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The evolution of fighting rifles

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by Tirod, Nov 8, 2010.

  1. Tirod

    Tirod Well-Known Member

    We've come a long way since the flintlock sent the Brown Bess back on the boats it came in on. There are a lot of things that are state of the art for the combat long arm today. The longer term trend is for light weight, simple construction, and having the controls to safely operate the weapon quickly.

    More than piston vs. direct impingement, which I'll summarize first. In pure engineering terms, DI is better. Complain about the application all you want, what you get with direct impingement is gas directed to the piston on the back of the bolt head, contained in the gas chamber as part of the bolt carrier. Direct impingement means no operating rod - not, no piston at all. It saves a lot of weight, and has less surfaces to be machined, or wear out. The thrust is axial, straight in line with the action, not offset, and even compensates for bolt thrust with an opposing force against it. The exiting gas is directed out of the bolt carrier through the ejection port, not under the handguards, and once the case begins extraction, any residual gas in the barrel comes past the case, just like a piston gun. (Only manually operated bolts have clean faces and shiny brass extracted.) No one is required to like one action over the other, but if you look at it for what it really does, DI is lighter weight and less complicated.

    What a lot of folks also miss is that modern rifles use barrel extensions that lock the bolt up, not the receiver. This also cuts down weight and machine costs, allowing much easier fabrications to hold the parts in place against the abuse of the human user, not 50,000 pounds of chamber pressure. Thats why extruded aluminum uppers and cast resin lowers are now possible. The same technology that makes the $5 pocket knife is being applied to firearms.

    How the user holds and controls the weapon is also much better. The current trend is to use the trigger hand on a pistol grip to hold the weapon against the shoulder. The off hand holds the barrel up. Since the trigger hand is stationary, it should have the trigger, safety, and mag release at finger tip reach. The off hand can be reaching for a mag, loading it in the empty well, and bumping the bolt hold back while the finger is on the trigger, safety on or off as the circumstances need. The user is in back in the fight much sooner without loss of sight picture.

    If there is a stoppage, cycling the bolt with the off hand by a bolt operating stud or handle is preferable, especially one located where the user does not have to break cheek weld. This clears the action, allows a mag change, and keeps the target in the sight picture. Whether enemy soldier or just the shot of the season, the user again gets back into the shot sooner, rather than too late.

    The adoption of the picitinny rail for sights makes adding optics much easier, and creates a standard mount where only individual custom sets were offered. Having a universal mount doesn't necessarily make them more efficient or lighter weight, but it does solve a lot of problems with having to buy specialized parts that have only one application. In a team, optics can be shared, swapped, or interchanged based on mission or state of maintenance. It also makes weapons more interchangeable between shooters, with less compensation. If everyone shoots with there nose touching the back of the upper, there is less variation in sight picture. In the heat of close combat, picking up any weapon that can shoot close to point of aim is better.

    Adjustable length of pull for the armored soldier offers a consistent cheek weld, too, and allows for variations necessary when fitting to our inconsistent human anatomy. Stature or gender based differences no longer hamper operation, and the user has a better fit to shoot more accurately.

    A magazine designed to hold and feed ammunition in a reliable and durable manner is also important, and when done properly, contributes a significant amount of reliability, if not even compensating for other inferior qualities of the weapon. The magazine should have feed lips that cannot be bent if dropped loaded on them, have a continuous shape related to the stacking of ammo in it, and be constructed of materials that cannot be deformed or damaged in combat use. There should be no compromises to accommodate deviations from those standards simply because of institutional or political tradition.

    Modern weapons need modern maintenance, which includes the use of dry film lubricants, ion or nitride coatings, and modern methods of construction for barrels and parts. If a military standard was created, it superceded a previous one, and that's what should be done as an ongoing process, continually incorporating newer processes, rather than ignoring them and creating an even larger burden later to accept them. We should not cling to outdated and demonstrably inferior ways of making parts simply because the standard was written decades ago and hasn't been reviewed since.

    When we see what is issued as a combat rifle twenty years from now ( or hopefully sooner with the Improved Carbine,) we'll see much of this incorporated as standard. While one or more items may not make the final configuration, most will, and in the long run, they all will be present. It's simply that each is superior in combat use, and has already made the list of what is included in a weapon. They should ALL be considered a minimum without compromise, but the reality is that we always try to get most of them, and the result is usually another step forward in efficiency on the battlefield.
  2. Zerodefect

    Zerodefect Well-Known Member

    I agree 100%. Darn good post.

    I'll add that fighting rifles are becoming more and more ambi as instructors are now teaching that a rifleman should be able to use either arm for shooting to make the best of cover. Not to mention urban prone, curbs etc.

    Lefthanded when you are on the left side of cover, righthanded when your on the right side of cover. Sticking your head out the left side of cover and shooting righthanded means you have to lean out way too much to get your rifle out.

    Also if you have to move diagnal to your target and shoot while moving, often for many shooters one arm is better in one direction and the other arm in the other direction.

    Ambi safeties, Magpul BAD levers, BCM extended or Troy ambi charging handles, all forged specificly for ambi use.

    I'll also add that the current crop of fighting rifles are getting longer again. We kept getting smaller and smaller. 10" SBR's and 14.5" carbines. But now 14.5-16" fighting rifles are making a big comeback.

    The evolution of fighting rifles includes optics, lights, and lasers now. Sometimes foregrips and nightvision as well. All that weight makes the gun impossible to aim with the magwell grip. We have to reach out further to steady our aim. 12-14" rails on a 16" carbine are becoming quite popular, giving the shooter the ability to reach out much further and more agressively.

    Plenty of room for lights etc., without hurting our gripstance. Plenty of options like hand stops, sling mounting locations can be added. Of course I put QR levers on all my accessories so I can get that weight off or onto another rifle quickly.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2010
  3. Rshooter

    Rshooter Well-Known Member

    You forgot to mention the Garand. One of the best innovations in the fighting rifle of it's time. :)
  4. desidog

    desidog Well-Known Member

    It really is incredible all the aftermarket products that have come into being in the last five or ten years. I think this is in part due to the popular following of the black rifle, but also due to the tighter tolerances and new methods in manufacturing machinery.

    The key to all of it is modularity. Tirod touched on when talking about sights, but it applies to all parts of the rifle these days, with "drop-in" applying to most every part.

    /I'm still waiting for a phased-pulse plasma upper for my AR in the 40 watt range.
  5. 68wj

    68wj Well-Known Member

    I don't neccessarily disagree, though it really sounds more like an argument for why an M4ish rifle with DI and P-Mags is the best fighting rifle.

    It is amazing the commonly available "add ons" for modern rifles. Even if we were still using steel/wood guns we would probably be putting rails on every available section and adding another 2-5 pounds of lights, lasers, and optics.

    How do we rank caliber selection in a fighting rifle? In the west, 5.56 is king with 7.62x39 elsewhere. Assuming that any adopted round could be mass produced and supplied, there are limitless options currently available and more being developed. Are we still to be limited to the 2 titens as rifle technology improves?
  6. Al Thompson

    Al Thompson Moderator Staff Member

    Probably the next thing .mil (and serious individuals) needs to do is swap consumable parts (springs, bolts, firing pin, magazines, etc., etc.) at a given interval (round count?) per individual weapon.

    The concept of fixing the weapon when it breaks as opposed to pro-active maintenance gets people killed. :(
  7. 68wj

    68wj Well-Known Member

    In my experience, preventative maintenance does occur but not based on round count for small arms in normal units. The weapons are however routinely inspected and suspect parts are replaced. But yes, failure rates on parts such as extractors are relatively known and could be changed out at an interval before failure (inspection can only catch so much).
  8. herkyguy

    herkyguy Well-Known Member

    I read that hunters in Europe used rifled barrels for a long period of time before it was introduced on the battlefield. Rifled barrels were actually older than flintlocks. This was partly because of the fact that everything was muzzle-loaded and the tighter tolerance of a rifled barrel meant it took soldiers longer to reload. This was at a time (1700s) when rate of fire was king rather than accuracy. I wonder if there is technology used on the civilian side that has still not made its way to the military....

    Could our troops one day be permitted a greater amount of customization?

    FIREARMS: A Global History to 1700 by Kenneth Chase is a really interesting read if anyone is interested.
  9. Cosmik de Bris

    Cosmik de Bris Well-Known Member

    Well I think the OPs comment:

    "If there is a stoppage, cycling the bolt with the off hand by a bolt operating stud or handle is preferable, especially one located where the user does not have to break cheek weld. This clears the action, allows a mag change, and keeps the target in the sight picture."

    rules out the M4.
  10. Caliper_Mi

    Caliper_Mi Well-Known Member

    Hunters everywhere used rifles. The idea of spinning the projectile to stabilize it was well known from archery. The military used smooth bore because wars were still fought by lining up in huge rank and file groups and shooting at each other. When your target is 6 feet tall (ok, maybe a bit less) by 50 yards wide, rifling takes a back seat to rate of fire. As soon as inventions like the minie ball and breach loading came along that allowed adequate rate of fire with rifles, the military used them.

    I often wonder: what's next? Is it an improvement to the weapon itself, or accessory systems? What about a rangefinding scope programmed to your issue ammo? It could not only find range, but also adjust elevation. Zero at 100yd and go...
  11. GunTech

    GunTech Well-Known Member

    The rifle as we know it has almost reached the pinnacle of achievement, and has been approaching that point asymptotically for the last century. About the only thing left is caseless ammo an a few minor tweaks to materials. There's not much left that will have much effect on the hit probability of the rifle as we know it, which exactly why the military is looking for a whole new weapon concept, rather than another generation of the same old thing. As the ACR tests of the 1980 showed, there's not much left to do to the military rifle to make it better. All we get are trade-offs. The last major improvement was common deployment of optical sights, making the aiming process, particularly under stress, mush easier.

    We are now at a juncture similar to the one where the gun replaced the bow. The bow remained a more accurate, longer ranges faster firing weapon up to the Napoleonic wars. However, it took a lot of time to train the archer compared to the musket firing infantryman of the era.

    Smart weapon, firing area effect smart projectiles are the future. Weapons like the OICW and SABR seem unwieldy, complicated and expensive compared today's rifles, but as they mature, the assault rifles of the early b21st century will become unsophisticated, ineffective and primitive compared to the next generation of infantry arms.
  12. Hatterasguy

    Hatterasguy Well-Known Member

    The FN Scar is the rifle of the future. Although I don't think the AR is going anywhere anytime soon.
  13. GunTech

    GunTech Well-Known Member

    From a bean counter point of view, what does the SCAR do the M16 platform does not? We're talking about producing casualties here. Same round, same hit probability. Maybe slightly more reliable, but what impact does it have on the modern battlefield? Enough to justify the cost? Assume I'm a policy wonk and sell me on cost/performance. How many more enemy casualties will result from the adoption of the SCAR?
  14. 68wj

    68wj Well-Known Member

    Hmm, yep, missed that. I was still stuck on the praise of DI I guess and then the "institutional or political tradition" magazines. :) Of course there are side charging AR upper receivers too.
  15. Tirod

    Tirod Well-Known Member

    I'm very aware of the ASA side charger upper, I'm building an AR, and that is my preference, given the cash flow can be generated.

    Don't think I'm all that in love with Pmag, read that section with the AK in mind. A magazine that matches the taper of the cartridge and allows it to lock in to feed, that's durable, is a far better thing than the AR straight feed mag well with bent thirty rounders stuffed in it.

    The SCAR does a lot of nice things, but carries the AR mag well right over, warts and all. That makes it a compromise, not the best out there. DI or piston, we need to dump the AR mag design and get that right. It's the actual cause of most malfunctions, whichever dust test you want to quote. Forcing the design onto other NATO weapons just furthers the mistake. Not even HK can get it "right," it's an inherently flawed concept.

    We can get uber reliable weapons in the near future, what's incredibly inexplicable is why the magazines simply can't be recognized as the biggest cause of malfunctions. Kalashnikov got that right in 1947, and we still fail to recognize it. It's the backbone of AK durability.
  16. Al Thompson

    Al Thompson Moderator Staff Member

    Agree completely.
  17. Mr_Pale_Horse

    Mr_Pale_Horse Well-Known Member

    1. The Brown Bess was a flintlock.

    2. Many colonial units were armed with them.
  18. Rexster

    Rexster Well-Known Member

    After grumbling about DI for a while, I am back to seeing it as perfectly serviceable, with several advantages over piston adaptations for the AR.

    Regarding ambi use, I am a lefty with rifles, who trains to be ambi, and I just took the ambi selector OUT of my AR, and installed one of the RRA single-sided selectors with the star-shaped nub on the tip. I did not like the way the ambi version's left side lever pointed downward when on semi, because my brain is geared toward a lever pointing downward as ON-safe, from former duty/carry pistols, and my issued Taser. (I am required to test-fire my mandated Taser daily, at the start of the shift, and that daily on-and-off-safe-ing of the Taser's safety trumps any amount of range time I can get with the AR15. When my RRA star-style selector arrived from Brownells, I instantly LOVED it, and wondered why anyone ever invented ambi selectors. Plus, Kyle Lamb's advice to not install ambi selectors was a factor. I now use his method of using the left knuckle to off-safe the weapon when shooting lefty. This motion is far-enough divorced from a Taser's safety to eliminate any confusion of concept.

    I like the way the AR15 is not only lefty-friendly, but in some ways FAVORS lefties. I just use my left fingertip to operate the bolt release, or to lock the bolt open. I like to retain magazines under most conditions, so I use my right thumb to hit the mag release, take the in-gun mag out, stow it, and reload. OTOH, I can bring a fresh mag to the well, hit the mag release to drop the in-gun mag, and quickly insert the fresh mag.

    After time in the wilderness, disdaining the AR15/M16/M4, I am back. Actually, I had always conceded that the M16/M4 were better war weapons than my Mini-14s and various other SD/HD long guns, but I am back to an AR15 as my go-to urban SD/HD weapon, except that I will continue to use handguns or a shotgun for many situations, until I am retired from working for a PD that has rules dictating when I can deploy a rifle.
    The AR15 really still is the better mousetrap, IMHO, for cartridges lesser than .308/7.62 NATO, anyway.
  19. kwelz

    kwelz Well-Known Member

    Well Yeah. ;-)

    Seriously though, the AR is probably the best overall platform available right now. Yes there are other good designs out there, the SCAR being one of them. However none have offered the flexibility we see with the AR platform.
    And all have their share of problems. SCAR rifles kill optics, ACR is a disaster as a fighting weapon, XCR never stood a chance....

    Right now the AR and AK are king. That isn't going to change till we see a truly revolutionary platform come about. There is no real point to making something that is just Evolutionary, because the AR platform can evolve just fine on its own.

    I think Tirod was spot on with most everything he has said.
  20. SpeedAKL

    SpeedAKL Well-Known Member

    Great write-up!

    Regardless of their faults, real or perceived, the latest in fighting rifle designs such as the SCAR, ACR, Colt CM901, Beretta ARX, the new CZ being used by the Czechs seem to offer some combination of the following characteristics:

    -modularity / interchangeability: barrels should be quick and easy to swap out with hand tools. Calibers should be able to be changed using a minimal amount of components and disassembly / re-assembly requirements

    -polymer exterior construction: the latest rifles seem to follow the lead of combat handguns in this area

    -use of lightweight and high-strength metals: these will always be somewhat limited in a small arm due to cost but I expect greater use of titanium and various alloys in the future

    -mounts: rather than a fixed quad-rail system, the latest guns have mounts for detachable rail units so that the shooter can configure the gun to his exact needs while keeping the weight and surface complexity of the forearm under control

    -fully adjustable stock: as long as it isn't prone to breaking, why not?

    -improved accuracy: traditionally, accuracy and combat reliability have been inversely proportional and as a result many fighting rifle have only had to be "minute of man". The SCAR and several higher-end ARs have shown that this tradeoff need not occur. Use of a high-quality barrel is the biggest driver of these accuracy gains.

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