In any war, even the smallest advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat. To maintain the upper hand, the Department of Defense spent $106 billion on research and development of weapons technology in 2021 alone. And while new and evolving technologies like precision guided missiles and drones have changed battlefield dynamics in recent years, outfitting troops with rifles that are reliable and effective remains a top priority – as it has since America’s founding.
Perhaps second only to the will to fight, the rifle is the most important asset of any army infantry soldier. And from the flintlock muskets used by the Continental Army in the American Revolution, to the M4 assault rifles carried by U.S. Army infantry units of today, weapons technology has evolved considerably over the nearly 250 years the U.S. has been a country.
Using data from a range of sources, including military records and government websites, 24/7 Wall St. identified standard-issue and other common infantry rifles issued by the U.S. Army throughout history – starting with the Colonial period. We did not include rifles with specialized functions, such as sniper rifles and machine guns. (Here is a look at the 9 fastest firing machine guns in the world.)
From the American Revolution through the Civil War, rifle technology changed little. Over that nearly 100-year period, American soldiers were issued muskets that were limited in range, accuracy, and reliability by any modern standard. Though there were some innovations during that period, including the rifled barrel and the switch from a flintlock firing mechanism to caplock, it was not until the 1870s, with the introduction of the Model 1873 Springfield, which fired a bullet with a self-contained cartridge, that the U.S. Army adopted anything resembling what we use today.
Even then, the M1873 was a single-shot rifle, with a maximum rate of fire of about 15 rounds per minute. For comparison, modern military rifles can cycle at a rate of about 950 rounds per minute. (Here is a look at every firearm currently used by the U.S. military.)
In the 20th century, the standard-issue rifle of the U.S. Army made a difference in battle on multiple occasions – both for better and for worse. In the Spanish-American War, for example, American troops carrying the M1892 Krag-Jorgensen were outgunned by Spanish troops equipped with German Mausers. Conversely, the semiautomatic M1 Garand issued to American troops in the Second World War gave American soldiers a clear advantage over German and Japanese troops carrying bolt-action rifles.
Click here to see every standard issue US military rifle since the American Revolution.
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Author: Sam Stebbins
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