Sunday, March 27, 2005

Enhanced Battle Rifle

I've been writing a lot lately about assault rifles, and the AR platform in particular; so I thought I'd change things up a bit and talk about battle rifles.

I've mentioned before that I own an M14, and that I love it; well, here it is:

I am the proud owner of a Smith Enterprises, Tactical Match Rifle , with the bush barrel conversion, the Smith gas lock front sight (basically an HK front sight), and the Smith Tactical Muzzle Brake.

This is the exact rifle (but with a different stock) the SEALs are using in the DM/SS role, as the Enhanced Battle Rifle; and is in fact built by the same guy (Ron Smith is the contractor for the EBR action rebuilds), to the same standards and specifications. Actually, mine is built on a forged, specially heat treated reciever with a TRW bolt and hardware, and a NM spec barrel, so it may be just a bit better (except for the stock, the current EBR has a McMillan job, and they are switching to the SAGE chassis).

I love this gun. It's accurate, reliable, soft shooting (to me anyway), fast mounting, and just beautiful to shoot.

I have mentioned in other postings that the main physical disadvatages of the battle rifle are it's size, and weight (the final issue being recoil of the major caliber). What most people don't realize, is that the M14 itself is actually quite a compact weapon, as shown in this picture:

That is the entire mechanical and functional structure of the gun. It's a bit blurry, but you can see the reciever itself is only 7.5" long, and the reciever with gas system is just under 24" long. The whole assembly weighs just six pounds. Though a complete rifle with a standard length barrel is 44" long; much of the length and weight of the platform is in the stock, and the longer barrel (standard barrel is 22", plus 4" flash hider, weighing 14lbs with a loaded 20rd. mag and optics).

In fact, the reciever is significantly shorter (in both length and height) than the AR, as you can see in this picture placing the barreled action, next to an AR (upper only):

In this picture you can clearly see that the M14 reciever is the same length as an AR upper (almost exactly actually). This M14 has an 18" barrel, and the AR has a 16" barrel; you might note, the end of the barrel on the M14 is only about an inch beyond the end of the barrel on the AR (the rest is muzzlebrake). If you take into account the extra 3/4" of lower revciever; then yes, that's right; for the exact same barrel length, the M14 is actually shorter than the AR. An 18" barrelled AR action, with a muzzlebrake is going to be about 1.5" longer than an 18" barrelled M14 action with the same muzzlebrake.

Now, the 18" barrel is the absolute minimum length for an unmodified M14 action (there are companies converting the gas system to be 2" shorter); and the AR can be made with a 10.5" barrel; but realistically, the AR's performance degrades rapidly in barrel lengths under 18", and especially under 16".

As to weight; as I said above, the basic weight of the 18" barreled action on the M14 is only 6lbs, the weight of an 18" barreled action on an AR is... about 6 lbs (depending on the exact configuration).

Of course all-up weight is another story. As I list above, the all up weight of the 18"m14 with scope and a loaded 20rd mag is 14 lbs. The 18" AR is going to weigh about 9 lbs with optics and a loaded mag.

The big differences in all up weight:AR stocks are very lightweight, and M14 stock are, to say the least, not; and a loaded 2ord M14 mag weighs twice as much as a loaded 20rd AR mag.

But 5lbs of extra weight for double the effective range and power...

Okay so we've got the length and weight thing out of the way, what about versatility? Thats one of the biggest selling points of the AR, it can be configured in so many different ways.

These next pics are going to make M14 lovers very jealous:

And again put up against a shorty AR (this time with a full A2 stock):

Did someone say the M14 wasn't versatile (Yes, that is an original early '60s vintage E2 stock and bipod)?

The M14 is one of the easiest weapons systems in the world to switch stocks on. Since the barreled action system lifts out in one single unit, and has metal lugs to mate up with the stock, you can swap the stock on an M14 faster than you can swap the upper on an AR.

Now this won't change calibers or barrel lengths for you, but still, it give you a lot of options; and some of those options are very versatile indeed.

NSWC Crane, in conjuction with SAGE Tactical, have just released their new EBR "chassis" to retrofit the existing EBR actions as the new Mk.14 EBR

When fitted out, the rifle looks something like this:

Actually this picture doesn't do it justice; you should really watch the video and read the article from Armed Forces Journal (some good AR and other fun stuff in there too BTW).

There are other M14 stock systems out there with similar features, but this is the first one that I found interesting; the reason being, that chassis is going to be EXTREMELY stable. The entire length is machined from a solid block of aluminum, and the M14 action locks into the chassis, just like an Accuracy International sniper rifle chassis does with an accurized Rem. 700 action.

This means no more worries about bedding, clamping pressure, stock crush, deflection, and action block fit; all of which are the main difficulties in keeping an M14 in top precision and accuracy (an M14 is relatively easy to make accurate and precise, but it's a bitch to keep it that way).

The things I don't like at all about it: the butt stock and pistol grip.

I DO like a collapsible stock with a cheekpiece and pistol grip; I just don't like THAT stock and pistol grip; and this is where the other great feature of the system comes into play; in terms of modularity, this thing actually puts the S.I.R. system to shame.

You see, every piece of the chassis except the bedding block itself is modular. You can unbolt and change each piece to suit you; even better, the stock and pistol grip are set up to accept any stock set for the most common shotgun in the world, the remington 870 (including fixed stocks).

This means that there are literally hundreds of different stock and grip options from dozens of manufacturers, and in every configuration.

Hell, you could put a traditional pistol grip stock on there if you wanted to (the kind used with most shotguns, not the kind used on an AR); or going the opposite direction, you could put an AR pistol grip and stock using one of the many adapter blocks sold for the Rem 870, which opens you up to the entire world of AR accessories.

Oh, you might have noticed, the system has a lot of rails. Well they can all be removed, or you can add more on... again with all those AR accessories....

The only real problem with the thing is, it aint cheap (well, that and the kinda ugly thing, but function has it's own beauty). The system is available from Fulton Armory for $499, but that's just the bare stock pictured above; figure another $250 for the rails, sling mounts, rail covers etc... (If you didnt think a buttstock could get more expensive than the Crane LMT, you were wrong.)

Of course, a McMillan glass stock, before it's properly fit and bedded, is actually going to run you just as much; and it wont be adjustable or collapsable, or have all those rails. Add in the cost of a good fitting and bedding job (about $400 for top quality work), and it's actually a bargain.

Actually, I'm willing to bet that with a good fixed butt stock attached to it, this chassis will produce better precision than the McMillan will; and for longer, in rougher conditions.

The EBR rifle itself as delivered runs about $2200-2350 depending on your exact details, and the reciever supplied (About $450-600 for the action, $1750 for the EBR conversion including heat treating, machining, bolt, NM bush barrel, NM trigger, NM gas conversion, sights, parkerizing and bedding); That's of course IF you can get Ron to build you one, and you can't because he's busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.

Fulton does a similar package for pretty much the same price ($1799 plus the donor rifle)

Given the price of the rifle itself; and that, as I said above, a brand new McMillan stock will run you $600, plus another $300-400 for bedding job; it's not unreasonable to spend $500-750 on a stock setup like this.

I love my E2 stock, it's gorgeous; but if I had to deploy with my M14, this is the system I'd want for it.

Now, that brings us back to the advantages disadvantages thing. We've addressed length, versatility, and handiness; the only issues left are weight, and recoil.

The SAGE system is reasonably lightweight; a SAGE Mk. 14 EBR rifle will be about 3 lbs lighter than an M21 with the same length barrel (standard is 22"), and loses 2-4 oz per inch of reduced barrel length (depending on profile), for a maximum of a bit over 4 lbs weight reduction, to about 9.5lb total weight (without optics or mag). Since the biggest issue the M14 has is controllability with the heavier recoil of 7.62 nato, you really don't want to go much lighter; and again, in comparison to an 18" standard profile AR, theres only a 1.5-2lb difference.

Of course there's still the difference in ammo weight, and that's definitely a big deal.

I have said before, I consider 7.62NATO the ideal battle rifle caliber. It is accurate and hard hitting out to about 800 yards, and certainly to 600 yards. The only real problems with it are the bulk and weight of the weapons chambered for it (which we adressed above), the bulk and weight of the ammo itself, and the heavy recoil.

I'm a very large, strong, and well trained man who has no problem controlling an M14 in long rapid fire strings. I can empty a mag as fast as I can pull the trigger while keeping my hits on a torso at 50 yards; and make normal rapid fire (1 shot per 2 seconds or so) torso hits out to 300 yards (with optics), with no difficulty whatsoever.

There is always going to be a tradeoff with recoil and weight, but the extra power and range of the 7.62 definitely compensate for it; in roles where full auto fire is not required, individuals of reasonable strength can be selected, and proper training is available (such as DM/SS)

I suppose the best thing I can say about the M14; is that if I had to deploy again, this is the rifle I'd want with me, and this is the configuration I'd want it in.