AR-15 Versus AR-10

BY Herschel Smith
2 months, 3 weeks ago

The advice is to get both.  But I found this bit interesting.

Armalite continued to develop and improve upon the AR-10 concept. Under the direction of Stoner, replacing the composite aluminum and steel barrel that may have ultimately been responsible for the military’s decision to go with a different weapon. Stoner had never liked this barrel. It proved a spectacular failure during torture tests demanded by the customer. The composite barrel had been suggested by Sullivan. This marked the moment when major Armalite design decisions started moving in Stoner’s direction.

That’s information I didn’t know.  It seems like there’s something I learn about the Sullivan/Stoner relationship every time I read an educated piece on this part of history.


  1. On July 28, 2021 at 11:32 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel

    Re: “Armalite continued to develop and improve upon the AR-10 concept. Under the direction of Stoner, replacing the composite aluminum and steel barrel that may have ultimately been responsible for the military’s decision to go with a different weapon. Stoner had never liked this barrel. It proved a spectacular failure during torture tests demanded by the customer. The composite barrel had been suggested by Sullivan.”

    The 1950s Infantry Board Service Rifle Trials provide a fascinating glimpse into how the U.S. military establishment – which is to say the Department of Defense/Pentagon and the armed services themselves – acquired small arms with which to arm its personnel. The details are available elsewhere so there is no need to recapitulate that entire story here.

    Received wisdom these days in certain portions of the firearms community and amongst some military FA historians is that the eventual adoption of the U.S. M-14 service rifle over the Belgian FN FAL was an historic missed opportunity. That a clearly more-advanced design, in the view of the skeptics, was passed over in favor of the M-14, which they claim was nothing more than a product-improved M-1 Garand. A case of good-old-boyism and cronyism triumphing over rationality and forward thinking.

    Leaving aside the somewhat dubious merits of that argument, the real “missed opportunity” during the trials was not the adoption of the FAL, but the failure to adopt the Armalite AR10, then the only “fifth-generation” battle rifle design in existence, as stated by firearms author and trainer Ken Royce.

    With its pistol grip, sleek lines and contemporary appearance, the FAL was visibly a more-modern design than the Garand or the M-14, making extensive use of plastics and stamped sheet metal, as well as the traditional machined forged steel and walnut furniture (though some early FALs has wooden furniture, plastic and fiberglass replaced them later). Its ergonomics and adjustable gas valve were superb features, and the rifle was rugged, reliable, hard-hitting and accurate.

    What often gets lost in the shuffle, however, is that – despite its modern appearance – the FAL wasn’t all that much newer of a design than the M-14. Indeed, they were contemporaneous as to their dates of introduction, and the FAL actually entered service sooner – Canada was the first nation in the world to adopt the FAL as its standard-issue service rifle in 1954 – than its American cousin, which did not become the U.S. military service rifle until 1958 and was not produced and issued until 1959.

    The real missed opportunity was the Armalite AR10, which because of the problems with its prototype composite barrel and its subsequent failure during destructive/torture testing – ended up being dropped from the service rifle trials, despite extremely favorable performance up to that time. The decision, made at the last minute, to include the composite barrel prototype, ended up being extremely costly to Armalite’s chances, especially given that the AR10s with standard OEM barrels had performed very well up to that point.

    Viewed objectively in hindsight, the AR10 was years ahead of its competition, the Belgian FN FAL and American M-14 alike, in virtually every respect.

    Fairchild, the parent firm of Armalite, was an aerospace firm, whose expertise working with space-age materials was considerable. Eugene Stoner and James Sullivan brought this expertise and experience with them to the design, which made extensive use of aircraft-grade aluminum as well as steel, plastic, fiberglass, and other light-weight/high-strength materials. At 6.85 lbs. unloaded, it was considerable lighter than the M-14 (8.45 lbs.) and FAL (9.47 lbs.).

    Though light, the AR10 was extremely accurate (thanks mostly due to its straight-line stock, excellent sights and trigger, and the inherent accuracy of direct-gas impingement operating systems) and surprisingly controllable even in cyclic, full-auto fire. Much more controllable, in fact, than either of its competitors, whose traditional drop-comb stock designs created a “kick-point” for the recoil impulse to cause muzzle rise).

    Historians of the AR10 generally consider the Dutch license-produced rifles manufactured by the firm of Artillerie Inrichtingen (hereafter AI)in the 1960s – to be the finest examples of the AR10 ever made. These were sold to Burma, Sudan, Portugal, and a few other nations. AI cleaned up the Armalite design a bit prior to producing it, making a few small changes and improvements to the rifle, primary to increase its durability in the field – foremost being a stouter buffer and recoil spring.

    These Dutch-made rifles were used extensively by the elite Portuguese paratroops and special forces units operating in Angola, Mozambique and other areas of the former Portuguese East African colonies during the bush wars of the 1960s and 1970s. “The Paras” loved them, finding them to be superb combat weapons -light, yet durable and easy to use and maintain. Accurate, hard-hitting, and highly versatile in either semi-auto or cyclic fire.

    So beloved were these rifles that during the 1970s the Paras paid for custom-fabrication of spare parts once commercial sources of them dried up, in order to keep them running. Finally, they had to turn them in – but the AR10 had by then earned its spurs in the field and in combat, and then some.

    Armalite, the parent firm of the original AR10, went out of business in the early 1980s. Today’s firm bearing that name, which is owned by former Army ordnance officer Mark Westrom, is not connected in any way to the original firm which was a subsidiary of Fairchild. Although the present-day Armalite does produce an AR10 rifle – Westrom owns the rights to the name – the rifle is not the same as the one originally designed by Armalite back in the 1950s and license-produced by the Dutch. It bears some – perhaps many – features of those rifles, but it also differs from them significantly, in terms of its design, and also in its substantial size and weight. Some consider them good rifles, but they are most-assuredly not replicas of the ones from fifty or more years ago.

    For those interested, there is a video up on You Tube of the amazing Jerry Michulek, who wrings out a Dutch-made AR10, which he borrowed from the collection of his friend Reed Knight, the owner of Knights Armament Corporation. Michulek fires the rifle in both single-shot semi-auto mode and in full-cyclic operation. Granted, Mr. Michulek has strong wrists and forearms and knows his business, but the AR10 muzzle appears not to climb at all as he empties a 20-round magazine. In a rifle weighing less than seven pounds empty, that is an amazing achievement.

    The publication “Firearms News” did a special issue a few backs, it ran in December, if memory serves, in which they profiled various vintage AR-pattern rifles, including the vintage Armalite and AI AR10s. The reviewer, a specialist on the design, couldn’t stop enthusing about how advanced his sixty-year old rifle seemed, even in the present day. Stoner et al. were indeed ahead of their time – way ahead of their time.

  2. On July 29, 2021 at 12:32 pm, MTHead said:

    I love the AR-10. And most all it’s clones. And own/shoot several. The only thing to watch for is the carbine length gas system. There hard on extractors. As the gas volume cycles back fast enough to try opening the bolt while the chamber is still under pressure. Mid and rifle length work great, even with handloads. (With the right powder.)
    One word of advice. Not all ar-10’s are compatible like ar-15’s for parts. Triggers groups, buttstocks, and grips are about it. Verify everything else if your building from parts or buying a new upper.

  3. On July 29, 2021 at 5:50 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ MTHead

    Thanks for the reminder: Armalite, the modern company owned by Mark Westrom, makes a pretty good product, but good luck gets spare parts for his rifles. Armalite parts not only are proprietary vis-a-vis other brands of AR-308s, but they do not necessarily swap out internally, between different AR10s made by them. Why? Because Armalite made an “A” and “B” series whose receivers are different dimensionally, which means that the A series take stanag DPMS/Magpul type .308 mags, but B series rifles take only Armalite’s proprietary magazines, which are similar to but not identical to those for the M-14.

    Back when I was still in the retail FA industry, had a few customers who got into trouble confusing the two, and also not being able to get spares. While AR15 parts are standardized to a great extent and therefore usually interchangeable, those for AR10s/AR-308s are not. Know before you go…. do your research before buying. Different manufacturers have different designs, and many parts are proprietary and unique only to that design and that manufacturer.

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This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s and was published July 28th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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