Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Afghan M4 Makeover, Step 1: Vintage Stock

We remember seeing the 6921 as it shook out of the box yesterday. It came with a maybe-good-we-dunno Rogers Super-Stoc, which is not what we had in the hills of the Hazarajat.

unbox_20_new_stock

So we needed to go to the parts box for an original Colt Fiberite stock, of which we had a number even before putting in the order for the carbine.

But it turned out, we had a guardian angel looking out for us. One day, while the 6921 sat waiting for the stamp, we got a ring from an old friend who was then still in the old unit.

“What was your rack number?” Easy enough to remember. Jeez, we inventoried the team, and even the unit, weapons often enough. (The Army requires frequent serial number inventories which must be done by two officers or senior NCOs). Normally used and broken weapons parts are turned in, but the unit had a shipment of new SOPMOD stocks, and someone somewhere made a decision that the decade-plus-old, war-weary and well-worn stocks, were dumpster food. It would cost more to collect and ship them to DRMO than they could possibly bring at auction. So they were thrown out.

Needless to say, any of the guys who wanted one, brought one home. And our buddy — God bless him — brought ours home.

unbox_28_revert_to_fiberlite_stock

Dang. A real piece of the exact gun we had in Afghanistan, is the first part of our reproduction of that stalwart companion. Who else can say that?

Now, practically, the stock is inferior to the Rogers stock on several planes. It’s a little looser and shakier on the stock extension. The Rogers has the trick locking lever, which is nifty. Neither one really has a good cheek weld, but the Rogers curved buttplate is a lot more ergonomic.

And, of course, there are other superior stocks out there. But, like the Marine mantra about This is my rifle, “there are many like it, but this one is mine.” Not to go all seagull or anything.

(Note: we were wrong yesterday if we said the initial weight of the 6921 with the Rogers was 6.6 and then we established it was 6.5 after weighing the rifle with the Fiberite stock. As this photo, which we didn’t look at when writing the post, reveals, the second set of weights was 6.6, meaning the 6.5 was the initial weight result).

There’s a long way to go in our M4 Makeover. Next installment? Rails and foregrip.

Colt M4LE Model 6921 Unboxing

Objective: build the best possible transferable replica of an Afghanistan, early war, Special Forces carbine. Specifically the one we toted around Kandahar, Bagram, and on Operation Roll Tide with the 3rd Battalion of the Afghan National Army in the Khamard and Madr Valleys of central Afghanistan.

We started with noting what a young(er) WeaponsMan toted around the hills: an early M4A1 to which the SOPMOD I kit came as an afterthought (and because our company was remote from, and in a different state from, Battalion and Group HQ, we didn’t get the whole kit until we returned, because the Group S4 ratholed it and forgot about it. Supply, a most under-appreciated field of endeavor). We figured the nearest we could come to it was a Colt LE M4, as it would have roll marks similar to the combat-carried weapon, and the correct barrel length. We ordered the gun two years ago, and it came quickly to our FFL.

unbox_01_box_end

The trip to the workbench was long and eventful. An attempt to set up new trust came unglued, and after a second attempt, we moved forward with an individual purchase. (And yes, that means when we get the trust straightened out we’ll have to pay another two bill transfer tax to put it in the trust). Then, of course, ATF fell far behind in approving NFA transfers. They finally got the paperwork after all of our delays in March, 2014; in October, at the 6-month point, we called NFA Branch for an update.

“It’s all good,” the examiner said. “There’s nothing wrong with your packet, and it’ll probably be approved.”

“Great!”

“…in January.”

“Oh. Well, thanks. Out here.”

But the examiner underpromised and overdelivered. In November, we got a call with the welcome note: “Your stamp’s here!”

Cool. Two months early! We couldn’t pick it up till this month, so it was like getting an early Christmas gift.

You’ve seen the box; overleaf, there’s a photo-rich set of detail pictures of the carbine after the jump below. The photos are unretouched except for cropping, setting levels, erasing serial numbers (a bit silly, as the guys who scan the net for serial numbers already have this one) and stripping EXIF data.

Continue reading

What’s with all the new M1 Carbines?

From the 1940s to the coming of the M4, when you talked about “a carbine” in the gun shop, everybody knew you meant the Carbine, the US .30 Carbine M1. Which was produced from 1942 to 1945 in such numbers that it took us until about fifty years for supply to tighten up.

Suddenly, there are new M1 carbines available, which has turned a drought of “shooter” quality guns into a flood of reasonably priced GI-spec carbines. We believe two things are driving this: the first is increased interest in the 20th-Century weapon thanks to movies and TV shows like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Saints and Soldiers (a little-known series of movies that have a much higher profile in the WWII buff and reenactor community). The second is the belated realization that once-common M1 carbines had become collectors’ items, their prices bid up into the stratosphere.

An original M1 Carbine.

An original M1 Carbine, as carried at Sicily, Anzio, D-Day, and Iwo Jima, among others. Typical early carbine with crossbolt safety and flip-up aperture sight.

Clinton and Bush administration decisions to destroy these carbines rather than release them through surplus sales or the CMP helped the supply dry up, as did the Obama administration’s insistence that these were “crime weapons,” banning their reimportation from the US allies who once depended on them just as GIs had (Clinton had also banned reimportation, which was quietly resumed after his retirement).

The Capsule History of the M1 Carbine

The M1 Carbine was not the original Personal Defense Weapon — decades before the Army wanted something like it, the first PDWs were the stocked Mauser ’96 and the Lange Pistole 08 —  but it was an unusual idea when it was first proposed.

Several vendors competed for the contract. The Winchester design, which used a bolt and operating rod familiar to any M1 rifle operator, and a novel short-stroke gas system designed by a felon (!), won. While Winchester would build nearly a million of them between 1942 and 1945, over 50% of the guns were made by divisions of General Motors: Inland Manufacturing and Saginaw Steering Gear. Others were made by business machine vendors and even a juke-box manufacturer, Rock-Ola Co. You could amuse yourself for life just trying to collect one of each version of carbine that was produced during the production run of the gun, which barely exceeded three years.

Along with the variations in manufacturers, there were “high wood” and “low wood” stocks, a bayonet lug added in 1945, a select-fire version (yclept M2), a night-vision variant (M3), and, briefly, a paratrooper variant with a rickety folding stock (M1A1).

They were not intended as frontline combat weapons, except as personal weapons by the members of crews such as mortar crews. Paratroopers used them, with mized results. General James Gavin used one in Sicily that jammed badly, and he became an exponent of the M1 Rifle ever after. Marine Sterling Mace, in his memoir Battleground Pacific (we recounted his other thoughts on weapons in October) even used it as a put-down for rear-echelon Marines: “carbine Marines,” as opposed to riflemen who went out to close with the Japs; of course, Mace carried, until a leadership job took it out of his hands, the king of rifles, the BAR.

After WWII the military began to dispose of its carbines, and they were once very common (production was 6.2 million from 9 contractors, not counting Irwin-Pedersen, none of whose ~3,500 carbines was accepted by the Army). After all, some 6.2 million of them were made, and the US would never need so many rifles again. Many of them were supplied to allies. Short-statured nations particularly liked the M1 and M2 carbines. The late Ben “the Plunderer” Roberts swore by the M2 Carbine in Vietnam; he had access to other weapons, but, “I liked having the same weapon and the same round as my little people.” We still very occasionally see an M1 Carbine carried by a guard somewhere.

On the Civilian Market

Large numbers of carbines and lots of ammunition were released in the 1960s. The Army committed to the M14 and M16A1 rifles, which replaced all the carbines in inventory from 1957–72 or so. The carbines struggled to find a niche. Everyone who handles the compact gun likes its ergonomics and its light weight, but its round fell into an “uncanny valley” between rimfire plinking ammo and big-game hunting ammo. Most states would not allow the use of a .30 Carbine against big game such as deer and elk.

A few police departments used them, or to be more precise, trained with and issued them. They were used very occasionally by criminals. (The weirdo Symbionese Liberation Army of the 1970s was fond of carbines amateur-converted to full auto).

But the carbines still sold. Indeed, commercial copies with more or less interchangeability with the GI carbine were made by Plainfield, Universal and Iver Johnson. In addition, Melvin Johnson of Johnson Rifle fame (no relation to old Iver) designed a 5.7mm variant of cartridge and carbine called the Johnson Spitfire, which is itself a rare collector’s item today. A variety of other stocks (including an MP40-like underfolder and an M3 Greasegun-like slider) were sold on the market and sometimes turn up in your local gun shop. The production of all these commercial variants has long ceased (many of them are well-documented on the website M1CarbinesInc.com).

Prior to the Obama administration, many carbines were reimported, but that is now streng verboten. It’s possible that CMP, which receives arms directly from the USG rather than through importing channels, may get some more, but it’s not highly likely.

Over the decades the original M1s have been retired into collections, become corrosion casualties or are sitting forgotten in closets. These legacy guns occasionally show up on gun turn-ins, where clueless cops show them to muddled media as “assault weapons we got off the street”. But the supply of existing carbines was low when demand spiked after their above-mentioned movie appearances.

Enter the New Carbines

The vendors of current carbines, two of whom have revived old WWII trade names, include:

  • Kahr — Kahr Arms was the first of the new-line vendors to produce the old-school carbine. Kahr acquired the Auto-Ordnance brand and inventory from Numrich in 1999 and has produced carbines under that trademark; the original Auto-Ordnance firm founded by James T. Thompson produced carbine parts, including 50% of the required receivers, for IBM’s carbine contract, so bringing carbines to Auto-Ordnance seems logical, but… they actually came by accident. A Kahr partner firm, Saeilo Manufacturing Industries, made carbine receivers for Israel Arms International, which went paws up in 2003. Stuck with unpaid-for receivers anyway, and tooling it received as a bankruptcy settlement, Kahr went ahead and brought a carbine to SHOT to gauge interest. The carbine has been in production since, and several models are made.
    1. The Model 130 represents the D-Day era carbine visually. It has a walnut stock and handguard and a 15-round magazine. It has a cross-bolt “push” safety, and no bayonet lug, like early M1s. It’s also available as the Model 140, in ten-shot ban-state configuration. Both have an MSRP of $846.
    2. The Model 150 is the  M1A1-styled gun. It has the same (correct for 1942-44 production) safety and barrel band, but the M1A1-style stock. It has an MSRP of $933 and is the most economical route to stylin’ like Malarkey and the guys from Easy Company on your next range trip. We do note that while the M1A1 looks stone cool, the stock is actually pretty horrible (note that our experience is with GI M1A1s, not with any of the current copies). It’s not very rigid and doesn’t lock positively, either open or closed.
    3. The Model 160 is the “tactical,” folding-plastic-stock version. It has the stamped-steel handguard found on commercial Universal carbines (but never on a GI one). We guess every manufacturer has to have one of these variants, because they sell, but at $860 there are a lot of better “tactical” options out there. If you actually want a practical folding stock, this one is much better than the GI solution.

In addition to these current Auto-Ordnance models, some now-discontinued early models had more “commercial carbine” features, like stamped-steel handguards, and birch stocks.

Important note: Kahr’s parts and processes are not similar to GI. Key parts including receiver, slide and trigger group housing are cast. Interchangeability with GI carbines is limited. And Kahr has struggled with quality control.

Note #2: Kahr is in the process of building a new factory and headqurters in Pennsylvania. As of November, the steel frame was up. Whether the Auto-Ordnance line will move to PA is unknown; certainly production from New York is going there, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see Kahr’s Worcester, Massachusetts plant, where the carbines are made, close. This may disrupt production.

Note #3: Kahr’s website (and the separate Auto-Ordnance site, which annoyingly isn’t linked from Kahr) load like they’re under attack by the Norks or somebody. Sloooow.

  • James River Armory — This firm, best known for its restorations of WWII rifles and careful reproductions of WWII sniper rifles, has revived the Rock-ola brand (not only for carbines, where it’s correct, but for M14s, which were only made by Winchester, Springfield, and TRW). Right now, JRA catalogs a single Rock-ola carbine style, which from the photographs resembles a late-WWII, 1945-production gun. It has a bayonet lug, an adjustable aperture sight like the one on the 1903A3, and a rotating safety. It sells for $1,194. JRA’s Rockola reciever is machined from billet steel.

On the JRA website, Mark Hartman, who shares our love for history and process engineering, explains why they chose this name as a tribute to the production warriors of WWII:

Production of the M1 Carbine is fascinating since the only contractor with any experience in the arms industry was the developer, Winchester. Ten additional companies were tasked with producing the rifle and what they accomplished is beyond amazing. In short within only a few months of receiving a contract Rockola Music Company completely transformed its production capabilities to making almost every part on this rifle and actually delivering completed rifles at a rate exceeding 10,000 per month. Coming from a modern perspective this is mind boggling. The company would have had to completely retool, add thousands of new employees, virtually all would need to be trained, engineer and fixture dozens of complex precision parts all with nothing more sophisticated than drafting tables and slide rules. The quality of Rockola’s supervisors, engineers, and employees had to be exceptional to pull off what they did. Any M1 Carbine collector will tell you that their product was among the best of the carbines produced.

We literally spent months with original blueprints and original parts creating the receiver into computer solid model and programmed for CNC production. Rockola pulled off the entire rifle in less time. The challenges they faced were unbelievable. Our victory in WWII started with companies like Rockola and this was repeated by small to mid-sized manufacturers all over the country doing war work. I remember a class on logistics at Quantico when I was a young Lieutenant, we figured training, tactics, and leadership won battles until an instructor commented that logistics is how war is won, (of course we didn’t understand, thinking “why die, go supply.”) In reality, he was right. The logistical support we needed started on the home front with companies like Rockola. This incredible support is what allowed the US Serviceman to defeat the enemy and win the war.

A long excerpt, but worth sharing. Indeed, go Read The Whole Thing™.

  • Fulton Armory  — Fulton builds their carbines to order. They say expect 8-10 weeks for delivery. They use old receivers and a mix of old and new parts (including new barrels and stocks) to make several versions of the carbine, including M1, M1A1, and updated railed variants, one with a plastic folding stock, and a fixed-stock one they call the M3 Scout Carbine. Their carbines are all list-priced at a stiff $1,500; they do have a reputation for using nice figured wood in their stocks. Numerous upgrades are available, including chrome bores. Fulton is also a good source for parts, accessories, tools and gages. (They have both throat and muzzle erosion gages, nice to have if you’re hunting quality carbines, in the small gun shops of America).
  • Inland Manufacturing — the name is being revived by a Dayton firm that builds its guns from bought-in parts on cast receivers. It  is the latest carbine maker to throw their hat in the ring. According to our information, it’s a separate firm, but connected to Springfield Armory and Rock Island Armory.

They plan to make three models, which will ship in the new year:

  1. The M1 1944 which is wood stocked and has a barrel band ($1049 MSRP)
  2. The M1 1945 which is wood stocked and has a bayonet lug ($1049), and
  3. The M1A1 1944 which has an M1A1 stock and barrel band ($1179).

inland m1a1

The Inland carbines are made on a cast receiver and have late sights and safety. They are distributed by MKS Supply.

An inspector inspects a barrel on a barrel-straightening machine, at the original Dayton plant of Inland Division of GM in WWII.

An inspector inspects a barrel on a barrel-straightening machine, at the original Dayton plant of Inland Division of GM in WWII.

What’s next, Winchester? (The Illinois firm Springfield Armory and its sister company Rock Island Armory produced some carbine receivers in the 1980s, and numerous other companies have had short runs of commercial carbines).

Dae-who? (answer overleaf)

Here’s a rare assault rifle, one you don’t see often in its standard select-fire iteration out in the world, and one you see even less often in its semi auto US import version, the importation of which ceased in the 1990s and has never been resumed.

We’ll have the answers for you after the jump. Tell us in the comments if you knew it on sight!

Continue reading

US Rifle Co-Production in the Cold War

During the Cold War, one of the many types of leverage exploited by the “belligerents,” the USA and the USSR, was armament sales. But as the nations in each power’s camp got more sophisticated, they wanted to develop or at least manufacture their own weapons.

The problem with that was that interests in the superpowers’ own nations wanted to export weapons, not export weapons-making technology. We know now that the USSR’s command economy allowed the export of AK-making technology to literally dozens of countries, some of which had no business building a plywood outhouse, let alone modern 20th Century weaponry.

The US was much more diffident about exporting rifle-making technology and rifle designs to our allies, or entering into co-production agreements. In the case of the M16, this was complicated by the government’s lack of ownership of the key intellectual property, making an M16 agreement necessarily a three-way negotiation with the rights holder, Colt.

Finally, towards the end of the period, US salesmen were handicapped by US laws that criminalized the quaint foreign custom of bribe-taking, and more to the point, criminalized the American who paid the bribe. This ensured that a number of contracts went to H&K and FN, whose salesmen — and whose cops — were not so, shall we say, rigid in their thinking.

Only three nations received the rights to manufacture US rifles from the US government, although others may have negotiated those rights for the M16 and M4 with Colt directly (subject to export licensing, of course).

There are US political and economic interests that strongly favor selling completed rifles instead of committing to coproduction, even as coproduction becomes the norm for many other defense articles from the F35 on down. US government contracts are often perceived by contractors and  their workforces as producing feast-or-famine instability. And in the height of the Cold War during the 1950s-70s, the US defense contractor workforce was largely unionized, and the unions were a force in American politics at the time. The unions had zero interest in production happening in a non-union, or even in some other union, shop in some FISH1 country in Asia or Africa, and used their influence to torpedo what deals they could.

Taiwan ROC: The M14 Rifle

On 23 January 1967, Taiwan’s Nationalist Chinese government (still recognized by the USA as the legitimate government of all China at that date) inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the USA for rifle, machine gun, and ammunition production. It provided a very rare authorization for unlimited quantities of M14 rifles and M60 general-purpose machine guns. (Why “unlimited”? Perhaps they were thinking the Taiwan government might get all China back).

Government-furnished machinery, tooling and process information that had been provided to Harrington & Richardson of Worcester, Mass. for the M14 contract was part of the deal. H&R had produced M14s according to Springfield Armory’s processes, not according to the more economical processes developed by TRW from automotive experience. Lee Emerson, who admits that information on the Taiwan program is hard to come by, writes:

The Memorandum of Understanding grants license to the Government of Taiwan to produce M14 rifles known as the Type 57. The January 23, 1967 memorandum states that Taiwan will purchase tools, components, material, documentation, technical assistance and assemblies from Fiscal Year 1967 through Fiscal Year 1969. As agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding, the U. S. government sold some of the M14 rifle production machinery used by Harrington & Richardson to Taiwan in 1968. One complete set of fixtures and inspection gages was supplied to the Government of Taiwan by Springfield Armory. By November 1968, nineteen machine tools had been accepted by the Government of Taiwan out of 150 offered by the U. S. government. This assistance effort was coordinated by MAAG China. The Memorandum of Understanding also required that the Taiwanese T57 items produced would be interchangeable logistically with USGI M14 items.

The project wound up in 1979. By then the Taiwan government had produced 149,596 M14 rifles (Emerson says over a million, which seems unreasonable until you realize the 300,000 man ROC armed forces have reserves of nearly four million), 10,725 M60 machine guns, and more than 250 million rounds of 7.62 NATO ammunition. In Taiwan ROC service, the rifle is referred to as the T57. We have struck out on finding authentic images of the T57, this receiver is from a Taiwanese toymaker’s airsoft toy and is therefore somewhat suspect:

Taiwan M14 markings

The latest Taiwanese version of the M14 is the XT98 sniper, a crudely welded prototype of which was caught at a trade show in Taiwan in 2011 by Steve Johnson of the Firearm Blog. This is one of Steve’s photos (more at the link).

xt_98_1-tfb

According to Johnson, the rifle was displayed by the Taiwanese Military Combined Logistics Command, Arsenal 205, which is their national armory. It appears to be a steel or aluminum chassis into which a legacy M14 is dropped; there has been no reported M14 production since the coproduction project went inactive in 1979.

While the US has had more success in recent years giving M14s away than it had when the weapon was still in significant US military use, no other nation ever bought the M14 as a service weapon, or developed a coproduction agreement.

Taiwan’s next rifle, the T65, was a kissing cousin of a Colt M16 improvement, the gas-piston Model 703, produced without recourse to any Colt license nor any government-to-government coproduction agreement. The Colt 703 was never manufactured, apart from toolroom prototypes.

Republic of the Philippines: M16A1 Rifle

Lots of nations bought M16s, but they bought them either through US Military Assistance Plan dollars. (Or they just ripped off the design, as noted above about Taiwan). Only a few nations sought coproduction. One of these was the Republic of the Philippines.

On 17 May 1974, the US and the Philippines, a close US ally since independence (actually, since 5 years before independence, as many Filipinos fought valiantly against Japanese invasion and occupation alongside Americans) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for rifle coproduction. It had no expiration date, but in place of the “unlimited” restriction in the Taiwan M14 contract, it authorized 150,000 rifles. The serial numbers have “RP” prefixes.

Elisco Filipino M16

 

Elisco Filipino M16A1b

The project concluded in January, 1982. By then Filipino arsenals had produced 166,314 M16A1 rifles. US documents do not account for the discrepancy between authorization and production. Subsequently, the Filipino firm Elisco Tool seems to have concluded a license with Colt directly for additional M16A1 rifles and carbines.

Singapore: M16A1 rifle

Chartered Industries of Singapore negotiated a deal, not with the US Army Security Assistance Command or some other branch of the US government, but directly with Colt Industries. Unlike the government-to-government exchanges, terms of this B2B deal have not been made public.

The rifles were marked with the following rollmarks (left side of magwell):

MADE IN SINGAPORE BY
CHARTER INDUSTRIES
OF SINGAPORE LIMITED
UNDER LICENSE FROM
COLT INDUSTRIES
HARTFORD CONN, USA
PATENTED
SER 000000

The serial numbers have no national prefix, unlike their Filipino and Korean counterparts. The right side had a CIS logo engraved on the magazine well.

CIS is known to have chafed under the terms of the deal. When it was sold to them, they were encouraged to plan to amortize machinery and plant under a production quantity supported by exports, but the deal they finally signed allowed them no export sales.

South Korea: M16A1 rifle

On 31 March 1971, The ROK concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the USA for rifle coproduction. It authorized 1,166,000 M16A1 rifles, which were duly built by 1984 at the latest, when the program was wound up.

According to Retro Black Rifle, the Korean rifles’ markings included (right side):

MADE IN KOREA
UNDER LICENSE FROM
COLT’S HARTFORD, CT
U.S.A.

…and (left side):

Made by Daewoo
Colt 603-K
Markings:
M16A1
K000000

But it makes little sense for a rifle intended to be used by Korean draftees to be marked in English (RBR does note that the selector switch is marked in Korean Hangul script). An archived thread in ARFcom’s Retro Forum provides photos purporting to be one of these contract M16A1s (so-so pics, but they do embiggen):

Korean Retro M16A1 right Korean Retro M16A1

 

Like the Singaporeans with their Colt contract, the Koreans found the terms of their coproduction agreement with the USA uncongenial. They interrupted payments to Colt when certain Colt patents expired, triggering a lawsuit (it appears to have settled on neutral terms).

South Korea benefited by the technology transfer, perhaps, but they couldn’t use it to sell friendly Asian nations further quantities of M16A1 rifles. (It is a standard clause in coproduction agreements that no third country sales are authorized. This is presumably for political as well as economic reasons). In the end, Korean engineers at Daewoo Precision Industries (now ST-Motiv) used some concepts from the M16 and some from other firearms (including the AK and the FAL) to develop the K2 rifle and K1A1 submachine gun. Colt sued them for infringement on Colt’s patents but was not successful.

Notes

1. FISH country: an acronym indicating the nation in question is a Fly Infested $#!+ Hole, pronounced as “fish country”

Sources

Army Security Assistance Command. Security Assistance Coproduction Status Report and The Status Report Of Coproduction Programs. Washington: US Army, 31 December 1993. Retrieved from: http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/other/614.pdf

Emerson, Lee. M14 Rifle History and Development.  Available in four volumes at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/m14rhad This is the most comprehensive M14 book (and yes, we do have them all). Volume 1 is the most critical to military-weapons buffs; the full set of four volumes is a bracing ~$170; A text-only version from 2013 is available as a free download here: http://www.m14.ca/books/M14_RHAD_Text_Only_Edition_131215.pdf. If you’re seriously interested, we firmly recommend buying all four volumes, which almost pay Lee back for his research. (Indeed, we just bought a fresh set to replace an outdated and incomplete set). With reference to the Taiwan guns, Lee has posted an excerpt: http://m14forum.com/m14/69027-taiwan-t57-m14-rhad-expanded.html 

Retro Black Rifle (various pages, notably: the Foreign Model Guide at: https://bpullignwolnet.dotster.com/retroblackrifle/ModGde/4nGde.html )

Some Sniper Rifle Happenings

There’s a few things going on in the world of sniper rifles.

Remington

We hear that Remington has abandoned its plan to sell the M24 sniper rifles in its inventory to serving soldiers and veterans, and sold the remaining inventory to a Sturgis, South Dakota FFL who is auctioning them off to all bidders, a couple at a time. Reportedly, Remington unloaded the guns because the pressure of layoffs (which continue) at Ilion, NY, made it impossible to continue the veterans program. This image is one of the auction guns:

M24 SWS on GunBroker

 

We recently saw one of these rifles, acquired by a friend through the complicated Remington paperwork drill. It was indistinguishable from a new rifle, with a new barrel, receiver and stock and a nearly new scope; only the rings and case looked used. He’s only fired some ball ammo through it, but it’s more accurate than the ones we had at the unit, so far.

Because the dealer is selling them to collectors and hobbyists, he’s making a lot of money on each one and they’re selling for a premium over what Remington was charging. But part of Remington’s deal with the Army was, apparently, that they weren’t allowed to sell the parts they reacquired from decommissioned Army M24s directly to “the public.” By selling to an FFL they get around that restriction, inserted into the M2010 contract by antigun US Army lawyers.

US Army

The Army (especially SOCOM elements) is generally pleased with the KAC M110 Semi Automatic Sniper System (SASS), but the guys in the field have been bitching about one thing — the gun’s size, and especially its length, which ranges from “too long” to “ridiculously long with the suppressor on.” (This has also driven the popularity of the Mk17 SCAR-H to some degree). Even in Afghanistan, where there’s a premium on long-range terminal performance and where much of the country has been deforested by lack of land management,  there are places where you have to maneuver the thing between trees (the locations used for the movie Lone Survivor really do resemble a lot of the terrain in RC-East, for example). And it’s always a bear to get in and out of vehicles.

The FN entry is based on the SCAR-H. Images taken at AUSA by Soldier Systems Daily.

The FN entry is based on the SCAR-H. Images taken at AUSA by Soldier Systems Daily.

So naturally, there’s a solicitation for a CSASS, a Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System. Basically, what they’re looking for is a short M110. We learned of this via The Firearm Blog (update here on the FNH contestant, which is SCAR based) which you really should be reading regularly, and have been following it idly, only to find the solicitation closed on 6 November 2014 (Note that this may not be up indefinitely; sooner or later they take solicitations down). A number of vendors are submitting ten sample guns. There is a bit of a crapshoot in it, as the guns will be tested with M118LR ammunition, and the vendors wanted to tune their guns to the specific lot to be used — which was pointedly not made available to them.

FN, at least, got "Compact" largely from a shorter suppressor than the M110.

FN, at least, got “Compact” largely from a shorter suppressor than the M110.

Because these weapons are semi only, expect the losing bidders to put some of their ten sample entrants on the market, sooner or later. (Knight’s, at least, has done this in previous years, as well as make small quantities of contract overruns available). FNH has already pledged to sell their version, a very similar version of which is in production in FNH’s South Carolina plant as the SOF Mk20, to the public). The package will be an NFA weapon because of the suppressor.

USMC

The Marines have decided they want a modular stock for their M40 sniper rifle, and they’ve granted a contract to Remington. There is some Marine tilt on it here and there, but basically it’s  the short-action version of the modular stock that Remington developed back in XM2010 days for the Army’s .300 Win Mag sniper rifle, which replaced the M24s that Remington rebuilt for the GI and vet market, before letting that project drop to chase more GI contracts.

This is typically Marine frugal. They’ll hang on to their old .308s, but they have been casting envious eyes at the Army’s and Navy’s modular chassis guns.

What’s the Opposite of “Advanced”?

We leave answering the question as an exercise for the reader after watching this video, about 15 minutes long. Here you see the 1989-90 contenders for the Advanced Combat Rifle, a program that would have replaced the issue M16A2 rifle which was still being fielded into some low-priority units, replacing 20-25 year old M16A1s, at the time.

The video begins with a rather sloppy three-minute history of American infantry weapons (you’ll cringe at the assertion that the first Army bolt-action was “made by Krag-Jorgensen,” or that the 1903 Springfield “wasn’t much better than the Krag.”  The video also makes a curious claim — one not seen in the doctrinal literature — that the M16A2 had an effective range of 550 meters.

The reason for the program is explained: the actual combat accuracy of the rifle in soldiers’ hands degrades far below its mechanical potential. So the ACR program was hoping to double the real-world effectiveness of the individual weapon.

The four vendors trying to grab the contractual brass ring were:

  • AAI, with a flechette-firing M16 cousin, complete with early ACOG;
  • Colt, with a product-improved M16, including an adjustable carbine-like stock, four-position selector, duplex (two-bullet) ammunition, and an available Elcan scope (similar to the model later adopted as the M145 machine-gun optic);
  • H&K, with an Americanized version of their ill-fated caseless G11; and,
  • Steyr-Mannlicher, with an oddball AUG derivative firing polymer-cased rounds with flechette projectiles.

At about 10 minutes in, the video presents the modifications made to Buckner Range on Fort Benning to evaluate the novel weapons.

In the end, none of them was sufficiently superior to the issue M16A2, or sufficiently well-developed already, to justify further development.

We thought for sure we’d put this video up before, but while we’ve talked about some other boneheaded procurement events — like in this post on the Objective Family of Weapons two years ago — we don’t appear to have actually done it.

WOOT! Form 4’s approved.

This is a Colt 6921 M4LE that we’ve been waiting for… for a while. The ATF cashed the check in February, started counting in March, and last we talked told us to expect approval… by January. If they’d told us in March (or when we talked to them last, in September), “mid-November,” we’d have been bummed out; finding out “mid-November” is the date in mid-November, when you were expecting two more months ahead with no firearm, well,  that’s truly Wootsome.

Worked for us.

We”ve shot the gun with most of this stuff (have never seen the reflex sight, actually), but took it to war with only the KAC Rail Interface System and foregrip, the ACOG, the PEQ-2, the Surefire light, and sometimes the suppressor (also a KAC product). By 2004 or 2005, some of these items had been replaced by new gear. Note the Colt Fiberite stock. 

That’s nine months, including March and November, and indicates things may be speeding up in West-by-God-Virginia, which natives of the state (who seem drawn to infantry and SF the way Bostonians flock to signals intelligence and the judge advocate’s racket) taught us was the proper name of their mountainous home.

It’s a lot of hassle for 1.3″ of Shortness of Barrel, Rifle type, but it gives us something to put the 416 upper on occasionally while its bottom half is still… hors de combat. Maybe a Hartford vs. Oberndorf (or is it Hartford vs. Newington? We’ll have to check the paperwork) shoot-out is in the cards.

But the real purpose of this Colt is to rebuild, as nearly as transferably possible, our Afghanistan war gun from 2002-2003. There’s just one picture of it as deployed. We’re still looking for an old ACOG TA01, but we have most of the other cruft that goes on it, including (and this is just about magical) the actual stock of the actual gun, painstakingly salvaged by a friend from a pile in the trash when newer stocks arrived and instructions on the old ones were, “toss.”

It’s kind of like linking up with an old friend, again, after many years apart.

Yes, AR tech has moved on and we’ll be building a gun that will be quaint and obsolete.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

But after over 10 years, that M4 is real-live history. (OK: recreated, Hollywood-style genuine-imitation history). Regardless, we’re excited.

Can we get a, “Woot!”?

Two views of the M4 can’t both be true

One is expressed by Tom Kratman, a science fiction author who uses an appeal to authority based on his service as some kind of support guy attached to 5th Group as an enlisted dude, and more credibly his time as an 11A (that’s an infantry officer for those of you whose brains remain undamaged by the Army encoding Tom and we have undergone). Tom retired as an infantry LTC and served as an infantry officer in combat, and you can assume he’s well experienced in the capabilities and employment of standard US weapons for the last 20+ years.

Worked for us.

Tom doesn’t like it, but it worked for us.

Tom thinks the M4 sucks like an Electrolux. That’s our paraphrase of the blog posts suspended by these click-bait headlines at some Gawker-looking lowbrow site1:

America’s Soldiers Deserve a Better Rifle

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying From Inadequate Weapons?

Go read them and see if he makes his case.

The other is expressed by firearms expert and TFB writer Nathaniel Finch, who writes in his own blog a careful and thoughtful rebuttal to Tom’s over-the-top position. In fact, he has written very nearly the article we would write, and thought about writing, when we saw Tom’s first article. Only better and more soberly. (We actually didn’t know about the second Kratman article until seeing it linked at Nate’s place).

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying From Inadequate Weapons? No.

We note that Nathaniel’s article gets a rather snippy comment from Tom, correcting him on fine points of Tom’s military service (which Nathaniel is only mistaken about because Tom has not been crystal clear to a non-Army person in his own description. In Tom’s defense it is extremely hard to encapsulate a 20- or 30-year military career in a form civilians will read and understand, let alone in the length you get in a typical online bio: one line).  And then Tom incorrectly refers to “Bennings claim that no improvement in rifles is possible,” in reference to tests that actually concluded that the particular weapons it was testing, at that time, did not offer enough improvement to justify the expense (and, don’t forget, risk) of changing weapons.

Tom knows how to a construct an argument, but he really doesn’t, he just says, I got this:

CIB Combat Infantryman Badge

Well, so do we, but that doesn’t mean we have to take long showers together.

Nathaniel responds rationally to the comment.

And then he gets a comment by some internet commando who asserts that various friendly Armies have taken the great leap forward to 1950s vintage 7.62 rifles (he’s probably misunderstanding the same nations’ adoption of limited numbers of designated marksman rifles) and that the US needs to go to the SCAR-H. As a retired member of one of the formations that received the SCARs early and used them in intensive training and combat (after my retirement!), the word I get is that it’s pretty good and the guys like it, for specific purposes (notably CQB with the short barrel). But it’s not a great leap forward over an M4. For some purposes, it’s great, but the idea of buying a million plus of them to reequip the Joes is silly… it’s a lot of money spent on a negligible improvement in capability.

(And that’s our experience. The Ragnars hated ‘em, although, we’ve heard that some old SGMs gave them to the young bucks with the instruction, “See if you can break these things.” Boy, that’s a lucky break not every private in the Regiment gets. Of course they broke them).

Right now, the M4 can hit beyond the range its average operators can, and giving them a caliber with more range isn’t going to whack any more bad guys. Some improvements in terminal ballistics would be nice. Some improvements in reliability? Any engineer will tell you that as long as initial design was not inept, getting from 90% to 98% is a slam dunk, 98 to 99.9% is a bunch of hard work, and every 9 you add to the right of the decimal point after that is going to cost you orders of magnitude more blood, sweat, tears and toil. Diminishing returns not only pounce on you, they maul you with fang and claw and leave you drained of your precious lifeblood — that is, money.

None of the would-be M4 replacements were significantly more reliable (despite internet bloviation on the subject, caused by release of an apples-v-oranges comparison). The things people are attracted to, like 7.62 NATO or a short-stroke gas system, do not meaningfully improve the weapon (except marginally in terminal ballistics). More effect would be had by going to an improved projectile and be damned to the Staff Judge Advocate — he’s enemy-forces anyway.

Until they invent the death ray or photon torpedoes or something, we’re going to be launching metallic projectiles using energy stored in solid chemicals and released by a combustion or maybe deflagration process. Yes, they can be improved, but we’re into that flattening asymptotic line… diminishing returns.

Now, on the gripping hand, some of Tom’s military science fiction is very good. He had a moving novel (or is it a novelette?) recently about the memories of a damaged and outdated sentient tank of the future as she undergoes the process of assessment and reutilization. That had a whiff of Heinlein and more than a whiff of Philip K. Dick to it, and was well worth the pittance Kindle charged for it, and the rather more-precious time expended reading it, so we’ll keep enjoying the science fiction end of Tom Kratman’s writing career, and keep reading his military weapons opinions skeptically.

Notes:

1. Gawker-looking? Well, these are the links suggested to us at the top of Tom Kratman’s author page on that site today (in fairness, these are not Tom’s own submissions, all of which have more sober military subject matter and graphics. But they illustrate the advertising-eyeballs nature of the site):

Screenshot 2014-11-18 08.13.00‘Cause nothing says military professionalism like bimbo clickbait. Really, who’s the sideboob here?

 

How to Deal with Pool Guns — for the Border Patrol

The Border Patrol has been “effectively disarmed” of its M4 carbines by its political leaders. But there’s a solution to the M4 problem.

M4_standard_accessories_delivered

But first, the problem. According to CBP leaders via Fox, it is this:

Nearly one-third of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 16,300 M4 carbine rifles were tested by the agency’s office of training and development, which determined that more than 2,000 had the potential for malfunction. The rate of nearly 40 percent was “more than we are comfortable with,” said CBP Deputy Chief Ron Vitiello.

Is one of the problems the sheer innumeracy of Ron Vitiello? Let’s do arithmetic! To determine what percentage X is of Y, divide X by Y. So, 2000/16400 = 0.1919512… (etc). That’s about 19.2%, not 40%. Unless you’re Ron Vitiello. To put in numbers a CBP senior manager can understand, about 1 in 5 of the rifles has “the potential” for malfunction.

Dunno how to break it to you, Border Patrol. You have to plan and train as if 100% of the M4s in your hands have the potential for malfunction… because they do. Even if the gun is perfect, the ammo was made by the lowest bidder. And it would be just your luck to draw down on Carlos Cartelito just when the round under your firing pin was made one minute before quitting time on the Friday before spring break.

If there’s some proof you have a bunch of guns with a problem — CBP has never said what the problem is — it might make sense to pull some of the guns. To pull them all because one in five may have a problem is just stupid.

“Our top priority is to make sure our agents are safe,” said Vitiello, adding that the agency intends to eventually cycle through all of the rifles to ensure that those in need of repair are fixed. “They will be like new when they are refurbished.”

Again, without knowing what the problem is… out of spec parts? Unstaked carrier key? Skipped mag-release tests? Lack of metallurgical documentation on some parts batch? Without knowing that, it’s screwy and wasteful to reflexively overhaul guns when it’s likely 4 out of 5 do not need it. An M4 can last for many decades on the light duty cycle of a CBP service carbine. Ask the guys who run shooting schools and provide loaner guns how much maintenance a quality M4 really needs.

But in the meantime, Border Patrol agents are dubious about the department’s claims, given that the guns’ manufacturer, Colt, has not issued a recall. And they are vehemently opposed to “pool guns” — weapons shared by two or more agents.

“We’d like to know why the rifles were recalled and when they will be returned,” Shawn Moran, spokesman for National Border Patrol Council, the union which represents agents, told FoxNews.com. “Our agency is trying to figure out why they were pulled.”

Note that Vitielly has not answered that question, not to the media nor to the NBPC, and he may not know himself.

Moran said there is potential danger for agents relying on rifles shared with others, noting the importance of personalizing settings and having a general familiarity with a personal weapon.

“You don’t want a weapon that is zeroed in to someone else,” he said. “You don’t share guns and you don’t share needles because both could end with people dying.

It appears that they are pulling about half the carbines at a time from each Border Patrol sector, sending them to a central armorer shop that then takes its own sweet time inspecting and reissuing the guns. They don’t necessarily go back to the same sectors (let alone the same agents) that they were with before, and no information is provided to end users about what repairs or mods, if any, are made to any specific firearm.

Now, the NBPC can squawk about this if they like. But it’s not like the management is going to suddenly start giving a stool about the desires of the rank-and-file agents. So here’s a little checklist from a guy who’s built a gun or two, and inspected a vast quantity (the civilized way of saying a Whole $#!+load) of them.

How To Deal with Pool Guns (When You Must)

  1. First, stop bitching. You’re not going to change DC’s policy; no matter how retarded Nebraska Avenue gets, they’re still in charge. So work to minimize their damage to your operations and reduce the risk bad leadership at higher level has imposed on your agents.
  2. Don’t have armorers do these things. You, as leader, do these things.  In a few minutes you’ll be putting toe tags on your guns. These tags should have your name clearly legible, and the date of inspection or test: that tells your guys and gals you are standing behind their firearms. This builds confidence in the rifle — and in you.
  3. Function check the weapons you have. Dummy rounds should cycle. Mags should drop free (empty or loaded!) and it should be impossible to shake them free (empty or loaded!) no matter how vigorously you try. Triggers should reset and fire on Fire. Nothing should happen on Safe. You can find a function check in the GI M4 manual, or on YouTube if you’re dyslexic. Toe tag the weapon: Function Test. 15 Nov 2014. PASS. John Doe, SSA (or whatever).
  4. Range test the weapons you have. A mag each is fine. As we understand it, CBP’s carbines are not select fire, but if they are, test safe, semi, and burst or auto settings. Add the following to the toe-tag on the weapon: Live-FIre Test. 15 Nov 2014. PASS. John Doe, SSA (or whatever). If a gun fails, downcheck it and turn it in. It’s better to know you’re a gun short than to be a gun short and not know it.
  5. Install an Aimpoint Red Dot optic on each firearm. Why?
    1. A red-dot zero is far more transferable from one agent to another than an iron-sight or cross-hair scope video;
    2. A red-dot sight is simple and instinctive, reducing training time;
    3. A red-dot sight is perfect for 99th-percentile Law Enforcement engagement distances;
    4. A red-dot sight’s battery will last a full year between inspections easily; and
    5. Aimpoint brand holds up on quality and durability scores, and it’s already approved and in the system. (Get an NVG compatible version if you have or are likely to get NODs. If no NODs are in your future, don’t waste Uncle’s money).
  6. Have your best marksmen zero the M4s with the Aimpoints. An individual zero is not a big factor here, contrary to range-god shibboleths. This is a service rifle, not a talisman to Aton the Sun Disk (may he smile upon your X-Ring always, but let’s keep Him out of rifle maintenance), and we just got through telling you the red dot is transferable. Add the following to the toe-tag on the weapon: Zeroed Point-Blank 100m (or whatever). 15 Nov 2014. Jane Roe, Special Agent (or whoever your best shot is).

Now, you still only have half the long guns you need for your agents to be comfortable facing the cartel sicarios or other long-gun-armed malefactors. And when you get the other half back is  entirely out of your control, but depends on some payroll patriots somewhere else who don’t answer to you. But you have done everything you could to arm your agents, demonstrated you give a rat’s rump about them, and cut off a potential morale problem a-borning.

Now it’s time for the pep talk. Tell them what you did and what they can expect. Make sure they understand that they are now better armed that the cartel enforcers with weapons that are proven reliable and that will put a bullet where the red dot is. They’ll still complain, but fixing that is beyond the scope of this blog.

One last comment:

Jeff Prather, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who now runs the Warrior School…. [and] who used the M4 throughout his law-enforcement career, said the weapon is “very robust” and that any issues found in the Border Patrol inspections are likely simple fixes.

“All you need to do is pull out the old firing pin and put in the new one and the rifle is ready to go,” he said.

Vitiello said that may be the case, but the work must be done by a specialist.

“It may be easy to replace a firing pin, but these are things that should be done by a professional,” he said.

Horsefeathers. Don’t be too awed by armorers; they’re simple gun plumbers. An M4 is not a Saturn V Moon Booster. Most every manufacturer1 certifies armorers in two days or less of training, and the benefit of experience is an asymptote: returns for more training and experience start diminishing almost immediately.

via Border Patrol agents say agency’s gun recall puts them in danger | Fox News.

Notes

1. For example, Colt’s LE Armorer course is three training days and 23.5 training hours, but covers multiple rifles and carbines. Bushmaster, two days and 15 hours; Sig-Sauer, 1 day; and we could cite many others if the post weren’t already late!