Ballistic Advantage 5.45x39mm Russian-Barreled Recce Rifle/Carbine Tactical AR-15 Package for Combat-Accurate Shooting at Low Ammo Cost

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By Allen Cosby

Photo(s) Credit: Allen Cosby

The following article is property of (DR) and Allen Cosby, and is copyrighted material. If you are reading this article on another website other than, please email us the website address/URL (where the unauthorized DR article reprint is located) at defrev (at) gmail (dot) com. Thank you.

September 12, 2012

I just put three rounds inside of 2 inches at 300 yards, and it only cost me forty-five cents. The secret is my new Ballistic Advantage barrel, specifically their 16”, Medium Heavy Rigid barrel in 5.45x39mm. As long as I’ve owned an AR-15, I’ve had the vision superior accuracy from dirty Russian surplus ammo. I dreamed of it when I worked in Iraq, and obsessed over it after I got back home.

When you’re shooting a standard AR-15, ammo can cost you $4,500 over the life of the barrel. I wanted all the accuracy of good 5.56mm NATO (5.56x45mm NATO) ammo at a fraction of the price. My search seemed impossible until I contacted Mike Pannone of CTT Solutions, a tremendous resource for tactical training, technical consulting and all things AR-15. He referred me to a Florida-based barrel-making company called Ballistic Advantage.

Before I get into the performance, I guess I should tell you a bit about Ballistic Advantage. Adam Wainio started the company back in 2008 with one goal in mind: quality. Ballistic Advantage started out by specializing in custom barrel manufacturing. Gradually, they have expanded their work, but they still treat production barrels with the same attention to detail. He does this with a rather unique approach. “I realized that in the firearms industry, there are a lot of machinists who didn’t know much about gunsmithing, and gunsmiths who know about machining. To the machinists, barrels were just parts," he said. Adam’s mantra is to “Honor the potential of the barrel,” which he describes as harnessing the accuracy that the metal offers a skilled machinist. It's a blend of art and science that has as its end goal the barrel, not profit margin.

In the past, they were difficult to get in touch with. Then, they hired a full-time office manager (Hannah) who is both knowledgeable and friendly. Today, ordering from them over the phone is hassle-free and shipping is prompt.

The Ballistic Advantage barrel is similar in many ways to the Noveske 16” Recon. While Adam didn’t want the BA Medium Heavy Rigid 5.45x39mm Russian barrel to be a Noveske knockoff, he realized that the profile was both ideal and also quite common. Hunting rifles have used a similar profile and produce excellent absorption of vibration.

Both the Noveske and the Ballistic Advantage Medium Heavy Rigid barrels have a contour that tapers slowly from the breech to the gas block. Both weigh in at just over 2 lbs and are drilled for a mid-length gas system. The BA barrel comes standard with an M4 barrel extension coated in Nickel Boron, which is very helpful in the cleaning process. The M4 feedramps are especially important when chambering the long 5.45mm bullet. For those who already have a Nickel Boron bolt carrier, BA sells a NiB coated bolt.

The barrel itself has a very distinctive profile. It's made from 4150 Chrome Molly Vanadium steel, which has a better wear life than the more commonly used 4140 steel. Both the bore and the outside of the barrel are treated with a ballistic nitride coating (liquid nitrocarburizing, also called Tennifer or Melonite), which significantly hardens the steel, increases barrel life and makes the metal extremely resistant to corrosion. BA also makes a melonite-treated low-profile gas block, which they included in my order.

Corrosion is the enemy of all shooters who use older surplus ammunition. Moisture in the air reacts with salts from the ammo, forming an evil substance that will eat your barrel. This is why shooters down in Arizona have less trouble with corrosive ammo than people in more humid areas. I live in relatively moist Pennsylvania, and I'm not known for being either gentle or fastidious with my firearms. In short, I shoot a lot and don't clean my rifles.

Therefore, corrosion was a problem with my first AR, a Smith and Wesson M&P 15R in 5.45x39mm, and even a slight problem with my Spike's Tactical Mid-Length 5.45x39mm Upper Receiver. There was some minor pitting on the Spike’s bolt and carrier after 4000 rounds. So, you'd better believe corrosion was on my mind when ordering a BA barrel. But here's the reality: they offer a lifetime warranty against extreme use. Their commitment to quality is impressive. Says Adam, “We make no distinction between the guy overseas and the guy next door. They both deserve the best barrel we can give them.”

And they mean it. Of course, one does not judge a barrel by how pretty it looks and how well the man sells it, but by the groups it makes on paper.

After zeroing my irons at 25 yards (which produced clover leaf groups), I affixed my scope and sighted in at 100 yards. Then, I took it out to the 300-yard range. By holding high to compensate for bullet drop, I was able to shoot some decent groups. I was only firing three rounds at a time, rather than ten. I fired four strings of three rounds each, and my spotter reported two very tight groups. Three rounds impacted at the top of the target, all very close to each other. After adjusting for bullet drop, another three struck close to the center ring. The group near the center measured 2.25 inches and the group at the top measured an incredible 1.375 inches!

It is quite possible that Adam at Ballistic Advantage was born with a lathe in his hands.

I couldn't believe the barrel or the cheap ammunition was capable of .5 MOA. It had to be blind luck. So, I gave it a cursory cleaning, swapped the scope out for a red dot and ran it for a few weeks in that configuration. Finally, I kicked it. Yes, I kicked it. I did almost everything I could to mess up whatever I’d had going for me the first time around. If the barrel was going to excel again, it wouldn’t be a fluke.

So I took it out again, sighting it in first at 50 yards and then moved out to 100. Over the next half hour, I fired several 10-round increments. The average shot grouping was 2.7 inches, or 2.6 MOA. Then, I moved to 200 yards and repeated the process. The results were consistent; an average grouping of 5 inches, which translates into 2.4 MOA – and that with dirty Russian ammunition!

The best I could ever get my Spike’s Lothar Walther barrel to do was 10-11-inch groups at 300 yards. Experts believe that 3-4 MOA is the absolute limit of surplus 5.45x39mm ammo in any barrel. I have (if only slightly) pushed through that barrier.

This barrel doesn’t turn your AR into a super-sniper marksman’s rifle, but it will deliver accuracy that’s almost unheard of for ammo that costs fourteen cents per round. The BA Medium Heavy Rigid 5.45mm barrel will allow you to shoot accurately all day and laugh at the guys at the range who have to pack up and head home early because they’ve used up all their rounds. Even better, it will occasionally deliver that sub-MOA three-shot grouping at 300 yards, giving you extreme bragging rights.

Over the past few years, I learned that if I bought cheap, I'd regret it. So for my Ruskie Recce Rifle, I used only fine quality parts. A Vltor A5 Buffer & Recoil System with a SOPMOD stock provides excellent reliability and a comfortable cheek weld. The Super Semi-Automatic Enhanced (SSA-E) Trigger, my carbine’s current trigger, is the finest I've ever used. The upper receiver is nothing too special, just a Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) former demo model [Editor's note: But, like all things BCM, it works!].

I use a Magpul MIAD Grip Kit to get a more natural trigger finger placement. A Daniel Defense Modular Float Rail 12.0 provides protection for the barrel and a smooth handguard to grip during rapid-fire strings. The scope is a VIPER PST 4-16X50 FFP Riflescope first-focal-plane wonder. It's as crisp and clear as the Zeiss Conquest Riflescope I own, and is loaded with extra features.

What this means is that I invested $2000 in high-quality parts for my carbine, excluding the cost of the Ballistic Advantage barrel and bolt. If this machine couldn’t put rounds on paper, we’d know it was the fault of the shooter, the barrel, or the ammo. All other variables were taken out of the equation.

For calculating the Minutes of Angle, I used the free program OnTarget Precision Calculator.

Company Contact Info:

Ballistic Advantage, LLC
2516 JMT Industrial Dr.
Unit 106-108
Apopka, FL 32703
Phone: 407-739-7664

Daniel Defense, Inc. (DD)
101 Warfighter Way
Black Creek, GA 31308
Phone: 866-554-4867
Fax: 912-851-3248
Email Contact Form:

CAGE Code 3E3E2

Bravo Company MFG, Inc.
PO Box 361
Hartland WI, 53029
Phone: 877-272-8626 (BravoCo)
Fax: 262-367-0989

AIM Surplus (5.45mm Ammunition)
3801 Lefferson Rd.
Middletown, OH 45044
Toll Free: 888-748-5252
Office Phone: 513-424-9960
Fax: 513-424-9970
Email Sales:
Email Customer Service:

Spike's Tactical LLC
2593 Clark Street #103
Apopka, FL 32703
Phone: 407-928-2666
Fax: 866-283-2215

Geissele Automatics (Shipping Address)
603 Caroline Drive
Norristown, PA 19401
610-272-2060 Phone Email Customer Service Website

Geissele Automatics (Shop Address)
1920 W. Marshall St.
Norristown, PA 19403
610-272-2060 Phone Email Customer Service Website

CTT Solutions Email Website

DUNS#: 01-322-7741

© Copyright 2012 and Allen Cosby. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without receiving permission and providing proper credit and appropriate links.

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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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