What is a Battle Rifle?

Soldier aiming a rifle.
| June 17, 2020
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

The named concept of the battle rifle existed after most battle rifles had fallen out of service. As far as I know, the term is seemingly one made up by firearms enthusiasts to describe rifles that fall outside of the realm of an assault rifle, or sniper rifle. In the firearms industry, we like to make shit up, but occasionally something sticks. “Battle rifle” was something that stuck.

When most people say battle rifles, they are talking about the semi automatic rifle that fires a full-powered cartridge like the 308, 7.62x54R, and even the newer 6.5 Creedmoor would qualify. These rifles can be select-fire, but it’s not a requirement. As you’d expect, this includes guns like the AR-10, the FN FAL, the G3, the M14/M1A, and the most modern model on the market, the SCAR-H. These rifles define the contemporary battle rifle, even if most are not that modern.

The Battle Rifle in Modern Warfare

Except for the SCAR, we are looking at rifles designed in a world not too separated from World War II. These rifles have long been replaced in military forces by the modern assault rifle, which is a lighter-weight weapon that’s firing an intermediate cartridge. As the battle rifle was phased out of service, they remained here and there and in armories around the world.

With the ramping up of the Global War on Terror, some of these rifles began to see new life. M14s and M21s were pulled out of armories. Optics and chassis were slapped on them, and they were pushed into designated marksman rifles. They were also used with the classic wood stocks and zero optics in roles that required the punch that a 308 could provide.

Special Operations Forces with battle rifle.

Guns like the G3 and FN FAL even found their way onto the battlefield with coalition forces, often in situations in which they didn’t have enough modern assault weapons, or saw the need for a full-powered gun.

As the war progressed, we saw more modern battle rifles make their premier. SCAR H is an example of a modern battle rifle. Guns like the M110 qualify, but the intent is to be a sniper’s weapon more than a battle rifle.

The Advantages of the Battle Rifle

The reason the battle rifle exists and why the rifle was pressed back into limited service was because of the advantages it offered over the standard-issue assault rifle. First and foremost, the rifle offered a more powerful cartridge that increased penetration through cover. The round can retain energy better through walls, doors, windows, and even the metal frames of cars and trucks. The battle rifle could be employed to stop vehicles by popping that engine block. In the urban environments of Iraq, this would be quite valuable.

Soldier holding a battle rifle, background out of focus.

The 7.62 NATO round also offered users enhanced long range capabilities. An increased effective range allowed users in Afghanistan to meet the distances Coalition Forces were being engaged in. In my time in the country, the bad guys liked to stay outside of the normal rifle range. When a PKM is opening up on you at 600 to 700 yards across open poppy fields, the 7.62 NATO offered shooters the ability to hit back.

The downsides are, of course, weight and recoil. The big Battle Rifle hit hard at both ends. This made the weapon a specialist, limited-issue item. You’d say one per squad or so to complement their needs.

The Role of the Battle Rifle

Battle Rifles were often used in a designated marksman’s role. Here they could be used for more distant engagements. More often than not, they could be used for precise shots in close to moderate-range fighting. The rifle could also be used in an overwatch position in the same role. Toss one on a VCP, and it’s better served to rip up a vehicle that doesn’t stop or even rushes the position. At the same time, it’s more precise than an M240 on the same VCP.

Lots of Special Operations bubbas use the SCAR H and seem to like it as a rifle that provides both power and modern ergonomics. The SCAR H is one of the softest shooting, lightest weight 7.62 NATO rifles on the market. How it’s used among those badasses is unknown to me. I’d imagine it fills the gap and acts as both a traditional assault rifle and an accurate designated marksman’s rifle. I’d hate to carry a range backpack full of SCAR H magazines.

G28 battle rifle - Afghanistan.

Photo by Thomas Wiegold.

The Battle Rifle and the need for one seem to ebb and flow depending on the conflict. As the GWOT moved on, many a DM were armed with Mk 12s in good ole 5.56. I wouldn’t say the Battle Rifle has seen its last rodeo just yet, but the M14 rifle sure has. The Army has recently adopted the HK G28 as a designated marksman military rifle, and with it, the Battle Rifle lives on.

As great as modern assault weapons are, they can never hit as hard or reach out as far as the battle rifle.

Appendix I

Battle Rifles for Precision Work

SR-25 / Mk 11 Mod 0

Some battle rifles become precision platforms like the EBR, Mk 11 Mod 0, and others. This doesn’t significantly change their basic form or function, though it does impact performance characteristics (if “upgraded” from a more mundane platform) and application.

Here’s an example: the Mk11 Mod (a USSOCOM SR-25) used by former NSW sailor (and bestselling author) Jack Carr.

SR-25 in Najaf (Mk 11 Mod 0)

“Seventeen years ago around this time, things were heating up in the city of Najaf, Iraq, home to the Imam Ali Mosque and the largest Muslim cemetery in the world…Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Militia was getting ready for a fight. That fight would dominate most of August 2004. The “Battle for the City of the Dead” was non-stop, day and night, street by street, block by block, building by building urban combat.” Jack Carr, c. 2004.

Carr’s SR-25 in this image is equipped with a Nightforce Optics scope; you can see the SIG P226 on his hip. Carr later briefed the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point (Eisenhower Hall) on lessons learned during that campaign.

Knights Armament SR-25 in use in Najaf as Mk11 Mod 0.

“The enemy eventually sought refuge in the Imam Ali Mosque. I was in my sniper position just outside the mosque when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani negotiated a ceasefire which meant that what was left of the Mahdi Militia would live to fight another day. I remember how surreal it was to look through my scope and watch the people we had just been fighting leave the mosque, knowing I’d probably see a few of them again.” Jack Carr, c. 2004.


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