Ballistic Facts of Life : DOD & a More Powerful Cartridge


5.56 mm 62 gr NATO Green Tip Ammo
5.56 mm 62 gr NATO Green Tip Ammo

Ft Collins, CO –-( The Ballistic Facts of Life:

The Pentagon’s unwavering loyalty to the 5.56×45 cartridge may be faltering, at long last, but we are once again confronted by the Laws of the Universe.

New materials, new coatings and other surface treatments, new machining methods and technology, new propellants, all help, but “game-changing miracles,” though much falsely claimed, are pretty much confined to the Old Testament!

Once again:

Autoloading military rifles, chambered for 5.56×45, are suitable, maybe even ideal, for domestic personal defense and as police patrol rifles.

But, as a “main-battle-rifle,” the caliber is inadequate, in both range and penetration. And, all the “wonder bullets,” proposed and issued, since the 1960s have fallen far short of adequately addressing these two critical issues.

And, short barrels make a bad problem even worse!

So, here is the unhappy truth:

While DOD wants a more powerful cartridge, effective to 500m, they don’t seem to consider that it is invariably going to require a rifle that weighs more and has a longer barrel than the current M4.

Barrel length, overall rifle weight, propellant capacity, bore diameter, durability, effectiveness:

All these parameters have to be balanced against unavoidable trade-offs, inherent with each.

A large ratio of propellant to bore-diameter (1) requires a long barrel length and (2) shortens barrel life.

Large bore diameter and (of course) a heavier bullet requires a heavy barrel and large cartridge cases, which means increased recoil and decreased magazine capacity. Big case-heads require big bolts.

7.92×57mm Mauser Ammo
7.92×57mm Mauser Ammo

It seems we have been trying to find the best compromise since the Mauser Brothers first introduced bolt-guns and smokeless propellent, back in the 1800s!

In fact, the original 7mm Mauser was a pretty good military cartridge. Still is.

Then, there was the 280 British, 276 Pedersen. Probably adequate, but never adopted. The 6.5×55 Swedish is in the same category.

A military cartridge needs:

  • (1) generous case-taper for smooth feeding and extraction,
  • (2) limited pressure for reliability, durability, long barrel-life, and slow heat build-up,
  • (3) a ballistically-efficient bullet, heavy and sturdy enough for adequate penetration, and
  • (4) sufficient muzzle velocity to keep the bullet supersonic out to at least 800m.

The new generation of cartridges, including the 224 Valkyrie, 6.5 Creedmore, 260 Remington, et al. make good, long-range sniper calibers. But, with a light, skinny bullet, combined with a barrel with a fast twist-rate, we inherit rapid heat build-up, short barrel life, and the requirement for a long barrel. Significant muzzle velocity is sacrificed for every centimeter of barrel-length reduction. Thus, any of these calibers, in a short-barreled rifle (carbine), represents a contradiction of terms!

The first thing DOD is going to have to acknowledge is this:

When they insist on a 500m rifle with adequate penetration, that rifle will need at least a twenty-inch barrel and will have to be chambered for a cartridge with a bullet at least twice as heavy as that of the current 5.56×45.

Unhappily, what DOD has fanatically avoided confronting for the past forty years is the fact that they are going to have to, at long last, actually train real riflemen to kill individual enemy soldiers, one at a time, with accurate, semi-automatic rifle-fire.

I’m not at all sure they even know how anymore!

DOD could have an adequate main-battle-rifle, as described above, complete with appropriate optics, rails, etc, in the hands of front-line Soldiers and Marines in less than a year, all for a fraction of the cost of a single stealth fighter, if there were any will at the highest levels to actually get it done and finally put this issue behind us.

I’m less optimistic than I was a year ago.


Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr. Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

  • 21 thoughts on “Ballistic Facts of Life : DOD & a More Powerful Cartridge

    1. Something like .250 Savage or .257 Roberts, with the case shortened and blown out to the minimum necessary taper for an AR style rifle with a bullet of say, 130-140 grains could have worked. I’d rather hunt deer with it (over the 5.56) or humans with AK-47s.

      6.5 Grendel also looks better. I’d rather have 25 of them in a magazine than 30 of the 5.56.

    2. I don’t know but how about 300 AAC in in 125gr (+ or -) OTM. Its Supersonic, can be suppressed, 18 inch barrel, carbine length gas system= more dwell time in bore for the weapon to function. You can go up or down in bullet weight 110 -220 gr, or hey how about all those 147gr 7.62 bullets we already have in the inventory? I think everyone understand the platform we already have in service that this could be placed on.
      Frankly I see to many people who sight in their favorite Hunting rifle and if it groups (pattern ;-()’s on a paper plate its good to go. BRM left a long time ago, although when I wore the Campaign Hat I pushed it on the unwilling. Just saying…

    3. RIFLE MEN.I totally agree growing up in the country you learn when to shoot and not miss!
      When you are looking at a Rattler,Copper Head or a Moccasin or even a Gator closing in on you missing is not a option.Make every shot count because your life or the life of someone you care about just might depend on!

    4. OK, so most soldiers in the field find no fault with the 5.56 and M4/M16 platform. Why would we want to go to some currently popular cartridge which would bring up all kinds of new problems to solve. We already have some AR platform rifles in 7.62/51 in the field and one of the reasons we went to the smaller caliber and cartridge was weight – you can’t carry enough ammo in heavier systems to make it attractive to grunts. Yes, power is important, and range also, but we have specialty weapons to take care of sniping and materiel destruction. The 308 already in the supply chain can take care of almost all the problems and the AR10 doesn’t weigh much more that the M16. I don’t see another caliber option that would be good enough to warrant a change.

    5. gee, if they only made a 30 caliber gun on the AR platform….might weigh a little more, but probably about the same as the M-1 Garand.

    6. Excellent article which hit the main point, actually training our soldiers to be “riflemen” again. Those trained in accurate semi-auto shooting are among the deadliest opponents in the world. Automatic fire is used in two instances, for suppressive fire and as a last ditch effort when you’re being overrun. Riflemen were common place in WW1 & 11 because soldiers came from farms where they knew how to hunt and shoot. That’s been lost on most of today’s recruits. We have to start all over again, take the time and money to teach these kids the basics of hunting and careful aimed shots.

    7. If the Army wants a cartridge with more stopping power that meets the above listed criteria might I suggest the .308WIN. Wait! They’ve already adopted that nearly 70 years ago with much success. Maybe they should throw some more money at it and restudy this already over-studied cartridge. Why not? It’s only taxpayers’ money and we can always get more with no need to reduce spending.

    8. It way past time we get outside of 1911 thinking and ask ourselves why are we still using gunpowder? We pushed the limits of what can be done. Firearms don’t even need to look like firearms. Gunpowder needs replacement as the fuel and maybe even “bullets” as we know them.

      1. Electromagnetic rail guns do exist…but power, weight and magazine are all on the wrong side of the equation…oh, there is a small matter of price to arm over 1M in the military…

        Unfortunately, we live in reality. Reality is it could be 30, 50 or 100 years to wean ourselves from dependence on combustion driven projectiles as a Method of violence against an enemy for our military on the ground.


      2. @Matt in OK, Maybe a green laser with a scope. Focus the laser on the opfors eye at three or four miles away, and the opfors suddenly realizes that he is blind on one or both eyes. Should have a very demoralizing effect, quiet, light to carry, ammo not a problem, and it is off shelf technology.
        And slaughter bots. Tiny little drones with camera, electronic signals, and an ounce of C-4. We fly a bunch of them over to the opfors TOC, land and watch through the slaughter bot’s camera until we figure out who the prime staff are and then fly them over to the command staff and detonate them. No fuss, no muss.

      1. I believe it was the time before last. Either way, this change is long overdue. Personally, I think there should be enough inventory of different weapons and ammunition to allow Soldiers to carry a weapon that better suits the particular mission they have been assigned. You don’t need a 6.5 Creedmoor, with a 24″ barrel, for clearing buildings and, a 5.56 carbine, with a 14.5″ barrel, isn’t suitable for combat in open terrain. Why not have an array of weapons allowing you to adapt to every possible scenario?

      2. Yes, the 608 WAS fielded as a test weapon for a couple years in the “Sandbox”, and was fouind- by the Grunts results- to be much superior to the then 62 Gr Green Tip 5.56 round.
        The cost of converting ALL M4/M16 rifles in stock was minimal, only needing nre bolts and barrels, however, the Army/DOD, in their infinite wisdom, decided to develope a new 62 Gr 5.56 projectile, whuich IS superior to the OLD 62 Gr 5.56 projectile… at considerable cost… due to their inability to think outside the box and accept a superior round.

    9. The lowest cost option to get them what they need is probably the 6.5 grendel, which could probably be easily adapted to the SAW also.

    10. Not going to happen; especially since women have been approved for combat duty. By the way, a wounded enemy soldier takes more enemy personnel to deal with than a dead one. Nice try; no cigar.

      1. You presume that the enemy will have the same moral and ethical (and even socio-political) background – to care for their own wounded, for instance – that Americans have. Bad assumption.

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