Ever since the invention of the first man-portable firearms, people have been interested in shooting them faster. A good revolutionary war era soldier could get off three shots a minute from his smoothbore musket, and breech-loading designs sped that rate of fire up considerably.
Table of Contents
- How is a gun’s rate of fire calculated?
The fastest-firing guns in the world.
- Fastest-firing machine pistol: Glock 18
- Fastest-firing submachine gun: KRISS Vector
- Fastest-firing assault rifle: AN-94
- Fastest-firing non-assisted belt-fed single-barreled machine gun: MG42 / MG3
- Fastest-firing single-barrel gun: Rikhter R-23
- Twin-barrel powerhouse: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23
- The mighty M61 Vulcan rotary cannon and its incredible rate of fire
- Metal Storm
- Store your guns in a Liberty Safe.
By World War I, a well-practiced British infantryman could accurately fire 30 or more shots into a target at 300 yards using his Short-Magazine Lee Enfield bolt-action rifle in one minute. All major armies of the time were utilizing mounted air or liquid-cooled machine guns firing at up to 600 rounds per minute, which proved devastating in the era's trench warfare.
Image: Vickers Water Cooled .303 British Machine Gun
However, time and technology move on, and today there are firearms and weapons systems capable of astonishing fire rates. In this article, we will look at some of the fastest-firing guns ever made.
How is a gun’s rate of fire calculated?
Typically, a firearm’s rate of fire (ROF) is expressed as the number of fired rounds per minute (RPM). There are three methods that have been used to determine a firearm's fire rate over the years, and each has its merits.
Calculating a firearm’s rate of fire mathematically
The first and most basic method for determining a firearm’s fire rate is observation, a stopwatch, and simple math. Suppose you load a 100-round ammunition belt into your machine gun and start the stopwatch when you pull the trigger. In that case, you can easily calculate approximately how long it takes to expend that entire belt of ammunition. If it takes 12 seconds, for example, you take 100 rounds / 12 seconds X 60 seconds in a minute = 500 rounds per minute rate of fire. If it takes you 1.5 seconds to empty the 32-round magazine of your M-11/9 submachine gun with a suppressor fitted, then 32 / 1.5 X 60 = 1,280 rpm rate of fire.
Video: Video Cobray M11/9 Mac 11 Submachine Gun
This also works for determining the average rate of fire for semi-automatic firearms. If it takes a shooter 5.5 seconds to shoot 30 rounds out of a standard AR-15 magazine, then using the formula above, we know it averages out to around 327 rounds per minute average rate of fire, even if the shooter starts firing faster and then slows down near the end when his or her finger gets tired, you can still find the average ROF.
Of course, the shorter the time, the more room for operator error due to starting and stopping the stopwatch exactly on time. So there are other, more accurate methods for determining a firearm’s true rate of fire.
Video: Measuring Rate of Fire
Using an optical/mechanical sensor or shooting chronograph
Some large military auto-cannons and machine guns utilize either a mechanical counter or an optical sensor to verify or determine the proper rate of fire, generally by either the speed of rotating barrels or by counting the shell casings of a belt of ammunition as they pass by a sensor. This is obviously impractical for most civilians, so some people use a shooting chronograph to determine their guns' fire rate.
A chronograph is intended primarily to accurately measure the speed of a projectile, but some chronographs are also capable of measuring the rate of fire of fast-firing guns by calculating the time between projectiles passing over the chronograph’s optical sensor.
A traditional optical/shadow-based chronograph can often have trouble with this. However, magnetic, barrel-mounted chronographs and the new doppler radar chronographs are capable of providing accurate rate of fire information under the right conditions.
Many acoustic shot timers will calculate the rate of fire
By far, the most popular and widely used method for calculating the rate of fire, particularly for civilian or sporting use, is using a firearm shot timer. These devices can detect the sound of each shot. They provide accurate information about each string of fire, including the overall time from the first shot to the last and the split times between each shot, and most can process the information accurately enough to provide an overall rate of fire, even for machine guns in many cases.
This method can be problematic if the timer's settings are not optimized for the environment. For example, shooting inside an echo-prone shooting range can often overwhelm the microphone and processors of a shot timer, and it may report 5 shots as one shot, if they are fired in a short-enough period of time. Additionally, a rotary-barreled cannon that fires several thousand rounds per minute may sound like a single BRRRRRRRRRRP to many acoustic shot timers, and you may not get accurate readings, depending on the timer’s settings.
The fastest-firing guns in the world
While some inhuman specimens like Jerry Miculek can fire almost any gun (even a double-action revolver) so fast it sounds like a machine gun at 480 rpm, the fastest-firing guns on the planet are multi-barrel designs. However, these are typically mounted on aircraft, armored vehicles, or ships rather than carried by individuals. Let’s go over some of the fastest-firing guns.
Video: World Record Jerry Miculek 12 Shots In Under 3 Seconds
Fastest-firing machine pistol: Glock 18 (1,200 rounds per minute)
Image: G18 – Fully automatic 9mm
The difference between a machine pistol and a submachine gun is that a machine pistol looks and feels like a regular handgun, and may function as one. In contrast, the submachine gun is essentially a small carbine designed to be fired from the hip or shoulder using two hands in different positions on the gun.
The Glock 18 is a full-auto variant of the popular Glock 17 and can fire up to 1,200 rounds per minute. Holding onto one of these bullet hoses without a shoulder stock to help you tame the recoil is a handful, to say the least, but well-trained shooters can place a surprisingly high number of shots on a target from reasonably close ranges. The Glock 18 is one of the rarest Glock pistols worldwide, despite being featured in hundreds of movies, TV shows, and video games.
Video: The Full Auto Glock 18C Machine Pistol
Fastest-firing submachine gun: KRISS Vector (1,500 rounds per minute)
Though there have been quite a few fast-firing submachine guns through the decades, such as the Russian PPSh-41 (900-1,250 RPM) or the American MAC-11 at up to 1,600 RPM with the right aftermarket buffer and suppressor setup, the current champion is the KRISS Vector at 1,200 RPM in standard form, or up to 1,500 RPM with the ideal ammunition and suppressor onboard. (Suppressors typically create backpressure, increase bolt velocity, and thus increase cyclic rate of fire in automatic weapons.)
Image: KRISS Vector SMG
The Vector is so named because its operating mechanism transfers much of the force of the action downwards at an angle, rather than straight back into the shooter’s shoulder, which makes this funky-looking subgun one of the most controllable fast-shooting guns ever made.
Video: Kriss Vector empties a full magazine in under a second
Fastest-firing assault rifle: AN-94 (1,800 RPM in 2-round burst)
This one is cheating since the Russian AN-94’s impressive 1,800 round-per-minute rate of fire is calculated only two rounds at a time. When a round is fired in burst mode, an integral pulley mechanism acts along with the long-recoil-actuated barrel to chamber and fire a second round literally quicker than the blink of an eye, before the rifle is even finished recovering from the recoil of the first shot.
In the more traditional fully automatic mode, the AN-94 fires at a much more manageable 600 rounds per minute, like a typical AK-47. But in its 2-round burst setting, those two rounds are fired so quickly that it sounds like a single shot.
Video: Shooting Russian AN-94
Fastest-firing non-assisted belt-fed single-barreled machine gun: MG42 / MG3 (up to 1,300 rounds per minute)
Some sources claim the Germans’ MG42 (and its later, lighter successor, the MG3) could fire at 1,800 RPM. Still, reliable sources estimate the actual battle-capable fire rate of Hitler’s Buzzsaw to be between 700 and 1,300 RPM, depending on user preference and the assembly of the gun.
Image: MG42 Belt-fed Machine Gun courtesy of NRA Shooting
At such a high fire rate using full-powered 8mm Mauser rifle cartridges, it chewed through ammunition (and barrels) quickly, which is one reason most modern infantry weapons intended for a light-machine-gun role have since typically limited their rates of fire to around 800 RPM or lower. But it can’t be denied that the MG42 was devastatingly effective and sounded terrifying.
Video: Shooting the MG-34 and MG-42
Fastest-firing single-barrel gun: Rikhter R-23 (2,500 rounds per minute)
Since man first began to fly, machine guns and other weapons were modified or designed specifically with increasingly high fire rates to aid in effectively hitting fast-moving airborne targets. If you’re in one aircraft and are trying to line up a shot on another aircraft, you want your gun/s to deliver the maximum amount of projectiles possible in the fleeting split-second you may have your sights aligned properly.
For this reason, John Browning’s M2 and M3 machine guns were developed in aircraft variants capable of firing up to 1,200 rounds per minute (in the AN/M3 model). Well, the Rikhter R-23 puts all other single-barreled machine guns to shame. The R-23 autocannon was developed starting in the late 1950s for the Soviet air force for use as a defensive weapon on large bombers.
The cannon uses a distinctive 4-chamber revolver-type design rather than the typical belt-feeding mechanism, and it takes advantage of the expanding gas from its fired 23x260mm telescoping cartridges (where the tip of the projectile is close to flush with the mouth of the case) to cycle the action, load a fresh round, and expel the spent shell casing. Capable of firing up to 2,600 RPM, the R-23 was the fastest-firing single-barrel autocannon ever put into service, and, interestingly, was actually fired experimentally on the USSR’s Salyut 3 space station.
Video: The Soviet Rikhter R-23 Space Cannon
Twin-barrel powerhouse: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 (3,400 rounds per minute)
The Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 took the place of the USSR’s R-23 and fires even faster. The GSh-23 is a twin-barreled 23mm autocannon that was put into service in the Soviet air force in 1965. The GSh-23 functions using the Gast Gun principle, first developed by German engineer Karl Gast. In this twin-barreled weapon, the recoil from the firing of one barrel is used to operate the feeding mechanism of the other barrel.
By distributing the work needed for cycling the action among two barrels, the rate of fire is greatly increased, up to 3,400 RPM. Additionally, with two barrels and mechanisms, the mechanical wear is also spread out, so barrels need replacing only half as often.
Although it can’t achieve the sustained rate of fire of an externally powered rotary-barreled cannon such as the M61 Vulcan (see below), the GSh-23’s initial time to first projectile impact can be quicker than that of a rotary cannon due to the double-barreled design’s not needing to spin up to fire.
Video: Shooting 2 x GSh-23 twin barrel 23 mm autocanon from tail turret in Il-76
The mighty M61 Vulcan rotary cannon and its incredible rate of fire (up to 6,600 RPM)
When you hear the term Gatling Gun it might hearken back to images of John Wayne or some other old-west character hand-cranking Richard Gatling’s Civil-War invention to produce (for the time) incredible rates of fire, up to 200 rounds per minute. However, the 6-barreled M61 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon and its relatives, the 7-barreled 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon (4,200 RPM in its original form) and 7.62x51mm Nato caliber M134 Minigun (up to 6,000 RPM) are not your great-grandpappy’s Gatlings.
The M61 Vulcan cannon is widely used in the USA’s fighter and strike aircraft, with variants powered by electric motors, pneumatic systems, or hydraulics. These separate drive systems are necessary due to the incredible firing rate of the cannons, which requires separate mechanisms for feeding the ammunition belt, rotating the barrel assembly, and chambering/firing/extracting shell casings. By separating all of these functions and spreading out the firing cycle across 6 barrels, the M61 cannon can achieve truly face-melting rates of fire, typically 6,000 rounds per minute but up to 6,600 RPM in the lightweight M61A2 variant.
Due to the weight of the ammunition, most aircraft can’t carry anywhere close to a full minute’s worth of ammo (since at 6,000 rounds per minute, that means the M61 fires 100 rounds every second). Most aircraft utilizing the M61 carry between 600 and 1,000 rounds of ammunition maximum. In fighter aircraft, the firing bursts are typically limited to between 3 and 50 rounds per trigger pull (50 rounds being half a second of firing).
Video: The M61 Vulcan is a Gatling Gun on Steroids
Metal Storm (up to 1 million rounds per minute)
The 36-barreled Metal Storm stationary defense gun prototype was intended to shoot down aerial threats like UAVs or other drones with explosives aboard. The Metal Storm system utilized stacked projectiles and powder charges in each barrel tube, with the front projectile fired first, then the one behind, and so on. This system is awkward to load and must be fired electrically, but it is capable of astonishingly high rates of fire, up to one million rounds per minute.
Of course, since it’s electronically controlled, you can fire as fast as you want, as shown in the demonstration video below. During the demonstration, the prototype Metal Storm multi-barreled array fired volleys at 600, 30,000, and 60,000 RPM before a final 180-round burst of just over 1 million rounds per minute in 0.01 seconds (approximately 27,778 RPM per barrel X 36 barrels).
Video: Metal Storm 36 Barrel Prototype-One Million Rounds per Minute Rate of Fire
Though the system has appeared in several video games over the past decade or so, it still hasn’t made it to military production or adoption, perhaps because its utility is limited and its loading and firing procedure is so tedious (and the automated position-defense role has so far been effectively covered by the CIWS Phalanx). But regarding the maximum rate of fire, the Metal Storm is the undisputed king.
Store your guns in a Liberty Safe
Whether you favor fast-firing guns or you like to take your time with a bench rest rifle or muzzle-loader, be sure to keep all your firearms safe and secure from theft, unauthorized access, fire, and moisture-related damage with a top-quality US-made gun safe from Liberty.