7.62x51mm NATO / .308 Winchester

7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Winchester)


The 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Winchester) round started its life in the early 1950’s as the .30 T65, an experimental cartridge coming out of the US Army’s ‘light rifle’ program. It was based on the .300 Savage cartridge. The light rifle program itself began in 1940 and was the vehicle for the development of the M1 Carbine. The T65 round was intended to replace the older and overly long .30-06 military round, while retaining similar ballistics.

In 1955 after some controversy between Europe / UK and the US, the 7.62x51mm cartridge was adopted as the NATO standard rifle and machine gun caliber. Relations between the US and UK were strained for 4 years before this event, as the US had different ideas to the UK and Europe for conducting warfare.

The US at the time was set on developing a self loading rifle system, as opposed to the proven ‘assault rifle’ concept with a more intermediate round. In the end the US prevailed and other countries conformed. The SLR concept was found to be less than ideal, with weapons such as the M14 being incapable of fully automatic fire because of their powerful ammunition. This eventually led to the development of the 5.56x45mm NATO round concurrent with the M16/AR15.

While some limitations were found, the 7.62x51mm NATO round is still used in this role in all NATO countries and many others as well. In the mid-1950’s it was also introduced as a commercial round by Winchester (Repeating Arms). In this guise it is known as the .308 Winchester, a highly sucessful commercial caliber.

Many countries still use military weapons in this caliber (mostly machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as some semi-automatic or selective-fire ‘battle’ rifles). Some examples are the HK G3 Battle rifle, Russian AK 308 assault rifle, Chinese XY 7.62 sniper rifle and the Belgian made FN MAG (US designation M240) general purpose machine gun.

Civilian weapons, for hunting, target shooting etc, in .308 Winchester are produced in many countries and in large numbers, such as the well regarded Steyr Scout. This cartridge (in both civilian and military versions) remains one of the most popular rifle cartridges to date.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
M59 ball 9.7 845 3470 with pointed FMJ bullet
M80 ball 9.5 850 3380 with pointed FMJ bullet
M118 ball 11.15 815 3695 with pointed boat-tailed FMJ bullet, for sniper rifles