Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

Jim Schatz, former HK USA manager (during the period of peak Because-You-Suck-And-We-Hate-You customer service, actually) always has one of the most interesting presentations when he’s up at an NDIA1 conference. The slides from this years’ NDIA are up (here), and Jim’s presentation, interesting as ever, is up here (.pdf). Jim wants us launching bigger bullets, to longer ranges.

Jim’s basic beef is probably best encapsulated in this quote from an SF team sergeant:

Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.

To boil down his argument to a single-sentence thesis: The US lacks small-arms overmatch, and only changing cartridges can get it for us. He defines overmatch by effective range. As he sees it, this is what the world looks like today:


As a former infantryman, Jim knows that weapons don’t square off one-against-one. On the battlefield, units from corps to squad size all maneuver to bring their organic, attached and support firepower to bear on the enemy (who is doing the same, inversely). It’s a common fallacy that (for example) because every squad in the Ruritanian army has a designated marksman, our squads should have one too. (Maybe they should, but not directly because of what the Ruritanians are doing). As you can see, Jim’s focus on range leads him to pair off sniper rifles with light machine guns, weapons which have similar effective ranges for completely different reasons, even when they fire dimensionally identical ammo.

As far as his 1000m effective range of the SVD is concerned… he must have shot one?

Here is one of his proposals for overmatch. There’s a few things screwy here (the SVD has grown  an even-more-ludicrous 500m of range, to 1500m), but that’s not important. What is important is the argument that going to an Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (something like the 6.5 or 6.8 or something all new in the 6-7mm neighborhood) for rifles and to .338 for support weapons will provide significant range overmatch.


The increased ammo weight can be made up in part by polymer or semi-polymer (i.e. with a metallic base) cases.

Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about 140k actual shooters out of the much larger service. A finance clerk needs a rifle, sure, but he or she can live with the latest-but-one.

Bear in mind that the target set is also not static, while we’re developing all these new weapons the Russians, the Chinese, and even the ragtag insurgents of the world (who have definitely, like Russia, pushed more 7.62mm weapons down to squad-equivalent level than heretofore) are acting, adapting, and changing, too. We don’t need to overmatch the enemy today with the weapons we’ll have in ten years. We need to overmatch the set of weapons the enemy will have ten years from now, in ten years.

Men can disagree about how best to get there. Assuming we stick with the M16/M4 platform, Our Traveling Reporter would have us go to the 6.8 x 43. (It was news to him that the Saudi Royal Guard has adopted this platform, in LWRC carbines, or that military 6.8 is in production for export now by Federal — formerly ATK). We would probably go with the 6.5 (x38, although the length designator is seldom spoken aloud) Grendel for its lower BC and higher sectional density (=longer effective range, flatter trajectory, more energy on target). The 90 grain Federal load in the 6.8 is very effective closer in (the 6.8 was developed with SF input as a CQB cartridge).

Some current contenders --  M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out the historical context.

Some current contenders — M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out assault rifle ammo in historical context, including many old, obscure, and outright forgotten attempts. Shape of the 6.5 suggests a superior BC. The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).

This is not an entirely new or novel idea. As mentioned in the caption to the photo above, British researcher Anthony Williams has a very fine article on Assault Rifle History with lots and lots of ammunition comparison photos. Back in the 1970s, a guy whose business was called Old Sarge, based in the highway intersection of Lytle, Texas, made a quantity of 6 x 45 guns and uppers. Based closely on the 5.56, these guns (most of them were built as what we’d now call carbines) were completely conventional, but like today’s 6.8 SPC the intent was to create superior terminal ballistics. We don’t know what happened to him or what seemed to be, when we stopped in, his one-man business (he talked us out of a mod he’d done for others, an M60 bipod on an XM177).

If we have a serious criticism of Schatz’s work here, it’s that its focus solely on range as an indicator of overmatch understates the problem. Hadji with his AK and mandress has a lack of fear of our troops that stems only partly from his belief that range makes him safe (and only partly from his paradise-bound indifference to being safe). His feeling of impunity stems from a belief he won’t be engaged at all, won’t be hit if engaged, and won’t be killed or suffer significantly if hit. We need to increase the certainty that our guys will fire back, not just increase our pH, and we need to increase our pK as well. The first of these is far outside the scope of weapons and ammunition design, but it is, in our view, the most serious shortfall of US and Allied forces.

We have another beef that’s not specific to this, but that arise with any attempt to pursue range or other small-arms overmatch: it never works. There are only two ways pursuit of overmatch can finish. Either your new weapon does not constitute an overwhelming advantage, or it does — in which case everybody copies it most ricky-tick. Mikhail Kalashnikov died bothered by the fact that he never got royalties on any of the millions and millions of AKs made outside of his homeland, but the guys who really got copied were the engineers who built the StG.44. (True, the AK was better adapted to Soviet expectations, traditions, manufacturing capabilities, and training modes, but it was certainly inspired, conceptually, by the first assault rifle). It was a good idea. It was exclusive to Germany for mere months (of course, that they were losing the war may be a factor, but that the war ended was certainly a factor in slowing the adoption of assault rifles in Russia (a little) and the West (a lot).

In all seriousness, if you look at the history of firearms, you see a punctuated equilibrium. For centuries the flintlock is the infantry weapon, then the percussion lock sweeps the flints away in a period of 30 years or so (faster for major powers, or anybody actively at war). Then the breechloader dethrones the percussion rifle-musket in a couple of decades… to itself be overthrown by repeaters in 10 to 20 years. Calibers go from 11-13 mm to 7-8 mm to 5-6 mm at the same time all over the world. We’ve had a very long period now of equilibrium around the SCHV (Small Caliber, High Velocity) concept. Is it time for that equilibrium to be punctuated? Schatz says yes.


  1. NDIA: National Defense Industrial Association, a trade and lobbying group for defense contractors. Formerly the American Defense Preparedness Association (when Your Humble Blogger was a member, and they were fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a defense industrial base during the Clinton disarmament/drawdown cycle), and before that the Ordnance Association.


Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: ; this is a uniquely French view of this same challenge, hosted online by Anthony Williams.

Schatz, Jim. Where to Now? 3 June 2015. Retrieved from:

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from:

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010:

(Note that Williams’s work on this matter was sponsored by H&K, a fact that is not invariably disclosed in all documents but that Williams publicly discloses on his website).


67 thoughts on “Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

  1. Ken

    The 25-45 Sharps is an interesting cartridge. 25 caliber has kind of fallen out of favor over the 6.5 mm but a new service rifle in .257 would most likely result in new and interesting bullets I could load in my 257 Roberts.

  2. S

    Just a minor quibble, low priority. How does the following paragraph (after the Scenario 3 illustration) end?

    “Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about”

  3. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    Had a shooting buddy, medically retired Marine E-9, that played with that 6X45 round but it was only play.

    A few years ago a mythical answer was proposed in the 6.5MPC, Multi Purpose Cartridge, which was a necked up 5.56. It was touted as a barrel swap only to put a heavier bullet farther. An OTM pill spun at the edge of stability or as close to the edge as you can get and still make it work in the Spratleys and the Hindu-Kush anyways, would be better than 855A1. Some tinkering would be in order but the supersonic .300blk loads are pretty much perfected and that without Big Army behind development.

  4. Neil S.

    On the subject of US troops’ willingness to return fire: I didn’t experience this to be a problem. On the other hand, I saw all of my serious action in Ramadi where we were almost always Humvee-mounted, so most of what we did was suppressive fire at close range. In fact, I felt we had more of a problem with sympathetic firing. Are fire discipline and willingness to engage possible subjects for another post?

      1. Hognose Post author

        Don’t get me started on Ranger-never-in-a-Ranger-unit, Combat-expert-never-seen-combat, Guru-of-Killing-never-killed-nobody. But hey, he’s read a lot about it… which is not the way he sells himself to his donut-fueled fanboys.

        1. seans

          He is hoping you never had to sit thru one of his speaking gigs. You get the feeling the guy goes home and jacks it watching Patton everynight.

    1. DSM

      6×45 held some BR records in the 60’s though the gain in usable projectile weight has since been overshadowed by the heavier .224 pills.

      My new tinkering around cartridge is a wildcat off of the 6.8 SPC that’s necked down to 6mm. Hornady made (past tense) blunted meplat, 80gr FMJ’s and Sierra still makes a 95gr FMJBT which is on the heavier side for that round. Optimal is between 85-90gr, from my limited shooting with it.

  5. DSM

    I have the benefit of being able to tinker with different rounds as a reloader; 6.8, 300BLK and the like. They’ll pretty much all do the job. Is any one or the other “better” than 5.56 is a matter of conjecture based on whatever premise the opponent or proponent sets out to champion.
    We’re invested in 5.56, plain and simple. It works. Can the round be improved? Yes, it can. If you use the Mk262 round a starting point you can still squeeze some longer range performance out of it. Will it compare to numbers on a chart of Bullet “X” or whatever the gun rags are promoting as the next big thing? Probably not but of course you also have to look at where you get bang for your buck. Big Army can spec and field a heavier slug for a fraction of what it would cost to buy new bolts and uppers for all of their M4’s.

    I think the next move is to be able to equip the individual trooper with the ability to identify the threats at those distances so he can engage them. I’m not talking simple scopes or binoculars here although those will have their role like always.

  6. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    Invested we are. I think 5.56 will be in use untill the phased plasma rifles are in use all the way down to the tower guards at Camp Casey, and thats a long time. You can milk a bit more out of it but not a hell of a lot more. A perfected caseless is the only thing I see as a “paradigm shift”-can’t believe I said that-to force Uncle to ditch some evolved M-16 variant.

    I wanted to get on the 6.8 bandwagon but having passed on a really nice Remington bolt gun multiple times at several gunshows I lost the urge. I was cash in hand and not one round of ammo was at these fairly well stocked shows, let alone Walmart. This was seven years back maybe it’s changed. Barrel Bolt and mags need to be swapped, not cheap.

    6.5 Grendel has some appeal, claiming to be supersonic past 1100yds. But everything I read said terminal ballistics were lackluster up close. Probably better than 855 still. Barrel, bolt and mags need to be swapped again.

    Before the last panic I was all set to jump into .300blk and be done with 5.56. The only thing stopping me at that point was barrel availability. Since things settled down I picked up an upper and some ammo but the relatively cheap ammo that was gonna be everywhere has yet to reappear. 300blk is not the next service round but it will do what I want it to do, hit harder under 300yds than 5.56. Up close in 5.56 M193 ought to do.

    1. DSM

      I got my 1050 set up to crank out 300BLK cases like a boss and invested in one of those rotisserie annealing rigs. I stocked up on a Midway blemished bullet sale with “AK” 123gr FMJs that I resize down to .308 diameter. For plinking they can’t be beat unless someone else is buying. The 300BLK is interesting but I agree, the next service round it is not.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Caseless was the technology of the future when Schatz was pushing it with the G11, and it’s the technology of the future today (as Jim now admits), and it’ll be the technology of the future 30 years from now. Meanwhile, engineered polymers or polymer/metallic hybrid cases offer a weight reduction that’s maybe 75-80% of what caseless would do, with all the advantages (and dis-) of a round of fixed, cased ammunition.

      It’s hard to beat cased rounds containing chemical propellant and launching lead-core projectiles.

      1. DSM

        There was a company about ten years back now, that I recall, making hybrid cased rounds (brass case head, polymer body) commercially. I think I saved one or two, I’ll see if I can find them. It was obviously something that didn’t make it very successfully as I’ve never really seen them since.

        1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

          I have several mags of that stuff, made by Natec or Nantucket or something. Shot some of it, CTD or Sportsmans Guide ha a bunch of it in ’02-’03 I think for $3 a box. I remember snooping around to see if it was any good. They had six different loads IIRC, I got gray cased 55. Guy I used to swill beer with was on 1st Army SARG said they shot a bunch of it and it was functional but nothing to write home about.

          I found a loose round of that stuff in my washer here a while back after a cycle-it happens, wife has a box for stuff I wash accidentally on the shelf in the laundry room. Anyway, it survived st least one washing without soaking up any water. Only big problem I found with them is it’s really, really easy to pop that bullet out of the case. Pre-packed disposable mags would be ok but loose or belted would not cut it. The case is soft enought that my Mag Lula was useless too.

          Back in the day, about 1987, I shot a metric ass ton of an aluminum-poly hybrid cased .38spl load by I want to say USA Ammo maybe. It was cheap plinking crap at about 600fps, if the light was right you could see the slug going down range. The company marketed a hand held press for reloading the cases and recomended boiling the cases in water to return them to spec after firing. They had a round nose and a full wadcutter load and were plated. Again you could pop the slugs out easily by hand but the concept worked for what it was.

          1. DSM

            Yep, those be the rounds I was thinking of. I picked up a few boxes for grins. I don’t remember anything special about shooting them so they must’ve went ‘boom’ and in the general direction of the sights. Not reloadable so I never invested in it.

      2. Brad

        I’m excited by the potential of the polymer cased ammo version of the LSAT LMG.

        Have you written a post on that subject yet?

        1. Hognose Post author

          Have not, but I too find it intriguing. They are making some bold claims about weight reduction, which every grunt I know translates: “Booyah! More ammo!”

    3. Nathaniel F

      6.5 Grendel is supersonic past 110 yards when firing heavy bullets from really, really long barrels (26″).

      From the M4, the 6.5 Grendel is a 7.62×39 with better bullet selection.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Funny you should mention that, because Williams also did a presentation on barrel length and bullet selection in the abstract at the same Small Arms meeting. He elides some of the complexities of bullet shape (for that you need to get out the aero texts and understand Reynolds numbers and all that, or get Bryan Litz’s books and hang on tight).

        Seminar slides (all)

        Anthony Williams, Bullet Shapes and Barrel Length:

    4. Nathaniel F

      Oh, and FWIW, as far as I know the claims of 6.5 Grendel having poor terminal effectiveness have been pushed by 6.8 SPC fans in the eternal little spat those two groups have been perpetuating for a while.

      With similar bullets, at the muzzle I’d expect the 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, and 5.56mm to all have pretty similar terminal effect. The 6.5 Grendel retains energy better than the 6.8 SPC (by a lot, in fact, the 6.8 SPC is loaded with the aerodynamic equivalent of potatoes), but it’s not clear that its long-range performance will be any better than 7.62, 5.56mm, etc, due to the simple fact that none of those rounds has substantial velocity of the kind needed to do anything more dramatic than poke a hole. So at extreme ranges, you’re talking terminal effects like .22 LR, .25 ACP, or .32 ACP. Not all that encouraging.

      Here’s a little more I wrote on the 6.8 SPC:

  7. Nathaniel F

    It’s not a secret that I’m one of the (few, so far as I know) outspoken critics of this and related ideas. I’ve written about the weight penalties of the concept (for brass/steel cased ammunition) before:

    At the end of the day, my basic thesis is this: Such a concept has a weight penalty, regardless of how it’s compared (lightweight cased .264 USA is for example still heavier than conventional 5.56mm). In an era where we are breaking the backs of our infantry with such a load, is it really wise to add to that load, for the benefit of pushing a somewhat more impressive inert projectile downrange?

    If you really want to beat the enemy, overmatch him, then maybe use that weight budget more wisely, for example to field recoilless rifles to the platoon.

    Infantry small arms are frankly not very effective weapons, regardless of how big a bullet they fire. I am seriously concerned that bigger numbers on a graph will fool procurement officers into thinking they are fielding more effective weapons, all the while they are mostly only increasing the burden to the soldier.

    And as for Tony’s GPC idea – that this new cartridge has to replace both 5.56mm and 7.62mm? That sort of folly is precisely how we got 7.62mm in the first place (not a bad round, but not a great GPC, either).


      I like how you think

      this is also one of my pet subjects. once of my “solutions” that will never be done is to increase the average users marksmanship skill. the 556 will out range the AK. absolutely and its more accurate. its just a matter of getting the users to understand that and have that ability to use it. I laugh in the facce of people who tell me the M4/M16 /556 will not make long range hits and effective fire

  8. Kirk

    The more important question is “How do we intend to use these weapons”. I keep harping on this, but the point goes right over everyone’s damn head.

    Tactics and operational technique play a more important role in choosing your cartridges and weapons than most people are willing to acknowledge. You could, conceivably, build a successful tactical system and military force around the .22LR–But, the way you fought would be completely different than a system built around some other cartridge.

    The problem we have at hand in the recent past in places like Afghanistan and Iraq is that we have a system built around a set of assumptions–That small arms are not that important a part of the puzzle, and that supporting arms will always be there to provide heavier and more effective fires. Separate out the US Infantry from the Bradleys and other items that were assumed to be present when we built up our tactical techniques and made our weapons choices, and things start to become dislocated. In Afghanistan, we’ve taken a force that was designed to operate with the full range of supporting weapons systems, and then stripped those systems away via either not deploying them or making them unavailable through restrictive ROE, and the end result is that we’re fighting battles purely with small arms that were never meant to go up against the enemy by themselves. No wonder there are complaints about the 5.56mm not doing the job–It was never meant to serve in the capacity we’re using it in. Same-same with the 7.62mm–That cartridge was never intended to do the job we’ve pressed it into, and the main reason we’ve done that is that nobody is doing much in the way of thinking about what we’re doing.

    Combat is a holistic thing–The way we fight depends on a huge number of variables and choices, many of which people fail to comprehend, or even bother to try to understand. We’ve been here before, and until someone starts doing something about it, we’re going to keep right on coming back to the same fundamental problem, which is that we’re allowing our choices of cartridges and weapons to drive our tactics and operational conduct.

    We’ve put the cart before the horse, in other words. Similar syndromes can be observed in the vehicle realm, where we allowed the design of the Bradley to force a reduction in our Infantry squad size, and further degraded capabilities by allowing budgets and manpower to drive changes in our MTOE that really were not validated or sustainable in terms of capabilities. If you really want to scare the shit out of yourself, pull up a copy of the Staff Planning Guide, and go through it for things that are based on assumptions that are no longer valid, like the number of men in a rifle company. And, then contemplate how many wargames and planning sessions we’ve held over the years, based on this data, which have become gospel truths for our leadership. It’s the little things that kill you, in the end–Like the idea that a Combat Engineer Company can do X km of route clearance, which was based on Vietnam-era performance factors derived from MTOEs that haven’t been in force in decades. There is a huge difference in capability between a Corps-level Wheeled Engineer unit of the 1970s vice one of even the late 1990s, and the main one is that the 1990 version is about 30% lighter in terms of manpower. Issues like that permeate a lot of the datasets we use for planning, and we haven’t done the update work we need to do across the board. The Staff Planning Guide shows you need X Infantry companies to hold Y meters of front line trace, but which MTOE and era are you looking at, in that? You’d be a bit surprised to find out that some of that stuff was last updated back in the 1970s, when we had 11-man squads, and platoons with 40-plus soldiers in them. Granted, a lot of improvements have been made in supporting technology like night vision and surveillance, but when you start looking around for manpower to guard a perimeter 24-7, a set of NVGs isn’t going to substitute for a set of eyes and the hands to operate weapons.

    Figure out how you intend to fight; then start worrying about whether your cartridge and weapons systems support that. If you start screwing around with those without first knowing how you’re going to use them in combat, you’re wasting your time and money. We’ve been down this road a few times before, and that’s how we got to where we are right now. I’d suggest stopping the damn cart, and putting the horse in harness where it belongs before we waste even more money and time.

    1. John Distai

      If a college kid were interested in doing the types of analyses you outlined above, what would you suggest his course of study be?

      1. "Greg"

        Not really sure if there is a course of study for that type of analysis, but at best, that would probably have to be some kind of masters/PhD level thesis… IMHO “Kirk” has already done a great amount of research on the subject, although not intentionally, just his observations during his time in service…

      2. Kirk

        Whew. That’s a hell of a good question, John.

        I’m not really sure what would be the best route–There’s what they used to call it Operations Research, but as a discipline, I’m not really too sure if that really addresses the issues. What you really need is a wide approach to the whole thing, covering ground from Operations Research, History, Anthropology, Psychology, and probably some areas I’m not even thinking of.

        The root problem, in my view, is that we’ve allowed too great a dichotomy to grow up between the practitioner and the academic. We’re also guilty of not forcing enough rigor and intellectual development into a lot of things like tactics and the training of soldiers. There are things that should be carefully quantified and rigorously worked out, but… The sad reality is, we haven’t bothered to even document or justify the things we’re doing. In many cases, we don’t even understand what the hell it is we’re actually doing–We just do what’s either traditional or what we think works. A lot of this stems from the cultural differences between the officer ranks and the non-commissioned officers. You would think that there would be a significant amount of communication between the two, but the reality is they both tend to talk past each other.

        An example of what I’m getting at: Basic training. We’ve been doing it for years, and you would think, as I did, that there was a carefully documented and thoroughly worked out plan for running the nitty-gritty of turning civilians into soldiers. And, on one end of it, there is–Loads and loads of formal things spelling out what needs to be trained, and how to do it. However, comma, there’s a vast void of documented information about the so-called “little things” that are actually vitally important to creating effective soldiers. Most of this stuff falls under “corporate knowledge”, things that are passed on via word of mouth, example, and what appears to be osmosis. How, for example, do you “teach” such intangible things as “do the right thing, even when nobody is watching” to men and boys who never had that sort of thing drilled into them by their parents and/or life experience? You have to teach that, inculcate it, or you’ve failed to properly acculturate your troops to the Army. And, practical Drill Sergeants do that sort of thing by being assholes, and going looking for cut corners in things like routine cleaning, police calls, and so forth, and then bring down the hammer of mass punishment for not being disciplined enough as a group to enforce the standard on others.

        Where things tend to go wrong is when the outside observer looks at something like the resultant grass drill session, and sees irrational abuse instead of a “teaching moment”; which is pretty much what a lot of officers and civilians have done, and then thrown their hands up in horror at this “mindless brutality”, and then “put a stop to it”. End result? Less effective training and acculturation, all due to the lack of ability on the NCO side of the house to rigorously document and “academize” what we do. If you read This Kind of War by Fehrenbach, he can do a much better job of explaining what I’m getting at with this. Pay attention to where he talks about training, post-war Army, and the Doolittle boards.

        This disconnect between documented, academical “reality” and actual practice is what’s killing us, literally, in this regard. There’s a volume of information and data that’s just not visible to the people that run the Army in the “big-picture format”, and when they make changes at their macro-level, the effects very often break things down at the micro-scale. It’s astonishing when the two worlds collide–When I was an Observer/Controller, we had a bunch of full Colonels and so forth come out to do what were called “right-seat rides” with us out at the National Training Center. This was focused on the effort to get the Engineers the Bradley, and the utter lack of a connection between those high-ranking officers and the world of the Engineer squad was absolutely mind-boggling. These guys were getting ready to sign off on a deal that would have resulted in the Bradley Engineer squad going down to five men, inclusive of the crew. So–Two whole dismounts, per vehicle. They really thought that shit would fly, and still work. By the time we got done with them, that entire idea was abandoned. How the fuck they ever thought it would work, I’ll never know–The result would have been a platoon with about eight dismounts to do all the work, and a reduction in Engineer work product on the battlefield that would have basically meant we were done as a force that could influence the fight.

        But, it all looked so reasonable from their offices back at the Engineer School…

        That sort of thing permeates the Army, from top to bottom. Fix it? Study it? I’m not sure we can, but you’re on the right track, in that this sort of systemic dysfunction has to be quantified and translated into terms understandable by what I’d almost want to term the over-educated, over-academized officer corps and the civilians who oversee them. It’s not entirely their fault, because the same problem is spread across US society. Go look at the average US company, and talk to the guys working down on the factory or shop floor, and then talk to the brain trust running the place (into the ground, usually… Companies that are well-run from top to bottom are rare as hen’s teeth, I’m afraid), and you’ll find out that the two groups are literally living in separate worlds. The military is no different, and may even be worse, overall.

        This issue, this dichotomy is at the root of a lot of our problems. The side of the equation with the practical experience, the enlisted NCO side, is (and, this is somewhat by design) not equipped to do the observation, conceptualization and analysis necessary to produce good arguments that the commissioned side can understand for the reason why things are best done a certain way, rather than another that may appear to be more convenient, yet is considerably less effective. The result of this leads to things like the post-WWII decisions about tactics and caliber, because a whole hell of a lot of “How we were really doing things” evaporated out of the Army during demobilization. I’ve interviewed men who fought in both the European and Pacific theaters, and the one thing they both agreed on is that “We threw the book out, and did things that worked…”. Catch was that these guys didn’t document, didn’t preserve, and didn’t analyze, so when the post-war Army went to figure out how to fight in the next war, they thought that the stuff they found laid out in the manuals was how they’d really fought in the war that they’d just won. It wasn’t, and that’s how we wound up with a whole lot of really poor decisions being made. Everyone I ever talked to that fought in WWII wanted two things–Something like the StG44, and a good MG down at the squad that was belt-fed and portable. They wanted, basically, to be equipped like a late war German infantry outfit, at least in terms of firepower. What did we wind up giving them? Yeah… Lessons observed, but not learned.

        There’s a line I recall about a nation who allows too great a line to be drawn between its fighters and its wise men winds up with its thinking being done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools. Something like that is the larger component of our problem, I fear, but it’s not quite “wisdom vs. courage”. A lot of it comes down to a lack of higher-level professionalism in the NCO corps, and a distinct tendency in the officer corps to fail to credit the importance of all those “little things” going on over in the NCO bailiwick. A senior NCO should be someone we could send off to a university for accreditation in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, so that he could come back and do the work necessary to actually quantify and scientifically (well, at least try…) lay out “best practices” with some hope of actually being both right, and making it reproducible across time and the whole force. Good luck with that one–Most of the NCO side is simply not that sort of human being, being more interested in actually doing things rather than thinking or talking about them.

        To a certain degree, there’s a whole discipline that needs to be developed, here: That of “How and why military (and, other types–This stuff goes on everywhere I’ve observed, civil and military) organizations work and fail to work”. Nobody can actually explain to my satisfaction why the hell it is that we have these cycles of “High speed” alternating with “Totally ‘effed up” out in many units, but we all know that they happen. An acute observer can walk into a unit, and pretty much tell you where the skeletons are buried, and where to start looking for what’s wrong with the outfit, but I’ll be damned if I know how to quantify that stuff and teach it, or to overcome the issues inherent to the units being FUBAR.

        So, no… I really don’t know how to answer your question. About all I can do is agree that what you’re suggesting is a valuable idea, and should be done by somebody, but… How to do it? As a practical, likely-to-actually-be-effective course of action? I’m not the person to ask. I can identify the issue, but actually address it, and everything involved? Not a flippin’ clue–That’s part of why I’m retired. After I realized I was really doing more bitching than fixing, I concluded it was time for me to seek other opportunities in life, and quit beating my head on walls.

        1. John Distai

          Thank you for your well thought out reply. When I was younger, I was very interested in ballistics. For whatever reason, I knew the pluses and minuses of each caliber from my dad’s Nosler reloading manuals, and where each caliber shined. I didn’t know how to put that interest into practice though.

          I was briefly exposed to Operations Research when in graduate school. The Army sent civilians there for Master’s and Ph.D’s in various related fields for studying problems like the one above. I was fascinated by this, but unfortunately, didn’t pursue it. I chose something else, which while viable at the time, has been supplanted by hipster kids and those damn i-gadgets.

          The problems you describe above with getting someone trained in this field may be more difficult to solve in the future. If there isn’t a specific course of study on the issues, you would need people interested in similar areas that can integrate their knowledge, interest, and training into the education required to fulfill the role you describe. I’m not sure how kids these days would get exposed to the particular areas that would make them say “that sounds interesting, I want to solve those problems and pursue that.”

          Thanks for your synopsis on all the other corporate climates you’ve experienced. I won’t feel so bad working for exactly like you described. The grass probably isn’t greener elsewhere. (But maybe the snakes and other players are less high school-ish…naw, I doubt it.)

          1. Kirk

            I think that a contributing factor is that the “ground up” side of the house doesn’t get enough credit, throughout our society. If there isn’t a university course on it, it’s not worthy of respect or consideration, apparently.

            And, since the men and women who do the “ground up” path in life are not the sort of people who do abstraction well, odds are not good for someone developing a fix for a lot of these issues. What is needed is someone who has the skills and the will to go through the machine, come up from the ranks, and then go to the academic world and go through that wringer while not “forgetting where they came from”. Or, vice-versa.

            If I had my life to do over again, I think I’d still “do the Army”, and from the enlisted side. Then, instead of making a career of it, I’d go get my academic qualifications in a multi-discipline manner, and come back in to play anthropologist from the enlisted side. There’s a whole world of interactions and other unquantified or documented knowledge over there that the academic types don’t (or, won’t…) acknowledge, and which needs to be captured, documented, analyzed, and then preserved against the “good idea” types. Right now, I can’t even tell you why certain practices won’t, and cannot work with troop management and training, but I know for a fact they’ll produce disaster if tried. And, convincing the officer corps and civilians of that set of facts, when all they’ll listen to is some asshole with a degree and a theory? Yeah… Frustrating.

            Examples abound–We told the morons designing the first new barracks at Fort Lewis back in the 1990s that their designs wouldn’t work, and would produce nothing but problems. They didn’t listen to us, and built them that way anyway. Guess what? Exponentially higher rates of problems arose with discipline and conduct, and the effects on unit culture/training were extremely damaging. Later barracks were built along other lines, but they were clearly warned by the “sensing sessions” they ignored. Honestly don’t know why the assholes bothered asking us, because they ignored everything the senior NCOs told them. Everything.

          2. Kirk

            It’s not just the “tribal” stuff, it is the whole range of what I think could best be termed “practical knowledge” versus “theoretical knowledge”. I see this crap every day as a contractor, so it isn’t just the military that does this. The engineer and architect almost all work out of offices, and come out to the job site only on rare occasions, and they are certain that the designs they work up on paper or the computer screen will work–Only, out in the real world, where you can’t bend a damn glulam post like a piece of spaghetti, the designs they come up with are essentially unbuildable as drawn. Software hasn’t quite reached the point where it can tell you “This is physically impossible to put into place…”. You have to have the carpenter on site tell you, and then the SOP appears to be “Treat him like an idiot…”.

            Guy working with us was regaling us with tales of his days as a welder, and how many times the designers/engineers would have had them weld themselves into the compartments on floating structures, with no way out. Due to the depth of weld, you’d have to do it from both sides, and the interior of the compartments did not have man-access built in. But, the geniuses with degrees were still telling them that building and repairing them was still perfectly possible…

            I think we’re doing something fundamentally wrong, here. We need to go back to the way the old-school Germans educated their engineers, insisting on them completing a journeyman’s level apprenticeship before they ever took a step towards becoming an engineer, and that principle ought to be spread across the entire range of endeavor. How the hell can you be a sculptor, if you’ve never picked up a chisel and cut stone?

        2. Surly Old Armorer

          The solution to the disconnect is cheap, simple and politically impossible: require prior enlisted service for all — and I mean ALL — officers. Far too many officers simply have no experience with what their troops are capable of and expected to do, and no summer camp tourist visit to a real unit as a cadet will provide them with that education.

          But that will never be palatable to the West Pointers.

      1. Phil B

        Not a Military example but one that was a University Degree educated arrogance meeting a Toolmaker “screw you” attitude.

        Peter (the toolmaker) walked into the design office and said to Steve (arrogant designer) “This drawing is wrong”. Argument ensues, and Steve wouldn’t hear Peter out.

        Peter walked out and came back with a dustpan containing a pile of oily steel turnings and dumped them on Steves desk. “That’s what happens when you make the internal diameter of the part larger than the external diameter …”.

        One of the better days in the office, that was … >};o)

  9. W. Fleetwood

    Just a few comments based on experience and observation. (Since it’s come up, Ranger Tab, class 6/76, Ranger Battalion, 2/75, back in the Mesozoic when there were only two battalions in black berets. Combat command in Rhodesia and Namibia. Adviser on the ground in El Salvador and Nicaragua. And yes I have killed armed enemies and directed the killing of many more in infantry combat.)
    First of all, if your infantry weapons are not very effective, well my friend, You’re Doon Hit Rong! When you’re close enough to engage the enemy with rifles and GPMGs, life is good. You don’t have to chase the rat bastards up hill and down dale dodging land mines and booby traps. No, they’re right over there, in range, and you get to KILL THEM. The units I commanded killed 147 by body count, for the loss of…..Zip, Zero, None. We lost more troops to vehicle crashes than to enemy small arms. The enemy were armed with the standard Soviet array, AKs, RPKs, PKs, and RPGs. We were armed with FN FALs and FN MAGs and yes we ate off the “overmatch”. We would engage them at a distance where their fire was not effective but ours was. And they died and we lived.
    So, does this mean the 7.62 NATO round and its Belgian launch platforms are the answer? Well here’s where it gets tricky. The distance where their fire became ineffective was about thirty to forty meters. At or beyond that range they were going to shoot high, sometimes off toward the clouds high, sometimes cracking just over your head high, but high is high if your unit has the training and discipline to take advantage of it. And we did, our fire was effective out to about a hundred meters. Past that we too were just making noise, but inside that gap, and “overmatch” is as good a descriptive as any, we killed. Now I’m sure you’ve noted that every cartridge fired from any of the weapons mentioned above has, on paper, an effective range several times the engagement distances I’ve been talking about. Which, I believe is the point. Effective, killing fire from infantry weapons has very little to do with the weapons and cartridges used, it is almost entirely the result of the training and discipline the units bring to the fight.
    The fault lies not in the stars, or in our cartridges, but in our doctrine, and tactics, and training and discipline. For what it’s worth.

  10. Doug

    There is no substitute for closing with the enemy and killing him.
    The size of your bullet is no substitute for small unit infantry tactics.
    I think if you have warriors who grasp these fundamentals of killing the enemy all else follows. And by that Im saying the use of your weapons and their actual realized real time potential will dictate the need for improvements or replacement.

    Take for a superlative example the effectiveness of the M4 with the advent of optics such as Aimpoints and ACOG’s. I think these devices was transformative. Talk about a match made in heaven, the combat qualities of the M4, proper small unit combat tactics, and a sight that when you pull the trigger, where that reticule is the moment the trigger breaks is exactly where that boolit goes, is to me such an effective collage of combat optimums, employed as the standard to base all.infantry combat tactics, bullet caliber should be something considered in the light of specialization.
    Why not employ dedication designated warriors with larger caliber rifles, such as the SR25? Dedicated squads, 2 or 4 man teams run as support teams, every one in the combat team carries a couple mags and or bandoleers of extra ammo, the designated fire teams even using semi auto fire can put serious fire down range, and with first rate optics it is deadly accurate suppressive fire. And they can still be employed as regular rifleman. It just seems to me a holistic and common sense use of what exists and is proven its worth, as combined arms/tactics.
    In combat nothing will ever replace effective leadership fighting skill and effective tactics.
    Those to me are the basis of combat power. Everything should follow from this.

    As an observation from personal life experience, I would choose another weapon than the M4 if the superlative red dot and Bidon sight concept optics where not available.
    Those sights made the M4. I think the combination is a paradigm for the combat rifle.
    I think too every effort should be extended in optimizing and enhancing this marriage of rifle and optic.
    It begs the question too, why there seems to be a lack of employment of heavier and specific boolit designs for the 5.56×45. There has to be beneficial improvement in that area. Incremental improvements at worst. But an edge in increase in range and lethality which may have excellent benefits.

    1. DSM

      “It begs the question too, why there seems to be a lack of employment of heavier and specific boolit designs for the 5.56×45. There has to be beneficial improvement in that area. Incremental improvements at worst. But an edge in increase in range and lethality which may have excellent benefits.”

      This is where I think we’ll see a shift in service round/5.56 loadings for the time being. The Mk262 round would work, but, the fact it’s heritage is as a paper punching, match bullet limits it potential somewhat. They’d need to swage an FMJ in the same weight range. The heavier bullet, and it’s slower speed, would help mitigate cycling issues too.

      The caveat, that can’t be done with a lead free bullet and leave enough room in the case for powder. The company push is to lower reclamation costs and environmental impact on the ranges.

    2. Hognose Post author

      The SR-25 is somewhat widely issued as the M110 and in SOF as the Mk. 11. It is far superior to the M14 EBR, but it’s very expensive. As small arms go. So it could be more widely issued but it’s hard for the Army to justify. As far as I can tell, the USMC has not been interested in a 7.62 or larger gas gun although the scout snipers have played with them. They tend to employ the M27 IAR as a DM rifle as well as as an auto rifle, on the ground, but it’s a 5.56 package not too different from the SOF Mk. 12. (And identical in all but detail to HK 416s in use by some SOF elements).

      1. Timothy

        On the other hand, their SOF guys do use the SR25. And let’s not forget the Mk17.

  11. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    Bunch of good points here but the point we are missing or dancing around is the point some celler dweller at Big Army is thinking about:

    Can we find a bullet that makes the theoretical Joe more effective WITHOUT actually improving training and doctrine?

    And that is that guy’s job.

  12. Reno Sepulveda

    When did the AK 4 become such a feared long range weapon? If the criteria is range, all the above rounds are limited by the magwell of the M16 magazine. Those high BC 6.5 bullets really don’t live up to their long range potential at AR15 velocity. And please, If we are talking about range disparity there is no place in this discussion for the .300 BLK.

    I also have to call BS on the following: “The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).”

    The 6.8 SPC in based on the larger.30 Remington case that’s why it requires a different bolt. It is limited by overall length (just like the 6.5 Grendel, 25-45 Sharps, .300 BLS etc) by the M16 size magwell and magazines.

    And when did the AK47 become such a long range threat?

    1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

      300blk was included to illustrate what could be done with the M-16/AR platform with only a barrel change and without government involvement in the decision making process. It’s a commercial success and within it’s intended applications superior to 5.56 and significantly more versatile.


        do not agree that the 300 blk is more versatile . 2 years of use has shown that the only thing it is an unqualified success at being. it s commercial fad and a victory for gun industry marketing

        just my opinion

        1. DSM

          More versatility may be a subjective choice of words. I would say added versatility as it does bring something to the AR party.
          That it is the product of massive hype cannot be denied however. After all, the 300 Whisper predates it by many years and no one much noticed. Could it be that the gun crowd wasn’t all AR crazy back then? Possibly.

    2. Kirk

      The AK47 isn’t the range threat; it’s the damn PKM, firing 7.62X54R.

      If we were fighting the Soviets in Europe, the problem we’re seeing in Afghanistan would never surface, because we’d be blasting the shit out of the sites the PKMs were being fired from with the full range of weapons we’d have available there, and which wouldn’t be compromised by ROE. The way we’re fighting in Afghanistan, however…? We’re allowing the enemy to pick where and when they’ll engage us, and we’re only responding with small arms fire, due to “reasons”. This is where the problem is coming in, and there’s really no good solution, other than go to a weapons-free ROE and shipping over a couple of Mech divisions. Soviets tried that, didn’t work so well.

      I still think the whole Iraq/Afghanistan thing should have been a paired set of punitive expeditions that left the region devastated for a couple of generations, from the beaches of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia north to the former Soviet republics and Turkey. We don’t have the multi-generational patience for forcing reform; all that we have that will likely work is the inculcation of terror. And, even that will need to be reapplied every few generations. Ideally, we should have shot for a situation where the next few sets of idiots who even discussed taking up the sword for terrorism and jihad were murdered in cold blood by any of their fellow Moslems who happened to overhear them talking about it. Kinda along the lines of what the Mongols did to the Old Man of the Mountains–The last remnants of the Islamic sect that gave us the word “assassin” are the Ismailis, and they’re violently pacifistic sufis and dervishes whose most annoying habit is incessant dancing. Easy people to have as neighbors, in other words.

      You want a peaceful Islamic civilization? Do what the Mongols did to the Khwarezmids…

      Seems to be the only solution with a successful long-term track record, ifyouknowwhatImeanandIthinkyoudo…

  13. joshua

    “Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.”

    Is that because a CVN costs $4B+ while an AK costs hundreds?

  14. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    While I’m quite interested (both personally and professionally) in exterior ballistics and terminal ballistic performance, I’m going to ask the inconvenient questions that a taxpayer, who has looked in detail at the dire fiscal future of the US and concluded that we’re truly screwed, is apt to ask:

    The first and most inconvenient question is this: What does it matter whether our troops are carrying Daisy Red Ryders or the Ultimate Infantry Rifle, if they’re not allowed to engage and kill the enemy without consulting ‘n’ layers of command oversight and lawyers? When I look at pictures of what our troops left behind in WWII, and I talk to vets of Iraq and Afghanistan today, what I apprehend as the problem isn’t the M4 or M16. The problems are the high-level leadership of the US military, the bureaucracy of the DOD and the feckless stupidity of our political leadership.

    Second question: With the DOD budget being sucked wholesale down ratholes like the F-35, where would money to field a new infantry weapon come from?

    Lastly: Considering the mentality of our current foes in the middle east, using infantry weapons to convince them to cease screwing with us does not appear to be a winning strategy. This is because, as NB’ed above, “…every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.” It also now appears that they’re quite happy to use something other than an AK to engage our forces within our domestic borders.

    Theirs is a culture of paradise promised for dying in their cause. Superior infantry weapons aren’t going to change hearts and minds, for as we saw in the Pacific theatre in WWII, these suicidal epistemologies requires more than stand-up infantry battles to ultimately defeat.

    Instead of engaging in the intellectual onanism of “Islam is a religion of peace” we should decide to convince the entirety of their population that attracting our attention is a Really Bad Idea[tm]. To this end, I think we’d achieve the desired result faster by avoiding engagement with infantry weaponry and instead use saturation bombing from altitude.

    That said, thanks for putting this posting together, the referenced material makes for very educational reading.

  15. W. Fleetwood

    I have a question which I think may be pertinent to this discussion, and it’s an honest question, I haven’t been in the US Army for over thirty years.
    In the Army of today what would happen if a Platoon Commander were to make contact with roughly the same number of enemy and engaged them with his platoons organic weapons using fire and maneuver to a flank then closing with and assaulting the enemy position, killing or capturing, say, a little over half of the enemy troops for a loss of, say, three wounded. Would that PC be commended for his aggressive actions or reprimanded (brought up on charges?) for failing to use supporting fires and waiting until said fires arrived?
    And would the answer be different if our loss was one dead instead of three wounded?
    I say again, I don’t know the answer but I have to believe it must color all decisions concerning current, and future, infantry weaponry.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I can’t imagine the PL being reprimanded in either situation. Of course, I’ve been retired for a while.

      1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

        I watched a four part serise on Nat Geo about a Marine rifle company in Afg, they were there in ’13 I think, and things were winding down. One thing kind of bothered me was a huge emphasis on getting through the tour without losing a man. That’s an awesome goal but it seemed to be to the detriment of the mission. With Nat Geo’s lean though that was their idea of the mission.

        Am I the only one who thinks we have not got a clean WIN since we started sending guys on tours?
        Now deceased great uncle snorted when that came up, he went ashore in France on June 8 and when the Krauts surrendered they put his ass on a ship to Japan…

  16. DSM

    Late in the game for posting a reply to this but I saw this recent article on SSD which was quite timely for this post I think. This is where the immediate future for small arms development is I think. The rifle and indeed its cartridge is incidental to the complete package of soldier and sensor.

    In the discussion of bullet range and effectiveness how far in the near future will it be that a rangefinder automatically compensates the displayed reticle and offsets it for other environmentals such as altitude, temperature and angle of engagement?

    Not that I’m all googly-eyed by whiz bang technology as this is still deep in the crawl phase in terms of integrating it into doctrine. The age old question of “what happens when the batteries crap out?” is still relevant. This enhances basic soldier skills and shouldn’t be a crutch. Here’s the but, if you got it, exploit the capability.

  17. Jim Schatz

    There was an obvious typo in the Scenario 3 table. The SVD should have remained at 1000 meters, not 1500. That was meant for the PKP’s only.
    These numbers are official.

    1. Hognose Post author

      OK, that explains the consistency. Thanks, Jim. I still think 1000m for SVD is on drugs. The principal threat in terms of range is that they push more medium or GP MGs down to lower level. For example, they’d completely abandoned the RPD (sure sign they didn’t like it — we found them in caches we were tipped to in 2002). They liked the PK — more reliable, much greater effective range, justifies the extra weight of gun and ammo in the enemy’s eyes. Pretty ingenious gun considering that they have to work with a rimmed cartridge.

      1. Jim Schatz

        1000m for the SVD is based on the numbers from the threat guys.
        If it is drug enduced I am not to blame.
        Fact is that even if only 800 or 600 meters that is bad news for the guy with an M4.
        The PKP numbers are really frightening. They are solid and impressive.
        PS: And for the record, the “Because you Suck…” “intro above did not apply to the department/programs/customer service that I ran as VP of Military Programs at HK.
        Our customers were VERY WELL cared for with no complaints. The other side of HK at that time was run by idots who cared little for their customers. It was like 2 totally different organizations.

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