The Trouble with Poodle-Shooters

Donald Sensing has an interesting post up at Winds of Change about a new study which finds—surprise surprise—that 5.56mm rounds are just a wee bit underpowered. Just a bit. But of course, you check Winds of Change every day, so you already knew that 😉

I’ll play devil’s advocate here a little and say that there are still good reasons to use the round. More rounds means more chances to hit, even if you need several hits to bring the target down. It’s better to fire off a few smaller rounds and hit with one than fire a couple of bigger rounds and miss entirely. Plus, the poor troops that have to hump all the bullets have a bit of an easier time, although if you asked them I’m sure many wouldn’t mind the extra weight if they could have 6.5mm or 7.62mm ammunition and a heavier rifle. The lower recoil also makes aiming and shooting-on-the-move less difficult.

I think what’s really needed is a good compromise like 6.5mm and I really don’t understand why it’s so hard to just buy some off-the-shelf rifles and ammo, give ’em to the soldiers, and see how they go. Not all of them mind, just some, in case there are problems and their buddies have to rescue them after a jam or some such. But it really ought to be properly investigated and progress seems agonizingly slow on this front. I know that logistics is harder when you have more different types of ammunition to issue, but I suspect the ideal situation would really be to have all three rounds be common within a given squad or platoon. The scouts will probably be better off with 5.56mm, as well those for whom shooting a rifle is a secondary task. But the riflemen themselves would surely benefit from having a larger set of tools from which to choose, to better suit a given situation. Come on guys, it can’t be all that hard to make some serious progress on this issue.

—posted by Nicholas.

P.S. new GWoT allies post will be up tomorrow morning US EST.

P.P.S. Murdoc Online and Nicholas would like to make it clear that we in no way advocate actually shooting poodles. We love dogs. Seriously, resist the temptation, even if they’re French poodles.


  1. I’m sure we have all heard the ‘Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics’ quote. That applies to rifles, in spades. I’ve been told that the choice of 5.56 mm had as much to do with logistics as with ballistics. With more modern materials, a lighter weight modern gun could no doubt handle a larger bullet. But the ammo is still going to have a weight and volume penalty.

  2. Yes, but nobody said war was easy. Isn’t it worth an extra logistical burden, if it makes the troops more effective and safer? There’s plenty of other heavy items to be moved—tank shells, aerial bombs, grenades, fuel—the forces must be good by now at dealing with it. Sure, it’s going to increase the volume and weight of supplies, but that’s assuming that weight-for-weight and volume-for-volume the larger rounds are less effective than the smaller ones. Is that necessarily true? And even if it is, if it saves lives, shouldn’t it happen anyway? War in Europe with millions of soldiers firing their guns a lot would have had a significant logistical penalty for supplying all that ammo but we’re talking about ~150k troops who don’t shoot all THAT often here.

  3. skrip : well, that would either require an updated Geneva Convention or violating said convention, wouldn’t it? Is that something you really want to see happen? I suppose if you violate any part of the convention, your enemies can claim they are no longer bound by it (assuming they are honorable enemies, anyway). Obviously it won’t change the terrorists’ behaviour, but it will piss off the squishies everywhere even more than they already are, if that’s possible.

  4. The current .22 cal popgun uses ammo that weighs 2/3 of what the old NATO .308 round weighs and you have to hit them twice with the .22 so they know they’re hit. Hmm, let me see if I can still do math… Yep, the .22 is still a POS. As for logistics, is it easier to take the .22 and .308 ammo into the field or just the .308? Another no-brainer. I have a buddy that’s a Vietnam vet. He used the M1 exclusively. Not only did it have range, reliability, and accuracy over the AK-47, it also allowed a soldier to do some nice work with a bayonet and a blow to the neck with the gun butt could in some cases decapitate a foe. This is one more idiot thing we do. We have the heaviest population on the face of the Earth, and yet we use a little girl’s gun. What sense does that make? It should be a choice between the .308 or .338 Winchester Magnum, not the .22 or .25. Why give away your advantage? This country has gone nuts.

  5. FWIW, the rules about hollowpoint or ‘dum-dum’ bullets are part of the Hague Conventions, not the Geneva. Geneva governs conduct of war-treatment of civilians, POWs, special sites like hospitals, churches, etc. As far as the possibility of a 6.x mm round, the only one that’s ever been a success militarily is the 6.5×55 Swede, which isn’t really practical for an assault rifle. With modern materials and powders, you can probably achieve similar ballistics in a smaller package (ie, the 6.5 Grendel), but none of the folks who make the ammo or weapons are capable of producing them on the scale the military would need.

  6. HL: Ah good point, sorry I got my treaties mixed up. I should have known that. Would it be possible to take a commercially successful assault rifle that CAN be produced in volume (maybe even the M-16 family) and rechamber it for 6.5mm? Maybe even a 7.62mm round with a smaller powder load and/or lighter bullet (for lower recoil) would do the trick.

  7. ‘Murdoc Online and Nicholas would like to make it clear that we in no way advocate actually shooting poodles.’ Yea, but do you HUSH PUPPIES?

  8. The Army is making the rifle issue WAY too complicated. Let’s see what works and give units some discretion and choices on what weapons they use. I don’t agree with the Army’s obsession with weapon weight. I’ve been in the infantry and the one piece of equipment I never complained about being too heavy was my rifle. Give me a lighter tent, e-tool, pack, radio, armor, whatever, but don’t screw up my rifle. If they really want to reduce weight, spend the money to develop the G-11 prototype (caseless ammo) into a usable production model. I also don’t buy the logistics whining. When we invaded Normandy, we were using 3 different calibers for small arms and our biggest ally was using different calibers. We dealt with it without computer systems. A 5.56 carbine is a good personal protection weapon for truck drivers, tank crews, NCO’s etc– Just like the old M-1 Carbine. Front-line riflemen should have something with more punch and long-range accuracy.

  9. IMO, the 6.5 Grendel is definitely a better bullet. It is having the same weight as the 7.62 X 39, but a much better ballistic, and yet the cartridge is only 20% heavier than the 5.56 mm. Ok, instead of carring 360 rounds, the soldier will carry only 300 rounds, but he will gain in both range and lethality. You can manufacture the magazine out of transparent plastic, and can use the carbon parts of the rifle to reduce the weight… Why not replacing the 5.56 then? And why not adding a gas piston to the M4/M16 family to get the needed reliability, with this occasion? There are several conversion kits available right now, which are actually changing only the upper receiver, so these are easier and faster to produce. Then, you do not have to change all the carbines and assault rifles at once, you can replace them battalion by battalion, starting with the guys in Iraq and Afganistan.

  10. Nicholas, The short answer to this question: ‘Would it be possible to take a commercially successful assault rifle …(maybe even the M-16 family) and rechamber it for 6.5mm?’ Would seem to be, ‘yes’. There are companies that produce civilian models of AR-15s in .308(7.62x51mm); Bushmaster is just one; peep their site sometime. Hey free catalog! Eugene Stoner’s earlier prototypes were in .308- google ‘AR-10’. ANd it doesn’t have to be that design, of course. I’m sure a HK G3, say, would have a full and happy life as a 6.5mm rifle instead of 7.62.

  11. Okay, I have been following the Grendel for a while now and want to elaborate and expand on what others have said. First of all, the ballistics of the 6.5 Grendel are VERY similar to the 6.5 Swede because of improved, modern materials and technologies. The 6.5 Grendel platform of choice is an AR15 clone rechambered for the cartridge. Currently the Highcap magazines for the Grendel are 26 rounds. 20% of 30 is 24 rounds. The 26 round magazines also fit in the same space as the 5.56 30 rd mags. The Grendel feeds reliably in both Semi, and FULL AUTO. Grendels will be offered with POF uppers. Competition Shooting Sports currently offers Grendel ARs in variations from DMR down to M4rgery type rifles, and all uppers will fit on existing AR lowers. For more info, check out The cover article is actually on ther Tactical 16 and Tactical 14.5′ rifle. Enjoy. P.S. If you couldn’t tell, I think the 5.56 should be phased out in favor of the grendel which hits harder and has around double the effective range out of comparable barrel lengths. Terminal performance of similarly constructed bullets in the 6.8 and the 6.5 show an almost perfect match. The 6.5 has better legs though.

  12. Almost forgot, Wolf is going to be producing (actually they should be shipping soon) comercial, brass cased, boxer primed ammo for the Grendel. That should solve the ammo cost and availability issues …especially if other manufacturers jump onto it.

  13. Bram has the right idea. What our guys need is weapons, not guns. The M-16 is a fine gun if you and your little wife want to go out and shoot cans some afternoon. A weapon, on the other hand, doesn’t just pump out bullets. It fires them out when it’s full of water and mud or sand without jamming. It goes for long periods without being cleaned. It is as useful hand to hand as it is at 50 or 300 yards. I wouldn’t shoot anything (expecially if it could shoot back) with less than that .308 round. As far as I’m concerned they only get better as they go up from there. I’m not sure why the Army never adopted any of the belted magnum rounds. I guess the snipers at Ft. Bening use the .300 Winchester Mag. with a few using the .338, but I think that’s the end of it. I look at football teams these days with offensive lines averaging twice what my high school could put on the field and these kids enlist and shoot pop guns.

  14. Except for Bram it seems that none of the people who post on this whole site has ever been in the military. Go hump with a ruck or replace and M1A1 track. Go actually use the weapons you try and talk about, preferably under fire and then you will sound a little less than silly. Armor Company Commander 3-35 AR 1AD Desert Storm

  15. Melangell, what is your point? Are the 5.56mm AR15/M16/M4 family rifles good? BTW, I have been in the military, although I was carring an AK-47, as it is the weapon used in my country. And, guys do not think that the AK is a wepon that you do not have to clean ever and that it is jamming free, even in a temperate climate, without sand, mood, salty water, or dirt. We were obliged to spend one hour per day to clean it… it was my favourite nap time.

  16. Melangell, C’mon, man. Murdoc’s never been in; he’d have to shut his site down if only veterans were allowed to talk about weaponry. If people only held or shared opinions about things they actually did, we’d never talk about anything.

  17. The Army hires lots of people who have not ‘been there’ to design their weapons. They hire these people for what they know and because of their demonstrated capabilities rather than their field experience. In my experience those who have ‘been there’ are often hamstrung by their experience when they try to develop new weapons. They tend to remake the weapons they are familiar with rather than employing new approaches or technologies. Pilots are really bad about this. Seldom will I willingly let a pilot design anything. I’ll ask them about their experiences before I start the design and I’ll ask for their opinion on what I’ve designed after the prototype is developed, but I will not let them be part of the design process. There are some exceptions, of course. Some leverage their experience very well. Most do not. They’re like any of us, really. If I become an expert at using a certain kind of software, I tend to resist switching to new software. Even if the new software is more capable, it is painful to have to learn a new way of doing things, so I avoid it as long as possible in most cases. I don’t know how to explain the Army sticking with McNamara’s gun for all these years, though. It started out garbage and all these years later it’s still the same. The damn thing should have been retired when he was.

  18. Lack of veteran input is a symptom, not the source of the problem. The problem is that the DOD and the Army have become vast bureaucracies. The way to succeed in a bureaucracy is to cover your ass and never make a decision. That’s why the Army has spent millions on research and development for a new rifle with nothing to show for it (nobody has even been fired). A few of us could lay out the requirements in an afternoon and select a rifle a week after receiving prototypes. In the business world, companies that become too bureaucratic (big, slow, and insulated from reality) are eventually destroyed by small, nimble, entrepreneurial companies. Look what Apple and Microsoft did to IBM in the 80’s and 90’s or what is happening to GM right now. Unfortunately, government bureaucracies don’t go away until a country losses a war or has a revolution. The good news is that there are a few pockets of non-bureaucratic thinkers in the military. The Special Forces recently selected a new weapon that sounds like a real good piece of gear. The Marine Corps also seems much more practical about their development and procurement spending – probably why they announced they were sticking with the M-16A4 for the time being and avoided the whole Army rifle mess.

  19. You’re right about that. There was a time when they bought everything just as you described. They published an announcement saying anyone who wanted to sell guns (or whatever) to the Army should show up at a certain date, time, and place. They’d have an evaluation and place a contract. Today they have hoards of people employed placing development contracts, writing requirements, tracking contractor performance, lobbying congress. There is no incentive to ever quit. If you actually pick a weapon, you lose your cush job in the nice big air conditioned building with the gym down the hall. Who knows, you could end up out in the desert fighting terrorists next.

  20. I occasionaly use the gym and golf course at Picattiny Aresenal – you just gave a perfect description of that place.

  21. So you know the frustration first hand. This is definitely not the defense industry I wanted to work in when I was a kid.

  22. Dfens,Bram: And it muddies things up further when retired general officers who work for those companies seeking gubmint contracts. Their buddies are still in the Pentagon, influencing the awarding of those contracts and who, in turn, are biding their time until THEY retire, work for a defense company, and expect support from inside for their financial windfall. Wheels within wheels, my friends.

  23. Yeah, the job swap thing keeps the marriage tight, but the thing that has really turned it all into a big CF was when we started getting paid for development. Then it got even worse when we started getting paid profit on development. The theory was that this would free up contractors to do their best work. The reality is that it provides an incentive on both the government and industry side to drag development out as long as possible. If there weren’t so many good people involved (I’d say 99% are good people), you’d be totally screwed. As it is, the good people are fighting a losing battle. Those who have no honor or decency have a leg up on those who do. Right now it’s just a matter of how bad things are going to get before the system is repaired.

  24. Regarding ‘hollow point’ ammunition (expanding rounds) & the ‘Laws of War’. Where exactly did the U.S. agree or declare not to use expanding rounds? I’ve been searching everywhere & have yet to locate it. So far I’ve only found acts & declarations which the United States is signatory to, but never ratified. IMHO. Why not create a 5.56 hollow point variant for use in Iraq. If they can’t change the caliber… then make the caliber more effective. After, Pfc. Menchaca & Pfc. Tucker were captured, tortured, and murdered. I think it quite apparent that the ‘laws of war’ don’t meant jack to Al-Qaeda (for those who haven’t figured that out already). I might change my mind when the same attention is given to the treatment of Menchaca & Tucker, as has been given to those at Gitmo. This story has also left me wondering if the insurgents have been found equipped with anything special? Or is it just standard AK-47 & whatever rounds they could scrounge? I recall a few stories describing how insurgents were getting ‘hopped up’ on drugs & injecting adrenaline, before a fight. Here’s two CBS articles pertaining to the stopping power of the 5.56mm. Is Faulty Ammo Failing Troops? Notebook: Inside The Ammo Battle

  25. Please excuse my less than perfect writing style, I am an engineer (mechanical/ballistics) not a liberal arts professor. The US Army, in coordination with the other services, is taking a very close look at what makes an infantryman’s weapon system, effective. Suffice it to say that it’s a lot more complicated than simply observing how much damage it can do to a lump of chop meat, or if the average shot group at 300 meters is 4 inches or 8 inches in diameter. There is so much web banter out there on this issue I felt compelled to respond. Although it is good for soldiers and combat developers to be interested in understanding the ballistic performance of their systems, it can be equally damaging if uneducated or incomplete views lead to misleading conclusions. While having a more ‘damaging’ system will be advantageous in many scenarios, it may provide little or no advantage in many others, depending on the million+ variables of actual combat. Balancing weapon capability against logistical costs such as weight, cost, ergonomics, etc– must be done very carefully, and must contain input from engineers, medical doctors, statisticians, and of course, combat veterans, lots of them. Combat and ballistic performance (as with anything in real life) has so many variables that you need lots of data to find out what is really happening out there. Example: Hunter-A takes down a larger than average Canadian Elk with a single shot with a .270 caliber rifle. Hunter-B shoots a comparable animal with the system, and the animal angrily runs off. Hunter-A will swear by his rifle until the day he dies as being ‘all-that’. Hunter-B will go back to his 30-06 assuming the .270 didn’t have enough ‘stopping-power’. The reality most assuredly lies in the shot placement difference of the two hunters. Even in Hunter-B had uses an ’06 he would have probably got the same lack-luster effect due to poor shot placement. Not that shot placement is 100% of everything. You projectile must be able to accomplish some basic tasks to be effective. Soldiers in urban combat have so many different threat targets. Does the projectile have to penetrate barriers prior to striking the target? How thick? How Hard? Is the target a big fatty or a little skinny? Is he under the influence of narcotics or alcohol? It is very dangerous to draw conclusions from a man’s single or even handful experiences. The first question I always ask anyone complaining about small arms system performance is ‘Have you personally shot someone at a close enough range to see the effects?’ If the answer is no, that that person has nothing to contribute to the wound ballistic discussion. All of this just scratches the surface of a thorough ballistic analysis. Personally, I am a fan of intermediate caliber systems such as the 6.5 and 6.8mm. The ballistic potential they bring to the table seems promising. However, as I said before, damage potential isn’t everything, and soldiers don’t always hit what they shoot at. I won’t disclose numbers in this forum, but trust me millions of round are typically fired to incapacitate 100’s of targets. You can find literature from WW2, Vietnam and current conflicts that support this. It gives credence to having the average soldier carry at least 210 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition. Now me personally, I would carry 210+ rounds of the larger caliber cartridge and suck-up the weight, even if I know that the larger caliber may only help me once in a while. But that’s me, not the US Army. There are logistic and strategic costs that transcend my personal little world. Rest assured the government’s technical community has the soldier’s best interest in mind. We are doing everything we can to get him the most effective weapon systems, while at the same time, be confident in understanding the how/where/why’s of its performance. They deserve no less.