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The M14 Battle Rifle

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The M14 Battle Rifle

The one thing the M14 has going for it, is its method of operation. It's a long-stroke, piston-driven action that's very similar to the most prolific, assault rifle in history: the AK-47. Like the AK, the M14's action can tolerate debris and fouling better than the direct-impingement M16. While the rifle's hard-hitting 7.62x51mm NATO round is vastly superior to the M16's 5.56mm at defeating light cover and the dense foliage found in South East Asian jungles, it also makes the rifle very tough to control.

In all fairness, the Global War on Terror presented a combat theater the U.S. military wasn't prepared to fight in. Plus, the M14 wasn't meant to be a sniper or DMR platform when it was developed in the 1950s. Even still, Armalite had been producing civilian and military AR-10 rifles since the late 1950s, and could have just as easily been pressed into service.

The story of the M14 rifle began as early as 1944, during the height of World War 2. By that time American ordnance experts finally discovered that the standard .30 M2 rifle cartridge (also known as .30-06 or 7.62x63mm) was too long and heavy for its power level, and by using modern ball powders the cartridge dimensions and weight could be decreased without sacrificing its power and ballistic properties.

In parallel with this discovery, a lot of work was done to improve the US M1 Garand rifle, which was too heavy and bulky, and had an insufficient magazine capacity of only 8 rounds. Several experimental rifles, semi-automatic and select-fire, were developed in the USA toward the end of WW2.

Preparations for the mass production of the new rifle took almost 2 years. It was decided to place contracts with the commercial companies, and the Springfield armory role was relegated primarily to the oversight, quality control, support, and initial small-scale manufacture of the M14 rifle. The M15 automatic rifle was sacked even before the start of mass production due to the limited funding.

The contracts to produce M1 rifles were issued to three US companies, namely the Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW Inc), the Harrington and Richardson Arms Co (H&R), and the Winchester-Western Arms Division of Olin Mathieson (Winchester). Early production runs at the H&R and Winchester were plagued by cost and time overruns and serious quality issues. TRW managed to avoid most of these issues by heavily investing in the completely new production machinery. Furthermore, production M14 rifles proved to be insufficiently accurate, and unable to replace automatic weapons, be that light submachine guns or heavier squad automatics. As a result, most of the M14 rifles were issued with the select-fire parts removed, to be used only as semi-automatic rifles.

At the same time, the war in Vietnam was gaining momentum. The M14 rifle was too heavy to be carried all day long in a hot and wet climate, and too long for the jungle environment. The 7.62mm NATO ammunition was also too heavy, limiting the amount of ammunition carried by soldiers on patrols. The selective fire capability was mostly useless since the M14 was way too light for the powerful cartridge it fired and climbed excessively when fired in bursts. In fact, most of the M14s were issued to troops with fire selectors locked to semi-automatic mode, to avoid useless waste of ammunition in automatic fire. The squad automatic version, known as M14E2, also was not too successful in its intended role. As soon as those deficiencies of the M14 became obvious for US Army Command, they started the search for a lighter rifle and finally settled on the Colt/Armalite AR-15 5.56mm assault rifle, adopting it as the M16A1 in 1967. M14 was replaced as a first-line weapon in the late 1960s but remained as a standard issue rifle for some more time with US troops stationed in Europe. It was also used by US Navy, for guard and line-throwing purposes. M14 rifle also served as a platform to build M21 Sniper rifles during the Vietnam war.



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