XM8 in the New Jersey Star Ledger

Army sets sights on XM8, a lighter, more-reliable rifle

blackxm8.jpgNJ.com gives us this story on the XM8. It’s pretty standard and geared mostly for folks unfamiliar with the weapon (i.e. people who don’t read MO). Main points are the increased reliability, the ability to fire it more easily from vehicles (due to the shorter length of some configurations), and it notes the controversy over continuing to use the 5.56 round.

If independent experts have a quibble with the XM8, it’s that it fires the same diameter 5.56 millimeter bullets as the M-16. Those lack the stopping power of the heavier 7.62 millimeter slugs fired by the Russian AK-47, the rifle favored by Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban.

“The M-16 just doesn’t reach out and tap the bad guys who are firing with a weapon that has a heavier round,” said Roos, a former Army officer.

Bruce Canfield, a military historian and weapons expert, said small-arms designers moved away from the bigger bullets, which have greater range, after World War II and Korea because battle records showed most kills took place at 300 yards or less. The need was for weapons that could fire more bullets. Smaller bullets, which weighed less, were the answer.

“Anything you do with the weapon is a tradeoff,” Canfield said. “If you’re going to have lighter weight, you’re going to have less firepower.”

This “tradeoff” remark is right on the money. Just like the issues surrounding the new Stryker LAV, every system is a combination of multiple factors. If the troops want lighter weapons (and I think that’s a very valid request) they’re going to be made out of lightweight materials and probably fire smaller rounds. There’s no doubt that the M14, with its wooden buttstock, heavier machining, and 7.62 ammunition, is a more powerful weapon. But it was those very factors that led to the M16. Some of the same factors that have led to the M8 were responsible for the creation of the M4 carbine variant of the M16.

You can’t have it all. You decide what the most important factors are, design a weapon that meets those requirements, and then do the best you can with the other, less-important factors.

I am one of those who is not sold on the viability of the 5.56 round. This isn’t from personal experience, but is based on many, many comments by our fighting men. The XM8 supporters will quickly point out that their weapon is capable of being upgraded to the 6.8 round, but then so is the M16/M4 weapon. I think the 5.56 vs. 6.8 vs. 7.62 debate is separate from the debate over the need for a new assault rifle. However, I think the debate over the round our boys are going to be throwing at the enemy needs to be resolved before we decide to invest heavily in a new rifle.

A comment made frequently by some military folks and observers is that the XM8 looks like a toy and that it appears to be made of plastic. Well, isn’t that the exact same thing said about the M16 when it was introduced? I don’t know that these arguments really hold any water.

A big advantage that the M8 seems to have over the current weapons is the reliability factor. Many MO readers have pointed out in comments to previous posts that the M16 was touted as extremely reliable when it was introduced, to the point of not issuing cleaning kits with the weapon. The main reason for the overestimation of the M16’s reliability seems to stem from the fact that the M16 was designed for cartridges using the Improved Military Rifle powder (IMR) but ammunition using standard ball-type powder has always been used.

What are the reasons for using the ball powder over the IMR powder? Expense? This is a valid concern when talking about millions upon millions of rounds over decades of use, but the operations and lives of our servicemen are also valid concerns. What would be lost by converting to the IMR powder? Besides increased weapon reliability, would we see any other benefits? Besides cost, would there be any other downside? It seems to me that the increased cost might be worth it, especially since it might be offset so a degree by the savings of not converting the entire US Army to another standard rifle.

(I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’m hoping that MO’s well-informed and experienced readers might be able to shed some light on this.)

Also, word was that two Army brigades were going to be issued the XM8 this year. I’ve been unable to determine which brigades these are and when it might happen. Anyone out there have any info?

(I’m not really interested in any “I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you”-type info, though. It would seriously hurt my posting rate.)

UPDATE: ACE has a great find – In a post about the 101st Airborne he notices that some of the Screaming Eagles appear to be armed with M14s, the pre-M16 7.62mm rifle of the US military.

I noted back in January that at least some of the infantry squads in the Stryker brigade had an M14-armed sharpshooter. This may be more of the same thing in the 101st.

The current situation in Iraq calls for more sniper-like firepower, as opposed to massed bases of fire by automatic weapons to pin down enemy units during a heavy firefight. I find the fact that M14s are showing up in Iraq units very telling.

If units using the M16 and M4 need a guy with an M14, where does that leave units that might switch over to the new XM8? The XM8 in its base configuration has a barrel 2″ shorter than that of the M4. So, despite the fact that shorter barrels are handy in vehicles and in urban settings, there is still enough call for longer barrels to pull M14s out of the warehouse.

Yes, the XM8 does have a 20″ sharpshooter barrel available, but that still leaves the question of the 5.56 round. If the 5.56 round is sufficient, why aren’t they using M16s? The fact that they’ve elected to us the 7.62-firing M14 speaks volumes, I think.


82ndsniper.jpgUPDATE 2: I just happened across this pic on army.mil.

The caption IDs the subject as a “sniper” in the 82nd. I’m not sure if the sharpshooters in the Stryker brigade (or the 101st as noted above) have this sort of scope on their weapons, or if this guy might be part of an actual sniper team. It appears to be an M14, but it might also be an M25. Or an M21? Despite all my posts on the XM8, I do not claim to be a gun expert of any kind. Help me out, here. Click on the pic for a very large version.


  1. Good post. I’m with you on thinking the round selected is a more fundamental decision than the rifle. Sure, the barrels could be changed out later in the XM8s, but at what cost? It’s interesting that the British had to abandon a 270 cal. round to adopt the 5.56mm the US was pushing for NATO back in the 60s, and several armies used 6.5mm rounds in WWII. The 6.5mm Grendel is an interesting round which I’d like to see compared ballistically to the 6.8mm SPC. By using a shorter case, it can take advantage of longer bullets with better BCs. I covered it in this ACE post you might have seen: http://airbornecombatengineer.typepad.com/airborne_combat_engineer/2004/03/65mm_grendel_ak.html I believe there are even better powders than IMR today, which is one reason the 6.8mm SPC can claim ballistics almost as good as the 7.62 using a smaller case capacity. (I still look forward to independent ballistics tests, however.) The improved propellants are also why the short magnums and super short magnums can almost equal the ballistics of the long magnums, with less case capacity. An M14 with ‘black’ furniture and a folding stock can look as good as a M16/4 (I posted an image of one sometime back), but I’m sure it’s not quite as light.

  2. The photo is of an M14, still has the select-fire doodad right above the trigger finger. Sniper-optimized rifles will have that piece removed, and be bedded in a new stock lacking the recess for the full-auto part. Go here to find links to ballistic comparisons of .26 Grendel to 6.8 Rem SPC, both exterior and terminal. GlobalSecurity.org has a good list of links to ‘Iraq lessons learned’ pages, where you’ll find more references to a designated 7.62mm marksman per platoon. Thank God the rifles are still there to be cleaned up and issued, rather than cut up for scrap.

  3. If that weapon in the photo isn’t an M-14 I’ll eat my toe jam. I should know cause I lugged one of them beauties over hill and dale in the early 1960’s when I was working for ‘Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, Inc’. It was a great improvement over the M-1 of which I have an intimate knowledge having slept with one for some time. I hated the ‘PINNNNNG’ after the 8th round when the clip was ejected!

  4. First off, the weapon in the picture is definitely not an m25 as only a handfull were made. which were all synthetic stocks and issued to SEAL and various special operatoins teams. Its also not an m21, due to the wood used, and you can tell from the grip of the stock, which is more horizontal than a kind of pistol grip hybrid used on the m21. Also, i hope to god that no one would put electric tape on a beauty like an m21 =( but any way, just my 2 cents on the cartridges, Im pretty sure that the 6.8 as a whole will do very very well. I think its scores better than the 5.56 NATO, and better than the 7.62 NATO. The round fired from an ak-47, the 7.62X39 is VERY different from the .308 winchester (7.62X51) fired from the m14/m21/m25. It comes out at a much slower velocity, and Isn’t even in the same realm of power as the .308 winchester. If the 6.8 SPC really is a .270, then it has the same amount of powder as a .30-06 which is just as good at anti-personnel work as the .308 winchester. (A man some of you may know as Carlos Hatchcock) used the .30-06 in his winchester model 70 until he was handed a new rifle in .308 winchester. When considering calibre’s for a new assault rifle, you really have to consider the fighting in this day and age. No longer are we fighting a wide open trench war with opportunities to pick off the enemy at sever hundred or a thousand yards, but you have close in, hectic street-fighting, with plenty of non-combatants mixed in with the ‘bad guys’. So, obviously, many variables arise. First, the issue of the 5.56 NATO, (m16/m4) being too weak to stop the enemy. The 5.56 NATO in my opinion is very unsuited for the warfare of today. Stopping power is ultimately decided by the weight and girth of the slug, which the 5.56 NATO is lacking alot in. And during operation Iraqi freedom, the problem reported was over-penetration through flimsy buildings, hitting non-combatants or objects on the other side. So obviously, whats wanted it more stopping power (larger slug) and less of the penetration problem (due to larger powder charge for a smaller round resulting in a very high muzzle velocity). True, the .308 winchester is higher in both areas, which solves only one of the problems, but a more intermediate cartridge like the bad guy’s 7.62X39 is what is needed. Something perhaps with a very slightly smaller slug and the same to a slightly larger powder charge would be ideal in today’s assault rifle. The problem that the army brass in vietnam had with the m-14 was that the recoil in full automatic fire was excessive. But by adopting Eugene Stoner’s design chambered in 5.56, they also had to give a smaller charge. This reduced recoil, but also stopping power and most harmful, effective range. The m-16 was ordered to be adopted by one of the ‘whiz kids’. A group of Ivy league educated men who worked in washington. Obviously, these men (while in the best of intentions) didn’t know a thing about combat, much less the huge field of ballistics, and unknowingly, took out a beautiful masterwork of a rifle in a good calibre, and replaced it with a small caliber high velocity subgun, So, whats my opinion? not that you’ve read this far, but 6.8 SPC all the way.

  5. Dear Chris, You make reference to Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II – United States Marine Corps. 93 confirmed KILLS in the Nam. He was one rightous dude! Semper Fi!

  6. The 6.5mm Grendel is superior to the 6.8 SPC: Ballistics Comparison: 6.8 SPC / 6.5 Grendel Sierra 115 gr / 123 Scenar Lapua .340 BC / .542 BC 2422 / 2427 fps at 100m 1498 / 1609 ftlb at 100m +6.06 / +5.76 in drop at 100m 1.20 / .90 in drift at 100m (10mph) 1916 / 2102 300m Velocity 938 / 1206 300m Energy 0 / 0 300m Drop 12.05 / 7.49 300m Drift 500meters: 1488 / 1803 Velocity 565 / 888 Energy -52.41 / -43.73 Drop 37.8 / 22.41 Drift

  7. The 6.5 Grendel is not a candidate becuse the 6.5 Grendel did not offer the incapacitation capabilities that the DoD was looking for. THe 6.5 Grendel is not M16 magazine friendly, and the 6.5×38.6mm case lacked suffecient case capacity. The 6.8 was suggested by Troy Lawton, chief ballistician for the USAMU. Improved Military Rifle powder is a manufacturer of cartridge propellants, not a specific powder. They manufacture a lot of different powder such as IMR4895, IMR4064, SR4756, etc. The problem in Vietnam was that the ball powder used in the 5.56mm catridge contained 1% of a compound known as calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Calcium carbonate was used to neutralize the acid in the powder, thus extending the propellants shelf life. The real problem with calcium carbonate is that when subjected to water or high humidity, it reacted to the water/humidity to form a sticky residue much like varnish. Enter that type of ammunition into Southeast Asia and you’ve got one big mess on your hands. The powder was reformulated in 1969 to reduce the quantity of CaCO3 from 1% to .25%. This powder formula has been used ever since. Programs are already underway to outfit SOCOM units with the SOCOM SPR Mk-12, an M4 style carbine chambered in 6.8 SPC. New, 26 round magazines are being built by Precision Reflex Inc, and a program has been initiated that would allow standard M16 magazines to carry either the 5.56mm or the 6.8 SPC. There is also a 12′ barrel version available for crew served platforms. However, all of this has to go thought the Ordnance Department and pass all of the tests. To date, 130 XM8 rifles have been delivered to the U.S. Army for testing, but the very earliest the the DoD could adopt a new rifle would be early 2005, but that assumes that there are no problems discovered with the XM8 AND that it is a better weapon AND cost effective to replace the M16 family with the new XM8. At current price, a fully assemblied upper in 6.8 SPC runs from $400 to $1,400. The gas system can easily be modified to the short-stroke piston of the XM8 and there you have it. Given that the USMC just upgraded to the M16A3 and the Armys current supply of M16A2s and M16A3s are either new or ready to be rebuilt, upgrading to a ‘can have now, and it’s just as good for less’ might provail. The M16 family is not going to dissapear overnight. The M14 was officially withdrawn from service in 1968, but you see more and more of them these days. The M16 family of rifles will continue to serve for atleast the next decade.

  8. To correct Kevin above: The only alternative rounds the military is willing to look at currently that I am aware of is alternatives to 7.62 NATO in the SCAR-H. The SCAR-L and XM-8 are solely looking at 5.56mm. There is no difference in the ability of 6.8 SPC or 6.5 Grendel to be used in M16/AR15 lower assemblies. They both require 5.56 magazines to have minor modifications. The 6.5 Grendel could compete in the SCAR-H category. I have asked the project proponent to give me an update. The 6.5 Grendel ballistics are superior to both 7.62 M80 and 7.62 M118LR in use by our military. The 6.8 SPC on the other hand has inferior ballistics to the 7.62 rounds. DOD is just starting to look at 6.5 Grendel. There was a comparison between 6.5 SPC (not Grendel) and 6.8 SPC. The 6.5 SPC is inferior in stopping ability (not the Grendel). The 6.5 Grendel also has greater case capacity than the 6.8 SPC. Hopefully some military members won’t just listen to Remington and realize that they have released some misleading propoganda.

  9. This is what I think and it may or may not be true,but it seems logical to me(i really don’t know enough to justify my post but I wanted to get my thoughts of my chest). I’m not trying to step on anyones toes here,but every forum that I have been to,the people there are talking about how far the grendal will shoot and about how it will hold velocity and energy better out to a thousand yards. Why would you have a standard rifle with the ability to shoot over a thousand yards? The military would be stupid for issuing to regular soldiers. The reason I say this is because in an example situation: A soldier sees the enemy at 900m,and because he knows his weapon can do it, he lobs a few pills at them, in return for firing on the enemy he gives his position away putting himself and his platoon in a crappy situation.Also, in an urban assault type of situation, I would not recomend the higher power. If the soldiers were clearing a room in conjunction with others in the rooms next door.A high powered round is fired and it goes through the enemy,and the wall, who is to say that you won’t injure any friendlies.Don’t get me wrong,the Grendal is an excellent round, but it belongs in competition and bench shooting.The 6.8mm is not the best, but it will do what it was supposedly designed for.The military is not looking for a long range rifle. They already have those. The boys using the M14s are using them for knock down, not distance shooting. The military is looking for a dual purpose knock down,0-600m Ammunition.

  10. Joey, The military is always looking for more penetration in it’s battle rifles. Penetrating light walls, cover, vehicles, and body armor are all desireable qualities that the military tries to achieve in bullet design (eg. the latest 5.56 rounds). As for giving away your position, that can be done any number of ways including firing at someone your weapon can’t reach out and touch. Long range has been a factor in Afghanistan and Iraq – only our heavier crew weapons have been effective. The best thing is not to limit yourself – eg. here take this thing only good out to 100 meters since we are having 80% of our fights within that range. M4 complaints have been knock down power and penetration. 70-80% have said they have no complaints with the M4. That leaves 20-30% who have complaints.

  11. My understanding was that the purpose of the 6.8 SPC was for close range (300 m or less) combat. Its goal was to eliminate the overpenetration problems of the .223. The .223 was designed to tumble after penetration, but with the twist rates on the M16 (overstabilization) and the shorter barrels of the M4 (hence lower velocity) the bullets are not tumbling in the targets. This was the problem in Mogidishu and the same thing is happening in Afghanistan. The Grendel is a good long range round but doesn’t solve the close range/damage problem. The 6.8 SPC is a good compromise round from what I’ve read. Actual results may vary…

  12. 1. Overpenetration??? I know what it is, and that cops and folks defending their own homes might worry about it, but the military? It was the least of our worries in the Marines and still is in my National Guard Armor unit. Penetration is always considered a good thing – on or off the battlefield. 2. Penetration: When (not if) we fight a foe with body armor anywhere near as good as ours, the 5.56 round will immediately be obsolete. It just does not have the penetrating power our soldiers will need – especially when they are using short-barreled carbines. If the better penetrating replacement is also accurate and effective at longer range, so much the better. 3. Long Distance Shooting – The USMC stresses long distance accuracy more than the Army which is more interested in fast engagement at medium ranges. However, both branches still exercise discipline and no one should be popping off at 1,000 meters or any other distance just because they can. The decision of when to shoot depends on the situation, standing orders, rules of engagement, and specific orders from your chain of command. Visit DSArms.com to see some cool .308 carbines and rifles.

  13. To Chris B. By overpenetration, I was refering to the round going through the target without expending its energy. It leaves an icepick wound without incapacitating the target. The round doesn’t destabalize and tumble like its supposed to, so the energy exits the target and gets wasted on the building behind the target. Imagine deer hunting with FMJ rounds- the deer would die, but would escape first. In a military situation it doesn’t work because you didn’t stop the target. He’ll die, but not until tomorrow, which doesn’t stop him from hitting you. I agree with you on the penetration/body armor issue. 7.62 Nato would be a much better choice, or even a full sized .270. If it works in an AR it probably won’t be powerful enough for what we need. We need a rifle built for a mid range cartridge- shoehorning in the biggest thing we can into an AR is not the long term answer. BUT 6.8SPC is an improvement over .223….

  14. The rifle in the photo is either a National Match M14 from a marksmanship program, or an XM21 or M21 which has had the ART I or II replaced with a unit-procured scope and mount/rings. It AIN’T an M14 – the selector shaft is not removed on the NM/M14s and the XM21/M21s, it has a small round collar WHICH IS CLEARLY PRESENT IN THE PHOTO silver-soldered in place of the 14’s selector lever WHICH IS CLEARLY NOT PRESENT IN THE PHOTO. Jog your memories there, Toejam & Fuz, remember flipping the lever to go full? It AIN’T an M25 – They are glassed into a McMillan composite tactical stock with QD bipod stud, and have a different mount/rings/scope setup. The rifle pictured is a field expedient equivalent to the M25 that replaces the elderly and hard-to-get-parts-for ART scopes. And there’s a reason that greybearded old match 14s and 21s are coming out of retirement and getting retreaded with current scopes in imitation of the 25. As any REAL sniper can tell you, it’s a simple principle called ‘ballistic superiority’. If the bad guy has a gun that he can use to engage you out to 400M, you don’t set up on him inside that. You use your gun that’s effective out to 1000M and try to engage him at 600M or so, from beyond his reach. Practical application? They’ve got AKs, we use M24s/M25s/M240s. They get FALs or warm up the mortars, we break out the Barretts. In a nutshell, ya gotta not only bring a gun, ya gotta bring the bigger gun. Anyone desirous of impugning my bona fides can gawk at my post on the XM8 thread. Out.

  15. Both the 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Grendel are improvements over the 5.56 NATO, but the 6.5 Grendel is the better package. While short-range engagements (< 100m) are the majority of modern combat contacts, the current tactical situation, at least in Iraq, requires that soldiers/marines be able to engage targets at 600+ meters at any given time. Snipers are optimal for these types of engagements, but their limited numbers dictate that all units in contact be ready and resourced for long-range, precision fire. Here, the 6.5 Grendel's long-range effectiveness would give it the edge. In short- to moderate-range engagements (0-100m and 100-300m), enemy targets will likely not react with any significant difference when hit by either the 6.8 SPC or 6.5 Grendel projectiles. However, the ballistic advantages of the 6.5 Grendel beyond 600m increase lethality and the probability of a hit. In order to execute routine, long-range fires, several units currently employ the 'Squad Designated Marksman' (SDM) concept or something similiar. The SDM is not a sniper, but is trained for long-range engagement and equipped with an enhanced weapon system and ammunition. In my experience, SDM's are armed with an M-16 variant built under contract to enhance accuracy and long-range capability. These rifles are matched with non-standard 5.56 loads using heavy (70+ grains) bullets. SDM's using this specialized weapon and ammunition combination can be effective given the constraints of the caliber, but face the additional problem of carrying and tracking two different ammunition types. SDM's equipped with weapons of a completely different caliber than those of their squad companions face additional logistical issues. A unit armed with weapons in 6.5 Grendel would only need to carry one type of ammunition that can be cross-leveled among the element as required. The 6.8 SPC would provide the advantage of ammunition commonality, but would be less effective for long-range engagements. Use of the 6.5 Grendel would increase the lethality of soldiers and marines at both short- and long-range as well as simplify 'tip-of-the-spear' logistics, at least in the long term.

  16. Sorry everybody I’m with Kevin on this one. I don’t know how many of you have had real battle experience across seas, but I can tell you without a doubt that the 6.8 is what we need over there. I am part of a Army Scout team that just returned from Afganistan and most of my buddies have just returned from Iraq. The cartridge most needed right now is one that can expend the most energy on a target in CQB situations out to 300m with the ability to take up to 600m targets if need be. The 6.5 Grendel makes since to target shooters who only look at ballistics, but for military all that matters is knock down power. Check the TKO and TRSP values for both cartridges at http://www.beartoothbullets.com and you will find that the 6.8 is superior to 300m and maintains a close race out to 1000m. Another thing that target shooters forget is the most likely company choosen for bullet supply is Sierra NOT Lapua. The ballistic coefficients are much less with the Sierra bullets (but I would argue that Sierra are more accurate being a competition shooter and a reloader myself). And as far as body armor goes, not to many of the hodgees are wearing it.

  17. Barrett rifles already has the M468 rifle in 6.8spc. The military just needs to get on with it as Barrett has already proven thier product in the M107 .50 cal

  18. I have noticed that the people that support the 6.5 Grendel simply list the measurable ballistic information and think the debate should be over. However, there is more to it. Consider the 308 vs the 30-06. If you check the ballistic charts the 30-06 appears superior. However, those with real experience know that the 308 is a much more accurate and efficient round. Give the 6.8 SPC a chance and hope that the ultimate decision maker knowns what the heck he is doing. For more information on 308 vs 30-06: http://www.snipercountry.com/Articles/AccuracyFacts.asp http://yarchive.net/gun/ammo/308_vs_30-06.html

  19. Our troops don’t need a target round. What they need is a round that can shoot farther than a 7.62×39 and a 5.8 which our likely opponents will use. the round needs to reliablely shoot though wood and car sheetmetal (common barriers) and take down the bad guy. They also need light recoil for quick follow up shoots and accurate shooting all day. A light rifle would be very nice too. As far as I can tell the 6.8 SPC is the best cartridge for that job. The Barrett M468 is a great idea because the Upper could be placed on existing M16/M4s and keep the cost down, with a short stroke piston it would be hard to find a better option. that is what our troops need.

  20. Let’s look at this a slightly different way. What does the 6.8mm SPC have on the 6.5 Grendel at close range? Slightly more knockdown power. Will the hodgess know the difference? I doubt it. You ppl look at ballistics and let them blind you to reality. The two are effectively the same in CQC and urban warfare. Dead is dead. You’ve only got a valuable or worthwhile discussion when you take into account the concept of moving from a 5.56/7.62 cartridge system to a single cartridge system for light arms, heavy machine guns and sniper rifles. That being said, the 6.5 Grendel is COULD do it all. That’s when a perusal of ballistics comes in handy. Check them out 6.5G vs 7.62 NATO. It would work. But you not only look at the ballistic comparison but also the logistical benefits of a single cartridge system. Let’s look at the big picture. Certainly we can get over our petty cartridge comparisons and even company loyalty to put our men in uniform first. Cheers, JC Bollers btw: whomever mention sierra vs lapua as a projectile manufacturer: IF the US govt wants the bullet to be a certain way, then sierra will make it according to spec, not the other way around….It’s the nature of military contracts. Everyone knows that.