FightLite Industries MCR Belt-fed Rifle

By Oleg Volk

Ares Defense, now FightLite Industries, produced the dual-feed MCR upper to fit the gap between automatic rifle and light machine gun. Available with 12.5-inches, 16-inches (standard) and 20-inches (DMR) quick-detach barrels, the MCR is a short-stroke AR15/M16-compatible upper that works with 5.56mm M27 links and magazines. In government use, the MCR is a lightweight alternative to the M249 SAW; in private use, it’s an accurate semi-auto rifle with sustained fire capability similar to the British L86 in DMR role. FightLite Industries kept the Ares brand as well.

Designed in the 1990s, the MCR went through a number of modifications and was finally shipped to consumers around 2008. The barrel quick-change mechanism is a development of the Stoner 63 system, while the feed cover is an improved MG42 pattern, with spring-loading to place the cam raceway always on the correct side of the receiver. The MCR is one of the most recent examples of a long line of light machine guns that started with magazine feed and later progressed to belt feed. The German MG30 evolved into the MG34, shedding box magazines in favor of belts. So did the Soviet DP28, becoming the RP46, likewise with belt feed instead of the bulky pans. The heavy DshK started as a drum-fed weapon (the 1930 DK) and eventually evolved into a belt-fed design. The reliance on belts in light, medium and heavy machine guns comes from two factors: 1) sustained fire capability, especially in remote mounts where magazine swaps are impossible; and 2) greater reliability, especially at high cyclic rates. Because the belt motion is dependent on the bolt position, a machine gun bolt cannot cycle ahead of the next cartridge being available for chambering. The spring pressure required for box magazines to keep up even with relatively slow machine guns becomes unreasonable beyond 40 rounds, and even then most successful rifle caliber designs use top mounting magazines to get gravity assistance. Drum magazines can get up to around 100 rounds, and double drums to 150, but at the cost of substantially greater weight, volume and complexity attached to every magazine. So the belt feed survives despite the continued efforts to get away from it and do away with the complex feed mechanism and manual of arms.

Historically, efforts to make squad support weapons based on the AR15 have failed. Most examples suffered from low heat endurance, low capacity and also poor reliability. Eugene Stoner’s direct impingement system is a relatively low momentum system, so any increase of friction from dirt or low temperatures puts the already marginal balance into default. While still a relatively light mechanism, the short-stroke MCR is less marginal, and the three-position gas port allows tuning it to fit the field conditions. Impressively, it retains full box and drum magazine compatibility along with the belt feed, giving it a fail-safe in case the belt feed is compromised with dirt, damage or lack of linked ammo.

MCR feed options are identical to that of the M249 SAW: box magazines, drums, M27 disintegrating belts of any length, usually in 100- or 200-round soft pouches or hard cassettes. The mounting point for the belt pouches fits into the magazine well, which creates a slight training issue when combining various feed options. Pressing the magazine release would drop the pouch, putting extra tension on the belt. The hinged feed cover is retained with a single left-side release latch. While solid enough for iron and optical sights, the railed cover is no longer than usual for an AR15, and that can present a problem during loading. Some optical sights would hit the top of the forend, especially if mounted far enough forward to clear back-up iron sights.

To load the MCR, slide the top cover latch forward and then lift up. Place the first cartridge in the feed tray over the bolt, with the starter tab hanging off the right side of the receiver. Run the non-reciprocating folding charging handle back and let go, chambering the first round. The starter tab and the first link will fall out at that time. Ironically, the only malfunctions we’ve experienced with either of the two MCRs tested were caused by the top flap of the 100-round soft bag, an accessory designed to improve reliability, catching on the cartridges and causing excessive drag.

Belts are the most efficient choice for reducing the weight of carried ammunition. A modest field load of 300 loose 62gr cartridges adds up to about 8.25 pounds. Belted, it weighs at 8.45 pounds, belted and bagged at 10.5 pounds. Ten 30-round magazines add up to about 10.3 pounds, nearly the same. The difference would be in the sustained fire capability, though loading a new belt would be slightly slower than swapping box magazines. Drums lose out in efficiency, with five Magpul D60s hefting 14.5 pounds and two Armatac CL drums exceeding 18 pounds. Drums win in dusty environments, where their better sealing keeps sand out–but they are also harder to clean than individual belt links.

Heat endurance has long been the biggest problem for light machine guns, and there FightLite went with the traditional medium MG solution: heavy, quick-swappable barrels. The MCR barrel weighs an even 3 pounds, compared to the M4 (16 inches, non-NFA variant) at just over 2 pounds. The barrel is heavier under the handguards. The aluminum forend is taller than usual to provide greater air space around the barrel. Since the heat rising from the barrel can affect the sight picture, the top of the MCR handguard is solid and crowned with a Picatinny rail. The top of the forend is coplanar with the top of the receiver, allowing tandem thermal scopes to be installed in front of the day optic. Given how quickly aluminum transfers heat, insulated rail covers and vertical foregrips are a good idea. Cooling is so efficient with the MCR that a temperature measurement of the barrel a minute after it fired 100 rounds in 3- to 10-round bursts was the same as ambient before firing. After approximately 300 rounds fired continuously, the barrel should be changed out. Fortunately, no gloves are required: once the release latch is depressed, the rifle should be tilted forward, and the barrel will fall out. The current FightLite model of the MCR also has an integral insulated handle for safe removal while hot. Extra barrels are available for about $570.

Closed bolt gives very good first shot accuracy, but the gun is relatively light and will move around more than the M249 on longer bursts. A tunable compensator, such as the UM Tactical model, would be required to keep the muzzle from rising. The heavy 1:7 twist barrel also gives excellent slow fire accuracy. Even with the moderate magnification of the 3.5x ACOG, 77gr Black Hills match can group around 1.5 MOA. The standard bulk 62gr green tip gave fairly usable 2.5MOA. Finding the optimum ammunition for the MCR, most likely something in the 69 grain range, should enable results closer to 1MOA as reported by several other users. The sighting plane of the MCR is necessarily higher than that of the standard AR15, making optics with pre-calculated BDC less accurate for drop estimation than those with mil dot reticles.

On select-fire lowers, the MCR runs at around 800rpm, with slight variation depending on the ammunition and the gas port position. For automatic fire, belts are preferred, but magazines work better than with the SAW. For most non-government users, semi-auto fire is the only option. The practical rate of fire would be set as much by the skill of the shooter as by the quality of the trigger in the lower receiver.

At 13.6 pounds with a 100-round bagged belt attached and 3.5x ACOG installed, the MCR is lighter than the M249 without an optic or ammunition. That makes it eminently portable even by smaller shooters. The difference in weight is enough to carry about 250 rounds of additional ammunition. For civilian users who seldom have a full supporting section carrying extra belts, that can be a big factor. Similarly, a person using an MCR in a civil disturbance situation would be able to turn it quickly to face a flanking threat, while a military machine gunner can probably rely on squad mates to cover his sides. It also helps that, at $4,195, the MCR costs a little more than half as much as other 5.56mm belt fed semi-autos on offer. Yet another merit is the extremely simple field-stripping: the process can be completed in less than a minute and requires no tools.

The MCR comes with 500 links; more may be bought at about 5 cents apiece. If not lost after ejection, links are reusable. Belts are easy to load by hand, but the process can be mechanized. A non-standard magazine catch is required; one is included with the upper, and more can be purchased to make more lowers compatible. Mechanically and logistically, the MCR is an excellent support weapon that’s only slightly less useful in semi-auto form than in select-fire configuration.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N6 (July 2017)
and was posted online on May 19, 2017


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