Fen 15, 2015
This is something I stress all the time to students. Everyone knows I’m a big M1A, 7.62 Nato fan, but in the big picture, I’ll probably be carrying my AR (unless there is a need for the big gun) This is simply because logistically, if you’re part of a team, you need to have a standardized equipment list, and that includes weapons that at a minimum are the same caliber and use the same mags. As he says in the post, being able to pick up a team member’s weapon and run it efficiently under stress cannot be over emphasized.
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.
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
- Personalizations that modify the gun in a way that pleases its owner; and
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
American by BIRTH, Infidel by CHOICE