Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The "top ten" battle rifles huh?

So, I'm watching the military channel; and the "Top Ten Military Rifles" comes on. This went around the gunblogs a few months back, but I never got to see it, so I didn't comment.

Well, I'm watching it now, let's see how they do.

First thing, the presentation is unbearably cheesy; and while some of their experts really are (William Atwater was one of their primary experts, and he's the curator of the national military small arms museum for example); some of them are most definitely not (random Canadian journalists).

They're rating each rifle by the following criteria

1. Accuracy
2. Combat effectiveness
3. Innovation
4. Handling
5. Service length

Unfortunately they provide no explanation for the ratings they have given; or the standards by which they are judging, so these data points are not very meaningful.

We'll just live blog this as we go.

10. M14:
Accuracy: Excellent
Combat effectiveness: Excellent
Innovation: Average
Handling: Average
Service length: Very Low

Well, if you only count the original service life I suppose you can say it's low (only 8 years), but if you recognize the fact that the weapon has been in continuous (if limited) service since 1956...

The rest of the ratings I have no trouble with (the rifle as originally issued is a bit long and heavy; but in more recent variants I would say handling becomes excellent); I'd simply rate the rifle much higher in the list of great rifles.

Oh, and I think properly, the M1 garand, BM59, and M14 should all be grouped together.

9. Stg44:
Accuracy: Poor
Combat effectiveness: Excellent
Innovation: Very High
Handling: Average
Service length: Very Low

Yup, the very first assault rifle; and definitely a milestone, but honestly it's not that great a weapon. It paved the way for a LOT of great weapons though, and should be recognized, but above the M14?

The weapon itself had mediocre accuracy; not much in the way of killing power, and was fiddly to manufacture, and maintain.

Of course it also led pretty much directly to the AK47, so...

8. 1903 Springfield:
Accuracy: Excellent
Combat effectiveness: Low
Innovation: Low
Handling: Low
Service length: Very high

The grandaddy of modern US battle rifles; and one of the most successful Mauser variants; but it IS a Mauser variant, and as such I don't think it should be taken as it's own design. To my mind, it should be grouped in with the Mauser 98 and its derivatives; AND they collectively should be listed as the number one battle rifle of all time.

As to their ratings, WTF are they smoking rating combat effectiveness low? Yes, it's a bolt action rifle and as such you can't use suppressive volume fire (as an individual rifleman anyway), but I don't know very many well trained riflemen who would consider themselves poorly armed with an '03. Worse, rating the '03s handling as low? No, just flat out wrong.

7. Steyr AUG:
Accuracy: Average
Combat effectiveness: Very good
Innovation: Very High
Handling: Excellent
Service length: Low

The first widely successful bullpup; but I won't hold that against it. I think the entire concept of the bullpup as a general issue weapon is flawed; but the AUG is an excellent weapon. It's well made, accurate, reliable and durable, versatile... really the only faults I find with it are in ergonomics; and that's a LOOOONG discussion that I've already covered elsewhere.

Lest anyone think I'm an anti-bullpup bigot; let me say again, I think the Steyr AUG is an excellent weapon; I just think the bullpup concept as a whole is not a very good idea; except in those applications where minimum length is a high priority.

As to their ratings, I don't know where they got their rating ideas from. One of the best things about the AUG, is it's accuracy. Also, it handles better than any other bullpup I've tried, excepting the odd trigger.

Oh, and it's also seen fairly limited deployment and use around the world; so it's track record is somewhat limited for me to consider it a "great battle rifle".

6. Mauser 98K:
Accuracy: Excellent
Combat effectiveness: Average
Innovation: Very High
Handling: Average
Service length: Very High

Honestly, as I said before; I think all the Mauser variants should be grouped together and then collectively rated as the greatest battle rifle of all time.

Simply in terms of impact, the Mauser 98 alone should be declared number one; even without collecting all the variants together.

5. FN FAL:
Accuracy: Average
Combat effectiveness: Average
Innovation: High
Handling: Average
Service length: Very High

The first of the modern black rifles to see wide deployment, the FAL is a truly excellent weapon; though it has some ergonomic oddities, and is a HEAVY SOB.

Reliable, accurate, widely distributed with TONS of parts available... really the only problems with it are the weight, the sometimes clunky operating controls, the difficulty of controlling it in full auto (common to almost all 7.62x51 weapons), and the issue of inch vs. metric guns.

Oh, and rating the FAL as just average in combat effectiveness? No, I don't think so.

4. M1 Garand:
Accuracy: Good
Combat effectiveness: Excellent
Innovation: High
Handling: Good
Service length: Average

The first widely deployed, successful, full power semi-auto battle rifle; and the weapon that in the main won the infantry war of WW2. Described as the "finest battle implement ever devised by man".

There's only a few issues with the gun. First, the en bloc clips work; but they aren't the worlds greatest solution. Second, the gun is long and heavy. Third, they are just a bit ammo sensitive, in that very hot rounds can bend the op rod and bind the weapon up, and not hot enough rounds wont cycle reliably.

As to their ratings, I would say the accuracy of the M1 is excellent; and the service length was from 1936 to 1954 officially, and there were M1s being used by our allies all the way 'til the 70s, so that should be rated higher.

3. SMLE:
Accuracy: High
Combat effectiveness: High
Innovation: Average
Handling: High
Service length: Very Long

One of the best bolt action rifles every deployed; reliable, accurate, slick and smooth, and with a 10rd. magazine. The same basic pattern of gun stayed in service from the 1895 until 1956, and all the way until the 1970s in some variants.

Honestly; a well trained infantry company armed with Enfields can manage almost the same rate of aimed fire as modern semi-autos.

The only rating I'd change here is moving combat effectiveness from high, to excellent.

2. M16:
Accuracy: High
Combat effectiveness: High
Innovation: High
Handling: High
Service length: Long

I'm a big fan of the Stoner AR system and it's variants; though I prefer the 7.62x51 variants to the M16. I've trained with and carried an AR variant, I've owned many of them, I think they are excellent rifles; for all their faults.

The 5.56x45n cartridge on the other hand... well that's just not on, but hey. Of course it also means you can carry twice as many rounds, and control the gun during full auto better. Tradeoffs are what they are.

The gas system is of course the second biggest point of contention; and yes, it is higher maintenance than an op-rod or tappet based system; but they are nowhere near as bad as the haters of the system (and that hate is amazingly hyperbolic; and mostly, though not entirely unjustified) would have you believe.

The current issue with the rifle, to my mind, is that they are issuing a short barreled carbine with a marginal cartridge (and a marginal loading of that cartridge) as a general purpose rifle; when they should be issuing a full barreled rifle with a more effective chambering, or at the very least a more effective loading of the primary chambering.

I can definitely see it in the top five on this list, but not number two.

As to their ratings, I would say the accuracy and handling are excellent, but otherwise I don't much disagree.

1. AK-47:
Accuracy: Average
Combat effectiveness: Excellent
Innovation: Excellent
Handling: Excellent
Service length: Very Long

Dead simple, dead reliable, easy to manufacture (you can make one in your garage with sheetmetal, basic tools, and a basic parts kit fer chrissakes)...

There is no more widely distributed rifle in the world (though the Mosin Nagant is up there); and I would venture to guess that no individual cartridge firing small arm has killed more people (take that as you will). It just plain works.

To my mind, it's the second greatest battle rifle of all time.

Now, as to their ratings though, I think they are all off. The rifle is clunky to handle, heavy, very inaccurate, and not particularly innovative.
Ok, so what are MY choices?

First, we need to refine the parameters here:

Assuming we limit this list to modern cartridge based battle and assault rifles and carbines, that were widely issued either by a large military, or by multiple small militaries; and assuming we exclude full light machine guns and machine rifles like the SAW and the BAR, and sniper/special operations only weapons, what's my list?

1. Mauser 98 and variants (including the '03 Springfield)
2. AK47 and variants
3. M1 and variants, including the BM59 and M14
4. AR-10/15 system and variants
5. Lee Enfield and variants
6. FAL
7. HK G series, and variants (including the CETME)
8. Winchester lever action repeating rifles, all variants (other than the 1895, the post Henry rifle/carbine models are similar enough to be taken as one; and I think the '95 should be included as well)
9. Mosin Nagant and variants
10. Stoner AR-18 system, and variants (including hybrids of the 18 and other designs, like the FNC and SIG rifles; and those actions based on the design, of which there are dozens)

The Swiss K30 and 31 are incredible rifles; but they weren't very widely used or issued, or it would have replaced the Winchester up there.

A lot of people have their own favorite issued boltie; but I'll be you that almost all of them are a variant of one of the rifles listed above; presuming we are adhering to the restrictions listed. There are maybe a half dozen widely issued, and effective, military bolt action rifles that aren't a variant of one of those listed for example.

There are a LOT of really great rifles out there, that I don't consider for the list because of a lack of wide deployment, or very short service life, because they violate my restrictions (like the BAR, or Remington M700), or because they are essentially a variant of one of the designs I listed.

I don't think I missed any of the "best battle rifles" ever, based on my criteria and restrictions, but if you can think of something, remind me.

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