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1. On 28 October 1980, after more than four years of extensive testing at the German Infantry School at Hammeburg, Federal Republic of Germany, the NATO Small Arms Test Control Commission (NSMATCC) approved the standardization of a second rifle caliber cartridge. The cartridge selected was the intermediate power 5.56 x 45mm (.223 Caliber) and the improved Belgian version, the SS109, was selected as the basis for standardization.

2. As a result, NATO had two standard rifle caliber cartridges, the full power 7.62 x 51mm NATO (.308 Caliber), in service since 1953, and the intermediate power 5.56 x 45mm NATO adopted in 1980. Although the selection of the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge was based on extensive testing, research, and documented battle performance, this intermediate power round is not the optimum ammunition and caliber in the contemplated battlefields of the future. Lets examine the concept of inter-mediate power rifle ammunition, the evolution of the two standard NATO rifle cartridges, their advantages and disadvantages, and discuss why the older, full power 7.62 x 51mm NATO cartridge can better satisfy the present and future tactical needs of the individual rifleman.

3. The concept of intermediate power rifle cartridges began in Germany prior to World War II. The standard German rifle cartridge used since 1888 was the full power 7.92 x 57mm which propelled a 198 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,550 feet per second (fps) or 773 meters per second (mps). Comprehensive studies of the actual distances over which rifle fire was employed and of the marksmanship capabilities of the average German infantryman, especially during the heat of battle, convinced German researchers that a smaller, substantially less-powerful, and lighter cartridge would be more than adequate.

4. In addition, the adoption of smaller intermediate power cartridges would allow the development of shorter and lighter rifles, the ability to carry more rounds of ammunition, and the enhancement of accuracy due to lighter recoil. German research for a new intermediate round commenced in 1934, and in 1938 a new intermediate cartridge was adopted and designated the 7.9 mm Infanterie Kurz Patrone (7.9 mm Kurz). This cartridge propelled a small 125 grain bullet at a relatively moderate muzzle velocity of 2,100 fps (636 mps), paralleling the evolution of the 7.9 mm Kurz was the development of a new, compact, select-fire rifle chambered for the new ammunition. In 1940, two designs were accepted for field testing and were extensively used on the Russian front. The final version “Sturmgewehr” or assault rifle, the MP43, was adopted in 1943 and significant numbers were produced prior to the end of the war.

5. This weapon utilized a thirty round magazine and could provide both semiautomatic and full automatic fire. Although the MP43, with a fully loaded thirty round magazine, was more than three pounds heavier than the standard bolt-action Kar 98k rifle, the new weapons performance in the field was excellent due to the terrific firepower now available to the German infantryman.

6. The effectiveness of the new rifle and ammunition did not go unnoticed by Soviet forces, especially since they were the first recipients of its firepower. Captured rifles and ammunition were carefully studied, and in 1943 an intermediate power cartridge designed by Soviet engineers, N. M. Elizarov and B. V. Semin, was adopted by the Soviet Union. This cartridge was designated the 7.62 x 39mm Model 1943 and consisted of a 125 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps (667 fps). Due to wartime material and production shortages, the first weapon designed to use this new ammunition, the SKS Carbine, was not adopted until 1946. One year later, the famous AK-47, designed by M. Kalashnikov, was formally adopted by the Soviet armed forces.

7. In 1974, a product improved version of the same basic design, the AKS74 rifle, was adopted by the Soviet army. The AKS74 is chambered for a new 5.45x39mm (.221 Caliber) cartridge, very similar to 5.56 x 45mm NATO. The Soviets also adopted, at the same time, a new 5.45mm squad automatic weapon, called RPK74.4 These recent changes in Soviet small arms development are very important because they closely parallel the small arms concepts of the U. S. and NATO.

8. Like the Germans and Soviets, the U. S. also experimented with intermediate power cartridges during World War II. Designed as a replacement for the pistol and submachine gun during World War II, the U. S .30 Caliber M1 and M2 carbines fires lighter and smaller .30 caliber cartridges (7.62 x 33mm). This cartridge propelled a small round-nosed 115 grain bullet at an initial velocity of 1,970 fps (597 mps). The carbine and its cartridge, however, were designed for issue only to officers, non-commissioned officers, service troops, and members of heavy weapons crews. The carbine, with its intermediate power cartridge, was never designed to replace the M1 Garand and its full power .30 Caliber M2 (30-06) ammunition. Over six million carbines were produced during World War II and the Korean War. Although the carbines were light, compact, had a select fire capability (M2 model), and utilized magazines with capacities of thirty or fifteen rounds, these weapons eventually came to be unpopular with U. S. troops due to the limited range and inadequate stopping power of the carbine ammunition. Soon after the Korean War, the U. S. M1 and M2 Carbines were retired from service.

9. Such was the evolution of the intermediate power cartridge concepts in Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States during the 1940s. Let’s now take a look at the development of the 7.62 x 51mm NATO and the 5.56 x 45mm NATO during the 1950s and 1960s.

10. The first standard NATO cartridge, the 7.62 x 51mm NATO, was developed by the United States as a successor to the .30 Caliber M2 round (30-06), which had served as the standard U. S. rifle cartridge since 1906. The .30 Caliber M2 cartridge propelled a 150 grain projectile at a muzzle velocity of 2,800 fps (848 mps) and served the U. S. very effectively in the 1903 Springfield and M1 Garand service rifles, the Browning automatic rifle, and the heavy and light models of the Browning machine guns. Although the M1 Garand was very effective and highly praised during its service as the standard U. S. rifle in World War II and

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Standardization Of A Second Rifle Caliber Cartridge And Intermediate Power. (April 6, 2021). Retrieved from