Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Modern Bullpups vs the AR 15

#1 Bullpups are a newer design and allow for longer barrels in the same length rifle, therefore they deliver more lethality in a potentially shorter package. Given the benefits of a shorter package in CQB combat combined with the increased lethality of a longer barrel, Bullpups are clearly better. If you're not playing favorites for national pride or nostalgia, it's cold, hard math - Bullpups are the best type of weapon system.

#2 AR15s are used by the greatest military force in the world - and the soldiers overwhelmingly love the M4 and M16 variants of the AR15 that they use. There is no more diverse or well-engineered aftermarket for any other gun in the world - the options and the variety of the AR15 platform are unparallelled. It can be built to fit any shooter, having adjustable stocks, different handguard lengths, lightweight options, a large variety of grips to fit virtually any hand, etc. Given its ability to adapt so well to any situation with all the options it has at it's disposal, the AR15 is clearly the best rifle in the world.

They both sound like compelling arguments, right?

So, you may be asking, "Which is really better?" The answer to that is not a simple one. I have to qualify the answer I give. Today, based on the currently available Bullpups in the market and the cost of the AR and its variety of aftermarket parts choices, it's the AR. It's not even close. But, it should be close. In fact, a Bullpup should be better than the AR... but, it's not.

So, why is the AR better? Let's look at the Bullpups out there that can compete with an AR, so we can compare.
  1. IWI Tavor
  2. Styer AUG
  3. Kel-Tec RDB
  4. FN FS2000
  5. Desert Tech MDR
Out of all these, the Kel-Tec is the lightest at 7 pounds. None of them have adjustable stocks. Though they all claim to be modular, you can't change the grip out on any of them. They all have significant polymer material in their bodies. They all have a common complaint, except the MDR - squishy/splashy trigger. So basically, they're short, they shoot the same caliber as the AR15, they've got bad triggers, and they're almost completely un-modular. Sounds awesome, right? Yeah... I don't think so either. Compare them to an AR with a match-grade trigger, modular/adjustable stock, modular grip, and a huge aftermarket for parts. Oh, and with those upgrades to the AR, the AR still costs less. It almost seems unfair, right?

The problem is that virtually every Bullpup is proprietary by design. What do I mean by that? Well, you can't switch out parts on an FS2000 if the whole gun is one big tuba-like piece. You can't replace any parts because they're all one part, so they're not exactly modular. Same with the Tavor. Kel-Tec didn't build much modularity into the RDB, but the options there should at least be pretty reasonable cost. Welcome to the world of Bullpups - they are designed to be all one piece to maximize sales for the company that created them. Basically, they're making throw-away guns for militaries instead of making modular guns that people can customize or improve upon in the aftermarket. These manufacturers are making the single biggest mistake they can make: they're literally trying to cut out the aftermarket. BIG mistake! The aftermarket is what has kept the AR15 up to date and viable today. It's what drives the custom building AR market. And, they're cutting out the aftermarket intentionally to maximize profits... or, so they believe. The aftermarket is what makes the AR the best rifle available today and it is what is going to determine the next great rifle. By cutting that out with their proprietary designs, they basically ruin the civilian market for the gun and the weight of these single-piece polymer monstrosities ruins the military market.

The thing is, Bullpups should dominate the market. The problem is that manufacturers are looking for profits in a short-sighted way. They keep producing new, proprietary designs that are destined for the scrap heap. Until the rifle manufacturers, or at least one excellent manufacturer, produces a modular design that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, the AR15 is going remain the king. If that manufacturer receives a US military contract, you'll see a paradigm shift in the market. Having that kind of financial backing will lower production costs and create a military market for parts and that will trickle down to the civilian world. That will be the only way to dethrone the AR. Until that day, stick with an AR - you don't want to be stuck holding the bag on a discontinued rifle that no one wants.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Commercial Spec or Mil Spec?!?

Mil Spec or Commercial?

Mil Spec sounds like it's Military tough, but what does it mean to be Mil Spec vs Commercial Spec? Well, if you don't mind if I spoil it for you, you're really shooting pretty much the same bullet from the same gun at the same speeds. So, not much in a practical sense. But, there are differences right? Yes, there are. In fact, there is a clear winner between the two.

So, what is Mil Spec? Well, this is a designation for a gun or part that is designed to be used on a military rifle with the tolerances, connection types, and materials specified by the Technical Data Package (TDP) and military manual of arms for the weapon. Generally speaking, these are chambered in 5.56, have chrome-lined barrels, use a particular set of dimensions, use particular materials (such as Carpenter 158 steel for the bolt), and use a specific anodizing process for finishing. Many manufactures make parts that are compatible with Mil Spec rifles, but are not truly Mil Spec. Truthfully, all ARs currently available are not actually true Mil Spec - many are based on Mil Specs. If you don't have certain features like select fire, a 14.5" barrel like an M4, or a solid A2 stock like an M16, then you don't have a M4 or M16, which is what the US military issues. The important thing to know about Mil Spec is that it's a huge part of the market - as in people are obsessed with Mil Spec rifles because they want to own something that is as close to what our military uses as is possible in the civilian world. Hence, people want Colts - not because they're the best ARs, but because of the idea that, "If it's good enough for our soldiers, then it's good enough for me." I understand that sentiment. If you think about it, Colt ARs are a great baseline for what your expectations should be for your rifle because they are a manufacturer of combat proven rifles and the civilian versions they produce use mostly the same parts. As a result of people looking for military weapons to ensure they are getting something they can "bet their life on," there is a huge market for Mil Spec-compatible parts.

For you and I, it's these Mil Spec-compatible parts that we should be most interested in. For instance, BCM doesn't actually make the M4A1 for the US Marines, but I wouldn't hesitate to use a BCM over the standard issue M4A1. (On a side note, full auto is not especially important to me because it really just wastes ammo faster. At 50+ yards, I really want to fire semi-auto exclusively, for accuracy.) The fact is, the Military makes decisions about their guns based partly on cost - literally weighing the value of our soldiers lives against the perceived benefits of any different or "new and improved" design. We have to make that choice too, but we get to make those choices for ourselves, unlike our soldiers. That is where the benefits of the civilian market come into play. You see, we can get parts that are better than Mil Spec. For instance, CHF Barrels or stronger, lighter, and snag-free stocks are benefits that our soldiers don't get because the military either doesn't see the benefit of these products yet or lacks the funding to swap out those parts for every gun in inventory. We also get to to choose what works best for us - "Does this stock fit the pocket in my arm well?" or "Do I want an 18" barrel for extra muzzle energy and better distance shooting?" or "Can I get a barrel with .223 Wylde chamber for better accuracy?" The thing to remember here is that we have a standardized set of specifications, Mil Specs, that allow us to swap out interchangeable parts on our rifles to custom fit the gun to our needs/preferences and, ultimately, make lighter, stronger, better rifles.

Ok, so how does all that relate to Commercial Spec, you ask? Commercial Spec is really just a different set of specifications than Mil Spec. The only differences between Mil Spec and Commercial that are worth noting are:
  1. The buffer tubes are different diameter and have slightly different threading. (Commercial: 1.168" vs Mil: 1.148")
  2. Commercial Spec generally isn't as demanding about specific materials.
  3. Commercial Spec rifles more commonly use .223 or .223 Wylde chambers for accuracy and sporting use. (Though, there is nothing that prevents you from putting a .223 barrel on a Mil Spec rifle - it's just not Mil Spec.)
Many people will look at point #2 and say, "Ah-hah! Mil Spec is better!" However, that isn't totally accurate. I mean, using a specific material is great, but using a better material is better, right? I think the answer to that is obvious. Not only that, but you can make a "Mil Spec" diameter buffer tube from 6061 Aluminum, rather than the stronger 7075 that is required by true Mil Specs. (Some manufacturers use the term "Mil Spec" more liberally than I would like.) Within the Commercial Spec world, 6061 is common, but not a rule. Simply put, the requirements are just less strict for what is considered a Commercial Spec rifle. Commercial rifles are often fine guns. The quality depends more on the materials used than the diameter of the buffer tube. Get a quality Commercial Spec rifle from a quality manufacturer and it'll last just as well as a quality rifle from a quality Mil Spec manufacturer.

So, which is better? For me, the answer is obvious: Mil Spec. I can already hear the cries from Bushmaster owners everywhere:  "But, you just said the quality depends on the manufacturer, not the buffer tube diameter!" Yes, I did... and that is true, by the way. The reason Mil Spec is so clearly better is the number of available options. For instance, you won't find a Commercial Spec BCM Gunfighter stock - BCM doesn't make a Commercial Spec version. Because of the driving market force I described above (people wanting to get Mil Spec rifles that they can bet their life on) combined with a little hero-worship of our armed forces, there are just a lot more options if you go Mil Spec because it's more popular. That's how Capitalism works - companies produce more of what people buy more. The beauty of it is that you don't lose access to better than Mil Spec materials for your rifle by going Mil Spec - you just get parts that are meant to fit a Mil Spec rifle with whatever material you prefer. On the other side, you'll see that you have less options in terms of materials or designs for Commercial Spec because those rifles aren't as popular and, in some cases, proprietary. Ultimately, for customization and availability of replacement parts, the choice is clear: choose Mil Spec.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Debate to End All Debates: AR or AK?

It seems everyone has given their two cents. Some people have given better, more accurate information than others. I've obviously made a decision, but that doesn't mean I don't see value in both platforms. My intent is to provide you with the information that made me choose the AR platform, so that you are able to consider these points when you choose what's best for you. To those that disagree with my conclusions, the unfortunate truth is that there is no "best" gun on earth, because different situations favor different qualities in a firearm. However, both these rifles are on the short list of those competing for the title, "The Best." Before reading on, I want to make it very clear: if you like and use the AK platform, you have made a good choice. It's just, in my opinion, if you live in the US it's not as good of a choice as an AR. I can hear the screaming from the AK fanboys already... just, please, at least read on to see WHY I have come to that conclusion before screaming at me through the internet about how the AK is the most reliable and most awesome gun in the world.

So, why even consider an AR? I mean, according to the devoted disciples of Kalashnikov, the AR is broken by design and will never be able to compete with an AK. The AK47 even shoots a larger caliber and is better at defeating obstacles than the AR15! The AR is all about national pride, not substance, right? The AK must be better, right? Not so fast AK fanboys! The AR platform has some serious advantages in its favor. Here's some points to consider:

  1. Mounting Optics - So, this is something you should strongly consider. Having a red-dot or variable power scope is a HUGE advantage. So much so that our military invests more money in optics than the actual firearms they go on, in many cases. This is a big advantage for the AR because the built-in rail is perfect for maintaining zero and providing improved accuracy at longer ranges. The M4-style top rail is actually built into the upper receiver and the optic is left on during field stripping. AK guys are going, "Yeah. And, an AK can mount those too!" It's true, an AK can mount optics, but it's done in an ineffective way. There are basically two ways to mount an optic on an AK: side-attached mounts or on top of the handguard. If the AK proponents can be honest (I hope some can), these are both terrible options. TERRIBLE! Why? Let's start with the side-attached mounts. These put the optic above the top of the receiver, which is really bad for an AK because you have to remove the optic to field-strip the weapon! So, any time you lube it, clean it, try to clear a jam, try to fix a malfunction, replace worn parts, or just inspect the internal parts to ensure they are in working order, you have to remove the sight and mount. That effects the zero and adds extra steps to any of the above-mentioned actions. So, honestly, if you don't check your gun regularly, you're just waiting for it to break when you need it. And, getting back to the need for honest AK users, even AKs break. The other option, mounting on the handguard, is reasonable for red-dots, but not optimal. It's impossible for scopes, however. Trying to get your eye at the right distance to the scope to actually see through the optic is difficult. You can try cantilever mounts or extending the rails backward over the receiver, but both those options will, again, prevent field stripping the receiver and are not a good choice. They have developed dust covers, but those aren't exactly the most solid option to ensure you hold zero and, again, they require removing the optic to field strip. Ultimately, this alone classifies the AK as a dated system that isn't equipped for use in modern warfare, no matter how many Russians and terrorists love it. One would be better off purchasing a Sig MCX or a Piston-driven AR than an AK, just for this reason alone.
  2. Availability of parts and ammo in the US - If you're in the United States, you may have noticed that ARs are everywhere. Until recently, you could pick up a gallon of milk and an AR at the grocery store. (Walmart is full of crap, btw. Daniel Defense, BCM, Spike's, Aero Precision, and online retailers selling factory ARs can hardly keep their guns/parts in stock, but they weren't selling at Walmart?) Cartridges such as .223 and 5.56 are widely available, very affordable, and typically in large supply. 7.62x39 is also very available, world-wide, but not anywhere near the scale of 5.56/.223 availability. Also, when you look at the crazy precision shooting world and the precision ammunition available for .223, you see commonly available ammo with advanced ballistics and performance - much more than what you can find for 7.62x39. For preppers or enthusiasts and everyone in between, cheap available ammo with high-quality options is a big deal. If you live in the US, the 5.56, .223 Wylde, or .223 chambered AR15s offer a serious advantage to the AR. You'll find similar benefit to the .308/7.62x51 over the AK47 round, as well. Almost every gun manufacturer in the US produces an AR variant. Many, many more companies make parts for custom building or accessories. The result is that replacement parts, like a BCG, are more widely available and easier to acquire.
  3. Customization - The ability to so extensively customize the rifle and the variety of do-it-yourself build options provides AR owners with a distinct advantage. There are places you can buy AK flats, various build kits, etc, but they are few and far between. We have very limited choices when it comes to upgrading an AK-variant rifle - few companies produce after-market parts and few options are provided by those that do. Plus, how available are the parts in your area? (Not on the internet!) The AR on the other hand... to say the after-market parts industry for the AR is robust would be an understatement! AKs are really getting hand-me-downs from the AR, like AR-style stock kits that allow AK owners to use AR stocks on a buffer tube attachment. There is no doubt that you can customize the trigger, the length of pull, the weight, the length of barrel, the material of the parts, the coating of the parts, etc of an AR much more than any other gun on earth.
  4. Technology - This circles back into point #1, specifically the part about the AK being dated because it isn't as capable of adding optics and other modern implements of war. You see, the AK doesn't have the same market behind it, improving it's materials and function. The advancements in coatings, treatments, materials, and weight savings that are present for the AR just dwarf and, honestly, over-power anything the AK market can muster. The ability to bring to bare improved quality from new production methods and technological innovations provide  the AR world with an extreme advantage over the AK - one that it cannot compete with. With innovations such as piston-driven kits that can be added to virtually any AR, there is no reason to make the age-old argument about fouling in the AR's chamber from Direct Impingement - that is effectively a mute point. The technological advances in the AR market have modernized the AR - it is a MUCH better weapon than it was when it was first created. Meanwhile, the AK is fast becoming a dinosaur, despite the best efforts of its supporters. The ability to upgrade the AK platform is extremely limited.
While you may not completely agree with my assessment of the AK, the fact is that the AK is dated, it is resistant to modernization due to its design, and there are just too many things it can't do effectively that modern militaries ask of their weapon systems, especially mounting optics. If you own an AK and like the platform, you're not using the best possible weapon, but you're using a great weapon that you can depend on. If you like it, stick with it. Out of these two weapon systems, if you want the gun that is generally the best and most adaptable to any type of combat, currently the AR is it.

However, I know for a fact that the AR will be replaced soon. It's only a matter of time until something forces the US government to switch to a new firearm, which will have a trickle-down effect on the firearms market and the production devoted to the AR will switch to the new king of the hill. I suspect it will be a cost-effective, highly modular and adjustable bullpup, with a free-float barrel, and uses AR15 magazines. That rules out the Tavor (not modular, adjustable, or a free-float barrel) and numerous other options on the market. It's coming and it will be a huge step forward, not a leap back to the AK platform.