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Rifles are long guns that are fired from the shoulder, and are generally chambered for larger-sized rifle or machine gun calibre ammunition. Modern rifles can be divided into three broad categories: bolt-action, self-loading, and automatic rifles.
Following the Second World War a change in doctrine prompted most militaries to adopt assault rifles, which are shorter in length and chambered for intermediate sized cartridges. However, the additional length and more powerful ammunition of traditional rifle designs give them more accuracy, particularly for engaging targets at greater distances.

The Small Arms Survey Research Note Rifles provides an overview of this category of small arms, including estimates of the number of units produced for a selection of the most widely available military models.

Over many decades the rifle has been adapted to meet the needs of a variety of users. For military and law-enforcement uses, rifles tend to fall into three broad categories: battle rifles, such as the Heckler & Koch G3 or FN FAL; sniper rifles, designed for long-range accuracy and usually bolt-action or self-loading weapons; and anti-materiel or large-calibre sniper rifles, used against infrastructure, lightly armoured vehicles, and personnel. A far wider range of rifle designs are available on civilian markets, primarily for hunting and target shooting.

Early expectations that the assault rifle calibres would replace all other types for military use were not fulfilled, and rifles in larger military calibres have been retained in service in the role of sniper or ‘designated marksmen’ rifles. Modern military and law-enforcement forces continue to rely on a variety of rifle types for roles that assault rifles are not best suited to. In recent years—and notably following engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq—a number of militaries have re-employed rifles to allow opposing forces to be engaged at distances beyond assault rifles’ effective range.
• Download Research Note No. 38, Rifles: www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/H-Research_Notes/SAS-Research-Note-38.pdf
• More on small arms: www.smallarmssurvey.org/?small-arms
• See also Research Note No. 25, Military Assault Rifles: www.smallarmssurvey.org/?highlight-rn25
• See also Research Note No. 7, Anti-materiel Rifles: www.smallarmssurvey.org/?highlight-rn7
• See also FAL Rifles in Libya: A Guide to Data Gathering: www.smallarmssurvey.org/?highlight-sana-fal

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