Over fifty years ago Eugene Stoner developed a family of lightweight yet powerful firearm “Armalite Rifle” prototypes including a powerful, semi-automatic rifle named the AR-15. Stoner and Armalite had focused their efforts to save weight with their firearms using brand new materials and technology advances created by their parent company which was the Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation. They jumped light years ahead of contemporary firearms technology by their use of innovative and cutting edge aerospace engineering and unconventional metals like aluminum and titanium instead of steel. In addition, Armalite used newly formulated polymers and plastics for grips, stocks and hand guards replacing traditional (and heavy) hard wood. However, the real act of heresy and witchcraft was the use of the intermediate .223 caliber cartridge instead of the All-American .30 caliber battle winner that had just triumphed in WWI and WWII. It was no surprise that Stoner’s radical longarms were met with initial skepticism and scorn while failing to obtain significant commercial or military success, but eventually was adopted by the Pentagon as the M-16.
The development of the AR was shoulder-to-shoulder with the contemporary Russian Kalashnikov in the jungle fighting wars of the 1960’s and 70’s. Later, as conflicts got more out in the open and warfighters needed longer range capability, the now well-seasoned 5.56 NATO AR successfully morphed into a world-beating twenty-first century multi-role battle rifle while the 7.62x39mm AK is no longer carried by upper tier front-line forces. However, based on the Kalashnikov virtues of toughness, reliability and simplicity, the AK continues to fill the niche of an everyman short-range, area fire carbine that will be continue to be found next to the bodies of our third world enemies and terrorists for decades to come. However, the success of the AR came at a price with the twenty-first century M16/M4 being no longer a svelte, fly weight six pound carbine but an overweight, cumbersome, excessively accessorized behemoth. From a mostly day-use, short range rifle, the design now was required to be capable of heavy-duty use while being able to hit targets out to six to eight hundred meters day or night. In response, an aftermarket was developed over decades that has taken every single AR part and improved, modified or simply beefed them up.
During the initial craze to improve the AR, barreled receivers were advertised as “billet receivers with bull barrels.” The Simple and functional M16 fiberglass forends were replaced with steel quad rails. The next step was (of course) to completely decorate the rails with lights, bipods, LASERs and even flare dispensers. The simple but functional AR peep and post sights were ditched for a variety of optical, red dot or fully adjustable iron sights (with some rifles seen with all three). Even Eugene Stoner’s concept of having cheap, disposable magazines made out of aluminum and discarded after use were replaced with steel or plastic magazines that although were admittedly more reliable, were all heavier.
Even the stocks were modified and made to not only to provide a good cheek weld, but had nooks and crannies that the shooter could stuff junk like batteries, cleaning gear and doo-dads like a tactical purse! I was at a SHOT Show and asked a Marine Captain just back commanding a company in combat about putting a piece of electronic shot-locating gear on a rifle and he loudly told me “MY RIFLE IS FOR KILLING, NOTHING GOES ON IT THAT DOES NOT HELP ME DO THAT BETTER!” OK, I got it; no batteries in the butt stock and no stray gizmos on the Picatinny rails. Granted, in the fleet there are times and a places for rail-mounted lights, LASERs, bipods and sights of all kinds, but one result is that you just end up lugging around a massive carbine as heavy as a BAR that shoots a .223!
Recently shooters have expanded their commitment to the AR design with a growing popularity of the 7.62x51mm AR “big brother.” The .30 caliber semi-auto was developed and made practical by the KAC SR-25 and now is produced by dozens of other sources with some just slightly heavier than a decked-out M-16. Part of the move to the larger platform was undoubtedly the realization that if you are going to have a nine to ten pound rifle, you might as well hit them with a 7.62×51 instead of a .223. However, why not go back to basics and use the 5.56 NATO as it was intended; as a perfect round for a lightweight, easy to carry and very effective carbine. My epiphany came when I was going through my weapons I haven’t used in a while and picked up what was essentially a 1960’s XM-177 and it almost floated away. I couldn’t believe how that it had all the capabilities that a shooter needed to put rounds on target but was INSANELY light. I reasoned that for people who needed to grab a long gun to get out of a hot zone, or spend a weekend shooting a thousand rounds in a carbine class or carry a carbine around your neck for any length of time; the weight will REALLY matter. I decided to assemble a basic 5.56 carbine to be as light as possible for “bug out” conditions so it was easy to name it the “bug out AR” or “BOAR.”
Recently a lot of manufacturers are realizing that less is more and striving for lighter weight because they know that a skinny AR has a unique quality that the market will support. As a result there are a lot of individual parts makers that taken together can produce what Bill Murray in Stripes called “a lean, mean, fighting machine.” So we did just that to make the very lightweight BOAR. However, to be fair to Eugene Stoner’s vision, the rifle had to have what an early AR included as basic equipment. That meant metal upper and lower receivers, a direct impingement gas action, non-ambi controls, effective combat sights and the ability to attach a sling. Yes, there are a LOT of “better” items that could be used like ambi controls, optical sights and a heavier barrel but since that just adds weight and “pounds equals pain”, we stuck with the basic carbine that will still punch well above its fly weight stature.
Part 2 of this series will describe in detail the parts used, how much they weight and where to get them and Part 3 will discuss its success and accuracy on the range and when used during a weekend survival class.