ACE is on an XM8 Roll

xm8model.jpgFirst of all, Airborne Combat Engineer has expanded his earlier post about the Army Times review of the XM8. He points out a time/datestamp recorder for every shot fired from the weapon. (If only Lee Harvey’s Mannlicher-Carcano had been built with such a gadget!) Go check out ACE’s post for more info and links.

Even more inpressively, ACE left a long, insightful comment on the XM8 piece I posted yesterday. Go check out the post for the full comment (lots of good stuff in there) but here are some highlights:

The question we have to ask ourselves, when we think of adopting this as our service rifle, is: Do we want most of our troops to carry a weapon which is optimized for close quarter battle? (Yes, I realize a slightly longer barrel can be attached for sharpshooting, but how many of those will be issued?)

Most of the reliability problems of the M16/4 AR family have been ironed out over the past four decades. (Only support troops who don’t clean their weapons experience jams.) The problem we’re hearing more often now (beginning in Somalia) is related to the cartridge, not the rifle. Urban assault troops prefer at least a .308 round, and troops in Afghanistan what something with at least the same effective range as the AK-47 the enemy uses.

The weapon does look good in general, and can accomodate field interchangeable barrels, so perhaps the slightly better 6.8mm round will be adopted later.

I’m still not convinced that a full service conversion from the M16 to another weapon which still fires the 5.56 is worth the cost (as the round, not the rifle, is our problem at this point). If our goal is to equip our troops with CQB [close quarters battle] assault-type weapons which can spray bullets without careful aiming, this looks like a good choice. But sometimes, our soldiers need to take careful aim and accurately place a shot in a guy’s chest or head. As the M4 has demonstrated, very short barrels reduce accuracy and terminal punch, as some of the powder is burning outside the barrel.

Personally, since I don’t have to lug lots of ammo around, I’d would love to have one of these weapons which could fire a 7.62-39mm short Russian round. A non-fragmenting FMJ 7.62 round will put more than an ice-pick hole in an enemy, so he’ll have a bleeding problem even if you miss a major organ.

ACE hits a major issue here. There seems to be almost no doubt that the XM8 system is superior to the M4/M16 system, in terms of weight, cost, reliability, and future upgrades. But the superiority isn’t significant, and in some cases is very slight. As ACE points out, this is a lot of excitement over a weapon that throws the same 5.56 round that so many troops are upset about right now.

xm8soldier.jpgPlease forgive me for quoting myself, but I believe that this is central to the issue of a new assault rifle. In August I wrote

There is a lot of debate over the 5.56mm round. Many troops question its stopping power, especially when fired from shorter barrels like the M4 or the proposed standard barrel of the XM8. While perhaps not as much of an issue in the narrow streets and alleys of Baghdad and Tikrit, it could become an major issue in a more open setting, like the hills and mountains of North Korea. In fact, a number of reports from Afghanistan indicate that special forces units using M4 carbines were unable to effectively engage forces at times due to the range and power limitations of the shorter barrels. Perhaps an option would be to include a fourth barrel length, longer than standard but not “machinegun weight”. Another option would be to just keep one or two men in each squad with M16s as “sharpshooters”. This would dilute the advantage of using a universal infantry weapon, however. Maybe some M8s could be modified to fire the 7.62mm round, as some M16s have been. This would increase the firepower of the weapon, but, again, it would negate the commonality that the XM8 hopes to bring to our ground forces.


I’m concerned that a lot of work is going into a weapon that is only a slight improvement over our current systems. Instead of throwing out over 40 years of experience with the M16 for incremental improvements in an entirely new gun system, maybe we should work to make those improvements to our current guns. I’m certainly no expert, but it seems to me that we’re investing an awful lot of time and money into this and not getting a lot of bang for the buck. At the same time, I see good value in some of the ideas the XM8 brings to the table, and am quite interested to see how it performs in tests and with the troops.

If it sounds like I’m waffling, it’s because I’m waffling. This new rifle appears to be awesome. But once you start building millions of them and putting them into the hands of troops in the field, we are going to begin finding out things that the testing missed. I’m just not convinced that all the expense and trouble is worth it if we’re still going to be using the 5.56 round. ACE points out that the XM8, with it’s modular design, could probably be easily modified to fire the 6.8mm round, but so could the M4/M16 with the new 6.8 SPC uppers (mentioned here on MO and also tracked extensively at ACE).

On the other hand, unless the XM8 has a ton of problems that we don’t know about (and the testing closed to the media won’t help matters there) I’m not exactly sure what the risk is. Over time, the M8 will be slightly less expensive than the M4/M16, and cleaning-time savings, reduced weight, and other small improvements will be welcomed by the troops. There doesn’t really seem to be a downside with the XM8, just a missed opportunity.

As for front-line units not having real issues with jamming, I’d suggest that the M8’s reduced cleaning time would make support personnel more likely to clean their weapons regularly, and the M8’s supposed reliability would lessen the chance of failure even if not cleaned as often as called for. Still, every soldier should be a rifleman, and riflemen know that their lives depend on that rifle. To expect a weapon to make up for lack of care or training is barking up the wrong tree.

I still cautiously approve of the move to adopt the XM8, but I suspect that, instead of the long-barreled sharpshooter XM8, squad sharpshooters may end up using the M14, like the squads in the Stryker Brigade. The fact that units currently equipped with the M16 are using M14s (which fire the 7.62mm round) for their sharpshooters indicates to me that it’s the round, not the barrel length, that’s the limiting factor here.

Check back here for more info and opinion as it becomes available, and by all means, even if you don’t return to MO, do not forget to keep an eye on Airborne Combat Engineer.

UPDATE: One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about the XM8 is that it looks like it’s made of plastic. I’ve pretty much dismissed these criticisms, but this afternoon when my 6-year-old girl saw it, the first thing she said was “It looks like plastic.” Not good.


  1. The M16/M4 should have the gas system modified to have a rod to strike the bolt carrier to cycle the action instead of gas itself (somewhat like an AK-47). If THAT was done, and changed to the 6.8mm round, I think the whole problem would be solved and no need for another weapon. Even the M4 configuration could still be used. No gas in the system, and a much better round. Simple no? I guess it’s ‘no’ for the military as simple is complicated to them.

  2. I do have a lot of experience with AR’s but not in any military field situation so this information is 2nd hand. My roomate has served in Bosnia with IFOR under the U.N. and is now currently serving with his reserve unit in Iraq. The 2 main problems he complains about his M-16 is the amount and time of cleaning of his weapon, which is required daily to keep it from jamming especially in the sandy conditions in Iraq and the excessive gas directed directly into the weapons bolt carrier. He also hates the limited stopping power of that new ss109 carbide tip round. Says the same thing mentioned on your sight (nice neat ice pick holes no organ tissue damage). His belief is to reinvent the gas system to an external piston type (which H & K has done) and to develope maybe a new bullet for the 5.56mm. As for a more long range capable weapon I agree with the .308 round. I have used it for hunting for years and really do not think any 5.56mm will ever be as good. Just thought I post my comment. Thanks for the great site and info.

  3. The XM8 should be rebarreled for the 6.5 Grendel. The short efficient burn case of the 6.5 Grendel will retain more velocity from the shorter barrel. The high BC round (.542 for 123 gr Lapua) will also retain velocity better at range. The 6.8 SPC will suffer velocity losses more so with it’s .340 BC bullet. The 6.5 Grendel also delivers more energy at all ranges and shoots flatter than the 6.8 SPC. Barrett also had problems with feeding with a batch of 6.8 SPC that was loaded too lightly (according to their web site). If you shorten the barrel (from 14.5′), you could induce the same problem.

  4. I wonder if the reluctance to move away from the 5.56mm round is mainly political. Being the flagbearing ‘standard’ NATO rifle round, stockpiles of ammunition across America, Europe and elsewhere exist to equip 5.56 mm armed troops. I’m sure, logistically, having a novel 6.8 mm round would involve a lot more supply difficulties – especially in multi-national campaigns. I’m sure Europeans wouldn’t like it, as I bet America pushed for the 5.56 mm standard, and now if we just abandon that standard our allies might be wonderng why we can’t make up our minds.

  5. The reluctance to move away from the .223 is political. And while the Europeans may be angry with a switch, I’d say atleast the Belgians and Brits would be happy, after all it was them who proposed a 7×43 round in the 1950s. Pretty damn close to our 6.8×43. It’s been a generation or two later, so the current US officials should have no problems with their pride when saying ‘6.8 SPC is better than 5.56. Wanna switch?’ Oh, but what about all of the stockpiles of .223? It’s hardly a problem, folks. There are many countries OUTSIDE of NATO that use .223. Sell them the ammo. Before we rush into 6.8 though, I suggest detailed testing between that round and the 6.5 Grendel. Test recoil in full auto, accuracy from 50 to 600+ meters, velocity, ability from shorter barrels, and more tests. It is obvious that 5.56×45 does not have the stopping power it needs. But it seems that whoever is in charge puts politics above the inevitable American deaths that will result in the future when GI Joe shoots Jihad Osama in the chest with his M8, and he is shot back at and killed because the bleeding isn’t fast enough. It happened in Somalia and Afghanistan, and it will happen again lest we come up with a better round.

  6. Excellent article & well thought out posts! I’m moved to reiterate what I (and D. Liu) posted on the your other XM8 page. The 6.8×43 is a better cartridge because it’s larger and more powerful. The downsides are obvious: 1. Another cartridge in the logistics pipelline, 2. Reduced magazine capacity (my understanding is the 6.8 will go into standard M16/5.56 mags in a single stack-giving only 17-18 rounds in each mag). The XM8 offers several very real advantages over the M16/M4 series it’s designed to replace; it’s improvement of troop lethality is legitimately brought into question by carrying over the 5.56×45 cartridge. A solution is out there that neatly sidesteps the weaknesses of the 5.56 and the drawbacks of the 6.8. RBCD 5.56 ammunition (distributed Lemas) is a blended metal technolgy bullet that is all metal, conforms to the Geneva Convention prohibition on expanding ammunition, chambers reliably (just like standard 5.56 ball), offers excellent anti armor (hard and soft) performance, AND when exposed (as pointed out by D. Liu) to sudden changes in temperature and material density (that means when it hits soft tissue) it fragments explosively. That’s not an idle exageration either. I’ve seen numerous still shots and videos of side by side comparos of RBCD ammuniton against other name brand ammmo (both in the same caliber of course) that vividly demonstrate the HUGE wounds and/or craters caused by this ammo. The phrase ‘tennis ball sized wounds’ is completely apt. D. Liu correctly pointed out it would be wise to continue the use of standard ammo for training and qualifications due to the increased risk of being hit with this devastating ammo during a training accident. Apparently, some within the military testing/weapons development/acquisition community have objected to using RBCD on the basis of ‘tests’ in ballistic gellitin. It seems to me (I’m no weapons system/ammunition acquistions expert either) that the apparent advantages of RBCD are worth a large scale field test (like in the Stan or Iraq) by the people who have the most reason to be brutally frank (our hard working, long suffering troops for cripes sake) about whether something works or not under REAL field conditions. Cruise over to RBCDs web site and check out their catalog of Media Articles about the preformance of RBCD in independat tests. There are some impressive comparison photos of RBCD performance relative to standrd ammo too. What do the rest of you think? God bless our troops and all of you keep your heads down!

  7. geneva convention,geneva convetion. I’m not a politian and i think guns are made to kill.Thus using rounds that fragment is not inhumane(you’re trying to kill the guy so he does not kill you) but efficient in killing. Make 5.56 explode inside the body-and problems of stopping power will go away.

  8. It seems to me that there is little need to replace the M-16 platform. It has one advantage that the XM8 does not, the ease of caliber change. Furthermore with carbon-15-type rifles that reduce the weight, and the leitner-wise AR with a gas piston i see no reason to make this switch. About all i see that would be needed to make the AR perfect is a proper, lightweight collapsable stock. I’ll second praise of the 6.5 grendel. I’ll also second the need for a new bullet design. It seems to me that a russian-type design where you use a steel or tungsten carbide core in back of a tip of softer metal would greatly improve wound ballistics. You might also be able to use a 31g SS109 design, where a steel tip covers a denser core of tungsten carbide or lead causing the bullet to destablize. The problem is the amount of testing required to develop a new caliber, not to mention the NATO-related aspect of it all. Part of me wants to think that the millitary should issue uppers firing a big cartridge (more than 10mm with a fast burning powder for firing in short barrels) to a few urban assault troops per squad. Such a move would almost necessitate a switch to a caliber like the 6.5 grendel to replace the 7.62 and 5.56 NATO rounds so that you would not have to work with more diffrent types of bullets (logistics is always a big excuse for not adopting a new cartridge(s)).

  9. Kill or Be killd…Geneva convention is only used by us and not our enamys who dont go by the rules anymore. so its time that our boys are able to fight Dirty too 552 Ammo that explodes in flesh would be an Awesome sight to see

  10. As a civilian who would root for the troops like a die-hard Cubs fan, that is a great idea. The enemy doesn’t follow the rules. Why should we in turn? FTW! Kill the bad guys then go to the peace rally and get laid!

  11. I think the ‘dum dum’ bullet part of the agreements should be flat out dumped. I’ve seen some of the injuies (in various medical articles) from IED’s and RPGs… Keep the part about banning ‘glass’ bullets and similar. Give me some Noslers in 5.56 if I gotta keep carrying it. A nice mix of ball and noslers…. Otherwise give me the 6.8SPC (or 6.5 I guess) but modernize the round for better term. ballistics. Regards, ~DA dakotaaviator at Gmail dot com

  12. I am a brand new ARNG soldier, and when I went for training a month ago on the M-16 I felt somewhat dissatisfied. Being a full blooded Vermonter, I grew up around lever-action .45-70s and big heavy semi-auto .30-06s; then I go to the range and they hand me this thing that feels like a BB gun and shoots like a .22? I would be scared to hunt animals game animals with it, never mind the most dangerous creature on earth. Given what I’ve read here, I personally would like to see the the M-16 redesigned with a gas piston rather than a gas tube and rechambered for .30-06, which when properly loaded is extremely powerful. Sure, it would lower the rate of fire and increase fatigue, but when a taliban gets hit in the arm with a .30-06 and it falls off, I don’t think he’ll be shooting back. Also, I would like to know if the Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet is prohibited by the geneva convention, as almost any cartridge loaded with these becomes very lethal very fast.

  13. One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about the XM8 is that it looks like it’s made of plastic. I’ve pretty much dismissed these criticisms, but this afternoon when my 6-year-old girl saw it, the first thing she said was ‘It looks like plastic.’ Not good.’ A common complaint about the gun is that it looks to ‘space age’ and not a real weapon. This is something that will disappear over time though as the gun becomes more and more well known. The more synthetics, the better provided they are placed properly, as they reduce weight, are very durable and good for harsh conditions and do not corrode. The first time I have seen this gun, I couldn’t help but think that HK went out of their way to create a futuristic looking rifle, but after actual examination of the parts and handling, I am convinced that everything in the guns design is made the way it is for good reasons. Probably the one feature that does better then anything to give it it’s futuristic look is my favorite feature of the gun, which is the carry handle which makes transporting the gun very convenient compared to the M-16 and does not get in the way do to it’s alignment with the rest of the gun. As for the cartridge, I can understand peoples complaints. Their is clearly a problem calling for an unmade balance between cartridges with sufficient stopping power and bullet capacity and weight. This 6.8 round sounds like it may be the answer, although I personally would put a FMJ flat tip on the bullet to give it better punch VS the sharp tip hole poker. As for a 7.62mm version, If Armalite was able to do it with the AR-10, then HK should be able to do it with the XM-8. Heck, give me a CETME and some .308 SL-8 magazines and I can do it myself. This would clearly be a better choice for sharp shooters then the other choices, although I would personally stick to the M-14. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Every time the M-14s come out it seams, allot of people die. It’s a very versatile rifle that has been time tested, and I wouldn’t start swapping it out until our potential enemies start finding ways of rendering it less potent.

  14. if we would combine a leitner-weis or p.o.f. gas system with a l.m.t. or cobb engineerinng mcr and then mix in some carbon 15 we would have the perfect weapon system.for the round we could use the 6.5 grendel, with a barrel option for a whisper round like 338 spectre or better yet a .358 cal. round so you could use in a pistol side arm using .357 cal pistol would have your long range covered , swap barrels and you’ve got cqb covered and you could do some silent sniping as well as use your pistol round in your cqb carbine.keep a spare barrel for 7.62×39 if needed to use available enemy need to change the bolt since all the above would use the same rim diameter.a adjustable gas block would be good.

  15. One of the reasons that the military is looking to the xm8 is because the m16s and m4s are starting to get worn. Some have been in circulation for more than 40 years. As for the cartridge, don’t worry. The xm8 ive been told can be converted to fire 6.8rem.spc, 7.62×39, and 5.45×39 as well as the standard 5.56×45 round. I think this weapon will have a better chance of being adopted than the OICWS or G11 caseless rifle.

  16. Let’s not forget that we are talking about two completely different things: bullet, and bullet launcher. Regarding the bullet, things won’t change with the existing calibers, and forget ‘something developed in the future’, because let’s face it, we only care about current situations and the near future only. So to choose from military calibers, being civilians in the western hemisphere or members of military organizations belonging to NATO, we have only current configurations of the 5.56 or the 7.62. The 5.56, as you have all acknowledged, is inadequate in power and range, being better suited to chipmunks. The .308, as deemed by most military developmental and logistical planning organizations, is too heavy and more powerful than necessary for use in an assault rifle. Think about every type of ammunition you know about. Generally, the more powerful the ammunition, the larger and heavier it is. There ain’t no getting around it. There isn’t any free lunch. So to spell it out again, as was laid out when the whole assault rifle concept came about in the first place, ‘you need medium power ammunition’. We don’t have one. THEY have one. the 7.62×39. To get medium power, they went with short and fat instead of long and skinny cartridges, to make a larger wound channel with 7.62 bullets. What genius. We should have listened to the British when they proposed the .280. Now we’re screwed and you get discussions like this. Now consider the bullet launcher. For all the reasons mentioned above, going through all the time, money and effort to develop something that is only marginaly superior to an existing design that is close to being acceptable is worthy of rethinking. On one hand, why bother. On the other hand, although we don’t get a satisfactory improvement in the near future, it may be a necessary step to improvement in the future. Maybe it can be improved upon in better was than the M16 series can be. Besides, it looks cool. But since we only care about current situations and the near future only, I say the XM8 should be ruled out and what has been done so far was merely demonstrates the status of modern arms production. That is, it has reached a plateau some time ago. Therefore we should conclude that what is necessary is further improvements to the existing M16 series of assault rifles, most important of which is a caliber upgrade. We should redeem ourselves by adopting what has been proven to be the correct ammunition to use in an assault rifle in the first place: the 7.62×39. Since there are no known reliable magazines that feed the cone-shaped 7.62×39 into the M16 magazine well (with a 7.62×39 upper in place, of course), because it was designed for vertically-stacked cartridges ala the 5.56×45, two things would be necessary: 1) redesign the lower receiver with a curved magazine well for insertion of a curved magazine, and 2) manufacture millions of curved 7.62×39 magazines for use in the redesigned lower receiver. Returning to the costs of design and development, I would say it would be more expedient to simply go with existing technology….. buy an AK47!!!

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