Ask Ian: “Last Ditch” Rifles for World War III?

From Thunderchild on Patreon:
“How would you see a modern major nation (US, USSR/Russia, China, etc) simplify their small arms in a large scale war, WW3 or Cold War gone hot? You’ve mentioned in the past how most nations end up having to simplify to meet demands, so why not start simplified?”

The reason for simplified small arms is to increase production speed. During peacetime deployment of new arms, it generally doesn’t really matter how long manufacturing takes, and enough rifles will be built for the standing army and some predetermined number of reserve weapons. Last-ditch guns become a necessity when battlefield wastage and increased conscription combine to demand arms well beyond the production capacity of a country’s industrial base. The only solution is to simplify the design to decrease production time – and the simplifications can’t hinder the effectiveness or safety of the weapon, or else there is no point in producing them in the first place.


  1. Wasn’t the AR-18 set up to accomplish this by default, given the emphasis on manufacture with limited means? I was much more curious to see speculation on simplification of the AK platform, especially in comparison to field mods and repairs observed in areas of minimal logistic overhead.

    • Not really, the AR-18 was what Eugene Stoner could design for manufacturing by a lower industrial base without infringement of the patents Colt owned.

      • E. Stoner had nothing to do with AR18 conception; as a matter of fact he had little to do (part of new ammunition) with AR15. It was crated when he was tinkering with his own system at Cadillac Gage.

        Besides, do not underestimate AR18 as a “low tech”; it is far from it. But true, it is at lower production cost level than the former. Still, to maintain sheet-metal press tooling in workable condition, you need skilled work force. Everything wears down in time.

    • The Colt model 608 was’t designed to be a “cheaper” or “simpler” then the ar-15 perse. It was designed to be handier smaller and lighter for aircraft pilots etc. Since a pistol wasn’t always sufficient enough for downed pilots. The receiver is still milled. Stamped would sound a lot more “cost efficient”

  2. America already developed a “LAST DITCH RIFE”based on the M16.
    It was called the TRW Low Maintenance Rifle.
    Yes TRW the credit company.
    Apparently third world armies like the ARVN troops in Vietnam don’t like to maintain (clean) thier weapons.
    The LMT rifle tested with flying colors but the Pentagon had already written off South Vietnam and never put the LMR into production.

  3. How about an updated version of Melvin Johnsons 1944 rifle carbine? Possibly in 308 and with M-14/M1a1 magazines!!

  4. My thinking on a last ditch simplified AR pattern rifle is monolithic polymer lower (like the KP15) and a polymer upper too with a simple rear sight tower.

    Very simple profile 16″ barrel, I’d want the best terminal performance vs overall length.

    A very simple handguard, maybe even non user removable to cut down on parts.

    I’d probably dispense with the last round bolt hold open and probably select fire too.

    Automatic fire is only useful in a very limited situations.

    Essentially, a modern take on the mp44. A rifle that is used until it wears out or is lost/destroyed.

  5. Funny subject actually; there is no need even remotely for a worry like this in the U.S. or even entire continent for that matter. The breakdown of society and resulting internal chaos is a remote possibility, but “defense against foreign invaders” is a plain “star-wars” type non-sense. Even for that case there is more guns than needed.

    Alas, let’s hold on subject – how to make M16 more economically. This is not an easy task since AR15 was designed “fancy” right from conception. I know from my experience that to maintain tolerances on some critical parts in it is exceedingly difficult. How other manufacturers are coping with small arms production? If you wanted to see how Kalashnikov in Izhevsk does it, look here:

    What you see is individual work stations at which they connect barrel components with receiver. This creates the spine of rifle. Past this point it (save for its destruction) never changes so there no need for full interchangeability of parts which results in low production cost. At final count, if your rifle’s accuracy is 1 MOA or 2 MOA does not matter a smack. If it shoots while wrapped in mud and sand is all what counts.

    • Many excellent points. Not only does North America’s geography make foreign military invasion unlikely, it also means power projection (either way) would break down long before the rifle supply – and today’s ships and aircraft make rifle complexity pale into insignificance. Our newest carrier costs about enough to buy an M-16 for every American who served during WW2. Still, it’s fun to speculate.

      Ian took a different tack than I expected. “Last Ditch” in the title suggests an invasion as you alluded (in which case something simpler would be in order), but (with the aforementioned caveats) Ian’s reply makes more sense in the context of the actual question.

      • Thank you Mike. I know where Ian is coming from; he likes to tinker with ideas based on what he knows. He is good at firearms history though.

        Let’s put it this way; there will be always some tension/ hot spots around the world – humanity with their leader’s ambitions cannot be anything else.
        If we leave out an all-out nuclear, at which moment war looses its original meaning, the most likely is something alike we see in Ukraine.

        The artillery, including battlefield missiles seems to be the BOSS there. And then of course all that robotic reconnaissance and electronic countermeasures. Tanks? So far several hundreds of T-63/64/72/80s were destroyed on both sides. We shall se what those Leopards can do. Do not expect miracles; war in Syria gave us some clues.

        Grenade launchers, mortars, belt-fed machineguns – they all count. Rifles? Say what???

        • Well, rifles (or even pistols) matter a lot to the troops whose lives depend on them, but in terms of cost or complexity they’re decimal dust.

  6. US “Last ditch ” is real simple

    Dont go for Optics, use Iron Sights, forget rails and fancy bolt on stuff. You got about 50 companies in the US making basic AR-15’s besides Colt. Turn them loose dont even need select fire.

  7. There actually are some simplified AR pattern rifles and magazines for rapid production that got 5+ digit production numbers: Those made to rush out the door before the Kasich/Clinton AWB. The obvious change was a different buffer tube profile that (as far as I can tell) was made to accommodate inferior quality aluminium (“commercial spec buffer tube”), but someone more knowledgable about this will likely be able to list even more cut corners. I’ve also seen some steel magazines from this period of time.

    Arguably, some of the cost cutting for modern low price commercial production also qualifies. Things like “normal” (non-KP15) polymer lowers/uppers, the untapered barrel on an M&P15, some non-freefloated handguards etc.

  8. A true “last-ditch” rifle would almost certainly be a manual repeating type, probably a bolt-action. In fact, you could use AR bolts and barrels, minus the gas system but retaining the hammer-firing mechanism to create a very simple single-shot or magazine-fed “bolt-gun”.

    While 5.56 x 45mm would be desirable based on ammunition supply, there are so many cartridges tailored for the AR action’s dimensions today that you could conceivably have anything from a subsonic, suppressed rifle in .300 Blackout to an absolutely-last-ditch post-TEOTWAWKI rifle in something like .450 Bushmaster or .50 Beowulf firing cast lead bullets with blackpowder propellant.

    Before you laugh, consider that they would be ballistically equivalent to the .45-70 or .50-70 in the original circa 1870 military loadings. Which could bring down a bison, let alone an enemy soldier.

    Such a bolt action could fairly easily be fitted into a wood stock, thereby obviating the need for synthetic handguards or etc.

    In fact, you might end up with something looking like a bolt-action rendition of the restocked M1 Carbines used in the original 1968 Planet of the Apes.



    • A true “last-ditch” rifle would almost certainly be a manual repeating type

      A blowback 9mm would be both simpler (far fewer parts with critical tolerances or heat treatment) and more effective at the ranges “last ditch” recruits could see, identify, and hit anything. Something like a non-folding SUB-2000 with a ~6″ barrel would make sense.

      • I thought about that, but a 9 x 19mm weapon’s main utility would be as a sort of Volkssturm carbine. In fact, making a very simple 9mm SMG that only fired full-automatic would be simpler than making a selective-fire one.

        The problem is that 9mm SMGs or carbines don’t work well for much of anything but very CQB. “Rifle-type” shooting requires a rifle cartridge, as per Keith’s Third Law. (“Never bring a pistol to a rifle fight.”)

        If a simple 9mm SMG is what you want, that could be made from AR components, as well, although to get really simple you’d be better off making a copy of the old Sten MK III, which was about as simple and mule-stupid as an SMG could get. The Germans must have agreed, hence the MP 3008, pretty much the last-ditch SMG to end all last-ditch SMGs.



        • And one more thing to add: Please don’t use 3D-printed components for anything other than pistol grips or handguards. And yet I could be wrong.

          • We may have different definitions of last-ditch. I’m more in the “Haganah in 1947” area, when they cut up rusted-out, worn out 0.303in SMLE barrels to make barrels for “home made” 9mm Sten MK IIs. One SMLE barrel equaled two Sten barrels, lengthwise.

            I’m expecting that 3D printing would not be available, so the construction would be “the old-fashioned way”.

            If 3DP is available, remember that ceramics can be “printed” and some of them are stronger than most metal alloys.



          • Cherndog,
            You’re not wrong about 3D printing. It’s good for the purposes you outlined (and for prototyping of just about everything), but IMHO serves mainly as a distraction from better (and equally simple) materials.

        • a sort of Volkssturm carbine

          Right, that’s the approach I took, along the lines of your “Haganah in 1947” comment – both because the need to simplify infantry rifles is implausible for all the aforementioned reasons, and because Ian and others amply covered it already.

          9mm SMGs or carbines don’t work well for much of anything but very CQB.

          Neither do volksturmers – keeping in mind that in a US context, gun guys would be using their own guns, so a volksturm carbine would be for people with zero firearm experience – whose abilities would not outrange shoulder-fired 9mm (~150m).

          Sten MK III . . . about as simple and mule-stupid as an SMG could get

          For the 1940s, true. Its layout sucks, and today we have decent polymers. Today’s equivalent would have a buttplate on the end-cap, a polymer grip frame for either Glock or M17 mags, and preferably an Uzi-type striker.

      • Simply make a STEN gun or M3 grease gun or something similar. Easily manufactured in the millions as has been shown during World War 2.

    • “(…)could use AR bolts and barrels, minus the gas system but retaining the hammer-firing mechanism to create a very simple(…)magazine-fed “bolt-gun”.(…)”
      This apparently was done, but not in simplest possible in mind, under code-name Solo 300 however please be warned that it resulted in straight-pull bolt-action weapon, rather than 4-movement bolt-action weapon.

      “(…)Such a bolt action could fairly easily be fitted into a wood stock, thereby obviating the need for synthetic handguards or etc.(…)”
      To my understanding there is not need to downgrade AR-15 to repeating, to be able to use wooden stock, see 6th image from top
      Note that becomes repeating after blocking gas system is not unique to AR-15, other gas-operated rifles would also do so, but question is how comfortable will be using them.

  9. Both of my Trapdoors we’re surplused off in 1946 from the Iowa Guard in Des Moines, having spent the war years ensuring Hirohito didn’t get his hands on our corn supply. Talk about last ditch.

  10.… As a locking mech, Nitinol, a battery… Flechettes in the form of a cartridge that looks like a “Reffye mitrailleuse” smoothbore… And some electronic “shit” like in phones/cars… Stuff.

    Blam, blam… 10,000 rnds a minute, 200m “shotgun” every fecker with a gun “iphone” 80rnd side mounted mags (40 each side) twin barrel “Gast gun” lark… Green tech, carbon neutral… Burp.

    Just saying… Last ditch… In 2023? WW3.

    That 60’s rifle, is a bit “old” tech. Commie Chinese would probably knock up the (Iphone) thing. Sooo, like might be worth thinking… Beyond, brass.

    • If you want my opinion “folk want to get on with it” as the end game is quite likely; with “lawmakers” spending years going on about trans rights, only for a male rapist to then declare himself a chick, and get sent to a birds jail.

      Well as I say “Iphone fuuny guns” no more odd. Schnell. Or you’ll be left behind.

    • “(…)Blam, blam… 10,000 rnds a minute, 200m “shotgun” every fecker with a gun “iphone” 80rnd side mounted mags (40 each side) twin barrel “Gast gun” lark… Green tech, carbon neutral… Burp(…)”
      Please provide drawing of such weapon, preferably 3 views (top, left, front).

      • You have a cigarette packet? Use your imagination… Bbbbbbbang! “We surrender!! Your super gun is so ace! The enemy would say.” And you’d be like, I know it is. I drew it on the back of a fag packet.

  11. Brass? Brass… To obtain a good gas seal, at assault rifle “range” why. Burn more powder. Disposable. Like everything else; likely the lousy future accordingly.

  12. To claify I was betting on the Commie chinese. Burp, anyway on the plus side spring is coming!! Lighter and lighter, only a matter of time before it becomes warmer.

    Tell you what I think, we should really spend all this war crap money in the short term on giving it to Turks to stop building shit buildings. 2 storey max, Blackburn England was built on hilly ground as 2 story houses. No more of these concrete crushes please.

  13. I smoke normal ciggies out of concern for the mutha fuckin enviroment, I really do.

    Besides its 8 zillion billon disesl cars beltching out shit that is giving you lung cancer, not native american religous shit you stick in your mouth and set fire too.

      • I think the nearest real life weapon to fill the concept of the question would be the CSAD simplified Lee Enfield from 1942. This was a rife designed as an expedient to increase the production volume of bolt action rifles for the British Forces in 1942, Not last ditch just a precaution to reduce a bottleneck if required. Here is a Link to Ian’s video on this weapon

  14. What was that “poor .22” Zip… Thing, well. If that was not meant to be used more than once?? Could use metal for tank barrels etc.

    • 5.56mm version “You would likely need at least that; not much point using 9mm, really. Given the availabity off .223 and its low recoil/greater performance” I was thinking along the lines of a “Staple gun” yes… Hear me out, he he! It kinda looks like a zip .22; 16″ 5.56mm barrel though “So bigger eh” but the staple gun part is thus; there is a big (Grip safety) yes, but that more resembles the hand lever on a staple gun “following me now? Quite.” Sooo… Takes Ar mags; zip style I.e. The gun is a sort of pressed together two part lark, with the workings within… So like the pistol grip is enclosed as the bottom (Steyr aug’ish) anyway! The workings!! Are a barrel, which at the front has a lug on it; through which goes a pin “Which allows it to pivot up, at the front.” Now the locking mech uses this, and! Your hand “Remember the big staple gun lever thing” to delay… .223, quite. It does this, thus; Mags are loaded bullpup fashion, he he… So from there! There is a ar15 bolt, but no gas system. Actually I forgot, bare with me…

      • Sooo… Yes no gas system, now! The point “and this is the point” of the upwards pivoting barrel is to use it’s mass as a delay in conjunction with your hand gripping (The staplegun type lever aforesaid) indeed… It does this, in the following manner. Forgot “Was a few weeks ago, I came up with this. Going to toilet.” Think it is possibly viable though, so worth typing/reading.

        • The gas “Reciever” on the Ar15 bolt is replaced with extension; forward, quite… Ends in dowards loop to go other return spring; mounted on a spigot above the barrel “Were the gas tube would be” spriong!! So back and forth, covered that. Now!! AND REMEMBER THE POINT OF THIS IS TWO STAMPINGS, WITH BITS IN THE MIDDLE; in the context of the thread, he he.

          • Yes “Following me so far?” ok… Now the… The return spring mounting spigot is attached to the barrel, and thus can tilt “up” with it. Now at the point you pull the trigger, you’ll have depressed with your thumb/palm the “Staple gun lever” behind the pistol grip… What this does in terms of delay, is actually simple. The end of said lever “Inside the gun” goes tuning around the bolt; left side to allow ejection on the right… Then! Burp…

      • “(…) “Remember the big staple gun lever thing” to delay… .223, quite.(…)”
        Please provide your computations which would prove that it is feasible for human muscles to delay opening of weapon chambered for 5,56×45 NATO long enough, using envisioned leverage system.

  15. (Tuning fork fashion;above, around the bolt, left side.) Right!! 2nd to Last one, he he… “Might work” So your hand (Depressing the lever) The top of the lever, goes over a spigot which runs rearwards mounted on the barrel the “Rear of the spring spigot” So! Gun fires, pressure hits bolt; bolt wants to move back… The rear of the spigot aforesaid ends in a downwards hook, which sits behind the Ar bolt; from the top (I am making this up; as you can likely tell, from a notional design a few weeks ago; based on looking briefly at a staple gun, I just liked the overall layout.) Now!!!

  16. The delay spigot “Running” from the rear of the spring, spigot (There is a block in between for the spring to compress against/attach it to the barrel; doubtless one piece, overall.) Right! Now, this piece running rearwards above the bolt; resting behind it at its end… Is angled, sloped… From infront of the loop; from the left (the end of the hand held lever) the lever is basically / shaped at the bottom it will goe more | torwards the top, anyway! what happens is, you grip it and it rests on the spigot which is attached to the barrel, when you fire the bolt “wanting to move back” forces the spigot to rise, now because of the slope on said spigot, this now starts to push the lever so your hand back.

    • Last one… Hee! And in doing so (The force is transfered into your grip) as the slope on the barrel spigot moves under the loop/hook, from the left of the handle you are gripping. And thus the barrel rises “You will not grip hard enough to prevent this” as the barrel rises, the slope pushes the lever so your grip back, and at a point! The hook at sitting behind the rear of the bolt, lifts clear; as the barrel tips. The bolt then opens.

      Now its return etc; stuff to iron out, but I am glad I got to that point, he he… It is correct though .233 is the cal now we need not 9mm with armour, it’s availabily/power etc.

      • Yes so, you were gripping a quarter way up the slope for example, in order to gain the downwards; so delay momentum, then essentianlly the lever slips off the slope; to open. Hope that is not totally wrong, made that completely up almost quick…

        • See an immediate fault; the bolt would also tip; rectify via browning type barrel “Swinging” linkage perhaps on bolt, to piece that compresseses spring; to allow for “tip” yet remains for spriong’ness… Anyway, all good to think about!

  17. Doubtless needs more work overall. I would keep optics though in general; no good having a gun even a… Cheap one, if folks can’t see the enemy. Cheap optics… Lots of them, china wouldn’t likely supply us; he he… But the designs are out there.

  18. The simplest semiauto-auto breechlock rifle I can think of is a Scotti bolt with a direct impingement “MAS-49”-style gas system.

  19. HiPoint 995, the old style, not the new “tactical stock”. They can be produced in a few hours for less than $100, most parts can be produced by other manufacturers easily, they have decent accuracy out to 100 yards, very simple controls and sights, an average person can be trained on it in 2 hours, it’s lightweight ect.

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