The patrol carbine is becoming a standard piece of equipment for law enforcement. In use with some agencies for decades, many law enforcement administrators have come to recognize the need for first responders to have immediate access to a long gun capable of precise accuracy at distances far greater than the handgun. When criminals direct gunfire toward officers and citizens, officers don't have time to wait for specialized teams to bring better guns. You have what you need, or you don't.
With the demand for the patrol rifle growing each year, additional firearms companies have joined into production. The most prevalent patrol long gun in use is based on the AR-15/M-16 system. Colt began producing these weapons in the 1960s, and while other companies use different proprietary names for trademark purposes, the major components of all AR-15/M-16 type weapons remain essentially identical.
In some cases, however, the quality, fit, function and customer service does vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. In our regional mobile training unit patrol-rifle classes, we've seen loose barrels, canted front sights, loose gas keys, bad firing-pin retaining pins, improperly assembled butt stocks, bad extractors and extractor springs, and more. New weapons out of the box have failed to function.
When your life depends on a reliable accurate patrol rifle, how can you make sure you find what you need? Start by tapping into the experience of others, and remember that actual field testing remains the bottom line.
I'm often asked to recommend to officers and agencies what to buy and from what company. I have no stake in any firearms company; I simply want to make sure officers are equipped with the best gear possible. My Rule #1: Function and reliability are king; it must work now, and each and every time. But as long as manufacturing quality and reliable functionality exist, gear choice can become an issue of personal preference.
Recently I evaluated a new entry to this field, a Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P15 .223-caliber carbine I was most fortunate to come away with at the Center Mass Inc. National Patrol Rifle Competition near Detroit this past May.
The Smith & Wesson M&P15
S&W first displayed its patrol rifles at the 2005 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. Based on the AR-15/M-16 system, the M&P15 appears nearly identical to the many other AR-type rifles on the market, aside from the S&W logos. At first inspection, the fit and finish look good. Some of the manufacturers of these weapons use the same producers of lower and upper receivers, along with component parts, and S&W appears to have chosen well. But what about the quality of the fully assembled carbine?
After doing an overall inspection of the carbine and ensuring the bore was clear and clean, I disassembled the bolt carrier group and checked for proper staking of the gas key and fit of the firing-pin retaining pin. Both were good to go.
The chrome-lined, 16" barrel has 1/9" twist rifling and is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO spec cartridge. The 1/9 twist allows the use of a wide range of bullet weights, including the heavier 60 80 grain class that do not stabilize for flight in the original 1/12" twist of the M-16 A1. While some believe the .223 Remington cartridge is identical to the 5.56mm s chamber dimensions, it s not. The slightly increased 5.56mm chamber leade allows use of higher velocity/pressure NATO ammunition without the blown primers and associated malfunctions caused by firing this ammo in the .223 chamber. Because we regularly use military spec 5.56mm ammo, we must ensure the patrol carbine is chambered as 5.56mm.
The barrel was tight to the upper receiver, and the rear aperture sight centered in the sight housing, indicating proper alignment with the front sight assembly. The trigger and hammer are military spec with a typical 7-plus lb. trigger-release weight, which is appropriate for the street.
Preparing to put the carbine through live-fire testing, I made a few changes. (Although not required for basic field use, these additions make for a more serviceable and combat-ready patrol rifle.) I removed the carrying handle/rear sight and mounted a fold-down backup iron A2-type rear sight from GG&G. I then attached a Model 551 optical holographic sight from EOTech to the Picatinny 1913-type rail forward of the rear sight. I replaced the safety/fire control selector with a DPMS, Inc. ambi selector, allowing both right- and left-hand manipulation. I removed the flash suppressor and replaced it with a Smith Enterprise Vortex. (The Vortex eliminates the muzzle flash from unburned powder, and I've used one on my duty carbine for years.) Most importantly, I installed a MGI Inc. Extractor Defender D-Ring. Adding four times the extractor spring tension to the extraction process, this tiny part has all but eliminated the failed extraction/double feeds we experienced for years. All of our department rifles or carbines go out on the street with one installed.
Finally, I attached a two-point patrol-type sling, and I was ready to test.
First I checked for safe function, both dry fire and live fire. When you conduct range tests, make no assumptions and check for yourself that the safety works properly. Make sure the disconnector allows only single-fired rounds in semi-auto mode. The hammer spring legs must be located on top of the trigger pin to prevent sideways pin walkout and hammer fall off (when the hammer falls on an angle to the side where the pin moves sideways out of the lower receiver).
All checked good, and I made the S&W carbine ready to fire using XM-193 55-grain ball ammo. Our standard sight setting for the AR-type carbine is 1.5 inches low at 25 yards, and point-of-aim/point-of-impact (zero) at 100 yards. With a muzzle velocity of 3,000 plus feet per second, the bullet impacts 2.23 inches low at 200 yards with this setting, making the point-of-aim from 25 200 yards essentially the same. In close i.e., muzzle contact to across a small room the bullet impacts approximately 2.5 inches low (the distance from the tip of the front sight to the center of the bore), so for close-quarter shooting, the shooter must hold above the desired point of impact. If you must take a headshot on a hostage taker or homicide bomber, you need the ability to put a bullet into a nickel-sized area.
Proper shoulder mount, cheek position, trigger control, sight alignment and breathing remain vital marksmanship elements. The M&P s six-position adjustable butt stock allows officers wearing heavy body armor and gas masks to shorten the stock length for proper shoulder mount, head and body position. When the shooter s gun-side shoulder falls behind the hip due to too long a stock, stability is lost. Too long a stock also creates significant shooting problems for smaller stature shooters. Shortening the stock brings the shoulders more squared forward, correcting body and face position.
As the photos indicate, the S&W demonstrated practical street accuracy. Accuracy testing was limited to 50 yards due to range constraints, but I will perform more extensive distance and ammo testing soon. The military trigger is long, a bit creepy but very useable. Both the iron sights and the EOTech put rounds in the same small group. Looking through the rear aperture sight, the shooter sees the EOTech red dot centered on the tip of the front sight. Fold down the iron sight and look at the TV screen EOTech: Anywhere you see the red dot reticle located in your field of vision puts it on center target. This zero parallax makes the EOTech effective for fast and accurate target acquisition.
Through hundreds of rounds fired from the bench sighting in and running exercises in December s cold-weather training with renowned trainers and friends John Farnam of DTI Inc. and Henk Iverson of Strike Tactical Solutions, the M&P15 ran without any malfunctions. One exercise consisted of firing 100 rounds continuously in four-shot repetitions. Not your standard drill, but one to test the function as the carbine heats up. I attribute the zero malfunctions to a well-built carbine, a D-Ring and basic maintenance. This M-16 gas system fouls the bolt-carrier group because it forces hot gas directly into the action. As such, it needs cleaning lubrication to run properly. Wet or dry lube it s your choice. Bone dry is a recipe for failure.
I shot my Rock River AR-type carbine and the M&P15 side by side, and, as expected, the M&P15 performed without issue. I chose my Rock River carbine for comparison because it has been in constant use since early 2001 with over 10,000 rounds fired. Through the years of street carry and competition, this carbine has performed extremely well.
So, these are two good firearms from reputable manufacturers. But what happens when your carbine fails, as do all things given enough use? What can you expect with customer service and factory support?
My experience with Rock River is the standard I apply to others. After the May competition, I was shooting in our Illinois Tactical Officers Association Rifle Field Training Exercise. Midday my carbine went down with a broken bolt. This is the first time I've experienced this, but I've seen others. I always keep a backup bolt (checked for headspace) with me, and the Rock River .223 was back in service minutes later. I later spoke with the company and was asked to return the entire carbine to the factory. Rock River sent a UPS pickup number, and the carbine went in for inspection. Result: The bolt, firing pin, gas tube and barrel were replaced. Then they test fired the gun and returned it in less than a week. All at no charge. It does not get any better than this.
Do I expect the same of S&W? Based on 30 years of owning and carrying their revolvers and auto loaders, I do. I had the pleasure of going through S&W s two-week revolver armorer class in 1983. I saw firsthand how the factory operated. Through years of ownership changes and questions of viability, S&W has survived, and with the introduction of upgraded and new firearms, the company looks very solid to me.
Thumbs Up or Down?
The final question: Do I recommend the M&P15 as a patrol carbine? Based on what I've seen, I give it a strong but conditional thumbs up. Conditional because it s only one production unit, and I also want to see how it holds up to extended use with thousands of rounds. Any firearm used for protection of life requires strenuous evaluation. As more M&P s are placed in the field, we will see the history of serviceability.
So, I will return to the range with the M&P15 and report back. Till then, I'll keep my Rock River locked in my squad s overhead Big Sky rack backed up by my M&P15, ready for the street.
M&P15 The Specs
Action: Gas-operated semiautomatic
Capacity: 30 rounds, 5.56mm or .223
Overall length: 35 inches extended/32 inches compacted
Stock: 6-position telescopic
Forend: Thermo-set M4 handguard
Sight length: 14.75 inches
Barrel length: 16 inches
Barrel twist: One in 9 inches
Weight (without magazine): 6.74 lbs.
Trigger pull: 7 lbs. (approximately)
Upper/lower material: 7075 T6 aluminum
Barrel material: 4140 steel
Chromed components: Barrel bore, gas key, bolt carrier
Receiver and barrel finish: Hard-coat black anodized
Front sight: Adjustable post
Rear sight: Adjustable dual aperture
Vendor Web Links
Smith & Wesson www.smith-wesson.com
Rock River www.rockriverarms.com
Extractor D-Fender www.mgimilitary.com/dring.htm
Strike Tactical Solution www.striketactical.com
DTI Inc. www.defense-training.com
Ambi Safety www.dpmsinc.com/search/?s=ambi+safety
GG&G back iron sight gggaz.com/index.php?id=36&parents=38,40