When most people think of an assault rifle, they think of a rifle that is select fire in the sense of being capable of both semi and full auto fire. This is correct but with the added principle of being based on an intermediate cartridge that is both lightweight and still capable of accurate engagements at the practical distances of 500 yards and under. When initially designed, assault rifles used 7.62×51 NATO, which was merely a step down from the 30-06 and .303 cartridges. The Americans did not want to break away from their cherished high powered ammo that had won them wars in the past. But as time wore on, it became evident that the intermediate cartridge offered substantial benefits for the average soldier with few drawbacks. Without getting into the specifics of ballistics and terminal effects, let us just agree that the assault rifle shifted to being defined as a select fire platform that fires an intermediate cartridge.

assault rifle



As a select fire rifle, the assault rifle in principle, was designed to replace the slew of small arms that were developed to answer the needs of troops in trench warfare. If we give our weapons an honest historical analysis, we will find that most weapons used in WW2 were actually designed around the time of WW1 where stalemate in the trenches was a standard occurrence and fire and maneuver was in its infancy of being realized as a primary necessity for success on the battlefield. WW2 really was the turning point where the weapons of trench warfare were put to the test to fight a new type of war where tempo and a units ability to remain mobile with a reliable supply chain makes the difference between victory or further stalemate. This was highly evident in the battle of the Bulge where troops found that having several different small arms of different calibers limited the ability for troops to benefit from a resupply that may not have the caliber that your weapon system requires.

By the time of the Korean war, there was no further development or lessons learned by the challenges that faced our allies during the second world war. But we all thought that we had won the big war and that we got complacent with the idea of sitting back in the world and having a passive role in global security. This resulted in the drawdown of forces to unprecedented low numbers and halted funding to the military to stay ahead of the technology curve. Long story short, we were caught off guard and got our butts kicked with a narrow victory in Korea. This was what led the way for us to pull it together and realize that we can not afford to sit idly by while the rest of the world had plans of continued conquest. This sparked the development and further research into learning lessons of past wars in order to keep us prepared for the unexpected eventuality of being dragged into long term conflicts, as we would soon find ourselves in again in South Eastern Asia.

Vietnam was inherently the next necessary step to challenge and test our weapons technology and tactics in a way that eventually had a rippling effect throughout the world. Our M14, chambered in 7.62×51 NATO was put to the test by the enemy who was armed with rifles like the SKS and AKM rifles, chambered in 7.62×39. Long story short, the M14 proved to outclassed in many ways, which resulted in the need to match the AKM platforms with our own intermediate cartridge. I introduce you to the 5.56×45.