An assault rifle is a medium-range weapon that combines the high rate of fire of a submachine gun with the high power of rifle rounds. Assault rifles are usually accurate to a range of approximately 400 meters, and are capable of firing semi-automatic and either three-round burst or full-automatic.
During World War 2, rank and file troops were issued battle rifles, most of which were bolt-action (the US M1 Garand rifle was the first semi-automatic rifle to be standard issue for all troops). The bolt-action meant little opportunity for a quick follow-up shot, and if the shooter missed his target, the results could be deadly. Submachine guns allowed for hitting a target multiple times in quick succession, but the pistol-sized rounds meant range was limited.
One of the first assault rifles to be used in combat was the German Sturmgewehr 44, though it arrived much too late in the war to see widespread use. However the rifle's impact would be far-reaching indeed, as it served as the inspiration for the famous Russian AK-47. The rifle's simplicity of design, ease of use, and low maintenance (and also relatively low cost) means that the AK will be seen in Third World conflicts and on the Black Market for many years to come.
Notable assault rifles include the M-16 and M4 and variants, AK-47 and variants, the French FAMAS, and the Austrian Steyr AUG, the latter two of which are of a bullpup design (meaning the receiver, and thus the magazine, is located behind the trigger group).