In the third and final part of our conversation with Chris Bartocci of Small Arms Solutions, we talk about the how the AR platform is viewed internationally and what makes for a “combat ready” rifle.
In case you missed the previous articles with Chris Bartocci of Small Arms Solutions, In part one, we discussed the story of the M16 in Vietnam…a topic Chris knows more about than almost anyone. In part two, we talked to Chris about his first experiences with the AR, all the way to today, where he creates some of the most in-depth information available about the platform.
Q: Chris, you’ve traveled the world due to your unique relationship with the AR. I’m curious what the impression of the rifle is outside of the United States?
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – It depends on who you talk to. If you talk to people on the other side of the curtain over there in Russia…well for them, the sun rises and sets with the AK platform. To me, the M16 has always been a rifle of the professional soldier. More than the Kalashnikov, which I consider a rifle for conscripts. They are designed for two different purposes.
What it comes down to is do you want longer engagement distances, better terminal performance? Do you want a gun that is easier and more natural to handle? Well that’s the M16…and its been that way for 60 years. The U.S. military has been trying to get rid of this gun for 60 years, and there’s a reason they haven’t…
The rifle has performed well throughout the world. It’s the most highly produced 5.56 rifle in the world. It’s used by special forces all over the world…even the Chinese.
I was at KASOTC (King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center) in Jordan. It’s basically a special forces training center for the Middle East. They hold a warrior challenge every year. Special forces come from all over the world and they compete.
Oddly enough, the Chinese Snow Leopards, which is their special forces, were there. They were not using the 58 rifles or their AKs. They were using Chinese copies of the M4…their CQ series. That’s just one example that shows what the rest of the world thinks of the AR platform.
For the longest time, Colt was the only game in town…but Colt never did anything to improve the rifle. They had the attitude that if the M4 was good enough for the U.S. government, it was good enough for everybody else. But customers around the world started to get a little bit more savvy. They began to understand that there were guns out there that were better than the Colt M4. There’s a lot of companies that have taken the gun to the next level…for instance, Lewis Machine and Tool, LWRC.
These are people who have made improvements to the system. Companies have made better bolts…they’ve looked at areas where traditionally there have been problems and they have improved them. So, you’re seeing other companies now getting into the ballgame. Caracal is a good example, too. You see people who have taken the system forward to make it even better.
Q: So, with all the different rifles you’ve been around, would you still say that the AR is still the world’s best combat rifle?
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – I would. My opinion is a properly made Colt M4 rifle or a properly made M16 is the best combat rifle in the world. I say “properly made”, not one that someone has gotten a bunch of parts and thrown one together.
I’m talking about a mil-spec rifle…mil-spec meaning it was manufactured off of a TDP (technical data package) where you have quality control on the components to make sure everything was made properly. If that’s the case, I think that the best rifle to this day is still the M16/M4 platform. Nothing is as accurate. The reliability is also there on a properly made rifle.
Q: That said, I think I’ve heard you mention that some reliability tests floating around there are probably not to be trusted…can you talk about that?
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – A lot of people who complain about reliability issues are looking at rifles that were made with components from all over the industry. For many years I’ve seen gun writers do tests…There was one durability test I saw a writer do that that was between an external piston version of an AR and a standard M4. Within three magazines, the gas tube on the standard M4 bent and the gun stopped. The winner was declared to be the external piston gun. I couldn’t believe it. It was not a mil-spec gas tube…it was a piece of garbage.
“Not made to military standards…”
A true mil-spec gas tube would have lasted longer than the barrel. Having such a gas tube would have made for a proper test. But you have people that take rifles that are not made to military standards and use that as the baseline for what the gun is.
So, when you’re learning about durability and reliability from these gun writers and YouTube channels…it’s not real. These are not the proper weapons that this family of weapons is based off of. What I’ve seen these guns do overseas as far as durability and reliability is unbelievable…going through sand, mud. Because of that, I just don’t think the AR platform is in any danger of going anywhere any time soon.
Q: Your Small Arms Solutions reviews on firearms are some of the best that exist online…can you talk about what are you looking for in a review?
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – When I look at a weapon system, I am looking at it for military/law enforcement use. That’s how I look at weapons. There’s a lot of manufacturers out there, but the number of companies that manufacture military-grade weapons, you can probably count on one or two hands.
The aspects that I Iook for are things that are very simple. For example..Is the gas block drill & pinned or is held on with set screws? Is it a chrome lined barrel? I look at where the parts come from.
“A whole different set of circumstances…”
Looking at it from a military standpoint, I look at a gun and ask if it is something suitable to take out and fight for your life with. There’s a difference between a rifle that you shoot your beer cans with versus one you carry and have your life depend on it. So, I will always say if a gun is a “good target rifle”, or a “good competition rifle”…but when it comes time for reliability and durability in a combat environment, we’re looking at a whole different set of circumstances.
Q: If someone was going to build a rifle…and they wanted to try to put together the best combat-type rifle possible, what would you advise?
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – I recently did a video about the ideal combat build…and that’s a gun where I looked at it in regards to military and law enforcement capability. With my experience, I very much know know what deficiencies they’ve had overseas. I know what can happen with overheating, gas port erosion, extractor springs and things like that. So, when I look to build a combat-ready rifle, I want to address all of those issues to make sure the rifle does not have problems.
Small Arms Solutions – Barrel
I want to have a heavier barrel. The trend is everybody wants to go light weight. I look at what the deficiencies are, and how to improve on them. And what that doesn’t mean is having the most lightweight rifle. If we wanted a lightweight rifle, we’d have stuck with the M16A1…we wouldn’t have gone with the M16A2 or the M16A4. To have a rifle that is going to last you that much longer and be that much more reliable, that extra weight is worth it.
One problem with light weight barrels is ambient temperature…if the outdoor temperature is extremely hot to begin with, when you start firing, you overheat. Overheating causes failure to extract. By going with a heavy barrel like the U.S. government did with their SOCOM heavy barrels, you’re increasing your durability/reliability, and you’re also extending the time before you have cook-off.
Cold Hammer Forged or Button Cut?
On the gun in the Ideal Combat Build video…It had an FN cold hammer forged barrel on it. Cold hammer forged barrels tend to last a little bit longer, however they’re not as precision accurate as the standard Colt button-cut barrels…but they are more durable. I also go with chrome plating because it’s still better than any other finishes out there, in my opinion.
Small Arms Solutions – Gas System/Handguard
For the gas system, I choose a mid-length gas system. The mid-length gas system is a major reliability enhancement over carbine because it allows for more dwell time and it aids in extraction. Also, I prefer MIL-STD-1913 quad rails over M-LOK. People will say it’s lighter with the M-LOK, but I like the sturdiness of the MIL-STD-1913 handguards.
Small Arms Solutions – Bolt Carrier Group
When it comes to bolt carrier groups, I like chrome. I’ve tested them all, and chrome doesn’t wear off, it has a self-lubricity when it heats up, when you clean, it wipes off well…The company I get mine from is primarily Smith Enterprise, Inc. They provide them to the U.S. government and Ron Smith really knows what he is doing.
Small Arms Solutions – Lower Receiver
When I looked at lower receivers, I chose one that had all the ambi features. The one I chose has a feature that allows you to push the magazine release in and pull back the bolt, and it will hold the bolt open…
Small Arms Solutions – Stock and Buffer
For the stock, I chose VLTOR. We tested them at Colt and these were the most durable stocks we found as far as drop testing. I also want to make sure I have the proper buffer in there so that it works well in all environments.
Q: Any other basic advice for builders?
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – My biggest advice for builders is to know what is appropriate and what is not. I’ve been approached by police departments in the past to do builds and I decline. The reason being is I don’t recommend any police department using any private built gun. I recommend they always go to a manufacturer who manufactures guns to their own specifications so that they have reliability and durability.
I don’t recommend anybody just throw together parts for a law enforcement officer to have their life depend on. I’ve seen parts that don’t fit together, and that stuff scares me. As good as many parts, are…you’re putting different parts together that are made by different manufacturers and hoping that they work. I don’t recommend that for anybody who’s life depends on that gun. There is a time and a place for that sort of thing. For an individual building one for competition or target shooting, it’s a whole different ballgame. There’s a difference between somebody that carries one because their life depends on it, versus someone who is a competitor, a plinker, or a hunter.
Small Arms Solutions – “This is a Science“
This is a science, believe it or not. It’s not “all parts go together and all parts are equal.” They’re not. When you look through what the military specifications are for small arms, you look at the testing protocols and what they ensure…it’s a very complex thing. It’s not just taking a bunch of parts and throwing them together.
I remember a gentleman I worked with at Colt, he was a brilliant technician. He said guns are more difficult to manufacture properly than cars. That’s because you’re dealing with much tighter tolerances on a gun. You have a brief window when you can operate a gun for ejection and extraction. There’s a very brief window with your pressure curve where you can do that. So, you have to make sure you’re in that window for it to work properly. He was right…and I’ve taken that statement everywhere I’ve gone.
Q: Before we wrap up, can we talk a bit about the Live Q&As you do at Small Arms Solutions? They are always very informative and it’s pretty amazing to see someone so knowledgable just talk on the subject they know backwards and forwards…
Chris Bartocci, Small Arms Solutions – Every other week, Small Arms Solutions does a live Q&A. We really enjoy doing that and I don’t know a lot of other YouTubers that do that. I enjoy interacting with people. I enjoy sharing my knowledge…what’s the point of being an expert at anything if you don’t share it with people? We have supporters who come on there and make donations…obviously this Small Arms Solutions is a business and we have four kids to feed. But, people can ask whatever they want. If they want to move their question up, they can make a donation.
I would note that we are not political. We avoid political questions…but other than that people can ask whatever questions they want. We do try the best we can to answer as many questions as possible. We then have a separate Q&A for our Patreon supporters. Anybody who is at $10 or above…they get their own Q&A once a month. It’s smaller group and every single one of their questions gets answered. We get a lot of good questions and we really enjoy it. I want to make myself as accessible as possible, have a good time, and answer as many questions as I can.
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