Originally Posted By -brass-:
Originally Posted By Sniper_Wolfe:
I got an A on the paper.
Final version? (post it?)
Alright, here it is. It's the same thing, except I shortened the part about the Sturmgewehr 44 and changed the mistaken date. I also added my citations. The format looks funny because I added pictures of the wound profiles of both rounds.
Edit to say that I made several small errors/typos, but I never proofread it so that is most likely why. I am a procrastinator.
Top Guns in Iraq
In Iraqi street fights, two rifles reign supreme: the M16 and the AK47. The M16 and its derivatives are in use by the United States and some other coalition forces. The AK47 is fielded by Iraqi police loyal to the new government and insurgents fighting against it. Both are similar historically – designed by military veteran engineers to replace their heavy and more powerful predecessors. There has been much debate about the two rifles, with advocates of the AK47 generally referencing its almost mythic reputation for reliability. However, due to the M16 series’ excellent ergonomics, lethality, and modularity, it is a superior weapons system to the AK47 for the battlefield of Iraq.
Both the M16 and the AK47 were born out of the lessons of World War II. This lesson is best characterized by the first weapon to earn the title “assault rifle” – Germany’s Sturmgewehr 44 (literal translation, “storm rifle”) (Wikipedia, “Sturmgewehr 44”). During the majority of the war, Germany utilized the Karabiner 98k (meaning carbine, or short rifle, but with a 23.6” barrel it is a full-size rifle by today’s standards) in 7.92x57mm (the first number refers to the diameter of the projectile, the second to the length of the case which holds the propellant) (Wikipedia, “Karabiner 98k”). It was bolt action, meaning that the shooter must manually cycle the bolt between shots. Its large caliber meant that it was very damaging, but that, coupled with the bolt action mechanism, hindered the rate of fire and made it nearly useless in urban warfare. As a result, Germany fielded many MP40 sub-machine guns which fired the 9x19mm pistol cartridge. While these performed admirably in cities like Stalingrad, due to their high rate of fire, effective range was too short for fighting in the countryside and their terminal ballistics were abysmal in comparison to the rifles of the day. German blitzkrieg tactics called for quick advancement of machine guns, something the heavy, belt-fed MG42 and MG43 could not readily accomplish. This relegated them more to fixed or prepared positions; leaving the inadequately powerful sub-machine guns to move forward. Thus the Sturmgewehr was born in 1944, firing a round that utilized the same diameter bullet of the Karabiner 98k, 7.92mm, but the case length was a mere 33mm compared with the 57mm of the Karabiner 98k (Wikipedia, “Sturmgewehr 44”). This new round was designated Kurzpatrone (Kurz), meaning short cartridge. This new idea truly worked, but unfortunately for Germany less than half a million were made due to the rifle’s late appearance in the war (Wikipedia, “Sturmgewehr 44”).
This new idea, though, would not end with the fall of Nazi Germany. Mikhail Kalashnikov, a tank engineer in Soviet Russia, would bring into existence the most ubiquitous rifle in history: the AK47. The acronym stands for Avtomat Kalashnikov model of 1947, after its inventor. After Mikhail, then a tank sergeant, was wounded in the battle of Bryansk he heard that a new weapon was required for the 7.62x39mm cartridge (due to the lessons learned in World War II) designed by Elisarov and Semin in 1943. Though Kalashnikov was self-taught, he was experienced (he had designed various innovations for tanks, including a tachometer and an apparatus for counting the number of rounds fired) and began working on the design for the AK47 from his hospital bed, based on a sub-machine gun that he had previously designed (which had failed when introduced to the Soviet government). Though the AK47 does bear some aesthetic resemblance to the German Sturmgewehr 44, its internal mechanisms are more clearly derived from the M1 Garand. The Soviets would finally adopt the rifle in 1951 and have continually used it since then (Wikipedia, “AK-47”). In 1974 the AK74 was developed, a rifle which is almost identical to the AK47 with the exception that it fires the 5.45x39mm round (which can somewhat be compared to the 5.56x45mm round of the M16 family). The AN94, a highly modernized rifle that bears external similarities to the Kalashnikov series, is slowly becoming the new Soviet rifle of choice. However, with well over 100 million in circulation, the AK47 continues to be a powerful force in modern warfare, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (Wikipedia, “AK-47”). In Mozambique, the AK47 is a part of their nation’s flag (Wikipedia, “AK-47”). Boys in many African countries are named “Kalash,” simply a shortened version of Kalashnikov (Wikipedia, “AK-47”). The Soviets had a policy of arming many communist factions and countries with AK47s and the technological capability to produce more of them free of charge, as did the Chinese. Such groups as the Sandinistas and the Viet-Cong were armed under these programs – exacerbating the rifle’s negative connotation and association with communism (Wikipedia, “AK-47”). Additionally, it is often seen in the hands of terrorists on television shows, in movies, or video games. Its semi-automatic variants are also demonized within United States borders; anti-gun Senator Diane Feinstein once posed with an AK47 for reporters during a press conference.
Mother Russia also profusely thanked Kalashnikov (now a general with his own brand of vodka) for his contribution to their country; twice awarding him the title of Hero of Socialist Labor as well as the Order of Saint Andrew the Protoclete, an extremely rare and honorable commendation (Wikipedia, “Mikhail Kalashnikov”). He is proud of his invention, saying that,
You see, with [designing] weapons, it is like a woman who bears children. For months she carries her baby and thinks about it. A designer does much the same thing with a prototype. I felt like a mother - always proud. It is a special feeling, as if you were awarded with a special award. I shot with it a lot. I still do now. That is why I am hard of hearing. (Guardian, The)
Despite the misuse and less than lily-white reputation of his beloved invention, Kalashnikov says that he “sleeps soundly,” justly blaming the misuse of his namesake on international politics rather than himself (Guardian, The). He was an ardent supporter of the communist government that reigned for the majority of his life, and did it all for his nation. While perhaps the ultimate misuse is distasteful, it is hard to fault Kalashnikov for his brilliant invention born out of patriotism.
In 1948, looking back on the lessons learned in World War II, the United States Army organized Project ALCLAD which eventually studied more than three million battlefield reports (Wikipedia, “M16”). They came to the conclusion that aiming was random and of little importance, and that the single greatest factor to have on one’s side is the number of rounds fired (Wikipedia, “M16”). The ultimate recommendation made was that individual soldiers should be armed with a full-automatic rifle. Ammunition, however, is very heavy and in order to expend the volume of rounds necessary to win firefights, the total weight of rifle and ammunition that soldiers would carry would have to be lessened. Many within the Army favored continuing to use the successor of the M1, the M14. The M14 is a very accurate, very powerful rifle based on the M1. It uses the same diameter for its projectile, but with a shorter case length (51mm versus 63mm). While this does provide a significant reduction in recoil, recoil is still too great for effective full-automatic rifle.
In 1954, ArmaLite was founded, and they would revolutionize the American assault rifle (ArmaLite). Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation started ArmaLite with the express intent of applying their knowledge of lightweight aluminum alloys and polymers to the firearms industry – and it worked beautifully. Eugene Stoner first developed the AR-10 (AR stand for ArmaLite), a full-automatic rifle closely resembling an M16 but firing the powerful 7.62x51mm round. It was incredibly lightweight, with the majority of metal components being aluminum (even the barrel was aluminum with a thin steel insert) (Wikipedia, “M16”). The gas system, while not new, was and still is very uncommon. It is known as a ‘direct-impingement’ system – meaning that hot gas is vented direction from the barrel by holes drilled in, directed towards the action by a gas tube, and the hot gas then pushes back on the bolt carrier, thereby cycling the action. While many rifles (including the AK47) use gas siphoned from the barrel in order to reciprocate the action, they typically do it by proxy, using a gas piston. This is because when the hot gases cool, they deposit carbon residue that can foul up the weapon and cause it to malfunction. In the AR-10 (and its derivatives), this is self-limiting because after a certain point, hardened carbon is blown out the ejection port due to the design of the bolt/bolt carrier mechanism. The sighting system also offered advantages that were not commonplace. Typically, the sights of a rifle are attached directly to the barrel, meaning that one must place the butt of the stock lower than the plane of the barrel in order to use the sights. Instead, the AR-10 raised the sights and kept the stock in line with the barrel. This ‘straight-line’ design meant that while it was a full-automatic rifle firing the 7.62x51mm cartridge, it was still more controllable than its contemporaries utilizing standard sighting systems. When the Army requested a 5.56mm rifle, ArmaLite answered the call by scaling down the AR-10.
Due to problems with the structural integrity of the AR-10 barrels, this new rifle – the AR-15 – would use an all-steel barrel. This still kept it well within weight expectations, at less than six and a half pounds. Military tests initially showed that the AR-15 surpassed others of its day, but improper reassembly of some rifles during cold weather testing in Alaska caused rifle to fail. At this point, it was a very dark hour for Fairchild – they had spent nearly one and a half million dollars for testing, with almost no return (Wikipedia, “M16”). They sold the rights to Colt’s Manufacturing Company for a mere $75,000, plus 4.5% royalties on future sales (Wikipedia, “M16”).
Colt, however, had some better luck with the AR-15. After an informal demonstration was given to Air Force General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay, he became a believer in the system and ordered 8,500 rifles (Wikipedia, “M16”). The Department of Defense ordered another 1,000, prompting Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to wonder why this would happen after the unfavorable results the AR-10 had produced only a few years earlier (Wikipedia, “M16”). He eventually found that the tests had been biased towards the M14, and that the new rifle was in fact superior. In 1962, a comparative analysis of the AR-15 and M14 rifles was conducted at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (an Army facility that tests military equipment and weaponry) which found that the AR-15 was twice as accurate during full-automatic fire than the M14 in both the standing and prone positions (Stevens and Ezell, 114). In 1962, Colt received two more orders for a total of 104,000 rifles – at last the AR-15 saw large-scale success (Wikipedia, “M16”).
When the AR15 – then designated XM16E1 (and hereafter referred to simply as ‘M16,’ its name in common usage) – reached Vietnam, there were some major problems that scarred its reputation for decades. For one thing, the Pentagon had changed its type of gunpowder from a slower type, IMR, to the faster-burning ball powder common to earlier rifles. This increased both fouling and the automatic firing rate, leading to an increase in malfunctions and parts wear. The main culprits, however, were Colt and the Army. Colt had told the Army during the testing phase that the rifles did not require cleaning by virtue of their design, which was simply not true. The Army was duped, and in most cases soldiers were not issued cleaning kits. The Army had ignored Eugene Stoner’s advice that it was a necessity for the bore and chamber to be chrome-lined, dismissing it as too costly and unnecessary. This was a fatal mistake in light of the fact that chrome lining drastically decreases fouling and friction, a factor crucial to the 5.56x45mm design as a result of the fact that the cartridge has barely any taper along its length. Soon, barrels and chambers were both chrome-lined, and troops were issued cleaning kits along with comic books explaining how to clean the rifle, as well as the importance of doing so. Reliability issues quickly waned, though the M16’s reputation for unreliability persisted. One specific advantage the M16 has in Iraq is its ejection port cover – a spring loaded door that keeps debris (in Iraq, sand) out of the action but opens when the weapon is fired.
In contrast to the dark shadow cast on the M16’s reliability, the AK47 is nearly synonymous with reliability. Its stamped parts provide large clearances for moving parts, so that small debris will not become a major issue. It also uses a gas piston system, rather than direct impingement, meaning that hot gases vented from the barrel do not foul the action. The AK47’s barrel and chamber are also chrome-lined, which also contributes to its steadfast reliability. In addition to this, the AK47’s 7.62x39mm round is tapered greatly (this is what leads to the sharply curved appearance of its magazine). This does not, however, mean that the 7.62x39mm cartridge is superior.
In fact, according to Martin L. Fackler, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on terminal ballistics, the 5.56x45mm round exhibits a much greater wounding potential than that of the 7.62x39mm round. This is true, however, only at certain ranges. While that fact is counterintuitive, it is due to the fragmentation effect of the 5.56x45mm round. The following is Fackler’s explanation of the fragmentation effects of the M16 rifle:
As shown on the wound profile, this full-metal-jacketed bullet travels point-forward in tissue for about 12cm after which it yaws to 90°, flattens, and breaks at the cannelure (groove around bullet midsection into which the cartridge neck is crimped). The bullet point flattens but remains in one piece, retaining about 60 per cent of the original bullet weight. The rear portion breaks into many fragments that penetrate up to 7cm radially from the bullet path. (Fackler, 61) However, this fragmentation is only effective while the projectile is traveling at a velocity greater than 2700 feet per second, below this velocity it behaves like the 7.62x39mm round except weaker (due to its smaller bullet diameter). Fackler explains this as roughly similar to a handgun: a small hole with no fragmentation (Fackler, 60). Perhaps the projectile will turn sideways, cutting a wider swath, but in any case it will not produce near the wounding effect of the fragmented 5.56x45mm round.
The M16 also allows the user to hit his target more often and faster. On the M16, the peep-style sights are both more refined and faster to use. They are adjustable so that a soldier can compensate for bullet drop by dialing in the distance of the target. The sight radius (distance between the front and rear sights) is also greater, which increases the precision of the sights (imagine sights half an inch apart). Though the sights compensate for bullet drop, drop is also less than that of the AK47, so if a soldier did not have time to compensate, they do not have as great of a need to do so. The overall quality control is also much greater, meaning that inherent accuracy potential is also increased. If a soldier wishes to be able to put rounds on target faster, it is easy to mount reflex optics (non-magnified electronic scopes). Engagements in war happen quickly and must end decisively – an accurate, fast weapon is needed.
The ease of optics mounting is one effect of the overall modularity of the M16 system. In newer models, such as the current M4A1, the rear sight is detachable. This leaves behind a stable mounting rail for optics. In addition, most all parts (flash suppressor, grip, stock, handguard) are able to be replaced with aftermarket components to suit the user’s taste. The handguards can even increase modularity by offering rails to which forward grips, lights, lasers, or other sights can be attached. This is not generally true with the AK47, a simple rifle designed to be used as-is by a relatively untrained force. Perhaps the most amazing ability is that the entire upper half of the rifle – barrel, sights, and bolt/bolt carrier can be switched out for a new one in less than half a minute, so that a user could conceivably go from a sniper’s rifle to that of a SWAT team. This is advantageous in Iraq, where fights can happen either in narrow alleys or at great range from the tops of buildings.
Ergonomics are one of the most important factors in a weapons success. Good ergonomics increase practical accuracy, speed, general comfort, and morale in regards to the weapon. Of all the categories outlined, the M16 has the greatest advantage over the AK47 in this category. It requires less time to fire a round safely from the M16, because its safety resides in a more natural position. It can be reached easily by the thumb of the right without removing either hand from their grips. The AK47’s safety is tricky and noisy to operate; it lies above the pistol grip on the right side. The right hand must be removed from the grip in order to manipulate it, a movement which wastes valuable time. Safety is also compromised in the AK47 – it cannot be loaded with the safety on. Magazine changes are also faster with the M16 system, the right index finger can easily reach the magazine release from the grip, and magazines are removed and inserted straightly. The AK47’s magazine is rocked in and out, a tricky maneuver that requires practice. The magazine release is located just to the rear of the magazine, and while simple, is not as good as that of the M16. Overall, magazine changes are much faster with the M16, which matters when putting the most lead downrange the most accurately generally equates to victory. In this vein, the M16 also prevails, as its straight-line construction and markedly lighter recoil allow more accurate full-automatic fire. The M16 is perfectly suited to Iraq, where close quarters battles are common and rounds must be fired quickly, accurately, and in great volume.
In the final analysis, it is not one but a conglomeration of characteristics which unite so that the M16 reigns supreme on the battlefield of Iraq. Though the AK47 may be the golden standard of reliability, the M16 is still rugged and battle-proven. It is not just the ergonomics, which are intuitive and second to none. Neither is it just the stunning lethality induced by amazing fragmentation. It isn’t just the fact that the M16 possesses, in different quick-change setups, the accuracy of a match rifle or the lightning speed of a SWAT entry rifle. All of these factors come together to better equip the United States soldier with the best weapon possible in Iraq.