The 5.56 X 45mm “Timeline” – 1979

A Chronology of Development by Daniel E. Watters



The US State Department’s Office of Munitions Control returns without action an export license application to send 20 M16 rifles and carbines worth $1,024 to Guatemala.

The M231 FPW is finally adopted for use with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s (BFV) six firing ports. Seen as the cure for BMP-Envy, 27,000 are ordered. The M231 retains a 65 percent parts commonality with the M16A1; however, it is full automatic only, firing from an open bolt. Lacking a front sight, it is intended for use only with M196 tracers. A collapsible wire buttstock (FSN #1005-081-4830) is originally standardized for issue with the M231, but these are withdrawn at the last moment. (The supply of these buttstocks appears to have been sold later as surplus.) While the Technical Manual (TM 9-1005-309-10) warns that the M231 should not be used outside the BFV, this advice is known to be ignored, at least during training.

Aberdeen tests the hardness gradient of 5.56mm cases produced by the SCAMP process.

Sterling’s own variant of the SAR80 is submitted for British Army trials.

SIG introduces the SG541, a modified SG540.

FMAP-DM completes five prototype assault rifles for technical testing.

The US makes a FMS of 100 M203 to Greece. Deliveries continue through 1980.

Field-testing begins for the NATO light support weapon entries. Once again, most of the testing is conducted at the West German Infantry School. Testing continues through June. Entrants include the 4.85mm Enfield XL64E4, the 5.56mm FN Minimi, and the 7.62mm NATO Rheinmetall MG3E (a cropped variant of the MG3, itself a modern version of the WW2-era MG42). The control weapon is the 7.62mm FN MAG58.

SAAMI releases its warning on firing 5.56mm military ammo in a firearm chambered for the commercial .223 Remington.

Villanova University and ARRADCOM publish “Thermal Analysis of Folded Ammunition.”

Singapore and Thailand formally request permission to co-produce 40x46mm ammunition. CINCPAC Admiral Maurice F. Weisner supports their request.

The US State Department grants an export license to Colt for 15,000 M16, 60,000 thirty round magazines, and 15,000 M7 bayonets for shipment to Indonesia.

Aberdeen’s HEL publishes “Aiming Point Displacement from Firing a Rifle from the Open-Bolt Position.” The displacement of a gunner’s point of aim when firing a rifle from both the open bolt and closed bolt position was measured in dry-fire and live-fire tests. Results of the dry-fire test showed a shift of the aiming point upwards and to the right for right-handed gunners and upwards and to the left for a left-handed gunner. Aiming error dispersions were substantially larger for open bolt versus closed bolt. These effects were more pronounced when firing from the standing position versus firing from the prone position. The time history of aiming error from trigger pull to cartridge firing was measured for the open bolt firings. Live-fire test results were inconclusive due to large round-to-round dispersions of the test weapon, an XM19 rifle.

The British REME reports on NATO testing results for the IW. The ten prototypes collectively turn in a MRBS of at best 97. The results might have been worse as these only accounted for incidents witnessed by REME armorers. The REME had also intervened with constant inspections, repairs, and modifications to keep the weapons running, in violation of the testing rules.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense informs the US of its plan to transfer ownership of Pusan Arsenal to Daewoo Precision Industries.

Aberdeen publishes the report “Product Improvement Test of Hardness Gradient in Cartridge Case of Ball, 5.56-MM, M193 Ammunition for M16A1 Rifle.”

Pier C. Beretta files an US patent application for the adjustable bipod legs used by the AR70/78 LMG.

FN‘s Maurice Bourlet receives US Patent #4,142,443 titled “Visual Checking Device for Machine Guns and Similar Weapons,” and US Patent #4,145,831 titled “Closing Device for the Slot Through Which Passes the Cocking Lever of Automatic Weapons.”

US Army Missile RDECOM issues the report “Aerodynamic Analysis of the Rifleman’s Assault Weapon.”

The US Army awards $98,000 and deallocates $12,000 in contract modifications to Colt related to the M16. The Army also deallocates $19,000 from the overhaul and maintenance contract.

Head-to-head testing begins for the US Army’s four SAW candidates.

The US State Department approves sale of the 40x46mm grenade TDP to Singapore and Thailand. However, use of the data is restricted to study and evaluation purposes only. If Singapore and Thailand desire to begin production, the State Department will require Presidential approval.

The US Army awards a $10,000 contract modification to Colt related to the 1967 Licensing Agreement.

Sydney Hance receives US Patent #D251,979 titled “Automatic Firearm.”

HK‘s Dieter Ketterer receives US Patent # 4,152,857 titled “Means for Loading Small Firearms Including a Box Magazine and Cartridge Clips.”

Lyttelton Engineering Works (LEW), a division of ARMSCOR, introduces the R4 rifle, a modified IMI Galil AR.

The US Army awards a $826,000 contract to Colt related to the M16.

Testing ends for the NATO candidate weapons.

The French Army begins an official evaluation of the improved three round burst mechanism for the FAMAS.

The M231 FPW‘s military specification, MIL-S-63348(AR), is issued.

The French Army Chief of Staff approves the adoption of the improved three round burst mechanism for the FAMAS.

The US Army awards the tritium front sight contract to Saunders-Roe Developments, Ltd., of the United Kingdom. Self-Powered Lighting, Ltd. files a GAO protest over the award.

The US Army awards $24,000, $14,000, and $1,975,000 delivery orders to Colt related to the M16. The Army also awards a $1,961,000 delivery order to Colt for FMS.

USMC brass hold a strategy meeting to examine ways to improve their small arms inventory. Four mutually exclusive options are considered: 1) Retain the M16A1 rifle as is; 2) Reintroduce the M14; 3) Review other potential replacements; and 4) Upgrade the M16A1.

ARRCOM issues “Engineering Analysis of the M16 Rifle Production Line: 1976-79.”

A “Full Development” plan is approved to improve the Enfield Weapon System (EWS).

The US Army awards a $15,000 contract to Okay Industries.

Singapore and Thailand sign LOA for the 40x46mm grenade TDP and fuse primer services. Delivery is promised by the end of January 1980.

The US Army deallocates $11,000 in a contract modification to Colt related to the M16.

Based upon additional NATO trial results, the British conclude that the EWS development should be switched to 5.56mm. In addition, a M16-type magazine should be adopted and the safety switch should converted back to a push-through button design. In the mean time, Phase III weapons are created based on the Phase II pattern, with the exception of chambering in 5.56mm.

The US Army awards a $25,000 delivery order to Colt related to the M203.

The US Army awards a $1,254,000 contract and a $43,000 delivery order to Colt related to the M16.

The British ITDU begins trials to determine whether open sights attached to the SUSAT‘s body could adequately serve as an Emergency Battle Sight.

Self-Powered Lighting files a lawsuit against the US Government over the tritium front sight award. As a result, the GAO suspends their protest.

(Next: 5.56mm 1980)

by Daniel E. Watters, Small Arms Historian
Post questions or comments at The 5.56mm Timeline’s Facebook page.

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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