by David Crane
May 6, 2009
The April 2009 issue of Special Weapons for Military & Police (SWMP) (Gun Buyer’s Annual #74) has an article on the Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P15R 5.45x39mm Russian (a.k.a. 5.45x39mm Soviet a.k.a. 5.45x39mm Kalashnikov) semi-auto tactical AR-15 carbine. It’s an interesting offering, since the 5.45mm Russian is an interesting little cartridge, and combining it with the AR-15 platform is, well, interesting.
DefenseReview is actually a fan of the AK-74 5.45mm Russian rifle, which is very controllable in both semi-auto and full-auto modes. Understand that the AK-74 weighs roughly the same as a 7.62x39mm AKM rifle, while firing a softer-shooting cartridge and adding a muzzle brake. This is what makes the AK-74 so controllable on full-auto, more controllable than an M4/M4A1 Carbine. But the AK-74 isn’t the subject of this article. The S&W M&P15R is. So, on to the 5.45x39mm cartridge, which is what separates this weapon from the standard 5.56x45mm NATO (5.56mm NATO)/.223 Rem. M&P15.
The 5.45x39mm Russian cartridge is a zippy, nasty little cartridge that was designed by the Soviets (i.e. Russians) to approximate the terminal ballistics, wounding potential, and overall performance of the American 5.56mm round after they saw the 5.56mm’s combat attributes and advantages during the Vietnam War. It would appear that what the Russians were really going for was similar wounding performance as the original 55-grain (55gr) M193 5.56mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) round out of a 1-in-14″ twist (1:14 twist) AR-15/M16 barrel, which created much nastier wound channels than either the 55gr 5.56mm/1:12 twist-rate-barreled AR-15/M16 combo to which the U.S. rather inanely switched rather quickly, or the current 62gr 5.56mm/1:7 twist-barreled M4/M4A1 Carbine and M16A4 rifle combo.
The reason the 55gr/1:14 twist rate was so devastating was that the slow twist rate made the bullet very unstable under hydrostatic pressure when it hit living soft tissue. The 1:12 twist rate stabilized the bullet just enough to ruin the magic and significantly reduce the M193 round’s lethality. And the current 1:7 barrel twist rate overstabilizes the heavier 62gr which tends to zip right through skinny enemy combatants like Somali and Afghani fighters. The 62gr round is most effective when it goes frangible inside the body, but it often fails to do that, so you have to shoot the bad guy multiple times if you don’t get a CNS (Central Nervous System) hit on the first shot.
In fact, the original AR-15/M16 rifle / 5.56mm cartridge (55gr.) package was so effective in combat, that the North Vietnamese had a saying, which roughly translated to “Beware the Black Rifle”. Stories abounded about guys getting shot in the chest and the bullet exiting through their buttocks, or getting shot in the arm and their arm flying off…pleasant stories like that. It’s DefenseReview’s understanding that Col. David Hackworth’s U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) team was the first unit to utilize and test the AR-15/M16 rifle and 5.56x45mm cartridge in combat, but we haven’t verified/confirmed this.
Anyway, as is the Russian way (perhaps not always, but quite often), they decided to copy us a bit and add their own twist to the mix. The 5.45mm cartridge’s three primary distinguishing characteristics/features vs. the 5.56mm cartridge are 1) the 5.45mm utilizes a (shorter) tapered case instead of a straight-walled case, 2) bullet diameter is reduced slightly and features an elongated “boattail” design, and 3) the 5.45mm bullet incorporates an air pocket / crush compartment immediately behind the solid tip in order to induce yaw and tumbling quickly via hydrostatic pressure once a human body is struck, thereby improving terminal ballistics and wounding performance in living soft tissue.
It’s DefenseReview’s understanding at present that while the AK-74 rifle / 5.45mm cartridge package has proven effective in open-terrain environments (mountain and desert environments), it’s run into some trouble in closed-terrain envionments like urban warfare a.k.a. urban combat environments where fighting tends to be done up close and personal and you may have to first shoot through intermediate barriers like vehicle bodies, doors, and windshields, walls, barricades, etc. in order to hit the pink squishy thing (i.e. the enemy combatant) behind it. Defense Review has heard rumors that at least some Russian Army Special Forces / Special Operations Forces switched back to the AKM / 7.62x39mm weapon/ammo package for urban warfare and CQB/CQC ops in Chechnya for this very reason. Again, we have not been able to confirm/verify this.
But getting back to the S&W M&P15R 5.45x39mm tactical AR carbine package and SWMP’s piece on it, gunwriter Paul Markel mentioned a few tactical AR-15 carbine accessories that are worth covering. First up is the CJ Weapons MK-16 Combo Tool for AR-15/M16/M4/M4A1-type weapons to which Markel refers as “akin to a Swiss Army knife for black rifles”, which would appear to be an accurate description. The MK-16 Combo Tool is available from Brownells.
Next up is the Badger Ordnance Tactical Latch extended charging handle, which is made from 8620 ordnance steel and mil-spec parkerized. DefRev is partial to the PRI M84 Gas Buster Charging Handle – Military Big Latch, since the PRI M84 Gas Buster prevents or at least significantly attenuates/mitigates hot gases and particulate matter from hitting the shooters face (and shooting glasses) while firing a direct-gas-impingement (DGI) rifle/carbine, particularly while utilizing a silencer/sound suppressor, while also providing a large surface for retracting the handle.
The CSAT Combat Sight was combined with the Leupold Prismatic 1x14mm illuminated-reticle combat optic (optical sight)/riflescope. The illuminated reticle is a “Circle-Plex” reticle.
Markel didn’t mention a rail system, but a quality Mil-Std-1913 “Picatinny” qaud-rail system/forend rail tube is a must. LaRue Tactical, Superior Weapons Systems (SWS), Samson Manufacturing, Daniel Defense, Knight’s Armament Company (KAC), and Troy Industries all make quad rail systems/forend rail tubes that are good choices for the M&P15R.
We’d also probably replace the bird cage flash hider a.k.a. flash suppressor with an AAC Blackout Flash Hider/Suppressor/Adapter, Surefire/B.E. Meyers “Flash Terminator” Flash Hider/Suppressor/Adapter, Smith Enterprise Vortex Flash Eliminator, or Primary Weapons Systems (PWS) FSC Series flash suppressor/compensator.
Markel used a pair of Coyote brown Blackhawk! S.O.L.A.G. HD (Heavy Duty) Tactical Gloves w/Nomex for his shooting session. The SOLAG HD tactical gloves have hard knuckles and padded finger protection. According to Markel, the gloves are tough yet thin enough for running a rifle or pistol without a problem.
Markel ran the M&P15R 5.45mm Russian tactical AR-15 carbine with Wolf, Silver Bear, and some kind of Bulgarian military surplus 5.45x39mm rifle ammo. Markel used the Wolf 60gr FMJ 5.45mm round, which clocked at 2678 fps (feet per second) out of the M&P15R’s muzzle and shot into a 2.75-inches (2.75”) 5-shot group at a range of 100 yards. It should be noted that Wolf also makes a 70gr 5.45mm round that has a listed muzzle velocity of 2460 fps. The Silver Bear round is a 60gr FMJ round that clocked out of the muzzle at 2678 fps and achieved a 3-inch (3”) 5-shot group at the same distance. The Bulgarian military surplus ammo was a 53gr FMJ-BT round clocking at 2,810 fps and shooting into 3.15 inches (3.15”). We don’t know whether the above groups were achieved off-hand or from a rest.
DefenseReview would like to see how the M&P-15R performs at ranges of 200-300 yards, but I guess we’ll have to wait.
According to Markel, the M&P15 R had some reliability problems with the 30-round magazine. He solved it by backing the round count down to 25 rounds, after which no more reliability problems were experienced. However, Markel added that in his experience, 30-round 5.56mm AR-15/M16 mags should only be loaded to 28 rounds, anyway. Defense Review disagrees. A quality 30-shot mag with a no-tilt follower and quality chrome-silicon spring should be able to be loaded to 30-rounds as advertised without a problem. If you don’t agree with us, just ask tactical instructor and retired U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) operator (and DefenseReview contributor) Mike Pannone about this. He’ll set you straight. The 28-round myth needs to go away.
So, is the M&P15R a good weapon to buy? Same question goes for the M&P15R complete upper receiver. Well, we’re not sure. All the 5.45mm ammo for it is, to our knowledge, currently imported, and God only knows what President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress are going to try to do with regard to gun (and ammunition) control. If they cut off the foreign supply of 5.45x39mm ammunition, will domestic manufacturers crop up? And, if they do crop up, will they do so in large-enough numbers to adequately supply the market? The advantage of 5.45 ammo vs. 5.56mm ammo is its relatively low cost. Right now, it’s much less expensive than 5.56mm. So, as much as we like the 5.45x39mm cartridge, we’re torn.
Finally, acquiring a 5.45mm AR-15 tactical carbine or upper isn’t exactly a priority for us right now, no matter how good it is. Frankly, if we’re going to go with an AR upper in a non-NATO cartridge, we’ll go 6.8x43mm SPC (a.k.a. 6.8mm SPC a.k.a. 6.8 SPC) or 6.5 Grendel (a.k.a. 6.5mm Grendel), first, even though they’re both more expensive than 5.45mm Russian or 5.56mm NATO, since both the 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Gendel are U.S.-made and give you a significant terminal ballistics advantage over the 5.56mm and 5.45mm.
But, if you have your heart set on an M&P15R, Impact Guns has it for $1,279.99 USD.
Smith & Wesson M&P15R Specs:
Caliber: 5.45 x 39 mm
Capacity: 30 Rounds
Barrel Length: 16 inches (16”)
Barrel Twist: 1 in 8” (1:8)
Front Sight: M4 Post
Overall Length: 35” Extended ,32” Collapsed
Stock: 6-Position Collapsible/Telescoping
Weight: 6.5 lbs.
Barrel Material: 4140 Steel< br>
Receiver Material: 7075 T6 Aluminum
Finish: Hard Coat Black Anodized
Chromed Comp, Barrel Bore, Gas Key
Bolt Carrier, Chamber
Smith & Wesson Press Release on the S&W M&P15R:
SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts — Smith & Wesson Corp., the legendary 156-year old firearms maker, announced that it has introduced the M&P15R, a new addition to the company’s M&P tactical rifle series. The new AR-15 style rifle is capable of firing the economical 5.45 x 39mm ammunition and is available as a high quality semi-automatic rifle or as a complete upper receiver assembly kit.
Based on a combat-proven design, the M&P15R incorporates the standard features found in all Smith & Wesson M&P rifles. Engineered to meet the needs of recreational shooters and AR-15 enthusiasts, the M&P15R features a flat-top receiver and an M-4 style post front sight. The rifle is standard with a 16-inch barrel with a twist rate of 1 in 8 inches. Reliability features of the gas-operated rifles include a chrome-lined gas key, bolt carrier and barrel. A six position collapsible stock allows the M&P15R to accommodate a variety of shooting positions. The rifle measures 35 inches in length when fully extended and measures a compact 32 inches with the stock collapsed.
“The M&P15R offers AR-15 enthusiasts as well as those shooters who are looking for a less expensive option when heading to the range, a high grade semi-automatic rifle for recreational use,” said Tom Taylor, Vice President of Marketing from Smith & Wesson. “The new rifle, which is chambered in the less expensive 5.45 x 39mm, will allow consumers to spend more time on the range for less cost. The M&P15R will also be available as a complete upper receiver assembly, allowing those who already own an M&P Series rifle or one of the many other variants, the opportunity to change calibers with ease.”
The black anodized rifle is manufactured with a durable upper and lower receiver made from 7075 T6 Aluminum. A single stage trigger with a 7 lb. trigger pull is standard, as is the A2 Birdcage compensator. The M&P15R is designed to accommodate a variety of optics or a traditional back-up iron sight. The rifle is shipped with a 30-round magazine and has an unloaded weight of 6.5 pounds.
The M&P15R joins a comprehensive family of Smith & Wesson products designed and manufactured to meet the needs of firearms sports enthusiasts worldwide. Other models include the M&P15, M&P15A, M&P15T, M&P15X, M&P15OR, M&P15ORC and the M&P15FT rifle. In addition, the Smith & Wesson Performance Center is also manufacturing a high-end extension to the M&P Rifle Series, the M&P15PC.
Company Contact Info:
Smith & Wesson (S&W)
2100 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, MA 01104
800-331-0852 Toll Free
800-331-0852 USA Office
413-781-8300 International Office
413-747-3317 USA Fax
413-731-8980 International Fax
Related Articles, Links, and Videos:
New S&W M&P15R 5.45×39mm (Special Weapons for Military & Police)
Smith & Wesson M&P15R: 5.45×39mm AR-15 announced (The Firearm Blog)