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.