05 February 2012

FWS Armory: Assault Rifles

Assault rifles are the tool of the infantry on the modern battlefield, and destiny to rule over it, on this planet and others for the foreseeable future. For nearly a thousand years, the chemically-propelled kinetic weapon has been used in warfare, and only in the last 500 years as it been compact and portable enough to be used by infantryman. But always there were limitations, complex loading rituals, underpowered powder, and single shot, causing in a continued evolution of infantry combat tactics. It has been in the last sixty years that an soldier was equipped with a personal weapon that was more proper for their role in the violent dance of war: the assault rifle. In the continued weapons series, FWS will explore the assault rifle's past, future, and how sci-fi sees the assault rifle in the far future battlefields of man.  
Some of the material here is directly lifted from my 2009 award-winning university paper: In the Shadow of Kalashnikov: the development, history, and global impact of the the world's most popular assault rifle: the AK-47.

What is an "Assault Rifle?"
  • Feed from a magazine
  • Uses an medium sized bullet
  • Select-Fire ability
  • Has shoulder-stock
  • Falls between the submachine gun and the battle rifle

The History of Assault Rifles

Before the AK and its clones were the kings of global armed conflict, the world's most popular modern rifle was the British Lee Enfield SMLE .303 bolt action rifle, which is still used in combat today in the wilds of Afghanistan. The weapon that replaced the rugged Enfield was a leap in firearms technology, but along the way, there were other lost attempts at the fully automatic battle rifle. 
It seems odd that Mexico of the later portion of the 19th century would led to the development of the first self-loading battle rifle, but in 1887, General Manuel Mondragon of the Artillery branch patented, the Mondragón rifle, that fired a 7mm Mauser round, and all of this was attempt to curry favor with Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. In an odd twist of historical irony, the Mondragon rifle was developed to purge Mexico of rising forces against the government, which is similar to the genesis behind the Kalashikov AK-47.
The Mondragon rifle was also revolutionary in that, it was to be used as a family of weapons, from sharpshooter, rifle, to light machine gun, with a few changes. The weapon would serve in World War One and Two, with the Germans, and more than one million were produced. One of the more interesting uses of this semi-auto battle rifle was during WW1 dogfights, where the second crewmember of a bi-plane would use a modified Mondragon in an anti-aircraft role!
Then next step was from the land of Ferrari: Italy. In 1890, an Italian Army Officer named Amerigo Cei-Rigotti designed a select-fire automatic rifle that chambered the Italian “medium” 6.5x52mm round (the same round that Oswald used to kill JFK) from a 25 round box magazine ; this weapon was patented in 18957. The Cei-Rigotti was shopped around various European governments from 1895 to 1911, in a vain attempt to have it accepted by a national military; however, the weapon was unreliably, jammed under testing at the British Royal Small Arms Factory. This sealed the Cei-Rigotti death, and condemned this rifle never to be constructed in any large numbers and was never adopted by any nation, slipping into the pages of history.
While the Cei-Rigotti and Mondragón rifle used a more traditional, powerful rifle round that limited its usefulness as a fully-automatic rifle. These overly powerful cartilages caused the weapon to shake apart due to the kinetic force of the bolt and recoil energy resulting from rapid fire. It would be in 1906, when the next step towards the assault rifle, when with the Russian officer, firearms tinker, and arms marker to the Tsar Nichols II, Captain Vladimir Federov, and his creation: the Fedorov Avtomat. This was a rifle of it time, full sized weapon of heavy metal and wood and was reworked several times for testing by the Imperial Russian army from 1906 to 1915, to be the standard rifle, including development of a smaller caliber, which was the real genius of Fedorov. During WWI, the resources to develop a new smaller round was out of the question,
 so, Captain Fedorov turned to using the smaller Japanese 6.5x50.5mm “Arisaka” round, to make the weapon light enough for use by infantry. However, the October 1917 Revolution ended its production, with only about 25,000 copies being made . Despite the low production numbers, this early assault rifle was used in World War I, the Russian ‘Red verse White’ Civil War, and then in special units of World War II. Besides, the October Revolution, the Fedorov Avtomat had added reliability issues that prevented it from becoming a standard infantry armament including: fouling, complex parts, lack of interchangeable magazines8. However, in an odd twist of fate, Vladimir Federov ideas of using smaller bullet would be used to create the 3rd Reich assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr 44 and then the AK-47.
During World War One, there similar parallel developments in firearms technology that should have lead to the development of an automatic battle rifle, like the light portable machine gun and the submachine gun. American troops used, along side their Springfield bolt-action rifles, used the crappy French Chauchat LMG, and later in 1918, the superior Browning BAR. British troops were the same boat, with their Lewis Gun, along side the excellent Lee Enfield. While on the German side, the elite Stormtroopers used the 9mm SMG, the MP-18, but regular infantry used the heavy Mauser 1898 rifle. This parallel technological development would continue during the Second World War, where light machine guns, submachine guns, automatic pistols, semi-auto battle rifles all served along side one another, but the development of a true assault rifle escape the minds of most military planners. By 1939, the Russian and the German militaries realized that their bolt-action rifles and sub-machine guns were not cutting it on the modern battlefield . The military high command of the 3rd Reich, the HWaA, issued contacts to several companies to develop a “maschinekarabiner” or machine-carbine, or MKb in the German military terms . By 1942, two companies, Haenel and Walther developed similar looking and performing ‘machine-carbines’, which were known then as Mkb42H and Mkb42W. These weapons were developed around a new smaller cartilage, the 7.92x39mm Kurz, which was a cut down version of the 7.92x51mm rifle round found in the old Mauser Kurz 1898 bolt-action rifle, the standard infantry weapon of the German military in WWI and WWII.
These was the key to the development of the assault rifle concept by the 3rd Reich, was in the smaller round that fit in-between the pistol and rifle cartilages, an “intermediate round”, the failure of so many of the older automatic rifles was because they attempted to have them fire massive rounds that shook the guns apart, however, the Germans learned from the Fedorov Avtomat that use of a smaller round helped it fire in automatic model.
These weapons were fielded for testing, and in November of 1942, when the Nazi Kampfgruppe Scherer unit was surrounded, outnumbered, and badly in need of supplies on the Russian front, the new MKb42’s were air-dropped in. With these new weapons, the Kampfgruppe Scherer was to escape the Russian troops and breakout of their trap. However, this success did not stop Hitler from canceling the maschinekarabiner project, because he felt that his experiences in WWI should dictate what his armies carried now, and he wanted sub-machine guns and along with this, the war was straining the military-production industry, so another weapon would add more stress to an already bad state .The MKb42 was felt more important that Hitler’s words, so some high-ranking commanders, like the General ‘Desert Fox’ Rommel, disobeyed the Führer, and continued the development of the MKb42 which was re-named the maschien pistole, which was the title of sub-machine guns, to throw off Hitler or anyone else that looked around at the project . These men did this with great risk to their own lives, for if the Führer discovered the weapon, than they could be all shot. It was during a meeting with his commanders on the Russian Front, that Hitler learned off the MP-44’s existence, when he asked one general what they needed more of, the general responded, “more of those new rifle,” and then the game was up, and Hitler knew that he had been lied to, which normally met with a firing squad.  
After Hitler fired the improved MP-44 did he realize the impact that this gun could have on the dying Nazi war-effort, and in a steer propaganda move, he named it the ‘storm-rifle’ or “Sturmgewehr” . This new STG-44 was rushed to replace the old M-98K rifles, with 5,000 being made a month, but the allied bombing raids coupled with their invasion into Normandy caused the STG-44 to be only given to a few units. This gun is still used to this day, and US troops have seen in the Iraq, Afghanistan, and even in use by the PLO. One of the great ‘what if’ games of the second world war, is what if the 3rd Reich had developed and fielded the STG-44 to all of their infantry? Well, in the opinion of the author, we would all be speaking German right now. Then in the world of assault rifles changed in 1947, when the Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 came on to the global scene, and changed the world forever.  

Assault Rifles and the Military: Taking it Slow...real slow.

During my last year at university, I wrote a massive historical  research paper on the effect of the AK-47 on the 20th century, and it surprised me how long it took for most governments to arm their soldiers with assault rifles. Especially when we examine that light machine guns were being used along side bolt-action rifles! Much could be said of the lack of lever-action rifles used in 19th century military units. The pattern seems to be: bolt-action rifle (Lee Enfield) to battle rifle (FN FAL), then finally to an assault rifle (SA80/L85). Some government rapidly ascended this pattern, like the USSR, going from the Mosin-Nagant, to the SVT-40, and then finally the AK-47, all by 1947! The Chinese were also fast on the adoption of the assault rifle concept, who had their copy of the AK-47 by 1956 (Type-56), then spread over the rest of the world like virus after that.  Then we look at the NATO nations, who dragged their feet on bring their counter to the AK for many years. The United States was quick to approve a semi-automatic battle rifle, the M1 Garand, but very to warm to the assault rifle, it wasn't until 1965 that the M16 would replace the barely used M14 battle rifle, but the longest is the British and the West Germans. The British used their excellent bolt-action rifle, the Lee Enfield longer than most, and then adopted the FN FAL, but it was not until 1985 that the 5.56x45mm SA80/L85 was fielded! It is a similar story with West Germany, where they used the H&K G3 and several variations of it until the 1990's, when the H&K G36 family of weapons was adopted in 1997. This long delay of the West German military to field a true assault rifle, was due to the futuristic G11 caseless rifle and reunification with East Germany,
This late adoption of the assault rifle has created a global situation where the initial assault rifle bought by a government is still serving for twenty to thirty years with only slight motivations. Only a few governments have moved away for their initial assault rifle, like the Chinese with their oddball Type-95 (AKA QBZ-95) replacing their Type-56 AK47 clone. While the American military is still in debate about the future of their M16 assault rifle, every replacement rifle has been cancelled (the XM8) or not approved (FN SCAR), despite issues with the M4 carbine, even their own elite operators, like DEVGRU and DELTA are using the German made 416.

Battle Rifle vs. Assault Rifles

The in-between stage for main infantry small-arms,between the bolt-action rifle, and the assault rifle, is the so-called battle rifle, and these were the historical foundation weapons that bridged the gap between the bolt-action rifles and the assault rifles, like the Fedorov Avtomat and the Mondragon. This term is a modern one placed on these rifles that were swept out of military service by the assault rifles. Battle rifles differ from their lighter, fully-automatic assault rifle cousins by their heavier round (7.62mm vs. 5.56mm), normally semi-auto in construction or shooting habit, general more accurate, powerful in speed, distance, and kinetic energy, and heavier in over construction (wood, metal, less plastic and composite material).
The classic examples of battle rifles are the FN FAL, H&K G3, and the American M14, which all unitized the 7.62mm NATO round, and all were phased out of main-line combat duties by assault rifles in the 1990's. The interesting thing is that battle rifles are coming back as the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR), the precursory to a full-on sniper rifle, like the M14 being transformed into the Mk 14 EBR, that has seen more active service time in A-Stan and Iraq than it did original in Vietnam. Recently, the British Army has ordered the 7.62mm L129A1 DMR from the American Lewis Machine and Tool Company, and issuing the 7.62mm version of the H&K 416 for "specialized units", most likely the SAS.    

The Patriarch: The AK-47

Richard Venola of Combat Arms once said: "If I had to go to a planet, another planet, and I was allowed take one firearm, it would be an AK47. When Western Civilization melts down, I wanna an AK47."
So, why is the AK47, and its clones, THE most popular assault rifle in the world (70-100 million estimated)? There four main factors to the success of the AK series of assault rifles:
  • Simplistic design for easy of use and training
  • Reliable, even under terrible conditions, due to loose tolerances.
  • 8 moving parts
  • Cheap to build
The history of the AK-47 started when the 3rd Reich betrayed their USSR allies and invaded. Mikhail Kalashnikov was 22 and a tank Sergeant in Soviet Red Army, who had been recognized for his technical skills at invention and his obsession with firearms. In October of 1941, at the village of Bryansk, Kalashnikov met the enemy when battle turned in favor for the Nazi forces, and the Soviet T-34 tank forces were forced to retreat, which is when Kalashnikov’s tank was hit by enemy artillery fire, and forced to abandon his burning tank with only a TT pistol and soon discovered that was badly wounded. When Kalashnikov awoke hours later, he found himself in a broken down ambulate truck in the town of Bryansk, that was to have taken him to a field-hospital, when the enemy advancing into the town.
With only himself and his lieutenant, they had only a pistol and a bolt-action rifle between them to defend against the advancing German infantry, who were armed with MP-40 9mm submachine guns. While he and the lieutenant scoured for another truck or spare parts they heard the report of SMG fire, and rushed back to the truck loaded with wounded plus a doctor and a nurse. When they came upon the truck, Kalashnikov was greeted with the slight of German soldiers spraying the truck with automatic fire. The men vomited when they saw the bullet-riddled bodies and the inch of standing blood in the back of the ambulance truck, everyone but them was dead.
General Kalashnikov recalled that the lieutenant said to him: “If only we had one automatic weapon, we could have stopped this”, and then Kalashnikov responded: “but we don’t.” This night haunted Kalashnikov for the rest of his life, and the repercussions of that event caused the development of the weapon that would bear his name.
Kalashnikov was one of the lucky ones, he made it to hospital, and was there recovering for months, which is a testimony to his wounds. There he began developing his own sub-machine gun, better than the standard issue PPSh41, “my comrades needed a weapon that would allow them to fight back .” During his recovery, Kalashnikov scoured the hospital library for any books on weapon design, and of these books was 1939 Evolution of Small Arms by Captain Vladimir Federov, and the moment of fate was not lost on General Kalashnikov: “That was my lucky day. The book by Vladimir Federov proved to be invaluable. It gave me my first insight into the principles of developing automatic firearms, and put me straight on the positive and negative aspects of each class of firearms ”. So, the creator of the first assault rifle, who was swept away by the October 1917 Revolution was now in the hands of the man that would develop the world’s most popular and used assault rifle to save USSR, it seems that the world still posses a sense of irony. The original AK-47 was approved for fielding in 1947 after grueling testing against another Soviet made assault rifle, the Dementyev rifle, but was not fully adopted by the Soviet military until 1949, after some modifications. The "real" AK-47 was only around for two years, the classic AK that the world knows was actually called the Avtomat Kalashnikova Moderniziovanny or the AKM. During the Cold War, the USSR and Red China build tens of millions of the AK to send to rebels, fellow Communist nations, and anti-West forces, and the AK-47 faced off with the M-16 during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, the AK-47 and the Chinese copy, the Type 56 was pitted against the first American Assault Rifle, the M-16, however, there was no contest, the AK was superior, and the American forces knew it. In his book, Steel my Soldier’s Hearts, Colonel David H. Hackworth told a story of when his troops in Vietnam found a dead NVA soldier in the mud, and the Colonel took the muddy wet assault rifle, pulled back the bolt and cracked off thirty fully automatic shoots without a single failure: “this is how a real infantry weapon weapons works, this is the kind of weapon our soldiers needed and deserved, not the M-16 that had to be hospital cleaned or it would jam”. This war gave the Kalashnikov rifle world attention, and with its excellent performance in the war, the AK earned its ‘street cred’. In addition, with the flood of AK into Vietnam during the war, it gave the new communist government a surplus to sell on the world-market for hard currency. With the survivability of AK-47, it was a weapon that could be a veteran of many wars, and often, the AK-47 that a soldier or rebel was using was older than they were. Even today, nearly 70 years after its invention, the Kalashnikov assault rifle is still the mostly widely used weapon in the world, and there looks to no replacement on the horizon. 


Here is the best video about the abilities of the AK-47:

The Future of Assault Rifles

William of FWS with a fully-auto AKS-74U
When I was a kid in the 1980's, I read articles that proclaimed that the soldiers of the future would be using Buck Rogers assault rifles that fired darts or used caseless ammunition. Of course, the 21st century rolls around and we (the USA) is still using the assault rifle that my father did in Vietnam, only with all manner of high tech attachments and shorter. The last decade of wars and terrorist-hunt operation have demonstrated that smaller assault carbines and the even shorter "commando" length carbines are best jack-of-all-trades in a tactical sense. This leaves the more traditional assault rifles being phased out of modern armed forces, and the normally viable civilian market for assault rifles is also turning towards the tread. At the moment, assault rifles are going to continue to convert over to assault carbines, with attachment rails that an operator can mount all manner of lights, scopes, lasers, adding life to the base weapon. There is another slow movement underway to have the next generation of military assault rifles and carbines chamber new calibers, like the 6.8, the Chinese 5.8x42mm, or even to be like the Colt CM-901, and be a modular platform that with a few changes, the gun can fire most common rifle rounds. Some sites, firearms experts, and sci-fi films contend that bullpup assault carbines/rifles will become more common that today, along with caseless ammunition, of which I seriously doubt. The window of caseless ammunition becoming the next-big-thing in military technology died with the H&K G11 in 1990.

Assault Rifles in Sci-Fi

With assault rifles becoming the primary tool of modern warfare, their usage in fictional works is not lost to creators of sci-fi, however it took awhile for the assault rifle to show up. Much of the armories of the science fiction world, the directed-energy-weapon (DEW) reins supreme, in all its forms, from phase plasma rifles in the 40watt range, to phasers and blasters, and the 1950's raygun. While the assault rifle, like the AK-47 was being in every terrestrial conflict, science-fiction was worshipping at the feet of Mr. Lucas and his blasters. It was not until after ALIENS in 1986 that most sci-fi creators got the clue to fashion assault rifles into galaxies far, far away. Strangely, while some creators designed weapons similar to current assault rifles, especially the Steyr AUG, others, like the 1984 DUNE movie, armed their future troopers with Galting-gun like rifles. It is only more recently, especially with the rise of FPS games, like HALO and Killzone, that game designers developed futuristic looking assault rifles that fired conventional bullets. What is truly lacking in most science-fictions works that show assault rifle-like weapons, is ones that are futuristic in form and function, like the Fifth Element Zorg ZR-1, and the MP-35 from Old Man's War.

Examples of Assault Rifles in Sci-Fi

Mass Effect series

In the original Mass Effect game, there was a wide array of assault rifles, and assault carbines to pick from, along with special ammunition loads, giving the game a nice depth. These weapons uses a block of dense nano-material as the ammunition, when used, the assault rifle shaves off a silce of the material, and using a micro mass-effect field, propels the kinetic projectile at HV speeds. Then concept was changed in the second and third Mass Effect games, this time, there was a limited number of assault rifles, and the overheating problem of the first game's weapons was taking out, for a power cell that was ejected from the weapon after a certain number of shots, which I disliked. Mass Effect  was one fo the those games that took MSF to the next level, and their design of the weapon was simply outstanding. For the record, I preferred the first Mass Effect game.

Gears of War series

The workhorse of the COG forces is the Mk 2 Lancer assault rifle, and unlike a majority of sci-fi shooters, this works well for most every situation in the game, there is no need for a BFG-9000 when buzzsawing the horde! The caliber of the Lancer is never told on-screen, but from the size of the COG soldiers (steroids anyone?), level of damage, the size of the Locust, the Lancer must shoot something in the neighborhood of 7.62mm NATO. It is nice to have simple, effective automatic rifle in a FPS, and it do its job well...bloody well.

Starship Troopers (films)

Unlike the 1958 novel, the 1997 film shows Mobile Infantry of the Terran Federation uses a 5.56mm bullpup assault rifle, called the Morita, not micro-atomic grenades. In the original film, the light armored troopers battle the bugs by spraying lead into their exoseletons, with little or no reloading. For close-quarters, a 12 gauge shotgun was slung under the barrel, and controlled by a double trigger assembly.  During the massive combat scenes, these soldiers go into battle with little or no support, or even LMG variant of the Morita!The Morita MK.1 prop was built around the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, the Ruger AC556, and the Ithaca "Stakeout" 12 gauge shotgun.
In the second-dogshit-film, the MI troopers use a DEW assault rifle that appears to be a bullpup, and uses energy cells. The DEW Morita (maybe the MK II?) was actually a nice design, save for the flashbulb on the barrel. The third movie revisited the tradition bullet-firing assault rifle concept, with the bulky Morita III. This gun was fitted with an underslung 30mm grenade launcher, and fired 10x50mm caseless rounds via an electronic pulse, which is very similar to the ALIENS M41A1 Pulse Rifle, however, the Morita III reminds me more of the failed H&K XM29 OICW, but the prop was foam-fitted around a South African Vektor R4 assault rifle. Once again, I hate to say this, but SST films feature some excellent futuristic assault rifle action.


Over the lifespan of the HALO games and books, the UNSC fields a few different assault rifles for their marines and army personnel. The most famous of these is the MA5B series of 7.62mm NATO bullpup assault rifles. Over the course of the games, the original MA5B was modified to fit the advancement of technology, improving the game CGI model, and adding layers of realism, like the MA37 ICWS of HALO: REACH. What is interesting about the MA5 series of weapons is that on one hand, they are similar today's assault rifles, like the FN F2000, but lack much in the way of scopes, aiming devices, but are fitted with a simple flashlight, but no IR. Odd. The weapon, especially, the original MA5B was a more of hip-fire, spray-and-pray, weapon, possibly designed to hit the aliens' energy shielding hard and break them down, then rack the flesh with FMJs. The HALO are a nice cross between the Morita from SST and the M590 of SAAB.


The world of the three Killzone games are very interesting, and one of my favorite MSF properties, given that the games are shooters, the bulk of the characters use some form of assault rifles/assault carbines. The Earth-based ISA forces use the rather large and bulky M82 bullpup assault rifle, equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and fires a 6.8mm round. The interesting points about the M82 are that is a full-size assault rifle, not a carbine, and has a very long barrel , especially for a bullpup, and seems based on the M16/203 or the British SA80.

Half-Life 2

One of few good examples of DEW assault rifles is the Overwatch Standard Issue Pulse Rifle, issued to special trans-human Combine Overwatch soldiers, and it features a unique firing and loading system. The Pulse rifle loads a small energy capsule into the barrel, from a auto-loading ammo-box, and when fired, a piston-like device bangs on the back of the capsule, like bullet, kinetically forcing out the dark energy. What was surprising to me was the kick of the weapon, and it's amazing sound. So, my question is, when is Half-Life 3 coming out again?    

Trenches (web series)

Trenches is an military sci-fi web series made by Shane Felux for about $250,000 in 2010. Felux was best known for a uber low-budget, but well-done fan-made Star Wars film, and was giving the chance to create an internet web-series that were 5-7 minutes long. What he gave us was a very good MSF story, where two human factions are fighting an intergalactic civil war, the story takes place on a mining world during a bloody planetary campaign.The human soldiers on both use a DEW blaster-like assault rifle that seems to be close to the Star Wars Rebel A280 Blaster rifles. FWS will be writing a entire blogpost on Trenches in the near future.   

Star Wars

While everyone was obsessed over Han's DL-44 and the Stormtroopers PDW laser-blaster, Lucas quiety outfitted the Rebel Alliance soldiers in SW: TESB and SW: ROTJ with the A280 and A290 blaster-rifles. these are seen only on-screen for a few flashing seconds at a time, and none of the main cast of character uses it. The prop for the A290 (seen left) is based off the STG-44 assault rifle, and the smaller A280 is a chopped down M-16. This real-steel element to the SW prop DEW rifles gives them a nice bit of realism and toughness.
When the Clones finally made their appearance in the (awful) prequel movies, they were seen wielding a massive blaster rifle, the DC-15A, and it was fired in a semi-auto mode. According to the Star Wars wiki site, the DC-15A is a tibanna gas-powered DEW, and was to be a bridge for the two Stormtrooper weapons seen in the original trilogy. The prop was based on the 3rd Reich MG-34. 

Star Trek

While Gene Rhoddenberry was alive, Star Trek's more military side was kept under wraps, and during this time, the weapons of ST were limited to small hand-held DEW, save for the Laser of the original Cage pilot and the Phaser Rifle of the second pilot. According to Memory Alpha website:"The phaser rifle was retired from TOS after Roddenberry decided that, in common with smoking, guns were not to be shown on the series, either. Regarding the TOS design of phaser rifle, Bjo Trimble remarked, "The gun was just a little too lethal-looking for Gene's taste and he just didn't like it." (Starfleet Access for "Where No Man Has Gone Before", TOS Season 1 Blu-ray special features)"
After Gene's death, Trek moved towards more action, especially with Babylon 5 snapping on its heels, and that meant more weapons. For the other Trek TV series, the base hand-held phaser got bigger and more weapon-like, and when the shit really hit the fan, Starfleet would break out the Phaser Rifles. These Type-III phasers, while basic in appearance, were technically complex, outfitted with sixteen beam settings, gryostablized, flip-up sight, that had some sort of targeting computer.
By the time of the Federation/Dominion War, and the TNG movies, the plain-Jane Phaser Rifle was transformed into sleek badass with scopes, lights, and rapid fire. During the Enterprise series, we saw no less than two separate DEW assault carbines, the odd-looking "pulse rifle"from the NX-01 Enterprise armory, and the EM-41 plasma rifle used by the MACO operators, that was inspirited by the Colt M4 carbine. Of course, in keeping Trek traditions, most or all of these DEW assault rifles are fitted with the "stun" setting, which allowed for tactical flexible. The Type-III Phaser should be given credit for designing a futuristic, convincing weapon.

Space: Above and Beyond

FWS talks quite a bit about the Space: Above and Beyond and the USMC of 2063's primary small arms weapon, the M590, and fires a 7.62mm NATO round. The idea behind the M590 seemed to be a varied-atmospheric assault rifle that could be used by soldiers using spacesuits, given the design of the stock and trigger system. Interestingly, the M590 is fitted with various slighting systems, possibly a light, and a motion tracker (seen in the pilot episode), and it mostly fired on semi-auto. During the length of the one-season series, the magazine for the M590 got larger, first starting off as flush with the underbelly, then moving towards a 30-round banana-style. The prop for the gun was designed around a Ruger Mini-14. I say this often about the M590 of SAAB, but I believe that the this gun was where the HALO UNSC Marine MA5B came from.


  1. The M2 Carbine had similar characteristics to an assault rifle. It was selective fire and used an intermediate round between a pistol and rifle. Interestingly the Marine Corps still favors the full length M16 rifle, while Army mostly uses the M4 carbine. Shorter barrels sacrifice range, which is why there are designated marksmen rifles, and seems to be a resurgence of "battle rifles" in 7.62x51mm like the M14 being used.

    Also, I would not completely disregard caseless ammunition being adopted in the future. The Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) program currently has caseless ammunition in addition to lightweight polymer cased ammunition in development. The program seems to be meeting its goal of creating lighter weight weapons and ammunition.

  2. One of the interesting things that never seems to go away is the argument over ammunition. Battle rifles in the west tended to be in .30 cal/7.62mm vein. One of the complaints about M-16 family of weapons is that it uses the 5.56mm round that NATO adopted. The problem, so the argument goes, is that the bullet doesn't always put the target down with one shot, especially when its used from a carbine with its shorter barrel. Some of the special operations units have gone so far, when allowed, to dispense with the assault rifle ammunition in favor of going with something heavier, even if that means using the M14 (as some of the operators were reported to be doing in Black Hawk Down).

    In some science fiction books, Jerry Pournelle's Falkenberg series is one that comes to mind, he argues that assault rifles will cease to be used and the battle rifle will return to use. The reason for this is penetration power since in his conception of the future, everyone will be wearing body armor which is more effective than an assault rife ammunition can penetrate. At the other end, in the War World collection of stories (I forget which author wrote it) the human-normals are stealing an assault rifle which is really a gauss assault rifle piece by piece.

  3. Good post, lots of history on the assault rifle!! I thought the Germans were the inventors of the assault rifle with the STG-44. I didn't know that a russian though of using a smaller bullet in an automatic weapon first.

    I've read many articles on futuristic concepts like flechette bullets, caseless ammo, or even cartridges that shoot more than one bullet. I disagree that caseless ammo missed its moment- there is still interest in lowering the weight of ammunition with caseless or polymer-cased ammunition. The Lightweight Small Arms Technology program has the goal of significantly reducing the weight of small arms and their ammunition. I once read an article on the LSAT that hinted that caseless ammunition was expected to "bridge the gap" between current small arms and directed energy weapons, or "ray-guns"!!


    It isn't clear when or if futuristic ideas like combustible casings, needle bullets, electronic ignition, etc. will be applied to a truly futuristic assault rifle. Certainly such advanced technology won't supplant the venerable AK-47 in the hands of regional forces and terrorists around the world!! I doubt much of the world will be handing in their AK-47's for some time even if explosive heat-seeking rocket bullets and ray-guns are invented in the future. I could imagine a future where regional forces in third world countries use the simple and readily available AK-47 while more technologically advanced armies use portable "lightning-casters" (electron particle beam weapons). Speaking of lightning-casters, in the delightful little novel "The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm", the only portable blaster seen fires a deadly electrical discharge- and is referred to as a "Soul-Stealer".

    I've been brainstorming my phaser paper, and the project has grown to a discussion of ray-guns in general. It'll actually be something of a dual-purpose article- I want to explore the question of whether we could build a hand-held ray gun and be a useful resource for SF authors. I don't know about you, but I still think that a hand phaser is one of the basic necessities of civilized space travel.

    Christopher Phoenix

  4. of course like your website but you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very bothersome to tell the reality then again I will certainly come back again.
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  5. William,

    Great article on assault rifles. Discovered some things I didn't know.
    I came to your blog by way of a post you put up on MilSim Empire. I have a question about something you wrote there. Could you email me when you have the chance?


    email: ctemplar27@hotmail.com

  6. Thanks for all the comments! I was too quick to post this one up, hence the spelling errors, bloggers Spellchecker is something off, I will reedit it this weekend. Glad you liked FWS, and hope to see you come back!
    Wow, Curt, it has been awhile since I wrote there, this blog and my book keeps me busy, haven't PB'ed in nine months, very hot summer in Tejas this year. I will e-mail you tonight.
    I was also too quick to dismiss casesless ammo, I think the first and best small arms use of caseless ammo may be the light machine gun that loads via cassette, like the G11 LMG prototype. After playing with a LMG on COD:MW3 on LIVE, nothing sucks worse than the loading time!
    More on caseless later....
    The debate about bullet size is like the chicken and egg, or the .45 vs. 9mm. I like the .40 personally.
    The M1/M2 Carbine is a great weapon, my grandfather carried in WWII and Korea, and I am thinking of buying the current production M1A1 Paratrooper Carbine, there has been debate about if the M1/M2 carbine is link in the chain of the development of the assault rifle, or a early PDW. After you post, Mr. Phoenix, I've been thinking more about the M1/M2 carbine.

  7. Hello there! This post couldn't be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!
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  9. Where is the ALIENS M41A1 Pulse Rifle? or Smart gun? You referenced the ALIENS M41A1 Pulse Rifle in Starship Troopers section but why didn't such a iconic Science Fiction Assault Rifle not get its own section?

  10. I wished Cameron had used the term "rifle" when it came to the M41a1. The Colonial Marines M41a1 Pulse prop was constructed around the old Thompson Submachine, and given the length and function of the pulse rifle, it is more akin to a modern carbine, it is not an "assault rifle". There is a variant of the M41a1 that is stripped of the 30mm grenade launcher and features a longer barrel, and could be possible classified as an assault rifle. The M56 Smart gun is a machine gun based around the old German MG42 with motorcycle parts and a harness camera setup. The Pulse Rifle will be discussed in depth in the upcoming Carbine post in about two to three weeks. Watch for it!
    Thanks for commenting and reading!

  11. You made an error on the Mondragon rifle. Only about 4000 were ever made. A couple of hundred went to Mexico and the rest were purchased by Germany in 1914. Most were destroyed after the war. Thats why the average price of a Mondragon rifle is around $20,000

  12. You made an error on the Mondragon rifle. Only about 4000 were ever made. A couple of hundred went to Mexico and the rest were purchased by Germany in 1914. Most were destroyed after the war. Thats why the average price of a Mondragon rifle is around $20,000

  13. Thanks for the heads up. The Mondragon rifle is a difficult subject to research, and this some interesting details...shame I don't have an extra $20,000 laying around. Mondragon rifle is one of the more interesting forgotten weapons in firearms history.
    Thanks for reading and commenting

  14. Actually, Ghost Recon did have caseless ammo though.

  15. Which gun in the GR games was caseless? Was it the MR-C?

  16. Yes it is caseless hence in the name, modular rifle-caseless

  17. The reason the ma5 series in halo doesn't have an optic is because the optic is built in the marine/odst/Spartan's helmet. Technically you can zoom in the crosshairs at 4x zoom. Hence why smart scope exists.

  18. Technically the first weapon that could be called an "assault rifle" was the Griffiths & Woodgate rifle of 1892. It came before the Cei-Rigotti.

    Science fiction has always done firearms a disservice. Halo is probably the worst offender. ARs chambered in 7.62 NATO, with no sights and meager 32-round capacities... 500 years in the future. It's as if military technology has made no advancements whatsoever. In 500 years. Think about all the technological strides we've made since 500 years ago - Halo's universe makes about as much sense as having a game set in 2005 where everybody still uses wheellocks and swords.

    Killzone ain't much better - 2300s and the weapon technology is much the same as it is now. Killzone's M82 offers no advantages over what we already have. Lame.

    I should also note that there's no point in trying to make sense of Half-Life 2's pulse rifle - the model seen in-game was originally intended for a flare rifle that was cut from the game. The little "energy cell" that the striker hits was actually a flare that would have been launched after a single shot and replaced by another from the weird magazine. Valve re-used the model for the pulse rifle rather than make a new weapon from scratch - hence why the weapon's operation makes no sense.

    1. The reason the ma5 series in halo doesn't have an optic is because the optic is built in the marine/odst/Spartan's helmet. Technically you can zoom in the crosshairs at 4x zoom. Hence why smart scope exists.
      as for killzone, the earth has been nuked to oblivion in the 2050's due to ww3 and the survivors were trying to colonize other planets for survival so weapon advancement wasn't a priority. also have u heard the phrase " if it ain't broke don't fix it" that's what the UCA thought when they were fielding their weapons, hence why Russia still uses AK variant's cus there's no better alternative.

    2. Pretty poor reasoning.

      In regards to Halo's MA5, the whole "smart scope" explanation ties in fine with in-game mechanics, but doesn't make much sense in reality. If I recall correctly, half the marines in the Halo games didn't have optics on their helmets - some of them didn't even wear helmets at all.

      And how does this proposed "smart scope" actually work? Is it synced with the gun, or are the crosshairs just permanently fixed in the center of your vision (as seen in-game)? If the latter is to be believed, then the concept is useless; you could fire the gun up in the air and the crosshairs would still be aiming at whatever you were looking at, thus you wouldn't hit your target.

      And what if the smart scope fails? Presumably it's electronic, so it is liable to failure. Even rifles with telescopic sights almost always have back-up iron sights; the MA5 has none.

      Regarding Killzone, even if Earth were sent into an apocalyptic state in the 2050s, the games take place 300 years later. That's an awfully big gap; you can't pin everything on a nuclear war that happened 300 years ago. If humanity had the technology to colonize other planets, you'd think they'd have the technology to build better weaponry.

      As for the well-known phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", that does not translate to "Don't bother modernizing because what we've got is fine". The reason the US and Russia still use the weapons they use is largely down to two factors:

      1). The costs involved in re-arming their huge armies,
      2). The costs involved in researching new weaponry.

      Russia will not use AK-platform weapons forever, just as the British Empire did not use the Brown Bess forever. Eventually new technology will emerge that renders our current weapons redundant; it happened to flintlocks, it happened to percussion, and it'll happen to centrefire. It would be the act of a pessimist to say that in 300 - 500 years time, our technology will not advance purely because "it wasn't broken".

    3. I should also point out that the battle rifle in the Halo series is seen equipped with an ACOG scope - another 500-year-old relic - despite the fact that this "smart scope" technology apparently exists. Why?

  19. Never read of the Griffiths and Woodgate Rife of 1892...did some research and it seems to check out. Odd, that I've never heard of it. Thanks for letting me know about this missing semi-auto rifle!
    I also did not know that about the Pulse-Rifle from HL2...but it would make sense.
    It has always bothered me about firearms in video games like HALO...
    Thanks for the information and commenting!

  20. First, the Mass Effect changing from heating mechanics to more modern FPS has a in-setting reason for it: kinetic barriers. To breach these things, you'll need to drop them quickly and with the heat sinks, that isn't going to happen so it ended up turning combat into slugfests. THEN the Geth came along with their thermal clips, which are ejectable heat sinks designed to quickly cool off the weapon. This improved RoF and thus made kinetic barriers less useful.

    In a setting that I'm working on (called 'A New World: A World of Conflict and Sorrow'), arms development went crazy after the introduction of powered armor systems. When your average explosive uses an explosive 4.76 times the 'omph' of TNT, you get crazy things like mortar rounds that hit three quarters more than 155mm howitzer shells, grenades that have over a kilogram of TNT equivalent, and so forth. Small arms have rounds that propel iridium-osmium alloyed bullets at 2km/s (making a 5.7mm round hit with more power than the most powerful publically known .50cal round)... all the while using Electrothermal Chemical (ETC) propellants to allow them to reach that speed...