning it was adaptable to day and night optics and other accessories. Along with more ordinary optics, the gun has been shown with an electro-optic CCD remote scope that lets the soldier aim and fire while keeping his head behind or under cover.

The carbine version gives up bayonet compatibility to mount a flash and sound suppressor of an improved AKSU type. The squad automatic version can feed from the normal box magazines or from a snail-type drum. The drum is steel, and loads through a hinged back, and contains a spring-release button inside and a winding key outside, exactly like the familiar Chinese AK drums.

The bayonet strongly resembles the US M9 bayonet; as you can see from Senior Engineer Ling’s Chinese version of a 1960s US Army uniform, the US is very influential on Chinese military thinking and procurement. Another accessory in common use is the Type 91 35mm grenade launcher, an underbarrel attachment resembling the US M203, and using a similar hi-low pressure system cartridge. Unlike the 203, the launcher is quick-detachable from any Type 95, and carries its own sight on its left side. Another 35mm grenade launcher, the LG-2, has grenades that resemble the Russian GL’s rebated rounds.

An export version, the Type 97, is made in 5.56mm. It can accept STANAG magazines.

Exercise for the watcher: envision the questions that, say, Katie Couric or Larry King would have asked.

If this is typical, then, we have a better news media than the Russian propaganda channel, and a worse one than the Chinese version.

C&Rsenal’s WWI Rifle Chart


This picture embiggens, but only to 10% of the actual document’s size. Go to C&Rsenal (links in the text of this post) to get the original.

The impresarios of C&Rsenal have done it again, with a chart that features a to-scale line drawing of every major rifle used in World War I (by the major and minor combatants), complete with a silhouette of a typical 5’7″ rifleman of the period to give scale.

It’s not 100% perfect. For example, you’ll see none of the substitute or obsolete weapons the Russians used, as their ability to produce Mosin-Nagants, and even buy them overseas, was outstripped by the war’s demands for riflemen. But it is a great resource for the historian — or visual checklist for the Great War collector!

The image itself, in all its fifty-million-pixel glory, is here: (Kind of makes you wonder why they didn’t put it up as an SVG, but maybe they’re having the same problem with SVG plugins to WordPress that we are).

The C&Rsenal story about it is here, and there are two relevant Reddit threads, an Ask Historians Anything about WWI small arms, and one in the guns subreddit that offers some specifics on the infantry rifles. The second subreddit includes a post by Othais that is, to all intents and purposes, a key with specifications to the graphic.

While the specialists may argue about the relative strength and weaknesses of the different actions and rounds used, at the remove of a century the most interesting thing is the similarity of the weapons. With a couple of exceptions, they were bolt-action weapons loading five rounds of small caliber, smokeless ammunition from some type of clip (stripper or en-bloc), they were 40 to 50 inches long and took a bayonet of 10 to 20 inches.

The rounds were a minimum caliber of 6.5 millimeters and a maximum of 8.0, and were from 50 to 63 millimeters long — with chamber pressures of 40,000 to 50,000 psi in their factory loads. (Today’s SAAMI pressures for a lot of these guns are lower, because of the US ammo industry’s excess of caution about vintage milsurp metallurgy. For example, SAAMI limits the 7.92×57 to 35k psi).

As you can see, for the rounds as well as the rifles, these details are more alike than they are different — they only vary across a narrow range.

Some of this is due to the convergent evolution of the state of the art. If you accept that the definitive WWI action is the 98 Mauser, most nations have something similar (the US and Japan, Mauser copies; Britain had attempted and failed to replace the SMLE with a Mauser copy, the P14; the Russians, a partly-indigenous design that offered similar performance). Nations that tried to leapfrog technology or strike out on their own tended to be punished for it — Canada’s straight-pull Ross, and the French RSC 1917 semi-auto (the first military autoloading rifle fielded on a large scale) had well-documented problems.

If you were to look at the state of the world’s small arms 40 years prior to August, 1914, you’d see completely different guns and technology, but a similar global small arms convergence. In 1874 the gun was a single-shot, breech-loading, black-powder rifle. Go back another 40 years, and the gun of 1834 was a percussion smoothbore musket — worldwide. In 1794, same thing, but flintlock. If you go the other way, 1954 sees a messy transition underway to semi-auto and select fire rifles, and 1994 to compact intermediate rifles firing smaller calibers between 5.4 and 5.8mm caliber in 39 to 45 mm case lengths. Different specs but the same concept of international convergence holds.

If a true breakthrough happens, and it appears to offer a combat advantage, it travels around the world at the speed of procurement. There is a tide in the events of men, to be sure, but that tide also lifts men’s creations, such as rifles.

The Genesis of the Volkssturm Carbines. Why?

Nazis: beastly but fascinating. They caused the second most trouble and death of any revolutionaries in history (the Communists have pretty much retired that trophy for all time). They spread their evil ideology from the Pyrenees to the Caucusus. And, what’s probably the biggest source of their appeal, they had spiffy uniforms (with a tip of black hat to Hugo Boss) and terrific Teutonic technology.

Gustloff VG 1-5 - GunLab

But not all their technology was world-class. As the war ground on, the Third Reich’s foothold in Europe contracted under the relentless pressure of the USSR in the East and the US and UK in the West and South, not to mention a wide range of national resistance movements and a bothersome strategic bombing campaign. Hermann Göring had planned that Operation Barbarossa would deliver the machine tools and industrial raw materials of the vast Soviet factories into his hands; instead, the Russians’ rapid dismantling and displacement of industry — tools, fixtures, workers, and all — left him empty-handed. The new war-production overlord, architect Albert Speer, pressed every industry to do more with less. (This didn’t happen only in Germany and Occupied Europe; put a “War Finish” British revolver next to a prewar example, or for that matter, compare the beautiful, polished blue on a 1930s Tokarev pistol to a crude 1944 example).

By 1944, the Germans were running out of small arms, and they couldn’t build them as fast as they were being lost. So they began considering what were the barest minimum features a firearm needed to be militarily useful. They were losing men, as well; and desperate measures were soon in hand for personnel, as well as for armaments.

Many collectors have marveled over the crude arms issued at war’s end to the Deutsche Volkssturm, and wondered what had so depressed the abilities of the Germans, supposedly Europe’s leading technologists. But in 1945 hardened Russian, American and British forces were encountering ill-fed old men and boys armed with the military equivalent of crude zip guns. Many collectors today believe these guns to have been locally ordered and produced. But they hardly made a difference to the outcome of the war.

So, why the Volkssturm guns? Why such variety and crudity? And were they centrally planned?

The short answer is this: because they needed them, because no one source could supply enough, and yes.

The Germans were caught flatfooted by their 1943 defeats, and they were desperate to arm a replacement for the armies no longer available to defend the Reich. At the war’s outset, they did not expect or plan for continued losses and resets of small arms, and small arms planners were late to learn of the late 1944 surge plan to create a nationwide militia of 6,000,000 sort-of soldiers – who were minus the 6,000,000 arms they needed to actually be soldiers.

Japan planned from early in the war to fight with limited natural resources. That’s why, for example, Japanese rifles have chrome bores: not for the durability and corrosion-resistance benefits that have made them commonplace on modern military rifles, but because their researchers found it was a less costly substitute for expensive chrome-moly steels in increasing barrel strength. The Germans, on the other hand, did not expect to be resource-constrained. They fought the war, after all, to gain resources, including Lebensraum for the German people. Even when the war began to turn against the Axis, many German managers remained in deepest denial.

But by 1944, even Hitler had a hard time deluding himself about German expansion, and his appointed war production satrap, Albert Speer, was brutally realistic about German war production.

With entire German armies in the bag in Africa and Russia, and ongoing meatgrinders in Russia and Italy, the Germans were running short of manpower even before a second major front opened in June, 1944. The plans for the Deutsche Volkssturm, a mass-levied militia, went forward briskly. While many books seem to imply that the Volkssturm was merely a locally-raised militia beholden to regional Gauleiters, the Gauleiters were responding to a framework that was produced by Speer’s, among others’, central planning.

By November 30, 1944 the Staff Leader of the Deutsche Volkssturm (the German term is Stabsführer) envisioned a force of 6,000,000 men organized in over 10,000 battalions. The units were to be levied in four tranches and armed as shown:

There was a slight problem with this, the staff director admitted, after further breaking down the numbers by particular Gau, he found that the Gaus that needed the guns the most urgently – the ones that were already invaded by the Allies, or were about to be, which two unlucky groups he called the “threatened Gaus” — had, on paper, a potential of 1,450 Volkssturm-bataillonen, yet of the needed 871,300 small arms, they had on hand only 9,690 – about two rifles per company, then.

It makes the 1942 Russian forces in Enemy at the Gates look positively lavishly equipped: why, every other or every third man had a rifle! Whether the real situation in Stalingrad got as bad for the Red Army as Enemy at the Gates’s Hollywood version portrays, the situation for the Wehrmacht and especially for the Volkssturm by the late fall of 1944 was substantially worse.

By this point, facing a deliberate attack by an American mechanized battle group or a Soviet motorized infantry battalion was hard enough for fully-equipped, valiantly-led first-line German formations. For second-liners and militiamen, it was the equivalent of suicide-by-cop. But for them to even serve as speedbumps or to fill in inactive sectors of a defensive line the Volkssturm’s old men and boys needed something.

That was the genesis of the Volkssturm arms program: to produce rapidly enough weapons to put one in the hands of each of six million cannon-fodder Volkssturmmänner.

Six German firms responded, offering nine different models, of four general types:

  • Single-shot guns that used the normal German 7.92 x 57mm cartridge. There were four of these, from: Appell; Bergmann; Gustloff-Werke; and, Walther.
  • Repeaters that used the 7.92 x 57mm round. There were two of these: one from Deutsche Industrie-Werke, which used the 10-shot detachable magazine of the K.43, and one from Röchling, which used 5-round stripper clips to reload.
  • Repeaters that used the 7.92 x 33mm short cartridge. Deutsche Industrie-Werke offered two different versions.
  • One semi-auto rifle that used the 7.92mm short cartridge. This came from the Gustloff-Werke, who hedged their bet with the single-shot turnbolt gun mentioned above. This is the famous VG 1-5, whose picture (from GunLab, where reproductions are underway) graces the top of this story.

Every one had a rough-hewn stock and rudimentary, usually fixed, sights. These rifles were demonstrated to Adolf Hitler (or maybe they weren’t, actually) in the first week of November, 1944; and Hitler reportedly made his comments, issued his guidance, and selected the weapons to be produced.

To be continued.

Is this gun ad “in poor taste?”

Michelangelo's DavidThat’s what Armalite admits after pulling the ad in a welter of condemnation from various official Italian sources. The ad depicts Michelangelo’s David armed with the David’s Sling of today, a .50-caliber sniper rifle. (The image embiggens).

Here’s a brief take from National Review:

The gun maker ArmaLite ran an ad as part of its “A Work of Art” campaign that features Michelangelo’s David holding a sniper rifle and has come under fire for it — from the Italian government, which owns the statue and claims it’s intellectual property.

In response to the ad, Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini recently tweeted, ”The advertisement image of an armed David offends and violates the law. We will act against the American company to make sure it withdraws the campaign immediately.”

Angello Tartuferi, director of the Accademia Gallery in Florence, where the statue is on display, told La Repubblica newspaper that Italy owned the copyright to David, saying “the law says that the aesthetic value of the work cannot be distorted. In this case, not only is the choice in bad taste but also completely illegal.”

ArmaLite has apologized for the ad and withdrawn it, saying it was “in poor taste.” “We deeply regret that ArmaLite offended anyone by this media campaign,” the company’s statement said. The ad was for the AR-50A1, a .50-caliber sniper rifle.

Now, who knows what evil dwells in the heart of Italian copyright law, but this is certainly not a copyright violation here in the USA.

And, is it in poor taste? We don’t think so. One of 2014’s projects is to build a larger gun room (or, to be accurate, to have one built for us) and we’d love to have a poster of this hanging there.  What do you think?

Resource: Armalite Tech Notes

ArmaLite logo sm.pdfOn Armalite’s website, they have a section of Tech Notes which is quite useful. Of course, it’s intended to help them sell their AR clones and other rifles, but a lot of it is of quite general application for and by anybody.

For example, they have a useful Tech Note on how to analyze performance claims in rifle marketing materials. Here’s an excerpt from that on accuracy:

Let’s say that three manufacturers (Companies AAA, BBB, and CCC) each produce 1000 M16A1 rifles. All three companies test their rifles under identical conditions. Each rifle is fired one 10-shot group with M855 military ball ammunition from a return-to-battery rest in a benign indoor range. Based on the testing, each company writes a marketing ad.

  • Company AAA claims that their rifles fire groups as small as 1.5 MOA. {Best case}
  • Company BBB claims that, on the average, their rifles fire groups of 2.2 MOA. {Average case}
  • Company CCC claims that every one of their rifles will shoot groups smaller than 4.8 MOA. {Worst case}

If you were going to purchase a rifle, which company’s rifle would you choose. (You don’t get to “hand select” the rifle. You just get a random rifle from that manufacturer.)

The reality is that the rifles built from all three manufacturers are probably all quite similar. In order to guarantee that all 1000 rifles will meet or better 4.8 MOA (Company CCC’s claim), the average rifle needs to shoot about 2.2 MOA (Company BBB’s claim) and the best rifles probably shoot about 1.5 MOA (Company AAA’s claim.)

In fact, the Army required that EVERY M16A1 rifle delivered to them meet 4.8 MOA. In order to meet that requirement, manufacturers found that they needed to produce rifles that averaged about 2.2 MOA, and that their best rifles would often shoot about 1.5 MOA.

In the example above, Armalite says, they give their averages as data, but they do point out that without more information, even an average makes comparisons impossible. You need more information. A statistically-educated man would be able to make a comparison of two tests made under equivalent conditions, if he had the average and Standard Deviation, or some measure of variance that could be massaged into SD.. Of course, a true data geek would want to see the entire cross-tabs on the whole test population. 

An even more useful tech note is from Armalite honcho Mark Westrom, and evaluates hits vs. firing rate. It’s hard to choose what to excerpt from this very interesting paper, so we’re tempted to just tell you to Read The Whole Thing™, but here’s one pearl of wisdom:

Consider a soldier armed with a weapon with an endless supply of both ammunition and targets. He may fire a single shot in a given time period (i.e. one minute) and have a certain chance of hitting the target. He may also choose to fire two shots in that minute. The two shots are apt to be aimed less accurately than a single shot because of the time allowed, but the probability of achieving at least one hit is increased because two shots were fired. The efficiency of ammunition use may have declined, but the probability of achieving at least one hit has risen. With each additional shot in that minute the accuracy of each shot will tend to decline, but the number of hits expected in the minute will continue to rise. Eventually the shooter is firing so fast, and the shots are so wild, that the number of hits starts dropping. The various theories of efficiency of marksmanship appear at different places on the curve thus generated, and their logic and usefulness can be evaluated from a standpoint that means more than a traditional percentage score.

This concept is by no means new. It is, as the saying goes, intuitively obvious to the casual observer. One Nineteenth Century writer noted that, “as rapidity of fire increases, a point is soon reached beyond which the percentages of hits decrease…but up to that point at which carelessness or hurry in aiming causes an excessive decrease in the percentages, the whole number of hits may increase” (emphasis added).

Screenshot 2014-03-09 16.07.16

The area of the curve at the far left of figure 4, region A, provides the most efficient use of ammunition, and it would appeal to the traditional marksman and his slow fire techniques. It’s also useful to the contemporary soldier who has a limited supply of ammunition….

On the other hand, a soldier who chances upon another opponent, or group of opponents, may not care how much ammunition remains at the end of a minute. He cares whether he remains at the end of the minute. …This man would employ rapid semiautomatic fire to operate in the higher parts of the curve, region B, where casualties are produced fastest.

Areas of the curve to the left produce maximum casualties per unit of ammunition. Areas at the top of the curve produce maximum casualties per unit of time. The area of the curve where hits per minute starts to drop off, region C, represents less efficient use of both ammunition and time, and represents increasingly ineffective firing technique unless intended as suppressive, area fire.

…and here’s another, relating to the first (and heavily edited for brevity)

Once the issues related to the curve are understood, we should develop those talents, conditions, or actions that increase the hit rate, i.e. raise the curve. A number of possibilities appear useful

Aim every shot. Even machineguns must be sighted if at all possible. There can be no exceptions for blanks.

Make it a Tradition. Aiming every shot should not be a training imperative: it should be a tradition. Rifle cleaning provides an interesting example of a task that is raised to a tradition.

Establishing a tradition of aiming every shot rests properly with the NCO Corps. From the first day a soldier or Marine handles a rifle, he should be driven to bring the rifle to the firing position every time he pulls a trigger, whether in training or merely lowering the hammer to turn the rifle in to the arms room.

Support the tradition in training. Current training teaches the wrong lessons. Each target is addressed by one cartridge. The correction to this is simple. Issue sufficient ammunition to allow for misses. Reward the shooter based on targets ultimately hit. Reward him further with a few points based on ammunition remaining. The highest scores obviously continue to go to the best shots, who both hit many targets and return with ammunition, but all are trained to engage.

Avoid burst or automatic fire. It is essentially useful for room to room fighting or trench clearing. Three shot burst if largely useless for both close combat and longer range fighting. It is truly the worst of both worlds. Both automatic fire with the M-16A1 and Burst fire with the M-16A2 should be strenuously discouraged by the same NCOs who reinforce the act of aiming every shot. This is especially important during training with blanks, because soldiers enjoy automatic fire as a matter of play…

So now go Read The Whole Thing™.

Let’s look inside a state of the art AR factory

The DD Mk18 Upper is used by US SOF.

The DD Mk18 Upper is used by US SOF.

Most firearms manufacturers treat what’s going on inside their plants as if they were Lockheed’s Skunk Works: everything is a secret, it’s a big secret, you can’t see it, and bedamned if we’ll let you see a picture of it.

Now, the real secret is, most of the arcane knowledge that goes into the manufacture is what technologists call “tribal knowledge”: it’s the sort of thing that’s passed on by word-of-mouth, by hands-on action, by doing, and seeing, and doing again until it’s perfectly right. Before the rarefied academic term “tribal knowledge” came down the pike, we used to call this “know-how.”


In Georgia, an Advantage coordinate measuring machine checks dimensional compliance on a Daniel Defense lower, which is CNC machined from an aluminum alloy  forging.

So a truly modern company may not be afraid to show you how it runs, because they know the real secret stuff is inside the head of their tool and die makers, their moldmakers, and their production designers, and nobody’s going to reverse-engineer the line without having a similar level of “tribal knowledge” himself.

Daniel Defense is a truly modern company like that, and Marty Daniel’s company has provided a partial photographic walk-through of their Black Creek, Georgia and Ridgeland, South Carolina facilities on their website. They’re proud of their high-tech machinery! And for a machine geek, it’s a delightful way to spend some time.

In Georgia, precision machinery makes and measures parts.  It’s striking how little the factory of 2014 looks like the factory of 1914, and how much some of the legacy factories like Remington  in Ilion, Smith & Wesson in Springfield, and Colt in Hartford, still look like the factory of 1914. The floor of the plant is clean as a hospital; the swarf and chips and coolant and oil, all the mess that comes with production metal-cutting, is contained inside the machines. 

Daniel’s barrels are cold hammer forged in Black Creek, and are available bare, with front sight bases or gas blocks, assembled into complete Daniel uppers (which is how SOCOM buys them), or as complete Daniel Defense guns, in a wide variety of lengths, weights, and calibers. Hammer forging produces extremely uniform barrels (enough that it causes forensic ballistic guns some trouble tracing slugs in one particular deceased felon to the right one of the police Glocks that fired at him), and was originally developed in Germany before World War II. Its first use in the USA was by TRW on the M14 contact, and it reduced the cost of barrel manufacturing greatly, especially in terms of reduced scrap and waste.

This Micro-Vu Excel automated measuring center is used to inspect parts. It costs about $60k, but has much more throughput than a manual machine or optical comparator.

This Micro-Vu Excel automated measuring center is used to inspect parts. It costs about $60k, plus accessories (looks like this one has the optional rotary axis), but has much more throughput than a manual machine or optical comparator. It’s made in California, USA.

The South Carolina plant is just as modern, maybe even more so. A high-speed broaching system cuts mag wells in lower-receiver forgings with a single tool. At least three different kinds of machines — a spindle engraver and laser markers and engravers — are dedicated to marking parts.

There is an endless variety of machine tools in the world, and in the world of gun production they come in and out of fashion. For example, the most common machines used on the M1 Garand receiver were broaching machines, horizontal milling machines, and shapers — all of which are less common in gun manufacture today; horizontal mills and shapers are as good as obsolete, although some manufacturers still use them).

This is the Sunnen barrel hone, a specialty product from the company that practically invented honing.

This is the Sunnen barrel hone, a specialty product from the company that practically invented honing.

Often there are many roads to Rome. Rifling, for instance, can be cut a groove at a time, all at once with a pull-through button, or all at once with a broach, as well as formed-in by cold hammer forging. The bores can be left as is, or finished with honing or lapping; they can also be chromed several different ways for several different reasons. (Daniel Defense uses a Sunnen honing machine, which appears to be one of the few metalworking machines they have that’s not from a Japanese or other Asian company; lapping is often done one hand-made barrels by custom barrelmakers).

Automated CNC machines have incredible power, but they can’t do everything. For example, even a five-axis CNC machine can’t cut the M14 receiver to match the official drawings.

Many manufacturers use parts that are formed to net shape or near-net shape by such modern methods as metal injection molding and investment casting. Some parts can be sintered from powder into shape inside a female mold. And traditional metal manufacturing methods still have their applications. Those are things like cutting parts from billet, plate or sheet, pressing parts in dies, or forging or casting them to near-net shape.

In the end, the part has to do what it’s engineered to do: no more, no less. Materials, manufacturing methods, and finish all factor in to that, and all are considered when converting a part from its toolroom prototype through definitive drawings into something that can be mass-produced economically. (These days, of course, a CAD drawing may precede a physical prototype, and 3D parts files can be test-assembled virtually before the first stick of metal is cut.

Even then, all you have is… parts. While things like cars and computers can be assembled, at least partially, robotically, rifles tend to be hand assembled and then inspected by hand. That’s how Daniel does it. (The parts, of course, are inspected by machines as well as the Mark I eyeball before ever making it to a gunsmith’s assembly bench). Finally, the guns are test fired and packed for shipment to dealer, wholesaler, or government customer.

When the AR was a Novelty…

This Colt AR-15 Model 601 might have been the very one tested by American Rifleman. It's Serial Number 000115. (The stocks once wore green paint over the brown fiberglass).

This Colt AR-15 Model 601 might have been the very one tested by American Rifleman. It’s Serial Number 000115. (The stocks once wore green paint over the brown fiberglass). And yes, the picture embiggens.

The political news website The Daily Caller has an interesting reprint of the American Rifleman’s initial, 1962, review of the AR-15 rifle. Nowadays, ARs are extremely common, and most of the people who shoot them, for business or for pleasure, weren’t reading American Rifleman in 1962. In fact, most of them weren’t alive 52 years ago. So if you’re one of those Johnny-come-latelies, or if you’ve not and misplaced your copy in the last half-century, here’s a snippet of the DC’s reprint for you. (Note: for reasons explained below the excerpt, the Daily Caller links have been replaced with links to the American Rifleman version).

It was interesting, to us, that, “Many features of the AR-15 are of European origin and not generally familiar to American shooters.…” Fact is, we’ve lost sight of just how revolutionary the AR was when it first hit. Thumbing through the actual magazines, comparing them to today’s versions, brings the point home even more starkly. All the guns and activities in all the articles and ads scream: “Elmer Fudd was here!” So the bemused tone of the following time capsule from 1962 is not out of place.

The AR-15 rifle was developed by the Armalite Division of Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corp., with the great personal interest of its then President, the late Richard S. Boutelle. It is mainly a scaled-down copy of the Fairchild Armalite AR-10 rifle, which had been offered for some years in 7.62 mm NATO and other military calibers. A composite steel-aluminum barrel and a complicated flash suppressor originally used in the AR-10 proved unsuccessful. The AR-15 has an all-steel barrel and a short form of the Army-developed bar-type flash suppressor instead.

Many features of the AR-15 are of European origin and not generally familiar to American shooters, but they were already long tried and have worked out well in this case.

The AR-15 can be hinged open somewhat like a double-barrel shotgun, permitting easy bolt removal and bore inspection. This feature goes back to the Czech ZH or ZB 29 rifle. It will be recognized as a feature of the Fabrique Nationale rifle which has been adopted as standard by Belgium, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. As the T48, the FN was very thoroughly tested by the United States in competition with the Springfield-designed T44, the latter ultimately winning adoption as our M14.

The rear sight of the AR-15 is built into a fixed carrying handle, like that of the British EM 2 rifle which was considered at about the time the 7.62 mm NATO caliber was standardized, and which was even adopted for a short time by Great Britain. The ejection port is covered with a hinged lid, which keeps dirt out of the action and flies open automatically at the first shot as in the German Sturmgewehr 44.

The stock is straight, with separate hand grip. This conformation has been used in many full-automatic shoulder weapons. It brings the recoil force almost in line with the shoulder and thus helps to control the tendency to rise in full-automatic fire. It also adapts well to breech mechanisms which, like the AR-15, have a long receiver and the action spring in the buttstock.

For operation of the breech mechanism, gas is led back from a point about two-thirds up the barrel through a tube above the barrel and within the fore-end. This is much like the Swedish M42 Ljungman rifle, and the later French MAS 1944 and 1949 rifles. A gas-tube system also was used in the Swiss SK-46 rifle. The operating gas is introduced between the two parts of the bolt, forcing the head to unlock and then forcing both parts to the rear.

The gas-tube system obviously eliminates an operating rod or slide and on that account has sometimes been stated to be a material design simplification. However, eliminating the operating slide requires that the bolt be made in two parts, instead of the usual one-piece bolt, so the number of parts remains the same as before. The moving parts must be given a certain mass to carry through the cycle after the initial gas impulse, and elimination of the operating slide requires a correspondingly heavier bolt. Thus both the number of parts and their weight remain substantially the same as in other designs.

Likewise, the extensive use of aluminum has not resulted in an unusually light rifle. The AR-15 weighs nearly 1/2-lb. more than the steel Winchester rifle.

The receiver, including the carrying handle, the trigger guard and the grip, is made of aluminum alloy. The magazine also is made of aluminum alloy, as in a number of other present-day rifles. Aluminum is easily fabricated and can be anodized to a superior non-reflective and durable finish. Necessary strength is provided by a steel barrel extension into which the bolt head locks.

Stocked With Plastic

Fore-end and buttstock are of a light green plastic. This has a pleasing feel and appears to be quite successful. The fore-end stands clear of the barrel and is lined to resist barrel heat. The rear sight is a simple two-leg peep, adjustable laterally. The front sight is adjustable vertically. These adjustments are readily made with a point of a cartridge as the only tool. They are intended for zeroing only. Obviously such sights are not meant for target shooting, but they are reliable in service. Firing trial by The Rifleman staff in 1959 showed the AR-15 to be very easy and pleasant to shoot in semiautomatic fire. The inherently light recoil of the small cartridge is further reduced in effect by the straight stock. Functioning was notably positive, regular and reliable.

It’s really a good and thorough review, so Read The Whole Thing™ (link goes to the American Rifleman site).

The Colt Model 601 AR-15 that the Rifleman tested was, they noted, functionally identical to the Fairchild Armalite gun they’d tested earlier. They visited the Colt factory to see how the company was making ARs (on conventional machine tools, without much specialty equipment, although if they had to increase production they planned to retool). And the article closes with a stirring charge to the Army to stick with the (then-new, after all) M14 until the revolutionary project SALVO, “a future infantry weapon far more effective than any conventional shoulder rifle,” was ready. (That would have been a hell of a long wait).

We’re grateful to the Daily Caller for bringing this story to our attention, but we’re not too thrilled with how they delivered it. First, it’s broken into three pages (which lets them mislead their advertisers about their hit count. Lame). Next, they love pop-up ads. We will never boycott a pop-up advertiser, because we always slam the pop-up closed before their pitch can load, and we don’t think we’re the Lone Rangers on that. The vast majority of the money spent on this offensive, intrusive advertising is wasted. (If somebody does let the page load, this slimeball door-to-door-salesman approach probably actually damages the advertiser’s reputation). But most seriously, they deliver the text of the article without the illustrations.

It turns out that that’s because they lifted the article whole from the American Rifleman website, where it was recently featured on a blog page, again, without the images. We never go to the American Rifleman website; we get the magazine, but the site is incredibly crappy and disorganized, with blaring autoplay videos and all the excesses of bad 1990s web design, except maybe the [blink] tag. It was only blind luck that led us to American Rifleman’s  blog post, and we discovered that, unlike the Daily Caller knockoff, it’s all on one page, at least; and unlike most of the pages at American Rifleman (and all of the pages at Daily Caller) it’s free of hard-sell pop-up and autoplay cruft. So we went back in this post and changed the links all to the American Rifleman version except for this Hat tip to the Daily Caller. Fair play to give them that.