Testing the New Lightweight Rifles (1959)

Between December 1, 1958 and March 22, 1959, the ranges at the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation were the scene of an impressively comprehensive set of trials. The Army wanted to know what effect the new lightweight, high velocity rifles would have on squad organization and hit capabilities. So, they arranged four months of testing with squads of 5, 7, 9, and 11 men armed with M14 rifles, the new Armalite AR-15 rifles, and the Winchester Light Military Rifle. These squads conducted a carefully planned mixture of daytime offensive drills, daytime defensive drills, and nighttime defensive drills, while using specific fire modes (semiauto, fullauto, and specified combinations of the two).

The basic conclusion of this extended testing was that given combat loads of equal weight, 5 to 7 men with lightweight rifles had the combat effectiveness of 11 men with M14s. In addition, it was advised that the Winchester needed to be more durable and was equal in hit probability to the M14. The AR was found to need better sights, and to be equal in reliability to the M14 (remember, this is before the ball powder debacle in Vietnam). Full-auto bursts of 3-6 rounds were found to be effective and useful in both of the lightweight rifles (unlike the M14).

You can read the complete report here:

Rifle Squad Armed with a Lightweight High Velocity Rifle (English, 1959)
Rifle Squad Armed with a Lightweight High Velocity Rifle (English, 1959)


  1. A couple of oddities: The AR reliability was slightly better vs the M14 in the Attack drill but much worse than the M14 in the Defense drill–that should have been examined. In the introduction it was stated that it was assumed that the new rounds had the same lethality as the 7.62, and the conflicts over the last ten years do not appear to support that.

    The assumption seems to be that a squad would consist of riflemen only, who would provide their own automatic fire. What arm would best compliment/fill in the gaps of a light squad machine gun was not the subject of the study. Looks like it may have been an exhaustive test to answer the wrong question.

    • Or did ‘the other side’ adapt tactics that put the 5.56 & 7.62×39 at a disadvantage? If the .308 had been retained, ‘the other side’ may have adapted tactics that used close and rapid fire.

      • In a wider sense, no. Afghanistan is somewhat of a special case with its wide open spaces. Also, the 5.56mm was originally intended for longer barrels than the US Army current standard with the M4 carbine. 5.56x45mm actually outranges 7.62x39mm in practical effective range by a considerable margin when fired from full rifle barrel.

        • … which advantage was lost almost (except flatter trajectory) completely while using 40cm barrel. Most of hi-speed wounding potential is lost.

        • A key sentence is the very last sentence in the abstract stating that lethality of all rounds was assumed the same. Hmm.

          • My sense is that they ran very extensive test in very short time. looks like they may have committed shortcuts.

        • This is where I will have to respectfully disagree with you. I take it you are inferring that maximum, or near-maximum, potential of the 5.56mm x 45 cartridge is achieved in barrels 20″ or longer — as when fired from an M16A1 or A2. That part is fine. The problem is that it does not take into account the effective range of the 7.62mm x 39 round when fired from a barrel longer than the 15″-16″ typical for an AK or similar weapon, nor does it take into account the fact that AK’s of standard ( 15″-16″ ) barrel length are actually capable of accurate effective fire at extended ranges comparable to, or better than, the 5.56mm x 45 out of a full-length barrel, and with the added bonus of carrying a higher residual energy into the target due to the much greater bullet weight. The generally-accepted — and highly incorrect — conventional wisdom that has prevailed as a result of decades of informational repetition is that AK’s firing the 7.62mm x 39 round are effective only out to about 300 meters, and that the round has a very high curvature in trajectory. The reality is that while the 7.62mm x 39 round does have a less-flat trajectory than the 5.56mm x 45, it is far from being as loopy as the false perceptions that exist will lead you to believe, and it can still be, and is, quite accurate if the firer is familiar with, and allows correct hold-over for, said trajectory — and guess what? The same principle applies to some extent or the other to any and every cartridge at longer ranges, including all the hyper-velocity, super flat-shooting Magnum rifle rounds. By allowing for trajectory compensation, AK users have been able to consistently hit targets out to 500-600 meters using just the standard iron sights alone without much effort once they understand the ballistics involved.

          For reference purposes, you can have a closer look at a few of many examples concerning this subject below :

          1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3ya2XR9eZw — The Military Arms Channel

          2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ObvGgTX2ww — Travis Haley, former 2nd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion and Blackwater operator

          3. http://www.warriortalk.com/showthread.php?75647-Hitting-with-an-AK-47-at-600-yards — Gabe Suarez / Suarez International

          4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsN7Jerx74

          In addition, there are a lot of other informative web sites with hard pertinent data to this effect available if you take the time to research them carefully. Few things are as corrupting of reality and fact as long-held, cherished myths that have become rote by repetition.

          • Very good contribution Earl.
            I would like to add a bit to it although my experience with M43 it dated. In addition, it is possible that more current production of rifles and ammunition is to higher standard than I experienced.

            At time of my service we shot 2 courses – 100m single and 200m short burst. Some guys shot better than others, but I do not recall any real spectacular results. This may be partly because we were draftees (with some small bore experience beforehand). Also, we were land-eng (pontoon bridges, destruction work and such) units as opposed to first line ones – they were trained to shoot accurately out to 400m with lot more practice.

            In any case, it is quite revealing to read of M43 potential and it was high time to add to that knowledge. As author of preceding memo was Euroweasel (I presume Finish citizen) I would expect him to be as one time part of Finnish defence forces well versed with capabilities of that round.

          • Thanks very much for the kind words, Denny, and for the benefit of your personal experiences in the miltary. My intent was simply to illustrate the less well-known and often overlooked capabilities of the 7.62mm x 39 round and the AK rifle that fires it. I have always had a great deal of respect for Euroweasel’s experience and judgement in the discussions on FW, as I do yours. What is interesting is that the various individuals who have successfully experimented with longer-range accurate shooting with the AK platform and M43 cartridge have done so using standard, off-the-shelf ammunition with no special ballistic qualities or significant improvements over the original military-issue ammunition.

            Also — and I might be wrong, so please correct me if I am — when looking closely at the developmental history of the M43 round, it appears that there have been few attempts to really push the performance envelope and try out newer technologies ( such as more modern powders, cartridge case materials, more efficient bullets, and so on ) to fully exploit its untapped potential, probably because it was felt that the existing capabilities were more than adequate for the task at hand. Therein lies a world of fascinating possibilities for “product improvement”, assuming that arena were to be opened up.

          • The original point, that the assumption in the study that the 5.56 was equivalent in lethality to the 7.62, was in regards to the 7.62 NATO fired in the M14 (thus, in the study a hit with a 5.56 was rated at the full value of a hit with a 7.62 NATO). As M14’s have been pulled out of storage and pressed into service at the request of troops over the past ten years it is reasonable to say that somebody with real experience believes that the 7.62 has an edge in terminal ballistics. If the 7.62 NATO is 10% or 100% more effective than the 5.56 in immediately disabling an enemy, I do not know, but the 7.62 NATO is more effective and the study did not take that into account. The legendary wounds from tumbling 5.56 might be viewed as a gimmick, nice when it happens, but do not count on it–the Army appeared to count on it. The 7.62 NATO hits hard every day of the week. I’m not saying that the Army should have stuck to the 7.62 NATO, all things considered, just pointing out that the study had a questionable assumption.

            I think the bigger issue though, again, was that the tests were trying to see how many riflemen should be in a squad when equipped with a given rife, and only equipped with that given rifle. It was not to see how many riflemen should be in a squad with a given rifle while working in conjunction with one or more light machine guns. The question of if a squad is to support the machine gun(s) or the machine gun(s) are to support the squad aside, the point is that determining which rifles would have been better at filling in the gaps / providing security for / light machine guns and the optimal number of those riflemen would have been a more important question.

          • Very good analysis and deductive reasoning, Jacob — thanks! This is a good example of what makes FW unique and sets it aside from all other firearms blogs, regardless of if anyone, myself included, agrees with the results of that reasoning or not. Certainly, it has never been in doubt that 7.62mm NATO hits hard anytime and all of the time.

          • You are welcome Earl!
            I looked at the Wolf ammo, MAC is claiming he used: http://www.brownells.com/ammunition/rifle-ammo/wolf-ammo-7-62×39-123gr-200-rounds-sku105000187-55040-113733.aspx

            As far as common parameters such as muzzle velocity it looks in usual norm. Of course, consistency from round to round is major factor and this is where modern manufacture excels. This all apparently came originally out of soviet armament factories during WWII., so amazing potential they must have had. Longer time since, more it gets appreciated.

          • Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention – the rifle. MAC is using super-duper custom jobbie. He says with 20inch long “hammer forged, chrome lined” barrel. This all seems to be common practice nova-days and that incudes military issue. However, again it is quality control and consistency which counts.

            I apologise for too many entries in this piece; it is rather enticing.

          • No apologies are needed at all — your personal inputs and professional evaluations are always invaluable as far as I’m concerned. And thanks once again for the many informative comments!

    • The conflicts over the last 37 years have no bearing on the tests initially done. All they prove is that the m855 is a terrible round.

      Everyone seems to forget that we switched rounds from the 55gr m193 to the 62gr M855 in 1980.

      The lack of terminal effect of the 5.56 can be traced directly to the adoption of the SS109 projectile in the M855 EPR round. The 5.56 and other small bore projectiles rely on tumbling and fragmentation.

      Less than 5 years after we starting using the 5.56 on some communists in Vietnam the Soviet Union decided to follow our lead and adopt a 5.45 round, the reports they got, just like the ones we received when they were in Afghanistan
      using the 5.45.

      Devastating terminal effect for a lighter smaller bullet, that increased hit probability and therefore lethality due to its lighter recoil and the ability to carry more of it.

      I hunt groundhogs as pest control on some orchards, they are fat and happy living
      where food is abundant and they are larger than their wild living cousins.

      a large wild groundhog is 7-8lbs, the biggest one ive shot was just over 11 lbs

      I have used tons of different rounds, I started with the 22lr, then went to the 22wmr for more range
      then I went to the 5.56.

      I had a bunch of M193 55gr and in my ignorance, I wanted to get rid of it
      since the military used the 62gr M855n that is what I wanted too.

      Ive been at it for nearly a decade now and have learned alot since then, and not just from the
      experience of others.

      I have seen terminal effect on groundhogs that share the same thickness (not mass) of an average mans torso

      M193 55gr fragments almost 100% of the time, M855 fragmented less than 50% of the time and “fragment”
      is generous, I would say that most of the m855’s “fragmentation” was just the bullet breaking in two, base and tip

      I rarely recovered a large portion of a 55gr m193, I frequently found the m855 round whole but bent from a few
      degrees to about 60 degrees where it breaks.

      I also used match loads, specifically re-manufactured black hills 77gr With a full military cannelure
      the Mk262 or analogues also fragments nearly 100% of the time, and the match non cannelured cousins rarely fragment they bend and break much like the M855.

  2. The photos of the ArmaLite AR-15s are difficult to interpret due to copy quality, but it appears that the tested rifles were ‘trigger cockers’, with the bolt retraction handle vertically positioned inside the carrying handle. ArmaLite records I have seen say only the first 20 AR-15 rifles were so equipped, with the charging handle design adopted soon afterward.

    It would appear that the AR-15 rifles used in this test program were among the first 20 examples manufactured. Several of these rifles were converted to charging handles as the AR-15 program developed.

  3. Interesting stuff. If I’m not mistaken, the Winchester LMR was at a relatively earlier stage of development than the Armalite at that time. It’s a pity Winchester didn’t have a little more time to wring out the problems before submitting it, or that they didn’t continue development for law enforcement and foreign sales. It seems like it was a promising weapon.

    • Excellent point — it would have been most interesting, to say the least, to follow the Winchester’s development cycle, if only circumstances had allowed.

    • It looks though that its layout was along traditional M14 style, just lighter. The AR15s had essentially different layout which allowed better holding on target – this was obvious winning point.

  4. I have read – but have not confirmed for myself – that the Ruger Mini-14 is based essentially on the Winchester design. If that is the case, then it did become a very successful civilian and law enforcement rifle.

    • The Winchester .224 Lightweight rifle was basically the bolt system of the M1 Garand/M14 family combined with the short-stroke piston gas system of the M1 carbine.

      The Ruger Mini-14 is a scaled-down M14 (hence its name) with a short-stroke gas piston system similar to the M1 carbine.

      In both cases, the Carbine-type system was adopted because it is essentially an “open” system similar in concept to that of the Kalashnikov, and thus allows powder residue to disperse rather than collecting inside the system as in a “closed” system such as that of the Garand or M14.

      I don’t know how directly related the two are, but their mechanisms are similar, most likely because the Ruger designers were aware of the Winchester design and considered it the most efficient system to handle the relatively high-pressure .223 round while avoiding the fouling problems associated with ball powder in the Armalite system.

      The Ruger’s commercial success over the last forty years shows they must have guessed right.



        • The gas-tappet system is basically a short plunger which strikes the front of the bolt operating rod, causing it to move back and begin the unlocking process. I call it an “open” system because the excess gas escapes around the plunger, into the forestock; in the AK, of course, it escapes through holes in the gas piston tube into the open air.

          I guess it would be better to call the tappet a “partially vented” system, but the end result is pretty much the same. I’ve always suspected that the way both systems handle powder residue is one reason for their reputations for reliability. (I’ve used all of the above for literally decades and never had a stoppage that was due to fouling in their gas systems.)




  5. In the early ’60s, Melvin Johnson did an M1 carbine conversion chambered for the 5.7mm Spitfire round that was quite similar to the Winchester Light Rifle in concept. A dealer friend of mine had a limited edition 1 of 100 model in a thumbhole stock, as well as ammo, dies, etc. I got to look at it, but never got around to shooting it. As for the AR 15s, I don’t think any of the Project Agile rifles had the AR 10 style cocking handle. The “Lemay/Kennedy” BBQ test rifle (that got the Air Force contract) had the rear cocking knobs, IIRC. I know that rile sold at auction a couple of years ago. Actually, I like the look of the Winchester.

    • Hi, Doc :

      Just out of curiousity, did you or your friend ( the firearms dealer ) manage to keep track of any of the 5.7mm Spitfire-chambered M1 carbines? I would imagine that such a rare model run in that caliber would be of great interest to us all, and certainly in the full spirit of “forgotten” weapons.

      Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding in helping with this.

    • It looks that it took gas system completely out of M1 carbine. On page no.4 is says:
      “Gas System I
      Short stroke piston requires no cleaning or
      disassembly during life of gun.”
      Which is same what had been said about carbine elsewhere.

    • The Winchester LMR was derived from D.M. Williams’ alternative .30 Carbine design. The dirty little secret of the M1 Carbine was that Williams had a lot less to do with its creation than initial publicity suggested. He was a volatile pain in the ass and had to be kept separate from the rest of the Winchester staff. So while one set of Winchester designers worked on what became the M1 Carbine, Williams was off on his own working on his own designs.

      At least five of the LMR were later rechambered for the XM144 flechette cartridge, and one of these was rechambered yet again for the XM144-WE3 flechette cartridge.

  6. Remembering Steyr AUG designed slightly after of those days, it can be said; AR 15 participate had been a chance for The US and selecting the same for service was not a forthseeing, but a necessity.

    • Steyr Stg77? At least 10 years after: 1967-77. I consider Steyr to be distant follow up, but with some added value. They still make that impossible trigger btw, even at the last itiration.

      • “Slightly” said as compared by time past up to that time with nearly all service rifles wrangling about those two basic design. Bad trigger is a “Bullpub Defect” as you appreciate. If that testing were happened after a few years later with participation of AR 18 instead of AR 15, todays view of service rifles might be different.

        • That Stg’s trigger is outright dupish. They just cannot figure it out and instead stick with the same thing. They could have as well redesigned this, but they did not. Long time everyone in this business knows that PUSH arrangement is bad.

        • Just a hint: if a simple double-action lever (transferring push to pull) was used in area where is lots of apace, that would have solved most of the problem (other part is plastic sear…)

  7. The EM2 had a very good two stage trigger that was adjustable by the user for the reason that the bolt mechanism was designed for bullpup use by target shooters

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