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A service rifle or service weapon (also known as a standard-issue rifle) is a weapon which an armed force issues as standard to its service members. In modern forces, this is typically a versatile and rugged assault rifle, battle rifle or carbine suitable for use in nearly all environments. Most armies also have service pistols or side arms.
Early rifles used in combat were not standard-issue weapons like the service rifles of today. Rifles were for specialist marksmen only, whilst ordinary infantry were issued less accurate smoothbore muskets which had a higher rate of fire, with bore diameters as high as 19 mm, or 0.75 inch. By the middle of the 19th century, however, rifles were becoming more and more common on the battlefield, with muskets being phased out. Originally, these combat rifles were single-shot muzzle-loading weapons, but as technology advanced through the 18th and 19th centuries, so too did the technique of loading rounds. First, breech-loading firearms, like the Prussian needle gun of the mid–19th century came to prominence, which then evolved into repeating weapons, such as the bolt-action Mosin–Nagant rifle used by Imperial Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the Soviet Union in World War II. By this time almost all prominent armies in the world had some sort of standard service rifle.
During the late 19th century, there was yet another leap forward in rifle design which was to influence service rifles even today. That is, the use of a fired cartridge's gas emissions to automatically rechamber rounds into the breech once a bullet had been fired, as well as expelling the old cartridge. These weapons were known as gas-operated firearms. Some of the earliest examples of these were most prominent in the Second World War, however some examples exist from the First World War and were usually semi-automatic. The most prominent of these was the American-made M1 Garand, first brought into service with the United States in 1936. These rifles usually fired a "full-sized" cartridge, such as the .30-06 Springfield or .303 British, as opposed to an intermediate rifle cartridge.
Subsequently, assault rifles, usually fully automatic rifles firing a lighter "intermediate" cartridge, became prominent. The first of these was the Sturmgewehr 44, used by Nazi Germany in the later stages of the Second World War, although it was not issued in large numbers, and was never adopted as Germany's service rifle. Assault rifles such as the Soviet AK-47 and the American M-16, and battle rifles such as the Belgian FN FAL and the Swiss Sturmgewehr 58, became common service rifles in the second half of the twentieth century.