The 5.56 X 45mm “Timeline” – 1958

A Chronology of Development by Daniel E. Watters

1958

January:
General Wyman sends a letter to General Maxwell D. Taylor, Chief of Staff of the US Army, recommending caution in overselling the M14 rifle to Congress during the Fiscal Year (FY) 1959 budget hearings. The letter indicates General Wyman’s support of the small caliber rifle:

“As you know, in April 1958 we will receive two types of small caliber rifles, an Armalite and a Winchester, for evaluation at the USA Infantry Board. Should these rifles be found superior to the M14, as I am almost certain they will be, it would be most unfortunate if the Army had committed itself before Congress to irrevocable support of the M14 rifle. Disregard of the potential presented by the small caliber rifle at this time might well preclude Army exploitation of a superior rifle system which could conceivably appear on the developmental scene at an early date.”

On behalf of the US Army, Albert J. Lizza files a patent application for the operating system of the Springfield .224 rifle.

February:
Earle Harvey’s .224 Springfield is introduced commercially as the .222 Remington Magnum. (Robert Hutton has claimed in print that this was the first time he and Gene Stoner were made aware of the cartridge.)

CONARC sends the directive “Evaluation of Small Caliber High Velocity Rifles.”

The Infantry Board submits their test plan for evaluation of the SCHV rifles.

Springfield fabricates a Mann accuracy test barrel for one of the .224 experimental cartridges. It is fitted to a Remington M1903A3 action.

Department of Defense directive 5105.15 is signed, establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The directive gives ARPA the responsibility “for the direction or performance of such advanced projects in the field of research and development as the Secretary of Defense shall, from time to time, designate by individual project or by category.” It is originally intended for research and engineering projects regarding spacecraft, ballistic missiles, and nuclear weapons. However, it will come into play later in conventional warfare research.

Ordnance Technical Intelligence publishes “A Test of Gun, Light Machine, 7.62mm Model RPD, Soviet and Gun, Light Machine, 7.62mm Mod 52 Czech.”

March:
Ten AR-15 rifles chambered in .222 Special are delivered to Fort Benning for the Infantry Board field trials. Due to the changes required for the new .224E2 Winchester cartridge, the Winchester LWMR is not ready. However, a number of new T44E4 (pre-production M14) rifles are included as a control. Stoner is allowed to participate since no instruction manuals are yet available for the AR-15. Embarrassingly, the T44E4 rifles turn in a malfunction rate of 16 per 1000rds. In contrast, the AR-15 displays a malfunction rate of 6.1/1000. Oddly, after all of the trouble to coordinate the development of the competing cartridges, the .224E2 Winchester still fails the 500 yard helmet penetration requirement. The tests are re-run with the .222 Special, which succeeds.

Engineering tests for the SCHV candidates are assigned to Aberdeen despite efforts by Dr. Carten to have them performed at Springfield Armory. Laurence F. Moore of the D&PS is assigned to conduct the tests, and William C. Davis volunteers to participate in firing testing.

In addition, examples of the candidate rifles are sent to Fort Greely, Alaska for Arctic testing.

The ORO publishes “SALVO II Rifle Experiment: Preliminary Results.”

April:
Aberdeen’s BRL publishes the report “A Comparison of Proposed Small Arms Weapon Systems,” concerning SALVO and SCHV developments. The authors conclude that a lightweight .22 caliber rifle with a 50 grain projectile will result in a considerably greater effectiveness than the other weapon systems compared.

The BRL also publishes the report “Retardation and Velocity Histories of an 8-Grain Fléchette.” The report is intended primarily to cover issues related to multiple fléchette canister cartridges.

May:
The Infantry Board publishes the report “Evaluation of Small Caliber High Velocity Rifles – ArmaLite (AR-15).” The Infantry Board concludes that:

  1. The AR-15 is a potential replacement for the M14 rifle;
  2. The AR-15 equipped with a bipod and hinged butt plate should be a potential replacement for the M15 rifle; and
  3. The penetrating capability of the .222 Special and .224E2 Win are significantly less than that of the 7.62mm NATO and should be improved.

The Infantry Board recommends that eight AR-15 modified to correct the deficiencies reported (three of these rifles to be equipped with hinged butt plate and bipod) be furnished for service testing. Development should be expedited to provide a round for the AR-15 that has greater resistance to bullet disintegration and better penetrating characteristics.

June:
The Infantry Board sends the memo “Estimated Requirements for Service Test of ArmaLite Rifle.”

The Chief of Ordnance, MG John H. Hinrichs, informs General Wyman that during rain tests at Aberdeen, two AR-15 experienced burst barrels. The combination of water in the bore and the heavily fluted barrels used by the rifles prove too much. (Later, the same occurs with the Winchester LWMR, but with less fanfare. Both manufacturers respond by providing unfluted barrels for subsequent prototypes.) CONARC orders the Infantry Board to conduct duplicate rain tests with the AR-15 to see if the same results occur. The Infantry Board subsequently duplicates the problem. Seizing upon the issue, Dr. Carten begins a campaign to support development of an alternate .258 SCHV cartridge. (The eventual pair of 6.35mm alternates are based on the .25 Remington case.)

CDEC publishes “Armalite Experiment Summary Report.”

Winchester experiments with a 38 grain steel projectile for their .224E2 cartridge. The velocity is credited as 3,618 fps.

July:
The Infantry Board informs CONARC of the results of their duplicate rain tests. CONARC orders the Infantry Board to prepare a supplemental report, in coordination with the Infantry School, which will re-evaluate the AR-15 rifle in light of the results of the rain test.

Winchester finally delivers their LWMR to Fort Benning for testing.

The Infantry Board publishes the report “Evaluation of Small Caliber High Velocity Rifles – Winchester.” One of the authors is Captain Herbert P. Underwood. The Infantry Board concludes that:

  1. The Winchester rifle is a potential replacement for the M14 rifle;
  2. The Winchester rifle equipped with a bipod and hinged butt plate should be a potential replacement for the M15 rifle; and
  3. The penetrating capability of the .224E2 Win is significantly less than that of the 7.62mm NATO and should be improved.

The Infantry Board recommends that eight Winchester rifles modified to correct the deficiencies reported be furnished for service testing. Three of these rifles are to be equipped with hinged butt plate and bipod. Development should be expedited to provide a round for the Winchester rifle that has greater resistance to bullet disintegration and better penetrating characteristics.

Trading is suspended briefly for Fairchild common stock on the New York Stock Exchange. The price of the stock plummeted after Fairchild President Richard S. Boutelle revealed that the company would have a first-half loss of about $5 million. The losses are in part due to the high costs of tooling up for production of the F-27 aircraft and slow sales.

Liberty Powder Defense Corporation’s Robert R. Buell receives US Patent #2,843,584 titled “Method of Reclaiming the Constituents from Double Base Smokeless Powder.”

August:
The results of the Infantry Board’s supplemental testing of the AR-15 are discussed in an additional report titled “Evaluation of Small Caliber High Velocity Rifles – ArmaLite (AR-15).” The Infantry Board concludes that:

  1. Surface tension and capillary attraction will retain sufficient quantities of water in the barrel of a fully loaded AR-15 to cause excessive overpressure when the weapon is fired;
  2. The retention of the water in the barrel of an AR-15 is a major deficiency. However, because of its other favorable characteristics, the AR-15 remains a potential replacement for the M14 and M15 rifles;
  3. The effect of the deficiency of the AR-15 may be avoided by taking proper precautionary measures such as partially extracting the cartridge from the chamber when draining;
  4. Retention of water in the barrel due to surface tension and capillary attraction is not peculiar to the AR-15; and
  5. Weapons of approximately .25 caliber or larger do not retain water in their barrels due to surface tension or capillary attraction when the rifles are fully loaded.

The Infantry Board recommends that SCHV rifle research continue and that the procurement of additional AR-15 be made for service tests. The rifles should be modified to eliminate the possibility of burst barrels. However, if this cannot be done, training should be modified to deal with possible water retention, and research should be conducted to determine the minimum caliber at which water is no longer retained in the barrel.

CONARC sends the letter “Directive for an Experiment with the Rifle Squad Armed with a Lightweight, High-Velocity Rifle (LWVR).”

General Wyman retires.

The CWL publishes the report “Wounding By Flechettes.”

September:
CONARC issues their final judgment regarding the Infantry Board’s tests in the report “Evaluation of Small Caliber High Velocity (SCHV) Rifles.” Both SCHV rifles are judged to be superior to the M14 in terms of lightness and ease of handling. It is noted that for the same weight, a soldier with one of the SCHV rifles could carry ~650 rounds of ammunition versus ~220 with the M14. The AR-15 is judged to be superior to the M14 and the Winchester LWMR in terms of reliability and ease of assembly/reassembly. However, both SCHV candidates are faulted on their burst barrels during rain testing. This said, CONARC notes that contrary to the Infantry Board’s proclamation, even rifles of .25 caliber or greater may also suffer burst barrels when retaining water. The .222 Special and .224E2 Win are judged to be inferior to the 7.62mm NATO in terms of their penetration and position disclosing characteristics. CONARC concludes that the SCHV candidates are not acceptable for Army use at this time. Still, the report recommends that both manufacturers be allowed to submit 16 improved rifles and 96,000 rounds each for further testing by the Infantry Board and the Arctic Test Board.

Winchester chooses to decline further development of the LWMR.

Deputy Commanding General of CONARC, General Herbert B. Powell assembles a general board to investigate the Army’s various rifle research and production programs. (Sources disagree as to whether this was ordered by General Wyman as his last act prior to his retirement, or by his successor, General Bruce C. Clarke.)

Meanwhile, Cooper-Macdonald, Inc, the sale representatives for ArmaLite, Colt, and Remington in Southeast Asia, encourages a manufacturing license agreement between ArmaLite’s parent company Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation and Colt for the latter to manufacture the AR-10 and AR-15 rifles. Fairchild has been unwilling to allow ArmaLite to start their own production line, and is more than happy to pass future development risks on to Colt. Confident of pending success, Robert W. Macdonald cuts an individual deal with Colt providing for Colt to pay Cooper-Macdonald one dollar on every AR-10 and AR-15 rifle and two percent for spare parts produced by Colt for a period of 20 years.

October:
Fred A. Roff, Jr., Colt’s Vice President and Director of Sales, sends Robert Macdonald a signed copy of the previous month’s agreement between Cooper-Macdonald and Colt.

November:
The ORO publishes “Multiple Flechettes for Small Arms.”

Fairchild President Boutelle reports an operating loss of $9,211,000.

December:
Stoner is asked to deliver replacement parts to the Arctic Test Board trials at Fort Greely. To his surprise, Stoner finds that many of the rifles have had parts substituted. In particular, the front sight assemblies have been removed from the barrels, and when reassembled, some of the tapered pins have been inserted in reverse while others have been replaced by pieces of welding rod. The upshot of this tinkering is that the front sight assemblies are very loose, and do not quite line up with the barrel’s gas port.

Stoner is subsequently requested to give a presentation on the AR-15 before the Powell Board. At the presentation, Powell inquires about the Arctic tests. Believing that the testing had only just begun, Stoner refers to minor problems that have been rectified. However, the Powell Board already has possession of an Arctic Test Board report critical of the AR-15’s cold weather accuracy and reliability.

Meanwhile, the US Army’s Combat Development Experimentation Center (CDEC) begins mock combat trials of the AR-15, Winchester LWMR, and the M14. Conducted at Fort Ord, California, the tests cover the effects of the new weapons on squad tactics and organization. More than 500 firing runs are made on two attack ranges and one defense range. Different fire techniques and combinations of techniques are studied, and four different squad sizes are examined to accumulate data bearing on the appropriate size for squads using these weapons.

Fairchild President Boutelle is fired. Fairchild’s losses have been compounded by the recent cancellation of US Air Force contracts for the Goose missile and its J83 engine. Concurrently, Boutelle is elected Vice Chairman of Fairchild’s Board of Directors. He quits just over a month later.

Watertown Arsenal publishes the report “Terminal Ballistic Study of Fléchettes.” While inspired by research supporting multiple fléchette canister cartridges, the armor penetration characteristics should be applicable to individual fléchette cartridges.

(Next: 5.56mm 1959)

by Daniel E. Watters, Small Arms Historian
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Document History
Publication: 12/10/1998
Last Revised: 05/17/2009

 

Author’s Note
This article was originally published at The Gun Zone — The Gunperson’s Authoritative Internet Information Resource. My friend and mentor Dean Speir has graciously hosted my articles at TGZ for nearly 16 years. These articles would likely have never appeared online without his constant encouragement and assistance. 

With TGZ’s closure in early 2017, Dean encouraged me to find a new home for my scholarship so it wouldn’t be lost in the dustbin of the Internet. Loose Rounds has welcomed me with open arms. In the future, I intend to expand my legacy TGZ articles and add new contributions here at Loose Rounds.

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