Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

The Problem with Overmatch as Defined as “Range”

Recently we discussed Jim Schatz’s 2015 NDIA presentation, in which he suggested that US had lost infantry firepower “overmatch,” which he seemed to define as “longest effective range.” His numbers were fuzzy, with three different ranges for the SVD (one of them being 1500m, and we can’t believe that Jim hasn’t shot an SVD or the better-finished, reverse-engineered Chinese NDM-86), but we had several issues with his concept.

schatz_slide_overmatch_now

Today, let’s talk about another issue, and that’s the single-point nature of effective range as a measure of firepower.

Here’s a historical example. We would guess that most of the readers of this blog have fired, at least for familiarization, an AK and/or its civilian clones, and an M14 and/or its civilian clones. And most of you, then, would be comfortable that the M14 outranges the AK considerably as a practical matter. This is not only due to the design decision to use a full-house turn-of-the-20th-Century rifle/MG cartridge in the US 1950s design relative to the design decision to use a classic mid-century intermediate cartridge in the AK, although that’s a big factor. But the M14 also has considerable advantages in ergonomics and especially sights. The AK still has a 19th-Century open sight, like a 1891 Mosin-Nagant or 1898 Mauser, just shortened to the extreme practical range of the AK, and has a very short sighting radius (which is not entirely a bad thing, for combat marksmanship, but is a real detractor on the rifle range or when engaging enemies at the rifle’s extreme range). The AK, with a similar weight and much less impulse in every cartridge, has superior numbers on recoil and is more accurate in automatic fire from unsupported positions. (Not to say that it’s accurate in objective terms or relative to semi-auto fire, just that it’s far better on full-auto than you can expect any 7.62mm full-auto service rifle to be, and that therefore one can train to fire it automatically accurately, given instruction and/or ammo).

In Vietnam around the end of 1965, US forces first engaged disciplined, regular troops of the North Vietnamese Army in the bloody battles of Ia Drang. The enemy’s ‘arm of choice’ was the AK47. General Wheeler’s ‘worldwide’ trials had shown the AK to be ‘clearly inferior’ to US weapons, and most US soldiers at that time had shown a preference for the M14 over the then-AR-15. But that was 1962 and peacetime, and this was 1965 and counting. America was at war in the jungle, again.

When US forces armed with the M14 encountered light, mobile Vietcong forces armed with the SKS-45 and AK-47 in Vietnam, the result was not Americans crowing about the superiority of their rifle, but Americans demanding a light, short assault rifle with a 30-round magazine, like the AK.

An AK cutaway from the Czechoslovak satellite Army Technical Illustrated Magazine (ATOM in the Czech acronym). The CSSR wss the only satellite country to reject the AK.

An AK cutaway from the Czechoslovak satellite Army Technical Illustrated Magazine (ATOM in the Czech acronym). The CSSR wss the only satellite country to reject the AK.

If effective range is just one axis on which firearms can be compared, and other axes include ergonomics, controllability, convenience of reload, quantity of ready ammunition and basic load, weight of gun and ammunition. Almost all of these are subject to being improved, and, unlike effective range, not all of them are entirely dependent on cartridge selection.

Cartridge selection is a decision that is not only technical, but also logistical, and, for a nation that often fights alongside allies and coalitions, inherently political. Gun buffs may not like these facts, but they are facts. When the US goes its own way (as it did with M16 adoption in the 1960s) it puts considerable stress on its alliances, particularly after it had already bullied one international alliance and several nations with strong bilateral alliances with the US into accepting the 7.62 x 51mm NATO cartridge mere years before.

Notes

  1. From The Black Rifle: M16 Retrospective. Toronto: Collector Grade Pubs., 1987. Quoted in Bruce, Robert. M14 vs. M16 in Vietnam. Small Arms Review. Retrieved from: http://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=2434

This Was Not the Everyday CMP M1 Garand

In the late 1950s, the Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice — the former Army agency that was spun off in the anti-gun Clinton years as a non-profit, and is now the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP — sold a trickle of M1 rifles to lottery winners — or, since it was a government agency, to politically connected men who were able to jump the line.

Kennedy Garand 02

Here’s a couple of pictures and the story of one of those rifles.

Kennedy Garand 04

This M1 started from one of those depots, the Erie Ordnance Depot in Port Clinton, OH to be precise, but was far from a random selection.  The rifle picked for [the VIP] bears a late production 6+ million serial number and is a Type 1 National Match M1 Garand, that has been rebuilt to a Type 2.  After the NM rifle “happened” to be selected for [the VIP], it also “happened” to make its way to Master Sergeant Raymond E Parkinson, a gunsmith assigned to the Second U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Ft. George C. Meade in Maryland.  Once there, much of the work took place that can be seen on the rifle to this day.  In fact, COL Lee was kind enough to detail such changes in a letter he sent to [the VIP] after the rifle was received.  The modifications, as listed in the communication, are:

  1. Adjusted the trigger in order to provide an exacting trigger pull for each shot fired.
  2. Blued all metal parts to prevent rust and enhance the beauty of the weapon.Kennedy Garand 03
  3. Applied a moisture-proof silicon finish to the stock.
  4. Applied a glass-bedding compound to the recoil shoulders of the stock in order to enable the rifle to maintain its accuracy.
  5. Air-tested the bore for correct calibration and flaws.
  6. Test-fired the rifle in a sitting position at 200 yards.

“For your information, Mast Sergeant Parkinson did the test firing and the target is enclosed.  The rifle was not test-fired from a cradle because the gun smiths did not want to scar the stock, however, the test proved conclusively that the rifle is very accurate and as good as any rifle used at the National Matches.”

The VIP was the then-Junior Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. While the Kennedy family has made the most extreme gun control central to their political identity since his death, JFK was a proud veteran, gun owner, and shooter. The carefully polished rifle does not seem to have been fired much; soon, Kennedy was embroiled in the Presidential campaign, which he would win in late 1960. It’s unknown if he took the rifle along to the White House, but it’s now at Rock Island Auctions and is going on the block next weekend, complete with a thorough and impressive provenance.

Kennedy Garand 01

Even the effort to not mar the stock by firing it from a cradle clearly shows the utmost care taken in creating this gun for Kennedy.  Thankfully, the documentation of the rifle’s journey has also been preserved.  Accompanying this rifle are a copy of the original DD1348 form noting that it was shipped to Senator Kennedy in October of 1959, the copy of the aforementioned memorandum from COL Lee to Kennedy, the actual 200 yard test target shot by MSG Parkinson, and a copy of the letter of appreciation that Kennedy wrote to MSG Parkinson thanking him for his work and attention to the rifle.

via The Rock Island Auction Blog: John F. Kennedy’s M1 Garand.

A peculiar set of conditions attached to making a custom rifle for a VIP. Sure, he could jump to the head of the lotto line, but he couldn’t get a specially selected rifle. And top US Army Marksmanship Unit gunsmith Parkinson couldn’t work to upgrade it during duty hours. But the Army does tend to find a way around itself, when its bureaucracy interferes with the mission.

This rifle has attracted its fair share of attention over the years. The May 1967 issue of “The American Rifleman” featured an article on the rifle written by MSG Parkinson himself called, “A Letter Of Appreciation For A Rifle.” In it, he states that he had no idea who the rifle was for and that, just like anyone else, a random rifle was chosen for the task. He writes, “As no substitution could be made even for someone in Congress, the Colonel [Carpenter] indicated that if I could fix up the piece in my off-duty time, it would reflect a helpful attitude and would be appreciated by the gentleman for whom the M1 was destined.” Also mentioned by Parkinson is the custom made shipping and storage crate he created for this special request rifle, which still accompanies it to this day.

What we’re not clear on is how the rifle got from JFK to the Rock Island Auction this coming weekend.

One wonders if some of the people in the leper colonies of the Internet, the ones who are quick to suggest that someone who enjoys guns or shooting sports ought to be shot dead (like, say, certain VA pshrinks), realize that poor Kennedy got what they apparently wanted for him.

For that matter, one wonders if today’s Eloi Kennedys have any idea where their patriarch (well, the real patriarch was Hitler-heiling old Joe, but you know what we mean) stood on the issue of guns and the NRA.

If You Had Only One 5.56mm Carbine?

We have an entire safe full of 5.56mm ARs (well, there’s also an old AR-10 in there) along with the safe of other stuff. But for a lot of people one AR is a major investment, and any more than that take food off the table or otherwise crimp the family budget more than practicable. If you could only have one service rifle, what would it be?

This Larue PredatOBR is a fine gun, but its features (like a quick-change barrel) and price (over $2k before optics) mean it's not Everyman's one and only AR.

This Larue PredatAR is a fine firearm, but its features and price (over $2k before optics) mean it’s not Everyman’s one and only AR. Unless Everyman is well heeled.

Depends, of course, on what you want it for. Hunting has a variety of needs, depending on where you are and what your quarry is; and those needs are different than target shooting or self-defense. Even all target shooting is not the same: competing in 3-gun is different from competing in service or high-power rifle bullseye events. And all of these are different from just having an AR for fun, which in turn is different from home defense.

If you don’t know what you want an AR for, you might be in the same position as someone who wants an AR for multiple purposes. You’re looking for one all-around AR. And yes, trust us on this: you really want an AR, not an AK or G3 clone or Valmet or AUG or Tavor. You want simplicity, reliability, and commonality with the greatest quantity of parts, accessories, information, and ammunition: you want a 5.56mm AR.

For the average Joe’s Everyman’s Carbine, we’d recommend the following:

  1. a good name-brand gun, with
  2. a telescoping stock (it doesn’t matter which one, these are readily customized for short money when you want or need a change);
  3. a 16″ chrome-lined barrel — if you just want one gun, you don’t need a stamp, and chrome-lined has advantages in durability and heat management;
  4. a good single-point optic, not Chinese junk;
  5. a practical sling;
  6. at least six spare magazines, ruthlessly destroyed and replaced when they begin to malfunction; and
  7. nothing too exotic.

By Point 7 we mean don’t need bizarre alloys, trick billet construction, ambidextrous controls (unless you’re left-handed, but try a righty AR first and see if you can run it OK), quick-change barrels, and locavore organic anti-walk pins (if the receiver is drilled and reamed right and the springs are in the right places, pins don’t walk. Ever). That stuff is all marketing. It’s supposed to make you want to spend more money.

Want to spend more money, anyway?

Spend it wisely. Buy ammo and get training. That gives you two things that can never be confiscated, experience and knowledge.

As we were thinking about this a friend flagged us to a Kyle Defoor Instagram posting on a very similar subject — the simple carbine Kyle has been using lately.

Defoor BCM Carbine

Apart from being an SBR, it’s similar to our 7 points above. It’s a minimalist, lightweight approach. Here’s how Kyle describes it:

I was asked a few months ago if I could have only one carbine what would it be/what is a good all around carbine for most people? This would be my answer to both with the only caveat being barrel length as I know some don’t want to deal with ATF stuff. It doesn’t get any lighter, more reliable, or smaller than this keeping the ability to engage realistic targets (IPSC B/C) out to 200. I now have about 5k through the barrel so I’m confident it recommending it now. All other parts are proven, affordable, and easy to attain;

BCM 11.5″ ELW w/KMR rail [ELW = “enhanced light weight”; KMR=”keymod rail” — BCM likes three-letter acronyms –Ed.]
BCM buttstock (defoor version- not rubber) w/rigger band
Aimpoint Micro T w/Bobro Q/D mount
Kyle Lamb sling mounted mid and castlenut w/ Q/Ds
Streamlight TLR-1HL custom mounted at 1 o’clock
Bobro Lowrider sights.

Many people spend more that that and wind up with less gun for their money. Note that the Quick Detachable mounts Kyle recommends only make sense if you’re going to be removing and reinstalling the sight, maybe to go with a scope sight for longer range or a NV sight for the time your area of operations faces away from the sun. But most of your one-gun practical shooter guys are, for the same reasons they have one gun, one-optic guys, too. So, what advantage does QD buy you?

With the sling, you need to ask how you are going to use the sling. Part of being a Real MP5 Guy back in the day was learning what seemed to be 113 different ways to use the H&K sling. But most guys, even when they learned the whole Teutonic sling drill, would find one or two ways they’d use the sling. You might use it as a tactical sling, a shooter’s stability aid, or a handy way to give you two hands to work on something with without using your gun, but you probably won’t use it as all three.

The light is optional, depending on the probable use of your gun. Home defense? Get the light, because crimes take place on criminals’ schedules, and by and large they’re up and active when the honest folks are asleep. But if you’re going to lock it in the safe and take it out a couple times a year for a trip to the range, a light is just a container for dead batteries.

If money is really tight, you can build your gun or buy it a piece at a time. But it’s usually cheaper to buy one that already has most of the features you will want. These are not extensively customized guns of the sort that require just the right customer; if saving money is important to you, you can probably find some used guns in the classifieds of your favorite forums, or on gunbroker, that will meet your needs.

The USMC Goes to the M4 for Infantry Marines

Somewhere, a cynical Devil Dog is saying that this is just to take a pound off so that maybe a female Marine can pass IOC one of these days. But the Marines are finally joining the Army in preferring the M4 to theM16 for infantry units.

M4_standard_accessories_delivered

According to Military Times and a range of Marines that they interviewed, the momentum has been building for this change for some time. Supposedly, the decision paper is on Commandant Joseph Dunford’s desk for his approval, which is expected. Military Times:

With the endorsement of several major commands already supporting the switch — including Marine Corps Combat Development Command; Combat Development and Integration; Plans, Policies and Operations; Marine Corps Systems Command; and Installations and Logistics — final word is possible in weeks or months.

“The proposal to replace the M16A4 with the M4 within infantry battalions is currently under consideration at Headquarters Marine Corps,” according to a jointly written response from the commands provided by Maj. Anton Semelroth, a Marine spokesman in Quantico, Virginia.

The change would be welcomed by infantrymen who say the M16A4 was too long and unwieldy for close-quarters battle in Iraq or vehicle-borne operations in Afghanistan. They tout the M4 for its weight savings, improved mobility and collapsible butt stock, allowing the rifle to be tailored for smaller Marines or those wearing body armor.

“I would have to say my gut reaction is it’s the right choice and will do a lot of good for the guys in the infantry,” said Sgt. Nathan West, an explosive ordnance technician with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, who carried an M4 on dismounted patrols and vehicle-borne operations during two deployments to Afghanistan as an anti-tank missileman.

We’ll have a couple more pull quotes, but (especially if you are a Marine) go Read The Whole Thing™.

Many other Marines have observed that the drawbacks of the longer M16A4 aren’t compensated for by the limited benefits of the longer barrel. For example, when using modern optics, the 5.5″ longer sight radius, a great accuracy advantage of the A4’s extra barrel length, is irrelevant.

No fight illustrated the need for a smaller primary weapon during ferocious close-quarters combat better than Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, when Marines fought to wrest control of Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents, sometimes going hand-to-hand.

Rounding corners and getting on target in small rooms was difficult, leading to use of a tactic called “short-stocking,” when a Marine places his rifle stock over his shoulder – instead of securely against the chest and cants his weapon45-degrees so he can still use his optics. It helps in maneuvering, but compromises recoil management and follow-up shots.

“We were taught to short stock around tight corners when we got to our platoon for deployment — it was something unofficial,” said Ryan Innis, a former scout sniper with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, who left the service as a sergeant in 2013 after serving on the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s anti-piracy raid force near East Africa.

Innis trained for shipboard operations — the closest of close-quarters combat — and said he was fortunate to be issued the M4 because the weapon’s shorter length proved better for tight spaces.

When the weapon’s not quite right, the man adapts. It’s very unlikely that the doomed insurgents who stood against the Marines’ assault on Fallujah in 2004 noticed that the Marines were employing their firearms sub-optimally

It’s instructive to remember the history of CT and hostage rescue units here. Originally (1970s-80s) these elements cleared buildings and linear targets (like an airplane, train car or bus) strictly with handguns. The 1980s found these units experimenting with compact submachine guns (like the MP5) that could combine superior accuracy at close pistol ranges with handiness nearly as good as the pistol. And after Grenada, the pistol-caliber weapon’s lack of range and versatility put it into eclipse, relative to the compact rifle-caliber carbine.

The question that remained was, could the carbine, evolved from the very limited XM177 / CAR-15 series “submachine gun,” really replace the full-length assault rifle? It was optics that moved the answer of that question from “no” to “yes.”

The Marines like the accuracy of their M4s.

[Sgt. West:] “Anything that takes weight off and keeps guys from getting tired so they are more aware of things around them is good. It is just a little less weight and just as effective of a weapon.”

That is what the Marine Corps found when it began testing the ballistics of its infantry rifles and carbines using their improved M318 Mod 0 Special Operations Science and Technology round.

“The Marine Corps conducted an evaluation of its individual weapons (M4, M27 and M16A4), with specific focus on comparing accuracy, shift of impact and trajectory with improved ammunition, and determined the M4’s overall performance compares favorably with that of the M27 IAR, the most accurate weapon in the squad,” according to the written responses provided by [Marine spox Maj. Anton] Semelroth.

The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle is, you will remember, an HK 416 variant with a free-floated barrel and a tuned trigger. The Marines will also get rid of the select M16A4s being used as designated marksman weapons under the term Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle, by assigning the designated marksman role, optionally, to the auto rifle gunner already carrying an M27 for the squad auto rifle role.

Going to the M4 for infantrymen takes a pound of weight and 10″ of overall length off of every Marine grunt. The M4s will come from Marine stocks without any need for new purchases (all Marines may be riflemen, but only 17,000 are Riflemen by MOS and job assignment), and the M16A4s will be available to be assigned to other Marine troops.

The Times also got comments from Larry Vickers, who should need no introduction. Vickers is strongly supportive of this new intitiative.

Two things we can predict about Marine riflemen: someday soon, the saltier ones will be reminiscing about the “good ol’ M16A4” to their New Guys. And none of them is going to miss “short-stocking.”

What Can Beretta’s AR Competitor, the ARX-160, Do?

Like any other gun, depends on who’s shooting it, eh? Here’s Jerry Miculek.

Your mileage may vary. (Hat tip, Guns.com). One of the best parts of it (for us) was at about 5:20 into the video where Jerry comes in from the rain and compares the ARX’s features to the Bushmaster ACR; IWI Tavor and the FN SCAR.  Here, Jerry’s millions of rounds of experience is interesting, although a service rifle needs to shine off the range, too. (And all of those, except the ACR, are proven military rifles; so, of course, is the competitor that Jerry admits all of these are striving to beat, the AR-15 series).

A few years ago we played around with a Beretta pistol-caliber carbine (CRX) and liked it. It took M9 magazines, which we have in great profusion, and was easy and fun to shoot, and like most Berettas throughout history, attractive to look at.

The pistol-caliber carbine was a fun plinker, but not a great defensive gun. A 5.56 will always be a better defensive round than any handgun round. And we recall thinking, “If they put some of this engineering into a 5.56 carbine, they’d be on to something.” Looks like Beretta may have been thinking along the same lines.

The Beretta is sold as the ARX-100 and the ARX-160 in 5.56 (we can’t explain the two names, although it might be European arms export laws). In addition, there are low-quality licensed .22LR knockoffs out there, which makes searching GunBroker a pain in the neck.

The ARX has some interesting features. (For another video with a review of it, check out this page, again at Guns.com). It’s all-ambidextrous (convertible left or right-handed), which should get a left thumb up from 10-15% of you. It has a slightly-AK-ish short-stroke piston system, but with an adjustable gas cylinder that lets you up the impulse if you have a temporary problem with anemic ammo or a fouled, sluggish gun. It has a quick-change barrel that should let you change caliber, but none of the promised conversions are shipping yet.  The box markings show that Beretta plans to ship this rifle in .300 Blackout as well.

Beretta 5.56mm ARX shows that the .300 Blackout version is coming... of course, so's Christmas.

Beretta 5.56mm ARX shows that the .300 Blackout version is coming… of course, so’s Christmas. From an over-list-price for-sale ad on GunBroker.

It also has some limitations. As Jerry notes, the flip-up sights don’t cowitness with an EOTech (they do, with an Aimpoint Comp M2). The magwell is a strict STANAG well, so it doesn’t always play nice with aftermarket magazines; specific mags that are known not to fit are Gen 3 PMags and Surefire large-caps. If you really love your X Products drum (and who doesn’t?) then you probably want to check it out before dropping coin.

In fact, however much you think you want this example of Italian style, or just to add the neutered civvy version of the current Italian Army service rifle to your collection, it might be strategically wise to hold off for a while. The current sales in GunBroker include a lot of sellers that look like they’re hoping to make above the manufacturer’s recommended list price, suggesting that pent-up supply is still excess of demand.

We do note something interesting about the Italian Army’s adoption of the ARX, and that’s that it’s one more announcement of a military power going to a compact carbine rather than a long (20″ or so) barreled rifle. The ARX comes standard with a folding and telescoping stock, so it fulfills the long-promised potential of a single weapon for crew members, technical troops, assault troops, and line infantry. This is something that’s on our mind with the USMC finally announcing that their riflemen’s M16s are going to be replaced with M4s. (They’re also replacing M16-based Designated Marksman’s Rifles, sort of, by assigning that task to the Auto Rifleman and his HK M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle).

Of course, while the Marines don’t leap till they’re sure, some armies have used carbines for a long time. Russia (then the USSR) went to a carbine in 1944 in the middle of the Great Patriotic War, replacing long rifles, and their postwar semi- and select-fire rifles were also in the compact carbine format with roughly 16-18″ barrels. Indeed, they’ve never gone back to a long barrel except for crew-served and support weapons.

In Italian service, the ARX replaces other 5.56 rifles (the AR 70 / AR 90) and also some submachine guns (PM 12S). It is part of a mix with 5.56 and 7.62mm machine guns and precision rifles.

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

Well-known (and respected) trainer Kyle Defoor was conducting training at for a military unit when one of the unit’s long guns went down, due to this:

defoor bolt failure

Yes, that’s an AR/M16/M4 bolt with a single lug fully failed. Possible causes for the failure include (at a fundamental level) manufacturing error, corrosion or fatigue. It’s hard to judge from this hole, but going way out on a limb, it looks like there’s a somewhat granular failure at the left end of the fracture, with a smoother “sudden” fracture face on the right end nearer the extractor, presumably because the fatigue failure left too little of the remaining metal to bear the stress of firing locked in battery, and the remainder of the part failed from the crack due to overstress. But it could also be caused by swapping a fresh bolt into a gun with a worn barrel extension (or vice versa) in the field, so that only one lug was bearing all the tension of locking — result, failure. Or the gun may simply have been made without the locking lugs all engaging properly — it’s happened before.

A gun with a failure like this may or may not continue to fire for a while. But if overstress on one lug was a factor, the loads formerly too much for seven lugs now bear upon six — it would not be wise to bet your life on this firearm.

Kyle, though, had another issue with the failure — and the unit whose arms room coughed up the firearm that did it.

On 9 July, he posted this image to his Facebook feed, saying:

Maybe I should start to amend contracts to include an armorer and spare parts?

With a hilarious set of hastags including, but not limited to:

#‎takecareofgear‬ ‪#‎ittakescareofyou‬ ‪

…and the snark-infused:

‬ ‪#‎logisticswinswars‬ ‪#‎waistingtrainingtime‬ ‪#‎youdontpaymetoplumb‬

The part was, as you can see from the markings, a factory Colt, magnetic particle inspected, bolt (or a counterfeit thereof that somehow got into the supply system — not impossible). It had unknown hours and rounds, because Big Green is not in the habit of keeping meaningful usage and maintenance records on small arms.

Apart from spelling “wasting” wrong, there is not much to argue with in Defoor’s response. Apparently the unit in question did not provide an armorer for the range event. In most units, the armorer doubles as a supply clerk and is not thought of as necessary for a range evolution (except to manage draw and turn-in of weapons at the Arms Room). In addition, the Army has been working to reduce the number and kind of spare parts available at organizational level. This is due to politically anti-gun policies, and Army civilian political appointees who believe (however lacking the evidence may be) that Army stocks are a significant source of crime guns.

Even if the parts were by some miracle on hand, the standard Army armorer, one each, is neither trained nor authorized to replace a failed bolt. Armorers given scant and cursory training on maintenance.  Instead, their course, an add-on for supply clerks, concentrates very extensively on paperwork, records-keeping, and the process of appearing to be conducting scheduled maintenance. This is also borne out by what actual combat units and their commanders value, based on how they judge and critique their armorers. No one is ever graded on the only maintenance measure that ought to count, the combat serviceability of the unit’s firearms; everyone is constantly graded on the process, on the appearance of maintenance, and on maintenance busy work. While we’d bet nine out of ten of the readers of this blog could fix this rifle in minutes, the only thing a company, battalion or even brigade armorer can do with it is turn it in.

Military maintenance bureaucracy does all it can to limit effective maintenance of small-unit equipment, notably including small arms, optics, and radios. Problems with these are most effectively solved by trained, experienced personnel at the lowest organizational level, so naturally such personnel are just flat not available.

Instead, you must tag the weapon or other piece of equipment down. Naturally, there are different rules for weapons and weapons equipment, vehicles, radios, and special weapons (i.e. WMD-related stuff), although the Army does try to squeeze them all onto standard forms (DA-2404 for regular maintenance, DA-2407 for turn in, nowadays it’s an electronic form, DA-2407E, done in the SAMS logistics computer system).

The weapon can’t be sent directly to the level that can fix it, even when (like this) the level is obvious and the weapon could be inspected and classified by a well-coached Helen Keller. It must go up the operator-organizational-direct-depot support chain, getting a new inspection at each

Plus, while the weapon is turned in, what is Joe Snuffy supposed to shoot? No Army unit maintains operational floats or spares (unless it is, by happenstance, or the customary incompetence of all Army personnel managers and activities, understrength). So Joe will get the weapon of whoever is on sick call or leave when the unit goes to a range, unless it’s one of the very large number of units that does an absolutely crap job of tracking who is assigned each particular weapon, in which case it’s musical chairs and the last one that shows up gets a new weapon.

The Army actually tries to bill giving a guy a new rifle for every annual, semiannual or quarterly trip to the range as a plus, believe it or not: “Everybody gets valuable experience in zeroing.” (Meanwhile, of course, everyone loses confidence in the ability of his gun to hold zero).

It does not help that the standard M12 rack does not accept a rifle with optics. In the Arms Room, it’s still 1988.

Moreover, the Army’s weapons records are a chaotic mess of rack numbers, serial numbers, weapons cards, hand receipts, pencil sheets, green-and-white property book printouts (that may not put all your unit’s rifles, for example, together on the same pages), and unofficial Excel-spreadsheets and Access databases, which interface more or less (mostly, less) with one another and with the unit’s personnel assignments. This means that every time you cross-level personnel from 2nd platoon to 3rd platoon, if your arms room is nicely organized by platoons, Joe Rifleman is going to get a new rifle and be off zero until next range trip, and so is Bill Bulletician who’s coming from somewhere else… that’s another reason why no Army unit beyond the Ranger battalions and the 82nd Division Ready Battalion actually dares to ship out to combat without a trip to the zero range.

In addition to the deployment delays that come because no one has confidence in his optic zero right now, we also endure a colossal waste of time because weapons inventories are unnecessarily hard. (One of the nice things about HK 416s? Their serial numbers are highlighted. Seems like a small thing, until you’ve tried to inventory a couple hundred M16A2s by the light of a flickering fluorescent bulb that there’s no budget to replace. And if you highlight the number with paint or permanent marker, you can actually get dinged on inspection). Every arms room needs to be inventoried periodically by senior personnel who have better things to do, and many aperiodic inventories are demanded by regulations. The faster these go, the better for everyone, but the Army has a settled way of doing things that proceeds from the assumption that the net value of a soldier, NCO or officer’s time is always zero.

 

Testing Polymer Receivers to Destruction: Factory and Printed

Here’s another embedded video from Full30.com’s InRange TV, where Ian and Karl do their level best to destroy a Cav Arms polymer lower.

They step on it, stomp on it, run it over with a Jeep, and shoot holes in it, and still it keeps on shooting. One is reminded of the old Timex ads, “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Maybe it should be “Takes a drilling and it keeps on killing (IPSC targets).”

We’re not really shocked by this. We had AKs and SKSes in the foreign weapons arms room in 10th Group that were Vietnam captures, complete with bullet and claymore holes, and they all worked. (We kind of doubt their previous owner Mr Nguyen was still in such adequate operating condition). And we’ve seen ARs take some pretty brutal treatment and keep on shooting, including carbines that would still chamber rounds after their plastic was all burned off and their magazines blown out by a helicopter post-crash fire (we didn’t shoot them, though), and an M16A1 that still functioned (albeit inaccurately) with the barrel bent 30º off axis at the FSB1 (it was under a trooper’s armpit when he executed a really craptacular PLF2, dislocating his arm and bending the rifle).

A really good design is overwrought enough that it can be degraded by wear, corrosion, or, yes, combat, a good bit before it fails to function. And a really outstanding design delivers that with the smallest weight and bulk penalty possible.

Cav Arms made quite a few of these lowers out of durable Nylon 6 before the company was singled out for destruction by the ATF, which is a long story and off this topic. (A seemingly complete technical history of the Cav Arms lower has been prepared by Russel Phagan, aka Sinistral Rifleman, who assisted in the video). A successor manufactures the lowers today. (But the most significant thing about the lower wasn’t the company’s grim fate; it was that the lower was redesigned from the ground up to be made of polymer, to take advantage of this material’s strengths, and to shore up its weaknesses).

As Ian points out towards the end of the video, a polymer lower designed to be a polymer lower is a better bet than one that is just a molding of the traditional 7075 alloy machined forging. (Conversely, a steel receiver that follows the form factor of the alloy lower is going to be overstrength and overweight). These follow from the differences in the strengths of the three materials.

Ian notes the weakness of the buffer tower if the normal lower receiver is modeled in anything other than metal, and that gibes with the results that early lower-receiver 3D printers had, substituting much weaker ABS or PLA material for the 7075. The first point of failure to be made manifest was the buffer tower area. This led to reinforced buffer towers and ultimately such heavily-reinforced lower-receiver designs as the modern Aliamanu-Phobos.

alimanu_phobos_printed_lower

Along with the reinforcements named in that slide, the massively reinforced buffer tower is evident. But even this beefy design can fail. This one started to delaminate with just 20 rounds fired. Test firing the lower:

trouble1 aliamanu-phobosHere’s the first image of the delamination. Since all the fire control group parts are above the delamination line, the weapon should still operate, but this obviously bodes ill for any probability of it surviving further testing. (Yes, these do embiggen for more of a close-up look).

trouble1 delamination 1Here’s the other side at that 20-round point:

trouble1 delamination 2

 

Firing more rounds just cause more failure, in this case it seems that the area around the grip screw also began to delaminate, releasing the grip:

trouble1 delamination 3At this point, stick a fork in it, it’s done.

Others have had much better results, including from pretty low end perimeters, and the equipment and parameters that FOSSCAD member trouble1 used didn’t seem out of step with what the successful printers did. But you can’t call this a successful print. It seems highly probable that there is some failure in the print setup or materials (moisture in the filament?) that no one has figured out yet.

That delamination is an interesting failure mode that’s fairly common in fused filament fabrication printing, is only one reason the technology is not yet ready to compete head-to-head with plastic injection molding. The much slower production of the additive process, and its higher per-unit variable cost, also argue against this for production. However, injection molding, with its generally higher fixed costs (for tooling), is unsuitable for prototyping and very short production runs. A hybrid of technologies that uses printed molds to reduce that fixed cost for short runs offers the potential of closing the gap. But a proper part is a part that is designed in conjunction with its manufacturing technology — engineered for production from Day One, with materials  chosen to meet the mission and simplify, speed up, and save money on production.

As Ian noted about the Cav Arms polymer lower (which is injection molded), it’s necessary to design the part to make best use of the materials and technology. Simply trying to reverse-engineer a popular firearm in a new material or manufacturing approach will only take you so far. It may, given enough iterations, be far enough.

Notes

  1. FSB = Front Sight Base, the triangular-shaped forging that holds up the front sight on the nose of AR-15 series rifles through the early M4A1. It also locates the gas tube and hosts the bayonet lug — a busy small part.
  2. PLF = Parachute Landing Fall, a specific roll that reduces the risk of injury when a para touches down.

Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

Jim Schatz, former HK USA manager (during the period of peak Because-You-Suck-And-We-Hate-You customer service, actually) always has one of the most interesting presentations when he’s up at an NDIA1 conference. The slides from this years’ NDIA are up (here), and Jim’s presentation, interesting as ever, is up here (.pdf). Jim wants us launching bigger bullets, to longer ranges.

Jim’s basic beef is probably best encapsulated in this quote from an SF team sergeant:

Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.

To boil down his argument to a single-sentence thesis: The US lacks small-arms overmatch, and only changing cartridges can get it for us. He defines overmatch by effective range. As he sees it, this is what the world looks like today:

schatz_slide_overmatch_now

As a former infantryman, Jim knows that weapons don’t square off one-against-one. On the battlefield, units from corps to squad size all maneuver to bring their organic, attached and support firepower to bear on the enemy (who is doing the same, inversely). It’s a common fallacy that (for example) because every squad in the Ruritanian army has a designated marksman, our squads should have one too. (Maybe they should, but not directly because of what the Ruritanians are doing). As you can see, Jim’s focus on range leads him to pair off sniper rifles with light machine guns, weapons which have similar effective ranges for completely different reasons, even when they fire dimensionally identical ammo.

As far as his 1000m effective range of the SVD is concerned… he must have shot one?

Here is one of his proposals for overmatch. There’s a few things screwy here (the SVD has grown  an even-more-ludicrous 500m of range, to 1500m), but that’s not important. What is important is the argument that going to an Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (something like the 6.5 or 6.8 or something all new in the 6-7mm neighborhood) for rifles and to .338 for support weapons will provide significant range overmatch.

schatz_slide_overmatch_future

The increased ammo weight can be made up in part by polymer or semi-polymer (i.e. with a metallic base) cases.

Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about 140k actual shooters out of the much larger service. A finance clerk needs a rifle, sure, but he or she can live with the latest-but-one.

Bear in mind that the target set is also not static, while we’re developing all these new weapons the Russians, the Chinese, and even the ragtag insurgents of the world (who have definitely, like Russia, pushed more 7.62mm weapons down to squad-equivalent level than heretofore) are acting, adapting, and changing, too. We don’t need to overmatch the enemy today with the weapons we’ll have in ten years. We need to overmatch the set of weapons the enemy will have ten years from now, in ten years.

Men can disagree about how best to get there. Assuming we stick with the M16/M4 platform, Our Traveling Reporter would have us go to the 6.8 x 43. (It was news to him that the Saudi Royal Guard has adopted this platform, in LWRC carbines, or that military 6.8 is in production for export now by Federal — formerly ATK). We would probably go with the 6.5 (x38, although the length designator is seldom spoken aloud) Grendel for its lower BC and higher sectional density (=longer effective range, flatter trajectory, more energy on target). The 90 grain Federal load in the 6.8 is very effective closer in (the 6.8 was developed with SF input as a CQB cartridge).

Some current contenders --  M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out the historical context.

Some current contenders — M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out assault rifle ammo in historical context, including many old, obscure, and outright forgotten attempts. Shape of the 6.5 suggests a superior BC. The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).

This is not an entirely new or novel idea. As mentioned in the caption to the photo above, British researcher Anthony Williams has a very fine article on Assault Rifle History with lots and lots of ammunition comparison photos. Back in the 1970s, a guy whose business was called Old Sarge, based in the highway intersection of Lytle, Texas, made a quantity of 6 x 45 guns and uppers. Based closely on the 5.56, these guns (most of them were built as what we’d now call carbines) were completely conventional, but like today’s 6.8 SPC the intent was to create superior terminal ballistics. We don’t know what happened to him or what seemed to be, when we stopped in, his one-man business (he talked us out of a mod he’d done for others, an M60 bipod on an XM177).

If we have a serious criticism of Schatz’s work here, it’s that its focus solely on range as an indicator of overmatch understates the problem. Hadji with his AK and mandress has a lack of fear of our troops that stems only partly from his belief that range makes him safe (and only partly from his paradise-bound indifference to being safe). His feeling of impunity stems from a belief he won’t be engaged at all, won’t be hit if engaged, and won’t be killed or suffer significantly if hit. We need to increase the certainty that our guys will fire back, not just increase our pH, and we need to increase our pK as well. The first of these is far outside the scope of weapons and ammunition design, but it is, in our view, the most serious shortfall of US and Allied forces.

We have another beef that’s not specific to this, but that arise with any attempt to pursue range or other small-arms overmatch: it never works. There are only two ways pursuit of overmatch can finish. Either your new weapon does not constitute an overwhelming advantage, or it does — in which case everybody copies it most ricky-tick. Mikhail Kalashnikov died bothered by the fact that he never got royalties on any of the millions and millions of AKs made outside of his homeland, but the guys who really got copied were the engineers who built the StG.44. (True, the AK was better adapted to Soviet expectations, traditions, manufacturing capabilities, and training modes, but it was certainly inspired, conceptually, by the first assault rifle). It was a good idea. It was exclusive to Germany for mere months (of course, that they were losing the war may be a factor, but that the war ended was certainly a factor in slowing the adoption of assault rifles in Russia (a little) and the West (a lot).

In all seriousness, if you look at the history of firearms, you see a punctuated equilibrium. For centuries the flintlock is the infantry weapon, then the percussion lock sweeps the flints away in a period of 30 years or so (faster for major powers, or anybody actively at war). Then the breechloader dethrones the percussion rifle-musket in a couple of decades… to itself be overthrown by repeaters in 10 to 20 years. Calibers go from 11-13 mm to 7-8 mm to 5-6 mm at the same time all over the world. We’ve had a very long period now of equilibrium around the SCHV (Small Caliber, High Velocity) concept. Is it time for that equilibrium to be punctuated? Schatz says yes.

Notes

  1. NDIA: National Defense Industrial Association, a trade and lobbying group for defense contractors. Formerly the American Defense Preparedness Association (when Your Humble Blogger was a member, and they were fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a defense industrial base during the Clinton disarmament/drawdown cycle), and before that the Ordnance Association.

Sources:

Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Toward%20a%20600%20m%20GP%20round.pdf ; this is a uniquely French view of this same challenge, hosted online by Anthony Williams.

Schatz, Jim. Where to Now? 3 June 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2015smallarms/17354_Schatz.pdf

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/The%20Next%20Generation.htm ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2010armament/WednesdayLandmarkBAnthonyWilliams.pdf

(Note that Williams’s work on this matter was sponsored by H&K, a fact that is not invariably disclosed in all documents but that Williams publicly discloses on his website).

 

Meet the Gladius

ga_precision_logoRecently, a friend commented, to a third guy looking for an accurate rifle cheap, that cheap wasn’t the right way to do it.

“Look at GA Precision. George builds really accurate rifles. And he guarantees them.”  George is George Gardner, who founded GA Precision in 2007 and has built it into a thriving business that supplies a who’s who of long-range target shooters and law enforcement Must Not Miss Ever marksmen. And yes, George guarantees them:

G.A. Precision guarantees the accuracy of its rifles to be 1/2 MOA at 100 yards with match grade ammunition. This guarantee applies to any complete build or partial builds where G.A. Precision both barrels the rifle in combination with bedding it. As long as GAP agrees that supplied components are quality.

There are some exceptions for this. The Templar-action Crusader model is guaranted to shot 3/4 3/8 MOA and the GAP-10 7.62-NATO-caliber AR variant, 1 MOA — all with match grade ammunition. And the Non Typical Hunting Rifle, a build with a much lighter barrel for field use than a typical target or sniper rifle, is guaranteed to shoot to 1/2 MOA, but only for three shots (due to our oft-discussed bugbear, barrel heating, a bigger issue in a hunting barrel).

We’re pretty sure we’ve talked about GA Precision’s rifles before — friends of ours who came from a Marine Scout/Sniper background and continued their service under different sponsorship, shall we say, like ’em — but we thought we’d take a look, and we found one we really liked, the Gladius. (The name came from Frank Galli of Sniper’s Hide, it’s a Roman twist on GA Precision’s usual Crusades-themed gun names)

gap_gladius

The Gladius is designed from the outset to be suppressed. It comes with the muzzle brake/ suppressor mount for Surefire systems. It has a short barrel (hence the name!) but still comes with the 1/2 MOA guarantee.

gladius_muzzle

Now, if you are asking, as our friend did, for a “cheap” accurate AR-10 clone, GA Precision probably is not where you want to shop. Even their gas gun (reasonably priced for its quality) is a $3,000 system before optics and suppression, and a bolt gun like the Gladius is $4k plus, similarly bare of the glass and can that it will wear when fully dressed. (The glass can easily match the gun dollar-for-dollar, if you want the best brand names).

But if true precision is what you’re seeking, this is what it looks like. This is what it costs.

GA Precision has wait lists for most of its firearms (a few built-on-spec or customer-remorse firearms are always available on the site, but a popular one doesn’t stay there long).

The GA Precision website also contains a true illustration of what a class act George (and the company) is. Employees are listed on a Meet the Team page, but when employees leave in good standing their bios move to the Alumni page, and they’re remembered. Even George’s ex-K9 Malinois, Rocky, gets the Alumnus treatment.

To twist the tagline of some long-gone chicken farmer, it takes some tender guys to make a tough precision rifle.

Updates

This post has been corrected. We originally stated, incorrectly, that the guarantee on The Crusader was 3/4 MOA. While 3/4 MOA is pretty good (especially for a guaranteed performance with, not custom loads, but factory-loaded Match ammo), the Crusader is in fact guaranteed to 3/8 MOA, a much smaller (and tougher-to-guarantee) group.

We regret the error and apologize to the fine folks at GA Precision.

We also regret that we were unclear about the reason Rocky is on the Alumni page. While the other Alumni have gone on to other jobs, careers, or locations, Rocky has gone to the Great Dog Park Beyond. He’s baying in the Pack Invisible. He is an ex-dog — but warmly remembered, as anyone who has ever loved one would understand. The ancient Greeks believed that as long as one man remembered you, your spirit lived yet. Ave atque vale, Rocky (yes, we’re mixing Greek culture with Latin sentiment, so what? Go ahead and sue us, and find a blog that keeps thing Classically correct).

It’s oh-dark-hundred here and tomorrow’s posts may lag. Still trying to rescue a tech investment and playing Can This Company Be Saved? is time-consuming.

Geissele (ALG Defense) AK Trigger

Bill Geissele’s wife’s company, ALG Defense, makes products for more of a mass-market than the very sweet, fairly simple, Geissele AR-15 triggers that live in more than a few SOF M4s and Mk. 11/12/18s, etc. (Indeed, sometimes the Geisele triggers are authorized MFP 11 or unit purchases, and sometimes they are installed on a catch-me-F-me basis by unit weapons men or armorers). Along with the triggers for full-on M4s and HK416s, Geissele makes improved triggers in both single-stage and two-stage variants for a wide range of semi ARs. They’re not cheap, they’re not always in stock, but they’re good.

ALG Defense makes simpler AR triggers — and now, an AK trigger, imaginatively coded AKT. In this video Bill explains the objectives this trigger meets and talks about some of the challenges involved in designing it.

The AK, Bill says, “has a ton of sear engagement.” That’s what you, the shooter, perceive as the very long and very smooth takeup of the typical AK trigger.  (The SKS trigger has a similarly long, smooth engagement, suggesting that this may have been a standing Soviet / Russian design objective).

The result is an AK trigger that fits a variety of common receivers on domestic, imported, and kit-built AKs, and that reduces the trigger pull force and duration (including that all important very long sear dwell) significantly.

For example, Bill shows a graph of a stock AK trigger versus the ALG AKT; the stock trigger moves about 0.150″/4mm and takes about 4.5-5 lb. of pressure during that sear dwell period. The AKT takes up the slack more quickly and seems to come in about 0.065″ and just under 3.5 lb.

At about 8:30 he shows a 3D model (in Autodesk Inventor) of the trigger and walks through its function.

It fits some AKs with no fitting, but because of the wide variation in AK safeties, some AKs need a roll pin positioned so as to contact the safety. It’s explained in the video and in the AKT’s instructions.