Accessories and Upgrades for Your AR-15/M16/M4
By Chris A. Choat

In today’s shooting world, the AR-15/M16 series of rifles are one of if not the most prevalent rifles seen. Retailers that never would have had a black “assault” on their shelves now have several AR models because their customers are asking for them. If they won’t carry them then their customers will go to another dealer that does. The AR-15/M16 platform has become the rifle of choice in both the tactical arena as well as 3-gun competitions. Shooters are finding out that they are reliable, shoot fast for competition and are just plain fun to shoot. Fans of the black rifle have more accessories to choose from than can be imagined but in this article we will take a look at some of the newest and best.

This project started with a couple of new products and it was decided to build a complete rifle and include a host of new items that are just hitting the market. An accurate rifle requires a high quality barrel. The newest high quality barrels are now available from Spikes Tactical (www.spikestactical.com). These barrels are manufactured for Spikes by FN and are available in several styles. The one that this author chose was a 16 inch mid-length gas system barrel with a 1 in 7 twist chambered in 5.56 NATO. The barrel is chrome lined and is Mil-Spec. These are very high quality barrels. The barrel was mated to an upper receiver that the author had on hand.

The bolt chosen was from Fail Zero (www.failzero.com). This complete M16 bolt and carrier assembly incorporates their EXO Technology, which is a unique nickel boron coating that gives metal surfaces an extraordinary combination of hardness, abrasion resistance and lubricity. Their tactical weapon upgrade parts include this unique breakthrough technology, which creates a permanently lubricious surface, harder than the substrate itself, which eliminates the need for grease, oil, or any wet lubrication for the life of the weapon. Unlike films, conventional coatings and applied lubricants, it will never rub off, never flake off and never build up crud. They have conducted tests which include 50,000 lube-free rounds fired through an AR-15. The upgrade parts are offered in either AR-15 or M16 configurations and come with a complete bolt assembly as well as a corresponding hammer. Try a set of these, you will be amazed.

A low profile gas block was needed as the rifle would be equipped with a compact rail system forearm. The gas block that was used is the newest available from a company called Syrac Ordnance, Inc. (www.SyracOrdnance.com). It is extremely low profile, as well as being adjustable, and is held on the barrel with two bottom mounted setscrews. This gas block is user adjustable, which allows it to be tailored to the style of use as well as the type of ammunition for smoother operation. While there are other adjustable gas blocks on the market, this one differs in that it features a locking detent. This makes it easy for the shooter to change adjustments “on the fly.” Other adjustable gas blocks need to have their adjustment screws “Locktited” in place once they are set to keep them from moving during firing. The new block comes with two 6-inch long 5/64"Allen wrenches for adjusting the front mounted adjusting screw even when it is covered up by an extended length rail forearm. You use one wrench to depress the detent and the other to turn the adjusting screw. You turn the adjustment counterclockwise to allow for more gas and clockwise to shut the gas down. The block offers an almost infinite number of adjustments including being able to shut off the gas completely. This comes in handy if the shooter wants to add a suppressor and hand cycle the action to get the most sound suppression available. If the utmost in quiet is not required you can adjust it so that the gun cycles but the added back pressure of the suppressor does not cause excess wear and tear on the gun itself. Another added feature of the block is being able to tailor it to barrel length as well as gas tube length (i.e., SBR, carbine, mid-length or rifle). The block is made from 416 stainless steel and is Melonite coated. These are great for guns built for 3-gun competition. They have several models available including a clamp-on model and a model that has a Picatinny rail machined into it.

Once the barrel, bolt, gas block and gas tube were in place it was time for a forearm. We wanted something that was easy to install, lightweight and could be equipped with moveable rails if wanted or needed. The obvious choice was the new Evolution Series from Samson Manufacturing (www.samson-mfg.com). The Evolution Series is the next step forward in free floating handguards. These handguards are lightweight, durable and work well for 3-gun rifles as well as guns for tactical use. The Evolution has a 1.8 inch outside diameter which is a comfortable size for any shooter and an inside diameter of 1.56 inches, which is large enough to go over most suppressors. The handguard has a full-length top rail and is relieved for most gas piston systems. The Evolution is supplied with two 2-inch bolt-on rails as well as one 4-inch rail. The rails can be installed anywhere along the forearm at different positions as well as at 45 degree offsets. Only an Allen wrench is needed for installation and it can be installed in a matter of minutes. You simply start with a bare stock barrel nut (with no Delta ring, snap ring or spring). Then snap the two halves of the included thermal bushing on the barrel nut. The handguard is then slid over the thermal bushings and clamped solidly in place with two Allen head pinch bolts at the bottom of the unit. Installation complete. It’s that simple. The tube is made from 6010 T6 aluminum and is Mil-Spec hard coat anodized. The total weight of the entire unit is just 10.5 ounces and the Evolution comes in any length from 4 inches, for pistols to 15 inches for rifles. If you are not familiar with the quality of Samson Manufacturing’s product line check them out. A great company run by great people.

With the forearm in place the next item to be utilized would be a vertical foregrip, but not just any foregrip. The one chosen is the new MVF-600 from Crimson Trace Corporation Defense (www.crimsontrace.com). The MVF-600 is a modular vertical foregrip (hence the MVF designation) with the key word being modular. The MVF-600 is built to take side-mounted quick-change modules that include a red laser, green laser or infrared laser for the left side of the grip and a visible light or an infrared light for the grip’s right hand side. The foregrip is made from 4040C steel, hard anodized aluminum and high strength polymer and fastens to any Picatinny style rail. This thing is literally built like a brick outhouse. It is even waterproof to 10 meters. With it being modular in design the user can switch laser and light modules without having to worry about relearning which buttons to use to activate which types of lights. In other words, the same button activates the same side regardless which module is installed. You also have the advantage of switching instantly between different types of lasers or lights. The modules are quick change requiring only to pull a rear facing lever and swing it down. The new modules are replaced in the reverse order. The grip is ambidextrous with light/laser activation buttons on both sides. It is powered by two CR123 batteries which give up to 6 hours of continuous white light or 48 hours continuous laser use. The white light is a 200 lumen LED and the grip has a front mounted momentary button which activates the white or IR light in an 8Hz strobe. There is also a rear mounted master on/off switch for complete unit or individual component control. As this goes to press the MVF-600 is available to military and LE only but will probably be available to civilians in the very near future for anyone wanting to pony up the $1,500. Pricey; but well worth it.

The barrel’s threads were capped with a new muzzle brake from SureFire (www.surefire.com) makers of some of the finest illumination tools made. SureFire built their business on their fine line of lights but in recent years has expanded into Picatinny rail forends, edged weapons, hearing protection, sound suppressors, muzzle brakes, flash hiders and most recently high capacity magazines. SureFire provided a muzzle brake that was installed on the barrel of the test rifle. Their muzzle brakes and flash hiders enhance the performance of any AR-15, AK-47, M14 or other weapons. They greatly reduce the recoil and muzzle climb to help keep the gun on target for faster follow-up shots. The muzzle brakes have a patented Impulse Diffusion design that minimizes side blast and rear-directed concussion and their flash hiders provide muzzle flash suppression to minimize degradation of night vision. They are made from heat-treated stainless steel and are extremely resistant to gas or particle erosion. They will literally hold up to thousands of rounds. SureFire muzzle brakes and flash hiders also serve as suppressor mounts for their excellent Fast-Attach sound suppressors. These brakes and flash hiders come in models to fit the existing muzzle threads of many firearms in many different calibers.

For the lower portion of the rifle, a post-sample select-fire M16 lower receiver with corresponding fire control parts was chosen. Coupled to this was a new Rock River Arms Operator CAR buttstock (www.rockriverarms.com). These new stocks are available in black or O.D. green and can be ordered with either commercial or Mil-Spec tubes. The stocks come complete with receiver extension tube, end plate, castle nut, recoil spring and CAR buffer. It is a 6-position collapsible stock that features a very comfortable cheek weld and an integral ribbed rubber buttpad. The buttpad has a spring loaded release that allows it to slide down, providing access to two O-ring sealed battery storage tubes. Each tube will hold three CR123 or two AA batteries. This is a very comfortable stock to use. It also accepts Uncle Mike type push button sling swivels.

To feed the completed rifle, magazines were also needed and some of the latest and best were chosen. SureFire is now making high capacity magazines. Their first endeavor is magazines that will fit any firearm that accepts STANAG 4179 magazines. The new SureFire high-capacity magazines are available in either 60- or 100-round versions. They have Mil-Spec hand-anodized aluminum bodies and polymer followers. The magazines feed smoothly and reliably due to optimal geometry and non-binding coil springs. They can also remain loaded for extended periods of time without the springs taking a set. The 60-round magazine will fit in most dual mag pouches. These are quad-stack magazines that keep the overall length to a minimum. In our testing of a 60-round magazine it ran reliably in both semi- and full-auto modes. For military use these magazines give a soldier with a standard rifle or carbine the capability of a light machine gun by simply changing magazines. The SureFire 60-round magazine is just slightly longer than a standard 30 rounder and is narrower than two 30's clamped together. The magazines also eliminate so many mag changes in a firefight. For competition guns either magazine works very well. The new magazines load by hand very easily even up to the last round. No special loading tools are needed. With these new magazines the weight is centered directly under the firearm not off to either side as to affect balance.

We had on hand another new magazine for testing, the new Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazine from Lancer Systems (www.lancer-systems.com). This new magazine is made in both 20- and 30-round capacities as well as a competition model that holds 48 rounds. The L5 is a hybrid magazine that combines the best features of both polymer and steel magazine’s designs. Unique to the L5 AWM is the one piece wrap-around hardened steel feed lip assembly that is permanently attached to an impact resistant polymer body. The hardened steel feed lips won’t bend, break or deform due to rough handling or long term storage. An aggressive surface texture has been applied to the polymer body to improve gripping and retrieval from pouches. The combination of steel and polymer result in a lightweight, robust magazine tough enough for professional use. The internal geometry of the Advanced Warfighter Magazine is a constant curve that has been maximized to feed the 5.56x45mm NATO round and has a non-tilting follower for trouble-free feeding. The feed lips are made from a single piece of precision formed steel that is hardened, then PTFE coated for corrosion resistance. The body and component materials are corrosion and chemical resistant, passing military chemical testing, including exposure to DEET. The L5 AWM is compatible with modern weapon systems; M4/M16/AR, HK416, SCAR-L / Mk16, and the Beretta ARX160. They are available in either translucent or opaque and come in smoke, black, flat dark earth and both OD and foliage green.

The last thing needed to complete the rifle was either optics or sights and it was decided to use both. The optic chosen was the new Lucid HD7 red dot sight from Lucid LLC (www.mylucidgear.com). The HD7 is an electronic red dot sight that will run for approximately 1,000 hours on a single AAA battery. It is 100% waterproof, fog proof and shockproof and is fully rubber armored. It is a 1X scope with an optional 2X screw-in eyepiece. Lucid also offers stand alone 3X fixed and a 2X to 5X variable magnifiers. The HD7 is unique in that it offers four different reticles that are user selectable by means of a turret on the left side of the scope. These reticles include a dot, a crosshair, a dot in a circle and a circle with ranging stadia lines. The scope has two modes of reticle brightness operation. It can be manually adjusted by means of rubber encased buttons on the side or set to auto-adjust through an ambient light sensor on the top. It automatically shuts down after two hours of non use. The sight comes with a built-in Picatinny rail mount that allows the sight to co-witness in the lower 1/3. Best of all this new sight has a retail price of just $240.

It’s always a good idea to back-up a battery operated optic with a good set of iron sights for that “just in case” moment. Some of the best are the RTS (Rapid Transition Sights) from Dueck Defense (www.dueckdefense.com). Dueck Defense is headed by top 3-gun shooter and IPSC Grand Master, Barry Dueck. He designed the RTS, which provides the competitive, L/E or military tactical shooter with the quickest transition possible from optical to offset iron sights. The sights mount to the top rail of any flat-top receiver and flat-top rail forearm and are offset at a 45-degree angle. The shooter can access the sights by merely canting the rifle slightly to either side – either side as the RTS can be mounted on either the right or left hand side of the gun. Barry came up with the idea of having two independent sight systems instead of trying to co-witness the sights and an optic. The sights are machined from 7075 aluminum alloy bar stock, which offers lighter weight and twice the strength of 6061 T6 aluminum. They have a Mil-Spec hardcoat anodized finish. Even though the sights mount offset they are still the same height above the bore as standard M4/M16A4 sights. The sights take up only 2/10ths of an inch of rail space so as not to interfere with the shooter’s primary optics. These off-set sights greatly increase the shooter's efficiency when dealing with near and far targets. The sight set can be mounted with only a flat blade screwdriver and feature 1/2 MOA elevation and windage adjustments.

These are just a few of the newest accessories for black rifle fans. Small Arms Review and Small Arms of the World on-line always strives to bring its readers information on the newest technology on weapons and gear. Be sure to watch upcoming issues for more.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (August 2012)
and was posted online on July 13, 2012


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