The SAWs that never WAS: Part 1 & 2

Since the passing of our friend Kevin AKA “Hognose”  owner of weaponsman.com we have be  reposting   his work here in tribute and to make sure it survives. This is another technical article from Kevin in part of a series.

The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is widely distributed in the US Army and Marine Corps (even after the Marines replaced many SAWs with M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles). But how did we get to that point, and what other weapons were considered along the way? This series will look at each of the four contenders in turn. The principal objective of this article is to set the stage, and introduce an unfamiliar cousin of a familiar old friend: the XM106 Automatic Rifle, an M16A1 redesigned by Army engineers for the tactical role once filled by the Browning Automatic Rifle in the American rifle squad.

It’s a bit amazing that a SAW program got any traction at all. In 1979, the Army was concerned about the vintage of its small arms and other systems. While we’re most concerned about small arms here, the Army’s RDT&E guys had to develop it all, and they had their hands full trying to field or develop, at that time:

  1. The XM1 Tank (with 105mm gun; not yet named Abrams).
  2. The 120mm smoothbore follow-on for the M1. This was principally setting up American manufacture of an already-successful German gun.
  3. The Infantry Fighting Vehicle and its cav variant (not yet named Bradley).
  4. The Copperhead laser-guided precision artillery shell.
  5. The YAH-64 helicopter (“Y” means prototype; the Army was testing 5 prototypes, but they hadn’t selected the night vision and fire control systems yet; everyone remembered the AH-56 Cheyenne, which had gotten to this stage and beyond before its ignominious cancellation).
  6. The still unnamed MLRS rocket system was in early phases of tests, and precision guided rockets for it were barely on the engineers’ whiteboards.
  7. Improved missiles:  I-HAWK, TOW, and Pershing II.
  8. New missiles: HELLFIRE and Patriot.
  9. US production of the superior British 81mm mortar.
  10. Firefinder radar.

Those are the ones that turned into successful fieldings, but every one was opposed by vocal lobbies, which argued that the weapons cost too much, and would never work. (Some of these opponents were concerned patriots, like John Boyd’s famous reform mafia; others might not have been, like the CDI, a group that toed Ivan’s line so thoroughly that it was rumored to be financed by the USSR, and that did indeed fade from prominence after the USSR went belly up, although no one ever found any proof of anything as far as we know).

To the delight of the opponents, some development projects would turn out to be turkeys, like the DIVAD gun (later named Sergeant York; its fate was sealed when a high-stakes live demo saw it lock on to a latrine fan instead of a hovering, easy-pickin’s drone helicopter). Some would blow their budgets and get put out of their misery by the Carter administration or the Congress. Nobody remembers the US Roland AA missile, or the Stand Off Target Acquisition System, a helicopter with a Rube Goldberg targeting radar that needed a Heath Robinson raising and lowering mechanism.

But all in all, for all that the suits would like to zero out Army R&D, and for all that some projects would be dead ends, the need for these systems was so great, and/or the contractors had promised to manufacture them in so many Congressional districts, that the Army had an RDT&E budget request for $2.927 Billion for FY 80 (which began 1 Oct 79).

The principal small arms program was the SAW (the long-running Air Force/Joint pistol trials, the M231 Firing Port weapon, and a 30mm repeater grenade launcher which never saw type-classification, were some of the others). The Squad Automatic Weapon program was well along; the service needed to complete a developmental and operational test of four prototypes and evaluate the test data. Considering that it would produce a weapon still in the field today, this program’s budget request was almost invisible: $500,000. It was a little less than 2%, not of the RDT&E budget, but of 1% of the RDT&E budget (0.01708% if you do the math; rounds up to 171 10/1000ths of a percent).

The Army had just given up on the idea of a return to a .30 caliber small arm. A study called IRUS-75 evaluated the .30 concept as part of a question of the overall organization and equipment of the future rifle squad; a follow-on study, the Army Small Arms Requirements Study (ASARS), made it clear that the caliber mattered less than having two auto weapons per squad to provide a base of fire, as the BAR had done in days of yore.

The four NATO ammo contenders. Soon after the SAW tests described in this series, NATO chose the SS109.

The four NATO ammo contenders. Soon after the SAW tests described in this series, NATO chose the SS109.

The Army conduced an extensive computer study that determined the optimum caliber for a SAW was 6mm. This caused the first casualties inflicted by the SAW as logisticians’ heads exploded: they had no desire to stock a third caliber alongside 5.56 and 7.62. Accordingly, the SAW was specified to use 5.56mm ammunition: not the standard M193 ball round, but whatever round came out of new NATO testing, whether it was the FN SS109, the US XM777, or something completely different. The test guns were, as we understand it, set up for XM777. (XM777, like SS109, sought to get more penetration out of the 5.56x45mm cartridge by using a steel penetrator. It was, however, backwards-compatible with the 1:12 rifling of earlier 5.56 rifles. SS109 proved superior in NATO tests to SS109 and experimental British and German small-caliber rounds, and was adopted; the US version is M855).

The Army did not have an entirely free hand in weapons development, since the Joint Services Small Arms Program had been established in December, 1978, as “the senior joint services body for small arms development,” but the Army did retain control of the SAW program. By early 1979, four prototypes were under test by the Material Testing Directorate of the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. One of the four was going to be the SAW and replace two of the rifle squad’s M16A1 rifles. (Doctrine at the time designated one rifleman in each fire time the “automatic rifleman”. He got a bipod and more ammo. The rest of the riflemen were supposed to fire on semi-auto against point targets only).

The four candidates were three belt-fed 5.56mm light machine guns: Ford Aerospace’s XM248; FN’s XM249; H&K’s XM262; and one magazine-fed weapon, the XM106.

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 11.09.28 PM

The XM106 had the home-field advantage: it was developed by the Army’s own Ballistics Research Laboratory. But it was, by far, the least advanced rifle. It was essentially an M16A1 with a modified fire-control system and a bipod. It fired full-auto only, from an open bolt, and had a heavy buffer system to bring the rate of fire down to 750 RPM. The bipod was an M2 bipod, as used on the M14, but it mounted above the rifle’s barrel. All XM106s appear to have been hand-built, toolroom guns, and there are a few variations among them. The XM106 had a clever, but complex, interchangeable barrel, a desirable feature in a weapon that may be called on to deliver lots of automatic fire. In most XM106s, the front sight base was moved closer to the muzzle end of the barrel (which army records record as 482mm [21.5 in.] including the flash suppressor, the second longest of the contenders), reputedly to extend the gun’s sight radius.

XM106 removable barrel version.

XM106 removable barrel version.

The barrel-changing mechanism removed the front sight and gas tube from the gun, leaving the bipod attached to the receiver. The handguards, as you can see in the picture, split. This system had two drawbacks — one, shared with the M60 and numerous other GPMGs is that rear sight adjustments could only be zeroed for one barrel — when you changed barrels, you changed point of impact, and it might have done something ugly to the accuracy of your weapon. The second drawback is clearly visible in the picture: that gas tube hanging off the spare barrel, just asking some GI to bend, break, or plug it with something.

The XM106 was not only magazine-based, it had its own special magazine — sort of. A spring clip held three 30-round magazines together. When one was exhausted, the auto-rifleman pressed the magazine release and shifted the mag over and reinstalled it. It was another Rube Goldberg / Heath Robinson contrivance, but in the late 1970s there were no reliable high-cap magazines.

We’re not aware of any surviving XM106s. The open-bolt mechanism and the plate renaming the fire selector positions lived on, however, on the M231 Firing Port Weapon. Colt was to reevaluate the M16-based MG and develop a version in conjunction with Diemaco for Canadian Army tests; that would also fire from the open bolt, but it had a superior barrel change system and bipod to those of the XM106.

If the XM106 was the least technically ambitious of the SAW contenders, Ford’s XM248, which instantiated some concepts developed at BRL and elsewhere in the Army ordnance world, was at the opposite end of the spectrum — a technical stretch. But that’s for the next installment.

Other than its influence on Colt’s future private developments, the XM106 was an evolutionary dead end. With four very different guns to choose from, three had to lose, and with its lack of a belt and awkwardness, the XM106 was never really in contention. It’s interesting to compare it to the M27 automatic rifle the Marines ultimately chose to replace most of its SAWs, a weapon that accepted the inconvenience of magazine loading for the benefit of much lighter weight.

That the XM106 was so quickly set aside tells us that “not invented here” wasn’t holding the Army ordnance experts back in the late 70s and early 80s — the gun was designed by their own compadres at the Ballistics Research Laboratory, but it wasn’t the best. Any disappointment that BRL might have had was limited, however. Their firing-port weapon design, a more extensively modified M16A1, was adopted as standard equipment for the new Infantry and Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, and it, too remains in service today — so there’s a little bit of XM106 still out there.

In Monday’s installment, we gave you the overview of the SAW program as of 1979, and we looked in depth at the least radical design, the magazine-fed M16 variant, XM-106 automatic rifle, a product of the Army’s own Ballistic Research Laboratory. Today’s installment will fill you in with a little more on the competition and its history, and will go into a little depth — unfortunately, a little depth is all we have — about the XM-248 and especially its forerunner, the XM-235.

To recap, as of the beginning of 1979 four candidates were being compared for a concept of a Squad Automatic Weapon that was then (barely) filled in the infantry fire team by giving one guy a stamped-steel bipod and permission to set his selector to Crowd Control. Along with the XM106, which was an M16A1 with some concessions to firing high rates and volumes of automatic fire, the contenders at this point were three belt-fed 5.56mm light machine guns: Ford Aerospace’s XM248, FN’s XM249 and H&K’s XM262.

XM248

The XM-248 is a good-looking gun with a straight inline mechanism and a very clever belt feed that had the potential to be more positive, but less upsetting to accuracy, than the typical feed tray that’s been standard on GPMGs ever since the MG34 instantiated the category way back during the Great Depression.

To understand the XM248, we have to roll back a bit, to the very dawn of the SAW program in 1975 (the term “SAW” dates to 1970, and the idea of an intermediate gun between the rifle and the 23+lb M60 GPMG dates to 1966). The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command had noted that a war in Europe was possible, and Europe was vastly more built-up than in the last war. Even then, much of the fighting was in cities — dismounted infantry terrain. A squad automatic weapon that could deliver fire in high volumes would benefit such a squad, in what the Army now calls Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) and then called Military Operations in Built-up Areas (MOBA). So in 1975, the Army began designing in its own labs, and calling for, from industry, a new weapon, at the same time it began to evaluate M16 improvements that would lead (through a winding path blazed mostly by the USMC) to the M16A2. Both improvements were aimed at MOBA as well as just generally increasing the lethality of the squad, and drew upon TRADOC studies that said fire volume was more important than fire precision.

6x45mm_compared

The 6.0x45mm cartridge, centered between the 5.56 and 7.62 NATO.

The new SAW — the squad’s volume-fire weapon — would use either an optimum cartridge or the standard rifle cartridge. (Each approach had its adherents). The first round of paper SAW candidates were chambered for disparate cartridges, including a new experimental 6mm and the standard 5.56mm. The 6mm fired a 105-grain projectile at 2450 fps (6.8g/.747m/s) compared to the M193 round’s 55gr/3250fps (3.5g/990m/s), giving the new MG a range beyond 800m. One of the main drivers of the 6mm caliber wasn’t anything to do with ball ammunition — it was that given the tracer technology of the time, no known compound could trace to and beyond 800m in daytime, and be contained in the volume of a 5.56mm projo. Army ordnance guys really liked the 6mm; loggies, and the senior generals who would have to square a new caliber with our NATO allies, were more reserved, for entirely non-technical reasons.

Because it was no longer in production or actively being promoted, the Stoner XM207E1 was out of the picture. In any event, the Army’s ordnance officers had a strong prejudice against it: the SEALs loved the gun and used them until there were no parts to be had, but the Army considered it too maintenance-intensive to be reliable in the hands of draftees with GT Scores of 80. Likewise, Colt’s CMG-2; and like other guns rejected before the contest began, they fired the 5.56mm cartridge, which didn’t meet the Army’s desire for an 800m+ weapon.

xm233The three contenders in the 1975-76 round were made for the 6×45 cartridge and given sequential model numbers. XM233 (left) was Maremont’s entry. As you might expect from the maker of the M60, it looked like a baby 60. The XM234, a spindly-looking thing, was prototyped by Philco (about which, more below). And the Army’s own Rodman Laboratories (at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois) developed a radically new concept which was labeled XM235.

Two more-familiar 5.56mm guns that were being developed in Europe and entirely outside the Army competition at the very same time were not considered at this time: the FN Minimi and the H&K HK23. Ironically, they were rejected specifically because they were 5.56mm weapons. But we haven’t heard the last of the little round and these two commercial guns, either, because in Developmental Test/Operational Test 1, they, and a heavy-barreled variant of the M16, were used as controls and benchmarks for the “real” 6mm guns.

Philco’s 6mm gun was called the XM234, and it looked like this:

xm234

And that picture is almost all we know about it. At the time, we recall reading, and laughing about, the idea that Philco had entered a gun in the Army competition. Philco was the subsidiary of Ford that made the radios and 8-track players (don’t we keep telling you, The Past Is Another Country? Some of us lived there). And so, the idea of it making machine guns was pretty funny. But Detroit automakers are no slouches on mass production, and the Army has often turned to them when it needed quantity and quality. In World War II, the Navy threw a young officer named Henry Ford II out so he could take over from his ailing father and take charge of Ford’s war production, which included guns, gun parts, and complete B-24 Liberators. GM made M3 grease guns, and later would produce M16A1s with considerably less drama than Colt, despite a rather lacking Technical Data Package. So, Philco probably could make a gun; auto manufacturing technology was effective for guns; and mechanical engineering is the same discipline of materials, statics and mechanics for a gun designer that it is for a guy designing a valve train or power-steering mechanism.

By the time the 11th Edition of Small Arms of the World, from which a number of these facts and photos are taken, was published in 1977, the defense branch of Philco had taken on the more dignified name, Ford Aerospace & Communication Corporation.

There’s very little information about the Philco entry available, especially online;  and at the end of the first phase, DT/OT1, in December, 1974, both its gun, the XM234, and Maremont’s weren’t what Army evaluators were interested in. But they really liked the Army’s entry, the XM235:

xm235

The XM235 had been developed by a dedicated team at Rodman, led by Curtis D. Johnson and including at least 7 more dedicated engineers, who all signed on to the patent US # 3,999,461 on the gun (USPTO link) (Google Patents link).

General Arrangement from Patent 399,461 is unmistakably the XM235.

General Arrangement from Patent 399,461 is unmistakably the XM235.

One of the controls also fared well at the tests: the FN Minimi was as reliable as the best of the 6mm guns, and more so than the H&K. It used then-special FN ammo (SS109) which didn’t interchange with the riflemen’s 1:12 M16s. Nobody liked the HB M16 as a SAW.

At this point, the Army dropped the idea of the 6mm round. It not only complicated Army logistics to have a third entire caliber, but it would be hard to sell to NATO, where American allies had already had two Yankee cartridges rammed down their throats. So the SAW was going to be 5.56mm. How were they going to get the 5.56 to perform “beyond 800m” as the spec had said? They weren’t. So the new spec was “up to 800m.”

This set the Army up for the next round of testing, but they needed someone to produce the XM235. The prototype that so impressed everyone at DT/OT1 was handbuilt, and the Rodman guys weren’t manufacturing or production engineers. The answer seemed obvious: let Maremont and Philco, uh, Ford Aerospace, bid on producing the the XM235. Ford won the bid, and engineers being engineers, began improving the design even as they committed to building a couple of dozen prototypes in 5.56 for testing. The 5.56 quasi-production variant of the XM235 was the XM248.

Let’s take a look at the XM235 technically and see why it was so admired at the time. We’ll push back Ford’s many changes that produced the XM248 till tomorrow. (This post is already 1500 words long!)

The Rodman engineers began with a clean slate and the understanding that, other things being equal, automatic weapons firing bursts had always been less accurate than rifles firing single aimed shots. This wasn’t invariably a bad thing, as it allowed for the natural dispersion of a burst to “correct” in a way for a gunner’s aiming error, but it was terribly wasteful of ammunition.

Engineers being engineers, they asked why the automatic guns were less accurate, and they concluded that several things degraded the accuracy of automatic weapons:

  1. Parts of the mechanism were moving whilst bullets were still in the barrel.
  2. Whether operated by recoil or gas, the operating mechanism reflected excess energy back into the weapon, what the developers called “high restitution” from rebounding parts.
  3. Extant light machinegun designs had overly high rates of fire (650 to 1000 rpm).
  4. Peak recoil was high (500-1200 foot/pounds – 2,200-5,300 N).

Those items, taken together, degraded accuracy. So the characteristics sought in the 235 design were:

  1. A long motion of recoiling parts.
  2. A soft cycle without the hammering of buffers on stops often seen in LMGs.
  3. Rate of fire reduced to 500 rpm, little more than half that of an M16A1 with M193 ammo loaded with WC846 powder.
  4. Reduced recoil impulse (to 200 lb-ft) and reduced recoil effects on muzzle movement by careful placement and design of stock and grips, gas system, and so forth.
  5. A change in belt handling to reduce the stop-and-go motion of the belt
  6. Placing parts that induced motion inimical to accuracy (the belt feed, for instance) close to the weapon’s center of gravity, to reduce the moments these parts induced for a given force.

In addition, the engineers wanted to design a weapon with world-class reliability and maintainability. They wanted it to be made up of field replaceable modules, and readily field-stripped in 10 seconds. They wanted to reduce the parts count relative to the M60 (they cut the parts count by 40%).

The receiver was extremely unconventional. What looks like the receiver in pictures is a sheet metal cover with no structural function. The fore-end likewise is a simple stamped cover. The actual receiver comprises two long tubes, a forward end cap that joins the tubes to the barrel, and an aft end cap that contains a sophisticated hydraulic buffer. The bolt carrier rides between the tubes, and connects to upper and lower pistons and springs, which ride inside the receiver tubes (which do double duty as gas tubes). The bolt carrier also contains, of course, the bolt, which has three lugs like an AK bolt, dual extractors and a plunger ejector.

The bolt carrier also drives, in its long travels, a rotating cam tube that turns a feed sprocket that lifts the feed belt with rotary action. There is no reversing or reciprocating motion orthogonal to the direction of fire — unlike the classic MG34/MG42-inspired feed tray cover, or that of the Browning or Maxim for that matter.

XM235 exploded view

A spring-loaded firing pin rode in the bolt, and the fire control and related switchgear were contained in the pistol grip. In order to hang the belt container exactly on the center of gravity, the pistol grip was also hung on the center of gravity front-to-rear but offset to the right. Several effects came packed with this: moments of any operator input on the pistol grip were reduced, because it was at an arm of nearly zero, increasing accuracy; the weapon gave the gunner unprecedented control; and the weapon required right-handed operation. The Army liked the former two, but were keenly aware that about 10% of troops are left-handed. The weapon also required left-handed operation because it was, in effect, a bullpup design. Previous Army skittishness about bullpup safety may have been reduced by measures taken to prevent an out-of-battery firing, and the bolt’s location within the heavy carrier and the solid sheet-metal receiver cover.

Ford Aerospace had the order to produce 18 production-ready XM248s, which were to be the XM235 in 5..56 (instead of the abandoned 6.0×45) with a few improvements. (In the end, they’d make two versions). The improved XM235 was the XM248. Then, post-Vietnam budget cuts savaged the SAW program. The money was there to make the XM248s, but not to test them. The XM235 had been set to compete against the Minimi — if the Minimi could be lightened enough to meet spec — and a couple of USMC-sponsored heavy-barrel M16s (again). That is, in fact, where the 1977 11th Edition of Small Arms of the World left the competition: uncertain, and potentially cancelled entirely. The budget for the competition had been cut so much that the Army had no money for testing the 18 5.56mm XM248s that Ford delivered under their contract, or anything else. IF FN was going to lighten the Minimi, they’d have to do it on their own — contract money wasn’t forthcoming. H&K was fuming on the sidelines, believing their HK23 had been unfairly DQ’d. And Army squads still had, by MTOE, an “automatic rifleman” whose only concession to firepower was a tinny little bipod for his M16A1; alternatively, they could carry a heavy M60 and its heavy ammunition along.

Tune in tomorrow as the XM235 emerges from its Ford chrysalis as the XM248 — and becomes the most advanced light machine gun the US Army ever rejected.

I don’t get the appeal of Nickle Boron coatings.

That is rust on that bolt tail.  As you see with this bolt, Nickle Boron coated item will stain black over time.

I swear that I think all these people who say that NiB bolt carrier groups just wipe clean don’t actually shoot their firearms.

I’ve found the Ionbond/Diamondbond coatings have held up much better than Nickle Boron, but personally I don’t feel they are worth the cost.

Smith & Wesson M&P9, Version 1, What to Look For

One of the best and a very reliable firearm you can decide to buy is a new, police trade-in or used Smith & Wesson M&P9, if you know what to look for. When looking at one of these used M&P9’s there are important things you need to look for.  In this short article, I will breakdown some of the key things to look for and/or avoid. A gun store may not let you field strip the gun to insure you are getting what you want, so if they don’t, pass on it. This will cover only M&P9s in a certain date range, before the M2.0 versions. Nothing in this article is applicable to the Shield models.

Advantages:

First let’s talk about the advantages of buying an M&P9 in today’s market. When you understand what to look for in a new or used M&P9, you know if you are buying the most updated version. Since Smith & Wesson has made rolling updates to their M&Ps over the years, it is hard to know what years all of these updates were implemented. Rest assured, if you buy an M&P9 that was produced after 2015, you are more than likely good to go.

S&W M&P9

Since the M2.0 versions has been released the previous versions of the M&P9s have significantly dropped in price. This makes picking up an older used or new stock M&P9 a great purchase for someone on a budget, or wanting to add to their collection. The M&P9 handguns are a long serving and very reliable design. On average you can get the trade-in /used M&Ps in the Mid to High-300 dollar range. I recently came across a new in box, M&P9 for 349.00 dollars. That is such a screaming deal I could not pass it up. When checking the production date on the new M&P9, it was June of 2017.

Barrel 

Older M&P9s had a twist rate of 1:18.75 with the barrels. When checking the used or new M&P9, look for two things.

First; the barrel should have a visible bull/flair at the end. My understanding is this was a fix to address the early unlocking of the barrel and slide in the M&P. There are some 1:18.75 barrels with and without the bull/flair.

Bull/Flair Barrel

Second; on the underside of the barrel, just in front of the locking lug, there should be a small dot. There may sometimes be two dots. Either way this indicates the barrel is the upgraded 1:10 twist rate.  My understanding is all 1:10 barrels in the M&P9 will have the bull/flair at the end. These changes happened sometime between 2012 and 2015, to address accuracy issues.

Dot mark at locking lug

Slide Stop

In approximately Mid 2013, Smith & Wesson upgraded the ambidextrous Slide Stop on the M&Ps. This was to address issues with the auto forwarding of the slide, when inserting a new magazine.  While the upgrade may have addressed the issue in some M&Ps, it did not in my new example.

Ambi Slide Lock

S&W beefed up the build of the slide stop. You will notice a distinct square build-up on top of the slide stop lever.

Ambi Slide Lock

Trigger Reset

There have been several upgrades to the M&P trigger components over the years.  I do not know what all these individual component upgrades are, nor do I have older M&Ps to compare them to. Upgrades have been made over the years to the sear, trigger bar and various springs, to address the lack of audible trigger reset.  The particular M&P9 I purchased has a clear, audible and tactile, reset.  I have a new M&P9 M2.0 Compact and the trigger reset on the Older M&P9 is better, but the trigger break is lighter & smoother on the M2.0.  Spend a little time pulling the trigger and checking the reset.

M&P Trigger
Trigger Pull

Trigger Note:

There is no way around it, the stock M&P trigger shoe/geometry sucks, compared to all other striker fired firearms. There is a huge, simple, inexpensive fix to the trigger. I would highly recommend checking out the Apex AEK Trigger. This replaces the Sear Spring (with a Heavy Duty spring) and Trigger Shoe.  The polymer version is 37.95 and the aluminum version is about 73.00 dollars.  This gives you the flatter Glock type trigger face and is a vast improvement on the S&W curved trigger face.

Apex AEK Polymer Trigger.

Sights

Sights may play a factor in pricing when you have found a good deal.  All M&Ps come with steel sights, which is a good thing. The M&P9 I purchased came with standard three dot white sights.  Some may come with S&W night sights, and if they do at the 349.00 dollar price, that is a major plus.

Rear Sight
Front Sight

Conclusion:

Look for all of the updates in the M&P you are looking at. Remember, if you are buying an M&P M2.0 version, all of the updates are already in those firearms and more, (but that is a separate article).

I purchased a new S&W M&P9 M2.0 Compact about six (6) months ago and I love it. I have never been a huge M&P fan. I have liked the Shields and I really like my M2.0 Compact. I believe the M2.0 Compact is the best S&W M&P pistol ever made and it is giving several of my other 15 round capacity firearms a serious run for the money. Having said all that, for the money and reliability, an older M&P9 or even a .40 would be an excellent firearm, at these current low prices.

M&P9

You should not hesitate to purchase an M&P9 at under 350.00 dollars. I have reviewed several budget defensive firearms, like the Sig SP2022, used/trade in Glock’s and the Canik TP9SF. I would choose the M&P9 over all of them at the current market prices. If you remember to look for the key things talked about here, you will be walking away with  the latest upgrades, an extremely reliable firearm, that will be very dependable and reliable for years to come.

Duncan

Optic of the week – SU-231/PEQ Eotech 553

Around a decade ago it was common knowledge that Eotechs were faster to use and better than Aimpoints.  Just like how not very long before that it was common knowledge that the Earth was flat.

The Eotech sights use a laser to project a hologram of the reticle in the optical window.  This allows for a greater variety of reticle patterns then a diode sight like the Aimpoint.  Most common in Eotech sights are a 1 MOA dot with a 65 MOA circle around it.  A downside to holosights are shorter battery life.  Battery life on the Eotech is advertised to be about 1000 hours.

There are other variations with additional dots to function as a drop chart.  There are also machine gun reticles.

For the life of me, I could not get the reticle to show up nicely in a picture.  Despite how it looks in the photo, the reticle is bright and easy to see.  If you focus on the reticle, you will see that it is comprised of a bunch of dots, it will appear to be fuzzy if you have the brightness cranked up.  That is just due to the nature of how it works.

Windage and Elevation is easy to adjust using a coin or similar tool.  Both adjustments have positive clicks and are easily accessible on the right side of the sight.

Brightness is adjusted using the up and down arrow buttons on the rear of the sight (there are some models where the adjustments are on the left side of the sight).  If the sight is off, hitting one of these buttons will turn on the sight.

The Eotech will automatically turn it self off it preserve battery life.  Turning it on by hitting the down button will have the Eotech turn off after 4 hours.  Hitting the up button will have it off after 8 hours.  Holding both buttons will turn the Eotech off immediately.

Some models, like this 553 have a NV button that will dim the optic for night vision use.  While you can sorta get away with using most optics with night vision by using a dim setting, that can damage nightvision over time.  NV setting reduce the brightness enough so that you will not damage your expensive night vision device.

I did some shooting with this Eotech and with a Aimpoint T-1 on the same rifle.  Shooting from the bench, or rapidly engaging multi targets off hand was quick and easy with either optic.  Both were fast and easy to use, but I would not say the Eotech was any faster or easier than the Aimpoint.  The only real noticeable difference in use was that this Eotech 553 felt much heavier on the rifle than the T-1.  Looking at the stats on them, the Eotech is about 3 times heavier.  That is an additional half pound on the rifle over the weight of the T-1.

I used to be a major fan of Eotechs.  But over the years I saw multiple Eotech Holographic Weapon Sights fail in various ways.  Battery terminals would break, I’ve seen the prism break loose.  Lenses delaminate, and reticles dimming.  The biggest issue was that many Eotechs would drain their batteries even when off.  I found that my Eotech 512 would drain the batteries even when off.  I had to store it with the batteries removed.  I felt the high failure rate of Eotech sights was damning on its own.

Turns out it gets worse.  L3 was aware of issues with their like of Eotech sights, and were covering it up.  L3 paid a settlement of 25.6 million dollars over this.  The biggest issues they were covering up were that the sight wasn’t actually parallax free and that there could be massive zero changes if the optic was exposed to temperature changes and it turns out that Eotech sights also were not as waterproof as they are suppose to be.

Despite these persistent issues, you still see fans of Eotech sights defend them online.    The most often statement in Eotech’s defense is that the Navy SEALs are using Eotech sights.  I point out that the SEALs use what they are issued, are the individuals are not purchasing these out of pocket.  They also have far more range time and funding so doing stuff like rezeroing before a mission or replacing batteries each mission is a non issue.  But even NSWC Crane had to issue a Safety of Use Message about the Eotech warning about a 4 MOA Thermal Drift problem, fading and disappearing reticles, and 4-6 MOA parallax error.  SOCOM acknowledge these sights have issues.

So if you want a known substandard sight, buy Eotech.

Larue Tactical OBR 7.62MM Rifle .. Troubles..

Over the past few weeks, I have been helping a friend determine what the issues are with a rifle. The subject of this article is one of 8 Larue rifles purchased by a local Police SWAT Sniper team for their use. Upon receiving the 8 rifles, they experienced a lot of issues with those rifles. I was told the unit contacted the maker and explained the issues and was supposedly told something to the effect that they need to use another loading. That is, to use a 175-grain match load as opposed to the 168gr match loads they had been using. I did not make the call, nor was I even in the room to hear it. But a trusted source reports that was the guidance given to them by someone at Larue. Supposedly.

Since the switching to 175gr match ammo did not cure the issue, one of the rifles was handed off to my friend who asked me to join him in seeing if maybe it was the end user’s fault as opposed to the gun itself. Below is a reporting of what we saw for ourselves first hand over a two-week period of testing and evaluating one of the 8 rifles.

Below is a picture of the subject of our testing. The rifle was fired with and without the suppressor and with careful noting of the setting of the gas system.

After shooting the rifle, it quickly became apparent that the issues the guns were having were not user error.

About every 3rd round would get stuck in the chamber. The extractor would rip through the rim in its effort to extract and then pick up a fresh round to chamber causing a double feed.

Once the case was removed with the help of a rod, signs of pressure were obvious. Primers would be blown, or nearly blown out of the primer pocket. Even those that cycled and fired normally had signs of pressure. Brand, type and lot of ammo used made no difference.

The Larue caught in the act.

In the picture above, you can see the primer coming out of the case and the rim sheared off by the extractor.

More examples of cases that had to be cleared by a rod.

There was no predicting when it would happen except to know it would be about every 3rd or 4th round. Sometimes 7th or 9th. There was no apparent pattern or sense to it. Changing ammo brands, type or lot made no difference.

In addition to the stuck cases, the ejection pattern of the OBR was odd. Kicking cases out from 13 to 53-degrees with some going a yard away and other barely clearing the shooters firing arm when right-handed.

On the second week, we then noticed this while getting ready to put the suppressor on for another day of testing.

The staking had come loose. Obviously, this allowed the receiver extension to rotate. Not a good way to start the day.

During the 2nd week, the gun was carefully cleaned again and lubed with Slip2000EWL. Same problems. However, I did like how easy it was to clean the Larue BCG thanks to its coating,

Besides the feeding and extracting issues, the gun was every bit as accurate as I expected it to be. Using 168gr Federal Gold Medal or 175gr Gold Medal, the gun was sub-minute. The two groups below are from 100 yards. The shooting was conducted prone with bipod only while firing very rapidly. Well, as rapid as you can shoot when you must have your friend knock every 3rd or 4th case out of the chamber with a rod.

Otherwise, accuracy is exceptional. Just what I would want and expect from a Larue. I have seen many precision bolt guns that would not sustain the same level of accuracy. You can see why the Larue OBR became a favorite of sniper competitions and tactical precision rifle matches.

Thoughts on the suppressor. It was effective enough that I found it comfortable to stand behind the shooter without ear protection while in the wide open. Without the can, the Larue muzzle device was VERY blasty and loud. It is a muzzle brake after all, so that should be no shock. I found the brake to be very effective with recoil.

We did not have the ability to precisely diagnose the issues with the rifle except to know it is beyond simple user influence to fix. Add to that the 7 other guns are behaving the same way and the only conclusion is that they need to go back. I don’t want to hear any comments about “Why didn’t you call Larue?” etc. I do not work for the police agency who purchased these. I did not order them, nor do I even live in the same state as the PD who bought these sniper rifles. I was only there to take a look and to add my opinion on what could be wrong, so our betters could then determine what they wanted to do after that. The rifle’s working or not is not my problem. My tax dollars were not even used to buy them. I am writing about this only for the general interest of others and to show that even the best can turn out something with a problem every so often. So thoroughly test and check your weapon.

I hope to update on these rifles and their fate for those interested as the story continues.

If you read this and your panties are in a real twist because I dared report something I saw happen to a brand you think should have been mentioned in the Bible and you feel the need to insult me or start any ARFCOM general discussion level bullshit in the comments, I can save you the trouble right now and tell you any personal insults or attacks on my honesty or intentions will not be approved and will be deleted.

If you want to comment like an adult instead of a liberal on Election Night 2016, you are always welcome.

Precision Shooting Magazine

PS magazine  has been dead and gone since 2012 and its sister publication The Accurate Rifle even longer.   It was a real shame these magazines and the info they provided are now long gone.   I don’t know what happened to most of the writers who had monthly articles.  No doubt they are floating around somewhere.  Probably in places like Benchrest central  etc.   Most were known competitors in bench rest, high  power/service rifle ,varmint hunters  and small bore and others are professional hunting guides ,  custom gun makers and ballisticians.  A few were just unique guys who did some pretty far out experimentation.   There was a lot of great technical info and shooting historical info  in those magazines. For a long time they were close to a technical journal but as the years passed and most of the generation of fellows who contributed to it and bought it died off, you could see the topics soften for a more general audience.

While looking for something the other day I dug out a large amount of my old subscriptions from years ago and flipped through them for old time sake.    One thing about an issue of PS or TAR was you could count on cover that was art in its own right.  With that in mind I thought I would share some of those covers with visitors of this website since most probably never read or even held and issue of PS.

 

If you enjoy these let me know and I will share more of them.

zine

Review: Maglula Mag Loader

Maglula

Last Saturday I was loading some 5.45 into mags and realized I should say a few words on this product.

So, here is a quick unsolicited product endorsement.  The Maglula Mag Loader is great.  The one in the picture above I bought a good many years ago and has loaded at least 20,000 rounds.  It is especially handy when I have loaded 5.45 into C-Products AR mags as they loading them is no where near as smooth as loading .223 into an AR mag.

Operation is as simple as it gets.  Slide it on the mag, and rock the lever back and forth as you drop rounds in the front.  You can also use it to quickly unload mags by holding the mag tilted down and rocking the lever.

If you load and unload a bunch of AR mags, this really saves wear and tear on the thumbs and fingers.  I highly recommend it.

Funny story.  I lent the Lula loader in the photo above to my dad for a rifle class he was attending.  When he returned from the class, he didn’t want to return the loader.  He stated he used it a good bit, and wanted to buy me a new one due to how much he used mine.  At that point I let him know that I had used it for over 10,000 rounds of 5.45.  Wear is not an issue with this loader.  I let him buy his own.

A LOOK BACK: VINTAGE LYMAN RELOADING TOOLS

As you know I am  big on vintage firearms paraphernalia. I am always on the look at for anything  gun related from days go by. From  back when even simple things were made to a higher quality.   And sometimes as a reminder of a better time in our country.

After a good friends recently passed away I have been helping his family deal with his gun related estate.  One of the things I bought  from the estate for myself was this Lyman tool for handloading.

Like most serious shooters I am also a hanloader.  Nearly everything I learned about precision handloading was taught to me by my mentor who is from an older generation.  Tools like this would have been more familiar to him than to most newer hand loaders.  Having spent so much time with my mentor being taught the finer points of hand loading for precision and bench rest , I acquired big appreciation for things from those years gone by, so I am always on the look out to accumulate and save items from being lost to history as so much of what was known is being lost or dying off   now in the time of ballistic engines and Horus reticles.

The box is a complete tool set to re load 30.06 Springfield.   It has everything you need minus the components for the ammo itself of course.  You still need case ,bullet, primer and powder.    Obviously there are a few things you would need to do before using this.  You would need to set your dies for seating dept and  a few things and you would need a way to measure case over all length to set the bullet with.  I will spare the details so as not to bore the non-reloaders reading.

Box is classic vintage Lyman  graphics and artwork/design.  With helpful descriptions of what each tool  is for.

Above you can see all the tools laid out.   One the right are the dies for things such as decapping fired primers,  the resize die , bullet seater etc.   On the left is the hand tool you use to force the cases into the dies or to set the bullets.   This takes the place of the bench mounted presses you are used to seeing or in the case of hand loaders, using.     I haven’t tried using it yet and likely won’t but I can imagine the effort it takes  by hand compared to the stroke of the arm of a  RCBS  Rockchucker.

This kit would be something you would buy if you wanted to dip your toes in handloading without going whole-hog.  Or if you wanted to reload while away from home. Maybe it was  even meant for the cheapskates who are the equivalent of the modern shoot who buys  NCstar red dots and tapco parts for their AR.    I am not really sure on this account but I do know Lyman has always been a name associated with quality when it comes to  hand loading tools and related items,

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of nostalgia as much as I do.

Gun History and Blogging with Daniel Watters from Loose Rounds – TacticalPay Radio Ep. 17

Brett of TacticalPay Radio recently invited Shawn and I to appear on one of their podcasts. While Shawn was ultimately unable to record the show, I carried the flag for Loose Rounds and The 5.56mm Timeline.

Topics included:
A discussion of the state of the online gun community during the early 1990s;
Online and offline resources for researching historical firearm topics;
The US military’s adoption of the M16; and
The background of the famous 5.56 Timeline

https://www.tacticalpay.com/017-watters/