U.S. Military Branches Exploring New Cartridge Options

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USSOCOM is thinking about something more modern as a 7.62 NATO replacement for sniper rifles. (Photo: USSOCOM/Facebook)

The U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, is looking for a new mid-to-long-range round for snipers. At the same time the Army is looking at ways to improve the range of front-line troops.

While the Army’s search may take a bit longer, SOCOM’s options are ready right now. SOCOM is evaluating two popular commercial options, .260 Remington and 6.5mm Creedmoor. Both cartridges offer better performance at longer ranges than 7.62 NATO.

Hybrid polymer cases reduce weight substantially. (Photo: Tony Williams/TFB)

These cartridges are both well established, with components already in production. Both .260 Rem. and 6.5 CM are popular cartridges for hunting and sports shooting. With the long-range trajectory of more powerful cartridges, .260 Rem. and 6.5 CM have less recoil and handle well in lightweight rifles.

Of course SOCOM is still looking to push the envelope and is considering next-generation polymer-cased ammunition for additional weight reduction. Early designs show as much as a one-third reduction in weight compared to conventional brass-cased ammo. The command is looking to develop a complete sniper package around a new rifle and the new cartridge.

Other details are still in the air, such as whether the rifle will be bolt-action or semi-automatic. Speaking to the Military Times, Maj. Aron Hauquitz said “We’re purely in the exploratory phase. We’re trying to see if we can take a weapon that is 7.62 and give it greater range, accuracy and lethality.”

Both rounds have seen a lot of development on the commercial market in recent years. They Army is taking a longer route on the search for a potential new cartridge.

Rifles chambered for .264 USA are slightly smaller than an AR-10 but larger than an AR-15. (Photo: TFB)

Like with SOCOM the Army is still in the early stages of development. But they’re looking for something to replace 5.56 NATO. One possibility is a cartridge that has been in testing for a few years, .264 USA. The Army wants a cartridge with greater reach and effectiveness for tomorrow’s warfighters.

“A Capability Gap exists for 80 percent of U.S. and NATO riflemen who are armed with 5.56mm weapons,” said Heckler & Koch speaker Jim Schatz, reports We Are the Mighty. “The threat engages friendly forces with 7.62mmR weapons 300 meters beyond the effective range of 5.56mm NATO ammo.”

“These 5.56mm riflemen have no effective means to engage the enemy.” While certain soldiers have weapons with greater range than 5.56 offers, the Army is exploring ways increase the effective range of all soldiers in the field.

See Also: The Army’s New Handgun Is…A SIG!

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit may have the solution with .264 USA. This new cartridge is sized about halfway between 5.56 and 7.62 NATO. It also comes with a new rifle standard with an extended receiver to house the bigger round and longer magazines.

Another option would be to develop a larger-caliber cartridge that fits inside a standard M4-pattern magazine. This would be a cheaper intermediate cartridge option with the improved performance of the larger projectile.

Examples include the 6.5 Patriot Combat Cartridge and .277 Wolverine. Wildcat cartridges, these rounds use .264- and .277-caliber bullets with .223 cases. The only component that needs changing is the barrel. They are compatible with 5.56 bolts and magazines.

The most affordable choice would be to stick with 5.56 NATO and fit carbines with longer, free-floating barrels. Both the Army and the Navy use specialized designated marksmen rifles that outperform M4 carbines by using improved upper receivers.

This is the most drop-in replacement and would let the Army continue to use M4 rifles for soldiers who need smaller, lighter guns with complete parts interchangeability.

Is the future of fighting rifles 6.5mm wide? Or are 5.56 and 7.62 NATO here for the long haul?

{ 50 comments… add one }
  • Jessica Harrelson August 11, 2017, 11:18 pm

    How about the 25.45 Sharps? The round can be 90 grains with the same or higher velocity at 100 yards as the 5.56. It will also provide about 40 percent more hitting power. Best of all the only thing you need is a barrel change; magazines and all parts of the m-4/m-16 stay the same.

  • Raymond August 11, 2017, 9:02 pm

    What about the 7.62×35mm aka .300 Blackout? IT also only requires a barrel change and is heavier that the 5.56 I don’t think it will cost or the ammo be heavier much more than the .223/5.56. Just a thought.

  • Keith May 28, 2017, 2:54 am

    Implement 6.5 x 39 (6.5 Grendel) or 277 Wolverine gradually to replace the 5.56 x 45. Slowly begin to field the new ammo and rifles in the field where it is most needed and use up the 5.56 x 45 ammo for training and lower risk areas.

    5.56 x 45 never should have been implemented in the Armed Forces. It is a short range cartridge (best effective at 200 meters or closer) that was designed to wound.

  • GaryGary May 8, 2017, 12:42 pm

    Recently I have been getting into AR15’s with the 7.62×39 uppers. Just think, the accuracy of the AR15 platform with the .30 caliber power of the awesome 7.62×39 cartridge ! Not much accuracy over 200 yards but you will own the fight under 200 yards. The .223 round is way to small/light and needs to be replaced and most likely would have if we hadn’t been bogged down in two useless long wars that cost America TRILLIONS of $$ with zero pay back !!

  • juan laroka May 3, 2017, 9:43 pm

    Pity we didn’t adopt the .276 cartridge for the Garand back in the 30’s. We could still be shooting something like it almost 100 years later and avoided the varmint cartridge altogether.

  • Jack May 1, 2017, 4:08 am

    Reading thru these comments I have to think everyone has the cart before the horse. Before we change anything the first thing is to retrain and teach the ARMY the Marine Corps method of shooting from the ground up. Not knocking the Army but 300 meters is the furthest they shoot for qual and teaching Yes? If your going to change a weapon or the ammo and want anyone to hit at distance, over 400 to 900 yds. your going to have to teach these warriors to actually shoot and hit that target rather than spray and pray as we all did back in a jungle decades ago.
    I remember laying around a barrel in boot camp sighting in at little figures all day at Edson Range and perfecting trigger squeeze on my M-14.
    I got to the range and was 10 for 10 at 500 yds. and went high shooter for the series back in that time. Open sights no less. Today with the modern optics used and the chance to change out a cartridge or an entire weapon system what has to be done first and foremost is retrain and start teaching at entry level the basics of shooting farther than you toss rocks.
    Whatever round is decided upon has to be able to hit at least as far as the 54R round many of the opposing forces are using to dink our troops and equipment with.
    We can teach our men and women today to be more deadly than we were back in the 60s and early 70s using the .308 round as the battle round. I have to agree there are better rounds out there but until they can be chambered and utilized by those who have been trained to use them it is a complete waste of time and money to go down that road. If the military decides to come back to the 7.62×51 round I would recommend it be used in an AR platform for everyone except the snipers.

  • Charlie April 30, 2017, 9:41 pm

    Have you noticed over the years how the old calibers that have won the west, the wars and the conflicts in this great nation keep coming back. Why? Do these so learned experts keep trying to change what works!

  • Richard April 29, 2017, 4:48 pm

    Sometimes going back is going forward. 7mm mag. 300 weatherby. Are better rounds then the 308. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan found out the hard way the 5.56 is no match for a m-14 rifle

  • Kivaari April 28, 2017, 9:59 pm

    Keep what we have.

  • Electron April 28, 2017, 7:06 pm

    Issue the 7mm Altius chambered in SVD’s, PSL’s, Veprs, and what ever bolt guns you want.

    Allah wont know what hitem.

  • Jake April 28, 2017, 12:39 pm

    I have no faith in any fool who believes they can make anything with a carbine length barrel of 14.5″ like an M4 into competition for a Dragunov or even an old 1891in 7.62×54. Put any good rifle cartridge in a bolt gun or AR-10 with 24-26″ of barrel and you will outgun Abdul or Ivan with their 7.62×54.
    The dumbasses in military procurement dumped the 7.62X63 ’06 round for sniping 50 years ago and have not been able to remake the wheel since.
    One of your writers might have some fun comparing the 26″ barreled M1917 with M2 Ball performance to that of a 14.5″ M4 “sniper rifle” in any caliber.

    • C Bonnett April 28, 2017, 7:14 pm

      You may be on to something there.

      The military still looking for a perfect caliber that handles every condition from the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan. The 223 was designed for jungle fighting, no? Close in, lots of cover, lots of rounds downrange at a hidden enemy. Oh no, the 5.56 isn’t worth a crap in Afghanistan at 2000 yards, so lets make another across the board change, because we will never fight in a jungle again.

      They tried going from a 55g bullet to a 62g, but not much improvement. I say 30 is the best caliber for all rifles designed to kill humans or white tail deer, just change the chamber size the bullet weight to fit the need. You could have 90% of the weapon standardized and change out what you need to accommodate different cartridges for different theaters. Imagine a similar platform that can be configured for 7.62×63 or 7.62×51 or 7.62×45 or 7.62×39. Name each configuration by the casing length. The AR-63 (30-06), AR-51 (308), AR-45 (AR 15 at 30cal), AR-39 (AK 47). The new 5.56×45 to 7.62×45 would have the larger casing diameter of the others. That’s the only new casing. Should give quite a punch. It’s between the 7.62 NATO and the AK 47, that would probably be the most issued configuration.

      30cal is for killing enemy combatants. 22 cal is for killing ground squirrels. You need 150g to 180g to do the damage at the outer range that you can actually hit something.

  • Chris April 28, 2017, 12:32 pm

    Break out all the M-14’s they have in storage might give them a head start.

    • Danny April 28, 2017, 1:29 pm

      Hell yea..I love that weapon..real fire power and range.I hate 5.56..it’s like a bb gun to me.

    • Milan Eaton April 28, 2017, 2:09 pm

      Exactly! They M-14 just can’t be beat for range / performance / practicality.

      • Kivaari April 28, 2017, 9:49 pm

        M14s were dropped from service because they were inaccurate and unreliable, especially in Vietnam.

        • Shawn Lawson May 1, 2017, 8:52 am

          M 14s were not dropped from service because they were inaccurate and unreliable, especially in Vietnam. I was there and would have taken one over the terrible M 16. They were dropped because of the cost of ammunition.

  • Jim April 28, 2017, 12:17 pm

    For SOCOM snipers, a 6.5×284 takes the range and accuracy advantage away from all enemies. Not practical for a Army general issue, but specialized troops requiring specialized equipment for special missions? Yep; perfect. A 142 gr, Sierra at about 3,000 fps is hard to beat ballistically. But it does require a bolt action.

  • Frank Engle April 28, 2017, 12:03 pm

    I agree with Will Drider above, my 20″ Colt HBAR has no issue with ranges for anything that troops will need and it already exists. A little heavier in the weapon and less in any other ammo choices. The net is less weight overall.

  • Bob April 28, 2017, 11:57 am

    Both the 260 & 6.5 are about 500 foot pounds less than the 308 out of the barrel and their heaviest bullet is about 140 grains, right? I’d rather have the 168gr or 175gr in 308 that is proven to HIT HARDER and HAS taken out the Bad Guys!!!

    • jim April 28, 2017, 3:18 pm

      A 175 from a 308 at at 2900fps MV will hit a target at 700 yards with 1194 ft/lbs of energy.
      A 142 from a 6.5×284 at 2950 fps will hit the same target with 1293 ft/lbs of energy; roughly 10% harder.
      At 900 yards, the delta is about 15% in favor of the 6.5. And the 6.5 will drop 2 FEET LESS than the 308.

      Mind you this is a 6.5×284; not a 260 or 6.5×47 or a 6.5Creedmore. All those are slower than a 6.5×284 so the comparisons become closer.

  • Mauser6863 April 28, 2017, 11:50 am

    So this is a “backwards” way to do things for sure. So few troops are in the sniper role, this borders on a request for a “Boutique” cartridge. Right now,soldiers can choose between 5.56×45 7.62×51, 7.62×67, 8.6×70 and 12.5×109 millimeter for the sniper role. The army just adopted the HK G28 in both a standard and lightweight platform (for SOCOM), so it begs the question, How many Sniper Platforms and calibers, do you need??? For a hundred years,the answer was 1 and now the answer is 5. Do we need a 6th choice, I think not.

    What the army should focus on is the near term adoption and fielding of a polymer cased telescoped round, as tested in the LSAT program. They are doing it right, first developing and fielding the weapon in a belt fed machine gun variant. Once this is proven, chambering the round in an assault rifle is relatively easy. Currently, they are firing a 5.56 projectile in development, but the platform can be adopted to larger calibers if required. The largest cased telescope rounds being adopted are 40mm cannon rounds, so scaling up is possible.

    The advantages of cased telescoped rounds are shorter overall length, less heat transfer to the weapon while firing (a big deal in a MG), lighter weight and better protection of the encapsulated projectile during transport, handling, etc. The designs being considered now also feature a movable chamber system that reduces weapon jams during chambering and extraction/ejection (another big deal).

    In contrast to what someone else said, polymer cases are not better for the environment than brass cases, as plastics for the most part do not breakdown in soil like metals do. Besides the substantial weight savings that allows soldiers to carry more ammo, brass is composed of strategic metals and the polymer cases are less costly to make,so ammo will be theoretically cheaper in the long run.

    Regarding civilian reloading of ammo, very few people do this. If you account for your time, the average person doesn’t save any money doing this right now. Most of us can buy military surplus 5.56 and 9mm cheaper than making it ourselves. Now if the world ends, etc. good luck getting primers and since most can’t make their own, at some point, reloading will end. If the world doesn’t end, then their is no reason that a telescoped polymer case can not be reloaded. Reloading these new cartridges should be faster and cheaper too, as you don’t have to re-size, trim, bell the case, etc. Simply replace the primer,insert the propellant pellet (no loose powder) and load and seat the bullet, done.

    Ideally a 2900 fps, 6mm 100 Grain VLD bullet could replace both the 7.62 and 5.56 systems in service now and would give snipers a round ballistically better terminal performance than the 300 win mag. Having everyone shooting the same round at the company level simplifies logistics and saves money. If you need to snipe people at longer range use a 50cal. Even though the 338 (8.6×70) has a longer range than the 50 caliber systems,logistically,its just not worth buying/fielding.

    Just like people had to get over “Plastic Pistols”, prepare to welcome superior “Plastic Ammunition” very soon.

  • Tom Walker April 28, 2017, 10:38 am

    I read an amazingly well thought out and written letter a few months ago by, I believe, a General. It gave a lot of background on how the military chose weapon systems, sad! Mainly, though, he suggested 6.5 Grendel and made such a good case for it I’m in the process of getting one for myself.

    • Just1Spark April 28, 2017, 7:02 pm

      Do you recall the website where you read the article? Thanks

  • RS April 28, 2017, 10:15 am

    It wont work well in a lightweight platform, but the 7mm RUM has one of the flattest trajectories.

  • triggerpull April 28, 2017, 10:05 am

    I build AR’s–both in the the 15 and 10 flavors–and in the end it all comes down to energy delivered to target in terms of ballistic effectiveness. the 264’s definitely provide an increased range option over the 308 and also would likely provide greater accuracy since the 264 has one of the best BC and SD of any caliber bullet. My creedmoor shoots slightly better than my 260 rem–but not by any margin that probably makes much difference. The creedmoor round provides a tad more powder capacity due to the set-back shoulder when using the heavier longer bullets. All that said, I think the 260 rem possibly has a heavy-duty use advantage in that the case is the time-proven 308 win simply necked-down. So, in a bolt action I would go with creedmoor–but in a select-fire I would go with 260 rem. As for jamming high-pressure generating cartridges into an M4/AR15 platform–they work great, until they don’t and result in the weapon blowing up and possibly taking the operator along with it. I’ve kaboomed one of my AR’s when I inadvertently ran the pressure high. My personal opinion only, but the M4 was never meant to be a mid/long range weapon nor designed and built to take the pressures to get a bullet out there to those ranges consistently under hard use. That said–my experience with closer-range ar15 derivatives is that the 6.8 spc is the over-all winner in terms of reliability, ease of feeding and great accuracy and energy-delivery within 250 yds

  • Cea April 28, 2017, 8:56 am

    The left has to be behind pushing all this polymer case garbage! I see it as the beginning of the end, of handloading, and ammo for the rest of us in general.
    Are our troops so out of shape that they can’t carry what they have? Even though it is so much less than troops had to deal with 50 years ago!

    • Cea April 28, 2017, 8:57 am

      Quote: “Are our troops so out of shape that they can’t carry what they have? Even though it is so much less than troops had to deal with 50 years ago!
      That statement is in reference to the ammo that they carry. Sorry if it sounded like I was saying they don’t carry a lot of “stuff”.

      • Z April 28, 2017, 9:58 am

        You’re so desperate to blame “the left” that you invent a conspiracy theory that requires cooperative efforts in developing a decades old polymer case, for modern military use?

        • Gene April 28, 2017, 5:06 pm

          It’s difficult come up with any conspiracy theory that would be beyond the left. while I doubt they’re the impetus behind polymer cases, don’t put it past the left to attempt to capitalize on it in some way.

      • Alan April 28, 2017, 10:05 am

        Not sure where you get your info.
        Troops now carry more,(why do you think so much money goes into the gear to carry the gear?) and in fact it’s ALWAYS been about the bullets and beans, because that IS the fight.
        Water, ammo and food are the primary components of battle, anytime you can cut weight and up the count you add that advantage to your war fighters capability.
        That is a constant and ongoing process, if nothing else Korea should have taught us that.

    • Richard April 28, 2017, 1:59 pm

      What troops carry now doesn’t even compare to what was carried 50 years ago. The loads are a lot heavier now with the addition of 8 to 12 pounds of ceramic body armor
      As for reloading, if a plastic hybrid case is adopted by the military, that would certainly make reloading cheaper. Plastic is super cheap compared to brass. THe problem is whether or not they can make a hybrid case work in battle field conditions. Plstic shrinks and expands more than brass. On top of that, the case has to remain sealed to work

    • Kivaari April 28, 2017, 9:55 pm

      The combat load our troops carry today is as much if not heavier than seen in prior wars.

  • steve clark April 28, 2017, 8:33 am

    6.8 it,s done

  • John Barrett April 28, 2017, 8:06 am

    Another vote for 6.8 SPC from Remington.

    • Alex Fitch April 28, 2017, 8:41 am

      Agree. Rebarrel and add new bolt and it’s done. Alter magazine lips, or all new magazines… but performance specs equal those sought without the cot of a complete new rifle. Our fathers carried M1s and .30-’06 ammo and didn’t whine.

      The M16 was a boondoggle, especially after we convinced NATO to standardize in 7.62×51, and then flipflopped on over to 5.56.

      • Z April 28, 2017, 10:13 am

        In WW2 an infantryman carried 105 rounds of 30-06 as part of a standard load out. Soldiers today carry approximately 180 rounds of .556. Today’s infantryman also carries an approximately 48 – 72 pounds mission load out. You didn’t carry an M-1 Garand in WW2 and you don’t carry 48 to 72 pounds of kit today.

  • RetNavet April 28, 2017, 6:55 am

    6.8mm spc….why not what already has been developed for the very problem and meets the requirements?

    • Reticent Rogue April 28, 2017, 8:45 am

      7.62R is roughly ballistically equal to 30-06 Springfield. There is no way to realistically compare this cartridge to 5.56 unless you think it realistic for every infantryman to carry an SVD or machine gun instead of an assault rifle. Machine guns and sniper rifles are for fixed emplacements and hides. Best solution…call in the Apaches or Cobras or arty. That’s what force multipliers are for. Otherwise, equip with A3’s (or 20 inch barrels ) for open territory and pop on an M4 top for house to house. The laws of physics cannot be broken: there is no way to get a lighter bullet of any kind fast enough to carry more energy further than a heavier bullet that has a similar ballistic coefficient. All the problems this search is trying to solve just lead to other problems. Nothing a change in tactics can’t solve.

      • Z April 28, 2017, 10:18 am

        Isn’t the point to find a heavier weight bullet with equal or greater veocity than the .556, capable of effective terminal performance at 300 meters and beyond?

      • Tom Walker April 28, 2017, 10:49 am

        Same as concealed carry; sometimes a force multiplier is only minutes away (minutes get loonng!), when you have enemies on 3 sides distant enough that .223 is less than capable. A step up to, say 6.5 Grendel would extend the reach of the entire platoon without having to re-invent the wheel. Change the upper and possibly the mags, give them a sighting system which works out to it’s range, and the entire squad becomes more effective.

    • Been N Done April 28, 2017, 10:30 am

      Exactly! We already went through this and the result was the six8. A very impressive round that fits in a standard AR lower with optimum barrel length of 16-18″.

    • Diatribe April 28, 2017, 1:19 pm

      6.8spc requires too much of an overhaul/replacement for what they already have. Barrels, bolts and magazines all have to be replaced.

      .277 Wolverine however gets you 95% of the performance of 6.8spc and only requires a barrel swap. It is a great little cartridge getting good performance out of a wide range of projectiles from 90gr to 200gr subsonic.

  • Brian April 28, 2017, 5:28 am

    Why are the newer .30 cal VLD ‘s not discussed? Would rather have a 308VLD than a barrel burning 6.5

    • Jim April 28, 2017, 12:24 pm

      The barrel burning aspect of the 6.5 is probably a result of the 6.5×284 being used in competition. At around 1,000 rounds it usually loses enough accuracy to not be competitive in BR, but at “minute of head” shooting it should still be fine for 2500 rounds. It just won’t hold 1/4 moa after about 900 rounds…

  • Hank April 27, 2017, 3:04 pm

    The length of the 5.56mm and AR platform constrains cartridge selection. Increasing bullet weight (caliber) will happen at the expense of velocity, range and trajectory. While I can see the US adopting a new rifle for select ‘designated marksmen’ at the squad level, there is no way the military and NATO can afford to scrap the 5.56mm round and it’s associated rifles. They have way too much invested in it now. Especially if the only reason to do so is to compete with the archaic WWII era weapons used by irregular forces (Taliban, ISIS, et al). Perhaps having faster air and artillery response is a better solution.

  • Will Drider April 27, 2017, 12:27 pm

    It seems like the Services can’t make up their minds on what is actually needed as the “need a new gun” search comes up every year!
    All this to counter weapons that we already have counter machineguns and DMR in place. Seems like they need to go back to the M16 20 inch HBAR. Even if you provide a better cartridge/rifle you must still have people that can hit with it at the required distance under combat conditions not range conditions, or it is a waste of resources.

  • Frederick Hyder April 26, 2017, 9:41 pm

    6.5 Grendel for the Assault Rifles and 26 Nosler for bolt action Sniper Rifles. End of story, Case Closed.

    • James M April 27, 2017, 11:28 am

      Well said. But unfortunately it will come down to $. Has been over 50 years since a choice was made upon performance. Hopefully those in charge have paid attention to the repercussions of going the cheap way out while lining pockets of those pulling on the strings. Cost alone to retrofit current weapons and then swap the rest is going to astronomical, (drop in a bucket compared to Barry’s handouts).

    • Ralph April 27, 2017, 1:09 pm

      Frederick, Exactly!

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