RETRO. AC­TIVE.

SAY HELLO TO OUR VIN­TAGE FRIENDS

Recoil - - Front Page - BY TOM MAR­SHALL PHO­TOS BY IAIN HAR­RI­SON

About the time this is­sue hits the news­stands, the U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions com­mu­nity will likely be tak­ing a look back at one of the most high-pro­file op­er­a­tions in their his­tory: Op­er­a­tion Gothic Ser­pent, which in­cluded the in­fa­mous Bat­tle of the Black Sea, made fa­mous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mis­sion, which took place in Oc­to­ber of 1993, is of­fi­cially 25 years old this fall.

Sev­eral vet­er­ans of that op­er­a­tion are cur­rently ac­tive in the firearms in­dus­try and have given their his­tor­i­cal ac­counts of the mis­sion to var­i­ous me­dia out­lets. In­stead of try­ing to retell some­one else’s war story, we wanted to take this an­niver­sary to ex­am­ine the progress of Amer­ica’s every­man ri­fle over the en­su­ing two-anda-half decades, and per­haps re­flect on just how good we have it now.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

As the rise of the retro ri­fle con­tin­ues to gain mo­men­tum, sev­eral com­pa­nies are now pro­duc­ing pe­ri­odthemed AR-pat­tern ri­fles to com­mem­o­rate past it­er­a­tions of Stoner’s most fa­mous de­sign. Troy In­dus­tries was one of the first to of­fer an out-of-the­box so­lu­tion to col­lec­tors and en­thu­si­asts want­ing a “pe­riod” ri­fle with their My Ser­vice Ri­fle line, com­mem­o­rat­ing fa­mous mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, and the as­so­ci­ated ri­fles used to win the day.

Their re­cent re­lease of the M16A2 SFOD-D car­bine made an all-too-ap­pro­pri­ate cor­ner­stone for this project. This no-frills ri­fle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team el­e­ments of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch bar­rel, car­bine-length gas sys­tem af­fair with tra­di­tional CAR hand­guards, iron sights, and an A2 carry han­dle up­per. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry han­dle and the 6 o’clock po­si­tion at the for­ward end of the hand­guard.

As a pref­ace to all of you firearm his­to­ri­ans out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does fea­tures ac­ces­sories in the style of this pe­riod, as op­posed to the ac­tual items. At­tempt­ing to pro­cure the ac­tual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly con­ducive to dead­lines or pro­duc­tion bud­gets. So, in sev­eral cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the say­ing goes, for gov­ern­ment work. This par­tic­u­lar Gothic Ser­pent sam­ple is out­fit­ted with a Sure­Fire 6P, com­plete with a whop­ping 60-lu­men in­can­des­cent bulb, mounted on a sin­gle scope ring with their push-but­ton tac­ti­cal tail cap.

The op­tic is an Aim­point 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with up­dated elec­tron­ics.

While the idea of mount­ing a light to a weapon isn’t ex­actly new, the tech­nol­ogy to do so in a man­ner that’s both con­ve­nient and er­gonomic is a rel­a­tively re­cent de­vel­op­ment. As late as the early years of Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom, line units were us­ing duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their ri­fles. The SOF com­mu­nity, hav­ing a larger bud­get and more time ded­i­cated to R&D, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by Sure­Fire onto their guns. Cer­tainly bet­ter than the meth­ods used by con­ven­tional units even a decade later, this small mea­sure of con­ve­nience came with two pri­mary pit­falls — ac­tu­at­ing the light and lu­mens.

Though night vi­sion, and the ear­lier starlight tech­nol­ogy, dates back to Viet­nam and some­what be­fore, ded­i­cated night-fight­ing gear isn’t a catchall for “in­ter­me­di­ate” light­ing sit­u­a­tions. Think about en­ter­ing a dark room in the mid­dle of a bright desert af­ter­noon in Africa. You need some kind of ar­ti­fi­cial light to see your tar­get, but early night vi­sion gog­gles — prone to washout or per­ma­nent dam­age from am­bi­ent light through a win­dow or hole in the ceil­ing — were the wrong an­swer. So weapon lights be­came the best com­pro­mise.

Even though any ad­van­tage is bet­ter than no ad­van­tage, less than 100 lu­mens doesn’t buy you much re­ac­tion time. As your eyes are rapidly

ad­just­ing from bright light, to no light, to a lit­tle bit of light the “in­creased” abil­ity to iden­tify friend from foe is mar­ginal at best. Tape switches were avail­able at the time, but far from uni­ver­sal and far from re­li­able. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off some­thing in the heat, you know that tap­ing things to­gether isn’t the most iron­clad at­tach­ment method.

Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to ac­tu­ally turn it on. With the light at the bot­tom of the hand­guard, thumb ac­ti­va­tion is out of the ques­tion. To make this place­ment work, we had to shift our sup­port hand­grip to just past the mag­well and use the in­dex knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While fir­ing, we had trou­ble keep­ing enough pres­sure on the switch to keep it on. The other op­tion is to twist the tail­cap for con­stant-on, but then you run into the fairly ob­vi­ous is­sues of bat­tery life, and of giv­ing away your po­si­tion be­tween en­gage­ments.

Once you can see your tar­get, you gotta hit it. The early elec­tro-op­ti­cal sights, also of Viet­nam vin­tage, were a huge boon for rapid shots un­der tight con­straints. The op­tics them­selves, to in­clude the Aim­point 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of bat­tery life or re­li­a­bil­ity that we now ex­pect from any red dot worth its salt. But mount­ing them on an A2-style re­ceiver cre­ated an ad­di­tional is­sue: height over bore.

For the unini­ti­ated, height over bore is ex­actly what it sounds like. Mount­ing your scope sev­eral inches above your bar­rel cre­ates the need for both me­chan­i­cal off­set when you zero as well as for man­ual holdover when try­ing to make pre­cise shots — like head­shots, which are a com­mon point of train­ing for hostage res­cue units. Fur­ther­more, th­ese high-mounted op­tics re­quire a “chin weld” on the stock, which is un­nat­u­ral, un­com­fort­able, and of­fers a float­ing sight pic­ture at best, par­tic­u­larly while shoot­ing on the move.

LAT­EST AND GREAT­EST

As a de­mon­stra­tion of the tech­ni­cal progress that’s been made in con­fig­ur­ing the AR or M4-style ri­fle, we con­trast Troy’s My Ser­vice Ri­fle SFOD-D gun to their own cut­ting-edge car­bine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­pat­i­ble Car­bine) also sports a 14.5inch bar­rel cham­bered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. The SOC-C fea­tures a mid-length gas sys­tem. Re­cent test­ing by USSOCOM has proven what the com­mer­cial mar­ket has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shoot­ing weapon.

This car­bine was con­sid­ered stateof-the-ar t around the time Meat­loaftopped ra­dio char ts with “I’d Do Any thing For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make youfeel old ...

Syn­er­gis­tic ad­vancesin hand­guards, lights, and for ward grips pro­vide asup­por t-hand hold that’s more er­gonomic and of­fers bet­ter con­trol overthe weapon.

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