5.56 Timeline

Rumors on the USMC M16A5

Quote from Gear Scout:

Sources inside the Marine Corps indicate that the Corps has bucked the other branches of the service and plans to continue and further the use of rifle length M16 family firearms. The M16A5 ACMR (Armorer Conversion Marksman Rifle) will be manufactured using components provided primarily by VLTOR Weapons System of Tuscon, Arizona, and this will be the largest contract ever taken on by the firm. VLTOR has previously been contracted to provide adjustable stock kits for the exist M16A4, and these kits have been well liked and highly sought after. The ACMR will feature a monolithic rifle length VIS upper receiver and a VLTOR M16A5 adjustable stock kit, which provides a buffer tube with seven, as opposed to the usual six, choices of length of pull and uses the existing rifle length buffer and springs. All VLTOR parts will be provided in a Flat Dark Earth finish, per USMC request. The M16A5 eschews the carry handle rear sight but retains a fixed sight in the form of a Lewis Machine and Tool sight that replicates the sight common the M16 family of firearms and has been used previously by forces within the Navy Department on the Mk 18 CQBR. As the name suggests, upgrading an M16A4 to M16A5 spec will be a task simple enough for an armorer in country, as the M16A5 retains the barrel, front sight, lower receiver, fire control group, bolt, bolt carrier group, gas tube, buffer and springs of the M16A4. As it lacks a heavy barrel, the ACMR cannot be considered a true precision rifle, but the newly free floated barrel coupled with either a Trijicon TA31 4×32 optic (first employed by the Marines on the new M27 IAR) or Schmidt and Bender 3-12×50 rifle scope increases accuracy by up to 35% on average in the hands of trained sharpshooter. Additionally, the monolithic upper substantially increases the accuracy and return-to-zero capability of night vision and laser aiming devices. The M16A5 kit, sans optics, costs the taxpayer $1200 per rifle. The Marine Corps goal is to upgrade 100% of the M16A4s assigned to special operations capable units by 2014 and 50% of all M16A4s in their inventory by late 2015.

Military Times/Gear Scout has pulled the article, so we don’t know if it was incorrect or a leak.

A couple notes and thoughts on the above statement:

  1. The VLTOR A5 stock uses a new buffer and a rifle spring, the opposite of what is said above.
  2. I am disappointed that the Corps chose to use the LMT rear sight.  Just like the carry handle that preceded it, it will have to be completely removed from the rifle when a magnified optic is used.  So the individual has to make sure not to lose it, and would have to remount it in the field should their optic break.
  3. It is nice to see the USMC adopt a free floating barrel.  I do hope that we will stop mounting slings to the sling loop on the front sight when this upgrade is adopted.
  4. The above incorrect statement says the TA31 ACOG was first used on the IAR.  The USMC fielded the TA31F and the TA31RCO models on the M4 and M16, and fielded TA11MGO models on the M249 and M27 IAR.
  5. I think the VLTOR A5 stock system will be a great choice for the rifle length AR, however with the total cost of $1200 per rifle, I think there are plenty of other rail systems that could have been used that would be cheaper and just as good.  Hell, for $1200 the USMC could have bought new M4 carbines.

We will post an update when more information is available.

Thermal Optics

It is not often that we see thermal imagers in use.  This is due to the limited availability, high prices, and the low necessity for them.  Thermal is normally employed in one of four forms.  Head mounted, hand held, clip on, and as a dedicated sight.  All of these have their own pros and cons.  Hand held and dedicated sight are what are seen most often, but now clip on thermal optics are being produced and becoming more prevalent .  In most cases, thermal optics that are worn on the head like night vision are too bulky and heavy to be practical, but that is changing.

Other then vehicle mounted thermal optics, thermal meant to be used by an individual is mostly seen in the military and in hunting.  In the military, a thermal optic mounted on a machine gun will allow that position to quickly spot anyone in their fields of fire.  Some hunters use handheld thermal optics to quickly spot game that they would not have seen otherwise.  The rule of thumb for night vision that that if you can not see it in the day, your not going to see it at night.  However since thermal works differently then night vision, you can see many things with thermal that you would not have seen otherwise.  The caveat is that thermal takes more effort to use and is less intuitive then standard night vision.

I’ve found that hunter that work during the night usually prefer to have a hand held thermal device for scanning and finding the game.  Once they have spotted something, they use a night vision scope to identify it, and shoot it.  Often the reasonably price thermal devices are rather lousy in resolution.  A wide field of view combined with a low resolution lets the hunter quickly spot warm blobs, but they can not always tell what what blob is.  That is why the standard night vision scope lets them identify their target and get a good clean shot.

The military can afford dedicated thermal optics with higher resolution.  While I was in, the primary use of these was to mount on a machine gun in the defense and use the thermal for scanning for enemies attempting to breach the perimeter.  These dedicated optics, like the PAS13 shown in the picture above, have some awesome capabilities.  I’ve been able to see peoples facial expressions up close, their load bearing equipment and weapons at distance, and in very cold weather, footprints on the ground.  However these optics are large, bulky, and eat batteries like a fat kid eats candy.  The PAS-13 pictured above gives a great picture, but is still large, mounted very high over the bore, and is slow to use.  While a dedicated thermal optic is a great force multiplier in a military squad, for the individual combatant it is slow and awkward.

Now there are two options that are growing in popularity, clip on thermal optics and blended thermal/night vision optics.  Clip on thermal lets you mount a thermal optic in front of your already zeroed day optic.  If everything works right, you gain thermal capability with out a change in zero.  Trijicon offers a clip on thermal sight that is available to the public that is getting rave reviews.  The blended (hybrid) optics give you the best of both worlds with thermal and night vision.  However these are still huge, and mostly unavailable to the public.

Most thermal sights are just in black and while.  These have the option to switch between white representing hot or black.  I recommend often switching between white hot and black hot settings as you scan, as sometimes objects will be very recognizable in one, and not the other.  Some thermal designed for hunting will have a feature that will tag hot object for tracking and identification.  Most will auto-adjust the picture but I have found that if you are in a stationary place, manually adjusting the contract and brightness will give you a better clearer picture.  I would not recommend a thermal sight on a precision weapons system as thermal can not see thru glass, often has coarse crosshairs and adjustments, and can be slower to use then most other optics.  Also for the warfighter thermal is a force multipler but  it can be awkward and slow and thus should not be the lone individual’s primary optics system.

So to sum it up:  Thermal is awesome, but bulky and slow.  Handheld devices are great for locating heat sources, dedicated thermal optics best for the stationary defender or hunter.  The Holy Grail of thermal are the hybrid night vision/thermal optics and the small thermal optics that can be use hand held, clip on in front of day optics, and as a stand alone optic.  Expect to pay a good deal should you decide you want a thermal optic.

That “Z” setting

Had another person ask me about the Z setting on the AR15 carry handle.  This setting, along with the great deal of misinformation about it, tends to be confusing.

If you are using a reduced range 25 meter zero on a M16A2/M16A4 or other 20 inch barreled rifle, you use the Z setting when you zero your rifle.

If you are zeroing a M4/M4A1 or other 14.5/16 inch barreled carbine you DO NOT use the Z setting.

What about Matech sights?  It is exactly the same, check out this link 670-20 if you don’t believe me.