How were the adaptation of 5.56 NATO rounds political?


So I heard there was some political backstory before this became the standard round for NATO, can anyone explain the full story?

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After WW2 different countries started looking into assault rifle rounds. It was a promising development for infantry arms. The Soviets had quickly developed their own 7.62x39mm in 1943 and were working hard to make it their mainstay.

NATO countries looked at developing their own round. The US testing known as SALVO looked at several options, including a focus on flechettes but that option never fully worked so the program switched to conventional bullets. Later, this program and its data is what would drive the adoption of 5.56mm in the US. Until that later time however the US leaders mainly looked at continuing to use full power rounds and making them controllable in full auto. All the countries in NATO wanted to work toward a standardized round so to share with each other.

The British came up with the promising 6.25mm round but it was veto’d by the US. The US leadership that was in favor of assault rifles/small caliber development was over ruled for the time by traditional thinkers who pushed the 7.62x51mm round. The US traditional thinkers got their way and the US adopted the M14 to succeed the M1, which killed the British 6.25mm caliber. Allied countries adopted their own 7.62x51mm rifles.

Then in 1961 the US was like “lol just kidding” and adopted the homegrown 5.56mm round and rifle. Being that the US was the big dick in NATO, the 5.56mm round started to become widely used alongside the 7.62x51mm used in battle rifles. This switch drove allies to follow and by the 1970s NATO has standardized on 5.56mm.

The reason for adoption of the 5.56mm and M16 was an effort spearheaded Army General name Wyman and using the data from SALVO. There was a lot of pushback by internal Army testing centers and leaders who were not convinced that such a small bullet would be effective, and there are noted cases of the rifle being sabotaged to fail tests.

Eventually though the rifle was accepted, although early wide issue service models used out of spec parts and the “self cleaning” function of the was grossly misinterpreted leading to it being issued without cleaning kits at first. This lead to a lot of lasting bad impressions.

As well there was politics around ArmaLite having to sell their design to Colt since Colt was a government contractor who could actually get a realistic chance to convince the government to buy the rifles.