A Soviet Look at Cold War Small Arms Development

I have covered various elements of small arms development during the Cold War more than a few times – usually involving the contentious process that led to the 7.62mm NATO cartridge being adopted, and the various rifles that failed to make the cut in the process. What I have not posted before, though, is a look at the state of small arms development as seen from behind the Iron Curtain.

Well, I was pointed to a declassified CIA translation of a Soviet Ministry of Defense assessment of small arms from 1965. Originally published in the journal “Military Thought”, the article explores the general trends and current (as of 1965) small arms used by the armies of the US, England, France, West Germany, and the USSR.

It should probably not be surprising that the authors came to the conclusion that Soviet small arms were superior to Western ones, but I think they make some pretty compelling points, and I might agree with them if someone forced me to choose sides. The fundamental difference in thought between the two sides was than the Soviets chose to use separate cartridges for infantry rifles (7.62×39) and machine guns (7.62x54R) while the West chose to use a single cartridge for both (7.62×51, and 7.5×54 by the French). For the West this led to an awkward area of choosing between weight and automatic fire effectiveness, as evidenced by the poor performance of all the Western rifles (M14/15, FAL, G3) in delivering automatic fire. The Soviets, by comparison, had the RPD and RPK which used their lighter infantry rifle cartridge and were thus able to deliver more accurate automatic fire without needing to be so heavy as to impact mobility. The M16 and the 5.56mm cartridge is viewed in the article as a newly developing American solution to this problem.

The article also compares the PK machine gun to its Western counterparts, the M60, AA52, MG-1, and MAG-58. Once again it judges the Soviet gun to be the best, and once again I think I would agree. Across the board, the Soviet designs tended to emphasize limiting weight in a way that did not appear to be as important to Western militaries. The PK in particular is a superb example of functionality and reliability in a package that is not unnecessarily heavy.

Anyway, there is a lot more in the 23 pages of translated article (handguns, the 5.56mm cartridge, submachine guns, etc), and I found it all interesting reading. For example, the Soviet habit of quantifying expected hits/minute from different guns depending on engagement range. I have not found an explanation of how these numbers are derived, but they are interesting to see…

Military Thought (USSR): Some Points on the Status and Development of Small Arms (1965, English translation)
Military Thought (USSR): Some Points on the Status and Development of Small Arms (1965, English translation)



  1. Very good read and find Ian however there is a tendancy across history of military forces thinking the other sides gear is better than theres.

  2. Thanks Ian,
    Interesting data. Obviously, it appears that the Soviet Block and the U.S. led West had different ideas on what their nations needed to fight the “next” war. It would appear that the U.S. leaders were looking at was fighting the last war. Their thoughts appear to have been of fighting battles on the plains of Europe with weapons and ammunition that would be best used at longer ranges. Their weapons of choice were not suited for automatic fire. I hate to say it, but we know that the U.S. forced the NATO cartridge down our NATO partners’ throat but couldn’t produce an automatic rifle to successfully deal with a cartridge of that power level. You’ve already told us that the FN rifles being designed were originally designed to fire an intermediate cartridge.
    The Soviets were already engaged in producing the AK and it’s ammunition and used that platform to produce their machineguns.

    • Often overlooked, John C. Garand not only designed the M1 rifle, he also designed the machinery and physical plant to build the things. I.e. the rifle, and the production line for it both. For that reason, Ordnance and Springfield armory were desirous of a “product improved” M1 Garand. With Coronet and Olympus on Kyushu and Honshu scheduled as “Downfall” in Nov. 1945, the idea was basically an M1 Garand with the BAR’s detachable box magazine… The BM59 prototype, if you will. Hence, postwar, the whole M14 development shenanigans: a “product improved M1 Garand” that could also, albeit only in theory, eliminate the M1 and M2 carbine, BAR, and various SMGs from the inventory in favor of a single “weapon system” based on the Garand system.

    • ” U.S. forced the NATO cartridge down our NATO partners’ throat but couldn’t produce an automatic rifle to successfully deal with a cartridge of that power level”
      What newer 7.62×51 NATO cartridge can which older .30-06 can’t?
      It is shorter, but as it is 0.59″ difference its influence on machine gun overall length is negligible.
      I suspect that changing .30-06 to 7.62×51 give more losses than profits.

      • Picked up a Model 1891 Argentine Mauser a few years ago, so I got interested in the 7.65x53mm cartridge. Also got a MAS 36 recently, so now I’m loading 7.5x54mm French. Looking at these cartridges and then looking at the 7.62x51mm you kind of have to say “Why bother?” with the 7.62 NATO. They could have settled on either of the older cartridges with updated loadings and got the same performance (though you probably don’t want a world where old Mausers and higher pressure 7.65s co-exist). The only real advantage I see to the 7.62 NATO is that some guys got to put “We invented it” on their resumes. Looking back it seems to me the logical course in the ’50’s would have been for NATO to standardize on the .30-06 for the GPMG role and an intermediate cartridge for the rifle cartridge.

        • Looking at either the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser cartridge or the “medium” 7.65x53mm Argentine/Belgian/Turkish/ Mauser cartridges and looking at either 7.5x54mm Mle. 1929 French or 7.62x51mm one must ask “Why bother?” Only nationalism gave rise to the 7.5mm French… First it was quite close to the 8x57mm then the 6.5mm Swedish, but 1mm bigger like… The Swiss cartridge. Why not standardize with Belgium since they’re going to be where the Germans are likely to strike?

          I say that as a bonafide MAS 36 and 49/56 aficionado who will have to load for the cartridge.

          .30-06 was already the Nato standard when the 7.62x51mm was developed… Even France had about a quarter million M1s in inventory.

        • D & CC;

          The 7.62 NATO was developed from, not the .30-06 as most people think, but the .300 Savage;


          The reason was that the .30-06 (7.62 x 63) really didn’t work very well through a fully-automatic weapon unless it had a very powerful operating system with gobs of excess bolt thrust. This meant it had to be built very sturdily, which meant added mass.

          The T-51 cartridge as it was originally known was intended to be more easily accommodated by light-to-medium weight full-auto weapons. Remember, Army Ordnance had tried to build an “Americanized” MG-42 during the war in .30-06, and had had a rather embarrassing failure when they forgot that the ’06 round was 6mm longer than the original 7.9 x 57. (Result; too short a receiver. Oops.) They didn’t want a repeat of that debacle’ with their new GPMG, the T43 (later the M-60 of noisome memory).

          Another factor was barrel tooling. The U.S. and most of Western Europe had billions invested in tooling for 7.5 to 8mm weapons, and going to a new bore spec, even an “optimized” one, wasn’t going to fly with the paymasters in the legislatures who were telling everyone that the Next War would be over in ten seconds in a blinding flash with no winners but the cockroaches. (And themselves after they crawled out of the bunkers under mountains, but they didn’t mention that bit in public.)

          The 7.62 x 51 round could fire the same bullets at nearly the same velocities as the ’06, so the same barrel tooling could be carried over, just with a new chamber spec.

          It’s interesting to note that the Belgian FN FAL and Spanish CETME rifles (the latter the forerunner of the H&K series) were originally designed around the wartime German 7.9 x 33 Kurz round of the Haenel MKb42/MP43/StG44 series. FN had the SAFN as well, a prewar design intended for 7.9 x 57 and .30-06, that they sold worldwide in the early postwar years and basically bankrolled the FAL project.

          This may be one reason for the FAL’s legendary “bang-bang-jam” syndrome in full-auto mode; the 7.62 x 51 is really over-powered for the rifle’s operating system.

          The FAL was also built experimentally for the British 0.280in (7 x 43)round, which oddly enough was in fact developed from the .30-06 by a process not unlike the process by which the .270 Winchester had been created two decades earlier; a neck-down, but with a case-shortening thrown in unlike the .270 which retains full ’06 case length and powder capacity.

          At least a couple of experimental rifles were built in the U.S. for the 0.280, I suspect using 7 x 57 Mauser barrel tooling. (Both Winchester and Remington chambered sporting rifles in that caliber.)

          The 0.280 never had a chance, because of all that 0.30in tooling in inventory. The .30 was going to win, and everybody pretty much knew it up front.

          What makes the whole exercise mildly ridiculous, including the “optimized” 0.280in, is that the round everybody needed was already “around”, and had been for six decades. Namely, the 7 x 57 Mauser. The 0.280, .7.62 x 51, and yes, even the modern-day 6.8 SPC, are all basically “ballistic twins” of the 7 x 57.

          The unmodified 7 x 57, or even one shortened to a “compromise” 50mm case length, would have been just about what they needed.

          As for a rifle needing long range, that’s less of a factor in Europe than it is in the MidEast. As Army Ordnance and the Infantry School found in studies done after V-E Day, the average range of rifle engagement in Europe was between 100 and 300 yards, simply because in deciduous forest country that’s about as far as you’re likely to be able to see from ground level, anyway. In jungle, as in the SWPA, it was more like 50 to 100 yards.

          There’s a reason the U.S. built 6 million M1 series .30 Carbines during the war compared to about 1 million M1 Garands. The Carbine, with a maximum effective range of about 300 yards and a higher effective rate of fire than the Garand, was pretty nearly ideally suited for infantry combat in Europe and the Pacific both.

          The selective-fire M2 was the best of all; lighter (6 lbs.) and more accurate than any SMG, and the .30 Carbine’s 110-grain bullet left the muzzle with about 900 foot-pounds of energy, and still had about 450 at 300 yards. Meaning, at 300 it hit as hard as most 9mm or .45 SMGs did at point-blank. And it had greater penetration than even the 7.62 x 25mm Russian ones. In a very real sense, it was the first true “assault rifle”.

          You don’t need a rifle with 1000 yards range in Europe. I’m not sure you even need a GPMG there; that sort of shooting is a heavy MG’s job.

          In hardpan desert, it’s a whole different ball game. About the only limiting factor on visual range in daylight conditions is mirage. There, the more effective range, the better.



          • Ah, yes. Thanks. the 7x57mm Mauser, the “small bore” version of the Mauser triad: 7mm, 7.65mm, 7.92mm for those nations that simply did not have to have their very own, particular cartridge that no one else used. Some Johnson rifles were sold postwar in Latin America for the 7mm crowd, namely Chile and Venezuela.

            What of the SAFN rifle in the odd 7mm caliber produced for Venezuela? I know the SAFN was available in 7mm, 7.65mm, .30-06, and 8x57mm, but wasn’t there that additional caliber? Presumably the FAL design teams used that caliber in addition to the 7.92x33mm kurzpatrone and the .280/7x44mm, yes?

            The M2 carbine? What about all those Chi-coms and KPA with the frozen quilted uniforms and so on? [Heh. I am KIDDING. Seriously. I know that is a myth. I agree with the points about the “first” U.S. “assault rifle” in the form of the M2.]

          • Recall that at least one Soviet theoretician/ballistician/engineeer–apparently a pupil of Fedorov’s–argued in the 1930s that the “ideal caliber” was the .25 Remington! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.25_Remington I believe that A. Williams online articles mention his name. I hope he wasn’t also executed as “a wrecker” or purged in the late 1930s, but who knows?

            The EM-2 was actually adopted by the Labor Attlee gov’t as the No.9 Mk.I. Churchill, having seen how vital U.S. and even Canadian support was to the UK in both WWI and WWII recognized that the U.S. was going to do all the “heavy lifting” for Nato. In a weird way, that the resumption of mass warfare in Central and Eastern Europe would have resulted in the use of nuclear weapons may have influenced the EM-2 and TADEN’s supporters? I mean if U.S. aid is not forthcoming… Why not the EM-2? What boggles my mind (Perhaps I’m easily boggled) is that if the L1A1 SLR in 7.62x51mm Nato trumps the EM-2, and the Bren gun can use the same caliber while the L7 is readied, how in the world did the Patchett 9mm/Sterling Mk.VI trump the EM-2 in the “submachine gun” role?!

            I think that what added insult to injury to the 7.62x51mm as Nato standard was the alacrity with which it was thrown over in favor of the hyper-velocity, small caliber 5.56mm concept … And then additional salt when the U.S. in the 1970s goes down the theoretical rabbit hole of a “new, better” SAW 6mm cartridge.

          • “The U.S. and most of Western Europe had billions invested in tooling for 7.5 to 8mm weapons, and going to a new bore spec, even an “optimized” one, wasn’t going to fly with the paymasters”
            Ok, but you can retain bullet diameter but get lower velocity – as Soviet Union do with 7,62×39 which retain 7,62x54R bullet diameter.

      • The intent behind the 7.62 x 51 was to exploit improvements in powder chemistry over the preceding ~50 years to make a somewhat smaller, somewhat lighter (which adds up when you’re doing logistics on a campaign scale) version of the Cal. .30 M2 ball without sacrificing any of the M2s capabilitu in accuracy, range or velocity.

        They had no illusions they were making an intermediate round. They were giving a standard rifle round a nip and tuck.

      • Shortening the case roughly 1/2″ saves a noticeable amount of war-critical brass, when you’re building cartridges in quantities of billions.

  3. No one will say this, so I guess I’ll have to:

    Since the Cold War ended, the U.S.has gone over to the old Warsaw Pact system to a considerable degree: No more M16A2/A3/A4 *rifles* but M4 carbines with 14-in. barrels vs. the 16-in. Kalashnikov. Magazines go on the chest in a vest, not in magazine pouches on the belt. The USMC now has “automatic rifles” á la RPK. Boy oh boy those RPGs… Let’s get some of that for the infantry platoon… “Designated marksman” á la SVD…Needs a larger cartridge to extend out to the hoary old-timey “rifleman’s quarter mile.” A GPMG? Well, we’ll stick with that “other right arm of the free world” the FN MAG like the PKM for the “unfree world.” Move over AGS-17, we’re rockin’ the full auto Mark19 40mms with more to follow.

    Just sayin’…

    If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you just might be right in your assessment, Ian.

    • I think you are right in your pickin’ Dave. You said it better than I would. That M240 is kind of pityful waste of resource too, isn’t it? I mean part of its vehicle version.

      • The 240 became our new SAW because they determined 4 things;

        1. The 5.56mm was never going to be a good SAW round, as the whole point of the SAW is engaging targets at ranges the squad’s rifles can’t reach (as per not just Red Army but Wehrmacht doctrine with the StG and MG-42).

        2. The M60 truly sucked as a squad machine gun, or any other kind of machine gun. It’s just a lousy design.

        3. There was no way to get 7.62 x 51 SAW range and terminal effectiveness beyond 600 meters out of the 5.56mm M249. Assuming you could even get it to work at all, which is dubious. (Spot-welding the STANAG well spring-flap shut is contra regs, but necessary, which gives you some idea of what a POS the “Minimi” really is.)

        4. The M240 vehicle gun was already in inventory, and worked. (Not surprising, as it’s basically a BAR action converted to belt-feed, and “bulked up” overall for greater durability and stability in full-auto fire.)

        The MAG aka L7 aka 240 Bravo is probably the all-around best GPMG in the world. (Only the German MG-42/59/MG-1/MG-3/Swiss SiG-510 series is technically better, and it’s more expensive to mass-produce.)

        It’s just ironic that it took the U.S. Army almost half-a-century to realize it.



    • “Move over AGS-17, we’re rockin’ the full auto Mark19 40mms with more to follow.”
      First automatic grenade-launcher in Soviet Union was developed in 1930s.
      Namely: Гранатомет Таубина АГ-2 (AG-2; Taubing grenade launcher)
      It fires 40.8mm grenades developed from grenades for Dyakonov rifle grenade launcher.
      First trials were conducted in 1933, in following year small batches of continuously altered grenade-launchers were made.
      In 1937 ОКБ-16 produced 12 examples, ИНЗ-2 produced 24
      In late 1937 it was tested in 3 Rifleman Divisions, it has positive feedback, practical rate-of-fire 100 rpm can be achieved with clips feeding system.
      In 1938 it was tested on riverine of Dnieper Flotilla, again it has positive feedback.
      In December 1939 it was tested against 50mm mortar, results were mixed (in some aspects grenade-launcher was better, in other mortar), finally 50mm mortar was put into production.
      In January 1940 it was battle tested at Karelian Front during Talvisota.
      Principle of operation: long-recoil
      Crew: 2
      Caliber: 40,8mm
      Grenade (shell) mass: 0,59kg
      Maximal range: 1250m
      Rate-of-fire (cyclic): 436 rpm
      Mass (in combat mode): 45,5 kg
      Known variants: 5-round magazine (practical RoF: 50-60 rpm), belt feed (cyclic RoF: 440-460 rpm), blow-back (earlier than long-recoil), aerial:wing-mounted (belt for 15-20 grenades, tested, further development abandoned)

      • Таубин was executed for wrecking (вредительство, Article 58) 28 October 1941, but not for grenade-launcher, but 12.7-mm aerial machine gun (АП-12,7), 23-mm aerial auto-cannon (МП-6), 37-mm automatic-cannon – none worked as intended, but that is another story.

  4. This document is additional proof of something we have all known here on FW ( as well as other knowledgeable forums, pre-Internet included ) for a very long time — that the Soviet Union had a practical, integrated and highly-methodical approach to small arms design, production and employment. Come to think of it, they also used the same principles for their combined-arms tactics and strategy.

    Scott Puckett’s reference to the FAL being originally designed for an intermediate cartridge reminds me of how the British Army realized that the full-powered L1A1 ( FAL ) in 7.62mm x 51 NATO would be of little real-world use in full-auto mode, and therefore configured their rifles for semi-automatic fire only while expanding upon the doctrine that well-placed, consistent aimed shots would be far more effective on the battlefield.

    • “Not a fan of non-disintergrating belts”
      In PK machine gun belt was inherited from older SG (Goryunov) machine gun.

  5. We over the Iron curtain never thought that way (that soviet weapons and their respective calibers were superior), myself had been admirer of M16 idea. But as learning process continues I am now inclined to believe it.

    The light impulse of M43 round led to such extremity as “ultralight” Vz.58 with its 2.7kg empty (in Czech terminology called appropriately “sub-machine gun”). But yes, there was something positive about it; I do not thing I’d like to lug around with G3 or FAL.

    As far as PKM, it keeps me wondering how they managed to make an obsolescent round work in such an utterly reliable and portable package. The only upgrade would be its Polish version in 7.62 NATO. What was in my opinion a total flop in western thinking was Minimi (M249). It appears the U.S. Army procurement is slowly starting to realize it.

    • Some rifles are made for carrying, others for shooting. If most casualties are from machine guns, you accept compromise with rifles to have a better machine gun. Or per Soviet experience, with few machine guns supporting large numbers of infantry, a specialized rifle cartridge, with compromised machine guns (having a specialized MG cartridge does compromise the machine gun capability.)

  6. It would be interesting to see the same sort of paper that supported the switch to the smaller diameter round for the AK-74.

    Some of the paper seems to be wishful thinking, especially page 16 where the AKM was supposed to be superior in hit probability over both the FAL and the M-14 at 600 meters. And on page 21 the FAL had a maximum range of 600 meters while the AKM had a range of 1000 meters? While I am not discounting the very real advances the Soviets made in small arms, I think that the paper had a sense of affirming the superiority of everything Soviet no mater what.

    Also, some of these papers (regardless of the country writing them) have a tendency to start with a premise of what proper small arms doctrine is, then look at what arms support that doctrine. If one’s arms were designed to support the small unit doctrine one has, there is a good chance they will be vastly superior to another country’s arms that were developed for a different doctrine. The comparisons are more meaningful when two countries have the same doctrine.

    The paper did not bring up the subject of terminal ballistics (unless I missed it)–it seemed to assume that all hits were equal. It also seemed to have no interest in performance against any sort of armor or cover. It had a premise, if I read it right, that Soviet troops would be on full-auto at all times with the AKM. I wonder if the idea was that troops with limited rifle training would be better off in getting off as much fire as possible to get some hits–as opposed to WWII US GI training that included the shooting sling, windage estimation, range estimation, and shooting logs where every shot fired was called. I won’t argue that that (full auto at 600 yards with a rifle) is or is not a good doctrine, but if that was the doctrine it is no surprise that the NATO rifles did not measure up.

    • Using M43 round, the practical shooting range in the type of unit I served with was up to 200m, short burst. That’s realistic – just barely although I heard that first line units were training with their rifles out to 400m. That was with solid butt version, however.

    • “page 16 where the AKM was supposed to be superior in hit probability over both the FAL and the M-14 at 600 meters. And on page 21 the FAL had a maximum range of 600 meters while the AKM had a range of 1000 meters?”

      That’s exactly as far as the rearsight goes on each rifle 🙂 (although for instance the rearsight on the Dutch FAL has no elevation adjustment so is zeroed for 300m via the front sight and that’s it, but most go to 600m).

      Although I suspect you’re right that the aim of the paper was to big up the Soviet decisions on smallarms doctrine and downplay the NATO choices.

      • I agree…that part of the report on pg 16 is BS. Their doctrine is sound for close combat and the 7.62 was a mistake in hind sight. But having a 223 light machine gun is not the answer for infantry at distance. The M16 light was the correct rifle. Remember the 5.56mm got the Soviets to move to the 5.45×39 and then we should have been on equal footing ballistically. They now had 3 different rounds for their soldiers and just like US. We Americans love our bullseye accuracy but, that does not play out in what I read about combat. Just remember that the 5.56mm did not cut the mustard in wide open country and the M14 was resurrected in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Also 77 gr 5.56 was wanted by all. So maybe the 276 was the right direction aka 6.8.

  7. A very interesting document, thank you for sharing it Ian.
    I wholly agree with Scott Pucket’s assessment so I’ll take it from there.
    The USA forced the Nato round on everyone else and then proceeded to design an absolutely awful general purpose machine gun, the M60, instead of adopting the FN-MAG or the MG1 made under licence, in the next generation they adopted the FN-Minimi, so there was some benefit from the experience. The Soviet document runs comparisons against the M60, which is very convenient for them, but overlooks the significantly better FN-MAG (GMPG in the UK) and the MG1.
    The standard sniper’s rifle in the UK in my time was a highly modified Lee-Enfield, much more accurate than the FN which had a relatively short barrel. The FN could take all sorts of sights, so perhaps at the time ow writing its shortcomings were not fully known. Soldiers were trained to engage individual targets up to 300 m, and with multiple shooters up to 600 m. Beyond that you call for the MG group. The report also overlooks the resurection of the Bren in the squad automatic role, but perhaps that came later.
    There are several errors in the document, obviously translated by someone not entirely conversant with small-arms otherwise they’d never have missed the length of the 7.62 Nato round quoted as 21 mm!

    Soviet doctrine seems vaguely reminiscent of those episodes in WW2 when waves of soldiers armed with PPSh submachine guns (and wearing American boots, transported in American trucks, etc…) would charge the nazis, the unarmed second wave picking up guns from the fallen. The Western powers were still smarting from the logistic complexities of different calibers (for instance, no 9 mm weapons were fielded in the Italian campaign, the Allies’ small caliber was .45 ACP, to avoid one more hassle), and from the long range effectiveness of German fire, specially from experienced troops.
    In the end Nato lost the short range firepower, and the lack of accuracy of the automatic rifles did not make up for that at the longer ranges.
    The British were right with their EN2 and 7.1 mm cartridge, but nobody would listen.

    • “The British were right with their EN2 and 7.1 mm cartridge, but nobody would listen.”
      I assume that you mean EM-2 rifle or Rifle No.9 Mk1.
      What a irony that this rifle WAS officially adopted and later revoked.
      BTW: How does British Ordnance Officers react when USA adopted 5.56 considering that earlier they rejected .280 British saying “too weak”?

    • ~Soviet doctrine seems vaguely reminiscent of those episodes in WW2 when waves of soldiers armed with PPSh submachine guns (and wearing American boots, transported in American trucks, etc…) would charge the nazis, the unarmed second wave picking up guns from the fallen.~

      History is not you strongest point is it. There was no such things as a human waves attacks wasn’t in Korea with the Chinese nor was it in case of Soviets in WWII. And do please find me this Soviet soldiers wear American boots.(Hint it’s a rarity) By the end of the war 77% of trucks in Soviet service were domestic production, 4% captured and 19% imported.


      Also Enemy at the Gates is a movie and not exactly the most accurate one. (Hint “One gets the gun, the other gets the ammo” is a myth)

  8. “The article also compares the PK machine gun to its Western counterparts, the M60, AA52, MG-1, and MAG-58. Once again it judges the Soviet gun to be the best, and once again I think I would agree.”
    Also notice that Soviet Stepanov 6T5 tripod is much lighter than M122 tripod (4.5kg vs 7.3kg)

  9. I wish NATO would have developed a “heavy ball” AKA 30-06 Ball M-1 for support weapons and fielded an intermediate cartridge such as 280 Enfield for individual riflemen.

    Having dealt with the 240B and the PK I think the lighter weight of the PK is more conducive to Light Infantry operations. The FN MAG is a wonderful weapon but too heavy as compared to lighter options. Especially with hot weather and body armor. I always had to give my 240 gunners a break. The pace was set by the Machine Gunners.

  10. Were the expected hits per minute based on a function of cyclic rate of fire and recoil?

    It is interesting that the article put a lot of focus on the cartridges but not so much on the rifles themselves. Benchmarking one’s arms against other countries could show areas of potential improvement in ergonomics and such, or even in operating mechanisms. It almost appears that the writers did not have good access to some of the Western weapons and went off of specs on paper. I’m surprised that they had not managed to acquire some one way or another.

    There was no mention of reliability or durability, surely an area where the Soviets could claim to be the best. Did they assume that every other arm was just as reliable, or in a large conflict would the occasional jam not matter?

    Things like the designated marksman and a focus on light belt-fed machine guns started with the Germans and the Russians learned from that experience–but what happened with West Germany, did it continue on with those concepts or not and if so did they try to influence NATO accordingly? Anyone know?

    • Recall that the German Bundeswehr was formed well after Nato’s creation. So West Germany initially relied on .30-06 as the former de-facto Nato standard cartridge, then acquired FALs. The old German prototype StG45 roller-lock “cheaper than the StG44 Wunderwaffe” went to Spain–along with folks like Otto Skorzeny–became the 8mm CETME prototype in Franco’s Spanish State, and then returned to Deutschland, the western part anyway, as the G3 7.62x51mm rifle. The MG3 never left, of course. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal etc. followed shortly, and since it was cheaper to build than the FAL,and had German cachet, it was not long before HK built factories and it went into widespread use with any number of nations.

      The German WWII 7.92x33mm cartridge influenced Belgian designers, certainly. The DDR Nationale Volksarmee initially used the 7.92x33mm StG44, as did the Czechs to an extent and to some degree–primarily paratroops–the Yugoslavs. It is thought that the Algerian FLN got some of those “assault rifles”from those sources.

      West Germany initially balked at 5.56mm and was headed in the direction of 4.9 G11 until the Cold War ended, and the Bundeswehr fell into line with the rest of Nato with the G36, albeit using the post-re-unification AK bayonets from the former DDR NVA.

      • Understood that the German army was dismantled for a time–what I was wondering was if any of the small unit tactics / doctrine from WWII (e.g., designated marksmen and heavy emphasis on light belt fed machine guns) made it into the West German army and if so did it have any affect on any of the other NATO countries. Did any of the NCO’s from the war go into the West German army, or was it all remade from scratch?

        • Quite a few former servicemen from the war years were incorporated into the post-war Bundeswehr, where their battlefield and operational experiences proved invaluable and probably influenced the new army’s tactics and strategy. This same inclusion extended to the Bundessmarine and Luftwaffe as well. Perhaps the best-known examples are the post-war careers of former wartime ace Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff ( who rose to become the Commander-in-Chief of the new Luftwaffe ) and Josef Kammhuber, former head of the wartime Nachtjagd ( night fighter forces ), who became the Inspekteur der Bundesluftwaffe.

  11. Just a comment based on personal experience rather than charts and graphs and colored arrows. The received wisdom that selective fire carbines firing intermediate cartridges on full auto are invincible and those who held out for full power semiautomatic weapons and aimed fire were all fools and morons, or worse, seems to be carved in stone these days. But when light infantry armed with the soviet suite of firearms (And superior numbers to boot.) actually collided head on with light infantry armed with those obsolete, useless, 7.62mm NATO firearms (FNFAL and FNMAG) the ratatattat guys got massacred. Badly. Every time. I was present and participated. When you are stacking the dead enemy like cord wood, with their AKs, RPKs, and PKs piled on the side for the Intel wallahs to sort out and police up you don’t have the slightest inclination to swap weapons. For what it may be worth.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

    • With all due respect, may you have dealt with insurgency rather than properly trained troops? Not sure. Did you have chance to deal with Cubans?

      Same time though, I am inclined to think that semi-auto 7.62×51 has its merits.

      • Certainly no perfect single round for all situations. My understanding is the AK was meant for use when the foot soldiers are mixed in with the armored vehicles.

        I wonder if a round like the 7.62×51 could be used in constant force full auto. Like the Ultimax 100 dis with the 5.56. Or the newer M4 type of arm that J. Sullivan designed and was tested by Ian and Karl.

        • My perception thru earlier times was that soviets had as a priority “firepower thru volume” which was result of WW2 experience; I am talking 50-60s. In literature I had read it was typically mentioned that West was about single aimed fire. In true quest however, one has to have heckuva strong nerve to carry on with his aimed fire. I believe that was route of soviet/ WP thinking of the earlier part of CW period.

          Of course, in time it seem to almost reverse and both sides are/ were aiming to combination of both modes. When you look at AK74 or M4 for that matter, it pretty well testifies to that direction.

      • Who do you think quits first, the people used to cushy middle-class life or the people who think they’ve got nothing more to lose since they’ve lived with everything stolen from them by European Colonialists for as long as they can remember? Please, the Vietnam War was more of a stalemate with America giving up just on the verge of victory… Or am I wrong?

        SAY SOMETHING!!!!!!

        • Say what, exactly? I mean there are bromides of course: “Charlie didn’t get much USO. He was running too fast. Or dug in too deep. His idea of R&R was cold rice. A little rat meat. For him there was no going home. Only victory…”It was ARVN’s and PAVN’s country, after all.

          I disagree that Vietnam was a stalemate. The U.S. was defeated. As for “the ratatatatt guys” were concerned, I was once told by a marine officer that their base was under constant harassment fire by mortars and rockets. HQ drew up a table of each weapon’s range, rate of fire, etc. etc. and superimposed a grid over a detailed topographical map. The idea was that if ARVN and/or marine patrols tramped through all of the known and suspected launching sites with aggressive patrolling, the mortaring and rocket fire would be halted. And so it was. Victor Charlie simply decided the new opportune way to deliver high explosives was through land mines, what with all the extra “boots on the ground.” And so modern “asymmetric warfare” goes…

          No one, ok, so almost no one, relishes the prospect of being heaped up five deep or “stacked like cord wood.” So the insurgencies–not very many–I am most familiar with have striven to use various delivery methods for high explosives that assure that the insurgents won’t be around for the return fire: From about ’83 through ’88 this typified the Salvadoran FMLN, all parties at all phases of the Angolan civil war, and yes, the “American War” in Vietnam saw lavish and even indiscriminate use of land mines. The Salvadoran FMLN even copied the VC “sapper” tactics and crept through the wire of bases to hand deliver high explosives as, literally, “tubeless heavy artillery.” In the Middle East, aka. “the sand box” remotely detonated bombs or “IEDs” as the nom du jour had them were often literally tubeless artillery shells put in vehicles–here’s where the kamikaze/suicide bomber who does relish the prospect of his or her death comes in–or buried alongside the road network in increasingly elaborate and devious ways.

    • “But when light infantry armed with the soviet suite of firearms (And superior numbers to boot.) actually collided head on with light infantry armed with those obsolete, useless, 7.62mm NATO firearms (FNFAL and FNMAG) the ratatattat guys got massacred. ”
      Does they preceded its attack with heavy artillery fire? If not then they were not compatible with Soviet doctrine which states that:
      the speed of deployment by artillery units decides the outcome of the battle

      • NATO forces have NEVER gone up against actual Soviet Cold War doctrine forces, having the equipment, doctrine, logistics, AND TRAINING of the Soviet Red Army.\

        Stacking up poorly untrained and worse equipped Third World insurgents operating without ANY of the Soviet doctrine of combined arms, in the levels specified by that doctrine, doesn’t count, even if the insurgents have all Soviet style gear for what they do have. (Of course, if they *could* institute Soviet doctrine properly, in terms of equipment, logistics, and training, they wouldn’t BE insurgents, would they?)

        I suspect NATO forces likely would have prevailed in the end — but which rifles and machine guns each side fielded would have been roughly as significant in the ultimate outcome as what their dress uniforms looked like.

  12. Daweo: Quite right, EM-2 rifle, my spelling mistake, perhaps sub-conciously thinking of Enfield. I have no idea what the Ordinance people think of the shift to 5,56 mm, they had their ouwn hyper-velocity round in development, a 4.8 mm incarnation that saw a few weapons made and tested before the current rifle begun its (protracted and arduous) development. As far as I know the two had nothing in common beyond being bullpup designs.
    W. Fleetwood: Hosepipe tactics are a frequent excuse for poor marksmanship training, and that’s where the difference comes in. Accurate semi-auto fire at 300 metres beats Kalashnikov jitters at the same range, no doubt about that. The British had an enviable reputation for marksmanship training from the time they adopted the Martini-Henry rifle, I have no idea how they rate today. In my day we were supposed to knock down 12″ x 12″ steel plates starting at 200 m then 100 m, with limited time and ammunition, 30 plates for a section, 10 for the MG group and 20 for the riflemen.

  13. Since it’s come up. Who says insurgents aren’t trained? I worked with quite a few who had received literally the same training as a Soviet infantryman or NCO, sometimes in the USSR itself, sometimes in a satellite country. On the range they shot targets just as well as the average conscript soldier, maybe no better but certainly no worse.

    Cubans? We killed people wearing Cuban uniforms and ID cards, but they were individuals. (Advisers? Observers? Lost? I dunno and, being dead, they weren’t talking.) For what it’s worth, I knew folks who fought Cuban formations and they reported the Cubanos as no better than ZIPRA, ZANLA, SWAPO, FAPLA, etc. in terms of delivering small arms fire, although they were also said to be Lord-Have-Mercy better with indirect fire weapons.

    As to range, again based my experience, the shorter the range, the more lethal aimed semiautomatic fire becomes. Yes, at some range all fire becomes effectively random but short of that range actually aiming at the target, as opposed to attempting to increase the random chance of a hit via “rate of fire”, works.

    By the way, my main point (Apparently not very well made. “Negative spot report, Fleetwood”.) wasn’t that a particular cartridge or firearm is superior to all others, but that personal experience trumps any amount of theory and doctrine. And frankly, it trumps anybody else’s personal experience too. One of the best NCOs I ever served with held that upon contact every soldier in the unit should unload one magazine on full auto, reload and unload another one on semiauto then load a third one and wait for orders. Period. Every time. Regardless of circumstance. This had seen him through two fighting tours in Vietnam, he had lived to tell about it, and That was That. By Jesus. Do I accept his and my views as equally valid? Ah, no, I’m right and he’s wrong. But I do accept that he came to his viewpoint the hard way and nothing I or anyone else can say will change it.

    Again, just my two cents, for what they may be worth. Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

    • I understand – there is no other way than the personal one, if you managed to survive. I also understand that starting to shoot is not only half of the job. The more important is to be able to handle being shot.

      • Hi, Denny :

        Great to read your comments, as always. I trust that you had a very good Christmas with your family and friends, and I hope all is well.

        W. Fleetwood certainly presents an interesting and workable viewpoint based on his personal experiences in a unique theater of operations at a time when the painful and unfortunate tenets of the Cold War were at their peak, as evidenced by the numerous and widespread proxy-driven conflicts across the globe.

        I have a question for you — did you mean in your last sentence to actually say “handle being shot at”, or did you literally mean “handle being shot” (since the reaction/response and end result would probably differ quite a lot between the two)?

        Thanks in advance for your consideration.

        • Thanks for your greetings and returning my own!

          I look at any conflict and preparation in following manner (actually very similarly as Kurdish Peshmerga): when you put on uniform and take gun to your hand, you are half dead already because you made yourself a target. The second half is in hand of luck and may or may not happen.

          I do not have actual combat experience and thus do not have troubled conscience – lucky me. But I had firearms (and some were hefty calibers) loaded and aimed at me. I never thought that they might actually fire, or better to say, I did not care at that time.

    • At the time of Cuba’s Maniobra XXXI operations in southern Angola, the FAPLA and Cubans enjoyed air superiority, and the SADF may have had sophisticated artillery and vehicles and so on, but the suite of small arms was based on the 5.56mm R4 Galil, no? Why the switch to what the ratatatatt guys were using? Same in Vietnam: M14 is the “best ever” but the bean counters insist full-auto makes General Inductees more confident in the ability to effectively beat the foe…Bring on the “best ever-why-it-doesn’t-even-need-to-be-cleaned” M16 space gun. The other bean counters keep the 20-rd. magazine until ’69.

      • Let’s see. Win the battles, lose the war, how’d that happen? Damn good question, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. So have the veterans of Korea, and Vietnam, and Iraq, and (In my opinion, coming real soon now.) Afghanistan. I have come to some conclusions but none that involve small arms. I also have trouble articulating my thoughts on that subject without using large doses of Soldierspeech which Ian would then have to clean up and wipe down and there’s no reason to do that to the fella.

        Why did the SADF go to the R4? Because #Israelis B Cool! of course. Why did the Israelis, after winning a massive one sided victory go scampering off after the weapons of the losers? You got me whipped on both sides.

        Again, for what it’s worth. Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

        • A gun is only as useful as its user. And if you give a great item to “Leroy Jenkins,” that item is as good as lost unless the idiot has the world’s best luck… On a bigger scale, any commander who doesn’t really get a grip of the overall picture generally loses if he’s stuck wondering why Friendly Tank Division [X] cannot dislodge Enemy Infantry Unit [J] while Desperate Enemy Straggler Squad [K] sneaks up behind him just to spill his coffee. And usually the army with the worst commanders and worst logistics loses!

          • “And usually the army with the worst commanders and worst logistics loses!”
            Also consider that after development of internal combustion engine (early 20th century) which allow building effective AFV and aeroplanes; fast-firing artillery (see for example French 75mm gun model 1897) and later jet-engines (1940s) which allow building even better aeroplanes and finally atomic (nuclear) bomb, no-one (in 1950s) excepted battles to be decided by hand-held fire-arms fire.

      • Dave,

        As Ian has demonstrated at length, the M14 is not a particularly good gun compared to the AR-15. In fact it’s downright awful. People defend it purely out of misplaced nostalgia. Ian’s work on the issue has led me to the conclusion that reports of AR-15s malfunctioning in Vietnam were exaggerated or apocryphal – lest we forget Col. Hal Moore, “Ia Drang was won by the American infantryman and the M-16 rifle.”

        W Fleetwood,

        The superiority of intermediate weapons over full-caliber ones can be demonstrated mathematically. Setting the “weapons of the losers” argument aside given that Western intermediate weapons such as the AR-15 were available, I’m sure you would have appreciated twice as much ammunition, a lighter weapon and more manageable recoil at the time. This would have only added to your tactical superiority.

        I am also insulted by the recent rush, driven by a poorly-informed media and liberals who made their minds up about the matter in 2003, to declare Iraq and Afghanistan to be defeats and failures. The Iraqis are well on their way to defeating an aggressive enemy in conventional war, certainly the test of a successful state in a bad neighborhood, and the Afghans have defied expectations many times now. What I find more concerning is our assumption that local troops, trained to a shoddy standard and without enablers and logistical capabilities we take for granted, can adequately substitute for American troops. We trained the Iraqis to be cannon fodder during the last war there, and now we’re having to go back in and teach them the real stuff – which they have, by all accounts, picked up quite well – so they can win on their own.

        • Armchair: [I’m also an aficionado of comfy armchairs, by the way…] Yes, thanks. I was referring to the mud tests that Ian and crew posted a while back. I intended the use of “best ever” with quotation marks as a signal for irony. Unfortunately, however, the M16 early problems were all too true and it was a serious debacle. There will always be kinks and problems with new weapons, and armed conflict is a terrible place to have to R&D things. The main issue seemed to be the type of propellant loaded in the ammunition being essentially incompatible with the M16, hence the Congressional inquiries and so on.

          • Dave,

            Thanks, I understood your irony. I was merely bouncing off it to comment on the reliability of the AR-15 vs. the M14.

            My point remains – the Congressional report does not substantiate the (probably apocryphal) horror stories regarding the M16’s reliability in Vietnam. Even in its earliest incarnations it appears to have been as or more reliable as the M14.

        • Note that LTC (later LTG, IIRC) Moore’s troops actually received training on their M16s, including teaching the suply specialists and unit NCOs *how* to order cleaning supplies.

          Units that did this (which takes about a *day*) didn’t report significant problems.

          Units (like the Marines) that did not do this had significant problems with the M16.

          Huh… I wonder what the problem was… the rifles, or the failure of the chain of command to train their troops?

  14. Ian:
    If you’re doing an article about Soviet weapons why not do an article about the Korobov TKB bullpup? I’m sure many of the readers probably have never heard of it. I suspect you have some knowledge about it that would dwarf what little I’ve been able to find out about it. Since I discovered it a few years back I always thought it was an amazing piece of military hardware!

  15. Its really weird to think that the soviets used to be big military innovators of their time, when considering how old fashioned their military has become now.

    Their jet fighters are out of date at best considering their mediocre stealth capabilities. Which for some asinine reason, their designers think that stealth is unimportant.
    Their tanks are comparably out of date.
    Their special forces are 1 dimensional in their capabilities (they can toss tomahawks when doing backflips but can’t handle a hostage situation).
    Most importantly, their discipline is… questionable; having an epidemic of sex slavery and sexual assault thats bad even comparability to NATO’s issues.

    • “when considering how old fashioned their military has become now.”
      It is caused by state of Russian economy in 1990s, notice that new weapons development in progress:
      “Their jet fighters are out of date(…)”
      For the possible next Russian fighter see Sukhoi PAK FA
      “Their tanks are comparably out of date”
      For the possible next Russian tank see T-14

      Also don’t forget that new top-performance weapons system are probably held in secret.

    • I would not underestimate them. They have a talent for surprising innovation and that has the potential to wipe out an assumed technical superiority, especially if one’s own weapon systems are highly integrated and the loss of one component in a chain would be disasterous.

      The other thing is that the Russians are developing new weapons. The US used to do that. Every 10 – 20 years a new tank. Every 5 – 10 years a new fighter. Every 10 years a new bomber. Every 10 – 20 years a new rifle. With hardly any really new development going on, what makes one think that experienced engineers an manufacturers will suddenly show up? There are probably less than 1/2 of firms still around from 30 years ago that could bid on a new fighter/bomber/etc. As an older generation retires where is the experience to rapidly develop a design and put it into production?

      No new tank in 30 years, no new ground attack aircraft in almost 40 years, no new bomber in 20 years, no real fleet defense aircraft for carriers other than a 40 year old design that was retired 10 years ago, no really new rifle in half a century. It is a miracle to just replace 50 year old refueling aircraft. The new aircraft have been so expensive that hardly any were built. Sure, lots of upgrades to old systems, but if game-changing technology showe

      • B-52 and Tupolev 52 “Bear” still in the air…! In fact, the Tu-52 was part of the recent aerial bombardment in Syria…

        Small arms designs “plateau” after the Cold War: The Kalashnikov is “good enough” for most nations’s purposes, although the au courant du jour nations opt for the Armalite or its AR-18 derivatives: G36, etc.

        • “Tupolev 52 “Bear” still in the air…! In fact, the Tu-52”
          Planed that is dubbed BEAR by NATO is known in Russia as Tupolev Tu-95 (or Tu-142 – Navy version) not Tu-52

        • Yes, thank you for the correction! I was stuck on thinking “B-52” still in use after 60 years and typed the wrong numbers. Again, thanks. Happy New Year!

  16. Slightly off topic, but this is the right crowd to ask: does anyone know of some good English translations of Soviet-era force ratio documents (e.g. analysis of the ratio of artillery, tanks, etc required for a breakthrough, etc)?


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