Category Archives: Industry

How To Sole-Source a Contract: ICE’s Next Pistol, S&W M&P

So, the gang at ICE want to buy a new pistol. The initial contract solicitation, a Request for Information, is here (the meat of it is in the bit called the Statement of Work [.pdf]).

They’re buying the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm, even though that firearm is mentioned nowhere in the solicitation, which is ostensibly a request for several makers to provide guns for a run-off.



How do they get from a multi-vendor solicitation and, presumably, evaluation, to the apparently preselected M&P without mentioning either the pistol itself, or even the fact that “the fix is in”, in any of their documents?

Welcome to the wacky world of government contracting, where sole-sourcing a contract is generally forbidden — and common.

How do they do it? When they’ve decided what they want, they look at characteristics that set the preferred item they want apart from its competitors, and then they write those characteristics — whether they’re important, or not — into the Statement of Work.

For example, this SOW requires that the pistol have a polymer frame (so long, most SIGs, Berettas, etc), and that it have a consistent trigger pull on every shot (so long, every DA/SA automatic). At this point, only a plastic striker-fired gun or a DAO model is possible — and the trigger pull requirements rule out the DAO pistol (it has to be from 5-8.5 pounds pressure). So by this point you’re down to Glock, M&P, and Glock’s imitators. The solicitition demands an ambidextrous slide release: Tschuß! to the Austrian.


At this point, the new SIG P320 may still be in the running, because it has a striker-fired system, a polymer frame, and an ambi slide release. But the word we get suggests the fix is in; a few other detailed requirements like front sight configuration firm it up: and ICE’s solicitation writers have written a new-pistol acquisition document that complies strictly with the letter of the law, whilst turning the law on its head and sole-sourcing Smith pistols.

Now, they’re good pistols and most of the agents have fallen out of love with the current standard SIG in .40. (The agency has long been planning to revert to 9mm, as modern duty ammunition is almost as effective as .40 and the reduced blast and recoil translate to more hits on target, in the hands of real agents).

Of course, while we say, “they’re good pistols,” anyone who looks can find examples of agencies that had problems rolling them out. For example, NC Highway Patrol gave up on M&Ps in .357 SIG in 2013, and Texas DPS slow-rolled a rollout after having problems in early 2014.

Chris Costa also encountered a batch of M&Ps with abysmal accuracy problems last December, as reported at Monderno and on Chris’s Facebook page at the time. The photos show rounds keyholing at pistol distances!

On the Departure of Byron T. Jones

ATF BadgeHe didn’t want to work with you, you know. He didn’t want to give you a fair shake. He wanted to put you in prison — and that was whether you were an industry executive, a firearms end user, or one of his own agents. Whoever you were, if you came under the scrutiny of the “in crowd” in his agency, Byron T. Jones hated you and wanted to destroy you, quite impersonally. Fortunately, he was as incompetent at that as he was at running the agency.

The outgoing ATF director, who so fancied himself a Second Coming of J. Edgar Hoover that he styled his name B. Todd Jones, slipped a brief notice of his resignation into Friday night’s press releases, after deadline for the nightly news.

He had been on the skids since he overreached with his attempt to ban 5.56mm M855 and SS109 ammunition. Pro-gun legislators wanted his scalp for trying, and anti-gun ones wanted his scalp for failing. After a quick canvass of the Dreaded Private Sector to figure out who-needs-a-favor-or-three-at-DOJ,  frightened managers at the NFL bought immunity from Federal investigation on several grounds — by offering him a bolt-hole. He leaped.

Jones’s Legacy: Broad-Based Failure.

On Jones’s watch the ATF failed to investigate systemic gunwalking by Bureau employees to violent Drug Trafficking Organizations, failed to punish the malefactors inside the agency who did this (instead, most were promoted or got other sweet deals), and failed to protect whistleblowers. Indeed, Jones redoubled agency retaliation. Jones turned the organization into partisan political police; everyone knows now that your voter registration is a factor in every ATF investigative and prosecution decision. Every ATF agent and operations inspector reports today to two masters, his supervisors and The Party; and if he will not report to The Party his supervisors cheerfully do it for him, while steering promotions and advancements to those who hold the right Party card.

Attorneys from the Chief Counsel’s Office and DOJ attorneys fed false information by ATF have produced a serious of decisions calling the credibility of the individual attorneys and their investigations into question. But even if these investigations produce indictments — something that the outgoing Attorney General has said will not happen on his watch — the real malefactors, the senior managers, are as immune as the heads of the Sinaloa Cartel are in their lair in Sinaloa.

Old ATF Hands Saw it Coming

Two of the most-retaliated-against agents in Bureau history called Jones’s departure mere days or weeks in advance.

Jay Dobyns, on 6 March, at Clean Up ATF:

Way to go Jones and Company. You’re legacy will be that instead of saving and rehabilitating a troubled agency you ended up tanking it. Taking bets that Jones leaves ATF in the next couple months and leaves everyone else holding the bag.

And Vince Cefalu, on 13 March.

Words starting to swirl that the B Todd is haulin ass soon. We told you his lack of investment in ATF would be apparent. Came in to tank the agency and leaves when Holder can’t protect him anymore. Can anyone name ONE significant policy with long term goals that this regime has contributed? He came in, threatened the agents and padded his resumé.

Jones’s exit announcement hit on the evening of 19 March. Jay and Vince called it, eh?

Holder (l.) and Jones (r.)

Holder (l.) and Jones (r.)

Whether the exit was driven by the abortive bullet ban, or by several cases in which judges have complained about dishonesty by ATF witnesses and attorneys, or simply, as Vince suggested, because Jones lost the “top cover” of his friend Eric Holder, he’s gone in a few days.

We’d like to say ATF would be in better hands, but Brandon isn’t “better hands.”


The GunLab VG 1-5 Project Update

Chuck at GunLab reports on the ongoing VG 1-5 project. Pre-orders have been taken (cards not yet charged) and a list established at Allegheny Arsenal. It’s not cheap, but you’re not going to be the sixth AR in line at the range with this thing.

We’re going to catch you up on the last several VG 1-5 2015 updates, a couple of which we might have mentioned before.

Chuck had made the first few receiver reinforcement plates by hand on a finger brake. It worked but it was an ugly way of doing it, especially with hundreds of the guns spoken for by eager collectors. So he made a special pressing jig. Here it is in action:

The Magazine Release Button comprises a threaded insert riveted into a pressed dome, which is made itself from a flat laser-cut washer. Both processes are shown in the video below and explained with many photos in the appropriate GunLab post from back in January.

And so, finally, we get to the latest update, from 9 Mar 15, in which a test-mule VG 1-5 is test-fired. As Chuck writes:

We looked at everything from the barrel chamber and flutes to the firing pin length. We needed to check the recoil spring length and tension. Is the buffer spring too strong or weak? Will the fire control group work properly? All the drawings showed that everything should work but these are all questions that can only be answered during a test fire.

A problem is found, is rapidly troubleshot, and a new problem is found.

While the videos are a brief and on point, and have the advantage of motion, we strongly urge going to see the actual posts, because the many photos there and the descriptions reveal details not clarified in the videos.

We have every confidence that troubleshooting will be successful. How much confidence? Well, our VG 1-5 is on order.

There are several other cool things happening at GunLab, and they are worth checking out. (If you’re typing the address in, try to remember it’s Someone has acquired the domain, but we don’t know who).


Sorry about the missing test-fire video. Should be fixed now.

Most Recent Ghost Gunner Update

We received the following from Cody Wilson on 7 March 2015. We could pontificate at great length on what he’s saying here, but we’d rather just pass it on. It wasn’t on the GG website.

Ghost Gunners,

No doubt many of you heard of our recent shipping snafu with FedEx. If you haven’t, Wired had a relatively thorough coverage. The short story is that FedEx has capriciously declined to ship the machine, citing the mere suggestion of a legal controversy in doing so.

You and I know there isn’t any. But for better or worse the chatterati does not. So firstly, I’d like to assure you that only FedEX has actually declined to ship the product and that, as a very last resort, USPS is bound as a government agency to ship it. We are not without shipping solutions, and I would like to thank many of you for offering your help when you learned we had been left hanging. This has so far been only another unexpected annoyance.

On Monday I’m making a test shipment with our new preferred shipper. And shortly thereafter you backers in the first group will be seeing your fulfillment emails.


Though you haven’t heard from me in a while, these GG boxes have been on the move and, before it became unpopular, were actually shipped by FedEx and another courier from independent locations. We’ve even tested air shipment.


Someone’s interested in our work.


As for the manufacturing, our supply problems are completely reversed. Since the middle of February we’ve been receiving more parts from our new supplier than our previous two were able to provide in months. The GG shop is full of workers and we’ve finalized all of our assembly and testing processes.

20150306 205419

I can only thank you for your patience as we are toyed with by those who have the power to delay us. Everyone here laughs at the pained lengths to which our enemies go to frustrate us. We are so eager to show what we have made for you.

My next email is a shipping update.

The production pictures were, to us, the most interesting part. We’re really excited about trying this thing out (and also, about trying to program it to do new stuff. We just spend a lot of time making a dishwasher repair part out of sheet metal — that kind of thing is fun but the repetitive part of it was not).

We strongly suspect that Defense Distributed’s shippers are being hassled by The Man, and we strongly suspect that it is happening because, as with the M855 imbroglio (the ban’s prospects still not over, quoth the ATF, just delayed), the forces of the bansters vastly overestimate the popularity of their means and their ends. (Yet, deep down, they must know their ideas are unpopular, because they go to great extremes to conceal them and mislead the public about their ideas and objectives. For example, the college campus carry bills now under consideration in Florida have produced a Bloomberg opposition ad that misrepresents the bills as allowing grade school students to carry!)

Bubba the Gunsmith has a Rationale This Time

A casual look at this Taurus Judge (or similar) might make you think that Bubba the Gunsmith has been gunsmiting [stet] again. But it turns out there’s a reason for this being so smitten: read on, after casting eyes on the Bubbalicious product.

Here come de judge

This particular member of the Five Lee Sistersdoes of course look like Bubba has been let loose with the Delrin and aluminum, and a $2 knockoff of a Knight’s Armament Co. foregrip. For what purpose would anyone attach this thing to the gimmick of a gun? Because he wants powder burns and lead splatter in his weak hand’s wrist?

It turns out there is a method in this madness, and the clue to it is in this picture. If you look at the engraving on the gun, it has the Taurus “Judge” name on the barrel, and a different marking on the receiver: OC armory, Laguna Hills, California. That’s because Mike Penhall of OC armory is the Bubba who manufactures this pistol into an NFA “any other weapon.”

Why does Mike do that? Because it’s the only way a Californian can legally own a judge.

Excuse us, a capital-J judge. We don’t think it’s legal to own a small-J judge, even in California’s weird legal system, but we expect judges there are bought and sold just like there are they are anywhere else.

Bubbas own JudgeBy adding the fore grip, Mike has transformed the pistol into in AOW. Judge pistol? Banned in CA. Judge AOW? A pile of paperwork, a long wait, and a five dollar transfer tax. But legal in CA.

A lot of people on the net are hyperventilating over this picture, and declaring that this firearm is illegal (right). That’s why wise men don’t get legal advice from the Internet. Given OC Armory’s 07 FFL, it’s perfectly legal, under both federal and state law.

And there you have it. A rational reaction to an irrational gun law, which presents as an example of Bubbasmithing!


  1. The Five Lee Sisters are, of course, Ug, Home, Ghast, Beast, and Gnar.

Additive Manufacturing in Defense and Aerospace

Today, we have two links for you that will expand your knowledge of what the DOD and Aerospace world is doing with additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing for Armaments

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.56.11The first is slightly dated, because it comes from the NDIA’s 2013 Armament conference. (Yes, 2013 was a long time ago in this rapidly developing field). It is the presentation slides of Stratasys’s John Dobstetter. Stratasys (SSYS) is one of the two large publicly traded firms in the field (the other is 3D Systems, whose ticker symbol fits: DDD).

Personally, we wouldn’t cross the street to whiz on Stratasys if they were on fire, because the company is firmly antigun and pro-gun-control, but Dobstetter’s presentation is an excellent one that starts out assuming that (1) his audience knows nothing about additive, but (2) it’s a bunch of smart people who know manufacturing and catch on quickly.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.56.28There’s fascinating stuff about when to use additive (see the Sweet Spot slide above) and how it can be applied to every phase or stage of manufacture (see the Lifecycle Applications slide to the right). Switched-on manufacturers, like Czech airplane manufacture Evektor, are using additive parts both as tooling and as end use parts.

There are some extremely clever uses of additive, either alone or hybridized with other tools, for composite layup tooling, producing some very interesting carbon, glass and aramid (Kevlar) parts. Likewise, end uses can be hybridized, with additive-manufactured complex ends added to shafts or beams made by winding filament or tow around a simple metal mandrel.

A .pdf of Dobstetter’s presentation is found here in the archives of the 2013 Armament conference.

Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace

MIT Technology Review has an interesting article (aren’t they all? Well, in MIT Tech Review, maybe) called Additive Manufacturing Is Reshaping Aviation. In this case, they’re not talking about little piston-plane builders like Evektor or Cirrus, but the big gorillas of jet-engine production, Pratt & Whitney and GE.

prattwhitneyx299Pratt & Whitney already uses two additive manufacturing techniques to make some engine components. Instead of casting metal in a mold, the methods involve forming solid objects by partially melting a metal powder with either a laser or an electron beam.

Additive manufacturing processes can reduce waste, speed up production, and enable designs that might not be feasible with conventional production processes.

Ding ding ding… we have frequently mentioned this benefit, the ability to design things free of the shackles of traditional subtractive manufacturing.

The novel shapes and unusual material properties the technology makes possible—such as propeller blades optimized for strength at one end and flexibility at the other—could change the way airplanes are designed.

Of course, propeller blades are already optimized that way, by having taper in three dimensions. And a company named Carter Aviation Technologies has developed revolutionary propellers that use a flexible composite skin around two spars that flex like the bones in your forearm to change the delta of pitch in the propeller, whereas conventional propellers can only change the pitch itself, not its rate of change. (Hey, you could use the additive tooling that Dobstetter showed in the first cite to make all the iterations of a Carter-patent propeller that you could possibly use).

Meanwhile, engineers hold out hope for today’s amazing technology to be supplanted by better machinery — finer resolution, faster printing, better-understood statics & mechanics. Even as great as the state of the art is, the engineers must push it:

…additive manufacturing techniques need to improve to allow for higher precision. Once researchers understand the fine, molecular-scale physics of how lasers and electron beams interact with powders, [P&W engineer Frank Prelli] says, “that will lead to the ability to put in finer and finer features, and faster and faster deposition rates.”

Whatever happens with the jet engine makers and the airframers that are their major customers, we can expect more and better from additive manufacturing. While the whole thrust of the article is aerospace, it has clear applications to defense and firearms manufacturing.

And A Bonus from MIT Tech Review: Nanosteel

What happens to steel when you apply nanotechnology to it?

MIT Tech Review’s Kevin Bullis (same guy that wrote the additive article linked above) is saying things that scarcely seem possible:

An inexpensive new process can increase the strength of metals such as steel by as much as 10 times…

Can you think of a firearms application for that? Or about 100 of them? We sure can. (Saving 90% of the weight of a Browning MG in .338 LM?)

But wait! It turns out it doesn’t just strengthen the steel… it also makes it much more corrosion-resistant. It works by electroplating nanometer-thing material onto a part in nano-engineered layers. It has the effect of changing the apparent properties of the now-hybridized part.

And it’s not significantly more expensive than current plating and coating processes.

Improved 7.62 x 39 PTR-32

We’re way, way behind on this, because the company slipped it into their line at SHOT, promoted it heavily at SHOT, and is shipping several versions in quantity. This is the PTR-32 Generation II, of which, the company seems not to have good photos (Call Oleg Volk!)


The original HK32, the PTR’s conceptual daddy, seems to have been a “catalog” weapon that was promoted, displayed, demonstrated, but never manufactured in quantity, unlike the Hk31 series (G3), which was the third most popular 7.62 NATO rifle, issued to a couple dozen countries, or the HK33, the 5.56 version which was adopted by Thailand (and possibly others?).


The above image is from HKPro, which has a brief writeup on the HK32. More recently, The Firearm Blog notes that an HKPro forum member found an instance of HK32 in the field, in service with Mexican Policia. But the weapons were very rare, and used an oddball proprietary magazine. According to HKPro, Bill Fleming (most renowned now for his pre-86 full-auto conversions of HK firearms) gunsmithed some custom HK32s, and Special Weapons supposedly made a run of what they called the SW32, which should be avoided (Special Weapons was one of the Todd Bailey companies — Special Weapons, Bobcat, Coharie, more names that the bottom-of-the-line Chevy and for the same reason, because each name got poisoned by the crap products and worse service) so there has always been plenty of demand for a roller-lock in the 7.62 x 39mm M43 cartridge.

HK promoted and promoted it, back in their roller lock days before they raised the white flag and started cloning the AR. From the 70s through the 80s it was a staple of every HK full-line catalog, and featured in every HK article in the trades, in Small Arms of the World. But it never was a production item, probably because if you were shooting AK ammo you couldn’t beat the economics of AKs. Heck, if you were a communist or terrorist, the KGB would make sure someone gave them to you. So there never emerged large military sales for the HK rifle in Russian intermediate-cartridge form.

PTR Industries, which is back in full production (and has made up 2014 layoffs with new hiring in its new location in Aynor, SC) has made a sort-of HK32 clone with one very significant improvement: it takes the cheap, available, reliable AK magazine. We say sort-of because the PTR guys did not have an HK 32 to work with, and knew from the start they wanted to use AK mags, so they basically re-designed the G3 platform for 7.62 x 39, just as HK did. (HK used the HK33/93 receiver for its start point on the 32, while PTR used the larger and heavier HK31/91 receiver).

Incidentally, the “PTR” stands for Precision Target Rifles. The rifles were originally made under the name JLD with the PTR being the product name, but the names were harmonized years ago. If you find an HK clone from JLD Enterprises, it’s simply an older PTR and should be equal quality (it may have more imported parts than newer PTRs).

The firearm is made in a confusing array of versions, including gelded versions for ban states like Massachusetts and Californistan.

The principal division between versions is:

  • Early PTR,-32, now retroactively named the Generation I,  made from 2009-2013, maybe ’14. This version was extremely picky about the AK mags it worked with, especially the first production ones.

This is a Gen I PTR-32. Most of the changes needed to make the Gen II take more varied AK mags are internal.



  • Generation II PTR-32, supposedly more eclectic in its acceptance of AK mags.

The very first, experimental PTR-32s were not released to the public. They used a proprietary magazine that did not interchange with AKs (or, presumably, with the rare-to-nonexistent HK 32s). The GIs were, as noted, magazine finicky. Note also that to make AK drums fit in the PTR-32, the traditional approach has been to cut away the magwell. (Talk about voiding the warranty!)

Post-number letters tell you what features the gun has. As we’ve broken them out (we couldn’t find a breakout, but there has to be one somewhere), K stands for 16″ (versus 18″) barrel, C is a ban-compliant gun for MA and NJ with subcapacity magazine and no muzzle threads or device, R stands for a welded-on Picatinny rail, and F we think stands for a railed fore-end, but it may just be for the PTR machined-alloy fore-end. This part looks at a glance like a G3 standard slimline handguard, but when you handle it you can see that it is machines from aluminum and has holes for attaching Picatinny rails for accessories. It’s a nice feature. In addition, versions that accept M4 style sliding stocks are always shipped with rails, and include “M4R” in the model name.


We’re not blind HK fans here (the only HK on hand is a 416, actually), but the roller-locked system is the sort of ingenious mechanism that tickles our fancy, and it has one theoretical, and occasionally practical, advantage over the more common gas guns: it adapts really well to a wide range of loads. So we suspect that this PTR-32 would make a wicked good suppressor host with some downloaded 7.62 x 39… kind of like the .300 Whisper/.300 Blackout in the AR platform, with the possibility to change mags and go supersonic if crowd-control becomes a more urgent matter than minimizing signature. And also, of course, the possibility to fire cheap practice ammo — at least, until some minion at ATF hikes up his jackboots and bans it.

The PTR does have a stiff trigger. This is characteristic of the HK design, and a trigger pull in the double-digits is possible on an ordinary production piece. If you’re used to an AR, or to the long, smooth, and light trigger of an AK, you have some adjusting to do.

Here’s what PTR says about this firearm:

  • Made with match grade bull barrels
  • Chambered for 7.62×39
  • Rate of twist: 1 in 9
  • 15mm x 1mm right handed threading for attachments (flash hider, compensator etc.)
  • Barrel diameter: .70”

The muzzle threads fit HK stuff, but not AR or AK muzzle devices, so that’s something to bear in mind. The mag that PTR ships the gun with is a Bulgarian polymer AK mag, and that’s what they recommend; for steel magazines, they recommend Chinese and Korean over others.

PTR’s receivers are made, as they say, “on original H&K machinery to German military specifications,” of .059″ steel. In fact, they acquired the Portuguese PMP G3 production machinery, which was set up by HK back in the 1960s. The PTR-32 is available with a standard receiver which accepts HK / Hensoldt claw mounts, or a receiver with an integral (welded on) Picatinny rail, which accepts modern scope mounts. Likewise, there are handguard options that offer rails, for the inveterate gadgeteer.

For us, the PTR-32 doesn’t fill a need, but for some people it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. (Enough that PTR has reportedly increased production). We’re more inclined to the GI PTR-91 versions, ourselves.

We’re waiting for the 9mm version. PTR has gotten to the point where they make almost everything in house… a PTR-94 would be a win, but it would be a major tooling investment — we don’t imagine them doing it until the 91 and 32 momentum is completely spent.

Developments in Steel Armor

Some time ago we covered the types of Armor available to vehicle designers through World War II and explained why penetration of Rolled Homogeneous Armor, then state-of-the-art, is still routinely used as a standard measuring stick for armor penetration. But while RHA was the tank skin of choice in 1945 (with cast armor used for specific purposes, and face- (aka flame-) hardened armor on the way out), armor developments didn’t stand still then.

By the 1970s, British research had produced composite armors that were more effective, especially against Monroe effect shaped charges, than RHA. The British armor and its American derivatives (British government researchers shared their discoveries freely with US Army engineers and contractors on the M1 Tank and M2 Bradley contracts) were developed under conditions of great secrecy and remain, in detail, classified. You can find generalities about how they work online and in specialty books.

But the development even of steel armor did not stop with RHA. Since the end of World War II, steel makers and AFV engineers have pursued harder armors, called in English High Hardness Armor (HHA) and Dual Hardness Armor. These armors are challenging to produce, because increasing armor hardness risks embrittlement of the metal. Recently, a Swedish steelmaker has gone further in developing Ultra High Hardness Armor (UHH).

HHA is described by the military standard MIL-DTL-46100E, and offers a hardness range of 477–534 Brinell hardness number (BHN).

DHA is described by the military standard MIL-A-46099C. DHA is produced by roll bonding a 601–712 BHN front plate to a 461–534 BHN back plate; this gives the armor an extremely hard layer bonded to a hard-but-tougher layer. (That is, of course, reminiscent of WWI and early WWII face-hardened armor, where a more ductile, less hard, metal panel would be hardened to 500-700 BHN, but just a few millimeters deep). By fusing two different hardnesses of steel into a single plate, they produce a heterogeneous armor plate with both the ability to resist penetration by a hit (which comes from hardness) but also, without cracking (which comes from ductility).

UHH describes monolithic (probably. homogeneous) armor plate of greater than 600 BHN. The Swedish firm, SSAB Oxelosund AB, has developed two commercial grades of UHH, one, Armox 600T, offering Brinell 600 hardness, and an even harder plate called Armox 600 Advance offering an extrapolated BHN of over 650. (For those of you comfortable with the Rockwell hardness scale, Armox 600 Advance equates to RC 58-63. The armor production process for Armox seems, to the limited extent the Swedes have released it, conventional.


Despite their conventional-appearing production process, these armors are remarkable. To achieve penetration half the time, of 8mm (!) of Armox 600 Advance set at a 30º angle, a .30 caliber AP projectile must be traveling ~860 m/s — which is faster than the muzzle velocity of most .30 firearms (a 7.62 x 54 mm PKM is about 820-825 m/s). It protects against a .50, half the time, to about fps; to protect against .50 AP to 820 fps you need to step up to 12mm (.465″) plate. These are WWI tank and WWII light-tank thicknesses of armor, with much better defensive performance than the RHA and FHA of that period.

7mm Armox 600T stopped 4 of 7 .30 rounds.

7mm Armox 600T stopped 4 of 7 .30 rounds from any penetration, and the other three’s penrtration was nugatory.


Another way of taking a broad view of the performance of UHH is that across the board, there is an advantage of about 120 m/s or 400 fps difference in the velocity of impact that this armor will shrug off, vs. the MIL-STD for HHA.

Cal. .50 AP had its way with 8mm 600T -- half the time.

Cal. .50 AP had its way with 8mm 600T — half the time.

There is an excellent report from 2008 on DTIC (clicking downloads .pdf) on the evaluation of Armox 600T and Armox Advance, Ballistic Testing of SSAB Ultra-High-Hardness Steel for Armor Applications. The purpose of this evaluation was to help set up a MIL-STD for Ultra High Hardness Armor; one outcome of that is the detail standard, MIL-DTL-32332 (MR) 24 July 2009. Detail Specification: Armor Plate, Steel, Wrought, Ultra-High-Hardness (link to

Note spalling on Armox Advance. It was also somewhat prone to cracking, if the edges of the plate weren't properly dressed.

Note spalling on Armox Advance, which would create secondary fragmentation in an armored vehicle. Advance was also somewhat prone to cracking, if the edges of the plate weren’t properly dressed.

Customizing your Carbine: Pro and Con

1959 ChevyIn 1959, a General Motors executive boasted that there were so many options available to buyers of the 1959 Chevrolet, that it was theoretically possible for no two of the hundreds of thousands of Chevies delivered that year to be alike. (In fact, many popular configurations were made in vast quantity, and many theoretical combinations of options made no practical sense and were never built). It’s quite a difference from today, when you have red, white, black, silver, and Option Package A or Option Package B. The new way of doing things substitutes soulless modern efficiency for funky 20th-Century soul.

Sometimes it seems like there are more ways to customize an AR type carbine than there were for that ’59 Chevy buyer. Oddly enough, the AR and the ’59 Chev are near-contemporaries, too; but initially, there was nothing but factory standard parts for the rifle. The military was offered an evolutionary/revolutionary  CAR-15 “system” with submachine-gun, rifle, carbine, and LMG versions, and apart from 10,000 SMGs for special purpose units, they didn’t buy.  Civilians could buy a Colt SP1 Sporter until the 1980s, when they got the option of a CAR-15 inspired SP1 Carbine, and they could customize either only with surplus parts or knockoffs of them.

CAR-15 Family


The first real mods that tried to extend the gun came in the 1970s, with things like the Rhino gas piston conversion, and the 6x45mm round. Both are forgotten now, but led the way for many subsequent attempts to pistonize the AR and to fit it with alternative components. That was 40 years ago. The AR is now recognized not as a single rifle or even as a CAR-15-style “family” but as a highly modular shelf full of

ar15newsdotcomNow, there are so many new AR parts all the time there’s even a website devoted to the announcements, A quick look at the parts being promoted there suggests that even today, add-on parts fall into two categories:

  1. Personalizations that modify the gun in a way that pleases its owner; and
  2. Modifications that are meant to change the basic function of the gun.

Here’s an example of the former: the DS Arms “bufferloc” kit. (And here’s it’s press release on the aforementioned AR15News). It claims a number of benefits, but the one we see as real is that a nose-heavy upper doesn’t swing sharply open when the rear pin is pushed out. This is a minor aggravation, but a real one. Some of the other claims seem to use to either be (1) theoretical, not data-based’ and (2) beneficial only if the gun is not made right in the first place. (For example, they claim to prevent carrier tilt, something that’s not a problem in ordinary direct impingement ARs, if they’re built to spec).

We don’t mean to bag on DSA. They’ve been around for a while, and build some high-quality products. We can vouch for their RPDs and FALs, for instance. But their latest accessory got us thinking about accessories, period.

Accessories: everybody loves ‘em. AR gadgets are to guys (and some gals) like high heels are to many other gals’ closets (and some guys’, probably; it’s a free country, but we really don’t want to know). Gun folk no more explain to shoe folk the difference between our AR uppers than they can explain the difference between this year’s and last year’s Manolos.

If you want an accessory, by all means get it, and try it out. If it’s your gun, you only use it by yourself, and it makes you happy, that’s the only criterion you need to meet. But if you work with a team, or if you’re buying for a department, unit or agency, there are a number of reasons to go slow on buying cool AR stuff.

  1. Uniformity of weapons has its benefits. If one of you is out of the fight, perhaps because he’s wounded, performing a specialty task (medic, breacher) or communicating with higher, interoperability of weapons with the shooters actually shooting means the non-fighting guy’s guns and ammo become a potential New York reload for the fighting guy. (One combat duty of NCOs in the US forces is accountability and cross-leveling of weapons and ammo). There is no feeling so stupid as holding a strange gun and looking at a strange optic, unsure which button turns the illuminated reticle on (and worse, what turns it on on the NVG setting as opposed to the one that lights up your face for the enemy).
  2. Personalization limits resale appeal. While you can sell a generic M4 knockoff to anyone looking for a generic AR, your potential buyer pool shrinks with each add-on, proportional to the distance of that add-on from the norm. Fewer buyers = less demand = less support for a premium price. Paradoxically, spending thousands to accessorize a gun may decrease the prospects, and economics, of selling it.
  3. Accessories never add their own value to a gun. It’s strange the way that works, but a $2,000 AR with $2,000 in premium accessories changes hands for $2,100 all the time. A $1,500 gun with a $100 ambi selector and a $300 drop-in match trigger is a $1,500 gun. You’re never going to get the price of that Larue mount for your ACOG back. So do you buy the Larue or stick with the factory two-knob job? Depends. If your mission means optics are on-again, off-again, you’re going to love the Larue. If you set-it-and-forget-it (for instance, if you use other NODS tandem with the ACOG, and don’t have to swap on and off), then the Larue is of small benefit to you.
  4. Odd calibers make great stories, but we’ve learned some things from the 2012-13 ammo shortage. In a panic, common calibers disappear first as hoarders grab them. But much larger quantities of common calibers are kept on hand. At the peak of the empty-shelves period, the oddball rounds that were available varied widely from one shop to another. In one geographical area, you could still find .300 Blackout and 6.8 SPC; in another, you could find no “near-military” calibers like that, but only hunting ammo for such rounds as .243 Winchester. An odd caliber is, unless you’re standardizing it across an agency, a  permanent supply and interoperability problem.

So can we boil it down to one pithy phrase? As it happens, we can. For “hobby” ARs, suit yourself. For combat-oriented ARs, figure out where the center of the unit/team/market is, and deviate from that point only after careful consideration.

If you are that guy who wants to run an EOTech when everyone else is running an Aimpoint, that’s OK, but it’s on you to make sure the other guys are comfortable with your holographic sight — and that you have spare batteries at hand. An illuminated optic that isn’t subject to frequent preventive-maintenance inspections is nothing but a device for storing dead batteries.

What’s Up in the 3D Printed Gun World?

Time for an update, eh?

WarFairy Lower Banner

We’ve been seeing really creative AR lowers for a while now. A lot of the greatest ingenuity, like the FN-inspired creations above, come from the innovator who calls himself Shanrilivan and his creative entity WarFairy Arms. Watching his Twitter feed, or @FOSSCAD’s, is a good way to keep up with what’s coming from the community. (Coming soon: AR and AK fire control groups, for example):

AR fire control group

If you think there’s no innovation happening in firearms, you’re not tapped into the maker community inside the gun community — or is it, the gun community inside the maker community?

Some Words about Development

These lowers are not being “engineered” in any real sense of the word. Instead they’re being designed, and are then being tested, in a very tight closed-loop development cycle. From lowers that busted in a couple of shots, we’ve got lowers that have endured thousands of rounds. And that look stylish. This pastel AR has a printed lower and printed magazine.

printed lower and mag

It’s ready for its close-up, Mr De Mille:

printed lower and mag closeup

To see about 15 more pictures of printed-gun developments, including magazines, a 7.62mm lower, a revolver, and more, click the “More” button.

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