From Academic Kids

A carbine is a firearm similar to, but shorter or weaker than, an ordinary rifle or musket of a given period. Carbines have often been derived from longer weapons. There have also been rifles developed from carbines, and many cases where the carbine and long rifle adopted by armed forces were largely unrelated. The shorter length and lighter weight of carbines makes them more portable than rifles, and easier to handle in close-quarters situations (such as urban warfare). The downside of carbines (when compared with their longer counterpart) is generally poorer accuracy and shorter effective range.



Early history of the carbine: 1800s and earlier

The carbine was originally a lighter, shorter weapon developed to be used by cavalry soldiers, for whom a full-length rifle was too heavy and cumbersome to be fired from horseback. Carbines were usually less accurate and powerful than the full length rifles they were based on, due to a shorter sight plane and lower potential power of the shortened barrel. With the advent of fast burning smokeless powder, the velocity disadvantages of the shorter barrels became less of an issue (see internal ballistics). After the demise of horse-mounted cavalry, carbines, continued to be issued as secondary weapons for armored cavalry and non-combat personnel, such as cooks, technicians etc., for whom a lighter, more compact weapon is desirable at the cost of reduced accuracy and power. Many bolt action military rifles have been manufactured in both full-length and carbine versions. One of the most popular and recognizable carbines was the Winchester lever action carbine, which was commonly found chambering revolver cartridges. This made it an ideal choice for cowboys and explorers, who could carry both the revolver and the carbine, and share ammunition between them. Also a good choice was the Spencer Repeating Carbine. It was one of the first guns to use a self-contained metallic cartridge.

Smaller long rifles, smaller carbines: smokeless powder and WWI

In the decades preceding WWI, the standard battle rifle used by militaries around the world started had been growing shorter, either by redesign or by the general issue of carbine versions instead of full length rifles. For example, the Russian model 1891 31.5 inch (800 mm) barrel went to 28.75 in (730 mm) in 1930, and to 20 in (510 mm) in 1938; the German Mauser 98 model line went from 29 in (740 mm) in 1898 to 23.6 in (600 mm) in 1935 with Karabiner Kurz (K98k), or short carbine. The the barrel lengths used by the United States did not change between the M1903 rifle used in WWI and the M1 Garand, but the 24 in (610 mm) barrel on the M1903 was already short for its day. The US M1 Carbine was more of a traditional carbine in that it was significantly shorter and lighter (18 in barrel (460 mm)) than the infantry rifle. Unlike the bolt action carbines used by the other nations in WWII, the M1 Carbine was a completely different design than the M1 Garand, and fired a different cartridge, closer to a pistol cartridge than a rifle cartridge.

Trend toward carbines continues: the Cold War

Based on the experiences of WWII, the criteria used for selecting infantry weapons began to change. Unlike previous wars, which were fought mainly from fixed lines and trenches, WWII was a highly mobile war, and often fought in cities, forests, or other areas where mobility and range were restricted--modern artillery made moving infantry in open areas suicidal. Nearly all enemy contacts were at ranges of less than 300 meters, and the enemy was exposed to fire for only short periods of time as they moved from cover to cover. Most rounds fired were not aimed at an enemy combatant, but instead fired in the enemy's direction to keep them from advancing. These situations did not favor a powerful, long range, highly accurate rifle. A less powerful weapon would still produce casualties at the shorter ranges encountered in actual combat, and the reduced recoil would allow more shots to be fired in the short amount of time an enemy was visible. The lower powered round would also weigh less, allowing a soldier to carry more rounds. With no need of a long barrel to fire high powered rounds, a shorter barrel could be used. A shorter barrel made the weapon weigh less and was easier to handle in tight spaces, and was easier to shoulder quickly to fire a shot at an unexpected target. Automatic fire was also considered a desirable feature, allowing the soldier to fire short bursts of 3-5 rounds, increasing the probability of a hit on a moving target.

In Nazi Germany there were experiments with selective fire carbines firing rifle cartridges. These were determined to be too powerful, as the recoil of full power rifle cartridges caused the weapon to be uncontrollable in full auto fire. They then tried making a intermediate round, but with better performance then the M1 Carbine round. This was accomplished by reducing the power and the length of the standard 8 x 57 mm cartridge, making the 8 x 33 mm. The project resulted in the Mkb 42, a machine carbine that resulted in the MP 43. It was eventually renamed to StG 44 "Sturmgewehr", literally "Storm Rifle". Later it was popularized as the 'assault rifle', a term which is now used for light machine carbine weapons. After the war the USSR would adopt a similar weapon as the StG, the AK-47 Assault Rifle. It became the standard infantry weapon, mainly due to the USSR lacking any light automatic rifles. Also, while most soldiers were switched over to being armed with these lighter weapons, some soldiers were still equipped with semi-automatic long rifles.

Western countries who had deployed larger numbers of light automatic rifles, such as the Bren, did not have as much need for the another intermediate weapon. The trend toward shorter and lighter long rifles continued though, with the NATO adoption of the NATO 7.62 weapon, and a series of semi-automatic rifles such as the FN FAL and M14.

By the 1960s NATO adopted a new round, the NATO 5.56mm, and with a host of what were otherwise light automatic carbines, but now popularly called assault rifles. This round was even lighter and smaller than the AK-47's round, but possessed higher velocity. In US service the M16 replaced the M1 Carbines and the M14, though the M14 continued to be used by some troops. The weapons were of similar weight and size to the M1 Carbine, but with improved range.

The trend was continuing, lighter carbines were being adopted as the standard infantry long rifle. What changed was that a certain amount of soldiers were now retaining longer range weapons, designated marksmen. Development of lighter assault rifles continued, with even lighter carbines keeping pace. At the same time the infantry switched to 5.56 mm weapons, with carbines like the AK74SU (which fired a Warsaw pact 5+ mm round) and CAR 15 being developed.

Backlash against carbines: higher powered rifles vs PDWs

By the 1990s, the US had adopted the M4 Carbine, a derivative of the M16 family which was lighter and shorter (in overall length and barrel length) subsequently resulting in reduced power. As result of widespread adoption of body armor, there were other developments as well. These developments are called PDWs and use rounds that have better ballistics than simple pistol rounds but possess less power and range than full rifle rounds. These PDWs were developed to be a bridge between pistols and carbines. Examples include the FN P90 and HK MP7. Whether these ultra-light weapons will receive widespread adoption has yet to be seen; particularly their stopping power has been a subject of debate. The cartrdige used by the FN P90, the 5.7 x 28 mm, for example, fires a 30 grain (1.9 g) armor piercing bullet at velocities of around 2300 ft/s (700 m/s). This gives similar ballistics to the high velocity loadings in the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire round, a round that is generally considered wholly inadequate for defensive use. The H&K MP7 fires an even smaller 4.6 mm round with ballistics similar to the .22 WMR derived .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire. The small diameter rounds at high velocities are needed to penetrate kevlar armor, as a light weapon with sufficient energy to push a large caliber bullet through the armor would have prohibitive recoil. The small bullets, however, do not have much wounding power. They are generally designed to tumble after penetration, and while that works in theory, other tumbling rounds such as the 5.56 x 45 mm and the 5.45 x 39 mm have shown erratic performance in the field (see below). Due to the low wounding power of a single round, PDWs depend on high volumes of fire for effectiveness. With this is mind, while the PDW may experience success in the military realm, it will likely doom the PDW and derivatives to dangerously marginal performance in the civilian market.

Meanwhile, many armies are experiencing a backlash against carbines and lighter rifles in general, and are reverting to more soldiers being equipped with higher power rifles. Both the range and stopping power of lighter rounds have been found to have some drawbacks. Particularly, while firing more smaller bullets makes it easier to hit a target, and is good for beginner marksmen it offers little to more advanced marksmen. Also, while driving force behind weaker and lighter weapons had been that the extra range was mostly unused, there was still some need for more capability in combat. In more open environments like deserts, this can shift from being mostly uneeded, to mostly needed. As result, the focus on soldiers equipped with 7.62 mm NATO firing rifles and more highly trained as increased somewhat. Snipers have experienced a near reverse trend and have adopted heavier calibers, such as .50 BMG (12.7 mm) rifle's.

To what extent armies will adopt even lighter carbines, and to what extent they will be avoided has yet to be seen entirely. It is likely that harder hitting, or at least higher penetrating weapons will become more common, due to a rise in use of body armor making weaker weapons ineffective. Stacked against this is mainly the amount of urban warfare that is required, which favours lighter carbine weapons.

Modern Usage

The modern usage of the term carbine covers much the same scope as it always had, of lighter weapons generally rifles with barrels of less than about 18 inches (460 mm). These weapons can be considered carbines, while rifles with barrels of 20 inches (510 mm) or more are generally not considered carbines unless specifically named so, and depending on the weapon power. Modern carbines are chambered in calibers from pistol calibers to full power rifle cartridiges--all but the highest velocity magnum rifle cartridges. In the extremely high powered rounds, the short barrel of a carbine has significant disadvantages in velocity, and the high residual pressure when the bullet exits the barrel results in a punishing amount of muzzle blast.

Pistol caliber carbines

One of the more unusual classes of carbine is the pistol caliber carbine. These first appeared soon after metallic cartridges became common. These were developed as "companions" to the popular revolvers of the day, firing the same cartridge but allowing more velocity and accuracy than the revolver. These were carried by cowboys, lawmen, and others in the Old West. The classic combination would be a Winchester lever action carbine and a Colt revolver in .44-40 or .45 Colt. Modern equivalents also exist, such as the Ruger Police Carbine, which uses the same magazine as the Ruger pistols of the same caliber. Beretta has also recently released a pistol caliber carbine that shares magazines with Beretta pistols, which might indicate that there is a growing demand for these companion carbines.

Another class of pistol caliber carbine is unique to the US market. It is a semi-automatic version of a submachine gun, with an extended barrel (just over 16 inches long) to make it legal as a rifle. While functionally identical to other pistol caliber carbines, these are often banned as "assault weapons" based on their cosmetic similarity to submachine guns, even though they are designed specifically not to accept critical parts from the submachine guns they resemble. These are generally used primarily for plinking, and are a popular compromise for shooters who would like to own a submachine gun but cannot due to local restrictions or the prohibitive cost of buying a civilian legal submachine gun. While these submachine gun lookalikes would technically be acceptable for use for self defense, the media protrayal of these as "semi-automatic assault weapons" (usually, in television reports, with accompanying footage of bursts of automatic fire from a submachine gun) would make them a bad choice from the perspective of legally defending ones use of such a carbine for defensive purposes.

Ultra carbines

Due to legal restrictions in the US, firearms with shoulder stocks and barrels less than 16 in (406 mm) in length are classified as "short barreled rifles", and are restricted in the same way that sawed off shotguns and machine guns are. Because of this, rifles with barrels of less than 16 in (406 mm), or pistols with shoulder stocks, are very rare. In the world of airguns, however, firearms restrictions don't apply. There is a small but growing class of what are called "ultra carbines", that have extremely short barrels. These may be rifles with barrels cut down to as short as 8 inches (203 mm), or pistols converted into carbines with the addition of a shoulder stocks.

Famous carbine rifles:

de:Karabiner (Gewehr) bg:Карабина he:קרבין no:Karabin zh:卡宾枪


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