Meta: During the late 1950s, there were two competing designs: assault rifles and battle rifles. Today, we’re going to explore why the assault rifle came out ahead.
After World War II, weapons development ceased for a time while countries focused on rebuilding their economies and transitioning back to peacetime. However, within a decade, top weapon designers had started working on new guns that would be used in the next generation of conflicts.
Most of this development began in earnest after the Korean War, when people realized that new weapons were required to keep up with shifting tactical doctrine. During this time, the concept of the battle rifle and the assault rifle both materialized, both of which competed to be the most crucial infantry weapon of our time. In this guide, we’ll look at why the assault rifle is still used today.
In a way, the battle rifle was the next logical step after the semi-automatic rifles that were developed over the course of World War II. These powerful, heavy rifles could fire a full-caliber rifle cartridge in both fully automatic and semi-automatic firing modes, making them ideal for long-range use.
Battle rifles had a few key shortcomings that ensured they couldn’t be used as effectively as other kinds of weapons. The worst thing about using a full-power rifle bullet is that the ammunition was rather heavy for a battle rifle, especially when you consider that they were meant to fire on full auto.
This was another one of the battle rifle’s most significant flaws, as the powerful cartridge combined with fully automatic fire made them very inaccurate. For this reason, most battle rifles were used exclusively in semi-automatic, where ammunition could be conserved and accurate shots could be taken.
On the other hand, assault rifles featured an intermediate cartridge that was between a rifle cartridge and a pistol cartridge in power. While many intermediate rounds are smaller in diameter than a pistol cartridge, they feature a lot more propellant, greatly increasing their muzzle velocity.
Assault rifles feature ammunition that is relatively portable so that around 90 rounds of intermediate ammo would weigh as much as about 60 rifle bullets. The smaller size of the cartridges also means that assault rifles can have larger magazines, resulting in less frequent reloading.
Since intermediate ammunition results in less recoil, assault rifles can also be used effectively in full-auto and burst mode, making them far more versatile. The tradeoff for all of these advantages is that intermediate rounds can’t hope to match the range of full-caliber rifle cartridges.
However, the issue with range is not as serious as you may think, as most infantry combat takes place within 300 to 400 yards of the enemy, which is about the maximum range of an intermediate round.
There are plenty of reasons why militaries opted for assault rifles over battle rifles, though we’ve gone over the most crucial ones in this guide. Keep in mind that politics is heavily involved in most military procurement, and the reason why battle rifles made it so far before being scrapped is largely due to political machinations as well.