Use of the AR-15 in Dirty/Dusty Environments

Recently, a news story broke about US weapon malfunctions during firefights in Afghanistan.

For many, this was a chance to renew their attack on the supposedly faulty Colt M4s in use by our troops overseas. For others – mostly, the troops who had been overseas with the weapons – this was something to scratch their heads about.

My experiences with issued Colt M4s, M16A2s and FN M16A4s were nothing short of stellar. Despite claims – mostly by the uninformed – of constant maintenance requirements, I only cleaned mine when the outside turned brown. I properly lubricated my issued rifle, and I was also lucky to have a good armorer who made sure that my rifles had parts replaced when necessary. I made sure I had good, working magazines. As a result, I was rewarded with exceptional performance from my M4. I had similar results with my M249 SAW – though I spent far more time maintaining that weapon.

So I’m always a little suspicious when I see claims of M4s going down in combat.

One of the biggest problems is when Soldiers and Marines try to use their rifle in a manner other than that which was originally intended. As I was taught by an 0331 (Marine machine gunner) during a crew served weapon course, “You are there because the rifles have failed.” In other words, machine guns lay down suppressive fire, enabling the rifles to take precision shots, or at least aimed fire at the enemy. When this doctrine breaks down and everyone goes cyclic – that is, firing as many rounds as they can, as fast as they can – either everyone is going to run out of ammunition, or machine gun barrels are going to overheat and warp, or rifle barrels are going to literally split. When things get really hairy, rifles and machine guns are going to be disabled due to enemy rifle, machine gun and RPG fire, as well as indirect fire from mortars and rockets.

Now, the issues here go beyond weapons. The Soldiers were forced to defend themselves against a much larger force that was attempting to suppress the main group of Americans in order to (presumably) capture a few at an observation post. They had no air or arty support, and their leaders apparently didn’t make friends with the local populace – this resulted in the deaths of 9 American Soldiers. Their actions that day in the face of an overwhelming force were heroic, and their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, an incorrect thought process persists among many officers and senior enlisted – that the rifles should be scrubbed clean as often as possible, and that oil should not be added to the weapon, for it will “attract dust and dirt”. Soldiers and Marines have been dying because of this absolute garbage since the introduction of the Garand in combat operations in the Pacific during WWII. Proper lubrication is vital for any semiautomatic or automatic weapon. I learned that lesson today with my Glock 26 pistol, which had some dirt inadvertently thrown on it during the following test. It malfunctioned 6 times in one magazine before I disassembled it and properly oiled it, as I had been negligent in keeping it lubricated. After that, it functioned perfectly.

Now, with that discussion out of the way – if I were to redeploy to Iraq, or deploy to Afghanistan, I’d feel very well equipped with a Colt M4.

To demonstrate why, I made a short video today while I was at the range with a friend. The rifle in this video is composed of a Smith & Wesson M&P15R upper in 5.45×39 caliber on a cheap forged lower. The upper receiver assembly has been modified from stock – the bolt and bolt carrier, as well as the muzzle device, have been electroless nickel plated for corrosion resistance. The lower receiver, as well, has had its internal parts electroless nickel plated. I use a Spike’s Tactical ST-T2 buffer, as the surplus Russian ammunition used in the test is fairly hot. The rifle was properly lubricated with FP-10.

CProducts, LLC, makes the only 5.45 AR-15 magazines. Unfortunately, they are poorly designed and manufactured, and I modified another magazine follower to work in them – although capacity is reduced to 28 rounds, they now function flawlessly. The followers I used in this test were actually my rejects or seconds, and that is why the bolt was not held open after the last shot in each mag.

112 rounds were fired in almost exactly 1 minute, with no malfunctions.

I would have felt confident repeating the test and would expect similar results, but the weapon was getting very hot – the vertical grip was hot to the touch, the receivers were almost too hot to touch, and the barrel was blistering hot. This test was not a realistic demonstration of how a rifle should be used in combat, but rather a demonstration of what the rifle is capable of when stressed to the limit.

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5 Comments

Filed under Tests

5 responses to “Use of the AR-15 in Dirty/Dusty Environments

  1. Mike W

    I think the goggles are my favorite part. As usual, great writeup

  2. Pingback: Everyday, No Days Off - Gun Blog » Use of the AR-15 in Dirty / Dusty Environments

  3. Goggles? Safety first is what I always do when shooting. Earplugs to keep the ears from ringing afterwards and more important, loss of hearing. Goggles or safety glasses when shooting. You only have two eyes and they don’t make replacement parts for them. You never know when you might get defective ammo.

  4. Arrn

    You should have dropped it from a Hughes from 500ft in a cheap wooden box 😉

  5. mark

    What if Im in either cold,wet, sandy, snowy conditions or all of them at once for days and I have to live off the land. Lets just say for the situation I am absolutley not able to properley clean my rifel, except for the obvious i.e…, make sure their is no obstructions in the barrel, breech and receiver area are clear and mags are clear. With your expertise what rifel would you recommend faced w/ these conditions that does not cost a arm and a leg for a blue collar worker that is set on a tight budget. Also I would like to add what my pick has been and If you have any comments on it please send them to me, thats the new tactical mini-14.

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