The AR-15 Is The Best

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

Because it just is.  It’s the best battle rifle ever invented.  The AK isn’t even a close contender.  Due to DoD stupidity concerning rifle cleaning, bad instructions and training to troops, and ammunition powders strictly forbidden by Eugene Stoner, it didn’t start out that way.

But there is no question today, and my own son’s life depended on the gun (and he had the utmost confidence in it). Also, ask SpecOps why they rejected the SCAR and went back to a “proven” firearm like the AR.


  1. On March 22, 2021 at 11:36 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ HPS

    Re: “Because it just is. It’s the best battle rifle ever invented. The AK isn’t even a close contender. Due to DoD stupidity concerning rifle cleaning, bad instructions and training to troops, and ammunition powders strictly forbidden by Eugene Stoner, it didn’t start out that way.”

    “But there is no question today, and my own son’s life depended on the gun (and he had the utmost confidence in it). Also, ask SpecOps why they rejected the SCAR and went back to a “proven” firearm like the AR.”

    A brief anecdote if you’ll pardon the digression – it does have to do with the subject at hand.

    The family of a close friend, one I have known for twenty-five years, was having a party maybe 15-years ago (plus or minus). This friend’s Uncle, whom I’ll call Fred for anonymity’s sake, is a Vietnam combat veteran, specifically a paratrooper for the U.S. Army 101st A/B Division, who saw lots of action. His son, also a U.S. Army infantryman, was coming home from his deployment to Iraq, hence the party. Like his father the son had “seen the elephant,” meaning he had been ii combat.

    So, the party gets rolling, everyone’s having a good time… nice summer evening, a few adult beverages, some BBQ and so forth. By and by, Uncle Fred and a bunch of his cronies, also Vietnam-era guys – many of whom were ex-military and had seen action over there, were standing around in a group, trading stories and whatnot.

    Being the inveterate trouble-maker that I am and also a military historian of long interest, I decided to shake things up by asking the men what they thought of their personal weapons while in-country. In particular, the M-14 rifle versus the M-16, and what they thought of them.

    Well, long story short… the joke was on me. I thought I was stirring the pot, but it happened not in a manner that I expected. This being a family-blog, I won’t relate the stream of utterly blue and profane invective, obscenity, vulgarity and insults that poured out of those guys… wow! No one can swear like an old combat soldier or Marine. Take my word for it – been there, heard that, seen the peeling paint!

    This group of a half dozen or so former soldiers and Marines absolutely hated the M-16 and said so in no uncertain terms. The kindest thing they said about it was to call it “that Mattel rifle,” Mattel being a toy company popular at the time – and it went downhill from there. Several of the guys said that they knew or had heard of men who died in battle because of their M-16s not working when the chips were down.

    However, when it came time to ask about the M-14, their faces lit up. Those guys absolutely loved their wood-and-steel rifles, and several of them related how theirs had saved their bacon in combat on several occasions. Couldn’t say enough good things about it. They especially praised the knock-down power of the powerful 7.62×51 mm NATO round, and also its ability to penetrate cover – or as one put it, “turn cover into concealment.”

    Rightly or wrongly, the old-school preferred the M-14 service rifle to the M-16 assault rifle, if this small sample is to be believed.

    So, in comes the son, the grunt just back from the sandbox, whom I’ll call Mike. We grabbed him, handed him a fresh beer and – after we told him what the discussion was about – asked him about his individual weapon over there and what he thought of it. He replied that he’d used an M-16, and that it never gave him any problems and that he considered it a good weapon.

    The young people prefer the M-16/M-4 family, if our small sample size is worth anything.

    If nothing else, that now-distant conversation at a party would seem to bear out that and private industry were successful in sorting out the various problems which plagued the M-16 family of weapons at their inception and introduction into operational use in Vietnam.

    For what it is worth , the debate over the merits – or lack of same -on the part of those who use the M-16/M-4 platform, is far-from-over. The debate does not concern just the rifle, but the cartridge it fires, 5.56x45mm NATO. Bringing this argument up, it strikes me, is probably about as productive as going into a Green Bay Packers bar in Wisconsin and yelling at the top of your lungs that the Bears are the best! Or Red Sox vs. Yankees, etc.

    Anyway, reading about your son, the former Marine, and his experiences, made me recall that story.

    Herschel, you are entirely correct that most tier-one (elite) special ops forces – at least those given the latitude to choose their own weapons, tend to prefer the M-16/M-4 platform or designs based upon it.

    The British Special Air Service (SAS), considered by many to be the premier special operations unit in the world, are reported to use Heckler & Koch HK416 carbine, a platform similar to the Colt M-4, except that it employs a short-stroke gas piston system rather than the modified direct-impingement found on the M-16/M-14.

    You will note that the SAS do not use the Enfield SA80 bull-pup assault rifle, which fires the same cartridge, despite it being a British design. It hardly seems possible, but the introduction of the SA80 back in the 1980s, was – if anything – even rockier than that of the M-16 during the Vietnam War. About the only blessing being, the Brits were not involved in an on-going hot war at the time.

    A small bone to pick: You term the AR-15 “the best battle rifle ever invented”…. OK, fair-enough, that’s your conclusion and your preference.

    The technical jargon surrounding rifles like the AR15 is open to some debate within the firearms community, but those waters have been muddied up considerably by agenda-driven leftists and would-be gun-banners. Anxious to graft the term “assault rifle” onto the AR15, even though it does not technically fall into that class (see below), they have come up with “assault weapon,” one of those leftist neologisms which means to them whatever they want, whenever they want.

    In the retail FA industry, AR15s are variously termed “modern sporting rifles,” “semi-automatic rifles,” or just simply “ARs” – the term being so common it is now ubiquitous and has entered the popular lexicon in the same way that the “Coca Cola” soft drink has now become synonymous with “Give me a coke, please…”

    However, if we examine the technical /design side of things, the terminology gets clearer. Although three major nations – the U.S., Russia/USSR, and Germany -all examined and implemented the idea of an assault-type rifle in one form or another during the Second World War, it is to the Germans we will turn for the definition since their weapon, the Sturmgewehr 44, literally “Storm Rifle 44,” also known as the Maschinenpistole 43 (Machine Pistol 43), formed the basis of subsequent assault rifle designs,including the Kalashnikov AK-47/AKM family of weapons.

    To qualify as a true assault rifle, the design must fulfill the following criteria: 1. Unlike a submachine gun, it fires from a closed bolt 2. It is shorter in overall length and lighter than a traditional battle rifle, and has a shorter carbine-length barrel 3. It is capable of select-fire operation, as well as semi-automatic mode 4. It fires a cartridge intermediate in power, range, size and recoil between a pistol cartridge on the low end and a full-bore battle rifle on the upper end. 5. It is optimized for use at typical combat distances, i.e., 0-300 meters (or yards, as the case may be).

    All of the design criteria are important, but the keystone is the change in the design of the ammunition. That’s what marked the shift from old-school full-power battle rifles, whether turn-bolt or self-loading, to the modern, fast-firing rifles and carbines we see today.

    The military variants of the AR15, the M-16/M-4 family of weapons – which fire the 5.56×45 NATO cartridge, are true assault rifles. The AR15 itself, since it lacks select-fire capacity, is emphatically not a “true”assault rifle, at least not according to the criteria used by most authorities in FA design and history.

    Stoner’s platform, however, at least in some guises – manages to blur the boundaries between assault rifles/battle carbines and true full-power, full-sized battle rifles. Using the correct barrel twist, sufficiently long barrel, and the right kind of ammunition, the AR15 is indeed capable of “reaching out and touching someone” (or something).

    These days, high-power service rifle competitors routinely shoot out to 600/800 yards, and even 1000 yards, using very heavy (75-80+ grain) loads, and in military use as a designated marksman rifle, it has put tangos down out to 600-800 yards, which is firmly in battle rifle territory. By that distance, the small and light 5.56mm (.224-cal.) slug may not have much kinetic energy in comparison to a larger projectile, such as a .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO round, but it does reach out there.

    It may have had a rocky start, but present-day designers, engineers, and others have taken Stoner’s platform to places he probably never imagined it would go.

  2. On March 23, 2021 at 12:14 am, 41mag said:


    Stoner liked the 30cal boolit originally didn’t he?

  3. On March 23, 2021 at 12:47 am, George 1 said:

    The military has been trying to replace it for about 50 years. It is still here. If you switch it to one of the 6.5 cal offerings it will go on for a very long time into the future. Or don’t switch calibers and it will still be around for some time.

    Many will point to the H&K as being superior. Maybe but it is really just an M-4 with a piston. Colt told the military in 1969 that they would build them a piston M-16 if that is what they wanted. The offer was declined. I guess H&K is the only company that can make a piston M-4 today.

  4. On March 23, 2021 at 7:30 am, Ohio Guy said:

    @ George 1: The SIG 550 series? @Georgiaboy61: Sir, I like how you talk! Ohio Guy

  5. On March 23, 2021 at 8:50 am, Herschel Smith said:


    I knew my choice of words would be controversial. I plan it that way.

    Eh, “Carbine,” “Battle Rifle,” take your pick. Most (80% – 90%) kills on the field of battle in modern warfare are accomplished with crew served weapons. Of course there is the exception of MOUT and urban warfare, in which case the AR-15/M-4 shines as a primary battle rifle and something like the M1/M1A/M14 would be horrible.

    Moreover, when you get out to 600+ yards, that should be done with a DM shooting either a 5.56 rifle (with a high power scope and longer barrel), or some other caliber. Not everyone can be a DM. There aren’t enough training hours in the day to make everyone a DM. Nor are enlistments long enough.

  6. On March 23, 2021 at 8:52 am, Herschel Smith said:

    A piston is just another thing to make the forend heavy and an unnecessary modification to the Stoner design, one that is quite reliable and well-functioning.

  7. On March 23, 2021 at 9:35 am, George 1 said:

    @ Ohio Guy: Yes there are others. I was just trying to point out that many worship H&K for some reason. In one of the Tom Clancy novels he even goes out of his way to point out the superiority of the vaunted H&K 416. There are good American companies like LMT who have piston ARs that are just as good. We shouldn’t have to buy rifles from German companies.

    As for the piston vs Stoner system. I am aware that there has been a lot of non advertised testing done by the military and even more by firearms companies. For the full-auto weapons, some say the good piston systems are more reliable, some say they are not. One thing is sure. In a semi-auto AR15 you are not going to get much, if any, benefit from a piston system. You do get more weight and additional possible failure points.

    Many say the piston system is easier to clean. I have cleaned both and in my opinion it depends on what you want to clean, the bolt carrier group or the piston. The carbon and such either really dirties the BCG or the piston system in a piston gun.

  8. On March 23, 2021 at 10:17 am, Ohio Guy said:

    Unnastand and agree. I do not own a piston rifle. Direct impingement has always worked for me with very few failures of any kind. (kept clean and properly lubed) Last year, I only cracked off about 3000rds between 5 rifles/carbines. (I’m only now taking reloading seriously) As always, great discussion, keep safe.

  9. On March 23, 2021 at 2:36 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel Smith

    Re: “A piston is just another thing to make the fore-end heavy and an unnecessary modification to the Stoner design, one that is quite reliable and well-functioning.”

    Now that enhanced coatings and more-advanced materials are being used either to manufacture or coat the bolt-BCG components, at least some of the objections to the Stoner-type modified direct-gas impingement system have been dealt with, i.e., the propensity of the legacy design to deposit heat and carbon fouling back into the action, and the difficulty/inconvenience of cleaning such residues every 300-400 rounds fired.

    Not only do the new coatings and materials require less-frequent cleaning, they are easier to clean in the first place. And they also dissipate heat more-effectively.

    Bravo Company Munitions (BCM), and a number of other high-end AR manufacturers have done (or reviewers have done) endurance and “torture tests” of up to 3,000 rounds fired without a malfunction and failure, and without any cleaning whatsoever. Such reliability rivals, if not surpasses, many piston designs. Plainly, if you take of your AR, it will take care of you.

    Re: “Eh, “Carbine,” “Battle Rifle,” take your pick. Most (80% – 90%) kills on the field of battle in modern warfare are accomplished with crew served weapons. Of course there is the exception of MOUT and urban warfare, in which case the AR-15/M-4 shines as a primary battle rifle…”

    U.S. military doctrine is focused on bringing firepower to bear on target, i.e., it is locked for the most part, in second-generation thinking. However, as the wars over the last twenty years have proved, the smart opponent will not attack you where you are strongest, but where you are weakest or the most ill-prepared.

    Hajji quickly learned in the ‘Stan when fighting the Soviets, and later, U.S.-NATO forces, to engage them from 300-600 yards distance, a range envelope in which the assault rifles of their foes were relatively less effective than inside 300 yards. Which is why the old .308-cal. war-horses were dragged out of mothballs.

    And in these 3rd-4th generation conflicts, light infantry expertise is paramount, in particular when engagements are occurring in mountainous terrain where the employment of crew-served assets, artillery, air or UAVs may be problematic for one reason or another. In such circumstances, the individual infantryman’s skill with his personal weapon takes on much greater importance. Such use also brings into clearer focus the relative strengths/weaknesses of the grunt’s individual rifle or carbine.

    Although both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps like to claim that line infantrymen are “light infantry,” that’s not really the case in all instances. Most of the grunts are really mechanized infantry. If they ride to work in an APC, chopper or HUM-V, they certainly are.

    The special ops-capable units, i.e., U.S. Army Rangers, Marine Force Recon, Marine Raiders, etc. probably come as close to concept as anyone. Namely, the ability to operate as infantry largely on foot without any mechanized support or resupply, for long periods of time, and still remain mission-effective.

    In short, the M-16/M-4 platform are excellent weapons, and often the answer to the needs of the soldier and his squad, platoon, or company. But no solution works 100% of the time, not even one as well-engineered/designed as Stoner’s platform. Tactical flexibility is the key; allowing infantrymen and their leaders the necessary latitude to select mission-appropriate weapons based upon their experience, training and judgment.

  10. On March 23, 2021 at 2:53 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    B.A.D. (Battle Arms Development) BCG. Very good.

    My son would have been fine at 300 – 600 yards, but the MC qualified at 500 yards and he qualified at the top of his Battalion every one of his 4 years.

    So it all just depends.

  11. On March 23, 2021 at 3:59 pm, Pat Hines said:

    I have an M-14S, that is a Chinese receiver with GI components, have no issues with it other than the muzzle end cleaning routine that wasn’t solved until the creation of the bore snake. I also own a surplus M1 Garand, receiver forged the month my father volunteered for the draft, 1940.

    I built my first AR platform rifle and thoroughly investigated going to a piston mechanism, I stayed with the DI operation, much cleaner and elegant design and ounces lighter towards the muzzle. With clean burning ball powders, specified by Stoner, it is not a problem with cleaning at all.

    I do NOT own an AK of any kind and probably never will. No one that can think deeply and straight would own one except out of curiosity. They’re throw away guns. Plus they jam much more often than an AR rifle.

  12. On March 23, 2021 at 11:29 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel

    Re: “My son would have been fine at 300 – 600 yards, but the MC qualified at 500 yards and he qualified at the top of his Battalion every one of his 4 years.”

    That’s some good shooting! Nothing like good old Marine Corps rifleman’s training – and having young eyes, of course! Did your son qualify with iron sights, or had the USMC moved to optics as standard equipment by then?

    Being old-school, I love shooting iron sights when the opportunity presents itself. ACOGs and similar optics are literally a God-send to aging folks who can use a hand in that department, and they are a terrific force multiplier in military-tactical terms, but I still cling to the belief that learning how to use iron sights to shoot from field positions is an extremely important part of learning to be a rifleman. And if you really want to rock it old-school style-wise, sling up, too.

    If the USMC for some reason doesn’t fit into your plans, you needn’t join the Marine Corps to learn to do it, thanks to the Appleseed Project. Over two days, with dedicated instructors you’ll learn ( or relearn) something of the history of our founding as a nation, and also the skills required to become a rifleman.
    Owning a rifle no more makes you a rifleman than owning a piano makes you a musician. You’ve got to put in the time behind the rifle – and suffer the sweat, blood, dirt, bugs and the weather – to get where you want to go.

    Appleseed is worth the money, and you’ll meet great people, too.

    There are people who dismiss old-school riflemanship, but a brief anecdote ought to modify that perception. In 1921, an avuncular sixty-two named George Farr, from Washington State, walked on as a contestant at the 1,000 stage of the National Matches service rifle competition. Farr arrived just in time, as it was Sunday afternoon, the last day of the matches.

    Selecting a rack-grade M1903 Springfield rifle (24″ barrel, 1:10 RHT, 30-06) he’d never seen before and using some factory ammunition available at the event, and using an old cut-in-half set of opera glasses as an improvised spotting scope, Farr settled into his prone, slung position and proceeded to fire an astonishing 70 straight bull’s-eyes at 1,000 yards (counting the second of his two permitted sighting shots, which was a bull’s-eye). Only fading light put an end to his amazing feat. Astonished onlookers passed the hat so that a gift of his record-setting rifle could be made to him.

    Today, George Farr’s M1903 Springfield rests in the National Firearms Museum in Virginia, and the high civilian in the 1,000 stage is awarded the Farr Trophy.

    While it can certainly be helpful to have an optic when shooting at extended range, Farr’s amazing performance proves that it can be done – and done very well indeed – using iron sights alone, along with sufficient skill and technique, an accurate rifle, good ammunition, and reasonably decent weather conditions.

  13. On March 24, 2021 at 9:02 am, Bram said:

    I still think the direct-impingement system is not appropriate for a military rifle. The AR-18 piston system designed by Stoner has been copied and brought into service by the rest of the world for a reason (G36, AUG, Howa, HKs, etc.). I know a piston is a tad heavier and often has an accuracy penalty but the maintenance and reliability benefits are worth it for a military rifle.

  14. On March 24, 2021 at 9:35 am, Herschel Smith said:


    To each his own. I have to tell you though, that’s a strange response after so many hundreds of thousands of enemy combatants killed by the M-16/M-4, after watching Tim from the Military Arms Channel run 6000+ rounds through his BCM with no lube and no maintenance without so much as a hiccup, and after watching others do so many stress tests on the AR pattern rifles with no problem.

    I’ll grant only one thing. It needs to be a well-made AR rifle, and I don’t think Colt ever was that.

  15. On March 24, 2021 at 10:09 am, George 1 said:

    @Bram: The DI Stoner system has had the benefit of continuous development for a long time. It is a very reliable system. I know it has it’s detractors. I just wonder how valid the complaints on system reliability are.

    In the current century, the reliability complaints seem to mainly focus around a couple of battles in the ME where bases were overrun or nearly overrun and the weapons were basically used like squad machine guns. They were never designed for that purpose and any rifle would have run into problems being used that way. The weapons you list have all had documented issues as well.

    As to maintenance, the Stoner system is modular. With just a few tools and some parts I can completely rebuild one in the field, replacing every part, while standing at the back of my truck. Not sure how much simpler maintenance could be.

  16. On March 24, 2021 at 5:48 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ George 1

    Re: “As to maintenance, the Stoner system is modular. With just a few tools and some parts I can completely rebuild one in the field, replacing every part, while standing at the back of my truck. Not sure how much simpler maintenance could be.”

    Since the M-16/M-4 (or AR15 as the case may be) has been in service for so long, everyone from armorers and gunsmiths on down to Joe Six-pack knows the likely points of failure and wear in the system, and can plan to have the necessary spares, tools and whatnot on hand. And many manufacturers – Smith & Wesson, BCM, etc. – make convenient parts kits which supply the most-commonly lost or worn-out bits. Which makes your job even easier. Between these kits and having a spare bolt-BCG on hand, you can cover the most-commonly encountered malfunctions/breakdowns you are likely to experience.

    Another point deserves mention, too: U.S. Army SOF-D Sergeant Major (retired) Kyle Lamb did a short video on how to keep your direct-impingement AR running in the field, and demonstrated the quick yet through cleaning/maintenance procedure he used to keep his bang-stick running in high round-count training scenarios and the like. It could be done in under five minutes, easily, and less if under pressure.

    In short all he did was unlatch the rear take-down pin, remove the bolt-BCG and charging handle, give them a quick wipe-down with a rag with some Break-Free CLP on it to remove most of the carbon deposits and fouling, spritzed some more lube onto it, and reinstalled it. Far as the barrel was concerned, he ran a Bore-Snake down it – which in his view was sufficient until a detailed cleaning could be done back at his shop.

    Special ops guys have been observed in the sandbox and the ‘Stan keeping small bottles of CLP or whatever with them to spray onto their bolt-BCG’s (using the open dust-cover as an access point), while on the move. Many also have segmented cleaning rods in their kits (sometimes velcro’ed to the rifle) in case they need to knock out a stuck or torn case.

    Point being, if you take a few simple steps, you can keep your AR platform carbine, rifle, etc. running for an extended period of time without needing a detail strip and thorough cleaning. The system has come a long way since Vietnam in that respect.

    And if you use one of those new special coatings on your bolt-BCG, you won’t even have to do the steps above as often.

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This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s and was published March 22nd, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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