Monthly Archives: August 2010

33,000 Hits…Almost

After barely topping 20,000 the past few months, in August, we hit 32,970, with about 5 minutes left in the month. All of that while seriously attempting to minimize the number of references I made to the blog on various forums for the whole month – I was actually expecting traffic to go down! A big thank you to everyone who reads my blog and to the fellow bloggers who have directed a significant amount of traffic my way.

Elzetta ZFH-1500 Flashlight Mount

When I first saw the Elzetta ZFH-1500 in photos, I didn’t think I would like it. It’s a flashlight mount designed to attach to the FSB – and place the light right under the barrel.

A “brief,” “abridged” history of my weaponlight experiences

I experimented with a number of flashlight mounts – and mounting locations – when I was first issued an M16A2. My initial attempt involved a rail designed to attach to the bottom handguard, through the vent holes. I placed a Surefire M3 in a First Samco light mount on the rail, and a heavy aluminum vertical grip behind the light.

Needless to say, this added a good bit of weight to the weapon, and it also kept coming loose (I preferred not to use Loctite in case some senior NCO or officer wanted me to remove the whole setup in the field). Mounting a vertical grip towards the magwell was in vogue at the time, so there was a good bit of barrel beyond the front of the flashlight, despite its impressive length. I found this to be detrimental when shooting over or around barriers, as I would often rest the barrel of the weapon on whatever was at hand if I was in certain shooting positions. It would be impossible to use the light to illuminate a target unless I pushed the rifle very far forward on the barrier – which was sometimes uncomfortable or not even possible, depending on the barrier in question.

Later on, when I was issued an M4 with a KAC M4 RAS, I used a Surefire 6P in various positions on the forend, including the bottom rail. Again, I couldn’t mount it far enough forward to clear a lot of barriers – and again, I was still putting the vertical grip at one of the rearmost positions.

Of course, mounting the light on one of the side rails has drawbacks too, though perhaps not as much as a light mounted towards the rear of the handguard at 6 o’clock – if you’re peering around a corner, depending on which side your light is on, you may have to expose a little more of the rifle (and yourself) to illuminate a target.

For quite a while, my favorite method of mounting a light was to use the Midwest Industries FSB rail and a Vltor light mount or 1″ scope ring – I had since moved my support hand farther forward, and this method allowed me to place the light on the weapon without the added expense of a railed forend. I’ll still use the MI rail on some rifles, and consider it to be a relatively lightweight and low cost solution for mounting a weaponlight.

Probably the most ideal position for a light – from a “tactical” standpoint – is 12 o’clock, in front of the FSB. However, this requires railed forends of a certain design, and a carbine gas system – which not every AR owner has or wants (on either count). It also requires the use of a pistol light, which is not designed for activation from that angle, though it’s something that shooters can get used to.

The ZFH-1500

This brings me back to the Elzetta ZFH-1500. As you can see, when mounted on a midlength AR, the front (bezel) of a 6 volt flashlight is right behind the muzzle device.

Since hardly anyone rests only the muzzle device on a barrier, I don’t find that it’s a disadvantageous position. On the contrary, it’s easy to activate – the bottom sling swivel is very wide, yet doesn’t rotate from side to side much, making it very useful for activating the flashlight. When switching from strong side to weak side, the light is still easy to operate.

Beyond that, it’s pretty affordable. The standard mount, as pictured above, is $30 from Elzetta – $37 with a thumbscrew to tighten the screw holding the light in place. I found the thumbscrew to be useful and easy enough to tighten and loosen with a coin or the back of a knife blade.

My biggest complaint about the ZFH1500 – before I ever saw one in person – was that it prevented the use of a side sling swivel. Elzetta has corrected that with the introduction of both an add-on picatinny rail ($7, for use with your choice of sling swivels) and an add-on QD socket ($36). I haven’t used them, but they would appear to solve that “problem” quite nicely.

I was never too concerned about durability, though I’m sure some might be, because it’s “plastic.” It’s actually made of glass-filled polymer. It flexes just enough to allay any concerns or fears I might have had about brittleness. However, unlike the Chinese airsoft copies of the ZFH1500, it does not flex enough that a strong hand might be able to simply twist it until it broke off or was permanently deformed.

Testing

Although I did not hit the mount with a hammer or drop test it, I did attach it – and a light – to the Spike’s Tactical Midlength 5.45, which I fired 3000 times in under 2 weeks. At no point did the light come loose, nor did any of the screws keeping the two halves of the ZFH-1500 loosen up even a tiny bit. I did not use Loctite on any of the screws.

The FSB is pretty much the hottest part of the barrel once serious firing commences, and at several points during my test, FSB temperature was over 600 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when I removed the ZFH-1500 to examine it after the test, it looked practically new on the inside. In fact, other than some scuffs on the inside of the flashlight mounting ring from the knurling on an aluminum light, I doubt anyone could tell that it wasn’t brand new.

The light I used for the test – a Solarforce L2 with Malkoff M30 drop-in – has a slightly larger outside diameter than Surefires of the same ilk, so the tailcap couldn’t be rotated with the mount clamped properly. However, Surefire 6Ps and G2s, as well as the Elzetta ZFL-M60, did allow the tailcap to be rotated with the mount clamped. I did experience a few “negligent discharges” of the flashlight when picking the rifle up off a table or bench and catching the sling swivel on the edge of said table or bench. If the end user found this to be an issue, they could remove the sling swivel, or “lock out” the flashlight by unscrewing the tailcap.

Conclusions

The ZFH-1500 is one of a growing number of products that I was initially skeptical of – but after a detailed examination, have come to use with enthusiasm.

At 2.1oz, it’s about an ounce and a half lighter than the MI FSB rail/simple flashlight mount combo, and cheaper to boot. For someone on a budget looking to put a light on a home defense rifle, this would be ideal. A quality light such as a Surefire G2 LED could be procured along with this mount for under $100. There would be no worries about reliability or durability, and no apologies to be made in terms of quality. Police officers may find the ZFH-1500 especially interesting because it will fit, with a light, in many patrol cruiser rifle racks easier than some side-mounted lights.

Of course, if one has a railed forend, the need for an FSB light mount diminishes. Elzetta makes light mounts for those applications as well, and I’ll be reviewing one of them soon.

Cleaning Your AR-15 is Pretty Much a Waste of Time

I’m not the first person to say something like that.

I’m definitely not the most experienced AR shooter to say something like that (Recently, Mike Pannone published an article called “The Big M4 Myth” regarding fouling. I don’t want to claim any of his ideas as my own. If you see something that seems really intuitive, it probably came from him. In this article, I’m going to talk about the same subject, but with a slightly different approach).

And yet, the “clean your AR-15″ mantra is repeated over and over, in gun stores, online, at shooting ranges, in military training, and so on.

Over the past few years, I’ve fired a number of ARs (and a number of other weapons, for that matter) for thousands of rounds without any sort of cleaning whatsoever – in most cases, I just kept adding lubricant to the weapon. Recently, as you can see right below this post, I fired close to 3000 rounds through a 5.45 AR-15 without cleaning or lubrication.

“But how?!” you say. “The AR-15 ‘defecates’ where it eats! I know this because people on the internet have been saying it!”

Well, I don’t want to spend too much time describing how the AR-15 works – Steve at Adco Firearms does a pretty darn good job here.

Self Cleaning?

What’s important to know is that the bolt is itself a piston – it even has rings just like the pistons in your car’s engine (unless you’re a Wankel fan). In other words, those rings need to have a good seal against the cylinder walls – the bolt carrier.

Every time the weapon is fired, the rings scrape carbon away from the carrier – the same goes for the bearing surface farther forward on the bolt (with the exception of the extractor, which must have room to maneuver, and therefore cannot serve as a bearing surface). Practically no carbon will build up on the areas where these components actually touch, even after thousands of rounds have been fired. This goes for the bolt carrier, too – where it contacts the upper receiver, it will be clean to the point that it appears polished.

Here are some photos to explain what I’m talking about:

Take a guess as to where the carrier contacts the upper receiver.

The contact points on the carrier are clean. Pretty much everything else is filthy. No big deal.

See all that carbon? Its presence is essentially inconsequential to the operation of the weapon.

It’s a bad photo, but you can clearly see the path traced by the extractor – rather, the path of carbon left where the extractor rides just beneath the forward bearing surface on the bolt. This bearing surface removes carbon from the rest of the inside of the carrier.

Here we see a very clear delineation between where the gas rings seal against the bolt – and where they do not.

What does all this mean?

Quite a few people are worried about carbon buildup. There are even companies that will sell you carbon scrapers – and of course, there are companies that will sell you an external piston/op-rod setup. Both have major drawbacks. Excessive cleaning can remove finishes which are important to the operation of the weapon. And eliminating the inline operating system, the “internal piston” as Armalite calls it, has a host of drawbacks that I won’t cover here and now.

The bottom line is that cleaning for the sake of reducing malfunctions is a waste of time. Cleaning may make the weapon prettier, cleaning may make you feel better – but cleaning will not drastically improve the reliability of the weapon, unless unrealistically large round counts are being considered. Even then, you would have a better chance of improving reliability simply by adding lube to the weapon, as shown by the single drop of oil in the cam pin hole of the 5.45 allowing the weapon to run for another 150 trouble-free rounds.What’s easier in the field – some lube, or a complete detail strip and scrape of every part with carbon on it?

There are reasons to clean your weapon, though – such as the corrosive primers used in surplus 5.45 ammunition, for example. Good finishes and metal treatments such as nickel boron and melonite should reduce this need, but only time will tell if it’s been eliminated.

Some people say that their AR only works when it’s perfectly clean. I say that if so, there’s something else wrong with the weapon. Some part is probably worn out – a spring, the gas rings, and so on – and needs to be replaced. Read Mike Pannone’s article for more information on that subject.

If your AR-15 is properly lubricated, and it’s malfunctioning, fouling is NOT the source of the malfunction.

The New 5.45 Upper Finally Chokes (At 2778 Rounds)

Yes, after several thousand rounds, the Spike’s 5.45 upper finally started malfunctioning: the weapon wouldn’t go into battery. This was pretty sudden and quite consistent. I had noticed that the weapon was operating in a sluggish manner for a short while, so it didn’t really come as a surprise. After experiencing several malfunctions in a row, I placed one drop of oil onto the bolt at the cam pin hole, as I felt that this was the area with the most friction. Immediately after doing so, I dumped 5 magazines through the upper without a single malfunction.

Here’s what’s on deck for the next few days:

- Cerakote 1911 refinish

-Deliberate Dynamics hand stop

-Elzetta ZFH1500/ZORM flashlight mounts

- PLUMCRAZY polymer AR-15 lower

- Del-Ton 1/7 M4 upper assembly

- Montie Designs AR-Rest

- Doug Ritter RSK knives in M2 and M4 steel

- An article on why cleaning your AR-15 is pretty much a waste of time

Spike's Tactical Midlength 5.45x39mm Upper Receiver Assembly

I’ve been a fan of 5.45x39mm for quite some time. It’s a caliber that allows me to shoot “full recoil” ammunition for practice purposes, but at a fraction of the cost of 5.56mm ammunition. I like it so much that I suggested to Spike’s Tactical that they build a more corrosion resistant version than was available at the time – namely, the S&W M&P15R, which I had been using for a while. As it turns out, they had already been considering a 5.45 – so it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing on my part.

Although my initial concern was for more corrosion resistance, when I heard the effort that Spike’s Tactical planned to put into the uppers, I was concerned about cost. The whole idea of 5.45 is cheap shooting – and that extends to the upper, as well. Naturally, there will be less demand for 5.45 than 5.56, so prices will be higher, as components are ordered in the dozens or hundreds instead of the thousands.

When I was told that the barrels, gas tubes, front sight bases, and flash hiders would be finished (treated) in melonite, and the bolt carrier group and barrel extension would be nickel boron plated, I envisioned a retail price of 800 to 1000 bucks, and figured that demand would be low. However, now that the product is almost at hand, pricing has been released – $620 shipped from AIM Surplus, including a 5.45x39mm magazine and a more powerful hammer spring, required to fire the hard primers found in surplus 5.45 ammunition. That’s hardly more than I paid for my S&W upper, which had rather severe corrosion issues after being fired several thousand times without cleaning. Even after being assured that the price would be low, I was still thinking that it’d be $750 or so.

If I hadn’t been sent one for T&E, I definitely would have pre-ordered one from AIM as soon as they were available. But I did get a T&E sample, along with 1830 rounds of 5.45, and happily hit the range. Before I received the ammunition, I put a full tin (1080 rounds) and a few extra boxes of surplus 5.45 through the upper. I was pleasantly surprised with the way the weapon shot – while I was constantly seeking ways to make my S&W carbine gas upper shoot like a 5.56 carbine, the Spike’s midlength 5.45 shoots exactly like my Spike’s midlength 5.56 upper. I was also very happy with the reliability of the weapon.

I started the evaluation by removing all traces of lubrication from the weapon. This is not a new test concept – Mike Pannone recently did the same with a Bravo Company upper, and has done so previously with other weapons, including a FailZero-equipped (nickel boron) carbine. However, I thought I’d repeat the test, and show some photographs of the weapon after various round counts.

Weapon Overview

Here’s the weapon out of the box. Other than minor cosmetic differences due to the Melonite process, and the 5.45x39mm laser mark on the receiver, the weapon looks, feels, and handles just like a 5.56mm government profile midlength.

The upper came tagged with various assembly and QC procedures checked and initialed.  As an end-user, I like to see this sort of thing.

Everything you see here, except for the stainless steel roll pin, the plastic single aluminum heat shield handguards, and the sling swivel, is Melonited for corrosion resistance.

The production uppers will have a different style laser engraving/marking on the upper receiver.

As mentioned, the bolt carrier group is nickel boron plated.

The feed ramps are M4 type, machined before anodizing, and the barrel extension is nickel boron plated.

Melonited gas tube – it’s my understanding that all Spike’s Tactical uppers will have melonited gas tubes in the near future.

Shooting

As I said before, I’ve fired a fair number of rounds through the upper, considering that I’ve only had it for 11 days.

I first fired 1200 rounds of Russian and Bulgarian surplus – one full tin of Bulgarian surplus, and four 30 round paper “boxes” of Russian. I shot this ammunition with carbine, H, H2, ST-T2, 9mm, and rifle buffers, along with carbine, Wolff extra power, Wolff reduced power, Tubb CS flat wire, and rifle springs. I experienced zero malfunctions. This shooting was done exclusively with CProducts 5.45 magazines with improved followers.

I then moved on to the Silver Bear supplied by Spike’s Tactical – 750 rounds of 60gr FMJ. The majority of this was done with the H2 buffer and Tubb CS spring. I also used the ST-T2 and carbine spring for a high speed video comparison of the ejection pattern of each combination. After 600 rounds of Silver Bear, at a total round count of 1800, four failures to feed were experienced. 30rd Lancer L5 magazines were being used, and proved unsatisfactory. A switch to the CProducts magazine yielded fewer failures, but two still occurred within the next few dozen rounds. All of these failures occurred while the weapon was not being properly held by the shooter – the stock was not against the shoulder. After switching back to the ST-T2 buffer and carbine spring, no such failures were experienced, even when the weapon was held away from the shooter using only one hand. The remaining 100 rounds of Silver Bear were fired without incident.

The next day, another 550 rounds were fired through the weapon, this time Russian surplus 53gr FMJ. 2 CProducts magazines were used, along with a 30rd Magpul PMag and a USGI 30rd mag. The latter two magazines were loaded with only four rounds each, and were used to practice speed reloads. The USGI mag, loaded only with 4 rounds, still proved difficult to insert, as the feed lips spread significantly. No malfunctions were experienced during this course of fire, which occurred within about an hour and a half.

At that point, having reached 2500 rounds, shooting ceased for the day.

I will continue to fire the weapon until it consistently exhibits signs of being nonfunctional. The six failures experienced were, I believe, an aberration, although in retrospect, I’m glad the weapon was fired in the manner that caused the malfunctions. It showed me several things -

  • Just because a weapon works in one circumstance does not mean that it will work in all others
  • Magazines not designed for 5.45 are unsatisfactory for the caliber unless limited amounts of ammunition are used
  • The H2 buffer is probably a little heavy for the midlength 5.45 shooting weak commercial ammunition

Had the lighter buffer been in use, I’m positive that the malfunctions would not have occurred. Readers make take from this situation what they wish – yes, the weapon malfunctioned after 1800 rounds and no lubrication – but the cause was identified and eliminated, and the weapon has functioned perfectly for an additional 650 rounds with no lubrication.

After 2500 rounds with no lube, the weapon definitely feels more sluggish than it did at first – I get the feeling that malfunctions may be occurring soon. However, at this point, it still functions.

Carbon

Just how dirty is the weapon after 2500 rounds?

Well, it’s pretty dirty.

Notice that the “steel deflector” shows significant wear. Also note the lack of carbon where the bolt carrier rides on the upper receiver.

Yes, that bolt carrier group was originally an attractive silver color. Again, note the lack of carbon on the contact surfaces of the BCG.

Although I can’t prove it, I believe that the lighter color of the carbon aft of the bolt’s forward contact surface is due to the higher temperatures experienced in this area relative to those on the forward portion of the bolt. Again, the contact surfaces are clear of carbon – some was transferred to them during bolt removal, but they normally see no such carbon while the weapon is in operation.

Here we see a “bolt’s eye view” of the inside of the upper receiver. Clearly defined contact/bearing surfaces identify areas requiring lubrication when a “no-lube” test is not in the works. It’s also easy to see where the bolt carrier meets the barrel extension, and that the M4 ramps are actually useful for this weapon.

Cost Analysis

We often see or hear of things “paying for themselves.” Most of the time, the people selling the items tell us this.

Now, some people will skew the results depending on their personal preferences. Some will say that they don’t consider buying 5.45 surplus because it’s corrosive, so 5.45 uppers don’t save any money, because you have to buy Wolf or Brown/Silver Bear 5.45×39. That’s silly. If you’re a very high volume shooter, you’ll shoot out a 5.45 upper before corrosion becomes a serious issue. With the Spike’s upper, corrosion should not be a factor at all.

On the 5.56 side, most people seem to assume that surplus ammunition is the same quality as Wolf or Brown Bear. Not so. Surplus ammunition was produced on behalf of various militaries and was intended to be used in wartime. It’s loaded pretty hot and quality control is generally very good. Modern day Wolf and Brown Bear is weak, underpowered ammunition. Bullet construction is not what many would consider to be high quality.

That said, you can’t really compare surplus to brass case 5.56, because the remaining brass has a good bit of value, while the steel 5.45 cases really do not.

So in order to determine how quickly a 5.45 upper will “pay for itself,” I calculated the relative costs of large amounts of 5.56 and 5.45 ammunition – approaching the subject from all points of view.

As of 8/24/10, AIM Surplus ammunition prices per round are:

5.45 Silver Bear: 18.3 cents (750 rounds or more)

5.45 Russian Surplus: 12 cents per round for 1080 rounds (11.1 if you buy 2160 rounds or more)

.223 Silver Bear: 20.95 cents (500 rounds or more)

5.56 PMC X-TAC: 30.95 cents (1000 rounds or more)

The above prices are the lowest in each category – 5.45 commercial, 5.45 surplus, .223 steel case, and .223/5.56 brass case.

Let’s assume that you already own a 5.56 upper, so the $620 cost of the 5.45 upper has to be added to the 5.45 tab.

From the chart, we see that the “break even” point of surplus 5.45 vs. PMC X-TAC is roughly 3000 rounds; versus Silver Bear .223, it’s just over 6000.

Silver Bear 5.45 breaks even with PMC at around 5000 rounds. I don’t know that many folks would consider comparing Silver Bear 5.45 with brass case 5.56. On the other hand, it would take about 25,000 rounds for Silver Bear 5.45 to break even against Silver Bear 5.56. You can see why I don’t really understand the people who buy Silver Bear 5.45 when surplus is available.

Also – 5.45x39mm is only cost effective if you buy in bulk. Surplus ammunition is readily available at the moment. If you want 5.45 surplus, I would buy it now.

“What if surplus 5.45 dries up?” you ask.

Well, if you buy 6000 or so rounds of surplus 5.45 now, and use it up, you will have “broken even” against .223; after that, if you have to buy Wolf or Silver/Brown Bear 5.45, you’ll be paying about as much as you would for .223 – so you’ll be no worse off. Eventually, you could swap the barrel and bolt out for 5.56 examples, and continue to use the rest of the components.

What about the 5.45 as an only AR? That’s a definite possibility for some folks. I certainly wouldn’t be upset if this was my only AR-15. And the money you save by not buying a 5.56 upper or rifle would go a long way towards surplus ammunition.

Here’s a chart showing the rough costs of the ammunition alone.

With all of that said, if you have a 5.56 AR, and you don’t plan on buying a lot of 5.45 surplus…the 5.45x39mm AR-15 uppers don’t make much sense from a financial standpoint alone.

But if you do…the cost savings can really add up.

Conclusion

To me, 5.45x39mm ARs are an inexpensive alternative to their 5.56x45mm counterparts for training purposes. For those looking to train with a 5.45 upper, I would recommend purchasing whatever 5.45 product is closest to your 5.56 (or 6.8, or 6.5) weapon. If you have a carbine, get the S&W. If you have a midlength, get the Spike’s Tactical. If you have a piston/op-rod weapon, get the LWRC. However, if you just want a great 5.45 to have fun with, the Spike’s Tactical 5.45x39mm is an excellent value, and one I would prefer over competing products on the market (at all price points).

Video reviews of the upper can be found by clicking on the “Videos” tab at the top of the blog.

Battle Comp Night Shoot Comparison

For the past two nights, we’ve traveled out into the desert in an attempt to get video of the Battle Comp in action. Our first night was cut short by a thunderstorm (and a very angry bull), but last night we did get decent video of the BC and other muzzle devices – the ubiquitous A2, the Vortex, the Blackout, and the PWS TTO.

Ammunition used was PMC 55gr, and all weapons involved in the test had 16″ barrels.

A big thanks to Joe and Nick for their assistance.

GAO Objects to DOD Handgun Replacement Program

I know everyone hates bureaucracy standing in the way of the military getting new weapons, but in this case, the GAO has good points.

Well, they did in March of 1982, that is.

While reading about the SIG/ATF handgun trial debacle, I decided to check out other GAO cases involving firearms manufacturers. That’s when I came across this report, detailing the GAO’s objections to the DOD program to replace the 1911A1 and various .38 revolvers as the sidearm(s) of the military. The GAO report can be summed up in one quote – “Our review indicates that the 9mm pistol program is questionable.”

Now, the DOD definitely had something to complain about on the revolver issue: there were several dozen different types of .38 revolvers in various inventories. But as the GAO pointed out, .38 purchases should have been handled collectively. Instead, each service simply purchased commercially available revolvers whenever and wherever it suited them.

So the DOD plan was to replace the 45s and the 38s with a 9mm handgun. They had other options – stick with what they had and fix the weapons as they broke, just use revolvers, just use 1911s, or go with a new 9mm handgun. For a number of reasons, DOD wanted the 9mm. I’ll run through them as briefly as possible. I encourage everyone to read the 30 page report when they have the time.

Who wanted the new handgun?

The Marines and the Coast Guard. Not surprisingly, these were the two services that had the hardest time getting spare parts for their current handguns – up to a three year wait, in some cases.

Why did DOD want a new handgun?

DOD also said that that the new pistol would be more accurate, that 9mm ball would have greater terminal effectiveness than 45 ball, and that it would be safer.

Ambidextrous operation, reduced weight and bulk, acceptability by female users, and the ability to be silenced were also important. Interestingly, the Army and the Navy said these features didn’t matter very much to them. The Air Force didn’t claim to care, but much of the testing cited that was favorable to the 9mm came from the Air Force.

How did DOD justify the accuracy claim?

The accuracy claim was based on testing a 9mm handgun at 50 yards alongside a military 1911 and .38 revolver. While the fixed sights of the .45 were effective at 25 yards, they did not prove effective at 50 yards.

What was GAO’s response?

GAO said that in its research, it found that most handgun engagements occured within 20 feet (or 21, depending on the source). Therefore, a 50 yard accuracy requirement was questionable.

How did DOD justify the terminal effectiveness claim?

DOD used the “Relative Incapacitation Index” to make this claim, stating that the 9mm was 1.6 times more lethal than the .45. It would also be more effective against body armor.

What was GAO’s response?

GAO found a quote by the author of the study used by DOD. The author said “Within the caliber range tested (9mm, .38, and .45), the stopping power increases with caliber, that is the .45 caliber ranks highest.”

On the subject of armor, GAO stated that armor-piercing rounds for both calibers were being developed.

It also stated that significant improvements could be made over the issued ammunition in both calibers. “If stopping power needs to be increased, DOD can explore improvements in the bullets rather than buying a new pistol.”

How did DOD justify the safety claim?

DOD stated that there was no safe way to remove a loaded round from the chamber of a 1911. It cited clearing barrels with bullet holes in them as proof that the 1911 was unsafe. At the time, clearing procedure involved pulling the trigger of the weapon after removing the magazine and racking the slide. In addition, the declining intellectual capabilities of recruits necessitated a safer firearm.

What was GAO’s response?

GAO stated that safety depends on how the weapon is used.”Safety features are only as effective as the user makes them.”

On the topic of a safer firearm – “No firearm is absolutely safe, and any attempt to design an absolutely safe weapon could result in a relatively inert weapon.”

On the topic of intellectual capabilities – “It would seem more appropriate to correct any intellectual deficiencies through recruit screening or improved training rather than procurement for a new weapon.”

What was DOD’s concern with female users?

DOD stated that females could not shoot the .45 effectively, and would need to use a smaller caliber.

What was GAO’s response?

Female users, in a study, shot better with a .38 revolver than a .45 1911 or a 9mm handgun. Weapons that were currently in inventory would satisfy this need.

What was DOD’s final justification for the new handgun?

Public Law 94-361 required standardization with NATO countries.

What was GAO’s response?

The law also required cost, function, quality, and availability considerations, and was not a mandate to discard satisfactory weapons in order to procure new standardized weapons.

Hindsight

I find it ironic that the different models and types of handguns in inventory was a driving force. Back then, we had one pistol – the 1911A1. Now the majority of the military uses the M9, but pilots and other troops use the M11 (Sig P228), the SEALs have both the Sig P226 and the H&K Mk23 (among others, no doubt), super high speed guys are using Glocks in .40, and so on.

I don’t think I need to say a whole lot here, but the military ended up with a handgun – the M9 – that was bulkier than the .45 it replaced, almost as heavy, and which has gained a (undeserved, in my opinion) negative reputation for reliability and (deserved, if ball ammunition is used) negative reputation for terminal effectiveness. If negligent discharges have declined, it’s due to training – but they definitely still happen. As for being suppressed, 9mm ball is supersonic, and 45 is subsonic. Yes, you can use subsonic 9mm ammunition – but reducing the number of ammunition stock numbers was another goal of the program.

It’s pretty clear to me that some folks in the DOD wanted a new toy, and would say anything to justify the purchase. The GAO made a lot of great points that have turned out to be quite prescient. In fact, they’re quite applicable today. Despite pushes to return to .45, the best way for DOD to increase the lethality of the M9 would be to select more capable ammunition – “land warfare legal” be damned.

Despite my personal affection for the M9, I can’t find a single good thing to say about this procurement program. The actions of a few people were downright stupid, and in terms of sidearms, have left the majority of the military no better off now than it was in 1980.

Ammo.

Spike’s Tactical arranged for AIM Surplus to send me 1,830 rounds of 5.45×39 – a tin of surplus and 750 rounds of Silver Bear. I’ll be putting a good portion of that through my pre-production T&E Spike’s 5.45 tomorrow, and more over the weekend. I’ll be recording all of the shooting. I don’t expect any malfunctions, though – I’m 800 rounds in so far with zero hiccups.

A big thanks to Spike’s for sending me the upper and the ammunition, and trusting me help with some of the development work on the upper (although, as I said, it seemed pretty well sorted out when it arrived).

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