The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Preview – Brügger & Thomet

Photography by Ralph Wilhelm

To Apologize for Inflicting the Cuckoo Clock on the USA, the Swiss Are About to Send Us Some Damn Fine Firearms 

European firearms brands like Heckler & Koch, Beretta, and Sako are, if not household names in the USA, at least familiar among the U.S. gun community. One company that enjoys wide popularity outside these shores, but doesn’t appear on any but the most finely tuned American radar, is the Swiss firm of Brügger & Thomet. And that’s about to change.

While sample guns meandered through the halls of ATF’s tech branch awaiting final approval for importation, RECOIL made an exclusive behind-the-scenes visit to the B&T production facilities, tucked away at the foot of the Alps. There, we got to see how its products are made, interview designers and production staff, and, of course, cover the floor of their test range with a generous layer of brass.

BT-APC223-556BT---TP9-MP9-N

THE GUNS

B&T USA will be importing three models as its core lineup, after jumping through the necessary import hoops — necessitating alterations from the guns’ original configurations.

The APC223 is a short-stroke, piston-driven carbine along the lines of the FN SCAR 16. The APC9/45 pistol shares many of its features and layout, but as its name suggests is chambered in pistol calibers and operates from a blowback, rather than locked breech, system. After filing the necessary paperwork, we imagine many American buyers will swap out its sling-equipped back plate for one of B&T’s numerous stock offerings, thus returning the gun to its intended appearance as a short-barreled rifle (SBR). Rounding out the line will be the MP9, which may be a little more familiar to some readers, as it started life as a Steyr product before being reworked and improved by Swiss engineers. It, too, is a 9mm subgun-esque pistol, which in its unneutered guise spits out a whopping 1,100-plus rounds per minute and weighs only 3.4 pounds. Like the slightly larger APC9, it will probably wind up being SBR’d, where it’ll regain its vertical foregrip and folding stock.

That’s the high-level overview. What do each of these guns look like under the surface? Read on and find out.

BT-APC223-556

APC223

The Advanced Police Carbine is intended as a direct competitor to the latest generation of assault rifles on the world market. With several NATO countries looking to replace their aging infantry weapons in the next decade, the APC has as good a chance as any of taking a significant chunk of that market, having already passed several torture tests and offering all the features commonly requested.

At the heart of the system is an extruded aluminum receiver that acts as a shell for the bolt, barrel trunnion, and recoil spring. And while we didn’t have the opportunity to give it the once-over with a set of calipers, it would appear that there’s enough room in there to accommodate a 7.62mm barrel, should the market demand. Ahead of the barrel trunnion is the handguard interface — another aluminum extrusion — that attaches via two tenons held in place with Torx screws at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions. Various handguard lengths can be easily swapped in, and from a manufacturing standpoint, using an extrusion is a no-brainer. Need an odd-length forearm for a prototype under-barrel grenade launcher? No problem, simply adjust the chop saw to the appropriate setting and whack a chunk off. The downside to using aluminum, of course, is that the area around the gas block gets pretty hot after a few magazines. We’d prefer a longer forearm for that reason, as it would get the support hand out past the toastiest part of the gas system.

RECP-150300-BRUGGER-05

Barrels are made by Lothar Walther and are hammer forged with a 1:7 twist and medium profile, tapering gradually from just in front of the chamber and terminating in either a NATO flash-hider or compensator. We were unable to shoot for groups due to range restrictions, but it’s not like LW is famous for producing sewer pipes, so we’d expect accuracy to be on par with competitive piston guns.

In most European countries, once a citizen has approval from the authorities to buy a semi-auto rifle, barrel length is not something with which the organs of state concern themselves. Unlike the situation here with our fatuous and arcane NFA laws, the European shooter can choose whatever length tube fits his or her needs — as a result, the most popular .223 barrel happens to be just 12.5 inches from bolt face to muzzle. Carbines landing on these hallowed shores will sport 16-inch barrels, but changing them for fresh ones is no more challenging than the same procedure in an AR-15. The casual observer might think the APC’s muzzle brake is supplied by a certain California-based flashlight maker, but it is in fact made on B&T’s CNC machines, and both companies have a handshake agreement not to discuss the intellectual property behind it.

Attached to the barrel is a two-position gas block for normal and suppressed fire (B&T got its start as a suppressor manufacturer — more on this later), which houses a gas plug and piston appropriate for the caliber. A .300 Whisper version is available that uses a shorter gas system and different gas ports, but unlike an AR, changing calibers doesn’t just entail swapping the barrel. The piston, gas plug, and piston spring assembly must all be changed as well. From a practical standpoint in both guns, it’s much simpler to just swap uppers, but as of press date, it’s unclear which part of the gun the ATF will decide is the serialized bit.

BT-APC9-45

The lower receiver is a plastic box that houses the fire-control components, attaching to the upper by means of the tried and tested method of a pair of captive takedown pins. To field strip, the user presses out the rear pin, swings down the lower receiver, and presses down on the buttstock assembly. After releasing the stock, the captive recoil spring is pulled out of its recess in the bolt carrier, which frees up the charging handle. B&T adopted a belt-and-suspenders approach to retaining the handle, which rides in a keyhole slot in the upper. It’s impossible to remove, even if pulled to the rear and lined up with the keyhole, unless the recoil spring guide rod is also out of the gun. But once removed it can be swapped from left to right, depending on the wishes of the user.

While the full-auto version of the APC223 is quite controllable when the giggle switch is pushed all the way forward, U.S. customers will have a hard time experiencing the joys of turning live ammo into brass at an accelerated rate, due to the 11 pages worth of modifications made to the civvy model. A full-auto bolt carrier won’t fit the semi receiver, an FA bolt won’t go in the SA carrier, and a three-position lower won’t line up with a neutered upper. There’s no way to illegally make the APC go into automatic mode unless you have access to a very well-equipped machine shop, in which case you might as well make a machinegun completely from scratch. Not that we’d ever recommend anyone do that.

Trigger components will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the AR-15. According to B&T’s engineers, these have been tweaked to give a better let off and are not interchangeable with Stoner’s original. We can verify that the pull is very good, along the lines of a Geissele SSA, and is a two-stage with crisp 4-ish-pound break, and short, distinct reset. As far as service rifle triggers go, it’s one of the best we’ve tested. Switching from safe to fire is done by means of an ambidextrous plastic safety lever — while it has an HK-style curve, it’s smaller and harder to manipulate than, say, an MP5. This is one of the few niggles we had about the APC during our admittedly short time with it. Although the safety is easy enough to swipe off with either hand, getting the gun back on safe is more difficult, and the safety’s lower edge digs into the thumb. It’s not the end of the world and an easy fix with a Dremel, but it should be taken care of at the factory.

Magazine and bolt-release catches are where you’d expect them to be and are operable with either hand to either dump the STANAG magazine (which drops free) or run the bolt forward to chamber a round after the bolt locks back on an empty mag. Seems like the Europeans are finally realizing the advantages of a last round hold-open, after overlooking it for decades.

The other vital user interface (i.e. the stock) is available in many flavors — from a weird dogleg device designed to fit under a face-shield to a folding and collapsible unit with an adjustable height comb. All are made from glass-reinforced polymer, are of appropriate length, seem robust enough for the job, and connect to a common receiver back plate that houses a hydraulic buffer. This buffer cushions bolt-carrier impact and spreads recoil over a longer timeframe, making for quicker sight recovery. Although the carrier itself is a seriously chunky piece of steel, it never actually bumps the back plate directly, due to the variable valving contained within the buffer’s hollow piston.

APC9/APC45

Sharing many of the APC223’s guts, the pistol-caliber versions proved to be both reliable and exceptionally soft-shooting during our range session, despite being blowback designs. The buffer used in the rifle is adapted to other calibers to good effect — so good in fact that full-auto mag dumps were as controllable as the locked-breech MP5.

Layout and controls are identical to the carbine, meaning that police departments or militaries adopting one version will have reduced training demands when switching to another, as the manual of arms is identical and fewer spares need to be stocked. Further simplifying matters is the use of a common lower receiver for both 9mm and .45 ACP. Despite the .45’s longer case, the difference is made up through the use of thicker, polymer mags for the 9, while the .45 employs thinner, steel ones. At this point, those readers taking the fast train will no doubt wonder if there’s a .40-caliber version (there is, but not in production), and the really quick ones will have already started leaping up and down, hooting at the real possibility of a 10mm — which would be like Christmas and the 4th of July rolled into one.

Although the APC9/45 uses the same upper receiver extrusion as the more powerful carbine, there’s no provision for a separate handguard, the designers choosing instead to keep the gun as compact as possible. Suppressor use is expected, and the barrel can be supplied with the user’s choice of interface. The unit tested had an HK tri-lug, but threaded versions are cataloged.

To comply with import restrictions, the APC9/45 will be brought into the USA as a semi-auto pistol. If the purchaser wishes to convert it to a short-barreled rifle (and once ATF approval is forthcoming), you’ll have only to remove the sling swivel-equipped back plate and swap in a stock.

TP9/MP9-N

The same procedure can be used on the MP9-N PDW, which has just been announced as the personal defense weapon for non-teeth units of the Swiss armed forces. It would seem that the tide of fashion has turned away from dedicated PDW cartridges, such as the FN 5.7x28mm, due to logistical reasons, and the MP9-N is well situated to benefit from this.

Weighing in at just 3.4 pounds unloaded, the little 9 is easy to tote in a dedicated holster or to carry slung like a deadly black plastic man purse. If a “murse” isn’t your thing, or if the sight of a nekkid gun is enough to induce conniptions in the local populace, then B&T offers a laptop-style bag that enables close-protection personnel to keep one hand on the weapon and shoot through the side of the bag into an unsuspecting threat. Brass is ejected into a case catcher to eliminate the chances of an empty bouncing back into the ejection port. Does it work? Why yes, yes it does. We dumped a couple of mags through it (which at 1,100 rpm, doesn’t take very long) and got a bunch of holes in the three targets downrange, along with a huge grin.

On semi-auto, the trigger is OK. Not great, and certainly not as good as the APC variants as it’s hampered by the gun’s almost-bullpup-style layout, but it’s perfectly adequate for its role as a very compact PDW. Its tiny size is made possible through the use of an innovative, short-recoil, rotary-locked breech, which means that the reciprocating parts don’t need to be as heavy as a blowback gun. In it, the barrel and breech block move backwards under recoil, guided by a front trunnion that also acts as a suppressor interface. After about a ¼ inch, a cam pin causes the barrel to rotate and unlock, allowing the breech block to continue to the rear, ejecting the empty cartridge and picking up a fresh one.

B&T has a close relationship with Aimpoint, so most of their guns leave the factory equipped with T1 Micros already zeroed. The mini red-dot feels right at home on the MP9-N and is at the correct height when the folding stock is deployed. When shot from the shoulder, rather than from inside a messenger bag, the MP9-N jumps around like a hyperactive kid on a pogo stick, due to its light weight and high rate of fire.

It’s tamed somewhat by the addition of the fat suppressor that’s offered as an option, but it’s still not as controllable as the APC alternative, especially when the latter’s excellent trigger is used to make double and triple taps. Despite this, we still managed to keep all our rounds on an IPSC target at 20 meters after slapping in a full mag and pinning the bang lever to the rear. As a PDW then, it shows plenty of promise, but in the U.S. version, where it will be hampered by the lack of full-auto capability, it’ll probably be relegated to the role of range toy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

For a 35-year-old company that catalogs about 250 suppressor designs and 2,000 accessories (such as rail systems, grips, and sight mounts for everything from an MP7 to an M2), Brügger & Thomet has had a very low profile in the USA. By mid January 2015, production models of the three firearms featured here should be hitting dealers’ shelves, and the last European manufacturer to come to the States will be making inroads in the world’s largest firearms market. Remember, you heard it here first…


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