View Full Version : M16 versus AK: an assessment from Jane’s

November 29, 2001, 11:59 PM
M16 versus AK: an assessment from Jane’s
Infantry Weapons
By Terry Gander, Editor, Jane’s Infantry Weapons

With the first few hundred of what may become a force of around
2,000 US Marines having flown in to an airport near Kandahar – now
the last key Taliban stronghold following the fall of Kunduz over the
weekend – it seems as though the closing phase of the Afghan
ground campaign may be at hand. As these ground operations
develop, they will inevitably once again emphasise many age-old
factors regarding infantry combat.

As always, the infantry will have to carry their own personal and
immediate fire support weapons with them and, once on the ground,
the old lessons of firepower will be re-emphasised. The Taliban,
Al-Qaeda forces and their veteran foreign allies will never have
forgotten how the mujahideen and their predecessors were able to
safely hold out in the mountains where invading armies could reach
them only with difficulty and at the cost of many casualties. Their
Coalition opponents will have at their disposal all the many
advantages that modern technology and communications can
bestow, but those advantages will have to be purchased by
establishing considerable supply facilities for everything from
batteries to helicopter fuel. By contrast, the Taliban and their allies
have repeatedly demonstrated how they can live off the land and
under the harshest conditions, seemingly with few demands other
than ammunition. The campaign will no doubt be long, arduous and
unpleasant, as campaigns in Afghanistan have always been.

Where clashes do occur between the US Marines and their
Taliban/Al-Qaeda adversaries, they will once again mainly involve the
design products of Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov. Despite
their relatively short effective combat ranges of a maximum 400m or
so, the M16 and AK-47/AKM will produce the bulk of the infantry's
firepower as efficiently as they always have done. Yet in the
mountains and the sparse open terrain that covers much of
Afghanistan, extended effective ranges are almost certain to be
demonstrated as more important than sheer volume of fire. Practical
selected marksman rifles will no doubt come to dominate
proceedings and anti-matériel rifles will come into their own. Rifle
calibre machine guns such as the Russian 7.62mm PK series will be
invaluable, especially when compared to their 5.56 and 5.45mm
calibre equivalents under local conditions. By the time the next
Jane's Infantry Weapons Foreword is published the veracity of
these forecasts can be reassessed, but in the meantime the
realisation that a full-blown war is in progress creates all the
uncertainties (and inevitable surprises) that wars always produce.

In truth, the current War against Terrorism has already been in
progress for a very long time, although societies have tended not to
appreciate the unwelcome fact. The ability of relatively small groups
or individuals with some form of political or religious message to
impose by force has been around for almost as long as organised
societies have been established. It is due to all the many
advantages of modern communications and weapon power that their
chosen activities have recently become much more dangerous to the
way we live. It will be a long struggle and a costly one, but now that
Terrorism has declared open war on organised societies that do not
agree with their opinions, the War against Terrorism has to become
an accepted fact of life. It is also a fact of life that much of the actual
combat to come will involve infantry weapons – not the complex
weapon systems upon which so many financial and development
resources were lavished to allow the old Cold War to be conducted.
The contents of this Yearbook are thus worthy of study, for it is with
these weapons that the War against Terrorism will be fought.

608 of 1968 words derived from the Foreword to Jane’s Infantry
Weapons 2002-2003

November 30, 2001, 12:45 AM
I don't see how that was much of an assessment of these two battle rifles.

November 30, 2001, 01:22 AM
I agree. Mostly it just said that it would be M-16 vs AK-47. That's it. They said something about the extra range of the 7.62... bt as I would think many of us should know the M16A2 is a MUCH more accurate rifle than most of the AKs out in the desert at ong range. Plus - do you REALLY think most of those guys can outshoot a U.S. Marine? I think not.

November 30, 2001, 01:35 AM
I saw a video clip of the prisoner revolt. The Taliban (or was it the Northern Allicanc) were shooting the AK without the buttstock extended (no cheek weld). But, I guess that really didn't matter because I didn't see anyone using the sights. Pray and spray. Also, none of them were prone, all were kneeling. Of course, with a 30 or 40 round AK magazine, it ain't much of a prone-out rifle.


November 30, 2001, 03:34 AM
No doubt our marines receive some excellent marksmanship training with a proud history. However, Afghans, too, have been renowned for their keen marksmanship, developed from decades of hunting and fighting in the harsh mountains.

In the 1840s, their jezail were dreaded by the British and Indian troops who served in Afghanistan. Of course, the dread did not last very long as the British and Indians were massacred all the way from Kabul to the passes.


November 30, 2001, 06:20 AM
I believe the rifle caliber MG the writer referenced is chambered for 7.62 X 54, much more potent than the AK's 7.62 X 39.

Wish there would have been a comparison of the two assault rifles, too!:(

Christopher II
November 30, 2001, 10:40 AM
Not too impressive, especally for Jane's...

Despite their relatively short effective combat ranges of a maximum 400m or so...

You've got to be kidding. Neither the 5.56mm NATO nor the 7.62x39 is effective much past 150m. Particularly when we're talking FMJ out of a 16" barreled, iron-sighted carbine.

Practical selected marksman rifles will no doubt come to dominate proceedings and anti-matériel rifles will come into their own.

Nice thought, but has it really happened?


November 30, 2001, 11:30 AM
The link indicates that there is more to the review than the free part posted. If we want to read the full review, we have to pay for the subscription.

Do we assume that "anti-matériel rifles" refers to those that shoot the .50 BMG round? It would certainly be useful for cross-canyon shots.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see the USMC going to Springfield Armory and ordering a bunch of M1A's for use as an "alternate service rifle?" We'd get to see write-ups of failures to feed, training shortfalls... This is where I came in 35 years ago.


Jeff White
November 30, 2001, 01:15 PM
I think Jane's is trying to reopen the assault rifle vs. battle rifle debate. Earlier this year they published a blurb about how un-named SOF were looking at a new large caliber rifles because of a need for more knockdown power.

I think that there is so little new under the sun in the military small arms field that Jane's is running into the same problem our mainstream gun rags have. Finding something new to print....

I'd like to read the rest of the article, but at $480 for the yearbook, I'll have to try to talk the local library into getting one.


Keith J
November 30, 2001, 02:00 PM
You've got to be kidding. Neither the 5.56mm NATO nor the 7.62x39 is effective much past 150m. Particularly when we're talking FMJ out of a 16" barreled, iron-sighted carbine.

400 meters? I can keep my shots from my AR within a coffeecan lid at that distance. Give me an aiming point and I could make a headshot, given the correct ammo. Some lots of M855 are great, others are really poor. WCC 96 seems to be within 1.5 MOA. That's WITH service rifle sights.

Since none of the Taleban seem to wear any body armor, I think the M855 is perfectly adequate for combat to well past the distance on can acquire the target with any sight system.

I doubt the USMC is sending in guys with M4's. That weapon system is a joke, IMHO.

Dave Williams
November 30, 2001, 02:15 PM
I agree, not much of a comparison. I'm interested in the M16/AK74 comparison. I think I'm going to have to get the 74 to find out for myself.

Keith J,

I just got a 16" Bushmaster with a 3 position collapsable stock. It seems like a nice little carbine. With some mods, it could be M4"like". Could you elaborate on why you feel the M4 is not a capable arm for the Marines?



November 30, 2001, 03:46 PM
"Yet in the mountains and the sparse open terrain that covers much of Afghanistan, extended effective ranges are almost certain to be demonstrated as more important than sheer volume of fire. "

British understatement perhaps, but I THINK he's making a case for the M16 with that statement.

Keith J
November 30, 2001, 04:08 PM
I'll start off in the positive. Marines know how to shoot the M16A2 very effectively. The weight, balance and full stock are nearly perfect for the role of 400-600 meter precision engagement with the standard sights.

The M4 falls short on weight, sights and sight radius, balance and bullet velocity. Getting a good cheeck weld An M4 would be most useful in clearing a building with a high volume of fire, not precision engagement at hundred of meters of distance.

November 30, 2001, 04:18 PM
The Colt M-4 loses a lot of velocity at long range compared to the 20 inch barrel of the A2... thats been discussed here at length.

However do you all recall the fire fight in Iraq with US SF guys gunning down Iraqis at 600 meters? One shot 1 kill? (well 6 of the 8 troopers were trained snipers and one guy was only armed with an mp-5) Sounds like the m-16 CAN do the job if the shooter can. The ak suffers from crappy sights and a rainbow like trajectory. I doubt most Taliban/al queda forces are using the AK 74, most of the rifles Ive seen are good old 47's. tons of rpk's and belt fed pk's in the film I've seen, of course that could just be the cam,era crews seeking out guys with mean looking guns to photograph.

As to the age old m-16 vs ak debate.. I doubt this conflict will change the debate much. I think you WILL see a LOT of M203 vs RPG in this fight. And we've already seen reports of the Barrett being in use.

As for Afghanis 'spraying and praying' well THIS generation of fighters grew UP shooting Ak's and RPG's, NOT SMLE's, which taught marksmanship skills over volume of fire.And lets face it.. N.Alliance forces gunning down prisoners isn't exactly a "fight". Have you SEEN the al queda training tapes? Looks like they are running IDPA matches and CQB drills very much like our guys. This fight isn't over yet.

November 30, 2001, 05:32 PM
Read "Black Hawk Down" to see what some of the SF and Rangers think of the .223. An AR was high on my wishlist until I read this book. Its still there but not at the top anymore.

Bartholomew Roberts
November 30, 2001, 06:01 PM
I've certainly seen dislike of the 5.56mm expressed by SF in places besides Blackhawk Down; but I don't understand why that book is commonly cited as an example of poor performance of the M855 round.

If you read through the whole book, it shows failures to stop and one-shot stops for both 5.56mm and 7.62mm. In one case an M-60 gunner is putting 12-round bursts into a Somali from 50yds and not getting stops. Likewise, there are several examples of Rangers/Delta shooting people with 5.56mm and they were DRT.

November 30, 2001, 06:05 PM
I've lost a lot of respect for the Jane's guide to small arms books. I've read both the first one and the update, and in one place in the update they just copied text from the earlier version, making reference to a picture that wasn't even there! I've noticed this in many areas, and I've also noticed that some of their information was incorrect (one notable being their description of the placement of the mag release of semiautomatic pistols, many times saying it was on the heel of the butt, when in the picture it was clearly behind the trigger guard). Jane's gets all of the basic information right, but I don't really take much into their comparisons of weapons, I prefer to read the facts and make my own judgements.

November 30, 2001, 07:21 PM
I think a lot of people, like myself, cite Black Hawk because its one of the few books out about the substantial(?) use of the M-16 in current warfare. Citing something from a Vietnam book is a little outdated. Also there were more cases M16 not putting some one down.

November 30, 2001, 07:51 PM
In Somalia, the problem wasn't the M16, it was the M855 round (as others have stated) used against an enemy that was lean and pumped full of amphetamines. With more than a 1000 Somalian casualties I'd say something was working. Would a larger caliber be more effective in some situations? Yes. But that doesn't mean that the M16/M4/AR15's aren't extremely effective weapons.

November 30, 2001, 09:46 PM
The SAS prefers the M-16 over the Enfield bullpup or SA-80

November 30, 2001, 11:34 PM
Read "Black Hawk Down" to see what some of the SF and Rangers think of the .223. An AR was high on my wishlist until I read this book. Its still there but not at the top anymore.

If you read the book CAREFULLY, you would see that the Sammies sometimes shrugged off 7.62x51 rounds from the M60s too...it was a function of them being whisper thin, wearing loose clothes and being high on drugs, not of caliber.

December 1, 2001, 12:36 AM
They totally ignored US/Russian night vision technology. News reports coming in have been discussing a lot of night raids. Given Gulf War results IMHO aimed fire from NV equipped M-16s will be especially telling.

December 1, 2001, 11:39 AM
Madmike, the SAS would prefer a pointy stick over the crappy SA80.

December 1, 2001, 12:34 PM
I was'nt saying it was the M16, just the round used.

December 1, 2001, 12:49 PM
I've read that the problem in Somalia was the barrel length of the M4, namely the 11.5" barrels were not generating enough velocity to properly fragment the bullet at the cannelure, thus drastically reducing the secondary wound channel and limiting its effectiveness.

Christopher II
December 1, 2001, 02:55 PM

14.5", but you're right. Past about 150-200m, the 5.56mm round loses the velocity that causes it to fragment on impact. Out of an M4, its effective range drops even further, down to around 75-100m.

If you get the idea that I'm a .308 fan, you'd be right, although a skilled rifleman would likely be well-served with whatever he picks up.

Keith J:

Not that I distrust you (for all I know you could be the DCM Service Rifle National Champion,) but I'd like to see some of these coffee-can lids you've perforated at 400m. I'm more of a pistol person than a rifleman, but I've shot a few DCM matches and seen what a good competition shooter can do at 300m. Keeping every shot within a 6" circle at 300 yards, iron sights, is no trick.

YMMV, IMHO, yadda yadda yadda...


December 1, 2001, 03:05 PM
it is LETHAL to 1/2 mile, bud, out of 20" m16 barrels. So maybe it's "only" lethal to 750 yds with the 14" M4, so what? thats FIVE TIMES your estimate. MOST battlefield hits are random, often they are richochets and frags, and they are rarely immediately lethal, regardless of caliber or load, because they are PERIPHERAL hits. A 308 that pierces the leg or arm is NOT any more effective than the 223 that does the same. VERY few INTENTIONAL, chest hits are obtained beyond 100 yds, because troops use COVER and DARKNESS, they DODGE, and they fire BACK, but to "think" that the 223 is ineffective at 200m is bogus. If you really think so, I challenge you to do much of ANYTHING after taking such a hit to the chest, besides lie there, whimper for your mother, and moan-scream.

December 1, 2001, 04:27 PM
I don't think they were using M4 carbines in BHD - BHD occured in Oct 1993, and the M4 wasn't adopted until Aug 1994.

Christopher II
December 2, 2001, 10:54 AM
Right, Hardin. Anything you say.

- Chris

December 2, 2001, 07:52 PM
I'm 100% behind Chris here about the .223 performance. The .223 needs at least 2800 fps to fragment. Which is as he said, about 75-100m from a shorty barrel. So after that distance, what you essentially have is a poor penetrating, non-fragmenting, 55gr. .223 caliber solid. Not too impressive...