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One of the most widely issued infantry small arms is the QBZ-95-1 assault rifle. The QBZ-95-1 is the official rifle of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (AKA the Chinese army) and its various sub-branches, including the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps. Unorthodox in appearance, the QBZ-95-1 also fires an unusual 5.8-millimeter cartridge. The result is a unique weapon, symbolizing the Chinese stubbornness to do things the Chinese way.
China was one of the largest land powers of the twentieth century—though not exactly the most powerful. The People’s Liberation Army, both before and after the end of the Chinese Civil War, was chiefly an infantry army with millions of trained ground troops. After the civil war, China’s “People’s War” military doctrine stressed defensive wars, in which invaders were lured deep into the Chinese interior and then destroyed by a combination of regular and guerrilla forces.
However, the 1991 Gulf War, in which a rapidly moving U.S.-led coalition swiftly destroyed a larger Iraqi Army (often equipped with Chinese weapons) was a seismic event in Chinese security conception. As explained in a report in the subject in nationalinterest.org,the People’s Liberation Army was thoroughly revamped, and part of that revamping was the introduction of a new generation of infantry small arms. Older weapons were retired, including the Type 68 and Type 56 assault rifles.
In their place arrived the new QBZ-95-1 series of assault rifles. The QBZ-95-1 is a uniquely Chinese rifle, with a futuristic look that was a clean break from older, Soviet-inspired weapons. In the QBZ-95-1 the action and magazine are all located behind the trigger group. This creates a more compact weapon: although the rifle is just under 76 cm long, it has a barrel with a length of 50 cm, as long as that on a M16A4 assault rifle. That’s 14 cm longer than that on the M4A1 carbine and should be good for a slight range increase over the American infantry carbine.
The QBZ-95-1 uses a short stroke, gas piston design, the same as used in rifles such as the M1 Garand and AK-47. In that respect, China’s infantry rifle still maintains its Soviet heritage. Its rate of fire is 650 rounds a minute. The weapon uses iron sights integrated into a carry handle running along the upper portion of the receiver. Although some rifles have been observed with optical sights installed on the carry handle, the already high height over bore of the mounting site makes add-on optic integration less than ideal.
Unlike U.S., NATO, and Russian assault rifles that use 5.56 or 5.45-millimeter cartridges, the Chinese weapon uses a locally designed 5.8×42 round. Exactly why China chose to develop an entirely new round is unknown, although it could be for security reasons. The 5.8-millimeter round offers improved ballistics performance over the U.S. Army’s 5.56-millimeter M855 round when that round is fired from the M4A1 carbine. This may be a function of the slightly larger round, pushed by slightly more propellant out of a longer (20” vs. 14.5”) barrel.
The QBZ-95-1 is issued with a bayonet and, along with six WY-91 hand grenades, forms the firepower of the average PLA soldier. Each nine man PLA squad has two fire teams, with one grenadier per fire team. The grenadier carries a QBZ-95-1 equipped with a 35-millimeter underbarrel grenade launcher similar in concept to the long-serving U.S. Army M203 grenade launcher. The grenadier also carries an additional fifteen rifle grenades. A heavier QBB-95 light support weapon features a bipod and 75-round magazines for laying down suppressive fire.