As you may have realised by now, I like the AR series of rifles. No, they’re not perfect by any stretch, but it is a highly versatile platform and a simple calibre change to the issue weapon would vastly increase their popularity I’m sure. As such, here’s a list of my favourite ARs (from 1-5) - showcasing the variety of weapon to be had from this platform.
Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf – I wasn’t entirely sure that this would be a very ‘usable’ conversion, but then I was suddenly sold on the whole idea. The reason? .50 Beowulf has the same performance as the phenomenal .45-70, a cartridge that I’m very fond of (particularly in a lever action Marlin, but that’s a whole other post entirely). The Beowulf is an effective hunting cartridge and is recommended for pigs (or horizontal humans as they are sometimes known). It can also take game up to and including buffalo- so there’s plenty of stopping power; this is no poodle-shooter. Available in a 24” barrelled ‘Overwatch’ version or a short 16” Entry version, this is a great weapon for urban situations. The big heavy bullet is not deflected by car windscreens or body panels and it has enough ‘oomph’ to disable targets wearing body armour. Not for general issue but the Beowulf makes for a handy hunting carbine or even for fighting in built up areas. For some great pictures of the gun and the massive cartridge, head along to Gunblast.com and check out Jeff Quinn’s reviews of both weapons.
M16 Viper – It was a toss up between this and the Arms Tech Compact Police Carbine, as an example of how neat the AR can get and still remain functional, albeit in a specialised arena- with a barrel this short there’s going to be a drop in velocity and effective range; these guns are designed for up close and dirty work, ideal for cramped conditions and narrow corridors. Though the 5.56mm might have its shortcomings, I’d still prefer it over a 9mm SMG in most circumstances.
Ares Defense Shrike– This is probably one of the most original adaptations of the AR family I’ve seen- essentially turning an AR into a mini-SAW (7.5lbs compared to the 16.5lbs M249). Offered with a variety of barrel lengths from a formidably short 12.5” to a more manageable 20”, this is an ideal example of the variety that the AR platform can offer, transforming one type of weapon into a very different one. I can see this being effective in the sort of fighting which took place in Fallujah recently- offering troops a highly compact weapon effective in tight spaces with a high rate of fire. In addition, the lighter weight of this over a SAW has got to be appreciated by the grunts lugging it around.
Pistol Calibre Carbine – I was going to pick a .45ACP conversion for this slot, but I decided to lump it, 9mm and .22LR all in together. The .22LR version of the AR offers very cheap shooting and perhaps a companion piece to a .22LR pistol down on the range. Hours of fun, because the AR is a very pleasant weapon to shoot and the .22LR is a fantastic cartridge for plinking and target shooting. The 9mm Carbine is a rather nifty accompaniment to a 9mm sidearm (chop that barrel down to 7.5 “ or 10” and you have a handy PDW-type weapon with none of the logistical problems that come with a fancy new calibre and which is also compatible with the issue M9- and maybe throw in the Russian 9mm 7N31 AP round if it lives up to its billing). For me though, the pistol-calibre conversion which really does it is the one in .45 ACP. A great piece to back up a .45 ACP side-arm and ideal when you might have a limited capacity for carrying ammunition. A pretty handy SHTF weapon and given that it’s an AR you could always switch between uppers- pistol cal when needed and rifle cal the rest of the time. Versatility.
Heckler and Koch Improved M4 – Pretty much the main complaint about the AR-type rifle is the gas system which needlessly fouls the action of the weapon. In a step which should have been taken years ago, HK introduced a gas piston system which reduced fouling. Now, if only this were made standard on all ARs. They also improved the magazine, added a cold forged (longer life) barrel available from 10” up to 20” and created a ‘mid-life’ improvement. While the sexier XM8 seems to be preferred for a new Army weapon, I’d say that the HK M4 would be a better option so long as 5.56mm is going to be the calibre of choice. The HK could be purchased as an upper only with the new gas piston system and any retraining for troops would be minimal. I hear that they also flared the mag-well on their receivers but that seems to be a minor improvement which you could live without- perhaps the HK receivers could have been purchased as and when lowers in use ‘died’ of old age. The XM8’s much vaunted modularity- from sub-compact to LMG- is also available here; the HKM4 can be had with a 10” barrel on an M4 collapsible-stock lower or (I’m sure with little extra work) a heavy 20” barrel with a Beta 100 round magazine on a standard M16 lower. You want modularity- the AR series has it. Of course, this was probably never going to happen with the DoD because it might be cost effective and result in not having a new space-age looking weapon to go with their snazzy new fatigues.