Get ready for the return of the battle rifle. Temporarily, that is. According to a story published on Soldier Systems, the U.S. Army is considering fielding a 7.62 NATO rifle in an interim capacity until it switches to one of the 6.5mm family of intermediate calibers sometime in the 2020s.
The reason for the change? Soldier Systems says Army troops feel as though they’re “in a street fight with a guy with longer arms.” As Popular Mechanics notes, that’s a reference to the 7.62x54R cartridge used by PK machine gun and Dragunov SVD sniper rifle. The former — which boasts an effective range of around 800 to 1,000 yards — is in use by the Taliban, as well as the Islamic State and most insurgent and terrorist organizations around the world. Meanwhile, the Army’s 5.56mm M4 and M249 SAW have an effective range of around 500 yards and 700 yards, respectively.
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Looking for a more immediate way to plug this gap, Soldier Systems says the Army wants to “adopt the Battle Rifle to deal with a newly identified threat with what’s available now” before transitioning a 6.5mm intermediate caliber rifle further on down the road. Such a transition would be virtually impossible with 5.56 receiver sets.
The easiest and quickest way to bring back the battle rifle would be to adopt a 7.62mm NATO “Government Off The Shelf” weapon, and four options are presented in the Soldier Systems story: the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle, FN’s Mk17 SCAR-H, Knight’s Armament’s M110 Semi-Auto Sniper System and HK’s M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System.
Of course, as Soldier Systems points out, the Army could wind up deciding that none of these options fulfill its requirements, at which point they’d issue a RFP (Request for Proposal) to industry for a brand new rifle.
According to Popular Mechanics, the last battle rifle to be fully fielded by the Army was the M14 back in the 50s. But it suffered from a number of manufacturing and accuracy issues, not to mention its weight and ammo problems. The M14 weighed 10.7 pounds when fully loaded, and its 7.62mm ammo weighed twice as much as the 5.56mm ammo of the M16 that eventually replaced it. It was also less than ideal for CQB. A new version of the M14, the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle (mentioned above), was introduced into limited service back in 2002.
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If the Army does make the jump to a 7.62mm battle rifle, all of the above elements would need to be considered. As Popular Mechanics points out, a modern 7.62 rifle can reach out to between 700 and 800 yards, but when fitted with the optic and laser/light combo used on a standard M4, it could weigh around 12 pounds. Operating a rifle like that in urban terrain would be problematic, to say the least.
There’s also the possibility that “our Soldiers could get stuck with a 7.62 rifle if the planned [6.5mm] caliber study doesn’t pan out, or worse yet, DoD faces another budget challenged situation similar to the sequester,” Soldier Systems points out.
Stay tuned, folks.