So to make up for lost time, let’s discuss what I consider to be the 5 Best Military Rifles in the world.
Luckily, Colt and other makers of the M16/AR-15 weapons system have made long strides in improving the battlefield reliability of the platform, which explains why it’s still going strong after 61 years, with the delightfully compact and versatile M4 and M4A1 carbine variants having demonstrated their worth repeatedly on the bloody proving grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s a no-brainer that Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov’s most famous invention should make this list. The Avtomat Kalashnikova wasn’t the first successful firearm to chamber the 7.62x39mm cartridge – that distinction belongs to the SKS – but it is certainly the most iconic. Since its invention, it has developed an unsurpassed reputation for ruggedness, reliability, and durability.
Gun enthusiasts will argue the merits of the AK vs. the M16 until they’re blue in the face, but the truly objective participants in that debate will concede that the M16 has the advantages of greater intrinsic accuracy and portability, while the AK is the more reliable and simpler of the two.
I’m lumping the AK-74 5.45x39mm rifle in with the AK-47, as it was also designed by Comrade Kalashnikov and it retains the reliability and caveman simplicity of its larger-caliber parent rifle. What’s more, as Travis Pike noted in a July 2021 article for SOFPREP, “While the old man still packs plenty of power, the whippersnapper we call the AK-74 can take the 47 to school on a few subjects. When we talk about intermediate rifles, it’s important to remember that size isn’t everything. In this AK-47 vs AK-74 shoot-out, we also have to take ballistics into account. The lighter and smaller 5.45 cartridge tends to yaw and fragment when it hits the body, whereas the 7.62 variant punches straight holes… Beyond that, the AK-74 increases the effective range of a soldier to 500 meters. The lighter cartridge also means lighter recoil. Lighter recoil means the weapon is easier to handle, especially in close quarters. Not to mention from a military perspective, the AK-74 allows for more controllable automatic fire for suppression efforts.”
The AK-74 is being heavily used by both sides of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Hey, gotta include at least one truly old-school rifle on this list, right? When no less a military history icon than Gen. George S. Patton declares a weapon to be “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” that’s credentials. Upon its adoption in 1936, the Garand became America’s first standard-issue autoloading rifle. When WWII rolled around, the rifle gave American GIs a distinct tactical advantage against Japanese and German soldiers armed with bolt-action Arisaka Type 99 and Mauser 98 bolt action rifles. The M1 officially served for 22 years before directly spawning its successor, the M14, which served as general issue to the U.S. Armed Forces for five years and remains in use with the Navy SEALs to this day as a sniper rifle.
It could be reasonably argued that this Israeli-designed rifle series is the ultimate refinement of the Kalashnikov system. The Galil utilizes the same action as the AK47 and AK74 but uses a modified gas system of the Finnish Valmet M62, which reduces recoil. By most accounts, it’s every bit as reliable as the AK, with the bonus of being more accurate. The weapon is produced in both 5.56x45mm NATO – the same caliber as the M16 – and 7.62x51mm NATO – the same caliber as the M14 and as the next rifle on this list. The 5.56 version was adopted by the Israel Defense Forces in 1972 and officially served in that capacity until 2001. It has proved its worth in many battles across the years, starting the Yom Kippur War.
Though no longer the standard issue rifle of the IDF, the Galil series remains in production and is in use with more than 30 countries.
For his July 2019 write-up on this Belgian-designed weapon for SOFPREP, Mike Perry went with the title “FN FAL: The world’s most successful battle rifle.” A pretty lofty declaration to be sure, but there are plenty of facts to back up his claim. The Fabrique Nationale Fusil Automatique Leger (“Light Automatic Rifle”) was initially designed in 1946 by Dieudonné Saive, who was also famous for putting the finishing touches on the design of the ubiquitous Browning Hi-Power pistol after the death of John Moses Browning. The weapon went into production in 1953. Seven million FALs were produced, and the armed forces of more than 90 countries adopted the FAL, including most members of the NATO alliance.
As a result, the FAL became known as “the Right Arm of the Free World.” As Perry notes, “On rare occasions, it even faced off against itself, such as when it equipped the armies of Great Britain and Argentina during the 1982 Falklands War.”
Agree or Disagree?
Any rifle conspicuous by its absence from this list, dear readers? Let us know in the comments.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.