Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

A short history of toggle locking

In the early days of semi- and automatic weapons, one very common locking mechanism was a toggle lock. This lock works like a human knee joint: it would bend freely once bent, but when “straight” it was over-center and pressure on the “bolt face” (or sole of the foot) just locked it more firmly. This somewhat kitschy video does show the classic form of toggle-locking, the Pistole 08 Parabellum, known to generations as the Luger after its designer.


John Browning's gas-operated, toggle-locked pistol of 1895. Was it ever built?

John Browning’s gas-operated, toggle-locked pistol of 1895. Was it ever built?

A knee bends on the volition of its owner; a gun toggle-joint when recoil cams the “knee” up or down, away from its over-center, locked position. All successful toggle-locked systems have been recoil-operated, although as far back as 1895 John Browning proposed a gas-operated variant, complete with a pistol design and a gas tap much like that of the Colt “potato digger” machine gun, connected directly to a locking toggle. He received a patent on this dead-end design in 1897.

Military arms enthusiasts usually ascribe this design to Maxim, who used a long-recoil variant; and note that Borchardt and Luger made it compact and portable (theirs is a short-recoil variant). And it is true that Maxim’s machine guns used the toggle before any other automatic weapon.

Maxim lock (toggle's off screen left) and feed

Maxim lock (toggle’s off screen left) and feed mechanism.

Maxim’s fiendishly complex lockwork (later simplified by many improvers, inlcuding Maxim himself) had to withdraw a (rimmed) cartridge from a cloth or metal belt, position the cartridge, ram it into the chamber, lock, fire the cartridge, unlock, extract the spent cartridge, and eject it. And it had to do all this off the recoil impulse of a rifle-caliber cartridge. That’s a lot of things to do and it’s not surprising that the first designers to do it didn’t achieve optimum simplicity.

The toggle lock wasn’t simple, but it was two things more important in a fledgling MG design: safe and reliable. But Maxim wasn’t the first to use the toggle lock by any means.

The toggle lock was a standard mechanism known to all mechanical engineering graduates in the mid to late 19th Century. It found its way into small machinery like machine tools, and large machinery like steam engines and movable bridges. It was used in a number of iconic guns of the period, including the Henry rifle and the Winchester ’66 and ’73. (The Henry/Winchester version was prone to toggle pin deformation from fatigue or overload; in the Winchester 1886 a new version, the Winchester 1886, basically solved this problem for itself and Winchesters going forward. The ’86 was designed by John M. Browning).

Winchester '73 (this is the current version, made by Miroku in Japan for Winchester).

Winchester ’73 (this is the current version, made by Miroku in Japan for Winchester). Click to embiggen a little. Didn’t know it was a Luger’s cousin, did ya?

Indeed, the earlier Henry/Winchester toggle lock came over more or less intact from the then-radical Volcanic lever-action repeating pistol and rifle, which used a unique cartridgeless projectile that carried its powder inside the bullet skirt. The rimfire of the Henry and centerfire cartridges of the Winchester were considerably more advanced and practical than the Volcanic’s self-contained rounds, but the mechanism was adequate until it became necessary to make lever guns in stronger calibers and for smokeless powder, both of which brought higher chamber pressures.


George Luger’s rifle toggle-lock patent. The mechanical setup and mechanical advantage of the recoil spring are changed but it’s otherwise very close to the pistol.

Toggle locks spread from lever-actions to the above-mentioned Borchardt and Luger pistols. Luger also designed a rifle based on a toggle lock very similar to the P.08 and other Luger pistols’, but it was never accepted. The almost-last hurrah of the toggle lock, if we discount Maxims and Vickers guns which served well into the last quarter of the 20th Century, was the Pedersen rifle made for US Army trials in the experimental .276 Pedersen caliber. has a little bit on the Luger and Pedersen rifles, and they’re riffing off this post over at Forgotten Weapons, which includes a link to a Luger patent for the rifle. FW also has plenty on the Pedersen and even a feature on a Japanese copy of the Pedersen.

Almost last? Yes. The toggle lock came back with the Kriss submachine gun/SBR in the last few years. Workable technology never dies, it just falls out of fashion until somebody figures out a new way to exploit it.

Remember, for about 80 years they thought the Gatling gun was dead. But that’s another story.

Composite barrel: old idea, but this time it works

Gene Stoner and Jim Sullivan at one time envisioned an even lighter AR: the initial AR-10 was going to have a composite barrel with a steel or aluminum (possibly even then-exotic and still difficult-to-machine titanium) liner and a fiberglass outer part. While such barrels worked satisfactorily in the relatively low-pressure environment of shotgun applications, they couldn’t contain the higher pressures of the 7.62 NATO round used in the AR-10, and to the best of our knowledge, a fiberglass lined barrel was never designed for the higher-pressure-yet AR-15.

But the last fifty years have been ones of steady advance in both metallurgy and nonmetallic composites, so hit was inevitable someone would relook the metal-lined composite barrel. Teludyne Tech is the company that did, and brought such barrels to market. Here is what they say is the technical problem with steel barrels:

No barrel bore is perfectly centered, and even high-precision barrels have machining imperfections that may go unnoticed when the gun is cool. But firing just a few rounds causes the barrel to heat up enough that these minor imperfections can have a significant impact on accuracy. During firing the resulting pressure wave causes the barrel to expand, flex and bow. The hotter it gets, the worse it gets.

How to they combat that? In their own words:

URG1_PointedThe patented StraightJacket® Barrel System is the only thermal management technology that quickly conducts heat away from the barrel, keeping it cool and dimensionally stable, and ensuring the gun stays accurate even after 30 rounds of continuous fire.

Rapid heat dissipation is only part of the solution. The patent pending Muzzle Recoil Compensator (MRC™) uses the waste propellant gases to virtually eliminate recoil and provide stability, keeping the rifle on target.

TTI created and built what is being called the finest production upper receiver group on the market today. The Sine Pari Series Upper Receiver Group is designed for serious shooting enthusiasts and professionals who demand unmatched repeatable accuracy and reliability in their weapon system. At the very core of the URG is the StraightJacket® Barrel System GEN IV. This revolutionary system uses advanced engineering principles, construction and materials to increase the structural rigidity and reduce peak temperature variations of the barrel resulting in a significant reduction of differential barrel expansion and associated inaccuracy. (Click HERE for more information and specifications)

One of their first products is an AR upper (and one wonders what USASOC thinks about their naming it the “Sine Pari”, but they’re not saying). Yet Teludyne’s claim is not one of exotic potential, it’s a claim of sub-MOA accuracy, a claim made by many premium ARs made of conventional materials.

Experience repeatable sub-MOA accuracy with the StraightJacket Barrel System on your rifle!

Tthe “Sine Pari Series M4 Upper Receiver Group” is available in 16″ and 12.5″ NFA configurations for a stiff $1,700. For perspective’s sake, a precision, quality AR with a stainless match “accuracy optimized” barrel will usually deliver sub-MOA, and a well-built gun with a high-end chrome lined “durability optimized” combat barrel will be around 1.5-2 with match ammo. Many vendors will talk accuracy but few will guarantee accuracy. (And do note, these are smaller groups than milspec sniper rifles are guaranteed to produce).

via StraightJacket Accuracy and Reliability Enhancement for sub-MOATeludyne.

It’s an interesting concept and an interesting-looking upper, but their website hasn’t made the $1.7k sale here. However, the claims they make go beyond accuracy, and the one that piques our interest is temperature control. If they really can keep the barrels and chambers as cool as they claim, their technology or something like it is going to be the standard of the future.  As we’ve noted before, runaway temperatures are implicated in barrel erosion and accuracy degradation, and in machine gun applications, as few as a couple hundred rounds fired at cyclic rate can toast a barrel. We just have a really hard time trying to understand the physics behind their claim that their composite barrel jacket wicks away chamber temperatures.

Mags with a Message: Noveske Johnny Mag

This is a rifle that AR aficionados will recognize: it’s a Noveske. John Noveske built a company that builds some of the most out-of-the ordinary “ordinary ARs” that there are.


The Noveske ARs are evolutionary more than revolutionary, but they’re built to a very high quality standard. The company has kept to the standard after the untimely death of John Noveske in an auto accident this past winter. Which brings us to the rifle in the picture — or one part of it, anyway. If you look closely at that rifle, you’ll see a mark on the magazine. Noveske’s trademark.

johnnymag_1dThe Noveske iron cross is emblazoned on this magazine — a MagPul PMAG — for a reason (and the other side has the Noveske “flaming pig” trademark, for that same reason). These limited-edition $40 Noveske magazines, which they modestly call the “Johnny Mag” after their founder, don’t just perfectly accessorize your Noveske AR. You see, they also help to take care of John’s children. Of that $40, all goes into a trust for John’s kids.

Somehow, $40 doesn’t seem all that pricey for an AR mag, now, does it?

John Noveske, 1976-2013. Honor the legacy, support the posterity.

Fascinating project at GunLab and Weaponeer

This image of a VG 1-5 (original) came from a Weaponeer thread linked in the story.

This (embiggenable) image of a VG 1-5 (original) came from a Weaponeer thread linked in the story.

There are projects and there are projects. 

This one deserves the italics. Chuck Kramer is an 07 FFL (that’s a manufacturer) and 02 SOT
(special occupational taxpayer, means he can make NFA stuff). He’s also pretty creative around a metal shop, to include machine tools, sheet metal work, and welding. All of those skills are going to be necessary, because he’s building a replica of the Gustloff VG 1-5.

If you don’t know what that is, go over to Ian’s place for a how-it-shoots video, and/or read this overview on Weaponeer, then come back (or go to Chuck’s build threads).

He has other ambitions — he’s worked out, for example, that an MP-44 lower receiver requires 60 operations to produce — but his first task is to build a VG 1-5. He’s not absurdly committed to originality — for example, he’s already improved the Heath Robinson trigger mechanism of the original — but he’s using processes remarkably close to the cottage workshop techniques used in the original, a last-ditch Volkssturm weapon produced in 1945 as Russian, American, British and French forces were squeezing the Third Reich like four angry anacondas.

So far, he’s built the lower receiver and is working on the receiver cover, both of which require metal pressing, cutting, and welding skills. He had to take a break whilst installing new digital readouts (DROs) on his lathe.

One more thing…

The DRO’s are important because Chuck’s not just building one of these. He’s planning to build sixty. Are you in line yet? (We expect they will be NFA Short Barrel Rifles). Sorry, New York — it’s expected to come with a 10-round mag. It won’t be available in North Korea or Cuba, either.

There are two essential sources:

GunLab is where Chuck will post deeper explanations and videos, in conjunction with Ian of and The first couple are already up:

  • Part 1 introduces the project and sets up the series. There are images of computer 3D models and a cutaway of the original firearm.
  • Part 2 examines how the receiver pressings are made, with Ian hosting a video. This really combines well with the Weaponeer thread (linked below) to ensmarten one on how small shops can press fairly complex sheet metal shapes without million-dollar presses and $10k’s in tooling per part.
Stamping Evolution: a single stamped flat, with several versions of the receiver cover -- all but one an evolutionary dead end.

Stamping Evolution: a single stamped flat, with several versions of the shaped but unwelded/machined receiver cover — all but one an evolutionary dead end.

Of course, the pressings != receiver by themselves. There is quite a bit of cutting, fitting, welding and machining before the raw stampings are an actual receiver.

The Weaponeer thread describes his processes, his progress, and his learning curve. (There is as much art as science to die-pressing sheet steel, it turns out). He can post stills here, but not videos.

So the and Weaponeer versions of the story combine to inform you. GunLab has a much higher signal to noise ratio, but some of the commenters at Weaponeer (same as at GunLab or Forgotten Weapons) are really well-informed, and interesting things come out in the comments if you have the patience to read them.

Let’s Build Retro: Part 3: Parts Inventory

The question arose: did we have everything we needed to proceed?

We knew the answer was no. We’re waiting on some parts to be delivered, including a backordered receiver from the premier maker of “retro” receivers, NoDak Spud LLC. They’re heavily backordered (we are waiting for several uppers, and multiple sets of “prototype” style AR parts). If we are still waiting too long, we’ll repurpose one of our currently deploted NDS receivers.

We were also waiting on some recent orders, including a gas tube from GunBroker, a barrel nut from Bravo Company, and several front sight base parts also from BCM. So we thought that it would make some sense to do an inventory.

Method 1: the rough sketch.

We made this rough sketch to show what we had and what we didn’t. It came in handy identifying some of the shortfalls in our stack of parts.



Yeah, this isn’t Michael Freaking Angelo. It’s a sketch, and a sketch done with a coarse point Sharpie at that. And it was worth doing, because it reminded us that we needed to get a carbine length gas tube, a barrel nut, and hit the parts box for an M16A1 vintage pistol grip.

That’s why you do the sketch. It’s also helpful in explaining where and when everything goes together.

Method 2: the interactive approach.

Before building your gun in meatworld you can sketch it out online, for example at Brownell’s ARFCOM is also about to introduce one: their Gunstruction will be released from restricted- to public-beta status in September.

We have not participated in the Gunstruction beta, but have used Brownell’s configurator. It is limited to late-model parts; obviously, it’s biased towards things that Brownell’s sells.

Method 3: the inventory checklist.

Maybe you absorb the written word best. Heck, maybe you’re so uptight you have to have a written checklist to do anything. In that case, a checklist is for you. Brownell’s, again, has one that lets you account for all the parts you need for an AR build. Here’s the Brownell’s checklist; it even incorporates a tools checklist.  We’re going to give this to the Building Kid so that he can start to internalize some of the terms we use.

A spreadsheet is simply a variant of the written checklist that exploits digital technology. Each has its place; a workshop may not be the best place for a computer, especially if machines are spewing cutting oil or tiny, conductive metal chips. But a paper document, unlike a digital one, can only be in one place at a time.

As you see, it’s possible to manage parts inventory with any of these methods. (And there are many more — whiteboards, toe tags, etc.). Just go with one of them, whichever one works best for you.

Short term and long term parts

We have more of some parts than we need, and that’s because we’re probably going to alter the living daylights out of this gun even after it’s built. We’re going to substitute a lot of “short term” parts temporarily for the real “long term” parts we want, but don’t have on hand. Then, as the fates (and the auctions) deliver up the right parts, we’ll swap the more correct ones in.

For example, the sketch shows two different flash suppressors. One is a long, replica moderator. The other, a short M16A1 cage. We consider the 16A1 cage a temporary part while we source a decent slip-over moderator.

We also, as we have noted, have substituted some parts. Because we’re using a 1960s Colt Model 604 upper receiver, which came from our parts rack, we’re using the matching 1960s chromed bolt and carrier assembly. This is not correct for any model of CAR-15; they all had parkerized bolts. We like the chrome for ease of cleaning, actually. (The Army ordered the change because it got some bad bolts where the plating had concealed flaws. Colt struggled with quality control amid trade-union troubles in the 1960s).

As we previously discussed, we are using a later barrel, specifically a Daniel Defense lightweight barrel, which promises more reliability with M4 feed ramps, and better accuracy with later, heavier bullets.

We also are waiting for the “correct” vinyl-acetate dipped aluminum Colt stock. In the meantime, the parts box offers us a Colt military fiberlite stock and a Bushmaster commercial-spec aluminum one. The Bushmaster looks more correct than the later-vintage 1980s Colt part, but the Bushy buffer tube is “commercial” spec and won’t fit a “correct” stock when we go to install it.

Let’s build Retro: Should have been Part 1: Why?

Why build your own gun?

This question has both practical and psychological dimensions. And it doesn’t just apply to guns! Why build anything you could buy professionally-assembled? Most people are perfectly content with store-bought guns, and ARs in particular are available in a broad range of configurations, qualities and price points — there’s something for just about anybody. By building your own — even assembling something as modular an an AR-15 — you’re joining a minority group, and you ought to have a clear idea of why you do it.

You can build just about anything. After all, someone else built everything you see.

You can build just about anything. After all, someone else built everything you see. This is another ERA customer’s car, not our friend’s. They can be individualized, like ARs.

People do build their own, of course, which can be as easy as buying upper and lower assemblies and snapping in push pins, or as hard as machining your own metal parts and carving or molding your own stock. And there are parallels to the gun builders: a friend of ours built (with a great deal of professional help from ERA Replica Automobiles) a stunning replica of a 1965 Cobra. Many friends and acquaintances have built and even designed their own aircraft. They do it for the same reasons that people build guns.

For Education and Recreation

That’s actually what the FAA’s rule about building your own plane says. They want to discourage small, low-rate-production shops that can’t comply with literally tons of expensive and arbitrary certification rules (kind of like Lockheed, Douglas, Ryan, Martin and Boeing were in California (the first three), Baltimore and Seattle back in in 1930). But if you want to design, and build, and fly something radically new, knock yourself out.

Many of the innovations and trends in the AR market come from people being creative with the platform for their own purposes. Sometimes, when you follow the Education and Recreation path and you’re in the grips of the Dunning-Kruger effect, you create a monster, and not in a good way. But sometimes you create The Next Big Thing.

And always you learn and have fun. Education and Recreation, right? And the Education part is not to be underestimated. If you have never detail-stripped your AR, assembling one from a pile of loose parts will leave you with a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the design. And Recreation? It’s fun, and it’s hard to beat the satisfaction you have when you unrack a rifle and show a friend, “Yeah, this is my favorite. I built it.”

There can also be a social recreation aspect. Build parties are a blast! And just building with another person has both recreational and educational advantages. For one thing, it makes the time pass faster. For another, two sets of eyes make for a better, smoother assembly process.

To get something the market doesn’t offer

Here's one kind of AR your corner gunshop probably doesn't have.

Here’s one kind of AR your corner gunshop probably doesn’t have: based on a Valkyrie beltfed upper.

Some economists might call this market failure, but when you want something odd, the chances are the market does not provide it. If you want an AR-15 prototype, your options are trying to pry one loose from Reed Knights (not. gonna. happen.) or another elite collector (same. deal.) or to build your own clone. Hell, if you want an AR configured like your old Army M16A1, you’re screwed if you have to depend on today’s AR vendors. They’re all tacticool; you can hunt up an old Colt SP1 or roll your own.

That exact project was our threshold drug to Retro Black Rifle Disease. (But we’re not really addicts. We can quit at any time).

Of course, you can take customization too far.

Of course, you can take customization too far.

Another common build that isn’t well-served by the market is a very light AR. People in ban states also have bizarre state compliance parts, and for some of them the only way to get an AR is to build your own.

You can get the parts for almost anything. Want a pintle-mounted, belt-fed AR? It can be done. In our case, we’re doing a tribute to the carbines carried on the Son Tay Raid, one of the greatest special operations missions in history.

Same gun, well accessorized.

Same gun, well accessorized.

We think the Son Tay Colt 630 is beautiful, but it’s a free country, and if a Californistan-compliant Hello Kitty AR is your preference we’re all for that. It’s a free country, and we think the Hello Kitty AR looks good, too: if you accessorize it properly.

The picture on the left should give you some ideas. However, that sort of accessory is beyond the (admittedly flexible) scope of the blog, so you’re on your own.

100000-dollar-billTo save money

This is probably the worst or weakest of the reasons, but it still operates. If you want a Son Tay carbine, you can look for a Colt Model 630 on the NFA registry and for sale. There are very few, and they come up very seldom. And when they do change hands, it’s for collector money: $30,000 or so.

You can build a clone for $1,200 or less.

You can also build a very-cheapest-possible scrounged-parts AR for short money, perhaps $700, and a very-cheapest-possible AK for $300. This requires patience, scrounging, and a little luck, and assumes parts and parts-kit prices will revert over time to the status quo ante. This has been delayed and disrupted by the Panic of 2013, as well as by various government attacks on gun rights, such as the ATF’s reclassifying of barrels as non-importable “weapons,” and ATF and State Department hostility to reimportation of AR parts and even such ancient and obsolete weapons as M1 rifles and carbines and their foreign equivalents.

To Sum Up

There are several reasons to build your own firearm, and all of them are good reasons, although they might not apply to you personally or to the particular situation. For every single builder, some reasons will be more important than others.

The best reason of all is this: you want to, and it’s a free country. (In most States, anyway).

We look forward to walking you through a build in the next couple of weeks. While it’s possible to build several ARs in a day, it isn’t if you’re writing about it!

Let’s build Retro: Part 1: Planning the build

Dick Meadows (c.) models what we're building -- sort of.

Dick Meadows (c.) models what we’re building — sort of.

To successfully build a cosmetically Retro AR-15, you need to plan the build and build to the plan, or you risk committing a Bubba The Gunsmith level atrocity on your firearm.

There are good sources of retro information out there, but the good sources of parts are drying up. This is due in part to a crackdown by the government and ATF on availability of surplus parts, especially barrels. One of the better sources of retro barrels is police guns which are being updated, but the smiths and armorers doing this now realize that these barrels are not scrap, if still serviceable, and price pressures have driven barrel prices up.

You can go insane with fealty to detail on a retro build, which is another reason for a plan — and a budget. Our goal is to build a cosmetic copy of the Son Tay Raid CAR-15. It should build to a lightweight and accurate gun, because it’s a 13-year-old kid’s first (supervised, naturally) build. We’ve got most AR armorer tools so that’s not an issue.

This XM177 (from World.Guns.RU) closely resembles the Son Tay guns. They lacked a forward assist and mounted SinglePoint sights.

This XM177 (from World.Guns.RU) closely resembles the Son Tay guns. They lacked a forward assist and, for Son Tay, mounted Normark SinglePoint sights which were bought from Armalite for the task force.

Thanks to the endless modularity of ARs, we can always modify our Colt Model 630 / early USAF GAU-5/5A clone for greater accuracy. To get it built and out of the planning stage, we need to execute the planning stage first.

So our first tasks are to: decide how accurate the build will be. Thanks to Congressman Hughes and Tax Chiseler Chuck Rangel, we can’t build an MG. Building an SBR is fine and good but no help with a gun that we’ll expect a kid to use. So we’re going to make a compromise there, and use a 16″ carbine barrel. (Other options are to go SBR or go to a shorter barrel with a pinned flash suppressor).

We’re going to make three other concessions to practicality: we’re going to use a non-Colt, non-vinyl-acetated-aluminum stock, we’re going to use a modern barrel with faster rifling, and we’re going to use — at least at the beginning — a generic lower parts kit. We also may substitute an Armson OEG for the correct AimPoint on this build.

Why the substitutions? The Colt stocks are rare and expensive. The original 1:12 barrels are rare, expensive, and won’t stabilize heavier projectiles, including 62 gr. NATO and 77 gr. match. (Current barrels also have improved feed ramps). And original LPKs are harder to come by right now.

These substitutions, except for the 16″ vs. 11.5″ barrel, should be nearly invisible without close examination. They should produce a six-plus pound, naturally handling AR that will exude a Vietnam vibe but digest a wider variety of ammunition.

We’ll keep you posted as we wrench this thing together and take it out to the range.

For background on the raid, start here with an official DOD Doc Dump. Included are a planning/briefing document, an interview with one of only two SF participants without prior Vietnam combat, and a JCS AAR.

For background on the guns, this thread at is a good resource, as is the whole site, especially the page on the Colt Model 630, and the retro section of ARFCOM.

India to choose foreign-designed rifle

This is the LMG version of the unsuccessful INSAS. Its Valmet/Galil ancestry is evident.

This is the LMG version of the unsuccessful INSAS. Its Valmet/Galil ancestry is evident.

In a disappointment for Indian designers, and for India’s traditional Russian suppliers, the subcontinental power is testing a shortlist of Western 5.56 x 45mm assault rifles to replace the Indians’ failed INSAS system that was supposed to replace dated Kalashnikov and FAL battle rifles. The selected design is certain to be produced in-house in India’s state arsenals, as its forerunners all the way back to the nation’s era of British colonization have been.

There are five guns on the short list:

  • The Beretta ARX 160;


  • the Colt Combat Rifle, an M16 revised for Indian requirements;
  • The CZ 805 BREN, now in service with the Czech Republic;

CZ 805 BREN with a CZ 40mm grenade launcher (the GL is not part of the India proposal).

  • IWI’s ACE 1, which we’re trying to ID as a variant of the ACE 21/22/23 improved Galil (the variants differ by barrel length) or the ACE N which we believe to have a polymer receiver.
  • The SIG SG551, offered by the US branch of the firm.

A similar test of CQB carbines reportedly involved only four of the above vendors and their carbine equivalents (odd man out being CZ).

The trials have at least two phases, cold weather evaluation in the Kashmiri mountains this year, and warm weather evaluation in 2014.  Jane’s Defense Weekly explains what befell the native development, the INSAS:

The selected rifle will replace the locally developed Indian Small Arms System 5.56×45 mm rifle, which the army rejected in 2010-11 due to it being inefficient and “operationally troublesome”.

via India to put assault rifle contenders through winter trials – IHS Jane’s 360.

Jane’s writer is being diplomatic here. The INSAS was a decades-long boondoggle that took too long and cost too much to put substandard guns in the hands of Indian troopers. And the gigantic invisible rabbit in the room was that, far from being revolutionary, the INSAS just beat the path to a 5.56mm AK, a path already paved and signposted by Finland and Israel, among others. It had an FN-like grenade-launcher-muzzle-brake and a polymer magazine, but it looks suspiciously like a good old Galil.

Now, the editors of Jane’s must stay on cordial terms with the ad buyers of the world’s defense industry. Writing in India’s Sunday Standard, a general interest paper, N.C. Bipindra felt no such obligation to be diplomatic:

The war that broke out in Kargil next year [1999-Eds.] saw the INSAS put to test, and a spate of complaints about malfunctioning and build quality of the rifle poured out of Himalayan battlefields. The rifle jammed, its polymer magazine cracked in the cold, it would go full automatic when set for a three-round burst. Many jawans [troopers - Eds.] remained unconvinced about the stopping power of its 5.56 mm round; they wanted their heavy 7.62s back. It didn’t help that the Nepal Army, one of the few INSAS customers outside India, had its complaints too. The INSAS glitches were fixed but advancement in firearms technology had rendered the weapons system too obsolete for the rapidly modernising Indian Army by then.

And neither did Indian officers he interviewed:

According to Lt. Gen. (Retd) P C Katoch, a Parachute Regiment officer, the INSAS family were “not the best” of weapons. “There were a number of problems with these rifles,” he said, noting that the “DRDO [Defense Research and Development Organization, whose Armament Research and Development Establishment spawned the INSAS - Eds.] and OFB [Ordnance Factories Board, a weapons-manufacturing bureaucracy - Eds.] could come up with only such weapons after 15 years of work”.

India spends nearly Rs 7,000 crore annually on defence research and development, and has 39 ordnance factories to manufacture weapons for its 13-lakh strong armed forces but, in the words of another senior officer: “The DRDO and OFB have failed to develop one good, modern weapon with which the troops are satisfied. As a result, we had to go in for foreign-made equipment and have issued tenders for these.”

They built a half million INSAS rifles and carbines before discovering the thing was no good. They also seem to have binned their fallback plan for the foreign firms to produce rifles with conversion parts for using 5.56 and 7.62mm x 39mm ammunition interchangeably.

Many nations of the world take up rifle and other small arms development, expecting it to be easy. The question is, compared to what? India’s factories and engineers produce nuclear weapons and Mach 2 fighter aircraft (the latter, admittedly, under license). And it’s no exaggeration to say India’s arsenals have built millions of perfectly good weapons before laying the INSAS egg. So what’s the problem? Designing a gun is pretty hard. Designing ones better than the extremely-well-sorted current world leaders, the AR and AK platforms, is extremely hard. Right up there with fighting in those mountains.

The decision to go to a foreign design even if it means that initial weapons and production technology must be imported, is a sign of realism in Indian military — and fiscal — policy.

It’s also interesting to note who’s ni

FALs of the Libyan Civil War

FN-FAL 'FALO' squad automatic weapon observed near Misrata.

FN-FAL ‘FALO’ squad automatic weapon observed near Misrata. Click to embiggen. Small Arms Survey.

The Small Arms Survey Project has a report on the FN FAL rifles in use during the Libyan revolution. Qaddhafi’s Libya was in some years in the 1970s FN’s largest single customer, and it’s likely that the FALs observed there — and now being exported to jihadis everywhere — came from the vast stocks supplied directly from the Belgian factory. (We’ve previously observed FNCs in Libyan irregular use, and of course they’re copiously equipped with Combloc weapons like AKs and RPGs).

The report is a .pdf: It’s not conclusive science (the author examined FALs in Libya, but only seven of them) but it is  a start.


After Kalashnikov-pattern rifles, Fusil Automatique Léger (FAL) rifles were among the most frequently sighted firearms during the 2011 armed conflict in Libya.1 A number of FAL rifles used during the conflict were subsequently re-circulated throughout the broader sub-region. Indeed, between 2011 and 2013 FAL rifles reportedly smuggled from Libya were seized or documented in several countries, including Algeria, Lebanon, Niger, Syria, and Tunisia.

Although factory markings, serial numbers, and technical characteristics do not provide conclusive proof of the age or end users of Belgian FAL rifles used in the Libyan conflict, they do allow useful inferences to be drawn. This report discusses the basis of such inferences and offers guidance on data gathering with a view to advancing our general knowledge of the use and circulation of Belgian FAL rifles and encouraging relevant authorities to step up tracing efforts.

It’s actually a good overview of the metric FAL in general, and of FN’s serial-number and marking policies. (Do you know when FN’s marking changed from Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre Herstal Belgique to Fabrique National Herstal Belgium? The answer’s in the link). To be sure, the technical information here seems to all have come from the Collector Grade books on the FAL, but they do have a half-dozen examples of FALs observed in the Libyan wild. It’s also a good glimpse of some basic (crude, maybe) technical intelligence techniques.

These FALs will be turning up for years, if what happened to the tiny supply of FALs bought by Cuban dictator Batista and delivered to Cuban dictator Castro is anything to go by. It’s not unusual to see FALs still serviceable after fifty years of hard use, much like AKs, especially when that hard use is more “carrying” and not shooting copious quantities of ammo on full-auto, which tends to wear out the barrels.

In our experience, FALs in guerrilla and third-world armies tend not to be properly sighted in, as the weapon requires a tool for sight adjustment, and the tools are much more subject to loss, theft or disappearance than the guns themselves. All it takes is one “generation” without the tool (in a draft army, a couple of years) and no one knows it ever existed, or that the sights are adjustable at all. (The manuals don’t even last as long as the tools, unless they’re locked away somewhere, where troop units can’t get them or learn of their existence). It would have been an interesting exercise to fire these Libyan FALs against a zero target.

Hat tip: John Richardson at No Lawyers.

Colt, Split in Two since 2003, re-merges

It’s going to be a windfall for AR collectors 50 years from now: Colt, which split its defense and sporting arms divisions in 2003, is in effect re-merging into one company, with Colt Defense purchasing Colt Holding (which owns, or “holds,” primarily Colt Manufacturing).

The markings on AR-15 and M16 rifles have told the story of Colt’s corporate reorganizations over the years. The first ARs and M16s were marked “Colt’s Patent Firearms Mfg. Co.,” the name it had had since Sam Colt days. Later guns said “Colt Industries,” or “Colt’s Firearms Division, Colt Industries,” and after 2003, the markings diverged: Colts for civilians were marked “Colt’s MFG Co Inc.” like this AR:

Colt Manufacturing Roll Marking


…and Colts for the military and law-enforcement market were marked “Colt Defense” like this:

Colt Defense Roll Marking


All variations of markings noted the city of manufacture as Hartford, Conn. and the USA marking has been used since at least 2003.

You could have a nice little collection just by seeking out different roll markings.

Here’s the raw press release at the Securities and Exchange Commission (does reporting to the SEC suggest that Colt may be looking to go public?). The release has also been posted on Colt’s website, which is still divided into Defense/LE and Consumer sides.

Here’s an insightful post by Andrew Tuohy about why Colt went splitsville 10 years or so ago, and why it’s back together. He suggests that the split was an attempt to shield assets from the legal liability suits that were so popular then, and have since become a non-factor (because of legislative and judicial actions both). A commenter suggests that the split has been injurious to Colt’s one-time market leadership.

We wish the executives and workers of Colt’s well, whatever they’re stamping on their guns (yes, even the UAW workers, because we’re in one of those goodwill-to-men moods).

Hat tip: No Lawyers.