The United States of America has become a World Power in it’s short term of existence, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, Desert Storm and other peacekeeping missions, have solidified this power. Some oppose this power, while others embrace our nation’s weight in the political and economic theaters. This great force, incredible power, and unquenchable might must have some great and noble roots. This power source must also be quite potent, as our authority has increased so rapidly in the relatively short existence of the country.
Some believe this strength comes from our people, others, our system of government. However, it is the opinion of many that our Nation’s power stems from all of these things and is enforced by our military might. Weapons design, engineering and production are the force behind America’s "war machine" (Gardiner, Army Logistician.)
The legacy that is now known as American weapon design began at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. America’s armed forces were still small; recruitment was not seen as incredibly necessary, and until the First World War most Military officials had thought magazine fed rifles were a waste of ammunition. Despite objections the Army had begun research of better weapons in order to improve its strength. At this time, the small Spanish province of Cuba was declared a war-zone by the United States, and this prompted the use of America’s first bolt action service rifle: the Krag.
Introduced in the Spanish American war of 1898, the Krag rifle was the first bolt action rifle in U.S. Military service. The Krag rifle and later modified carbine were the first step in superior weapons design. The Krag served an important role in the expansion of America’s power at the turn of the century. The writers at surplusrifle.com sum this up very well:
"The Krag is a very important milestone in weapon lineage for the United States. It was the very first U.S. service rifle that was a bolt action and fired a small caliber, smokeless powder, metallic cartridge" (The Krag rifle, http:// Surplusrifle.com).
In the last major conflict of the United States, the civil War, soldiers were forced to load and carry paper cartridges into battle. These were affected by dampness and prone to malfunction even before they were loaded into the rifle. These paper cartridges were torn open with the teeth, poured into the muzzle of the rifle, and packed down with a ramrod. The ramrod was then returned to "rest" and the rifle was capped or primed with a small explosive. Finally, the weapon could be fired, and when it was discharged, the black powder in the bore would emit a large, thick cloud of white smoke. From a lone marksman, this was no problem, but when firing in columns, the haze became so thick that soldiers could no longer see the enemy. The process was very time-consuming and quite ineffective for large-scaled warfare. These problems were easily solved by introducing the 1873 Springfield rifle, a magazine fed, lever action trapdoor rifle, which fired a metal cartridge. This cartridge included the bullet, Black powder, and a primer required to fire the weapon. By including a magazine in the design, multiple cartridges could be loaded and then fired from the rifle. The speed of this action compared to the single shot muzzleloaders of old would change American warfare forever. (Jon Crawford, Personal note, 4/9/08)
The Springfield rifle still had minor flaws to be perfected. The black powder still billowed smoke into the air when the rifles were fired and the receiver and cartridge were both lightweight. The army decided to "beef up" it’s infantry by giving them a new rifle the Krag.
The Krag fired a heavier round than the 1873 Springfield, it was bolt action, which made reloading faster and target accusation smoother. The side-mounted magazine was easy to refill and maintain. Unfortunately, this new design was not without… setbacks. The side loading magazine made the rifle unable to accept a more powerful round. Because of this handicap, long range targets were impossible to reach without extreme skill.
Bringing the United States to par compared with European powers, using an American design, the Krag was the first example of what American weapons engineers have striven for, superiority. The Springfield armory soon realized and corrected this problem with its new rifle- the 1903 Springfield 1903 Springfield.
"The Krags were well liked by troops but were doomed because of a design that allowed only for lower pressure cartridges and the magazine loading system did not lend well to the use of clips for loading. In 1904 the Krag was replaced by the U.S. Model 1903 Springfield Rifle as the U.S. service rifle but still saw limited service through WWI and after" (The Krag rifle, http:// Surplusrifle.com).
The Krag Rifle, while well liked by troops, had faults that needed to be corrected. By including enhancements such as a magazine under the breech and a heavy 30-06 cartridge, the M1903 was capable of being loaded with a stripper clip and could devastate any enemy unfortunate enough to be down range. With a fixed magazine rifle, such as the Springfield, stripper clips made it possible to fill the magazine completely in a very short amount of time, in fact this method is still used today to quickly fill detachable magazine before combat. Another benefit of the new rifle was the solid receiver, heavy steel allowed the Springfield to fire a larger and more powerful round. It was this colossal projectile that made the Springfield rifle a favored weapon for snipers, even until the Vietnam War. The new bolt action of the M1903 closely resembled the German Mauser; in fact, the M1903 Springfield was created with roots in the Mauser design, during the first world war the U.S. government paid a royalty of $1 to Mauser for every 1903 Springfield produced (Jon Crawford, personal note.) The action was smooth, strong, reliable, and is still the basis for most modern hunting rifles (Marc Haines, personal interview). (Don’t capitalize personal interview.)
The M1903 Springfield was replaced by the M1 Garand as America’s standard issue service rifle in 1936. It was created in the Springfield Armory by Canadian immigrant John C. Garand. It was used through World War Two, the Korean conflict, and even in the Vietnam War by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (Chuck Taylor, S.W.A.T Magazine, November 1982. December, 2007).
"I trained with a M 1 Garand when I was in basic training in 1960. I
fired expert on the rifle range using a M1 that had seen a lot of use over
the years. I am sure my M1 was a WW2 vet, but I don't know that for
sure. In December 1960 I was shipped to Germany to the 4th Armored
Division as a small arms repairman.(Gunsmith). I worked on Garands about a
year and a half before the M14 replaced it. The M14 is a fine rifle but
it just doesn't have the history or character of the M1 Garand. The M14
just could not take the abuse that the M1 had taken for years. G.I. are
rough on weapons even in peace time. I will always have a place in my heart
for the M1 Garand for a lot of reasons. If we had to go to war I would have
felt well armed with a M1. (sic)" (Anonymous, http://www.m1-garand.com/OthersWrite.htm, 12/20/07).
It’s easy to see why General George S. Patton called the M1 Garand "the greatest battle implement ever devised."
The abuse the M1 Garand is able to endure is astounding. It has served in jungles, deserts, and frozen wastelands. The M1 was a heavy, hard hitting and accurate weapon that served every soldier with unyielding performance. However, some drawbacks reported by troops were its weight, which made it unwieldy in close quarter combat. Even more devastating to the American soldier was a distinctive "ping" that could be heard when the magazine was empty. As Said by William Furry, a world War Two veteran: "Everybody and his uncle knew you were out of ammo."
This very distinct sound was cause by the rifle’s very design and could not be altered or silenced by the G.I. It was caused by the discharge of a stripper clip from the rifle’s magazine. When the bolt slammed backward, a catch released, causing the very audible and characteristic noise. Enemy soldiers would often listen intently to hear when the weapon was emptied, choosing to attack at that moment. It wasn’t long before G.I.’s learned that this could be used to their advantage. By tossing an empty clip against his helmet, a G.I. could imitate the distinct "ping" and when the enemy soldier would peak around his cover, the rifleman had a clear shot. (William Furry, personal interview, 12/15/07).
The M1 Garand’s design also made it quite heavy to carry. While this slowed troops down a bit and some simply hated the bulk, the added bonus it gave in close quarters was fantastic. In hand-to-hand combat, a soldier will use anything he can to defeat his enemy. A bayonet was too cumbersome to fix to the rifle in the midst of a struggle. The soldiers helmet could serve somewhat as a bludgeon. But most soldiers used what was already in their hands- the very heavy, very sturdy M1 Garand -a club constructed of iron and oak wood, that when slammed against any part of the human anatomy inflicted incredible damage. The M1 Garand was also issued with a detachable bayonet that was thought to be a necessity to the modern soldier. In retrospect, the bayonet was a rather useless tool in Europe as most combat was taking place in house to house settings. The pike that the M1 transformed into with a bayonet was simply too long to bother with. However, in the fields and hills of Italy, early in the war, the bayonet was quite useful as soldiers had time to attach it prior to a charge. In the Pacific Theater, bayonets were rarely detached from their rifles. The Japanese had devised a very cunning method of camouflage and hidden trenches. Units, and even whole companies of soldiers, would seem to come out of nowhere. Vicious hand to hand combat was quickly transformed into the normal routine. The heavy, semi automatic rifle, accompanied by a razor sharp bayonet, was enough to destroy any foe, near or far. Axis soldiers were soon terrified by the effectiveness of the rifle. The semiautomatic ability of the M1 was it’s key strength over the bolt action rifles still in use by both the Axis and the other Ally parties in almost every aspect (Top Ten combat rifles, The Military Channel.) The performance history of the Garand is so great the it has become a collectors item coveted amongst firearm enthusiast, a lasting legacy formed by superior American design.
The design of the M1 Garand was believed to be so perfect that it was heavily copied in the design of America’s next battle rifle, to be precise the m14 is a modified M1, the chief difference being a detachable magazine and a selector switch which allowed fully automatic fire. With a the rifle came new changes to an already effective design. The M-14 uses a slightly lighter cartridge when compared to the 30-06 round used in the 1903 Springfield and the M1-Garand. This new projectile, however, was not the primary change made to the M1. A detachable magazine, which held 20 rounds, was a great place to start. This allowed the user to fire twenty rounds before needing to reload. Another improvement was the addition of a muzzle break and flash-hider. A muzzle break is a device that is attached to the end of a rifle’s barrel that extends, in the case of the M-14, about an inch past the rifling. Slits or holes are made in the muzzle break in order to allow gases built up in the barrel escape less rapidly. This meant that the more gas that escaped through the muzzle break, the gas would push down on the barrel, fighting the recoil that pushes it up. When a rifle fires, the barrel seems to "jump" slightly, This is muzzle climb. A rifle that has a considerable amount of this effect can become very costly in terms of lives. When the M14 was fired on full auto, a soldier needed to quickly realign his target. By adding a muzzle break and reducing muzzle climb, the M-14 became fairly stable in fully automatic fire. This new muzzle break also acted as a flash suppresser. A flash suppresser is virtually ineffective unless used at night, when the flame made by a discharged round is clearly visible, in addition to this the US military incorporated an anti-flash agent in it’s gunpowder. While removal of this flame is impossible, there was a need to disguise it in some way. The reason behind this was simple: When fired at night, a rifle without a flash suppresser produces a very defined light, and this light can be used to interpret a soldier’s position and firing lane. A flash suppresser simply scatters this light into a shape some might describe as a star. With this new shape it is impossible to tell which direction a soldier is firing, unless aiming directly at you.
The overall purpose behind the designing of the M-14 was to give the average infantryman, a weapon that was capable of rapid fire and heavy "knockdown" power, a philosophy similar to that behind the Kalashnikov Model-47. (Jon Crawford, personal note) Prior to it’s inception, an infantry company would carry different specialty rifles. The US army had issued four standard arms to it’s soldiers, the B.A.R. (Browning automatic rifle) which fire the 30-06 round in fully automatic, a Thompson submachine gun, a small and weighty weapon that fired the .45 caliber pistol round. And of course, the M1 Garand, the standard, battle-rifle. This meant that the M-14 needed to be accurate at long distances, hold plenty of ammunition, have both semi-automatic and fully automatic firing capabilities, but also have enough stopping power to disable or kill an enemy with a single shot. Meeting all of these requirements, the M14 was shipped alongside marines and soldiers to the battlefields of Vietnam. The rifle was incredibly effective but had two major flaws that would cost lives on the battlefield. These flaws were the actual size of the weapon, and the recoil induced by the large cartridge. When fired, the recoil still caused significant muzzle climb, and in the jungles of Vietnam this was unacceptable. The weapon had nowhere to move after being fired, it had quickly become awkward and heavy in the dense jungle fighting. A new combat rifle was needed, and fast (Interview, Marc Haines, 11/11/07.)
The American weapon engineers had been developing a new rifle since the mid-fifties. Weapons designer Eugene Stoner had created the most familiar assault rifle in history, the M-16a1. Stoner realized the biggest problem with the M-14 was its recoil point. When the M-14 was fired, the area that received the most recoil was a bend in the stock, just behind the receiver. To fix this problem, Stoner equipped his M-16 with a stock that was parallel to the barrel. In order to ease the handling of the weapon, Stoner included a pistol grip and raised sights in order to make the rifle comfortable and easy to sight in. In order to lighten the weapon, Stoner used alloy and plastic. This earned the M-16 a reputation as a "The Mattel toy ." The popular slogan, "You can tell it’s Mattel," was commonly heard among soldiers. The most controversial of changes was in the use of a new cartridge, a small 5.56mm round, nearly 2/3 the size of traditional ammunition. The weight of the smaller cartridge meant that troops could carry twice as much ammunition, and this gave them an incredible advantage. The small round was still incredibly scrutinized. How could a seemingly tiny projectile kill an enemy with one shot (The goal of every soldier, if possible.) This skepticism was soon thwarted by the combat reports from U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam. The M-16 was a top-notch rifle and quickly became a legacy. A unique action of the bullet fired from the M-16 is a tumbling action; this . This causes the lead to spread open, inflicting a massive wound internally. The bullet can no longer stand the momentum and splits apart, sending tiny bits of shrapnel shredding throughout the target’s body (Compare the M14 to the M16, National Geographic channel). This effect was removed by the U.S. military in an effort to change the effectiveness of the weapon. The goal was simple: Penetrate steel helmet at 800 meters. This change has been very controversial as the lethality of the m16 has diminished because of it.
Richard Venola, Editor of Combat Arms has said: "Theres (sic) a lot of people around the planet not breathing anymore because of the M-16." The M-16 has undergone over 400 cosmetic and material changes over the years, but the overall weapon remains the same, reliable rifle. Carried into Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and countless other areas of American occupation, the M-16 rifle has been the shining example of American weapon ingenuity. The exceptional design of the M16 is coveted amongst foreign nations, guerilla fighters, and even civilians for sporting use. The extreme accuracy of the M-16 was demonstrated in Fallujah, Iraq, when United States Marines were being accused of war crimes because of the weapon’s accuracy. The count of terrorists killed by a gunshot to the head was so high that the United States government suspected that the soldiers and marines were executing terrorist prisoners. As it turns out, the scoped M-16 was the party responsible for the staggering amount of accurate kills (Top Ten combat rifles, The Military Channel).
Although superior to the weapons systems of other nations, the M-16 family of weapons is over forty years old. While nations such as Austria are scrapping their locally designed rifles and replacing them with the M-16 and M-4 carbine, American researchers are developing new rifles for the US military. The first prototypes I will discuss are simply improved design based off of the M-16 platform.
The LWRC IAR (Infantry Automatic Rifle) Fires the 5.56 NATO round, the same round fired by the M-16, uses M-16 magazines and in fact is nearly identical in appearance. The advantage of this weapon comes with it’s piston driven gas system, because of this simple alteration less action is needed to reset the bolt and load a round in the chamber. With this simple modification the LWRC IAR is able to fire at an astounding rate.
The M-4 Carbine is small light and compact, it fires from the closed bolt position, which makes it resistant to dirt and grime which may enter the lower receiver in combat. This closed bolt design has one major drawback, when used in fully automatic fire , or burst fire, the probability of "cooking off" a round is a devastating liability. To cook off a round is to load a live cartridge into a hot chamber. The residual heat from the previous rounds fired, raises the temperature of the barrel, which in turn causes the live round to fire. When the cartridge becomes so hot that it discharges, this is called cooking off a round, in turn, because of the reloading mechanism of the M4, a new round would then be chambered causing a potentially deadly situation. The biggest benefit of the LWRC IAR comes in it’s profile, exactly the same as the m16. The current issue SAW (squad automatic weapon) is a large, belt fed, heavy weapon, this large profile makes the user a very large and obvious target. With the LWRC IAR this is eliminated by the fact that a soldier carrying it looks the same as everyone else on the battlefield, but with enough suppressive firepower to be greatly feared. ("Future Weapons", Discovery Channel)
The development team known as "Future Force Warrior" (US Army) has been researching two new weapon systems which use no cartridge and there for are lighter and less complicated. The first system was designed by Heckler and Koch, in the late nineteen sixties, this design was named the G11 assault rifle. The new g11 looks much like a large board with a pistol grip and sight system. It fires a 5.56mm bullet but instead of a brass casing the bullet is surrounded by compacted propellant. This reduces the weight and size of ammunition considerably, allowing the soldier almost twice as much firepower as with the M16a2. However due to major flaws and consistent jams it is still in development. (Jon Crawford, Personal note)
The other weapon design still in development and researched by the Future Force Warrior team is the Metal Storm system. The metal storm system ( not practical for infantry weapons) has absolutely no moving parts aside from the trigger and projectile. Preloaded barrels are used as a magazine with bullets stacked nose to tail with propellant compacted between them. When the trigger is pulled an electrical charge is sent from to an individual charge which is ignited and discharges the round. This system, when used with multiple barrels can deliver firepower never before possible. Although still in development for use in the infantry, the more predominant use as a missile defense weapon or air to ground weapon has caused the army to order prototypes for use in mid-2008.
When we look at the resources that have been given to the development of newer and greater weapons by the American armed forces, it is no wonder that a small tactical team of twenty soldiers, can hold their own against 200 rebels in Sudan or countless insurgents in Iraq. It is this determination, to have the best armed and well prepared infantry on the planet that sets American military might apart. The concern for the individual soldier, who’s weapon is his life, is evident with the stability requirements placed upon every armament given to him. There is not a stone unturned when it comes to creating the world’s finest and most highly developed weapon systems ever devised. With the world ever on the brink of war, the united state military stands ready confident in it’s preparedness and equipment. The fear of our enemies and cowardice of recent attacks on the country is evidence that the fear of a straight forward conflict is out of the question for our nation’s enemies. The absolute effectiveness of American engineered rifles have made the United states Soldier and Marine the most lethal weapons on earth. A fine weapon for the finest combatants. It has been this power and strength that has earned the American military the fear and respect it is entitled to.