Monthly Archives: May 2015

Borgundy Chooses A Carbine

Here’s another challenge I tossed Fishbreath. It’s also a chance for me to wade into a bunch of classic internet arguments. First, we’ll deal with the old elephant in the room: the M4. The M4 gets an advantage over the competition by being based on an old (good) design, so the research and development costs are long since paid off. The Stoner-type operating system (colloquially known as “direct impingement”, even though the back of the bolt is technically a piston riding inside the bolt carrier assembly), means that it’s lighter than its competitors with similar barrels. Finally, Colt and the US Army have been quietly rolling improvements into the gun to improve reliability. Current mean rounds between stoppages is currently 1 in 6,000, which is phenomenal. The AR-15 series has the ergonomics that everyone loves to crib from, with the super-fast reloading magazines that drop free and a last-round bolt hold open. Nothing has a simpler or faster reload process than AR-15s, as evidenced by their competition popularity. The aluminum quadrail handguards and barrel nut serve as a heatsink, pulling heat away from the barrel and increasing the length of time to cookoff. But it would be really, really boring for me to just take an M4 and call it a day, so I decided to restrict myself to only the stock version available from Colt Defense, without all those fancy aftermarket gubbins. And also a legislature that wants a new, cool carbine. So, glossing over the M4, on to the new stuff!

We could go with a bullpup, but bullpups suck. The concept is to get a longer barrel in a shorter package for those obsessed with urban warfare. And shorter is better, but let’s remember that everyone’s classic idea of a room clearing gun is a Remington 870 with an 18″ barrel, and that’s the same length as an M16 overall, and longer than an M4. For vehicle ops, the shorter length is nice, but there were no complaints from using full-length M16A2 rifles in Desert Storm. Overall length is not the most important firearm characteristic. And we have to pay a significant price by going with a bullpup configuration. First, because the trigger is fundamentally detached from the hammer/striker, we’re introducing linkages, and thus a sucky trigger. This negatively impacts the accuracy of our soldiers. We can’t have a collapsible stock without sacrificing the length advantage, so we can’t adjust length of pull for body armor or different size soldiers. While most modern bullpups have switchable ejection, so left handers don’t have to eat a steady diet of brass, this isn’t really something to be done in the field, so soldiers can’t choose which side of cover to expose themselves over (Well, unless they want to expose most of their torso, and that’s silly). Modern bullpups tend to lack rail estate, and don’t have easily swappable handguards, so they’re harder to accessorize with lasers, lights, thermal scopes, and all the other accoutrements of battle. Finally, reloading is awkward for a soldier wearing modern body armor (i.e. with hard plates) and load bearing equipment. The SAS basically teach soldiers to move the back end of the rifle from the shoulder to the middle of the chest in front of the stuff that the soldier is wearing in order to be able to manipulate the magazines effectively. It’s interesting to note that for the vast majority of countries who issue bullpups generally have their hardcore tier-one special forces operators use a conventionally-configured rifle. And it’s nearly always an M4. When it’s not it’s something like the HK416, which is 95% M4. So, really, why bother? There are more important things than having the shortest carbine. But in case you don’t believe me, let’s look at some specific bullpups and why they suck.

The AUG sucks
The Steyr Aug was one of the first bullpups, and it looks really cool. It has a quick-change barrel, but who cares? Soldiers won’t carry a bunch of extras in case they shoot one out playing Rambo. And they’re not going to swap barrels before a mission. So, cool but useless feature, check. It’s got a really crappy trigger where a partial pull shoots a single shot, and pulling it all the way back shoots fully automatic. Possibly one of the most bone-headed trigger ideas of all time. Are the Austrians too good for a normal fire mode selector? Eventually the Irish got fed up with the stupid, and added a little locking catch to the trigger to function as a fire mode selector. It probably makes the trigger even worse. It uses it’s own proprietary magazines, not the M4 magazines that everyone and their uncle makes, and that many companies in America have worked to improve. They’ve finally figured out in the A3 version that last round bolt hold open is good, and that people might want something that isn’t the tiny 1.5x scope that came on the original. Good for them, but good luck mounting anything more than another optic on that small unit. God forbid you want to add some night vision or a laser or a light. Oh, and you have to do some serious modifying to make it work with an underbarrel grenade launcher like the M203, since most quick-change barrel assemblies have a built-in vertical foregrip. But don’t worry, it shoots rifle grenades. Which is great if it’s the 1920s and you’re French, but the rest of the planet has moved on. Oh, and it was kicked out of the Norwegian service rifle competition early, which probably means reliability sucks.

The F2000 sucks
The FN F2000 is the one bullpup where you can switch sides at will thanks to the forward ejection system. On balance this is a good thing, though it’s going to piss off every range safety officer in the world. And it’s going to make clearing a jam a new special level of hell, since you have to start opening little ports to be able to get at anything. It doesn’t have a last round bolt hold open, which is lame. Again, there’s minimal space for accessories, so you’ll want to contract for some adapters, or fight like it’s 1983 all over again. It comes with a pretty lame 1.6x sight by an unknown manufacturer, but at least there’s a rail under that. I will give points to FN for doing a good job with a grenade launcher attachment. They have a reputation for having poor reliability and being maintenance intensive–maybe because you need trapdoors to get to the operating parts, maybe because its ambidextrous design is too clever and ends up being a magnet for things that cause stoppages. But hey, it’s been adopted by Slovenia, so there’s one not-so-major military who thinks it’s ok. Oh, and it’s Gadaffi approved. At least the other bullpups here have been adopted by a bunch of actual militaries.

The Tavor Sucks
The Tavor is probably the best bullpup around right now. That said, the trigger on it is really horrible, even by military standards. It has feed issues when trying to run it with Pmags. I have no idea how well the design deals with heat from a bunch of shooting–probably badly, since it looks like it’s just going to trap most of it. There’s room for a red dot, but accessory placement options are pretty limited when compared to more conventional designs. Accuracy testing has produced mixed results, with many of the more reliable sources giving poor accuracy under otherwise good conditions. And it still suffers from all those inherent bullpuppy drawbacks. If you wanted a bullpup, this is the one to get, but we don’t.

That leaves conventional carbines. By similar reasoning as in our pistol post, the ARX-160 is out because no one else has bought one yet, and it also has a bunch of extra complications internally (switchable ejection? Really? Just use a brass deflector). That leaves the HK416 and the FN SCAR 16. Another classic internet argument, yay. First thing we notice is that the SCAR is lighter than the 416 by a lot. And it has a cool stock that collapses and folds, instead of just collapses. All that is good, but a good chunk of the weight of the 416 comes from a heavy barrel profile, large steel barrel nut, and large aluminum quadrail handguard. This all works to provide a big heatsink that means that the HK416 can deal with waste heat better than other carbines. When the USMC wanted an automatic rifle for more sustained fire than a regular M4, HK basically engraved USMC on the side of a regular 416 and called it good–and won. They didn’t need any fancy closed bolt/open bolt hybrid operation system; the HK416 met all of the rounds-until-cookoff standards that the Marines wanted as originally designed. Further, the extra area of the rail means that there’s more room for a soldier’s hands, plus the increasing number of accessories that the mission might call for. The other big advantage is that the HK416 is issued more widely, so more bugs have been worked out. It’s the general issue service rifle of Norway, and is the USMC’s new automatic rifle. So we too will go with the HK416.

Borgundy Sidearms

Not wanting to throw a challenge to Fishbreath that I could not do myself, I think I’ll pick a sidearm for Borgundy. Like the US Marines, we tend to issue anyone who might see some combat somewhere a carbine. Yes, even officers. But it would be a colossal copout to write “see carbine post”, and there are still some needs for pistols, so we should pick one of those too. First, caliber. This part is easy: 9mm Parabellum. Frankly, pistol calibers suck at combat (which is why we issue so many carbines), and the only reason you fight with a pistol is because you don’t have anything better at hand. Once we accept that, 9mm is about the smallest acceptable round in terms of ‘pistol stopping power’, and going bigger doesn’t get us much more in stopping power (since .45 ACP is still a sucky pistol cartridge, not a manly rifle cartridge). Choosing the smallest acceptable round gives us more rounds per mag and lower recoil, which is important since most military guys don’t shoot their handguns all that much. So they get the most chances to hit, and the lower recoil makes follow-ups faster.

That entirely too predictable choice out of the way, we come to the decision of which pistol to pick. There are many to choose from, so let’s run down what we need in a pistol. We want a reliable pistol, that’s also reasonably priced (come on, it’s a pistol…there are better things to blow cash on) and accurate. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help us very much. There are tons of pistols that meet these criteria. We’ll go further by requiring it to have been already adopted by another major military, since we don’t want to be a testing ground for such unimportant things. We do this because pistols aren’t worth losing sleep over, but it still doesn’t help us very much.

We still have several excellent pistols in the running, including the Beretta 92, the SiG P226, the Glock 17, the HK USP, the Browning Hi Power, and the CZ 75. Now we come down to pedigree and shooter’s preference. Shooter’s1 preference being what it is, the Hi Power gets tossed out for having a stupid magazine disconnect. It’s also the oldest of the bunch. The Beretta 92 is the next out, since I don’t like the combination safety/decocker. Why would I both add a step to my draw stroke that I might forget and have a long, heavy double-action pull? No thanks. We’ll next toss the SiG since I’m really not a fan of double action triggers on semiautomatics. On revolvers, I see the point, on semiautomatics I do not. I don’t like the double action/single action transition. Both the USP and CZ can be carried cocked-and-locked, which I like. Gives me that consistent trigger. So we have gotten it down to three on purely preference grounds. The CZ has a somewhat less favorable reputation for reliability than the HK and the Glock according to the best sources I can find, so it’s out. The HK and Glock are both hard to beat in that regard. HK vs. Glock is a classic internet argument, but for our purposes the decision is simple: Glock is cheaper, and in all other characteristics, the guns are comparable, so we’ll go with Glock. More specifically, that Glock 17.

Well, that was easy.

1.) Namely mine

Pistol Sights

The most basic sights worth writing about are the classic patridge sights: black front sight post, black rear sight. No markings at all. If you’re doing bullseye shooting, these will work fine. If you don’t have good lighting conditions or if you’re going for speed, these leave much to be desired, usually. Note that we can get some better speed with these if the sight post is narrower than the notch, but this almost never happens. These are usually marketed to the bullseye crowd, so the post is kept as wide as the notch to maximize precision.

I should probably mention three-dot sights now. You know, three little white dots, it’s about the industry standard. I can’t stand them. I hate three-dot sights. I don’t like them at all. I don’t think “lining them up” is a very good decision, because there are a couple different ways to do it. Really, you have to line up the tops of the sights, but I don’t think this is very intuitive, unless you actually look to line up the post and notch, not the dots, and then what’s the point of the dots? I also don’t like that there’s nothing distinctive about the front sight here. Your focus should be on the front sight, even though it’s dot is smaller than the other two. There’s nothing to draw your eye forward, and maintaining that front sight focus is hard. Don’t help novice shooters, sight designers. Probably because nobody actually likes these sights, you can’t really get these customized with a smaller post at all. These are placeholders that you should rip off your pistol and replace at the earliest opportunity.

I should also cover XS big dot sights. I don’t like these either. They’re supposed to be super fast up close, which is almost certainly true. But there’s no precision. It’s a needless specialization–you can only make one kind of shot with these, and close in shots are where you can index off the frame if you need to, because close. Or, you could get crimson trace lasergrips (which I’ll discuss later) and have something even better in close, and still be able to have sights that work at range. Don’t get these.

Next, let’s talk about tritium. Lots of people think you should put tritium sights on your gun in case of a low-light encounter. I have two problems with this. First, the only body of statistics I have on CCW holders involved in gunfights indicates the vast majority of them occur in well-lit areas. And in well lit areas, tritium dots suck, since usually the rear sights catch light and are pretty bright and annoying. The front sight will catch light too, but it’s further away, and it will look smaller. So you’re focus is drawn to the wrong place. My other problem with tritiums is that, if I am fighting in poorly lit areas, I’m going to need a light. Preferably a weapon-mounted light, which is going to wash out the tritiums. The white light is to identify a target, but it will make the tritiums not help at all. And no, the light will not give your position away. Don’t be stupid. The light has an off switch. If you do want tritiums, I actually prefer three-dot tritiums to the weird two-dot ones out there. Three dot lets you get sights lined up in both dimensions. I also like subdued rear sights, preferably in amber, so that in poor illumination the brightest dot will be the front sight. I also only like a white outline on the front sight, so in better illumination the rear dots won’t be lit up too much. If your tritiums aren’t set up this way, you can give it a try by running a sharpie over the rear sights a few times.

What I really like in iron sights are a narrow fiber optic front and a plain black rear with a wide notch. It gives me a nice balance of speed and precision, and my eye is drawn to where it should be. In well lit conditions, like the range, or outdoors or the well lit areas that most CCW gunfights have happened in, fiber optics work great. Bright front sight is easy to see and easy to keep focus on. In low light, it’s much less helpful, but if you’re using a light, poorly illuminated fiber optic sights look a lot like washed-out tritium sights. I don’t like any fiber optics or dots on the rear, because that’s my reference. I don’t want it complicated. I don’t want anything competing with the front sight for focus.

Let’s talk technology. First, crimson trace laser grips. I really like these, mostly because of the instinctive activation. I grab the gun, the laser is on. No switches to forget about. Nothing to fumble with. Lasers aren’t very good in bright light, at long range. But that’s okay. They compliment traditional irons, because they excel where other irons suck, in low light, in unusual positions. Lasers are way better than tritium in low light. And if you have to engage from a weird shooting position, lasers are there to help. Works great if you want to cheat a little on the Tueller drill. Oh, and if you think lasers will give your position away, you’re stupid. Just like lights, lasers have this fancy new thing called an off switch. Also, for the CCW users, you’d have to defend your use of force as justified, which almost certainly involves being threatened, which probably means that the bad guy knows that you’re there already.

Finally, we come to my favorite overall choice: the mini red dot (on the slide). I won’t lie, these are stupid expensive, especially if you do it right and get your slide milled for a particular red dot. But the red dot is great. No sight alignment to worry about. No focus to worry about: you focus on the target, bring up the dot and just let it float in your vision. It’s great at range, and it won’t obscure your target. For 95% of shooters, it’s easier to run a red dot fast and well than any kind of iron sights. Those top shooters, the guys who can visually track the rear sight through recoil, might see a loss of speed, even after practicing. For everyone else, I think the mini red dot is by far the superior choice.

I’ll probably write up my red-dotted S&W M&P 40 sometime soon.