The 5.56 X 45mm “Timeline” – 1961

A Chronology of Development by Daniel E. Watters


USAF testing at Lackland AFB continues, pitting the Colt AR-15 versus the M2 Carbine and the M14 rifle. 43 percent of the AR-15 users score “Expert” in marksmanship qualifications versus 22 percent of the M14 users.

Using the AAI “burst simulator,” Aberdeen’s BRL estimates that the proposed APHHW could produce three times the enemy casualties versus the M14 per engagement. Based on equal rounds expended, the APHHW could be up to seven times more effective than the M14.

First Half 1961:
Springfield begins design of two weapon concepts to fire the XM144 fléchette cartridge.

Aberdeen’s D&PS publishes another report titled “A Test of Rifle Caliber .223, AR-15.”

Colt Chairman Stewart writes Cooper-Macdonald to confirm increase in commission from $1 to $1.25 on all AR-15 sold to the USAF.

The BRL publishes “Dispersions for Effective Automatic Small Arms Fire and a Comparison of the M14 Rifle with a Weapon Yielding Effective Automatic Fire.”

Fairchild allows ArmaLite to split off into a separate company. ArmaLite’s management team purchases the right and titles to all of the ArmaLite designs with the exception of the AR-10 and AR-15. Around the same time, Gene Stoner leaves ArmaLite.

Aberdeen’s BRL publishes “An Investigation of the Wounding Potential of Fléchette Rounds When Fired from a Multi-Barreled Test Gun.” Experimental firings were conducted with the five-barreled test gun firing single fléchette cartridges in single shots and in bursts at a rate of 2,680 rounds per minute. Observations from the targets and photography indicate that most fléchette yaw in flight regardless of how they are fired. Those fired in salvos yaw much more than those fired in single shots. Yaw may be induced by transverse forces set up by the motion of the gun tubes, blast from adjacent muzzles, shock waves from other fléchette, and interference from the sabots.

Frankford Arsenal publishes “An Effectiveness Analysis of Spin-Stabilized Rifle Systems, Based on a Caliber .17 Projectile.”

General LeMay sends a letter to the OCO requesting cost and availability figures for both the M14 and AR-15.

General LeMay is briefed on the Air Staff recommendations on selection and procurement of a new weapon for the USAF. Following the briefing, LeMay directs that the Air Staff select the weapon, and that the Air Force Materiel Command be directed to procure the weapon at the rate of 19,000 a year. LeMay further states that he felt that the AR-15 rifle is the weapon that should be procured.

The ORO publishes “Casualty Probabilities of Gaussian Salvos.”

On behalf of the US Army, David C. Fletcher receives US Patent #2,976,770 titled “Operating Mechanism for a Plural Barrel Rifle with a Feeding Rotor.”

The .22 Remington Jet is officially introduced by Remington and Smith & Wesson. The final cartridge is based on a necked down .357 Magnum case.

ARPA‘s mission is reoriented to include research regarding the conduct of counter-insurgency warfare. Project AGILE is approved to further this new mission. Combat Development Test Centers are thus opened in Bangkok and Saigon, the respective capitals of Thailand and South Vietnam.

Project AGILE member, Colonel Richard Hallock (US Army), is lobbied by Robert Macdonald regarding the virtues of the AR-15 rifle in the hands of small-statured troops.

The OCRD responds to General LeMay’s request in a memo titled “Replacement of .30 Caliber Carbine for USAF.” The memo points out the logistical difficulties which will ensue if a new rifle and cartridge are introduced. Instead, it recommends that the USAF consider the folding-stock M14E1, examples of which could be available for testing as early as June 1961.

ArmaLite’s George C. Sullivan files another patent application for design principles for using aluminum in a firearm’s receiver.

On behalf of the US Army, David C. Fletcher receives US Patent #2,981,156 titled “Firing Mechanism for a Salvo Gun.”

The CRDL issues the report “Wound Ballistics of the 7.2 Grain Steel Fléchette.”

The USAF validates the quantitative requirement for procurement of the AR-15 and its ammunition.

Colt President Roff writes Cooper-Macdonald to confirm increase in commission from $1 to $1.25 on all AR-15 sold to the US Government, not just the USAF.

The ORO publishes “SALVO II Rifle Field Experiment.”

CDEC conducts field experiments in support of the study “Optimum Composition of the Rifle Squad and Platoon.”

General LeMay is appointed Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The ORO‘s administrative organization, Johns Hopkins University, and the Army mutually agree to terminate the contract funding the ORO. This change is made so the Army can fire the ORO‘s director, Dr. Ellis A. Johnson. Dr. Johnson had long fought to keep the ORO‘s research from being a mere intellectual rubber stamp for existing Army orthodoxy. Despite Army pressure, Johns Hopkins was not willing to remove Johnson without cause.

Second Half 1961:
Springfield supplies Aberdeen and Frankford Arsenal with test weapons and ammunition to enable continuation of feasibility and development studies of micro-caliber weapon systems proposed at Springfield. Micro-caliber cartridges are considered a back-up to the XM110/XM144 fléchette cartridges. Terminal ballistic tests at the BRL confirm the feasibility of micro-caliber systems as indicated initially by lethality tests at the Chemical Center’s Wound Ballistics Laboratory.

Springfield completes the design and fabrication of one of its two weapon concepts to fire XM144 ammunition.

AAI continues the development of small arms mechanisms to fire XM110 ammunition. In addition to increasing mechanism reliability and development of a high capacity magazine, AAI directs development efforts toward reduction of automatic fire dispersion.

Winchester, under contract to Springfield, designs, fabricates, and develops a small arms mechanism incorporating an unique “soft recoil” mechanism. A request is made for funding of an additional contract to conduct additional dispersion and accuracy tests.

A contract is also negotiated with Winchester to modify the .224 LWMR to fire XM144 ammunition.

General LeMay requests 19,000 AR-15 rifles in the USAF‘s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, with the ultimate goal of procuring a total of 80,000 in successive years. Initially, funds for procurement of the AR-15 rifle are withheld by the Department of Defense (DOD). The reasons given are that: 1) introduction of another rifle of different caliber and characteristics into DOD inventories is not desirable; 2) adoption of a .223 caliber rifle for the USAF is not consistent with NATO standardization objectives; and 3) Army and USAF depots hold large quantities of M1 and M2 carbines, which are still usable despite their age.

General LeMay is informed that the Offices of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) and the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Installations & Logistics) – ASD(I&L) had not agreed to USAF procurement of the AR-15. Within days, LeMay confers with the executives of these offices. It is agreed that a study should be made of the entire matter to serve as the basis for a decision by the Secretary of Defense. By the end of the month, the study is complete. It recommends that the USAF be allowed to procure the AR-15 rifle.

ARPA selects the AR-15 as the weapon with the most potential for being compatible with small statured South Vietnamese soldiers. ARPA purchases ten AR-15 rifles out of their available funds.

After several exchanges between the USAF and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), a meeting is held to discuss the procurement of the AR-15. Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell L. Gilpatric chairs the meeting. DDR&E Harold Brown and ASD(I&L) Thomas D. Morris support the USAF position. However, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Charles J. Hitch opposes the procurement of the rifle. The results of this meeting are contained in a memorandum to Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert, stating that the request for procurement of the AR-15 rifle is not approved. The prime reason given is the problem of justifying to the Bureau of the Budget or to Congress a proposal to procure another new weapon in view of the Army’s rifle program.

General LeMay continues to hold conferences with the Deputy Secretary Gilpatric to determine the best course to follow to obtain the rifles. From these and other meetings within the OSD, it is concluded that procurement of the new weapon depends on how the House Appropriations Committee feels about the matter. At the first approach, Representative George H. Mahon (D-TX), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, is not sympathetic with the proposal, and this information is presented to the LeMay along with the recommendation that the whole matter be dropped.

A week later, LeMay again broaches the topic of AR-15 procurement in an OSD staff meeting. It is suggested that the request be resubmitted on the basis of a need for new weapons for special warfare. Upon presentation of the new approach to Rep. Mahon, Mahon suggests that there should be no Congressional objections to procurement of the AR-15 for special warfare purposes. The Air Staff is instructed to submit a new request for a lower number of AR-15 rifles for use by Composite Air Strike Forces and other USAF personnel assigned duty in Southeast Asia. Oddly, while the idea was originally suggested by OSD staff, some in the OSD now voice objections to the approach.

Following successful demonstrations of the AR-15 rifle in South Vietnam, ARPA requests 4,300 AR-15 for testing with South Vietnamese troops (ARVN). This request is denied on the grounds that M2 Carbines were available from surplus.

Upon review of the USAF‘s latest request for only 8,500 AR-15 rifles and 8.5 million rounds of ammunition for test, training, and unconventional warfare, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric authorizes funding the same day.

A few days later, the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam, LTG Lionel C. McGarr, requests 4,300 AR-15 rifles for combat testing by the South Vietnamese. The request suggests three alternatives involving approximately 1,000, 2,500, or 4,300 rifles, and cites the political and psychological advantages of providing advanced weaponry for use by the small statured Vietnamese in their counterinsurgency war. DDR&E Brown and other members of the OSD staff brief Rep. Mahon on the entire effort in Vietnam. Mahon promises his support in the procurement of the rifles.

Deputy Secretary Gilpatric sends a letter to Congress supporting the USAF‘s procurement of the AR-15:

“Subsequent to Congressional action on the Defense Department budget, the Air Force introduced an urgent requirement for equipping a portion of its forces with the AR-15 Rifle.

The Department of Defense has investigated thoroughly and concurs with the need for the rifle. The necessity for it has been personally justified to me by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.”

Rep. Mahon allows only seven minutes for discussion of the AR-15 proposal before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Funding is withheld pending consideration of additional data. Days later, Mahon writes Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara stating that the Subcommittee has voted to deny funding for the USAF‘s AR-15 purchase. However, they are willing to give the matter further consideration when Congress reconvenes in January 1962, if requested to do so.

The Army establishes a new research organization called the Research Analysis Corporation (RAC). The RAC takes over the ORO‘s pre-existing projects, property, and most of its former staff. One wag jokes that RAC is short for “Relax and Cooperate.”

President John F. Kennedy reportedly tells General LeMay to quit badgering the Army about the AR-15.

After conducting a limited test in Saigon with their 10 AR-15, ARPA resubmits their request for AR-15 rifles with the additional data. They further note that the requested rifles will be evaluated only in terms of their usefulness for ARVN units and their US advisors, not for general US military issue.

Aberdeen’s BRL publishes the report “An Interim Report on the Study of Parameters that Affect the Accuracy of Automatic Rifles.” This report is a brief summary of the work being done for the All-Purpose Hand-Held Weapon (APHHW). It gives some ideas of the present trends of thought and some indications of ways to improve the accuracy of automatic fire.

The CRDL issues the report “Wound Ballistics of High-Velocity Flechettes for Hand Held Weapons.”

Mel Johnson, with assistance from MBAssociates, designs a rocket-propelled fléchette weapon. Johnson converts a Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver to serve as the test bed. Later dubbed the “Discharger,” it fires three rocket fléchette from each cartridge fed by belt through an open chamber “star-wheel.”

CDEC publishes “Optimum Composition of the Rifle Squad and Platoon. Final Report of Experiment.” The findings indicate that all members of a squad, except machinegunners, should carry the APHHW. While AAI had finally built APHHW prototypes, a burst control device had not yet been designed or incorporated. Burst length had been simulated by loading only the required number of rounds for a given “burst” into the magazine.

Springfield performs preliminary investigations concerning the effect of water in the bore of small caliber rifles.

Fairchild sells Colt an exclusive license to the patent rights related to the AR-15 rifle. The license will last up to the expiration date of the last-to-expire patent. The agreement includes the right to grant sub-licenses, but does not cover the right to reassign the patents or the agreement. The purchase price is based primarily on subsequent sales by Colt of AR-15 weapons and parts incorporating the above mentioned patent rights.

The Director of ARPA, Jack P. Ruina, sends a memo to McNamara titled “AR-15 Armalite Rifles for Test in Southeast Asia” recommending approval of the request for 1,000 AR-15, necessary spare parts, and ammunition.

General LeMay makes a personal appeal for the USAF‘s rifles in a meeting with President Kennedy. Again, the request is denied.

McNamara approves the ARPA request, allowing for the purchase of 1,000 AR-15 rifles, accessories, and ammunition.

The USAF classifies the status of the .223 Remington cartridge as developmental.

The US Army Chief of Staff’s Office (OCSA) receives a fact sheet titled “ArmaLite Rifle (AR-15).”

Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman General Lemnitzer sends President Kennedy a memo titled “ArmaLite (AR-15) Rifle.”

The chiefs of the Technical Services are formally briefed as to McNamara’s planned reorganization of the Army. McNamara himself even appears for a time to take questions. While some like MG Frank S. Besson, Jr., the Chief of Transportation, embrace the plan, others such as the Chief of Ordnance LTG Hinrichs, and the Chief Chemical Officer MG Marshall Stubbs are vehemently opposed.

The BRL publishes “Effectiveness of Proposed Small Arms for Special and Guerilla Warfare.”

(Next: 5.56mm 1962)

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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