It seems that every weapon has its day. In the Stone Age, combat was waged with stone-based weaponry or sharpened clubs and spears. Then came metal-based weaponry, like the sword, the pike, spear, along with refined bow and arrow technology. By the 18th century, the bladed weapon was replaced by the gun. Over these thousands of years, certain types of weaponry was developed, used, and then discarded, and some would enjoy a resurgence. At the moment, the weapon having its moment in the sun is the carbine. This shortened variant of an military rifle has been around since the introduction of firearms to cavalry, and seemed to always be there, in the shadows of their big brother rifles until the 1990's, when governments like the United State would begin to realize that the era of traditional assault rifles was dead, and begin fielding carbines as the primary infantry firearm. This compounded the common (mis)perception by the general public that carbines are the mark of elite soldiers. FWS will be examining the carbine, and attempting to answer questions about the hot-gun-of-the-moment along with examples of science fiction carbines.
What is an Carbine?
The typical definition of the carbine is a shortened and lighter weight variant of a combat rifle, designed for use by paratroopers, vehicle crews, dog handlers, officers, and Special Forces. Often, carbines are created out of the standard assault rifle by fitting a shorter barrel along with adjustable or folding stock, but maintains the core of the original assault rifle, and typically fire the same cartridge. In the last two decades, carbines have been wholly developed on their own and not a specialized variant of another rifle, like the M1 Carbine of WWII.
There are several other firearms that contain the name "carbine", and here is the break down of the other carbines. Commando carbines and the regular carbine are often used interchangeably, but these two shorted assault rifles are separated by primarily barrel length. Carbines normally have a 14 inch barrel, while commando carbines feature 9-12 inch barrels. The term carbine is also applied to a classification of pistols, that are separate from the submachine gun. Unlike SMGs, the pistol-carbine is based around the core of a typical pistol, rifles the same around, and is normally semi-automatic. Fully automatic pistols with stabilization equipment are normal classified as "machine pistols". Carbine pistols flow in and out of popularity and usage, and were more common at the beginning of the 20th century than the 21st. Some of the more common carbine pistols were the Mauser C96 Broomhandle, the Browning hi-power short carbine, and the H&K VP70 (the base pistol was famously seen in ALIENS
). These types of weapons were replaced by submachine guns, machine pistols, and the commando carbines.
There is yet another example of a carbine, the civilian legal submachine gun carbine, In America, certain laws ban certain barrel lengths, requiring firearm manufacturers to be creative in order to sell certain military-type weapons. With the demand in the American market for PDWs and SMGs, these companies fit 16 inch barrels on the weapons and sell them under the title of "carbine" This was done to the FN P90, the UZI, and the Britsh Sterling SMG.
The Typical Users of the Carbines
Why Are Carbines So Popular with Today's Military?
- Radio Operators
- Dog Handlers
- Vehicle Crews
- Close-Quarters Special Ops Teams
- Long-Range Recon units
- Close-Protection units
- VBSS units
- Mechanized infantry
- Military Police
- Base Personnel
Modern warfare has changed since the days of our grandfathers and fathers. In wars previous, infantry engaged each other over longer distances and with larger larger caliber rounds than today, but manual loading systems, causing for a lower rounds-per-minute output. With advancements in powder, cartridges, increased urbanization and mechanization, distances between soldiers decreased steadily since World War One. In today's battlefield, soldiers can be rapidly transitioned between their transport (air or ground), to a street battle, storm a structure, then remount the vehicle and RTB for chow. In the tactical reality of today's combat zone, all of this can happen within minutes, and several weapons could be used for each of these situations, and it is true that most of the time in combat situations, you use what you can, but in the imagined tactical scenarios, there needs to be a general purpose flexible firearm for the realities found in modern warfare.
That answer seems to be the carbine, especially for the current crop of conflicts has propelled the abandonment of the tradition battle rifle/assault rifle in favor of a more compact and light-weight weapon system that fires the same intermediate cartridge fired from traditional assault rifle. This flexibility, coupled with some weight saving, and the mount rails all adding but to a dynamic weapon platform. Military and security organizations around the global took notice, and were only a few armed forces were swapping their assault rifles for carbines, today in 2013, it seems to be the standard and it is also trendy...but, for the right reasons.
When is a Carbine not a Carbine?
Before I began researching and dwelling on this topic, I firmly believed that I had solid concept on the modern military carbine, the assault rifle, and the commando carbine...but after two weeks, the lines blurred, and I began asking myself (and the cat): "when is a carbine not a carbine?" While the case is pretty clear on the Colt M4, that is not true of all modern military rifles. Bullpup assault rifle vexed me the most. While their barrel length can be great than a typical assault rifle, but their more compact size puts them in carbine classification? Then there bullpup carbines...then there are commando length bullpup commando carbines...and then my brain explodes. Perhaps, this maybe too picky and technical, but I like for the blog articles here on FWS to be a resources, not just my opinion. Personally, I think that the basic reason behind bullpup assault rifles is to cut-down on the bulk of a traditional assault rifle, because of the reason stated above. But the fact is that most "official" text on these bullpup assault rifles states that they are assault rifles, not carbines.
Why I love Carbines!
Unlike today, where carbines are being assigned to the majority of combat units, in my childhood, carbines were uncommon and a sign of the elite. In my POV, carbines=elite warfighters, and this was only reinforced by popular media in the 1980's and the realistic role of the carbine. It was not just looking cool that inspirited by love for the military carbine, but also my size. I'm 5'6, and most full-sized rifles are too large, especially the M1 Garand. When it came to playing war of playing MILSIM paintball, carbines and commando carbines were easier for me to handle and move with, rather than fighting with my weapon and the enemy at the same time. When it came time for me to buy a MILSIM paintball marker around 2002 I searched for AR15 carbine that would easy to handle on the field, and have the visuals I was going for. In 2003, I bought a USA Performance Products Viper M1, then followed by a 2009 Tippmann Alpha Black Tactical, and now I'm eyeballing the sweet BT Paintball TM-15LE. Yep, I've got it bad for carbines and commando carbines.
The History of the Military Carbines
Modification of the length of weapons is nothing new. Knives, spears, pikes, and swords have been shortened based on the tactical situation or the intended prey. Just look at the Japanese Wakizashi, or the Roman Gladius, or even the Tomahawk of the Native American tribes. All were modified for the tactical situation, and firearms were no different. Evidence of shortening the primitive hand-cannons of China as been seen along with the Spanish Arquebus, all the way to the first "real" carbines of Europe of the 18th centuries. When flintlock muskets were adopted by the cavalry units, one of the major issues was reloading the very long weapon while on horseback.To assist the cavalry soldier, the standard musket length was reduced. However, it should be noted that most cavalry soldiers did not reload their muskets while riding and still preferred the sword.
These original carbines were limited in range, and effective stopping power with the shortened barrels. Most of the time, when cavalry soldiers had to engage enemies up close, the sword was the weapon of choice. These horseborne soldiers that carried the special rifle were called "carabiniers". It was during this time, the 18th century, that the term "carbine" was fashioned, and no one is quite sure of the origin of the name. Some credit the old French term "carabin" or "soldier armed with a musket" as the origin. Still others credit a shortened element of the French term "carabiniers", or even the even French term for a gravedigger. Either way, the term "carbine" became close associated with the cavalry, and with good reason. The majority of users of the black powder carbines were cavalry, due to their limited range over a conventional musket of the time.
During the wars of the 19th century, namely the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War, carbine could be seen used by cavalry and scouts with the iconic Sharps carbine and the Spencer repeating carbine. The US government layout some guidelines for their cavalry carbines. Simple of design and loading, sealing against the elements in 1861. The Spencer repeater was load via breech in the butt-shock with springs to load the seven metal cartridges via a level-action system and was fielded in 1863. The .52 Sharps carbine became the firearm of choice for the Union and Confederate cavalry units during the war. At the time of the Civil War, some in the Union command fear that the soldiers would fire too many rounds in combat if they were issued Spencer repeaters. President Lincoln himself fired one on the White House lawn!
The first use of the Spencer carbine was during the 3rd day of Gettysburg in the unit commanded by General Cluster...yeah, that
Cluster. At several battles, outnumbers Union soldiers would drive Confederate back with the superior accuracy of the weapon along with the greater fire output. General Reynolds called the Spencer rifle "the best rifle on the face of the planet". In the 1870's and the 1880's, the Spencer rifles and carbines were common weapons of the Old West, be used by the Native Americans, the Buffalo Soldiers, along with cowboys and outlaws.
The most common carbines of the celebrated Old West period chambered the same ammunition as their revolvers, allowing for weight saving and one common source of rounds. And there was no weapon up to this task more than revolutionary Winchester level-action carbines. This lever-action carbine became the most common weapon of its time, and earned an iconic status. By the time of World War One, when it came to the weapons of armies, the standard became the bolt-action rifle that fired heavy 7mm+ cartridges designed for power and range. Rifles like the Lee-Enfield, the Mauser 98, and the American Springfield 1903.
What would follow, after World War One, would a general shortening of those heavy wood-and-steel rifles into carbines. These are not the typical carbines as we know them today. For example, the Mauser 1898 rifle that chambered the 7.92x57mm round, was reduced from 29 inches to 26.6 inches, and thus was christened the "Karabiner 98 Kurz" or carbine 98 short, and issued as the standard infantry rifle of the 3rd Reich. The British would shorten their own bolt-action rifle, the .303 Lee Enfield No.4 Mk 1 from 44 inches to 39.5 inches, for use by commonwealth forces in airborne or jungle operations that needed a lightened and shortened variant of the proven Enfield rifle. This was also true of the Japanese Type 38 carbine, a cutdown variant of the Type 38 rifle and this carbine also spawned the Imperial Japanese Type 44 cavalry-carbine.
With the 2nd World War being more mobile and fought more in urban conditions, carbines were developed, and not just from a parent rifle. One of the best examples being the M1 Carbine. We have to remember that there were few real carbines of WWII and this was partly due to the spread of submachine guns. During the closing year of the year, the Nazis were working on a carbine variant of the successor to the StG44 assault rifle, the StG45(M), and this weapon would mostly likely been called the StG45K. During the Korean War, both sides would deploy carbines, the American M2, the Commonwealth Jungle Carbine and De Lisle carbine. The North Korean and Red Chinese forces would use the Type 44 and Type 38 carbines, and even captured carbines. The Korean War altered one element of carbines, the specialized "low-power" cartridge. The special .30 caliber round for the M1/M2/M3 carbines were found not to penetrate the thick winter clothing of the Chinese, and future development of carbines would reflect this deficit.
After the 1950's, modern military organizations would move towards mobility, mechanization, and growing of special forces along with the new element of air mobility. This elements allowed carbines to expanded. Shortened variants of the AK (AKMS), FN FAL (FAL Para), and the M16 (take your pick of names) were issued to mechanized troops, vehicle crew, dog handlers, and special operation forces. While these carbines were handy, they were also sought after by non-combat soldiers (REMFs), due to their coolness factory, making it difficult for special units in Vietnam to get their hands on the XM177E2s. This was also similar to the Soviet AKS-74U (which is an commando carbine), and was a prized war-trophy by the mujahideen. That is why Osama Bin Laden used to
have one has his personal weapon.
After Vietnam, the connection between elite forces and the carbine were firmly established, and this along with the H&K MP5, became the tools of the elites. From the 1970's through the 1980's, the carbine would remain a rare weapon, and only assigned to those that were deemed proper to have one...meaning that if you were regular infantry, we were not going to get your hands on one. This limited policy towards carbines, and the idea that most special forces used the MP5 for their missions, caused for lacking funding towards carbines. I read an account of the SEAL teams of the 1980's being forced to maintain their CAR-15s from Vietnam! That was not just in America, carbines were rarely issued and seen overseas in special units. Then something happened within military and firearm circles, and all of sudden beginning in the late 1980's and early 1990's, the attitude changed, and carbines started to become more common. The question is why?
There is no solid information on this, and I've had to assume on the factors that led to the development of the Colt M4 and other modern carbines. My theory is that military planners and firearms companies were able to foresee the rise of body-armor, the decreased use of submachine guns by special forces, and the tactical flexibility of the carbine, especially in urban warfare. Another factor that helped the spread of carbines was the move towards was the end of the Cold War, and increased likelihood of the "small war" AKA low-intensity conflicts. These, as President Kennedy said in graduation of a West Point class in June of 1962, "a war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him
The M16A2 carbines were used by special forces in the 1st Gulf War and Operation: Gothic Serpent, while AK carbines were used extensively used in the Soviet War in Afghanistan War by with mechanized units, air mobility troops, and special forces. All of the events pointed to the success of the carbine and its shorter cousins in modern warfare. The history of carbines took a turn to mainstream attention beginning in 1994, when the M4 carbine was adopted by the US Military.
However, it would take one of the darkest days in American history to give the M4A1 its call to service. After the attacks on America, the M4A1 would accompany the first Green Beret ODA teams in Afghanistan in early 2002. These would weapons would be a symbol of the special forces war being conducted in that unforgiving territory. Not only would inspirit Airsofters and Paintballers to buy carbines, but also civilian shooters, and other military operations. By the time of the Iraq War, it seemed everyone was outfitted with a carbine, including allied soldiers and private military contractors. In 2013, it seems that the trend of carbines replacing assault rifles is not slowing down. Today, the carbine is the weapon of choice for most warfigthers.
Advantages of Carbines
Unlike their assault rifle big brothers, the carbine is more compact and lighter in weight, allowing for the soldier's burden of kit to be lightened by a few pounds. Also, the carbine is sandwiched between the full-sized assault rifle and the cut-down commando carbine, this middle-ground weapon evens the odds of both of these other weapons. This smaller size allows the carbine to a general use weapon, for all manner of tactical situations: urban warfare, close quarters combat, VBSS, and general infantry combat. While the size carbines appeals to the infantry, it is also is a ideal length for: dog handlers, special operators, tankers, air crews, officers, medics, and radio operators. Another group served well by the reduction in size and weight are female soldiers. Given the increasing roles for female soldiers, the new crop of modern carbines is easier for them to handle because of their general smaller size than male soldiers. Just look at those smiling faces in those pictures! Carbines make soldiers happy!
Disadvantages of Carbines
With the deduction of the length of the barrel, comes certain disadvantages from transitioning from a full-sized assault rifle to an assault carbine. One of the key different and weakness of the carbine is the reduction of effective range. From testing data of the NATO 5.56mm M855 ammunition, the performance of the M4A1 vs. M16A2 was very similar until you reach pass 300 meters, and the drop in accuracy becomes sharper. With the reduction in range, comes the reduction in lethality. Leathality is were the bullet is at its greatest ability to delivery the desired kill-effect, transferring energy. The M4A1 carbines as a reduced lethal range than the M16A2, but not the common ranges were engagements typical occur. To solve some of these issues, some units in Afghanistan, like the British, have been deploying 7.62mm DMRs into patrol units for greater effect range. Another compliant about carbines usage I've read is that become fouled more easily than assault rifles and they are easier to get dirty (I used to know a girl like that!).
Two complains about the use of the M4A1 carbine over the M16 have cropped up by older soldiers: weaver-rail madness, and use of the CAR stock in melee combat. It is not secret that soldiers have and continue using their primary weapons as a melee weapon when things get too close. In the age of wood-and-steel rifles, that wood stock could fuck your world up, but if you've spend any time with the plastic CAR stock, than you can see the compliant of older soldiers...that CAR stock would smash into pieces if used to crack some skulls...that is why I always carry a tomahawk.
Another issue cited by older soldiers has been the "weaver-rail madness." Prior to the M4A1, regular soldiers had little choice in optics and customization, but now with the spread of the weaver rail attachment system and the number of choices in optics, lights, and aiming devices, modern soldiers are awash in choice. While that is great, it leads to a number of soldiers reportedly obsessing over accessories for their weapon, and spend a great deal of money. I've seen this with some of my friends that own AR15s.
Real-Steel Examples of Carbines
My Grandfather's Weapon of Choice: The M1 Carbine
With over six million units manufactured by ten different companies, including IBM and General Motors, the M1 Carbine was the most producted American firearm during World War II. The M1 Carbine would seeing action in no less than three American wars along with countless other low intensity conflicts, making it, one of the most widely used carbine firearms. Around 1938, the US Army could see a need for a lighter, more compact rifle for specialized soldiers and officers over the M1 Garand. Keep in mind, that while the M1 Garand was one of the best combat rifles in the world at this time, it was long and heavy. Coming in at 11 pound and 43.5 inches, the .30-06 M1 Garand was a serious piece of real estate, and difficult for some to use. The 35.6 inch long M1 Carbine weight in at 5.8 pounds with the full wood stock and full loaded, and was cheaper to produce. Some of the weight saving is due to smaller dimensions of the M1 Carbine, it also is due to the smaller cartridge, the .30 caliber (7.62x33mm).
When compared to the .30-06 monster, the .30 caliber was less effective and during the brutal winter battles in Korea, the Chinese winter kit could stop a .30 caliber round. This under-powered label has hung around the M1 Carbine to this day began during airborne operations in Sicily in 1943. Some believe that these experiences caused the delay of the US military adopting the intermediate assault rifle cartridge. The .30 caliber M1 Carbine could be the one of the key reasons for the adoption of the Vietnam-era M14 battle rifle. Some historians also believe that this custom made cartridge was the first real example of the Personal Defense Weapon that we know today. This smaller cartridge was a dual-edged sword to the foot soldier. While it allow for more ammunition to be carried, and greater capability over most battle-rifles of the time, it was under-powered. When I was at a recent gun show, I put one of the bad boys in my hands, and was shocked at the size and weight. Soldiers that are around my size (5'6), would have a difficult time maneuvering with this full-sized rifle. I picked up an M1 Carbine and felt immediately that this would have been my WWII weapon of choice.
In 1942, the M1 Carbine would officially adopted, and rapid moved into wartime production for deployment to the Pacific and Europe, serving in the invasion of Fortress Europe from the sea ans sky in both the standard carbine and the M1A1 paratrooper. This specialized variant of the M1 carbine was fitted with the folding wire-stock that was handy for paratroopers, and prevented the use of those faulty leg-bags. Only 150,000 M1A1 paratroopers were produced and not carried over with the M2 and M3 Carbines. Beginning in 1945, the M2 Carbine was intended to be a select-fire carbine with full-automatic fire capabilities and other refinements from the M1.
After the Second World War, the M2 Carbine would replace many of the various submachine guns used, like the M3 Grease Gun and M1A1 Thompson, due to its small size, full-auto capability, and 30 round magazine. The M2 would itself serving in Korea and Vietnam with American soldiers and allied unit, especially ARVN. During the Korean War, the M3 Carbine was fielded in limited numbers, about 6,000 with the advanced infrared sight, sniper scope, and vertical hand-grip. This system was replaced by the M16/starlight scope during Vietnam. When in comes to the M1 Carbine, I have a personal connection to the M1 Carbine, my Grandfather, Colonel A.L. Bregnard, carried an M1 Carbine in the jungles of the Pacific Campaign and the unforgiving landscape of Korea. This is one of the guns I've always wanted to own, even more than an AK, Galil, or AR15.
The H&K 416
The H&K 416: the gun that killed Osama Bin Laden, designed by request by DELTA, and now a star of movies and video games. There are few guns with the uber-cool facts the 416 sports. It was developed by request by one of America's most elite Tier-One Specops units, DELTA via the R&D man within the unit, Larry Vickers. In the 1990's, after the events in Mogadishu, DELTA began searching for another military-grade assault carbine after disappointment with the performance of their weapons. This search continued even after the M4A1 was adopted for military service,and the H&K XM8 was cancelled. The 416 was originally titled the HKM4, but Colt had an issue with this, forcing H&K to change it to the "416" (for M4 and M16). By 2004, the 416 was in-service with DELTA in A-Stan and Iraq, and their old M4s were dumped. It is believed that around this time, DEVGRU tested the 416. Today, in 2013, the 416 is still in operational use, and the primary weapon of Tier-One.
Due to the extensive operational life of the M16/M4 weapon system, the German company felt it was best to keep the basic M4 design, allowing operators to be familiar with the HK416 instantly. While the HK416 and the Colt M4 looking very visual similar, H&K team set out to improve the Colt M4, much like they did with the flawed British bullpup SA80 assault rifle. Where most of the improvement lay is inside the HK416, with the short-stroke gas pistol, allowing for increased reliability, no gases entering the body of the weapon, and decreased heat. Part of this weapon came from the H&K G36, the older FN FAL, and their work on the SA80. Other differences include the international systems for firing models, the H&K iron sights, four foregrip rail attachment sites, number of barrels, and the HK416 is always a flattop.
In recent years, the HK416 has been the source of some drama. Report said that the US Army stripped the Asymmetric Warfare Group of their 416s in favor of the standard M4 carbines. Issues with the gas port popped up when taking the 416 from heated building into the near-arctic conditions of Norway. Today, the HK416 serves in the Norwegian armed forces, and has seen action in A-Stan, the elite German KSK use it, along with some French and South Korean Special Forces units. Rumors and some pictures are believed to show British SAS and SBS operators with HK416s, Besides the Tier-One CAG and DEVGRU, the NASA Emergency Response Teams, the LAPD SWAT, FBI HART, and the USMC under the M27 SAW (Shocking that Black Ops: II
got it wrong with the naming of their H&K assault carbine...research, people, research)
The Colt M4
From the very genesis of Eugene Stoner's modular rifle system in the 1950's, the AR15 always had a carbine variant. Throughout the bulk of the operational life of the M16, there has been both a carbine and commando carbine in service. These carried names like the XM177, CAR-15, GAU-5, the Model 653 and so on. Not only were these in service with a variety of American agencies, but among dozens of nations, including Israel. When the M16A2 was adopted by the US military, Colt began working in 1988 on a carbine variant of the assault rifle, which was pretty standard practice for the company. This prototype weapon, the XM4, was a tri-burst, like the M16A2, but unlike many of the M16 carbines, it was fitted with an 14.5 inch barrel to solve some of the range issues associated with other carbines. This longer barrel with the accompanying foregrip allowed the use of the M203 40mm grenade launcher easier. In previous M16 carbines and commando carbines, extreme heat buildup on the foregrip was associated with full-auto firing during intense engagement. Colt fitted with the XM4 with double heat-shields on the foregrip, solving this issue. The M16A2 and the M4 shared 80% of their parts and pieces.
From 1988 through 1994, while other previous Colt carbines were in use, Colt was working on the XM4. The first generation of M4s were given to the military in 1994, replacing the aging M3 Gease submachine guns, some M16s and some M9 pistols for certain units. With the introduction of the M4 carbine, the bulk of the US military's SMGs were phased out, especially with the introduction of the M4 CQBR commando carbine in 2000. Contrary to popular rumor and myth, the American SOF units deployed to Somalia during Operation: Gothic Serpent in 1993 were not issued
M4s. The shorty M16s seen in the hands of DELTA, the Rangers, SEALs, and the PJs were Colt Model M727/M733 and the Air Force GAU-5.
With the M4 being adopted in 1994 gave it time to be improved and used by warfighters during peacetime, until it would be needed after 9/11. It is known that some of the first combat uses of the M4, and its full-auto upgrade, the M4A1, were in special forces man-hunting operations in the former Yugoslavia, along with close protection detail of NATO and UN personnel. One of the most iconic features of the M4 is the accessory picatinny rail system, with came out the early 1990's. This coupled with improvement in electronic sights, night vision, and laser-aiming devices. These rail systems and their accessory goodies, allowed the M4 carbine to become a modular weapon system that was unseen in previous Colt M16 carbines, making it a favor of special forces operators. Most of technology was outgrowth of the old "urban warrior" project that blended battlefield computer technology with the soldier.
After the terrorists attacks on America, the US and her allies would embark on one of the greatest uses of special forces, and in the hands of most of these elite warfighters was the M4A1 carbine. This made the new Colt carbine a star, and could be seen in countless movies, TV shows, and video games. This obsession created a industry of business bring the new iconic weapon of the special forces into the hands and screens of the general public. By the time of the Iraq Invasion of 2003, the M4A1 was rapidly replacing the M16 as the standard armament, and even our allies were fielding the cool new weapon of these new wars. During this, the M4's two replacements were being tested, the FN SCAR and the H&K XM8, and it was assumed that the little carbine's days were numbered. However, by 2008, the XM8 was completed cancelled, the SCAR was demoted, and more M4A1s were ordered. In 2010, the US military held a competition for the next-generation military assault carbines, and the normal competitors of the Colt M4 showed up. Colt specially designed an improved M4 for the competition, called the Enhanced M4, or the Advanced Piston Carbine. This APC was fitted with an pistol-drive system, and believed to more reliability than the standard M4, however, like all good things, the military cancelled the Colt APC, keeping with the regular M4A1s
At the moment, the M4 assault carbine will continue to be the US military's weapon of choice, with the H&K 416s and FN SCARs being used by Special Operations units. In the 2014 budget, there is $21.2 million to buy 12,000 M4s. Also in 2014, the entire US military will replace the remaining 600,000 M16s for M4s, making this carbine the official and standard weapon of the US military. Here is some M4 trivia for you: the first time that the flattop variant of the M4A1 was seen on-film was the 1997 Harrison Ford film Air Force One
. I believe the first time the term "M4" were spoken on film was the 1997 Ridley Scott GI Jane
, however that film used mock-up Colt XM177 carbines instead of the real deal. Air Force One
would beat GI Jane
into theaters by one month, making it the earliest cinema Colt M4A1.
The IMI Tavor-21
The Tavor Assault Rifle for the 21st Century (or TAR-21) is fully modern bullpup modular weapon for the IDF that chambers the standard NATO 5.56x45mm round and is the long-awaited replaced for the Colt AR15 based carbines and the remaining Galils in Israeli service. The Tavor began development in 2001 with several requirements in mind: the IDF needed a weapon, like the Galil, that could be manufactured in country, ambidextrous, and fit within the tactical situations that the IDF operates in, naming rough terrain and crowded urban environments along with the IDF doctrine of a highly mechanized armed force. By late 2001, the Tavor was deployed to IDF units, and it would first see combat in 2002, where the after action reports were glowing for the new rifle. In 2009, the IDF decided that the more compact MTAR-21 would be fielded for standard infantry usage. By 2013, even the IDF reserve units would issued the Tavor, and leading the end of the Colt carbines.
As I posed in the question above, is a bullpup assault rifle really a carbine at heart and function? When it comes to the Tavor 21, I firmly believe that it is a carbine due to the conditions that it was developed for: mechanized and highly mobile infantry, density populated cities, and soldiers carrying gear over rough terrain. This bullpup layout would allow for a compact framed rifle, like a carbine, but also be fitted with a full-length barrel, like a traditional assault rifle, with an even greater barrel length than than the current Israeli Colt M4A3s. Much like all modern military weapons, the Tavor is modular and is available in different configurations and attachments. Other nations are beginning to adopt the IMI bullpup, and a civilian model has been released. There are even export variants (the X95) that chamber the 7.62x51 NATO and Russian AK74 5.45x39mm for greater market appeal. Personally, the TAR-21 has been a favorite of mine since Rainbow Six: 3
and loved using it(with the MARS sights) in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
and Call of Duty: Black Ops: II
. It is believed that the Tavor will return in Call of Duty: Ghosts
The FN F2000
Some weapons are a head of their time, and/or attempt to incorporate a number of advancements, making them favorites of video games and movies. The FN bullpup F2000 is such a weapon. Chambering the standard NATO 5.56x45mm, the Belgium made assault bullpup carbine would arrive on the firearms scene in 2001, becoming a symbol of the next-generation of military modular firearms along with being adopted by several nations' more elite forces and servicing in several conflicts, including Afghanistan. There are standard rail systems, modular design for greater tactical flexibility, however, the F2000 was constructed with some new features not seen before.
One being the front ejection port that can store five spent cartridges and keeps brass from be ejected near the shooter's face and a greater weather seal, preventing fouling of the weapon. At the front of the bullpup is an adjustable gas port to accommodate lower quality ammunition, a flip-up cover that allows the user to check if there is a hot round in the chamber. This innovation continues to magwell that features a tighter fit and seal, preventing fouling of the F2000, and a release button to prevent accidental and premature ejection of the magazine. The hot redhead featured in these photos is shooting the expensive civilian model, the FS2000. Due to the high price tag, the FS2000 has experienced slower than expected sales, fueling rumors of FN hauling production from time-to-time. I actually held the FS2000 at the Fort Worth Gun Show in 2010, and found it to be a very comfortable rifle that is not as bulky as it appears in photos and in games. The F2000 was one of my favorite assault rifles in Modern Warfare 2
and I wished very much it had been featured in Black Ops: II.
The H&K G36K
In the early 1990's, the Berlin Wall fell, and the two Germanys united after decades of separated by the Cold War, thus sealing the fate of the advanced next-generation assault rifle of the West German Bundeswehr, the H&K G11 caseless rifle. After the G11's cancellation, there was still the need for the German Army to replace their aging G3 battle rifle along with the export models, and the East German AKs. The newly united Germany, wanted a new, modern 5.56mm assault rifle that would out test the Steyr AUG, and this new project would become the G36 modular family of weapons. By 1997, the new G36 was in service with elements of the Bundeswehr and adopted as the replacement for the aging CETME rifle in the Spanish military, and in 1998, the G36 was the standard weapon of the Bundeswehr.
G36k (for "kurz" or "short")
The AK Carbines
When the original AK47 was being fielding in Warsaw Pact armies, mechanized warfare was a popular concept in strategic thinking, and mass-paratrooper drops were still considered tactically viable. These two elements, caused one of the early AK variants to be an underfolding stock, which was copied for the Chinese Type-56 I. In 1959, when the AK47 was modernized, becoming the AKM, another carbine variant was made with an underfolding stock, called the AKMS. The "S" of AKMS stands for "skladnoy" or "folding" in Russian. It is the AKM, not the AK47 that actually became the global assault rifle, and it is believed that the AKMS along withe Type-56 I, are the most prolific carbines in the world. Another exported carbine variant of the Chinese Type-56 II, with a side-folding stock.
After the Vietnam War, the Soviets began designing their own 5mm cartridge, and in 1974, the 5.45x39mm chambering AK was released, the AK74. This was the gun that fought in the mountains of Afghanistan, and remains the standard assault rifle of dozens of nations, and one of my personal favorite rounds. Much like the AKM, the AK74 received several shortened variants, including the more celebrated AKS-74U. The carbine variant of the AK74 is the AKS-74, with a side-folding wire-stock. Recently, the Russian Federation adopted the AK-103 that chambers the 7.62x39mm round and does have a side-folding stock carbine variant.
The XM23 Stoner 63 Carbine
Prior to Call of Duty: Black Ops, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater,
and SOCOM: US Navy SEALs
, the Stoner 63 modular weapon system was largely unknown, and less known was the carbine variant, the XM23. The Stoner 63 is the weapon that almost was, and oddly competed with Eugene Stoner's own AR15 modular weapons system. The genesis of the Stoner 63 rifle was a modular family of weapons based around a common receiver, and was original planned as an 7.62x51mm, but was developed with the upcoming 5.56x45mm cartridge.
Despite being tested, the gun was never approved in any big numbers, and was mainly confined to service with the Navy SEALs and Marines.The Stoner 63 has an odd, short, but interesting history, and FWS will most likely be covering the story of this almost modular rifle system in a Forgotten Weapons blogpost in the near future.So, what about the carbine variant? A few carbines were made for the testing by the DOD at Quantico, and it is believed that a few more XM23 carbines were fielded by the SEALs and the Marines for their NCOs and officers. Little or no information is availble on the service life of the XM23, and unlike the LMG variant, it did not survive beyond Vietnam.Funny enough, the Stoner 63 seen in Black Ops
, is not the LMG variant, but either the full-sized assault rifle or the automatic rifle tested by the US Marines in 1967. The LMG variant of the Stoner 63, the XM207, was fed from a drum-magazine or box magazine, and not seen in the game.
Ruger Mini-14 Carbine
In 1974, Ruger developed the 5.56x45mm chambering Mini-14 carbine rifle. The name was meant to link the wood-and-steel carbine to the M14 battle rifle of Vietnam War, and was not marketed to the military, but to the civilian hunting, law enforcement and sport-shooting market. For years, the Mini-14 built a solid, committed, fan-base that often defended the carbine from the AK/AR15 crowd. During the 1970's thought the 1980's, some law enforcement organizations adopted the Mini-14 for their SWAT units, but most SWAT units replaced the Mini-14 in the 1980's, with the H&K MP5, condemning the Mini-14 into the shadows if it had not been for The A-Team
. For entire generation that grew up in the 1980's, the Mini-14 equals The A-Team
, and I am one of them.
One of the reason for the lack of popularity of the Mini-14 comes from partly its look and accuracy. Appearances do sell guns (and crappy sport-cars and SUVs) and if a buyer was going to buy an wood-and-steel rifle, than the AK was normally the choice. I saw this at gun shows back-in-the-day, with Mini-14s been discounted over the AK. Another factor associated with the min-14 is accuracy. Mini-14, like AKs, have the label of being inaccuracy, which hurts sales to the sportmen crowd. In 2003, Ruger modernized the Mini-14, solving some of the issues, namely accuracy and there has been a rise popularity. It may surprise some, but the Ruger Mini-14 (the AC556) is one of the most used blank-firing prop guns in sci-fi. From Starship Troopers
to the Total Recall
, the Mini-14 and its bullpup conversation kit, Muzzelite MZ14, have been under the fiberglass casings.
The IMI Galil SAR/ Vektor R5
The Israeli military often takes disadvantages and turns them into advantages, and since the founding of Israel, their military has used what they could get their hands on. From bolt-action Enfields, to AKs, to M1 carbines, to FN FALs, to their own homegrown UZIs. This created supply line issues as well as training difficulties. To make matters worse, the international arms market was weary to sell guns to Israel after tensions in the Middle East, and slowly less and less guns arrived into the nation. This also came at the time when the IDF, as a whole, was displeased about the desert performance of FN FAL. In 1967, IMI began development of a homegrown modular rifle systems that would fire the common 5.56mm NATO round and the NATO 7.62mm, and work off the designs of the AK47 and the Finish RK62. That became the Galil, named for the chief designer, and came in several models. The carbine of the Galil was the SAR, fitted with a folding wire-stock, 13 inch barrel.
By the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Galil was only in the hands of a few units, and it was not until the 1982 Lebanon Conflict that the Galil would see more widespread action. While the gun worked well, it was heavy, and soldiers would often modify it to lighten the load, fitting the under-slung wire-stock from an AK. I've been unable to confirm this, but, it seems that the SAR carbine grew out of this complaint, and it became the standard version of the Galil used by the IDF. I've always felt that the Galil got screwed, and was never given its fair due by the IDF, because shortly after the Lebanon Invasion of 1982, the Galil would be seen along side the imported American Colt Model 653 carbines, called the Mekut'zar by the Israeli soldiers. These post-Vietnam guns were cheaper and lighter than the IMI Galil SAR, and since the 1980's, the Colt carbines have been the weapon of choice for the IDF. Despite the IDF replacing most of the Galils, some did find a home with dozens of nations as their service rifle, including Estonia and South Africa, as the Vektor R4, and the carbine variant, the R5.
What is the Future of Carbines?
Up until a few years ago, it was believed that all
future military small arms would be manufactured in a carbine-sized package. From the standard "rifle", to the light machine gun, to even the "sniper" rifle, all were being shortened for the current conditions of battle. Then came the rise of the DMR/Battle Rifle, due to the conditions seen in Afghanistan and the need for a heavier-hitting round than the 5.56mm. Recently, the British Army began fielding the American made L129a1 7.62x51mm in a sharpshooter/DMR role, causing rumors that this AR15-based accuratized rifle could be the future of the British Army's next military "rifle", replacing the SA80.
I think it is almost certain that given the growth of urbanization, the rise in population, and mechanization of the infantry, that the carbine will enjoy many years as the standard military "rifle". I also believe that carbines will be within a modular weapon system family, with LMGs, DMRs, and PDWs all based off the base carbine weapons. Within this modular family, the PDW-based carbine will chamber a unique cartridge, designed for the role of a typical PDW. Carbine-sized weapon could also be important in the space-based wars. Soldiers in spacesuits would need compact weapons due to the bulkiness of their equipment, and that the properties of a bullet are different in space than here on Terra....James Cameron may have gotten it right with the M41A1 pulse carbine.
Carbines in Science Fiction
Much like the relationship between clothing and Lady Gaga, firearms and science fiction creators relation is mostly shallow,style over functionality is definitely the rule. Most sci-fi weaponry is just happens to be carbine is mostly by luck. Rare are the true examples of carbines that were intended to be carbines. Helping the cause of carbines in science fiction is the popularity of the Colt M4A1, fueling creators to capitalize on that gun's popularity by adding elements of it into their own design. Carbines in sci-fi benefit from fictional-shooter video games, where gamers demand variety and up-to-the-minute designs. Carbines are just limited to soldiers, some sci-fi works show mechs and powered armor using carbine variants of the assault rifle style mecha auto-cannons.
Examples of Carbines in Science-Fiction
The Morita Mark I Carbine from Starship Troopers (1997)
How could there be a blogpost on FWS without mentioning the 1997 Starship Troopers
film? Inconceivable! In this vexing military sci-fi film, there are three variants of the Mobile Infantry bullpup assault rifle: standard rifle, DMR, and the carbine. The Morita Mk. I carbine is one of the better examples of a true-blue carbine in science fiction due to the way it is presented on screen. Much like the traditional role of real-steel carbines, the Morita shorty was seen in the 1997 movie being issued to officers, shipboard marines, pilots, specialized units, and was stripped of the underslung shotgun, decreasing the weight. While I have issues with portions of the military-reality of M.I. in Starship Troopers
, the Morita Mk. I carbine was not one of them. Under the prop gun fiberglass casing is a Ruger AC556 bullpup "Muzzelite" conversion that is a very popular sci-fi prop-gun.
The Morita Mk. III "Survival Carbine" from Starship Troopers: 3 (2008)
In the 3rd straight-to-DVD SST
film, the Morita rifle undergoes its third evolution. This time, instead of firing 5.56mm rounds or laser beams, the Morita Mk. III chambers a 10mm caseless round (however, brass can be seen flying out of the action), along with an upper-slung micro-grenade launcher, similar in design to the cancelled H&K XM29 OICW system. Under all of that plastic futuristic casing is the South African version of the Israeli Galil SAR carbine, the 5.56x45mm Vektor R5 carbine.
In the film, after the Federation warship goes down, and a few survivors land on a uncharted world via an escape pod, they break out the two variants of the Mk. III caseless rifle. This more compact Morita rifle deletes the fixed stock, and are seen mounted into the hatch of the escape pod, making it similar to the survival rifles placed into combat planes. Given that this a movie, and the Mk. III is caseless, Jolene Blalock was about to fire this stock-less carbine on full-auto with no issues. Damn, isn't Jolene Blalock just beautiful?
Armat Battlefield Systems M41A1 Pulse Rifle from ALIENS
In the 1996 ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual
on page 13-16, the M41A1 Pulse Rifle broken down, discussing the lightweight material it is made out of, along with the 10x24mm caseless ammunition, and the several types of 30mm grenade available, but little is said about the general history of this 22nd century carbine. It seems that the M41A1 is made by Armat, and over the course of eight years, it became the standard rifle of the US Army and the Colonial Marines, replacing the aging Harrington Automatic Rifle. With the pulse rifle (named for the electronic ignition system for the caseless ammo) being an "A1" indicates that the weapon seen in ALIENS
was an upgraded version of the original M41...which no one has explained what the original pulse rifle was or if the M41 was the military's first caseless rifle. My personal belief is that M41A1 was original designed for the Colonial Marine colonial response units, and caught on, leading to the M41A1 becoming the standard infantry gun.
Recently, a reader left a comment on the FWS Armory blogpost about assault rifles. The comment was that I forgot to cover the caseless 10x24mm M41A1 Pulse Rifle from the ALIENS
universe, which he classifying an assault rifle. Given what little we've seen of the Colonial Marines, the gear, and their mission, it makes sense to classify the M41A1 as a carbine..in my opinion of course. There is also design elements to consider: the adjustable stock, the short barrel, the use by the mechanized marines in urban warfare and general close quarters situations. Also, being fitted with a 30x71mm grenade launcher made by some company called PN, allows for this weapon to have greater offensive abilities than a PDW or SMG. With the Colonial Marines mission to be America's force-in-readiness for the government's colonial holdings, it makes tactical sense that a general use weapon, like a carbine, would be the Colonial Marines standard armament.
The Colonial Fleet Carbines from BSG and BSG: Blood & Chrome
Starting with season two of the reboot (and epic) Battlestar Galactica
, the Colonial Marines and other fleet members carried a compact carbine that was never called by any specific name, and featured some common attachment kit on a custom length weaver rail system, but was the only real cosmetic change to the base real-steel 9x19mm Beretta CX4 Storm carbine. This carbine feeds from the same magazine has the 92F pistol, and was cheaper for the production to fire blanks through that the first season P90, and was a win-win for the BSG
production and Beretta. throughout BSG
and Blood & Chrome
, the It replaced the FN P90 from the first season because of the P90 PDW being used in Stargate: SG1.
H&K 416 Carbine from Terminator: Salvation
In the 2009 sci-fi war-film Terminator: Salvation
, we finally get to see John Conner as a freedom fighter in the human resistance movement against Skynet in the dark future year of 2018. Despite the Terminator
universe being around since 1984, this is the first time that we fans have received an on-screen John Conner that did justice to the name with Christian Bale's excellent performance. Instead of Phased Plasma rifle in the 40 watt range, John Conner carries an very conventional H&K 416 carbine with all manner of weaver rail goodies, including a C-More red dot sight, flip-up iron sights, Surefire light and later, an M26 MASS attachment. Is this not just with Conner, every gun in the movie is conventional, and not a single handheld plasma DEW is seen. Even in the Terminator Salvation
machinima series, everyone is carrying an 416. So, what gives? Why is the HK416 in this MSF movie? My guess is that Terminator: Salvation
production crew is attempting to mine two popular trends in cinema: "bullet instead of beams" (AKA: Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better)
and "Military Your Movie Up". Still, it was nice to see such a beautiful HK416 on-screen!
The Type-51 Covenant Carbine from the HALO Universe
I honest do not know why the Covenant labeled this fuel-rod caseless radioactive ammunition weapon a "carbine"? It would have more sense to call the Type-51 an DMR or fuel-road battle rifle. My only guess is that given it's compact stock, and size when compared to the Elites Could it be a carbine variant of the fuel-rod cannon or even the more general use variant of the beam sniper rifle? I only included this KEW due to it being labeled a "carbine" in all of the HALO
The MACO EM-41 Carbine from Star Trek: Enterprise
In the 3rd season of my favorite Star Trek
TV series, Enterprise
, we were introduced to one of the most military of all Terran organizations ever seen on-screen: the Military Assault Command (MACO). These elite close quarters combat operators were not members of Starfleet, but part of the Earth military, and were "on-loan" to the NX-01 Enterprise
and her mission to stop the Xindi threat. The troops under Major Hayes were outfitted in completely different gear and weaponry when compared to the Enterprise
security personnel. The primary offensive weapon of the MACOs was the Earth Military 2141 Plasma-Pulse Carbine or the EM-41 carbine.
Specifically designed for the operations conducted by the MACOs, the EM-41 is a compact, rapid-pulse directed energy carbine that features attachment sites, a forward vertical grip, adjustable stock, and two energy levels. Enterprise
crew members quickly adopted the superior EM-41 over their own ugly-duck Class-3 pulse/phase rifle. The EM-41 was seen through the 4th (and final) season and quickly became a fan favorite. According to several sources, coupled with my own thoughts, the EM-41 was directly influenced by the Colt M4A1 carbine and that gun's popularity at the time of Enterprise
, especially given that a Surefire foregrip light system was attached to several prop-guns, much like the M4. The EM-41 carbine is one of the better examples of a sci-fi carbine. Sadly, the MACOs (and their cool weapons) of Enterprise
are likely the closest thing we will ever seen in a canonized work to the mythical Starfleet Marine Corps.
The H90 Mars Gallant Pistol-Carbine from the ROBOTECH and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA
Sometimes, a sci-fi weapon is designed with such skill and thought that it can be discussed in various ways, and the H90 Mars Gallant particle beam pistol carbine from ROBOTECH
is just one of those weapons. FWS has mention the H90 Gallant no less than four times on this blog, from combat pistols to bullpup rifles, the H90 is a common example here on FWS. This appearance of the H90 Gallant is due to the REF weapon being a DE pistol at its core, with attachments being adding to increase the tactical flexibility and offensive capability, making the H90 one of the best examples of a sci-fi pistol-carbine.
This egg-shaped protoculture-fed pistol became the standard issue weapon for the REF around 2030, being developed by the Robotech Research Group based in the city of Tiresia. After the expelling of the Regis, the standard weapon of the reclaimed Earth. Via an bullpup-fed stock that double the ammunition capability, and extended barrel, the modular H90 Gallant was used by infantry forces as a primary combat weapon. It is my belief, that this carbine configuration increased the power output of the particle beam, but I cannot confirm it.
The Terra-Nova Security Forces Carbine from Terra Nova
In 2011, FOX and Steven Spielberg attempt a bold and very expensive science fiction-time travel-dinosaurs TV show called Terra Nova
that explored the use of time travel to settle the Earth in the very distant past to avoid the ecologically collapse in the 22nd century. The primary settlement for the exodus was colony-compound called Terra Nova, and with hostile creatures and humans, guns were seen liberally throughout the series. The primary weapon of the Terra Nova security forces and other hostile forces through the 13 episodes was a bullet firing carbine with all manner of futuristic attachments, and top loading magazine.
In the real world, the Terra Nova
carbine was actually a modified Nerf N-Strike CS-6 Recon blaster, and there much criticism heaped on the $4 million per episode budget show using a toy as a prop gun foundation. However, I don't think that matters, Hunter Prey
also used a Nerf gun for their main prop rifle, and it worked very well in the film. I was asked recently if I missed Terra Nova
being on TV, and what I missed was the potential of the show, not the application of the idea...which was very middle-of-the-road. I guess money cannot buy everything.
The EE-3 Carbine from the Star Wars Universe
In the realm of science fiction, there are few characters as cool and iconic (and badass) as cloned Mandalorian warrior, Boba Fett. And like any elite badass warfighter, the Fett carries an iconic sci-fi carbine, the EE-3 blaster. According to the official SW
entry, the EE-3 carbine was the official weapon of the Mandalorian Protectors, and is a cut-down variant E-11 blaster commando-carbine popular among the Imperial Stormtroopers. There are two variants of the prop EE-3 blaster that appears in TESB
along with vast number of Boba Fett figures. The hero-prop gun from TESB
was based off the World War One British Webley & Scott break-open Mark-I flare fitted with the shoulder stock. An ASI 4x20 scope seems to have been fitted on both EE-3 carbines in the films. In Return of the Jedi
, another 1916 Webley & Scott Mark-I flare gun was modified from the EE-3 carbine seen in TESB.
Instead of the more conventional firearm appearing barrel of TESB,
EE-3 was fitted with a more blaster-like cone shaped barrel front assembly that was cut in half by "cool cyborg hand" Luke. This cone assembly was, according to costuming guides, from a Revell 1977 model kit of an F-4 Phantom
fighter! FWS will be discussing Jango "Daddy" and Boba "Sonny Boy" Fett in more detail in a future blogpost about the power of armor.
Here is the link to the Boba Fett EE-3 Carbine: