Tuesday, February 23, 2010


If there's any 5.56mm fans I have failed to offend, I apologize. I'm not a small arms designer, not do I play one on TV, and I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. And, as I pointed out last time, Desert Storm was decidedly not a rifleman's war. But it's our blog, so bite a big one.

Since we've established beyond a doubt by now what caliber(s) I don't like and those that I do, I thought we could examine the possibilities of other calibers which might have been or may be. Such rifle calibers perhaps could have pleased most of us, thus stopping the endless 7.62mm vs 5.56mm debate so we can get on with the .45 vs. 9mm cat fight.

Politics is always more important than performance when it comes to U.S. military weapons. And, as military weapons go, infantry small arms are so far down to scale as to be an after thought. Admirals and Air Force generals would laugh and ask, “We’re still using those pea-shooters?” I mean, who’s gonna give a retiring Pentagon Perfumed Prince a six-figure “consultant” job? The corporation that got a 78 hillion-jillion dollar contract making smart bombs or stealth aircraft, or the one that produces rifle ammunition?

As much as I like the .30-06 and the .308, in an alternate world the former might not have lasted much after WWI and the latter might not have been birthed at all. Then again, the 5.56mm probably wouldn’t have been born either.

Prior to World War Two, weapons designers in these United States were working on what technically could have been called an intermediate round long before the German sturmgewehr or the Commie AK47. The .276 Pedersen (7x51mm) fired either a 125-grain bullet at 2550 feet per second or a 140-grainer at 2400 fps. This was intended to give these United States' military a “universal” caliber for shoulder-fired small arms to bridge the big gap from the pistol to the heavy machine gun. Instead, our logistics system included the .45 ACP (SMG's), the .30-carbine, and the .30-06.

Since we’ve been talking long-range performance in the mountains of Afghanistan…the good old .30-06 M2 service load, at 600 yards, is still traveling just under 1500 feet per second, packs 731 foot-pounds of energy, and has dropped 75-inches from a 300-yard zero. The .276 at the same range, roughly calculated, would be traveling around 1400 fps, have just under 600 ft-lbs, and have only 6o inches of drop with the same 300-yard zero.

The discussion is irrelevant. As I said earlier, infantry small arms are low man on the totem pole, especially when it comes to spending tax money. General Douglas “Dugout Doug” MacArthur canceled the project because we had tons of WWI-vintage .30-06 ammo to shoot up. Thankfully, John Cassius Garand had originally designed his rifle around the .30-06. He took it from a ten-shot .276 to an 8-shot .30-06 and gave us the “finest battle implement ever devised”.

What might have been...

After World War Two the concept popped up again, with the British tweaking two different universal 7mm loads. The one they decided on as the best was the .280 British, 7x43mm, firing bullets in the 130-140-grain range at around 2,500 fps. The .280 had half the recoil of the .303 British and actually out-performed it at long ranges, deemed accurate out to 800 meters. They even had a revolutionary ahead-of-its-time lightweight bullpup rifle for it, the EM-2. The British naively suggested this as the new NATO standard rifle cartridge. Others, such as the Belgians and Canadians wanted it too, but these United States balked and wouldn’t adopt no “furriner’s” caliber. We then bullied everyone else in NATO into adopting the 7.62x51mm NATO/ .308. That happened to turn out pretty well too, with the FAL, G3, M14, GPMG, MG3, etc. (Notice I do not include the awful M60 in the list).

Actually, the British .280 could be adopted as-was nowadays. What we’re playing with is going in the direction the Scandinavians discovered at the turn of the last century in the 6.5x55mm Swedish. Tests showed the 7mm to be deadlier and the 6.5mm to be the most accurate. The 6.8mm Remington SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) was developed by the Special Operations boys as the best of both worlds, splitting the difference between the two. They have not been real happy with the 5.56mm’s performance either.

The 6.8 fires a 115-bullet at 2600 fps, and the 6.5 a 120-grain at 2600. Both of the candidates bitch-slap the 5.56mm in just about every category. In addition to being incredibly accurate, (sub-MOA groups out to 600 yards from test rifles) the 6.5 Grendel actually catches the .308 at about 600 yards and outperforms it energy-wise from there on out. The 6.8 is supposedly easier to adapt to the AR/M16 platform. Which one is the best? I don’t know. I would lean towards the 6.5. I haven’t fired either one nor closely watched the functional issues in regards to their successful or unsuccessful use in AR-types weapons (you'll have to pry one into my cold dead hands), ‘cause the Pentagon wonks obviously aren’t going to adopt a whole new weapon. We’ll be lucky if we get a new caliber.

Red=7.62x51mm NATO
Green=6.5 Grendel
Yellow=6.8 Remington
Blue=5.56x45mm NATO

Forget about the 7mm; that’s right out. Unlike the other two contenders, it can’t be made to fit into the AR/M16 platform regarding magazines and receiver length, so money and politics hold trump again. This frugality on the part of big government drones and hacks so they can spend money on big shiny toys militarily and piss away trillions domestically actually, as usual, backfires on them and winds up wasting a hecku of a lot more money than just adopting new small arms would.

In Afghanistan, American forces are dropping $70,000 JDAM bombs and the British Tommies are firing $100,000 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to achieve kills on the Taliban opposition, sometimes even individual kills, because they can't reach them with a 25-cent small arms round.

"I got him! I got him!"

Lacking guided missiles myself, I guess I’ll have to stick with the FN-FAL and the SUIT scope to regain the infantryman’s hale half kilometer.


Anonymous said...

Good info. I had looked at the 6.8 SPC but decided against because of the price and availability of ammo. Going to have to go take a closer look at the 6.5 Grendel. Thanks much


Unknown said...

Well Bawb, you know tinker me. I have gone over both the 6.8 and the 6.5 for a few years now. With the newer 6.8 SPCII chambering they are getting much closer to the 6.5. Brass for the 6.8 is about $400/1000 right now (forget the cheap once fired military brass, there ain't none). 6.5 brass is even higher than that. I have been looking at building a 6.8 for the oldest when he starts hunting next year.