Monday, February 14, 2005

The Myth of AR Unreliability

Ok guys, its time to smack down the bullshit here.

If an AR is properly maintained, and properly made in the first place, it is completely reliable. I have owned, been issued, and have used in harsh conditions, several AR's (including M4 variants); and I'm on my second M14. My AR's have been, without exception, more reliable than my M14's, more reliable than my G3, and in general more reliable than any other semi auto rifle I've owned.

A few days ago, in prepartion for a range trip, I detail stripped my Bushmaster superlight. I have had this rifle since the beginning of October, and I have averaged 250 rounds a week through it, plus 1500 rounds I put through it in the first week.

Whenever I get a new AR I do a few things with it. I clean it throughly, fully detail strip it, clean it down to bare metal (or finsih). I then shoot 250 rounds through it and do it again, and 250 more rounds and do it again. From there, I then put as many rounds as I can through it until I get a stoppage. During the test all I do is wipe the gun down with a rag, inside and out, run a bore snake down the bore every 1000 rounds, and properly lube the gun.

I passed the 5000 rounds mark through this rifle last week, 4500 rounds since I detail stripped it last. I have not had a single stoppage because of the rifle in that entire time (I had one bad magazine that I crushed). I decided I had to stop shooting and clean the thing or the bolt would permanently carbonize. I have fed every sort of ammo there is through it in that time, including various shit from our nato allies, and even a few hundred wolf (damn that stuff smells like shit).

More in the exteded entry ...

Now I will say, cleaning it was a stone ass bitch. I did a basic clean frist with CLP, and pretty much every internal passage was hard coated with carbon, but it wasnt even close to enough to make the weapon malfunction. After wiping off the CLP, I liberally coated every surface and filled every passage with a foaming solvent that will strip any fouling known to man. Its good shit.

That got about half of it.

Then I coated it all in RB-17 and let is soak for an hour, and cleaned it all off again with CLP, and that finally got the rest of it.

Yeah, it was a pain in the ass to detail strip and clean, and that's the design. That is the only consequence of the design that shits where it eats, its a pain in the ass to detail strip and clean. It was the trade off stoner made for a more accurate, lighter, less complex, and more reliable weapon. There's no op rod to break or bend, no gas piston, or piston seals, and if the gas tube does plug up (highly unlikley under normal condisitons) its easy to replace. Not only that but it has less recirocating mass than jsut about any other deisgn out there, which makes the weapon more accurate, and easier to control in rapid or full auto fire.

I can't say the same of my M14. If I run good ammo through it, its a 100% gun, but with the shitty greek and indian 7.62 (not the dangerous corrosive stuff, I like my gun too much for that) I get a failure to feed about once a mag.

This is a custom built, Ron Smith rifle, not some cheap piece of junk either. I'm in the middle of doing the same test with this M14 to see how many rounds it will fire uncleaned without a malfunction (with good ammo). Last week, I had a malfunction with the good stuff, having fired about 1000 rounds through it, now I'm going to clean it and see how nasty it is.

Let's note, the AR design isn't linked inextricably from the 5.56 NATO chambering. I'm a big of the AR-10, (and especially the SR-25) and if I could afford one, it would be in my locker right now. There is a reason I always refer to the design as the AR,becaue the M16 is a specific rifle in a specific caliber, the AR family is the name for the design.

You know what I think is the biggest problem that people have with the AR? It's that they dont read the -10 (note: the military operators manual for the rifle)

Shit man I've got that thing memorized (or at least I used to. I re-read it while I was waiting for the RB-17 to dissolve the carbon, and theres stuff I had forgotten).

The next major problem people have is they dont understand the difference between an assault rifle, and a battle rifle, or if they do, they don't like the idea of an assault rifle.

The AR design, as expressed with todays A3 and A4 variants is the ultimate expression of the assault rifle concept, as practiced in U.S. Military doctrine, much as the AKM is the ultimate expression of the assault rifle as expressed by soviet doctrine.

Think about it, detail strip an AR and see how many functional moving parts there are. Then do the same to a G3, or even an M14. Its even worse when you look at reciprocating parts (parts that cycle when firing). The 16 is as simple as you can make a precision rifle.

There is actually very little that can break during operation, and if there is a failure its most likely caused by crud, bad ammo, or a dodgy mag, not by a part breaking. To get any simpler you need to go soviet, and that's a whole different philosophy.

The problem comes when people try and compare the M16 and especially the M4 (which is an assault carbine, not a full rifle), to battle rifles. A battle rifle will have an effective range of 600-800 yards, an assault rifle will have an effective range of 300 yards, and an assault carbine of 100 yards (according to the -Army, the effective range for a 20" barrel is 460 yards, 350 for an 18" and 50 yards for every inch or so thereafter. The Army spec says the M4 is a 200 yard gun)

Hmm, think we see a pattern forming here?

There are appropriate situations for each, and the vast majority of troops are best served with assault rifles, or assault carbines, in most situations.

The art of selecting a general issue weapon for military purposes is one of compromise. There is no weapon ideal for all missions, so you choose the one that has the most positive factors for it, in the most situations. A battle rifle has one plus, power, and everything else minus compared to an assault rifle or carbine. Individual small arms power is the primary concern for a rifleman, but not for an infantryman serving in a squad with a designated marksman, a grenadier, and a light machine gunner. His primary concerns are ammo capacity, packability, and general handiness.

So what it comes down to is, we probably compomised too far down with the 5.56 round. We did it with bad information, and a bad wounding theory, and converted everything over before we knew any better. Once we converted everything over, we didnt have the time or resources to change it, and by the time we did, 30 years had gone by, and the entire world was stuck with it.

But whatever the weaknesses of the caliber (and they can be mitigated to a degree with proper load selection and bullet design) it doesnt change the fact that the AR design is fundamentally both accurate, and reliable. If you start with a properly made gun, and just read the manual and do what it says, which isn't very hard, you'll never have a problem.

I've owned several AR's been issued several more, and served with and worked with hundreds of people who between them were issued hundreds. I have seen reliable weapons, and unreliable ones, and in almost every case the fault could be found in poor ammo, poor maintenance and cleaning, incorrect or out of tolerance repair (or original manufacture), and bad magazines. Bad magazines alone account for at least half the malfunctions I have seen, and improper cleaning and maintenance accounted for at least half the rest.

Let me say it again: When properly maintained, and properly manufactured in the first place, the AR design is highly reliable.

What isn't reliable, is people. I find that maintenance standards in regular forces are often poor, and the acceptance standards for the weapons in the first place are also poor. In particular I believe the acceptance standards, and maintenance standards for magazines are entirely unacceptable.

It never ceases to amaze me just how little soldiers, and especially officers, seamen, and airmen, know about their weapons, and how to properly maintain them. Even if they do know, the standard to which they maintain them is very frequently not up to spec. Perhaps we should have more armorers, and more armorers assistants, and I KNOW we should train our people to maintain their weapons reflexively (as I was trained; You clean your weapon every time you stop moving, whether you've fired it or not, no matter how reliable you think the design is).

Special operations units have a lot more weapons knowledge, and a lot more personal attention is paid to the weapons, as well as attention from armorers. Not only are their weapons 100% reliable (or they wouldn't be using them), but they are also highly accurate.

The AR "reliability problem" is one of lax maintenance, lax cleaning, and lax standards, pure and simple.

Now we can debate whether it is apropriate for a military rifle to NEED those higher standards or not, and it's certainly valid to suggest that they don't. My point here is that there is nothing inherently unreliable about the AR design.

Sure, it is dirty, and it needs more attention to cleaning than a non direct gas impingement design would. That's it. As far as I'm concerned that's a training issue.

Theres no gear required for basic cleaning. You need a rag, a bottle of CLP, a bore snake, and a tooth brush. You carry them in a pouch you can reach at all times and you clean obsessivley (no-one uses the butt stock kit if they dont have to)

It doesnt matter what kind of weapon you have, your weapon is your life, and you clean it and clean it , and clean it. The AR design is about the easiest weapon in the world to quickly clean (if you dont let the gunk build up).

Cleaning your weapon is something you do like breathing. You move you clean. You shoot you clean, you piss you clean. A dust cloud goes by, you wipe off your weapon before you wipe off your face.

It isn't necessary to detail strip a weapon very frequently, if you do a detail strip on an AR every 1500 rounds or so (thats 50 magazines worth), you'll be fine, and it will only take 10 minutes. If you detail strip your weapon every time you engage, before you roll up for the night, then it takes nothing. You can do it with a clean rag, a toothbrush, a toothpick, a bore snake, an empty cartridge casing, and a bottle of CLP.

Babywipes are your friend. I have half a dozen packages of simple green cleaning wipes sitting with my gear. I have more in the trunk of my car. I have foil packed wipes in my LBE and in my gear bags.

An M4 breaks down for cleaning in less than 5 seconds. It takes less than a minute to pull the bolt and do a brush and wipe down, and another minute to clean the bore, lube the rifle, and pin it up again. It only takes another five minutes to do a detail strip and clean if you havent let the gunk build up for a while (like I did in the example above).

It actually take me longer to detail strip and clean my 1911, than it does to do my AR.

You learn this through training and practice, and we haven't trained enough of our people to use these patterns of behavior, but that is not the fault of the rifle.