As anyone who had their finger anywhere near the pulse of the black rifle market knows, the market had become saturated with semi automatic rifles as of July or August of 2009.
The ferocious buying frenzy dried up pretty rapidly.
Meanwhile, the economy continued to get worse. People continued to lose their jobs. Those who didn't lose their jobs might still have had to deal with reduced hours or pay cuts.
All through this period, a number of people continued to hold out for the release of the Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR), initially designed by Magpul Industries before a partnership with Bushmaster Firearms. It was reported to be a lightweight, reliable, and above all, affordable, carbine - an FN SCAR for the masses, if you will. It had been in development for years, and the release date kept getting pushed back.
Finally, though, a firm date - a release after SHOT 2010.
To say that anticipation had built up to tumultuous levels would be a drastic understatement. The years of waiting were over. The product was all but in the hands of thousands - probably tens of thousands - of fans.
Release, Sweet Release
Until the details started to roll out.
Rate of twist - 1 in 9. "An innovative coating for long life" - not chrome lining.
Weight - over 8 pounds unloaded. Initial claims were in the 6 and a half pound range.
Models - "Basic" and "Enhanced". The Basic model does not have a folding stock or a railed forend. The Enhanced model does, but...
Price - MSRP is $2685 for the Basic and $3061 for the Enhanced. While many could put up with all of the above, this proved to be a deal breaker for many, who had planned on spending no more than $1500, perhaps $1800, based on figures released by Magpul and/or Bushmaster.
Many chose to take their frustration out on Magpul. It had been claimed by both Magpul and Bushmaster that the two companies were "partnered" on the project. Several forum posts by Magpul higher-ups scoffed at - or insulted - claims of high MSRPs or other issues by various posters (I was not among them). This has not helped their cause in light of the above information.
However, I feel that anger with Magpul is essentially unwarranted. In my opinion, Magpul made one major mistake - partnering with Bushmaster. When that was announced in early 2008, I lost all interest in the project. I was skeptical of Bushmaster's ability to deliver the right product at the right price. Anyone who was interested in the ACR should have vented their frustrations with Magpul at that point.
Note: the following is almost entirely speculation. It's entirely possible that I'm wrong about everything you read from this point on.
It now appears that Bushmaster had led Magpul to believe that they had a much larger role in the project than they actually did. The Magpul folks are pretty savvy when it comes to PR - just look at their website. They wouldn't respond the way they did to pre-release criticism unless they really believed what they were saying. Bushmaster may have been treating them like a mushroom. Oh, and Bushmaster probably smiled and nodded whenever Magpul may or may not have had input on the project.
As of early 2009, a Remington ACR prototype exhibited signs of overgassing at an industry shoot (Which causes me to ask the question - if it didn't run right in 2009, how was it running in 2007 or 2008, when Bushmaster took over the project? After all, the anticipation for the rifle was built almost entirely on hype, not concrete knowledge that the design was ready for production as of Q4 2007). I am entirely certain that those problems have been fixed prior to the release of the weapon - however, one way to fix that problem is to increase the weight of the reciprocating assembly. Many people malign the AR-15's buffer tube without understanding the vital role that it plays in the operation of the weapon. Without that buffer assembly, a heavier bolt or carrier or other associated parts may be required for perfect function in all conditions.
One forumite jokingly suggested the excessive use of tungsten as an explanation for the ACR's relatively massive weight gain. He may not be far from the truth. The weapon has what is for all intents and purposes a government profile barrel, light weight under the handguards, which is what most AR-15 carbines have - yet those carbines weigh just over 6 pounds in stock configuration. In addition, the ACR makes use of several polymer parts that should reduce their weight compared to the aluminum parts used in an AR-15.
This leaves the bolt and carrier assembly as a likely source for the weight gain, especially when one considers the issues that the ACR exhibited. Nearly 2 additional pounds means that there is a serious chunk of metal somewhere in the rifle.
And that's not even the (heavier) model with the folding stock and the railed forend, which has a $3061 MSRP.
To be fair, products rarely sell at or above their MSRP for very long, unless there is a lot of demand. We'll see just how much demand remains for the ACR in a few months, but even a $2400/$2700 street price would place the rifle solidly at or above FN SCAR territory. Furthermore, the ~$2450 SCAR comes standard with a railed forend and a folding stock. Moving down in price, we see offerings from LWRC between $1800 and $2400, the KAC SR15E3 for $1800-$2200, and the Robinson Arms XCR for $1600-$1800. Every single one of those rifles is significantly lighter and offers more features than the ACR Basic model. In addition, every one - with the possible exception of the XCR - comes from a company with a lot of well-earned "street cred" in military, police, or civilian circles (or all of the above).
I won't bother discussing the barrel for very long, but suffice it to say that a 1/9 M4 profile barrel that the manufacturer refuses to divulge finish specifications for is not going to inspire confidence or a long line of willing buyers. The only remotely (but not completely) rational explanation I've heard for buying a 1/9 barrel is the use of 36-40gr varmint bullets. Does Bushmaster think that varmint shooters will line up to buy an 8 1/2 pound piston operated carbine with what is essentially (for accuracy purposes) a lightweight barrel - for $2500-$3000?
Apparently they do.
Lightweight, compact rifles are highly sought after in the United States military. However, the supply of these weapons is often constrained by budget or other issues. The USMC, especially, does not have the budget to replace all of its M16A4s with M4s, as the Army seems to be doing - and apparently the Army is moving towards replacing all of its M4s with M4A1s, or at least as far as the barrels are concerned.
Furthermore, the USMC doesn't want to completely abandon the extra velocity offered by the M16A4, and is apparently looking forward to future conflicts as well. "Every Marine a Rifleman" is probably not far back in the equation, as well.
Therefore, what the Marine Corps could do is make its current rifles more maneuverable and adaptable to different situations, different Marines, and different amounts of gear worn by said Marines. I'm speaking, of course, about a collapsible stock. However, the solution is not as easy as attaching a carbine lower to a rifle upper. While many who shoot brand new semi automatic rifles will never know of the potential issues, on full auto - or with a well used rifle on semi - MRBS (mean rounds between stoppages) drops to merely 30. This is reportedly a result of bolt bounce.
Bolt bounce occurs when the bolt, propelled forward by the action spring, makes contact with the barrel extension at high speed. As metal objects are prone to do when they come in contact with one another at high speed, they "bounce" apart. In this case, the bolt partially unlocks. With either the M4 or the M16A4, this is where the buffer comes in. The weight inside the buffer slams forward a moment after the bolt has gone into battery, preventing it from bouncing back by adding just the right amount of force to the equation.
The 3 ounce carbine buffer and carbine spring, however, are insufficient for the rifle gas system, which is normally used in conjunction with a 5.2 ounce buffer and a longer spring. One could, as the Canadians have done with their version of the M16 series rifle, simply use a heavier buffer, which would eliminate some of these issues. However, this means reduced compatibility with other weapons as well as a wide variance in carrier velocities and other consistency-related issues.
Enter Vltor Weapons Systems, manufacturer of a variety of firearms and accessories, from the upcoming Bren Ten to popular stocks like the EMod and receivers such as the MUR and VIS. Vltor developed a 7 position buffer tube that is slightly longer than the standard carbine tube, attached the excellent EMod stock to it, and also developed three buffers - up to 7 ounces - and a non-carbine spring for the system. Not only does it work with the M16A4, but it functions with the M4 and systems in between as well - in fact, Vltor says it works with all direct impingement AR-15s. The heavier buffers are recommended by Vltor for over-gassed carbines or piston systems.
This may be the ideal solution for both the USMC and civilian shooters that want to ensure that they have the best buffer system available for their AR-15s. I'm definitely looking forward to getting my hands on a system and testing it against the regular A2 stock in a rifle configuration, and other buffer systems such as the Spike's ST-T2 in the carbine format.
Last year, I purchased a set (front and rear) of Level IV plates from bulletproofme.com.
They fit just fine in my Interceptor, but when other plate carriers were used, the rear, which was countoured differently than the front, would not fit.
Even after I had owned them for 6 months, the company offered to swap out the rear for a front plate (for a 20% fee - very reasonable in my opinion, since they would have had to X-ray the plate before reselling it).
However, I decided to test the plate myself, and see if it really did what they claimed - stop multiple shots of .30-06 armor piercing ammunition without any supporting soft armor.
The plate did indeed stop 3 shots of .30-06 AP (163gr hardened steel penetrator projectiles courtesy of Rich_V on AR15.com), as well as many other rounds.
The plate allowed part of one .308 projectile, as well as 4 5.45x39mm projectiles, to penetrate.
However, these hits were in rather close proximity to other impacts. Because this was a ceramic plate, the initial impacts fractured the plate (it's designed to absorb the impact this way) and the later projectiles "slipped through" the cracks.
Even after it had been shot over a dozen times, and it had literally come apart, it still stopped XM193 5.56x45 and a 12ga slug.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the performance of this plate, especially considering the cost ($270). I'd still probably wear soft armor underneath the plates, given the chance, but at least I know that the plate exceeds the manufacturer's claims.