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Assault rifle

The StG 44, an early German assault rifle, was adopted by the Wehrmacht in 1944. It fires the 7.92×33mm Kurz round.
Currently the most used assault rifle in the world, the AK-47 was first adopted in 1949 by the Soviet Army. It fires the 7.62×39mm M43 round.
The M16 was first introduced into service in 1964 with the United States Armed Forces. It fires the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge and is the second most used assault rifle in the world after the AK-47.

An assault rifle is a selective fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine.[1] Assault rifles are currently the standard service rifles in most modern armies. Examples of assault rifles include the StG 44, AK-47 and the M16 rifle.

The Germans were the first to pioneer the assault rifle concept, during World War II, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen within 400 metres (1,300 ft) and that contemporary rifles were over-powered for most small arms combat.[2][3][4][5][6] They sought to develop a select-fire intermediate powered rifle combining the firepower of a submachine gun with the accuracy and range of a rifle.[2][3][4][5][6] This was done by shortening the standard 7.92x57mm cartridge to 7.92x33mm and giving it a lighter 125 grain bullet, that limited range but allowed for more controllable automatic fire[3][4][5][6][7]

The result was the Sturmgewehr 44, which the Germans produced in large numbers; approximately half-a-million were made.[3][4][5][6] Unlike previous rifle designs it introduced an over-the-barrel gas system, straight stock and pistol grip to reduce recoil and improve handling characteristics.[2] "The principle of this weapon...was probably the most important advance in small arms since the invention of smokeless powder."[7]


  • Definition 1
  • History 2
  • Assault rifle gallery 3
  • Assault rifles vs. assault weapons 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


According to the legend, the name was chosen personally by Adolf Hitler[8][9] for propaganda reasons and literally means "storm rifle" as in "to storm (i.e. "assault") an enemy position," as a new name for the Maschinenpistole 43,[nb 1] subsequently known as the Sturmgewehr 44 or StG 44. Although some sources dispute that Hitler had much to do with coining the new name besides signing the production order.[10] The StG 44 is generally considered the first selective fire military rifle that served to popularize the concept and form the basis for today's modern assault rifles. The term assault rifle gradually became more common for similar firearms sharing the same technical definition as the StG 44.

In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:[11][12][13]

  • It must be an individual weapon
  • It must be capable of selective fire
  • It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle
  • Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine
  • And it should at least have an effective range of 300 metres (330 yards)

Rifles that meet most of these criteria, but not all, are technically not assault rifles despite frequently being called such.

For example:

  • Select-fire M2 Carbines are not assault rifles; their effective range is only 200 meters.[14]
  • Select-fire rifles such as the FN FAL battle rifle are not assault rifles; they fire full-powered rifle cartridges.
  • Semi-automatic-only rifles like variants of the Colt AR-15 are not assault rifles; they do not have select-fire capabilities.
  • Semi-auto rifles with fixed magazines like the SKS are not assault rifles; they do not have detachable box magazines and are not capable of automatic fire.

The U.S. Army defines assault rifles as "short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges."[15]


The Germans were the first to pioneer the assault rifle concept, during World War II, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen within 400 meters and that contemporary rifles were over-powered for most small arms combat. The Germans sought to develop a select-fire intermediate powered rifle combining the firepower of a submachine gun with the accuracy and range of a rifle. This was done by shortening the standard 7.92x57mm cartridge to 7.92x33mm and giving it a lighter 125 grain bullet, that limited range but allowed for more controllable automatic fire. The result was the Sturmgewehr 44.[3][6][16][17]

Like the Germans, the Soviets were influenced by experience showing most combat happens within 400 meters and that their soldiers were consistently outgunned by heavily armed German troops, especially those armed with the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles.[18][19] The Soviets were so impressed with the Sturmgewehr 44, that after World War II, they held a design competition to develop an assault rifle of their own.[20][21] The winner was the AK-47 assault rifle.[6] It was finalized, adopted and entered widespread service in the Soviet army in the early 1950s.[19] Its firepower, ease of use, low production costs, and reliability was perfectly suited for the Red Army's new mobile warfare doctrines.[19] The AK-47 was widely supplied or sold to nations allied with the USSR and the blueprints were shared with several friendly nations (the People's Republic of China standing out among these with the Type 56).[19][22]

The U.S. Army was influenced by combat experience with semi-automatic weapons such as the [23] Although U.S. Army studies of World War II combat accounts had very similar results to that of the Germans and Soviets, the U.S. Army maintained its traditional views and preference for high-powered semi-automatic rifles.[6]

After World War II, the United States military started looking for a single automatic rifle to replace the M1 Garand, M1/M2 Carbines, M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, M3 "Grease Gun" and Thompson submachine gun.[6] However, early experiments with select-fire versions of the M1 Garand proved disappointing.[24] During the Korean War, the select-fire M2 Carbine largely replaced submachine guns in US service.[10] Although, combat experience suggested that the .30 Carbine round was underpowered.[25] American weapons designers reached the same conclusion as the Germans and Soviets: an intermediate round was necessary, and recommended a small caliber, high velocity cartridge.[26]

However, senior American commanders having faced fanatical enemies and experienced major logistical problems during WWII and the Korean War,[27][28][29][30][31] insisted that a single powerful .30 caliber cartridge be developed, that could not only be used by the new automatic rifle, but by the new general purpose machine gun (GPMG) in concurrent development.[32][33] This culminated in the development of the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge and the M14 battle rifle[32] which was basically an improved select-fire M1 Garand with a 20 round magazine.[34] The U.S. also adopted the M60 GPMG.[32] Its NATO partners adopted the FN FAL and HK G3 battle rifles, as well as the FN MAG and Rheinmetall MG3 GPMGs.

The first confrontations between the AK-47 and the M14 (assault rifle vs battle rifle) came in the early part of the Vietnam War. Battlefield reports indicated that the M14 was uncontrollable in full-auto and that soldiers could not carry enough ammo to maintain fire superiority over the AK-47.[35] A replacement was needed: A medium between the traditional preference for high-powered rifles such as the M14, and the lightweight firepower of the M2 Carbine.

As a result, the Army was forced to reconsider a 1957 request by General Willard G. Wyman, commander of the U.S. Continental Army Command (CONARC) to develop a .223 caliber (5.56 mm) select-fire rifle weighing 6 lbs (2.7 kg) when loaded with a 20 round magazine.[6] The 5.56mm round had to penetrate a standard U.S. helmet at 500 yards (460 meters) and retain a velocity in excess of the speed of sound, while matching or exceeding the wounding ability of the .30 Carbine cartridge.[36]

This request ultimately resulted in the development of a scaled-down version of the Armalite AR-10, called AR-15 rifle.[37][38][39] However, despite overwhelming evidence that the AR-15 could bring more firepower to bear than the M14, the Army opposed the adoption of the new rifle.[39] In January 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concluded that the AR-15 was the superior weapon system and ordered a halt to M14 production.[39] At the time, the AR-15 was the only rifle available that could fulfill the requirement of a universal infantry weapon for issue to all services. After modifications (Most notably: the charging handle was re-located from under the carrying handle like AR-10 to the rear of the receiver),[38] the new redesigned assault rifle was subsequently adopted as the M16 rifle.[39][40]

In March 1970, the U.S. recommended that all NATO forces adopt the 5.56x45mm cartridge.[41] This shift represented a change in the philosophy of the military's long-held position about caliber size. By the middle of the 1970s, other armies were looking at assault rifle type weapons. A NATO standardization effort soon started and tests of various rounds were carried out starting in 1977.[41] The U.S. offered the 5.56x45mm M193 round, but there were concerns about its penetration in the face of the wider introduction of body armor.[6] In the end the Belgian 5.56x45mm SS109 round was chosen (STANAG 4172) in October 1980.[41] The SS109 round was based on the U.S. cartridge but included a new stronger, heavier, 62 grain bullet design, with better long range performance and improved penetration (specifically, to consistently penetrate the side of a steel helmet at 600 meters).[6]

During the 1970s, the USSR developed the AK-74 assault rifle and the 5.45x39mm cartridge, which has similar physical characteristics to the U.S. 5.56x45mm cartridge.[42] Also during the 1970s, Finland, Israel, South Africa and Sweden introduced AK type assault rifles in 5.56x45mm.[43] During the 1990s, the Russians developed the AK-101 in 5.56x45mm NATO for the world export market.[44][45] In addition, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia (i.e., Serbia) have also rechambered their locally produced AK variants to 5.56mm NATO.[46][47] The adoption these cartridges cemented the world-wide trend toward small caliber, high velocity cartridges.

In 1977, Austria introduced the 5.56x45mm Steyr AUG bullpup rifle, often cited as the first successful bullpup rifle, finding service with the armed forces of over twenty countries. It was highly advanced for the 1970s, combining in the same weapon the bullpup configuration, a polymer housing, dual vertical grips, an optical sight as standard, and a modular design. Highly reliable, light, and accurate, the Steyr AUG showed clearly the potential of the bullpup layout. In 1978, France introduced the 5.56x45mm FAMAS bullpup rifle. In 1985, the British introduced the 5.56x45mm L85 bullpup rifle. In the late 1990s, Israel introduced the Tavor TAR-21 and China's People's Liberation Army's adopted QBZ-95. By the turn of the century, the bullpup assault rifle design had achieved world-wide acceptance.

Assault rifle gallery

Assault rifles vs. assault weapons

The term assault rifle when used in its proper context, militarily or by its specific functionality, has a generally accepted definition with the firearm manufacturing community.[1] In more casual usage, the term "assault weapon" is sometimes conflated or confused with the term assault rifle. The use of the term "assault weapon" is also highly controversial, as critics assert that the term is a media invention,[48] or a term that is intended to cause confusion among the public by intentionally misleading the public to believe that assault weapons (as defined in legislation) are full automatic firearms when they are not.[49]

In the United States "assault weapons" are usually defined in legislation as semi-automatic firearms that have certain features generally associated with military firearms, including assault rifles. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired on September 13, 2004, codified the definition of an assault weapon. It defined the rifle type of assault weapon as a semiautomatic firearm with the ability to accept a detachable magazine and two or more of the following:

  • a folding or telescoping stock
  • a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon
  • a bayonet mount
  • a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor
  • a grenade launcher

Assault weapons legislation does not further restrict weapons capable of fully automatic fire, such as assault rifles and machine guns, which have been continuously and heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934 was passed. Subsequent laws such as the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 also affected the importation and civilian ownership of fully automatic firearms, the latter fully prohibiting sales of newly manufactured machine guns to non-law enforcement or SOT (special occupational taxpayer) dealers.[50]

See also


  • Rose, Alexander. American Rifle, A Biography. 2008, Bantam Dell Publishing. ISBN 978-0-553-80517-8.
  1. ^ a b Assault rifle." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 3 July 2010""". Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  2. ^ a b c M16 Rifle Case Study. Prepared for the Presidents Blue Ribbon Defense Panel. March 16, 1970. By Richard R. Hallock, Colonel U.S. Army (Retired)
  3. ^ a b c d e Jane's Guns Recognition Guide, Ian Hogg & Terry Gander, HarperCollins Publisher, 2005, p.287
  4. ^ a b c d "Machine Carbine Promoted: MP43 Is Now Assault Rifle StG44, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 57, April 1945". Lone Sentry. 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  5. ^ a b c d Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century, 7th Edition, 2000 by Ian V. Hogg & John S. Weeks, p.243
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Major Thomas P. Ehrhart Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer. US Army. 2009
  7. ^ a b M16 Rifle Case Study. Prepared for the President's Blue Ribbon Defense Panel. March 16, 1970. By Richard R. Hallock, Colonel U.S. Army (Retired)
  8. ^ Chris Bishop, The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2002, p. 218
  9. ^ Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, 7th Edition, Ian V. Hogg, page 243
  10. ^ a b Rottman, Gordon. The AK-47: Kalashnikov-series assault rifles. Osprey Publishing. p. 9.  
  11. ^ C. Taylor The fighting rifle – A complete study of the rifle in combat, ISBN 0-87947-308-8
  12. ^ F.A. Moyer Special Forces foreign weapons handbook, ISBN 0-87364-009-8
  13. ^ R.J. Scroggie, F.A. Moyer Special Forces combat firing techniques, ISBN 0-87364-010-1
  14. ^ Jane's Gun Recognition Guide. Ian Hogg & Terry Gander. HarperCollins Publishers. 2005. page 330
  15. ^ "US Army intelligence document FSTC-CW-07-03-70, November 1970". Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  16. ^ "Machine Carbine Promoted: MP43 Is Now Assault Rifle StG44, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 57, April 1945". Lone Sentry. 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  17. ^ Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century, 7th Edition, 2000 by Ian V. Hogg & John S. Weeks, p.243
  18. ^ Chapter 1. Symbol of violence, war and culture.
  19. ^ a b c d Weapon Of Mass Destruction. Retrieved on 2011-11-19.
  20. ^ History of AK-47 Gun – The Gun Book Review. Popular Mechanics (2010-10-12). Retrieved on 2012-02-09.
  21. ^ "Scribd". Scribd. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  22. ^ "Worldbank. Post-Conflict Transitions Working Paper No. 10. ''Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles''. Phillip Killicoat, Economics, Oxford University. April 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  23. ^ Richard R. Hallock, Colonel (retired) of US Army M16 Case Study March 16, 1970
  24. ^ |CUT DOWN in its Youth, Arguably Americas Best Service Rifle, the M14 Never Had the Chance to Prove Itself. By Philip Schreier, SSUSA, September 2001, p 24-29 & 46
  25. ^ Arms of the Chosin Few. Retrieved on 2011-11-23.
  26. ^ Donald L. Hall An effectiveness study of the infantry rifle (PDF). Report No. 593. Ballistic Research Laboratories. Maryland. March 1952 (released March 29, 1973)
  27. ^ Fanaticism And Conflict In The Modern Age, by Matthew Hughes & Gaynor Johnson, Frank Cass & Co, 2005
  28. ^ "An Attempt To Explain Japanese War Crimes". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  29. ^ "South to the Naktong - North to the Yalu". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  30. ^ HyperWar: The Big 'L'-American Logistics in World War II. Retrieved on 2011-12-24.
  31. ^ The Logistics of Invasion. Retrieved on 2011-11-23.
  32. ^ a b c Col. E. H. Harrison (NRA Technical Staff) New Service Rifle (PDF). June 1957
  33. ^ Anthony G Williams Assault Rifles And Their Ammunition: History and Prospects. (revised 3 February 2012). Retrieved on 2011-11-23.
  34. ^ M14 7.62mm Rifle. (1945-09-20). Retrieved on 2011-11-23.
  35. ^ Lee Emerson M14 Rifle History and Development. October 10, 2006
  36. ^ Hutton, Robert (ed.), The .223, Guns & Ammo Annual Edition, 1971.
  37. ^ Ezell, Edward Clinton (1983). Small Arms of the World. New York: Stackpole Books. pp. 46–47.  
  38. ^ a b Peter G. Kokalis Retro AR-15.
  39. ^ a b c d Danford Allan Kern The influence of organizational culture on the acquisition of the m16 rifle. A thesis presented to the Faculty of the US Army Command and General Staff College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree MASTER OF MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE, Military History. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 2006
  40. ^ Report of the M16 assault rifle review panel. Department of the Army. 1 June 1968
  41. ^ a b c Per G. Arvidsson Weapons & Sensors. NATO Army Armaments Group
  42. ^ Military Small Arms of the 20th Century. 7th Edition. by Ian V. Hogg & John S. Weeks. Krause Publications 2000. page 271
  43. ^ Military Small Arms of the 20th Century. 7th Edition. by Ian V. Hogg & John S. Weeks. Krause Publications 2000. pages 235, 258, 274, 278
  44. ^ LEGION Ltd. – the producer of high quality firearms with period artistic treatment (threading, engraving, incrustation) and improved finishing.
  45. ^ |The Kalashnikov AK-101 is an export assault rifle in operational service withat least nine nations worldwide
  46. ^ Military Small Arms of the 20th Century. 7th Edition. by Ian V. Hogg & John S. Weeks. Krause Publications 2000. pages 233, 257, 266, 296
  47. ^ | Arsenal AR-M1 5.56mm assault rifle
  48. ^ Matthew Kauffman (December 18, 2012). "In State With 'Assault Weapons' Ban, Lanza's Rifle Still Legal". Hartfort Courant. Retrieved 2013-01-02. The term 'assault weapon,' as used by the media, is a media invention," said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. "These are semi-automatic firearms that have military cosmetic characteristics. They look like our military firearms, but they're not. 
  49. ^ Joseph P. Tartaro (1995). "The Great Assault Weapon Hoax". University of Dayton Law Review Symposium, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, vol. 20, no. 2, 1995: 557. Retrieved 2013-01-03. One of the key elements of the anti-gun strategy to gull the public into supporting bans on the so-called "assault weapons" is to foster confusion. As stated previously, "the public does not know the difference between a full automatic and a semi-automatic firearm." They have been further hoodwinked by the television charades of people like New York's former Governor Mario Cuomo talking about semi-automatic firearms while the camera shows a full automatic firing. Fully automatic weapons have been strictly regulated and registered since 1934. Real assault weapons are controlled by the 1934 law and by laws in most states. There is no need for a new law on semi-automatic firearms. However, the anti-gunners responsible for the hoax have continued to perpetuate it by exploiting public confusion. 
  50. ^ "Full Text of H.R. 1022 (110th): Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2007". 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  1. ^ The German word Maschinenpistole (literally "machine pistol") means submachine gun in English. The name was chosen for bureaucratic reasons as work on new rifles was banned by Hitler at the time of development of the Maschinenpistole 43. Previously, intermediate automatic firearms worked on by German arms designers were termed Maschinenkarabiner (e.g. MKb 42 (W)), literally "machine carbine", understood by Germans to mean a carbine as in a short rifle, but the term "machine carbine" was at the time a name in British English for sub-machine gun.

Further reading

  • Crawford, S. (2003). Twenty-First Century Small Arms. MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7603-1503-5
  • Cutshaw, C. (2006). Tactical Small Arms of the 21st Century. Gun Digest Books. ISBN 0-87349-914-X
  • Halls, Chris. (1974) Guns in Australia, Paul Hamlyn, Sydney. ISBN 0-600-07291-6
  • Lewis, J. (2004). Assault Weapons: An In-Depth Look at the Hottest Weapons Around. Krause Publications. ISBN 0-87349-658-2
  • Popenker, M. et al. (2004). Assault Rifle: the Development of the Modern Military Rifle and its Ammunition. Wiltshire: The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1-86126-700-2
  • Senich, P. (1987). German Assault Rifle: 1935–1945. Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-400-X
  • Salo, Pauli (2008) Rynnäkkökivääri (assault rifle)7,62x39. 2. edition. ISBN 978-952-92-1328-3

External links

  • Assault Rifles and their Ammunition: History and Prospects
  • Infantry Magazine on Assault Rifle Cartridges
  • Pre Sturmgewehr Assault Rifles
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