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From left:9×19mm (pistol cartridge)7.92×33mm (intermediate cartridge)7.92×57mm (fully powered cartridge)
From left:
9×19mm (pistol cartridge)
7.92×33mm (intermediate cartridge)
7.92×57mm (fully powered cartridge)

A fully powered cartridge, also called full-power cartridge or full-size cartridge, is an umbrella term describing any rifle cartridge with a caliber greater than 7.4 mm (0.29 in), a maximum effective range of at least 800 m (870 yd),[1] and intended for engaging targets (large game animals) beyond 300 m (330 yd). The term generally refers to traditional cartridges used in machine guns and bolt action and semi-automatic service rifles and select fire battle rifles prior to, during, and immediately after the World Wars and the early Cold War era,[2] and was a retronym originally made to differentiate from intermediate cartridges that gained widespread adoption into military service after World War II.

Most modern fully powered cartridges have their origin in the late 19th century and early 20th century with the advent of smokeless powder. Examples include the 6.5×55mm Swedish, 7×57mm Mauser, 7.5×55mm Swiss, 7.5×54mm French, 7.62×51mm NATO, 7.62×54mmR, .30-06 Springfield, .303 British, 7.65×53mm Mauser, 7.7×58mm Arisaka, 7.92×57mm Mauser or 8mm Lebel cartridges.[3][4] The US military's Next Generation Squad Weapon Program selected the 6.8×51mm Common Cartridge in 2022 for testing in a new carbine, new light machine guns and possibly in converted general-purpose machine guns. This does not guarantee actual widespread future issue of the brass-steel hybrid cased 6.8×51mm Common Cartridge.

Despite the ubiquitous adoption of assault rifles and intermediate cartridges as the standard infantry weapon system, full-powered cartridges are still widely used today in battle rifles, designated marksman rifles (DMRs), sniper rifles, general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), and conventional hunting rifles.[5]

(Left to right)Fully powered cartridges: 7.62×54mmR 7.62×51mm NATO Intermediate cartridges: 7.62×39mm 5.56×45mm NATO 5.45×39mm.
(Left to right)
Fully powered cartridges:
7.62×51mm NATO
Intermediate cartridges:
5.56×45mm NATO

Long-action vs. short-action

In the first half of the 20th century, the practice of civilian sportsmen experimenting and modifying existing cartridges to suit different ballistic needs, known as "wildcatting", really took off, and the result was the number of newly available cartridges exploded from a couple of dozen to well over one hundred. Having dozens of different cartridges all with unique dimensions was a headache for rifle manufacturers, and still wanting to reach the widest consumer market possible, they had to find a way to economically produce rifles that could be adapted to accept every chambering on the market. While barrels could be custom-made affordably, actions required more complex machining and thus expensive to make, so it made sense to produce the action dimensions so 3 or 4 standardized lengths that could reliably use most (if not all) of the cartridges on the market.[6]

The so-called "standard length" cartridges are traditional rifle cartridges with a cartridge overall length (COL) between 2.81 to 3.34 in (71.4 to 84.8 mm), which is best exemplified by the .30-06 Springfield. Most of today’s long-action cartridges had their cases designed around .30-06's measurements, such as the .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .35 Whelen, .264 Winchester Magnum, and 7mm Remington Magnum, as well as much newer cartridges like the .26 and .28 Nosler.[7]

The .308 Winchester debuted in 1952 and its militarized version, the 7.62×51mm NATO, was adopted by the U.S. military in 1954 for the new M14 rifle. By the 1960s it had displaced the .30-06 as the popular cartridge in both the hunting fields and in the battlefields. With a much shorter COL of 2.8 in (71 mm) and using the improved propellants available in the 1950s, it could do nearly everything traditional cartridges such as the .30-06 did, but was cheaper to make, lighter and more compact and had lower recoil energy. More importantly, while the .30-06 has produced roughly a dozen wildcat cartridges, only the .270 Winchester, and the .25-06 Remington enjoyed widespread commercial support; in contrast, the .308 Winchester served as the parent case for the wildcat .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester, all five of which are used by hunters even today. The result was a new series of short-action cartridges, typically with a COL between 2.3 to 2.8 in (58.4 to 71.1 mm), that tend to use bullets of different calibers rather than using a wide variety of the same caliber to achieve the same ballistic effect.[6]

The success of short-action cartridges led to the original and longer "standard length" cartridges to be retronymously named long-action cartridges. The intermediate cartridges, which later gained ubiquity over the short-action cartridges as the mainstream service ammunition for both military assault rifles and civilian modern sporting rifles, have a COL averaging around 2.36 in (59.9 mm), much less than 2.8 in, and are thus also sometimes referred to as super short-action or "mini-action" cartridges.[8]

List of Full power cartridges

Service cartridges

Service cartridges are cartridges the service rifles of armies were or are chambered for.

See also


  1. ^ Kjellgren, G. L. M. "The Practical Range of Small Arms" (PDF). The American Rifleman. pp. 40–44. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2015.
  2. ^ Williams, Anthony. "THE SEARCH FOR THE OPTIMUM MILITARY RIFLE & MACHINE GUN CARTRIDGE". Small Arms Review. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  3. ^ Osborne, Robert. "Rifle cartridge selection". A Firearms Primer. self-published. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  4. ^ "7.62x39 (M43) History". Terminal Ballistics Research. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  5. ^ Collins, Matthew (20 January 2020). "Best .30-06 Ammo: From WWII to Big Game". Pew Pew Tactical. Pew Pew Tactical. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  6. ^ a b Willmus, James (25 August 2021). "Short Action vs Long Action: What's the difference?". Backfire TV. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  7. ^ "Shooting Vocabulary: Long-Action Bolt Rifles versus Short-Action Bolt Rifle". NSSF Let's Go Shooting. 18 February 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  8. ^ "Short Action vs Long Action Rifles Explained". American Gun Association. 3 August 2020. Retrieved 1 October 2021.