Friday, August 31, 2012

The infamous Mil-Spec

M4 style AR15 rifle
Every group has a vocal cadre that demand compliance to their closely held beliefs as defined by their collective.  In the AR-15 realm we have the mil-spec advocates.   These folks have their short list of approved manufacturers and the moment a new company dares to come into existence they pounce to question every minute detail about the materials and processes used to manufacture the interlopers new wares.
Often times the criticisms leveled against the manufacturers’ products will be centered on compliance to military specifications.  Ironically, most who cite the military specifications for rifles such as the AR15/M16 have never read the actual specifications nor even know where to find them.  They instead resort to parroting what they’ve read on Internet discussion forums.
What are military specifications (mil-spec)?  Simple, they’re standards established by the General Accountability Office (GAO) for defining essential technical requirements of purchased materiel for the military or for substantially modified commercial items to be used by the military.  These standards have been established to guarantee interoperability, commonality, reliability and cost of ownership to ease the strain on logistics systems.
What mil-specs aren’t are a guarantee the product defined is the absolute best that it can be in terms of materials used or processes used for manufacturing.  In the case of the AR15/M16 many of the specifications were established in the 1960’s and 1970’s long before various alloys were developed or even before CNC machining was in common use.
Buffer tubes
Take the buffer tube (receiver extension) of the AR15 rifle as an example.  The military standard tube will have a diameter of 1.148”.  The commercial buffer tube will have a diameter of 1.168”.  The threads will be slightly smaller in diameter on the commercial tube (1.170’ vs 1.185”) as well.  Some commercial tubes will have welded end caps where mil-spec tubes will consist of one piece.
Is the thinner mil-spec tube stronger than the thicker commercial tube?  I guess that depends on what tests are conducted.  In a real world application would a commercial tube be any more likely to fail if exposed to the same stresses as a mil-spec tube?  Everything I can find would indicate no, the mil-spec tube isn’t necessarily more durable or able to withstand significantly more stress than the commercial variant.  
So why do we have mil-spec on buffer tubes?  Simple.  If we go back to the definition of what mil-spec is we’ll find in this case it has to do with interoperability and compatibility.    A Soldier should be able to remove a buttstock from one M4A1 and drop it onto another M4A1 without having to worry about compatibility.  That’s it.
Another example would be the use of Carpenters 158 steel in the construction of AR15/M16 bolts.  Carpenters 158 is the mil-spec standard material for manufacturing a bolt, but is it the best material available?  Lewis Tool & Machine (LMT) thinks that Aermet is vastly superior (2.5 times stronger) to Carpenters 158.  Their Enhanced Bolt, which is designed to remedy failures associated with the mil-spec standard M16 bolt, seems to be a popular item.  This goes back to the specifications written for the M16 being drafted in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Better materials now exist yet the mil-spec standards haven’t been modified.
All the mil-spec advocates will claim the use of Carpenters 158 is a must.  They’ll cite the infamous “Chart” hosted by as their holy scripture on the subject, yet in reality Carpenters 158 is a minimum standard and nothing more.

If you’re new to AR15’s and don’t know what to look for when buying a rifle from one of the 50+ makers of AR’s out there today, stick with mil-spec standards to get started.  Or, do your research and find out where deviating from the military specifications can be a good thing.
There are some specifications you don’t want to deviate too far from such as MP/HP testing of bolts and barrels that assure quality and durability.  Staked nuts on the gas key are a good thing as well.  Having .154” diameter pins for the fire control group is another good thing (Colt used larger holes at one time).  M4 feed ramps on a carbine are a bonus as they improve feeding reliability.
I don't completely discount military specifications for the AR15 or think they're totally irrelevant to the civilian legal AR15.  What I do believe is that they're a bare minimum standard for quality and interchangeability and nothing more.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Glock: Innovator or coasting on past success?

G21 Gen4 & G17 Gen3 EXO
Glock is one of the most successful handgun companies in modern history.  Their revolutionary Glock 17 pistol took the shooting community by storm in the early 1980's and its success as a military and law enforcement handgun has been unrivaled globally.

Glock began life around 1982.  By 1983 the Glock 17 had been adopted by the Austrian military.  In 1984 the Glock 17 was introduced to the US market where its destiny to become one of the worlds most popular military and LEO handguns was cemented.

Take note of the dates above.  The Glock has been around for 30 years now with only 4 generations of pistols having been introduced.  In 1988 the Gen 2 pistols was introduced with only minor changes.  In 1998 the Gen 3 pistol was introduced with a new frame that had finger grooves, a new rail, and new loaded chamber indicator on the extractor.  By 2010 Glock launched the biggest changes to its classic pistol, the Gen 4 modifications.  These modifications included a new lower frame with user swappable back straps, new checkering, new recoil spring and other minor changes.
G21SF - Failed Ambi-Mag Release

But there's something worth note in this story.  Every generation of Glock released is the same basic pistol with updates added to keep the aging design relevant on the market.  Glock hasn't introduced a totally new pistol or even a rifle in the last 30 years.  They keep on rewarming the existing design hoping no one notices they've really done nothing notable since the 1980's.

I love Glock handguns.  I really do.  I have several Glocks in my inventory and I carry a G19 EXO as my defensive handgun of choice.  But unlike many diehard Glock fans, I do question some of Glocks decisions and have taken note of their apparent inability to evolve past their one and only claim to fame.

It seems to me that Glock is struggling to stay relevant and they are clinging steadfastly to their original design hoping that by tacking on the latest and greatest doo-dads they will never have to design something totally new -- ever.

As a long time fan of Glock pistols it's been rather painful for me to watch, actually.  While Glock flounders trying to keep their aging design modern, they've made some fairly high profile mistakes.

G21 Gen 4 Replaceable Back Straps
Take the G21SF pistol for example.  The G21SF was developed to compete in military trials.  To meet the functional requirements of the trials they made some quick changes to their G21 .45 ACP pistol.  First, they reduced the grip size to squeeze slightly better ergonomics out of it.  Then they stuck a 1913 rail under the dust cover and quickly fashioned a ambidextrous magazine release system.  The ambi magazine release was a total failure with reports of broken parts and dropping magazines running rampant across the internet.  The original intent was to implement this ambi-magazine system into all future Glock pistols, but that quickly faded as the reports of failures continued to stream into Glock.  Alas, the ambi-magazine release is no more.

The RTF2 (Rough Textured Frame) was introduced in 2009 along with new slide serrations affectionately called "fish gills" by collectors.  A year later the hideous fish gills were dropped from production guns, and the 60 grit sandpaper known as the RTF2 grip frame was relegated to LEO only sales in 2011.  I own two of these now defunct pistols and I have to admit, the RTF2 grips are painful to use for concealed carry -- especially if you wear your pistol inside the waist band.  Many owners dulled the sharp edges with sandpaper in an effort to prevent wounding themselves with their new carry guns.

G19 RTF2
The introduction of the Gen 4 Glocks has also been something of a painful experience for Glock.  Widespread reports of reliability issues has forced Glock to release several different recoil spring updates as they try to get ahead of the cascade of trouble reports coming in from the field.  It's been so troublesome that many Glock fans, such as myself, have refused to buy the Gen 4 pistols and remain loyal to the Gen 3 guns.

I feel the competition is passing Glock by.  I can't think of any other gun manufacturers that have existed for 30 years making only one design without introducing something totally new at some point.  It seems to me that Glock would rather jerry-rig user replaceable back straps onto their existing design as opposed to designing a totally new pistol with modern features.  At this point the Gen 4 Glock pistols look like a hodgepodge of after thoughts vs. a class leading innovative handgun capable of brushing the competition to the side.

Is Glock capable of designing a totally new pistol, or is Glock a one hit wonder biding its time until the competition passes it by?

C'mon Glock, give us something new.