In a just amazing study released by the US Army Command and Staff College at Leavenworth, Maj. Thomas Ehrhart takes a detailed look at Army smalls arms, tactics and training as it relates to the close in fight in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.
The study is titled "Taking Back the Infantry Half Kilometer" and was forwarded to me by my colleague at Defense Tech Greg Grant.
I'm going to peel this onion throughout the day and much of this week as I digest its 76 pages, but the first opinion that jumps out at me is this finding:
There are several ways to extend the lethality of the infantry. A more effective 5.56-mm bullet can be designed which provides enhanced terminal performance out to 500 meters. A better option to increase incapacitation is to adopt a larger caliber cartridge, which will function using components of the M16/M4. The 2006 study by the Joint Service Wound Ballistics - Integrated Product Team discovered that the ideal caliber seems to be between 6.5 and 7-mm. This was also the general conclusion of all military ballistics studies since the end of World War I.
So, can anyone tell us what the logical conclusion of this statement is? Ding Ding Ding...that's right, contestants, 6.8mm.
A couple years ago, I did a fairly detailed post over at Defense Tech about the 6.8 after talking to the folks from LWRC who were vying for the Marine Corps Infantry Automatic Rifle contract and are strong proponents of the 6.8 round and their 6.8 PSD.
"When we fired the 5.56 to a steel target at 300 yards [during a demo with congressional experts], rounds were just pinging off," Clemmer said. "But the 6.8 was knocking them flat."
I'm no expert, but 300 yards is a pretty good distance for a carbine...and they were shooting the 6.8 during the demo out of the PSD which has an 8-??inch barrel.
Ballistic demonstrations with jelly showed better penetration at those ranges than the 5.56 as well, and published reports confirm his field data.
I asked about the added weight. The round is only slightly fatter than the 5.56 and significantly smaller than the 7.62. He said a standard 30-??round magazine holds 25 rounds and offers a negligible weight penalty.
Now there are a lot of things converging here that may push the 6.8 agenda further. One, the Army is looking to potentially revamp the M4 and has agreed to open the competition to a variety of calibers. Two, the Army is also serious (according to the PEO for Soldier weapons Doug Tamilio) about procuring a so-called 'subcompact' rifle for vehicle crews, helicopter crews and other folks who don't need or can't carry a full-sized M4. The Corps is also looking very closely at the Army's efforts and may could provide some additional throw weight to a caliber decision.
But the cards are definately stacked against the 6.8. It would be a tectonic move to go from a 5.56 to a 6.8 -- though manufacturers say compatibility takes just a little tweaking. Could this report, if it gets a wide enough distribution, help tip decisionmakers in the 6.8 favor?