The US military has different kinds of rifles for all kinds of missions.
Some of those have been in used for decades but have received upgrades and modifications.
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Assault rifles, battle rifles, they’re all here.
Though some of the rifle platforms originally entered service during the Cold War, some have been updated and upgraded for the 21st century — and they’re part of the reason why the United States military is so lethal.
A soldier fires an M4A1 carbine rifle during a stress-shoot exercise, April 23, 2018.
US Army/Steven Stover
No conversation concerning US military rifles is complete without mentioning the M4 carbine, the smaller, more compact version of the iconic M16 rifle.
Though the M16 and M4 are quite similar, the M4 is lighter and shorter overall, a design that optimizes the platform for situations where a smaller, more compact weapon would be an advantage, such as in close quarters urban spaces, or for soldiers riding in and dismounting from cramped armored vehicles.
Like the M16, it fires the NATO-standard 5.56 x 45 mm cartridge, though thanks to the M4’s shorter 14.5-inch barrel, has a slightly lower effective firing range. The M4 design has proven popular and is used by a wide variety of countries throughout Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere.
A Green Beret shoots a FN SCAR during training in Lomo Nord, C?te d’Ivoire, November 14, 2019.
US Army/Sgt. Andrew Adaire
The SCAR family of rifles came to life in order to fulfill a request by the United States Special Operations Command for a modular family of rifles chambered in 5.56 x 45 mm and 7.62 x 51 mm NATO-standard cartridges.
The FN SCAR is therefore actually two different rifles, SCAR-L for light, and SCAR-H for heavy.
Both rifles can be used as designated marksman rifles, or for close-quarters weapons thanks to three available barrel lengths: Close-Quarters Combat, Standard, and Long Barrel.
Though the rifles are outwardly quite similar, the SCAR-L uses NATO-standard STANAG box magazines, whereas the larger SCAR-H is fed from FN-designed magazines.
A US Marine fires an M27 during cold-weather live-fire training in Setermoen, Norway, November 20, 2020.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. William Chockey
The Marine Corps’ new M27 is perhaps one of the most accurate standard-issue rifles in the United States military, giving new meaning to the Marine’s mantra “every Marine a rifleman.”
The IAR benefits from a 16.5-inch free-floating barrel and a short-stroke piston action that give the M27 accuracy, range, and reliability improvements over both the legacy M16 rifle and M4 carbine
The M27’s parent rifle is a German-designed Heckler & Koch 416, which was famously used to take down Osama bin Laden during the famous SEAL Team Six raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The Marine Corps is further enhancing the M27’s lethality by issuing effective flow-through suppressors that allow lower-volume shooting without the possibility of burned powder and bullet detritus flying in the face of the shooter.
A sailor fires an M14 rifle during weapons qualification aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez/US Navy
Though the M14’s reputation suffered during the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, the rifle itself is quite rugged and offers good accuracy and stopping power thanks to its larger 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge.
Although the rifle was not well-suited to the wet jungle warfare of Vietnam — it was too heavy, too long, and its wooden stock prone to warping — these two updates to the platform have given the rifle a new lease on life.
A soldier fires the Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle during the Squad Designated Marksman Course on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, July 20, 2017.
The Army and Special Operations Command redesigned the M14 from the ground up, giving the battle rifle a new adjustable stock, pistol-style grip, collapsable bipod, as well as Picatinny accessory rails and a modern optic, to give the old M14 better range as well as lightening the rifle.
A Marine scout sniper fires an M39 enhanced marksmanship rifle during marksmanship training in Kuwait, November 12, 2012.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. Timothy Childers
The Marine Corps had the same idea as the Army, though they decided to modify the M14 a bit differently, resulting in the similar M39 EMR.
This modified rile also sported an adjustable stock and collapsable bipod as well as an accessory rail that could mount optics.
It was, however, an interim measure and has since been mostly replaced in Marine Corps service by newer, group-up designated marksman designs.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer based in Europe. He holds a master of public policy and covers US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.