What Types of Firearms are Used in the Military?
The U.S. military has the most sophisticated weaponry of any country on the planet. The nation has fighter jets, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, laser-guided missiles, and so much more.
But the first weapon we think of when picturing a servicemember is some type of firearm. The image of a servicemember with their firearm is seared into our collective consciousness, mostly through popular movies about the military.
In American Sniper, we see just how lethal a single Navy SEAL and his rifle can be. The most dangerous person on the planet is a Marine with his rifle according to the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. And, in Forrest Gump the title character is praised as a “genius” for how quickly he takes apart and reassembles his rifle.
While these and countless other films show us that firearms are important to servicemembers, most of us probably don’t know too much else about them. In this article, we’re going to look at the types of firearms that are used in the military, and their unique characteristics.
Before we do that, however, there are a few key terms you should know.
Understand These Firearm Terms
Knowing these terms will help you better understand the types of firearms used in the military.
- A round is a unit of ammunition. People often assume that the words bullet and round are synonymous, but that’s incorrect. The entire round includes the cartridge case, primer, gun powder, and bullet. That entire package is the round.
- Caliber refers to how large a round is in diameter. For example, a .50 caliber round is about .5 inches in diameter.
- Effective firing range is the distance a bullet will travel and still have the desired effect on the target. This shouldn’t be confused with maximum firing range which is how far a bullet will travel without regard to its effectiveness.
- The barrel is the long tube that the bullet moves through after the weapon is fired.
- Muzzle flash is the light that’s emitted from the end of the barrel after a rifle is fired.
- A carbine rifle is simply a rifle that has a shorter barrel than typical rifles.
What Weapons are Used in Basic Training?
No matter what branch of the military you might join, you can expect to be trained to use a few firearms during basic training. They include:
- M16A2 assault rifle: Referred to simply as the M16, it’s the standard rifle used in combat. It’s been around since the Viet Nam war and remains popular because of its simplicity and power. The M16 is a magazine-fed weapon that fires 5.56 mm rounds. It fires in 3-round bursts (automatic) or single shots (semiautomatic).
New recruits in the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps are trained to fire this weapon during boot camp.
It wouldn’t be safe to practice shooting rifles on sea-going vessels, which is why Navy recruits in basic training are taught to fire a computer-generated simulation of the M16.
Recruits in the Coast Guard will receive classroom training on how to operate, disassemble, clean, and reassemble the rifle. Some Coast Guard recruits may have future roles that require them to handle M16s. Those recruits will receive further practical training as needed.
- M4 Carbine: Adopted by the Army in 1997, the M4 Carbine is replacing the M16 and has been used by special forces units such as the Army Rangers and the 82nd Airborne Division.
The M4 Carbine has a shorter stock than the M-16 and weight about six pounds, making it ideal for close combat where quick action, increased control, and easy maneuverability is essential.
Some Army recruits will be trained to carry the M4 Carbine instead of the M16. Many Marines will be certified to carry and operate an M4 during Marine Corps Infantry training after basic training.
- M320 grenade launcher: The M-320 is a lightweight, compact, single-shot grenade launcher. It’s capable of firing 40mm ammunition and is known for being quite precise even at maximum range.
- M3 Carl Gustov: Designed to destroy armored vehicles, this weapon fires large, highly explosive rounds of ammunition. Army soldiers and marines are trained to use this weapon.
- M9 pistol: All officers in each branch of the military (except for the Coast Guard) rely on the M-9 pistol for their sidearm. The M9 was phased into use from 1985 through 1990.
The M9 meets many of the requirements the military wants in a sidearm. It’s reliable, accurate, easy to reload, and quick to fire. Each component of the weapon is interchangeable, allowing it to be built from the parts of other M9s.
Army recruits will gain experience with the M9 during their basic training. Recruits in other branches of the military do not learn to fire the M9 during basic training but will receive training if required for future roles.
In recent years, the M9 has started to be replaced with the M17 and M18 pistols, but these newer models aren’t standard issue quite yet.
- Sig Sauer P229 DAK Pistol: The Coast Guard uses the P229 DAK as their standard issue pistol. The reason is that the Coast Guard is actually part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. Therefore, they use the pistol that’s standard for the Department of Homeland Security.
The P229 is prized for its ease of use and quick disassembly for cleaning the pistol. It’s compact, weighs only six pounds and fires rapidly. It’s ideal for situations when quick deployment of a firearm is required.
What Firearms are Used After Basic Training?
After basic training, servicemembers will get trained on any number of firearms. Some branches of the military rely more on some types of weapons more than others. For example, Navy sailors don’t even carry firearms most of the time because they are on battleships and aircraft carriers outfitted with weaponry. Navy Officers is the exception. They carry the standard M9 pistol sidearm.
The list here represents what types of firearms most servicemembers use across each branch of the military and the special forces units.
- Beretta M1A9 pistol: This pistol was specifically designed for the Marine Corps. It’s a bit more heavy-duty than the standard M9 and has a sand resistant magazine.
- The Colt M45A1: This .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol is designed for close combat.
- M2010 sniper rifle: This weapon shoots a .76 mm round up to 4,000 feet with deadly accuracy.
- M107 long-range sniper rifle. Like the M2010, except it can shoot a round up to 6,000 feet. That’s over a mile!
- M27 infantry automatic rifle: This rifle is slowly being introduced to the Corps as the standard rifle for all Marines.
- M38 designated marksman rifle: Used by snipers for mid-range targets, this weapon boasts extreme accuracy and an illuminated recital scope for enhanced targeting capability.
- M110 semi-automatic rifle: This model has an effective firing range up to 2,500 feet.
- Mk13 Mod 7 sniper rifle: This rifle hits targets with 98% accuracy from up to 3,000 feet away. It’s quickly becoming the weapon of choice for designated snipers across all branches.
- M107 special applications scoped rifle: This rifle has an effective firing range of up to 6,500 feet. It shoots particularly large rounds—12.79 x .99 mm.
- M16A4 rifle: This is basically a slight upgrade from the M16A2 that is used in the Army.
- The M4A1 carbine rifle: A heavier barrel, a quicker trigger pull, and reduced kickback makes this a favorite rifle among Marines.
- M2 machine gun: This 80-pound weapon fires .80 caliber bullets up to 20,000 feet.
- M240B and M240L medium machine guns: The M240 is a belt-fed machine gun that uses 7.62 mm rounds. It’s a heavier weapon that’s fired from the ground but is extremely accurate at long distances. The only difference between the two models is weight. The 240B is 27 pounds, whereas the 240L is 22 pounds.
- M240 machine gun: This weapon can hit targets up to 2.25 miles away.
- M2A1 quick change barrel: This .50 caliber machine gun features a reduced muzzle flash to better avoid detection by the enemy, and a quick changing barrel.
- M249 squad automatic weapon: This weapon shoots the same sized round as the M16 but has a longer range. Also, the rounds have a higher velocity when leaving the barrel.
- The M500 and M590 shotguns: These 12-gauge shotguns are useful for short-range combat situations.
- M1014 shotgun: Developed by the Italian gun manufacturer Benelli, the Corps has been using this 12-gague shotgun since 1999.
- M500A2 shotgun: This shotgun is as powerful as the M1014 but is shorter and carries 5 rounds.
- M32A1 multiple grenade launcher: This launcher holds 6 grenades and can fire them up to 2,600 feet.
- MK19 grenade machine gun: Build to be mounted on vehicles and tripods, this machine gun/grenade launcher combo has a maximum range of 7,000 feet.
Does the Military Really Use all These Firearms?
Not only does the military use all the firearms listed above in training and combat, but the list above isn’t even complete. The military is constantly upgrading weaponry, phasing out some weapons in favor of others, testing new models, etc.
However, the weaponry listed above does give you a good sense of what most members of the military use and for what purpose. It may seem overwhelming to civilians, but rest assured, the men and women of the military are trained to be responsible with these weapons and deploy them as needed in tense, high-pressure situations.