Springfield Armory’s Forgotten AR-15: The XM15

Despite what several gunwriters are claiming, the Springfield Armory Saint is not their first AR-15 rifle. Their first was the XM15, introduced circa 1982-83. However, Springfield has very good reasons to try to sweep the XM15 under the rug.

Springfield Armory XM15 wood furniture
Here’s a vintage 1980s gun magazine advertisement promoting the Springfield Armory XM15 and its optional wood furniture.

It appears that in 1983, Springfield (or their fraternal sibling Rock Island Armory, Inc.) wrangled a ~$900,000 FMS contract for 2,000 “M16-type” rifles to El Salvador. For those who don’t remember, RIA specialized in Title 2 NFA items, while Springfield focused on Title 1 firearms. Dennis Reese was president of Springfield, while his brother David was president of RIA. This 1984-vintage Washington Post article notes the Springfield rifle contract, along with some other questionable FMS contracts to El Salvador.

Colt caught wind of the XM15 contract and unleashed their lawyers against Springfield and their parts suppliers. Springfield Armory and Colt ultimately settled the suit in September 1984. While the majority of Colt’s patent rights should have already expired by the early 1980s, Colt’s argument was that Springfield and its suppliers were using Colt’s proprietary engineering drawings to manufacture the parts. It is my understanding that Springfield was permanently enjoined from selling their existing XM15 rifles. Moreover, Springfield could not use Colt’s proprietary drawings and information in the future manufacture or sale of AR-15/M16 rifles, unless Colt was later determined to have lost its trade secret rights.

While the decision in Colt Industries Operating Corp., Firearms Division v. Springfield Armory, Inc., 732 F. 2d 168, (Fed. Cir.) was unpublished, you can find mention of the suit in a series of related cases involving one of Springfield’s suppliers, Charles Christianson. Christianson fought back against Colt for several years, with one appeal even hitting the US Supreme Court.

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORP., 609 F.Supp. 1174 (1985)

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORP., 613 F.Supp. 330 (1985)

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORP., 798 F.2d 1051 (1986)

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORP., 822 F.2d 1544 (1987)

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORP., 486 U.S. 800 (1988)

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORP., 870 F.2d 1292 (1989)

CHRISTIANSON v. COLT INDUSTRIES, 766 F.Supp. 670 (1991)

Christianson appears to have been sourcing his parts primarily via Colt’s Philippine licensee Elisco, as well as certain Colt subcontractors within the US. However, I also have circumstantial evidence that the South Korean licensee Daewoo was one of Springfield’s other suppliers. According to an old GAO report, Daewoo allegedly tried to sell 12,500 spare parts worth ~$127,000 to an undisclosed US company in 1983. The GAO stated that this sale was halted due to legal action by Colt against the US company.

In 1989, Dennis Reese plead guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy, and filing false statements regarding their FMS contracts with El Salvador. There were accusations that Reese had conspired with a US military adviser (Col. Juan Lopez de la Cruz, US Army) and bribed him to the tune of ~$70,000 to help grease the skids for a $3.7 million contract. They reportedly falsified claims for $94,600 in sales commissions to a pair of Salvadorans, who then kicked back the majority to Reese. Reese also told the Defense Security Assistance Agency that the Greek Portuguese-vintage HK G3 barrels they were selling were of US origin. Reese was granted immunity to testify against the Col. Lopez; however, the latter was ultimately acquitted.

However, the US Justice Department was not finished with the Reese family. In 1990, David Reese and RIA were indicted by a Federal grand jury over the illegal manufacture and transfer of machine guns. The Feds alleged that RIA had sold 148 M60 with serial numbers recycled from transferable Title 2 weapons bought from John Stemple and Kent Lomont. The following link is one of the court decisions resulting from the RIA indictment:
U.S. v. ROCK ISLAND ARMORY, INC., 773 F.Supp. 117 (1991)
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RIA Ad - November 1982
This RIA advertisement ran in a popular gun magazine’s November 1982 issue.
RIA Catalog - 1982
Here’s a page from a 1982 RIA dealer catalog showing off their XM15 rifles, uppers and other parts.
Springfield XM15 Ad - April 1983
This is one of the first Springfield Armory-branded advertisements for the XM15. It appeared in a gun magazine’s April 1983 issue.
Springfield XM15 Ad - September 1983
Note that the prices have changed in this Springfield Armory advertisement from the same magazine’s September 1983 issue.
RIA Catalog - 1984
This 1984-vintage dealer flyer from RIA notes their settlement with Colt over the XM15.

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