The 5.56 X 45mm “Timeline” – 1980

A Chronology of Development by Daniel E. Watters



The HEL publishes “Human Factors Engineering Assessment of the Squad Automatic Weapon System.”

South Korean Ministry of National Defense officials inform Joint US Military Assistance Group-Korea (JUSMAG-K) officials that they are examining whether the transfer of ownership of Pusan Arsenal would allow Daewoo to increase M16A1 production and allow export of rifles and parts without US approval.

IMI begins 5.56mm production using SCAMP machines.

The US Congress and the DOD order the Army to investigate reloading 5.56mm brass for training ammo.

The US makes a FMS of 17,000 M16A1 to Lebanon.

The US makes a FMS of 3,000 M16A1 to Somalia.

The US makes a FMS of 164 M16A1 and 122 M203 to Honduras.

The Sterling SAR80 is dropped from British military consideration.

RSAF Enfield redesignates its bullpup family as “Small Arms for the 1980s” (AKA: SA80). The Production Engineering stage results in three prototypes of an improved, yet simplified pattern. Despite the decision to switch to 5.56mm, the so-called “Production Rifles” are originally chambered for 4.85mm. At least one is later converted over to 5.56mm. Of note is the introduction of replacement iron sights for issue in lieu of the SUSAT. The magazine release has been moved from the rear of the magazine well back to the left side of the receiver, and a pair of ejectors have been fitted to the bolt. The single LSW prototype is now designed to fire from the open bolt position in all firing modes.

W+F introduces the MP E21 and SG E22 in 6.45x48mm and the MP C41 and SG C42 in 5.56x45mm.

Saudi Arabia takes its first delivery of Steyr AUG.

Parts for 55,000 HK 33 rifles are shipped to Malaysia. These are then assembled for use by the Malaysian Army.

The US makes a FMS of 200 M203 to Jordan.

The USMC opens unilateral negotiations with Colt to supply three product-improved M16A1 rifles.

A JSSAP meeting is held. It is determined that there is enough interest to justify a Joint Service Rifle Product Improvement Program.

The US Army awards $32,000 and a pair of $20,000 contract modifications to Colt related to the 1967 Licensing Agreement.

Steyr’s Ulrich Zedrosser receives US Patent #4,191,089 titled “Breech-Closing Mechanism for Automatic Rifle.”

The GAO denies Self-Powered Lighting’s protest over the tritium front sight award.

The House Armed Services Committee requests that JSSAP conduct a study of the M16A1 rifle with an eye to possible improvements and eventual replacement.

The US Army Infantry School (USAIS) sends a letter to JSSAP outlining their recommendations for a product-improved M16A1. The USAIS desires a heavier barrel with a 1-in-7″ rifling twist; improvements to the furniture, sights, and magazine; and a “permanent cure” for left-handed shooters being struck by ejected cases.

NATO‘s International Test Control Commission and Panels of Experts analyze the test data and issue a final report. This report concludes that: 1) 5.56mm should be adopted as the second standard NATO caliber for small arms; 2) The Belgian SS109 ammunition should be used as the basis for a 5.56mm STANAG (Standardization Agreement); and 3) No recommendation be made for standardization of an individual or light support weapon.

The US Army awards a $14,000 contract modification to Colt related to the 1967 Licensing Agreement.

After head-to-head trials at Aberdeen and Fort Benning, DARCOM considers the FN XM249 to be the best choice on the ground of performance and cost. The HK XM262 has placed a close second.

USMC Commandant, General Robert H. Barrow grows tired of Army inaction and forces the issue. Barrow directs the Development and Education Command to form a task force to decide once and for all which weapons systems the Corps requires. The task force led by LTC Richard Maresco begins by conducting “Mission Area Analysis,” outlining seven major OPFOR targets/threats, and then determines which weapons can counter them.

The US Army awards a $3,937,000 delivery order to Colt related to the M16.

The military specifications for XM777 Ball and XM778 Tracer, MIL-C-63352(AR) and MIL-C-63367(AR), are published.

Orlite Engineering’s Azriel Kadim files an US patent application for the design of Orlite’s polymer M16 magazine.

The US Army awards a $60,000 delivery order to Colt related to the M203. This is for FMS.

The US Army awards a $889,000 contract modification to Colt related to the M16.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) – Dahlgren releases “Improved M16A1 Rifle Instrumented Tests and Results,” the results of their testing of a pair of M16A1 rifles equipped with heavy barrels and improved forearms. Two standard M16A1 are used as control. Despite all four weapons being equipped with 1-in-12″ twist barrels, the rifles using heavy barrels show superior accuracy in both automatic and semi-automatic fire. The experimental rifles are also considered to have superior handling qualities. In temperature testing, the improved round forearms are found to be cooler than their original counterparts, regardless of whether the handguards are installed on heavy or standard barrel rifles. Of course, the combination of the heavy barrel and round forearm gave the best results.

HQDA approves DARCOM‘s recommendations regarding the SAW selection. FN is awarded a “maturity phase” contract for further development of their XM249.

The Mellonics Systems Development Division publishes “Adequacy of M16A1 Rifle Performance and Its Implications for Marksmanship Training.” The document reports firing test results for typical M16A1 rifles, providing data for simplified and improved marksmanship training procedures. Sixty rifles were selected at random and subjected to bench-type serviceability checks and accuracy firing tests. Following initial testing, a representative sample (good, average and bad) of nine rifles was selected for the following tests: zero procedures, zeroing with the long range sight, trajectory, rimfire adapter, effects of barrel stress, firer error, and firing by initial entry soldiers. The current zeroing procedure is confirmed as being correct. However, the rimfire adapter is considered to be inadequate for attaining a correct zero and results in an increase group size. The authors also conclude that external stresses on the rifle (hasty slings, bipod use) actually have a greater effect on POA/POI errors than the usual culprits such as sight misalignment.

FN begins series production of their FNC.

The US Army awards a $393,000 delivery order to Colt related to the M203.

NATO agrees to standardize the 5.56x45mm cartridge as the 5.56mm NATO (STANAG 4172). In particular, FN‘s SS109 Ball cartridge design is adopted for standardization. Individual nations may adapt the design for domestic production. Individual countries also adopt the related FN L110 Tracer; however, the P112 AP and the intermediate L102 tracer cartridges appear to fall by the wayside. In the US, the SS109 and L110 become the XM855 and XM856, respectively. Canadian equivalents are the XC77 and XC78. NATO ultimately declines to adopt any of the candidate weapons. In addition, a draft standard (STANAG 4179) for M16-compatable magazines is proposed for future 5.56mm NATO weapons; however, this is never ratified.

The Marine Corps Development and Education Command releases “Mission Area Analysis of Infantry Aspects of Close Combat” by LTC Maresco, LTC John C. Short, and MAJ Jerry L. Creed.

The US Army awards a $825,000 contract modification to Adventure Line Mfg. Co. Inc.

The US Army awards a $15,000 delivery order to Colt related to the M203.

USMC LTC Maresco briefs Commandant Barrow with the task force’s recommendations: 1) Procure the 40x53mm Mk 19 Mod 3 automatic grenade launcher; 2) Begin fuse development of HEDP warheads for the 40mm grenades; 3) Support JSSAP‘s development of improved AP projectiles such as the SLAP; 4) Cancel testing for 7.62mm NATO SAW candidates; and 5) Procure the .50 BMG M2(HB), a product improved M16, a 9mm NATO pistol, and a 5.56mm NATO SAW. General Barrow immediately approves the recommended items.

The US Army Combined Arms Center (USACAC) and TRADOC approve the USAIS‘ recommendations for M16 improvements.

The USAF‘s Systems Command indicates that they were not adverse to product improvements, as long as they did not require modification or replacement of their existing M16 rifles.

The US Coast Guard indicates they intend to dispose of their existing M16 rifles, in exchange for a new 9mm NATO SMG and the FN XM249.

The USMC approves a “statement of need” for an improved rifle. However, a product-improved M16A1 would satisfy their immediate requirements.

The US Navy indicates that existing 5.56mm and 7.62mm rifles will not meet their requirements. Until such time that a suitable design can be found, they intend to keep their 7.62mm M14 rifles.

The US Army awards a $62,000 contract modification to Colt related to the 1967 Licensing Agreement.

(Next: 5.56mm 1981)

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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