Saga Of The AR-15 Forward Assist: A Solution Searching For A Problem

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago


  1. On July 30, 2020 at 11:04 pm, Bad_Brad said:

    Leave it off. The only round I’d recommend a forward assist on an AR for would be 7.62 by 39. Very dirty blamo. Slick side are the way to go.

  2. On July 31, 2020 at 7:58 am, Houston said:

    I have a BRN-605 upper on a build. Very nice piece of kit. Fast becoming my favorite configuration. KISS.

  3. On July 31, 2020 at 11:02 am, John said:

    There was a time when the Army had big problems with the powder that was being
    loaded into the 5.56×45. The fouling caused jams and gave the rifle a bad reputation
    that it earned because of the Army powder screwup. That is the main reason the assist
    was added. I understand the new stuff is supposed to work fine but I remember in
    the first Iraq invasion that a truck outfit became lost, got into a firefight and was
    rolled over and they captured the woman US soldier who was later rescued.
    One of the top sergeants involved in the fiasco stated that their weapons malfunctuned
    because the truckers “failed to properly lubricate their rifles”.
    I used the M16 A1 rifle through the early and mid 70’s and having been bitten by jams,
    I will never own one.

  4. On July 31, 2020 at 11:12 am, Herschel Smith said:


    It’s odd how first impressions cause views for life.

    I’ve never even once, in tens of thousands of rounds, had a FTF or FTE in any AR pattern rifle, and I’ve worked them pretty hard.

  5. On July 31, 2020 at 12:15 pm, John said:

    @ Herschel
    It seems I’m like lhe guy who bought a lemon car from a particular company and avoided
    their products for the rest of his life. I guess it’s old fashioned to be that way but since I’m
    old myself I suppose I’m stuck with it. I do dearly love the M 14 and its clones.

  6. On July 31, 2020 at 1:09 pm, Silence DoGood said:

    All BCGs have a dished area that is accessible throught the ejection port that will give purchase to your thumb or a couple of fingers so you can apply a moderate amount of forward pressure to it. Applying any more force than that is the mechanical equivalent of bashing the end of the bolt on a bolt-action with a rubber mallet to force it into battery. Correcting a failure to feed or other OOB stoppage in this fashion is highly likely to further result in a failure to extract. In no case is a percussion adjustment likely to fix the root problem so instead of beating on the forward assist, better you should fix whatever it is preventing the cartridge from properly seating in the chamber.

  7. On August 1, 2020 at 1:59 pm, MTHead said:

    Beating a failure to feed into the chamber is compounding the problem. Never do that. Just rack another round, or fix the problem.
    Now, go out in a nice quiet forest. And rack a round normally. Then ask yourself. Is that a noise I want to make when anyone in ear shot wants to kill me?
    Now, try to slowly feed a round in the chamber. See where the bolt sticks? Now walk it home with the forward assist. Nice and quiet. That’s what it’s for.

  8. On August 1, 2020 at 9:50 pm, sirlancelot said:

    As a another poster mentioned that truck unit in Iraq did have a problem with their rifles due to lack of maintenance.

    At least one soldier’s account stated his rifle would not properly fire . He used the forward assist ,shot the rifle and again had to use the forward assist to get his rifle to fire.

    Apparently he did this throughout their engagement with the enemy. Don’t know what ponytail man’s background is but would rather hear from a veteran that’s actually used a particular rifle in combat.

    Firing a rifle from a bench rest at the local gun club is completely different then having to take the same rifle to war.

  9. On August 2, 2020 at 12:07 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ John

    Re: “There was a time when the Army had big problems with the powder that was being loaded into the 5.56×45. The fouling caused jams and gave the rifle a bad reputation that it earned because of the Army powder screwup. That is the main reason the assist was added.”

    The fiasco of the introduction of the M16 into the field and into combat in Vietnam is well-known. In fact, it is a matter of public record, since the Ichord Hearings took place in 1967-1968.

    It may very well have been the correct move to end production of the M-14 in favor of the AR15/M-16, America’s first assault rifle – but the decision to re-arm and re-equip the bulk of U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines in theater while in the midst of a hot, on-going war – must rank as one of the worst blunders of all time by a sitting Secretary of Defense. Namely, Robert S. McNamara and his gang of “Whiz Kids.”

    Whatever difficulties had been experienced during the early stages of its production run by the manufacturers of the M-14 7.62 NATO service rifle, had largely been sorted out by the time U.S. involvement ramped up in SE Asia. The weapon worked as designed, and was well-liked by the troops.

    Most of the troops headed into harm’s way in Vietnam had trained on either the M-1 Garand or the M-14 service rifle as their primary weapon, or both in some cases. Many of those same soldiers and Marines were issued M-14s and used them in theater, including in combat.

    Others, however, who arrived a bit later, had trained on M-14s, but were issued the new M-16 upon arriving in Vietnam. Many of these troops did not receive more than a few hours cursory familiarization training, and some did not even have the opportunity to zero their weapons. Virtually none of the men had the opportunity to work with the rifle enough to become truly proficient and know it well, the way a combat infantryman ought to know his weapon. This blunder got good men killed.

    Cleaning kits were not issued, and many troops were told by their NCOs and officers that the new rifle was “self-cleaning,” and that no kits would be necessary. Nor were cleaning rods issued. This blunder got good men killed.

    Despite it being fairly common knowledge even at that time that chrome-plating the chamber, barrel and other interior surfaces of a rifle would aid in durability and resistance to corrosion, the AR15/M-16 had not been ordered with chrome-plating, so chief engineer Eugene Stoner did not design it into the weapon. If he raised questions or concerns about this decision, they were overruled. Once in theater in the hot, wet jungles and other extreme environments in SE Asia, these unprotected rifles began to rust almost immediately, many so severely they would not operate properly. Another blunder which killed good men.

    Unauthorized changes in the propellant used in the 5.56×45 NATO M193 55-grain cartridge for the M-16 also dogged the rifle. Stoner and his team had initially used extruded (stick) propellant for the .224-caliber cartridge used in the rifle, a formulation which provided highly-consistent burn rates and pressure curves, and which burned cleaner than the available alternatives.

    Stoner had tuned his then-revolutionary new rifle to operate reliably with the original powder, but apparently did not foresee that changes might be made to the ammunition without his consent. When stocks of the specified propellant ran low, the Army Ordnance Dept.authorized the use of spherical (ball) propellant instead of extruded propellant.

    The ball powder burned at a higher temperature and was also significantly dirtier than the specified powder. It also produced significantly higher pressure than Stoner had foreseen, reducing dwell time and increasing stresses on the operating system such that malfunctions and failures such as breakage of parts became very common. The greatly-increased cyclic rate using the ball powder over-stressed such components as the extractor and ejector, bolt-BCG, and recoil spring. Rifles broke down in large numbers and even the ones which still ran were significantly less-reliable because of how dirty the new propellant was.

    This series of blunders also cost good men their lives.

    The aluminum 20-rd. magazines issued to the troops also proved to be fragile and prone to failure if even slightly bent or out-of-spec from the factory. Failures-to-feed were very common, and the faulty mags made for one more point of failure in a system already suffering from other severe problems. It was not uncommon for a given soldier or Marine to have to test 10-12 mags to find one good one – if he had the chance to test them before using them in combat at all.

    As incidents of problems with the new rifles began piling up, word made its way home back to the States, where outraged parents and other relatives wanted to know why something wasn’t being done to resolve these problems. Eventually, a U.S. Congressional committee chaired by Missouri Democrat Richard Ichord was formed to investigate. By then the Army and DOD/Pentagon could no longer pretend that the problem was not real, which is what they had previously done.

    In the aftermath of the hearings, the army requested several changes be made to the design of the AR15/M-16, including the addition of chrome plating for the barrel and chamber, as well as the provision of the forward assist, which was designed – at least in theory – to allow an extra degree of positive chambering force if a round did strip-off the magazine and enter the chamber cleanly and completely.

    Eventually, of course, the M-16/M-4 family of weapons was sorted out design-wise and turned into the automatic rifles/carbines we see today.

    It is also interesting to note the disparity of opinion about the M-16 even among those soldiers and Marines who used them in Vietnam and in action.

    The late Colonel David L. Hackworth, one of our nation’s finest warriors and an acknowledged master of counter-guerilla and unconventional warfare operations, hated the M-16 and considered the enemy’s weapon, the AK-47/AKM, to be far-superior as a combat weapon. Hack’s opinions must be accorded their due, given his proven track record of success in combat, including extensive action against V.C. and regular NVA troops.

    However, there were plenty of highly-regarded, even elite, fighting men who liked the new rifle and described it in glowing terms. Lt. General Hal Moore, then a light bird commanding 7th Cavalry air-mobile troops at the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, credited the M-16 greatly as a factor in his troops’ success during the battle, calling it an “outstanding weapon.” Moore’s credentials as a warrior are impeccable, and also must be given their due.

    To this day, bringing up the whole M-16 debate in any bar frequented by soldiers or Marines is probably a good way to start a brawl. Solving it is way above my pay grade, but the history of the weapon and the missteps made in its introduction – are indeed fascinating.

    If any figure can be blamed for the fiasco, it must be Robert Strange McNamara, the Secretary of Defense who not only shut down M-14 production just as it was starting to run smoothly and at high efficiency, but shut it down before establishing that the M-16 would work as advertised in the field. Re-equipping your forces, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of men, with a new and untried service rifle in the midst of an on-going “hot” war cannot be regarded as anything but folly and myopia on an epic scale. But Mac and his whiz kids did it anyway, and good men died needlessly as a result.

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This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s and was published July 30th, 2020 by Herschel Smith.

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