Myths About the NATO 5.56 Cartridge

M16A1, M16A2, M4, M16A4

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding the current M16A1, M16A2, M4, M16A4NATO 5.56 round and its effectiveness on the battlefield. Now before you make a judgment as a soldier or as a firearm enthusiast (a more euphemistic way of saying “gun nut”), consider your sources. Who is it that is telling you the 5.56mm, or .223 if you prefer, is an ineffective round? Is this source an armchair general who has watched Blackhawk Down one too many times; or a Navy Corpsman who has been attached to a MEF fighting in Fallujah and has seen, treated and inflicted these wounds with his own M-4? People look at the .30-06 round from their grandfather’s M1 Garand and the 7.62×51mm round from their dad’s M-14 and compare it to the M-16/M-4’s 5.56 and think; “Wow, this is considerably smaller. Therefore, it must be less effective.”
Now Joe Nichols had it right when he said, “Size Matters.” However, when you are talking about combat cartridges this is not always the case, and I say that hesitantly. When the 5.56 was derived from Remington’s .223 in the late 1950’s, it was meant as a “force multiplier” if you will. By that I mean a soldier could literally carry twice as much ammunition as one who has the older 7.62 for the same weight. They wanted a soldier who could stay longer in the field without re-supply and could literally out-last and out-shoot the enemy in many aspects. The 5.56 is an incredibly fast and flat shooting round compared to the 7.62, but is under half the bullet weight.

So one might ask; ‘How in the world can a smaller bullet be more lethal than a bigger one?” One word: cavitation. Cavitation is the rapid formation and collapse of a substance or material after an object enters it at a relatively high velocity. I guarantee you have seen cavitation before. Next time you are in the pool or on the boat, look at your hand as it passes through the water or the propeller spinning. In both cases you will notice bubbles on the trailing edge of each. You see this because the liquid water falls below its vapor pressure. Without getting into physics and the hydrodynamics behind it, I’ll just leave it at that. When a human body is hit with a 5.56mm 62-grain bullet traveling at 3,100 feet per second; essentially the same thing happens but much, much more violently. For a split second, the cavity created inside the human body by the round from an M-16/M-4 is about the size of a basketball (if hit dead center of mass). The 5.56 creates this massive cavitation by tumbling through the body initiated by inherently unstable flight.

5.56 ballistic test
5.56 ballistic test

Other calibers of bullets travel through the body on, more or less of, a straight line after some fragmentation. When the 5.56 round was first designed by Remington, it was meant to tumble through a target, not kill with brute force. It did this not only by the relatively blunt shape, but also by using a rifle barrel with less of a twist. Next time you look at an M-4 or an AR-15, notice it says “5.56 NATO 1:7” on the barrel. This literally translates into; “the bullet will make 1 full rotation for every 7 inches of this barrel.” This was not always the standard twist set for the new NATO round. The first AR-15 made by Armalite, had a 1:14 twist making it a very, very unstable round. One can only imagine the orientation of the entry and exit wounds. Now if you haven’t figured it out already, the less the twist, the more unstable the round is. (1:14 twist is less than 1:7) It is said in “firearm enthusiast” legend that the first tests were done on pig carcasses and that the entry wound could be on the lower right stomach with an exit wound coming out of the back upper left shoulder. It left horrific wounds and terrible internal damage to its intended target, immediately drawing the interest of the US Military, in particular USAF General Curtis Emerson LeMay. That’s right folks, you can thank we in the United States Air Force for the M-16/M-4 legacy (I say this without sarcasm). He thought it was an ideal weapon for his deployed members of the USAF Security Forces for guarding the perimeters of Air Force installations in such places as Korea and Vietnam. Before military trials, Armalite increased the barrel twist to 1:12 to improve accuracy. But when tested in frigid Alaska, accuracy was decreased because of the increased friction from the denser, colder air. Therefore, the barrel twist was eventually increased from 1:12 to 1:9 and eventually to the 1:7 you see it today. Although some bull-barreled AR-15’s and Stoner Sniper Rifles can be found in a 1:9, most issued M-16’s and M-4;s are primarily a 1:7 twist.

This change increased the accuracy of the 5.56 round out past 500 meters, but decreased its lethality when striking a body. Now the real debate begins… How truly deadly is the 5.56? Well, this past April when I was going through Combat Skills Training at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin, one week was spent in Combat Life-Saving class (CLS). The medics who instructed us had slide show after slide show of combat injuries they have treated over their last three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. And let me tell you, these were not for the weak stomachs among us. If you are reading this article, I bet you are the same type of person as I to ask, “What calibers caused those wounds?” These men and women have seen the worst injuries of coalition forces and enemy combatants alike. The Geneva Conventions state that medics must provide medical care to all captured enemy personnel when able. Therefore, many Taliban and Jihadist fighters came across their operating rooms. After class one day I asked all of them, “Do any of you doubt the killing power of the 5.56 round?” They all answered with a resounding, “NO.”
I personally don’t like telling war stories but I do enjoy telling hunting stories. I have brought down 180 to 200+ pound deer with a 55 grain .223 FMJ (full metal jacket) with no problem. Yes, I know, the counter argument to that is, “Well that’s not an enemy combatant hopped up on cocaine, khat or adrenaline.” I understand that, but if you saw the exit wound or those on the pictures from the combat medics, you would certainly cease your criticism of the 5.56. However, there are certain design features of the M-16/M-4 that continue to puzzle me.

We have all heard the reports of those rifles failing during combat during Vietnam and even yet today. During the 60’s when it was first introduced, it was hailed as “the self-cleaning rifle.” Of course that was proven to be a myth within the first months of its service. Soon thereafter, cleaning kits, cleaning manuals with attractive cartoon-like characters, and muzzle covers were issued in large numbers. A lot of the first problems the rifle saw were due to using ball powder vs. stick powder. Ball powder burns hotter, faster and dirtier than stick does. This caused the rifle to gum up quicker in the humid atmosphere of Vietnam and mis-feed the rounds. The U.S. Military then switched back to the cleaner burning stick powder and added a forward assist to jam the bolt carrier forward after heat expansion and carbon build-up. The military saw this problem and fixed it fairly early on, so why haven’t they saw the clear flaw in the 100% gas-blowback operation of the firearm? Why haven’t they learned lessons from rifles such as the AK-47, AK-74, G36, SCAR and countless other who have switched to a short stroke gas piston?

gas piston operated
gas piston operated

So far rifles such as the HK 416, HK 417, SCAR and MAGPUL Masada have all incorporated this short stroke gas piston in their designs and have all seen massive reductions in carbon build-up, over-heating, and mis-feeds. If this needs any explaining; what this basically does is stop the hot, carbon-filled gasses just rear of the front sight and pushes a pistol-like rod back instead of the gas traveling all the way back to the bolt carrier assembly. It is even possible to convert current uppers to this gas piston system using such kits as those offered by Bushmaster. If the cost benefit is too great for these kits to be installed, why not begin to install them on the floor as they are now? They are 100% compatible with all lowers used by the M-16 and M-4.

So in conclusion, the main flaws of the M-16/M-4 assault rifle system is not necessarily in the round itself, but in one minor design feature of just the upper. This article is meant as a predecessor to a piece in the making on the advantages to switching to a round such as the 6.8 SPC or 6.5 Grendel. The 5.56 round is effective, but could be better. I want to hear your feedback. Tell me why so many people (mostly civilians) think the flaws of the rifle are in the round. I’m looking to you military folks; tell me about your operational experience with it. Airsoft players, armchair generals, and firearm enthusiasts; let’s hear your voice, but don’t comment on its “knock-down power” unless you hunt big game with a .223 or were once in the military and have used it in combat. Next up: A viable future replacement for the 5.56 and the M-16/M-4 combat rifles along with first-hand news from the front on forces already making the switch.

Remember; every rifle and every round can be equally as deadly when put in the right hands. We seek to find the perfect round and the perfect rifle to increase that number of hands.

Small Diameter Bomb – GBU-39


The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb – the future of ultra-surgical air strikes.

Since the days of the first Gulf War, when it became clear to the world that precision air strikes would be the “go to” option for the opening rounds of nearly any theater scale military operations, the technology of precision guided munitions has increased rapidly.  We have witnessed bombs being guided into their targets by lasers, GPS, and even a human watching through a camera on the nose of the weapon.  Once the concept of precision guidance was no longer a novelty, the virtuous auspices of limiting collateral damage and economic efficiency have led military planners and weapons designers to push the envelope of precision weapon technology even further.

During the Desert Storm era, the smallest precision bombs available packed 500 lb high-explosive warheads, and the 500 pounder was typically used on only the smallest of targets.  They certainly were precise enough on surgical targeting, but the massive explosion and pressure wave still causes widespread devastation to buildings and well, people, that are in the vicinity of the blast.  Now I’m not saying that it’s ever goign to be possible to truly eliminate collateral damage, but I believe technology has reached a stopping point concerning precision-guided air-launched munitions.  It’s not as if limiting collateral damage is such a bad thing after all; so I guess we can go ahead and bestow the honorable hallmark characteristic of the next wave of precision munitions:  Efficiency…because accuracy is a given.

Fresh on the block is the new GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.  The GBU-39 is the first 250 lb class precision guided munition, and is not only intended to allow the pilot to strike more targets per sortie, but also to -you guessed it- limit collateral damage.  A full rack of GBU-39s, 4 bombs total, can easily take the place of one 2000 lb GBU 109 “bunker buster” guided bomb on typical strike platforms such as the F-15C or F-22 Raptor aircraft.  While the 2000 lb GBU-109 penetrator definitely retains its place as a select weapon of choice for large and hardended targets, the GBU-39 SDB surpasses the GBU-109 in many different realms of performance.  For starters, the GBU-39 also has significant stand-off capabilities.  With it’s guidance wings, the bomb can coast into targets from far greater ranges than the GBU-109, from more than 40 nautical miles out.  Likewise, the design of the warhead also allows the Small Diameter Bomb to achieve the same penetration capabilities of it’s much larger 2000 lb counterpart.  All in all, the SMB GBU-39 allows for a great amount of flexibility for whomever is designing strike missions for an urban environment.
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Not only does the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb limit it’s size to only 250 lbs, it also can be fitted with different types of warheads, one of which is specially designed to limit the blast radius and shockwave of the explosion.  This new explosive is called D.I.M.E., short for Dense Inert Metal Explosive.  DIME explosives basically combine a powder of inert metals–inert means that the metal is resistant to chemical reactions–into the explosive, which essentially weighs down the blast.  The explosive ignites, but the metal powder will only fly so far before air resistance and gravity will slow it down.  DIME explosives are proven to limit the blast radius of explosions, but they are also notorious for the effects that they can have on personnel.  Decapitations, dismemberments, and even cancer later down the line caused by the imbedded metal powder are all facts of life when DIME is deployed.  i guess the counter-point is that those folks were at the wrong place at the wrong time, especially under the known threat of air raids.

Fast forward to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against the Hamas regime in Gaza, and you’ve got the exact scenario where this weapon is intended to be used.  A crowded urban environment, where military targets are amorphous among the civilian landscape, and limiting collateral damage is essential to maintaining some semblance of self-restraint, saw small diameter bombs being deployed in large numbers.  Indeed, reports have come out of Gaza of people suffering the effects of DIME explosives, but the IDF remains deflective about admitting to their use.  The use of the GBU-39 that isn’t debated is the penetrator version being deployed against the smuggling tunnels at the Rafah crossing.  The IDF deployed multiple GBU-39 penetetrators along the lengths of the tunnels, essentially burying them in successive sections.
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Russian Tank Forces – T90 Technology


The Russians desperately needed to mount a response after the 1991 Gulf War, when the Americans stormed through the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq.   The Russian economy’s defense sector was reeling, after the American military’s Abrams M1A1 Main Battle Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles left the battlefield littered with literally hundreds of burnt-out and charred carcasses of once mighty Russian T-72 and T-80 tanks.  As if the Russians weren’t already in bad enough shape after the collapse of the Soviet Union, now the international image of their largest defense export, the T-72 tank, and their newest model, the T-80, as no more than a flaming hulk of metal on the battlefield. Not good PR for the second largest weapons exporter in the world.  Something had to be done.  The Russian’s solution: rename the tanks.  By combining elements of the T-72 and T-80 together, the Russians were able to create the T-90, and have successfully duped the market ever since.

Despite the fact that the T-90s design aspects are nothing new, the newest production models do include some major upgrades to the existing designs.  A new gun being one of the biggest improvements, the newest T-90s coming off the lines can be fitted with Explosive Reactive Armor, laser rangefinders, an electromagnetic pulse generator to combat magnetic mines, and laser warning recievers.  There is also a new type of radar jamming system to scramble the guidance of incoming radar-guided anti-tank missiles.  Basically, you get early 70’s mechanics with 90’s electronics.

Don’t get me wrong though, Russia’s output capacity for producing these tanks can skyrocket if they wish it to.  Never forget the inferior US Sherman tanks swarming the superior German Tigers.  Technical sophistacation found with the likes of Western MBTs such as the German Leopard, French Leclerc, British Challenger 2, and the American Abrams M1, are expensive and time-consuming to produce and repair, while the Russians have never shown a sensitivity to losses in great numbers of mass-produced war machinery.

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US Air Force Airlift – Global US Military Aircraft

US Air Force Airlift

What does it take to be who we are in the world? To be able to strike deals massively lopsided in our favor? To make demands, threats, and/or promises of peace? Who knows, we could be your best friend, or your worst enemy. What does it take for the US be in this position?

The answer: logistical capability spawned through the thorough application of immense capital both financial and human. A large US Army on the contintinental US can’t really do much across the globe unless it can get there. Of course, we can always use our US Navy sea-based assets to land US Marines on the shorelines. However, any major theater conflict or a landlocked battlefield will need more than just boats. That’s why the US Air Force possesses the largest and most complicated logistical airlift capability in the world.

The biggest: Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy

The C-5 Galaxy is one of the largest aircraft in the world. At over 247 ft long, it’s bigger than either of the newest and largest civilian aircraft to ever hit the market, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A380. Designed to carry oversized loads at intercontinental distances, this mighty aircraft is classified as a strategic airlifter, capable of moving massive assets around the globe. It’s cargo capacity is an astounding 270 tons, but with all of this comes heavy maintenance and costs. In fact, this aircraft is reported to require 16 hours of maintenance to evey 1 hour of flight time. Ouch. This aircraft is typically used in special circumstances, where the C-17 Globemaster mentioned below bares the brunt of the strategic airlift demands of the US Military.

Medium-Sized: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

This beastly aircraft takes the middle ground between size and speed, and can perform roles of either strategic or tactical airlift missions. With up to 190 operational C-17s in the US Airforce inventory, this aircraft is one of the most heavily relied-upon workhorses in the military. It’s payload of 170,000 tons enables it to carry massive amounts of cargo, but due to the large size/weight of most of the US military’s mechanized forces, it can only carry 1 M1A1 Abrams tank (70 tons). These aspects of airlifting (weight/maintenance/costs) are major influencing factors on the Army’s current investments in building a lighter and more mobile fighting force, epitomized by vehicles such as the Stryker. Either way, this aircraft strikes the balance needed between the obscenely massive C-5 Galaxy and the smaller C-130 Hercules featured below.

Tactical Airlift Champ: Lockheed C-130 Hercules

The Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules has almost too many variants and uses to list. Being awarded for the single longest production-run airframe of any other in the world, the C-130 is nearly impossible to avoid participation in either a tactical transport, aerial refueling, or even strike mission role in any conflict over the last 50 years. Likewise, the C-130 is the most widely exported plane, with over 50 nations having purchases some variant since the original C-130 maiden flight in 1954. Popular and widely variants of the transport version C-130 hercules would be the HC-130 variants intended for troop insertions and aerial refueling of helicopters, and also the AC-130 Spectre gunship, intended for close-combat air support and assaults. The newest and most up-to-date production model is the C-130 J Super Hercules.

HC 130AC 130

Barrett REC7 – M468 – Future Assault Rifle

Apparently, the M4 Carbine or the M16 aren’t good enough for the grunts on the field.  This isn’t really a new revelation either.  Let’s face it, since day 1 of the adoption of the M16 during Vietnam, the M16 hasn’t exactly been everyone’s favorite assualt rifle.  In fact, it has been regarded by some as a killer of US troops, leaving them stuck in firefights without effective stopping power and jammed rounds.  Never fear though young GIs and military buffs, the civilian weapons manufacturing sector is listening.  Barrett Firearm’s answer?  Let’s give them what they want.

m468Greater range, 50% increased stopping power, ability to fit into the current modular makeup of existing M16 component parts.  Basically, Barrett knows how to get an invention considered by a buyer.  Hearing the voice of the GI, military procurement officers sit around and think, “What can I do about this problem,  and is it going to cost me an arm and a leg?”  These posed questions are answered in the design of the Barrett REC7 assault rifle.  This rifle hasn’t reached operational status yet, but Barrett firearms took into consideration some key aspects of rifle design and selling points with the development of this rifle (conveniently mentioned in the opening sentence of this paragraph).  All key aspects overlooked by other ambitious projects with the aim to replace the M16.  Rifles such as the OICW and the Heckler and Koch XM-8 are examples of attempts to completely redesign the rifle, which also come packaged with enormous costs and long-run expenses for spare parts.

REC7 M468 2Barrett said, “Hey, I can make a rifle that is built on existing parts already used in the M4 and M16, and deliver the results the military wants.”  Now, we can only wait and see if this bad boy will ultimately be chosen as the next generation rifle for the armed forces, but until then, we can watch Mack talk about the Barrett REC7 assault rifle and demonstrate it’s superb capabilities.  Enjoy.

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M4 – M4A1 Carbine – Modern Warfare

m4 carbine2If I hark back to the days of the Wild Wild West, during the heydays of American machismo otherwise known as Manifest Destiny, I can only think of the ever popular shoot out.  The quick and dead, the fast draws, the lawlessness, and the cowboys.  Don’t be misled about the speed of the draw though, the quickest isn’t always the victor, one must be on target to be left standing alive.  What a timeless lesson we’ve learned.

m4 Carbine IraqToday on the battlefield, many people are killed by rifles of various design.  Fortunately, most people are killed by the well-designed weapons employed by the US Military.  When the US Army rolled into Baghdad, the Iraqis were dumbfounded at how they lost nearly every engagement with small arms, quite frequently suffering center mass and head shot wounds.  They were not only just slow on the draw, but couldn’t hit a target either.  Instead of relying on a red dot sight and a light weight composite firearm, they used the “spray and pray” method, which usually got them killed.  Speed and Accuracy:  Introducing the M4A1 Carbine manufactured by Colt Firearms.  A Carbine is essentially the same design as a rifle, but with a shorter barrel.  The M4 is closely based on the Armalite AR-15 design, but modified to enhance ergonomics, aiming, and speed of use.  Ideal for close-quarter combat, this firearm tilts the scale towards life for the war-fighter wielding this weapon.

M230 Chain Gun – Apache Attack Weapon

The omnipresent adjudicator hovering over the skies of Iraq can deliver heinous death at any waking instant.  You are taking a stroll down the street, plotting some terrorist attacks in your imagination, and suddenly, without ever feeling a thing, you are reduced to a full sized human splatter pattern.  The reality is, only you know for sure what you were really wanting, thinking, taking, doing…better shape up for the eyes in the sky.30 mmThese dealings in death, the fine line between reality and the ability to play god with the lives of lesser men, are made possible by the ubiquitous ATK M230 Chain Gun mounted on the chin section of the AH-64 Apache Gunship.  With a rate of fire of 625 rounds/minute, firing 30 mm depleted uranium or anti-personnel fragmentation rounds, this weapon enables the FLIR vision films of utter anhillation the likes of which were never seen until recently.  People 100 years ago would label a death like the one below an act of God, fire and brimstone punishing the guilty.  Is that true?

You decide.  After all, the USA is a free country.

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Carbon 15 Pistol – Bushmaster

The Carbon 15 pistol is a firearm similar in design to an ArmaLite AR-15 or the Colt M4 Carbine. The main differences between the Carbon 15 “pistol” and actual M4 is the absence of the shoulder stock and the fully automatic option. You don’t really want or need full auto though, because the Carbon 15 is not designed for suppressive fire, likewise, the red dot sight fitted on the accessory rail optimizes this weapon for close quarter personal defense-ideal for confined spaces.


We got the chance to let off some rounds with one of these bad boys not too long ago, and let me tell you, fire literally shreds it way out of the barrel. The accuracy was limited to short ranges, but the proprietary carbon 15 construction material makes it so light, coupled with the red dot sight, that one can hit successive targets accurately with little trouble.

Carbon 15 Pistol

Manufacturer: Bushmaster

JASSM Cruise Missile of the Future

“We need some options on the table!” Yells a military commander sitting in the Pentagon.

“How about the option to hit them with stealth cruise missiles, sir?” Says a lowly defense analyst in the back.

“What did you say!?” Screams the general.

“Well sir, we can just have our jets launch these JASSM cruise missisles from about 230 miles out sir. No one is put at risk but them, and they cost $300,000 less than Tomohawk missiles. We’ll save some money and take out the targets.”

“Brilliant! Order the strikes. What did you say your name was? How would you like me to take you out to Chilis for some fajitas?”

JASSMAnd so goes the scenario in the Pentagon in 2009 once the JASSM (Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile) stealth cruise missile goes into operational service. The missile has been in development since 1996, and the production costs have reached $3 bn so far. Never fear though, because these missiles actually cost less, and work better than their main competitor, the Tomohawk cruise missile. Stand-Off range is basically considered a range long enough to where we can attack them, but they can’t attack us. Brilliant indeed. The missile carries a 1000 lb warhead, and can be fitted with nuclear, chemical, conventional, or even biological warheads.

Check out this JASSM video produced by Lockheed.

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V22 Osprey – Hybrid Helicopter Aircraft of the Future

V22 Osprey

Manufacturer: Boeing [NYSE: BA]

Obviously, getting troops to the battlefield as quickly as possible is a paramount concern for military planners. Choppers can carry many troops, but really can’t fly very far or fast. Planes can get troops there quickly, but where can you launch transport planes without a runway? Aircraft carriers are too small, nevermind the deck of an amphibious assault ship. Clearly, a solution is needed for high speed troop transport in a scenario of limited runway space. Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and respectively the Americans invented the V22 Osprey to fill this vital role. Employed by the United States Marine Corp, the V22 Osprey is the only tiltrotor aircraft in production by any nation’s armed forces. Combining the essential elements of the vertical take-off of a helicopter with the speed and mid-air refueling of a convential airplane, the V22 Osprey can get lots of troops to anywhere, and fast. The top speed of the Osprey stands at around 316 mph, where the closest helicopter comparison, the CH-47 Chinook transport, only reaches 196 mph. In support of a high speed amphibious invasion, this aircraft is intended to work alongside the Marine Corp’s new LCAC’s and EFVs, which will enable the US Marines to rush up to any shoreline with overwhelming force.

Check out this cool video of the V22 Osprey in action!
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The Latest Military Weapons