'Battle Rifle' is a retrospective term which describes a family of post-WW2 infantry weapons such as the FN FAL, the H&K G3 and the M14. At the time these weapons were sometimes described as assault rifles to differentiate them from the larger, more cumbersome WW2 weapons (which were simply called 'Rifles'). However, smaller and lighter weapons such as the AK-47 and AR-15 are considerably more practical for actually performing an assault, and therefore the term 'battle rifle' came into being during the 1970s to describe this intermediate generation. Whilst the term 'assault rifle' suggests a weapon designed for relatively close-range work, 'battle rifle' evokes a faraway time when wars were fought in an open field between lines of men separated by a distance of several hundred metres.

'Battle rifle' is not so much an objective term as a relative one; weapons and cartridges which once seemed miracles of miniaturisation can now be classified as battle rifles if they have been sufficiently superseded. Nonetheless a battle rifle is generally mid-way in size between an assault rifle and a full-sized rifle, with select fire capability, a bayonet mount, and chambered for the 7.62x51mm round. Battle rifles were the standard infantry weapons of almost all European and post-colonial powers during the cold war, with the FN FAL and H&K G3 becoming two of the most popular rifles of all time.

On the positive side, the battle rifles mentioned above are powerful and accurate at long ranges, as well as being robust and relatively cheap. On the negative side, battle rifles are heavy and usually uncontrollable in fully-automatic fire, thus requiring unusually high standards of marksmanship from the infantryman, something which may not be possible with large conscript armies, or poorly-trained militia. The heavier ammunition also reduces the amount that the soldier can practically carry, without being appreciably more lethal than smaller-calibre rounds - the human body can only be killed so much before any extra killing power is wasted.

The Soviet army was first to abandon the battle rifle, adopting the AK-47 in the early 1950s, whist the US army followed suit in the mid-1960s with the AR-15/M16. By 1985 almost all the European powers had moved to various assault rifles, often in a bullpup configuration.