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AP writer Slobodan Lekic’s semi-cogent article the suitability of the M-4 in Afghanistan misses the point. Actually, it lacks one. Was he trying to introduce the Army’s new policy of having nine M-110 SASS equipped “sharpshooters” in each company? Suggesting that the U.S. military is fighting the Afghanistan war with the wrong weapons (a point he contradicts when he acknowledges that most firefights in the conflict are at distances within the M-4’s ideal operating range)? Anyway, there’s some good intel with re: the suitability of various calibers at various ranges.

The U.S. military’s workhorse rifle — used in battle for the last 40 years — is proving less effective in Afghanistan against the Taliban’s more primitive but longer range weapons . . . a U.S. Army study found that the 5.56 mm bullets fired from M-4s don’t retain enough velocity at distances greater than 1,000 feet (300 meters) to kill an adversary. In hilly regions of Afghanistan, NATO and insurgent forces are often 2,000 to 2,500 feet (600-800 meters) apart.

Kalashnikovs aren’t any better:

Soviet soldiers in the 1980s found that their AK-47 rifles could not match the World War II-era bolt-action Lee-Enfield and Mauser riflesused by mujahedeen rebels.

Lt. Scott Doyle, a platoon commander in Zhari, said his troops are usually facing Taliban AK-47s.  “When the Taliban get past 300 meters (1,000 feet) with an AK-47, they are just spraying and praying,” he said.

Don’t blame it on the cartridge:

Martin Fackler, a ballistics expert, also defended the 5.56 mm round, blaming the M-4s inadequate performance on its short barrel, which makes it easier for soldiers to scramble out of modern armored vehicles.

“Unfortunately weapon engineers shortened the M-16’s barrel to irrational lengths,” Fackler said. “It was meant for a 20-inch barrel. What they’ve done by cutting the barrel to 14.5 inches is that they’ve lost a lot of velocity.”

As the Taliban have proved—by using their “inferior” AKs to “herd” U.S. troops towards IEDs—strategy is often far more important than firepower. Armchair analysts would do well to acknowledge that brain power trumps firepower every time. Well, almost every time.

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  1. Yep, that's right. The 5.56 round in a 20" barreled rifle is capable of muzzle velocities in excess of 3200 fps; with a 14" barrel it goes down to around 2200 fps. The shorter barrel kills velocity and therefore downrange energy.

    In terms of killing power, I think the M16 started to be neutered with the advent of the A2 version back in the early '80s, which changed the barrel twist from the original 1:14 to a much tighter 1:7. This was done to stabilize the so-called NATO SS109 69gr boat tail bullet. The original AR15/M16A1 used the lighter 55gr "ball" round, and with less barrel twist it was known to tumble upon entering the body and hitting bone, causing "secondary missile" damage to tissue. The more stable 69gr bullet doesn't.

    Combine this with the short M4 barrel and you have an ineffective weapon at ranges much beyond 200 meters.

    • First the NATO SS109/M855 is not 69 grains its generally known as a 62 grain lead and armor penetrator round. I came into the army in Feb 1985 and was medically retired from combat wounds in late April 2014. Second the change in rifling to the M16A2 was to stabalize the heavier bullet which had betetr penetration and performance then the old 55 gr rounds. The fact that every person in my unit could zero the qualify at 100 meters using a 25 meter qualifig tagrted means the A2 and its round was more then accurate. lest put it in a way you understand at 100 meters with bare sights we hit a circle the size of a 50 cent (4 centimeters) and had to do so puttings all 18 round in that circle instead of teh standard double string of 5 out of 6 shoots required. I used the 77 gr rounds more in Afghansiatn when I had an A2 and being that they are a match round they are devestating compared to the penetrators. I used many weapon systems but the A2 never had problems and the bullets really bounce around and have a extreme yaw (flipping end over end) when they hit you or even a dam blade of grass when shot at you. The problem with the 5.56mm weapons in or military is they jamb and heat up. Time for a new weapon but our current popualtion and politicians like to see our brightest die so no new weapons in the future. You would think afte 50+ years we would geta new caliber and weapon…nope. time for a 6.5 mm round to take the place of the old 5.56mm we need a rifle that can shot out to 600 meters while shooting a bullet with enough retained wieght and velocity to take out some at the range easy as pie. I saw enough drugged up insurgenst in iraq and Taliban in Afghansiatn absorb whole 30 round magazines of 5.56mm and keep coming. Sure we found every heavy pharmecutical grae and illgal pain and street drug plus synthetic adreniline on these iidots every time. One thing i did notice the M14EBR-RI issued to our platoons took one shot pretty much any place on the body to take a drugged insurgent down. Even hitting an arm or leg ment loss of a limb. Worse then teh M4 getitng our guys killed is the ROE which si killing our best and brightest faster then we can replace them. Most peopel do not know if you attcked these days a unit generally ahs to call his unit an dget permisson to even shot back from his liberal Obama butt kissing Commander who has no idea waht he is doing. We once had a unit commander tell a squad to move away from the FOB (Base) becuase the support pogs all lined the open fence areas to watch the fire fight. The squad begegd for ammo and medivac but ahd to fightout of te atatck while the commander harrassed them on the radio with threats. The ammo was never resupplied 18 aghanis died and we lost two of ours. Units needing air and aarty are laughed at and called liars when requesting help. Things are getting bad in the military yet men and women still do their best under the worse conditions. Conditions the average American citizen woudl not endure for any amount f pay especially seeing the U.S. combat military personnel are the least paid amongst our Nato allies in fact its a joke amongst them.

      • Bull, The M16 was first fitted with a 1:14 twist. While doing artic testing the army found that in dense very cold air the bullets were not stable. Colt changed the twist to 1:12, which worked well in jungles or ice fields. The M16A1 retained the 1:12 for the M193 – 55 gr. The M16A2 went to the 1:7, not to fire the 62gr. M855 (SS109), but to handle the extra long tracer rounds. The tracers were not used much in rifles, but in belt fed M249 SAWs. The velocity drop you mention, from 3200 to 2200 isn’t what happens. The tumbling or yaw effect that makes the wounds messy still happen if the target is under 150m. The 20″ barrel keeps this valuable trait out to 200m. The 20″ A2 is simply too long for vehicle delivered troops. Trust me, anyone hit with a bullet, 5.5mm to 7.9mm, at 600m is going to be hurting. Taking a lung or gut shot, is going to be out of the fight.

  2. As I understand it, the standard nato round will still tumble and yaw, even when fired from a 14.5 inch barrel. Both the m193 and m855 nato round will tumble, yaw, and most importantly, fragment if fired from a 20 inch barrel. The greatest wounding effect from the 5.56×45 bullet (whether m193 or m855), is due to fragmentation. The shorter 14.5 inch barrel doesn’t produce enough velocity to reliably fragment either the m193 or m855 bullets.
    The larger 7.62×51 nato cartridge bullet creates its wounding effect more from a larger wound channel, and some say, ‘hydrostatic shock’. Hydrostatic shock, by the way, is still questioned, and debated over. ‘Big bullets make big holes’, is still true. The 5.56×45 m193 created massive wounds out of proportion to its small size, because of massive fragmenting and deflection.

  3. The article’s title should state “5.56 sucks in Afghanistan”. Common engagement distances are upwards of 500 meters. 5.56 lacks energy to put down enough traumatic force on a person at those ranges.

  4. Just one problem with the allegation that the USSR used the AK-47 in Afghansitan: They didn’t! They primarily issued the AK-74 with some AKM’s scattered throughout the ranks. And Dushman almost never used genuine AK-47’s; the United States armed them with Chinese Type 56 rifles, plus they took whatever they could from Shuravi. As far as I can remember, I have never seen or heard a single complaint from Russian soldiers about their weapons, neither about reliability nor lethality.

    • The Soviets never called the AK47, the AK47, it was simply the AK. Circa 1957 the AKM showed up with its sheet metal receiver. Since then MOST AK rifles or submachine guns (as some nations call it) are the M variant.

  5. The last lines of this article were spot on. They may be primitive over there, but they’re also smart. Tactics reign supreme.

  6. I was training medical unit soldiers heading north from camps in Kuwait ’04 thru ’06. I heard then about the problems experienced by convoys being hit from longer ranges. I started seeing some of the escorts carrying M14’s and I even saw one carrying an M1 Garand. It was so shiny that I assume it must have come from a Guard Unit that used them for parades. My teammate that had just left the Army the year before told me that they never got hit IF they had an escort vehicle with a .50. There’s no substitute for cubic inches!

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