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[Build Sheet] Commando Improved: Current Trends In U.S. Special Operations



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There’s a common theme in AR build trends: whatever permutation of Stoner’s brainchild is selected by military and law enforcement special operators will be reflected in the home-builds of those who construct their guns to be relied upon in hard times. 

This logic has merit. These units often train more rigorously and more consistently than larger conventional units, putting their carbines to work more often. 

It would then stand to reason that whatever general configuration of AR they settle on would be the result of an aggressive cycle of “test, train, use, improve.” With that in mind, we examined the current trends in SOF carbine configuration and fused in some high-performance parts available on the open market to build our own rendition of the general-use special operations AR.

Our base for this build was a UIC-15 receiver set from American Defense Manufacturing. ADM has a track record producing hard-use rifles for armed professionals, reflected in their Universal Improved Carbine receivers, made from 7075-T6 billet and finished with a Teflon-impregnated hard coat anodizing. They sport fully ambidextrous controls and dimpled takedown pins, but otherwise offer a no-frills foundation to build on. 

On the back end, we attached a PWS-enhanced buffer tube and ratcheting castle nut with QD-socket endplate. On the front end, we installed a Griffin Armament 11.5-inch High Endurance, Dual Purpose barrel. (Yes, they abbreviate it HEDP. Well played, Griffin.) The HEDP barrels are 416R stainless, polished, and hand-lapped before they’re finished in black nitride to optimize service life while still having match-grade tolerances. 

They’re turned to an M4 barrel profile, with longitudinal flutes to reduce weight and increase cooling. Chambers are .223 Wylde to accommodate the widest array of commercial and NATO-spec ammunition. We specifically chose the 11.5-inch length based on the selections of two major SOF sources: U.S. Army Special Operations Command and FBI’s special tactical teams, which include both their regional SWAT teams and their national-asset Hostage Rescue Team. 

USASOC’s URG-I program (Upper Receiver Group, Improved) sought to equip Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Groups with the best possible assault rifle without changing calibers or selecting an entirely different rifle. 

The result was refitting existing M4s with uppers that leverage superior quality parts, enhancing the capability of both the M4 and the 5.56mm round. Originally, the URG-I program settled on a combination of 11.5- and 14.5-inch uppers, issued in a mixed ratio based on mission and shooter preference. Since that time, our sources tell us USASOC has moved entirely away from the 14.5-inch URG-I in favor of issuing the 11.5 across the board. 

Likewise, FBI ammunition testing revealed a small enough performance difference to standardize 11.5-inch uppers across their SWAT teams and HRT. Since all these units work primarily in close-quarters environments and run suppressors almost full-time, the shorter barrels offer tangible benefits.

The Griffin barrel is sheathed in a 10.5-inch Midwest Industries Night Fighter handguard, everything you’d expect from Midwest Industries with the added benefit of a reinforced back end and lengthened 2.25-inch steel barrel nut. While it does cost you one M-LOK slot at the rear of the tube, the extra material increases rigidity to support peripheral devices like weapon lights and IR laser/illuminator units. 

Since the latter are required to hold zero, the Night Fighter’s increased mass and heavier barrel lockup help reduce POI shift on handguards weighed down with multiple accessories. Notably, both USASOC and FBI teams are running M-LOK handguards now, with the weight reduction and ergonomic benefits over quad rails being obvious. 

We then loaded up the handguard as it was meant to be — with a SureFire Dual Fuel Scout Light Turbo and Holosun LS-321 IR laser/illuminator, controlled by a Unity Tactical AXON switch. 

The AXON provides the same dual functionality of their TAPS switch, in a smaller form factor with more easily discernible buttons. Cable management is accomplished with several M-LOK pass-through panels from Arson Machine, with forward grip comprised of Unity Tactical’s VFG and NILE grip panels from Walker Defense Research.

We tipped the front end with a Forward Controls Design 6315KM muzzle device. Based on the Stoner 63 LMG muzzle device, it’s essentially an A2-style flash hider with smaller (shorter and narrower) slits at the 3- and 9-o’clock positions.

 FCD says this results in 15 to 20 percent more compensation than a standard A2 while still providing similar flash suppression. It also features notches for “ballistic wire cutting” use on either side. Whatever you might think of that, they don’t detract from aesthetics or performance. 

Finally, it’s KeyMo compatible to mount DeadAir suppressors, or suppressors equipped with DeadAir’s KeyMo adapter. Again, given the prolific use of suppressors by LE and SOF teams, it was important to have some way to mount one. 

The suppressor mounted here is a Witt Machine & Tool MOD 1, an ultra-compact suppressor measuring just 51/4 inches long, with a wide-body design 1 5/8 inches in diameter. The MOD 1 is their QD model, with a standard HUB base that accepts the KeyMo adapter.  

We mounted both an EOtech EXPS optic and accompanying G33 magnifier on Unity Tactical FAST mounts. With a resulting mount height of 2.26 inches over bore, the FAST mounts allow for a more heads-up shooting position, especially useful when aiming passively though NVGs or shooting with a gas mask on — both of which are scenarios these units train for regularly. 

The FAST magnifier mount is particularly beneficial, allowing that G33 magnifier to collapse straight down and sit directly behind the optic, versus hanging off the side of the gun at a 90-degree offset. The particular G33 shown here is equipped with an Armored Magnifier Cover from HRF Concepts, replacing the factory soft rubber cover with a hard plastic clamshell for additional protection and a more aggressive texture.

Beneath the optics setup is a Sharps Rifle Company Xtreme Performance bolt carrier group, equipped with their Relia-Bolt. Finished in black DLC, the bolt and carrier are made of S7 tool steel, which Sharps says offers higher tensile strength and less resistance to thermal cycle fatigue. 

The Relia-Bolt has a unique lug shape with beveled front edges to facilitate proper locking and unlocking of the bolt even when the chamber is extremely fouled. The Sharps BCG is controlled by a Griffin Armament SN-ACH, or Suppressor Normalized, Ambi-Configurable Handle. This handle comes loaded with some additional features, such as reinforced geometry of the bolt carrier hook, and user-configurable short and long modular levers. 

Perhaps most importantly, the SN-ACH has both a gas check groove and a gas-venting port, reducing the amount of blowback directed into the shooter’s face. With the amount of time that units like Special Forces and HRT spend shooting suppressed guns in close quarters, small parts like the SN-ACH that are optimized to help tackle the increased gas flow can provide a little bit of extra relief for the shooter. 

Finally, we finished the furniture suite with a B5 Systems P23 grip and SOPMOD Bravo stock, which we prefer to the original for its leaner profile. The PWS buffer tube is loaded with a Sprinco “Hot White” spring and Spikes ST-T2 buffer, weighing in just under 4 ounces. 

The result is an SBR with slightly more muzzle rise than we’ve experienced in 12.5-inch barrels with Patrol- or Mid-length gas systems, but with a very quick return-to-level and consistent uniform ejection to 3:30. 

BUILD SHEET:

Total Price: $3,491

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