For the first time since the M14 was issued in the early days of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army is giving serious consideration to bringing the battle rifle back to war.
According to multiple sources, what started out as a directed requirement for a 7.62 NATO Designated Marksmanship Rifle for issue to Infantry Rifle Squads has grown in scope to increase the Basis of Issue to all personnel in Brigade Combat Teams and perhaps beyond. The genesis of this requirement is overmatch. The troops feel like they’re in a street fight with a guy with longer arms. The 7.62x54R cartridge gives the enemy those longer arms.
Consequently, the Army wants to enable the rifleman to accurately engage targets at a further range than the current 5.56mm. Although at this point, I’ll keep that exact exact distance close to the vest. The goal here is to foster a dialogue about the 7.62 requirement in general, and not offer operational specifics.
It’s important to establish right up front that 7.62mm is not the Army’s end goal. The “Interim” component of this capability’s name relies on a plan to eventually adopt one of the 6.5mm family of intermediate calibers. Currently, elements of the Army are evaluating .260, .264 USA and .277 USA. The .260 is commercially available while .264 USA and .277 USA are developments of the Army Marksmanship Unit. Unfortunately, the US Army doesn’t plan to conduct an intermediate caliber study until the early 2020s. That’s why they want to adopt 7.62mm now. The idea is to adopt the Battle Rifle to deal with a newly identified threat with what’s available now, and transition the fleet to an intermediate caliber cartridge, once its selected. Additionally, the transition to this proposed intermediate caliber cartridge is possible from a 7.62 platform. Such a transition is all-but-impossible with the current 5.56 receiver sets.
Presently, the military will likely be best served by bringing in a commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution, choosing from a range of 7.62 NATO rifles currently available on the market to handle the duties required of a battle rifle until a single long-term replacement for both the 5.56 NATO and 7.62 NATO is developed. Presently, the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) is testing several cartridges in the 6.5mm to 6.8mm range which may give soldiers more punch and longer range, but at the cost of the amount of ammunition a solider can practically carry, and with significantly greater recoil than the 5.56 NATO “poodle shooter.”
The demand for a battle rifle comes primarily from the Afghan War, where insurgents are ambushing U.S. forces with 7.62x54R machine guns from beyond the practical engagement range of soldiers and Marines armed with 5.56 NATO M4 carbines. 7.62 NATO battle rifles would once again allow rank and file soldiers (and not just designated marksmen and snipers) the ability to reach out beyond 500-600 meters to where enemy combatants have preferred to engage.
Its far too early to know if the Army will look to integrating one of the 7.62 NATO semi-automatic rifles currently used by SOCOM or sniper teams as their choice of battle rifle, or if they will instead look to issuing an RFP for a new battle rifle entirely.