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Assault rifle

Assault rifle is a specific military term for various types of fully-automatic and select-fire (multi-shot burst) intermediate-power long guns.

Note: this term should not be confused with the loosely-defined term assault weapon, which refers to any of a number of classes of semiautomatic pistols, rifles, and shotguns.

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The typical identified mission of an assault rifle is to provide fire support at ranges to 200 yds by ordinary troops. That is, it is designed for massed anti-personnel fire at short ranges with simple maintenance.

Doctrines about the desirability of this rifle vary. Studies by the U.S. Army indicated that most conflicts between soldiers occurred at ranges of 100 yds or less. Russian doctrines asserted that the typical troop was unable to aim beyond 400 m, and therefore that should be the ultimate aimed range of a rifle for massed fire.

As a massed military weapon, assault rifles share common features: light weight, hand grips positioned for good instinctive pointing (for unaimed "intuitive" fire), bayonet lugs (to provide lethality without ammunition), selectable fire rates, high reliability, large magazines, and simplified operation. Many lightweight semiautomatic civilian rifles, being meant only for personal defence use, provide similar features but omit selective-fire and bayonet lugs.

Assault rifles cause injuries more often than death. Doctrines vary concerning this effect.

The U.S. military states that this is an intentional plan to overload enemy logistics with wounded, and the high command is gratified both to be merciful and enable average troops to pull the trigger with less guilt.

Some Russian accounts state that the lower lethality is an accidental side-effect of the cartridge's smaller powder charge, which they tried to overcome by making the bullet more lethal at lower energies. (See AK-47 for details).

Military assault rifles include a setting for full-automatic fire. The speed varies.

The fastest select-fire setting of the U.S. M16A2 rifle engages a three-part automatic sear that fires "optimal" three-round bursts for each pull of the trigger. The U.S. Army uses this feature to enhance the reliability of a shot under combat conditions. The U.S. still does not issue fully automatic weapons to ordinary riflemen in order to reduce the amount (and thus the weight) of ammunition carried by soldiers and support vehicles. In the 1990s, however, the new fully automatic M4 Carbine[?] was fielded in large quantities for radio operators, officers, and troops other than front line riflemen.

Some later models of the Russian AK-47 (Kalashnikov) automatic weapons can reduce the rate of fire below five rounds per second. Although this may aid logistics, lowered logstic loads is said to be a doctrine of secondary importance. The lower rate of fire is to help middle-quality shooters, while it is said to limit better shooters. Many Russian troops apparently dislike this accessory, because it reduces the rate of fire during assaults, and is less reliable than a simple automatic sear.

Effects on Doctrine and Organization

To reduce logistic problems, and still provide high rates of fire, some current military doctrines employ a squad automatic weapon used by one or a few specially-trained soldiers in a squad.

When assault rifles were adopted, ordinary troops became less able to perform sniping. Russians never gave up aimed fire, as the U.S. did, because an enemy always finds it difficult to replace experienced officers[?] and non-coms[?]. Russian and derived doctrines retain squad-level snipers, while the U.S. and its derived doctrines maintain a sniper team at the battalion level.

In the late 1970s, after experience with Vietnam, Russians adopted weapons with lowered logistic weights. The helicopter had clearly become an important, perhaps the primary means of resupply to embattled troops. At this point, the USSR adopted an even lower-weight cartridge and rifle, using a 5.45 mm bullet.


The first assault rifle was a German rifle, the Stg 44 "Sturmgewehr" [1] (http://www.artehistoria.com/batallas/jpg/AFS14879.jpg) (literally "storm rifle"). The term is now commonly used to indicate small-cartridge fully-automatic rifles issued to soldiers for battlefield use.

The concept of an assault rifle was born during the 1930s in several armies needing an infantry weapon with an intermediate-power ammunition, heavier than submachine guns (too weak and with a too short trajectory) and lighter than that for long rifles (uncomfortable to shoot, and difficult to control on full-automatic).

Statistical studies of real battles performed by the U.S. Army indicated that combat beyond 200 yds is rare. Russians saw no reason to make a rifle that shoots beyond a a rifleman's ability to aim.

Therefore a lighter, less-powerful cartridge could be effective. This permitted a lighter rifle. It also helped troops carry more ammunition, making them more autonomous. The lighter ammunition would use far less cargo capacity on trains, trucks, ships and helicopters. This reduces the cost of resupply. In addition, the smaller size and easy handling of an assault rifle would reduce the burden on tank crews, support troops, and units with missions other than front line combat.

Other new requirements included smaller dimensions, ease of construction, a removable magazine, and the possibility of selective automatic fire.

The first concrete attempt to provide soldiers with such a weapon was by the italian arms company Beretta, with its MAB 38 (Moschetto Automatico Beretta 1938). This was developed at the same time as the US M1/M2 carbine was produced (the M2 version had selective fire).

The MAB 38 used a Fiocchi[?] 9M38 cartridge, a higher-powered 9 mm Parabellum, which could provide a longer range. The useful range was about 200 m, althugh it was declared at 500 m.

The U.S. M1 carbine suffered because its cartridge was only marginally more powerful than pistol cartridges at the time. It was sufficiently better than the 1911A1[?] service pistol but not powerful enough to warrant replacing the millions of M1 Garand rifles already in service.

With its more powerful ammunition, the MAB 38 was more of a multipurpose weapon. As was also the Russian PPSh.

The Germans had studied the problem since WWI, and their factories made a variety of non-standard cartridges, so they had less incentive to remain with their existing calibers. At first they were still using the 8x57JS and 8 Mauser.

Polte's 7,9x30 cartridge was the best of that production, and in 1941 it was improved to 7,9x33 Infanterie Kurz Patrone. In 1942 it was improved again as Maschinekarbiner Patrone S and in 1943 Pistolen Patrone 43mE, then finally Infanterie Kurz Patrone 43. All these names follow the troubled creation of the Stg 44.

In 1942 Walther[?] presented the Maschinenkarabiner (automatic carabine, abbr. MK), named MKb42(W). In the same year, Haenel[?] presented the MKb42(H), designed by Hugo Schmeisser[?]. Rheinmetall-Borsig (some said Krieghoff) presented its FG42(Fallschirmjaeger Gewehr 42), perhaps more modern than the two MKb42s, but using a heavy 8x57 mm cartridge. The FG42 was sponsored by Hermann Göring.

The war-time tests in Russia indicated the MKb42(H) was the best of the three. Schmeisser developed it first as the MP43, then MP43/1 and finally as the STG 44 Sturmgewehr. It immediately entered large scale production. More than 5,000 pieces had been produced by February 1944, 55,000 by the following November.

Near the end of WWII, development of the assault rifle continued as the individual histories of the AK-47 and M-16.

In the US, the term has recently been applied (for political reasons) to smaller semi-automatic guns. Arms manufacturers had for decades advertised the supposed resemblance of their civilian products to military weapons.

Some well known assault rifles are:

See also: Assault rifle bans, Gas actuated, Firearm action

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