Guns Review – the MPAR556 Russell Phagan February 10, 2015 Join the Conversation The MPAR 556 is a derivative of the Australian Leader Dynamics T2 Rifle, which is not a very common rifle in the United States. Few were imported before our importation restrictions stopped them from coming in and Australia’s own gun laws killed production on that side of the planet. It was designed to be a cheaper to produce alternative to other issued Australian firearms the L1A1 and M16A1, taking many design cues from the AR18. The T2 lost out to the Steyr AUG as Australia’s service rifle. I have to give Masterpiece Arms credit for producing a semi-automatic .223/5.56mm rifle that is not an AR15 in the current market place. In the era of CNC milling machines, the cost savings of making firearms from sheet metal stampings in the United States are no longer as great. In fact, tooling up to produce a firearm from stampings takes more effort up front than milling major components from blocks of billet. There is economy of scale present in making AR15s that simply does not exist with making a less common design. Although there are a few off the shelf components (from AR15s) in the MPAR 556, everything else is proprietary. Some Changes Like the T2, the MPAR556 is constructed largely of stamped sheet metal. It is a short stroke gas piston design with a square bolt carrier and triangular bolt. The non-reciprocating charging handle has been relocated to the side of the upper receiver. A Picatinny rail has been added to the upper receiver. The handguard is made of aluminum with full length rails on the top and bottom. Accessory attachment points are located at the front of the handguard. The MPAR556 shipped with a QD swivel socket and a short rail section. Instead of a fixed stock, the MPAR features an M4 stock and receiver extension with side folding hinge mechanism. The fire control is not the same as the T2, the MPAR556 uses modified AR15 fire control. The gas block has 4 adjustable settings. Responding to user feedback from the Gen 1, the Gen 2 sample I was sent had a last round bolt hold open added and the gas block on the barrel is made of steel instead of aluminum. Insight through Hindsight I worked for a rifle manufacturing company for nearly 10 years before starting my writing career. I understand the time and effort that goes into manufacturing new firearms and bringing them to market. When we would send rifles out for review to writers, we would go over them thoroughly to make sure they were problem free. I hope the readers here and Masterpiece Arms understand I take no joy in writing about the problems we experienced in testing. I think there's every possibility that the rifle Masterpiece Arms shipped was one that came right off the shelf after unfortunately slipping through some quality assurance cracks. They must have a lot of confidence in their product sending a regular production gun without extra inspections, which is commendable. Unfortunately we experienced a wide range of problems during testing and evaluation. Some of these problems were the result of bad QA or poor assembly. Other issues with the rifle were design flaws that will require work to change. I will explain what went wrong and hopefully that will help Masterpiece Arms will correct the problems. No Steel Case Ammo The MPAR owner's manual advises that steel case ammunition voids the rifle's warranty. Sometimes manufacturers put this language in manuals to discourage people from using cheaper ammo. This reduces complaints that the rifle doesn’t work reliably. Wolf steel case used to be much worse in quality than it is today. I dealt with more than a few stuck cases working in customer service myself. In recent years I’ve found Wolf to be more reliable. My general opinion is if a rifle doesn’t run on steel case fine, but it’s a benefit if it does. I wouldn’t shoot steel case through a $3,000 match gun, but I would shoot it through a $1,000 or less AR. The MPAR falls into the latter category, and I can’t help but think that many MPAR users would be shooting Wolf (or something similar) through it. Completely ruling out steel case ammo makes the rifle less useful to a lot of people. It also made it more expensive for us to adequately test. Preparation and Initial Range Time The MPAR556 shipped in a hard plastic case with an instruction manual, 30 round PMAG, and a small angled fore grip installed on the bottom rail. This particular model came with a muzzle brake. I cleaned the barrel before hitting the range as I do with any new rifle to make sure it is clear of debris or residue from the manufacturing process. It had no iron sights included, so I mounted a Vortex Spitfire 1X optic. The Spitfire has an etched reticle that can be focused. It also has daylight visible red or green illumination if the shooter chooses to use it. To zero the rifle I used Federal American Eagle .223 and Winchester Q3131A 5.56mm NATO Spec Ammunition. Initially the MPAR556 would not cycle well with either. It would completely extract and eject, but not pick up the next round. I worked my way through the gas system settings all the way to the highest gas setting and it started to cycle. Q3131A is hotter than American Eagle, but it would only lock back on the last shot of a magazine on the high gas setting. On the medium setting it would eventually cycle with Q3131A but would not lock back on the last shot. American Eagle would not run reliably on the medium setting at all. In the first 100 rounds fired, the trigger stuck many times. It would not reset to be able to fire. I could push it back forward for it to reset and pull it again. This seemed to break in over time. The trigger was serviceable but crunchy. I did get the rifle zeroed at 50 yards and it was reasonably accurate producing 1-1.5” groups at that range from the bench. Disassembly After several range sessions shooting the MPAR556, I wanted to take it apart for cleaning. I also needed some photos of the rifle disassembled for this review. The upper and lower hinge open like an AR15. The rear of the recoil spring assembly holds the back of the upper onto the lower. A small pin with detent is removed to push the recoil buffer forward allowing the upper to pivot forward. The bolt carrier assembly can then slide out the rear and the upper can be separated by removing the interlocking take down pins at the front of the receiver; none of these things were particularly challenging tasks. Stripping the bolt group completely cleaning requires a hammer and punch to drive out a roll pin retaining the firing pin in the bolt group. Handguard-Design Flaws To disassemble the gas piston system for cleaning requires removing the handguard. An Allen wrench is used to remove 3 screws holding the handguard onto the upper. This isn’t very problematic, but the muzzle brake must be removed to slide the handguard forward and off the barrel. The handguard cap does not allow enough clearance around the brake to slide forward. Lacking an action block made for the rifle, removing the muzzle brake was a two man job. A friend held the rifle while I used a long metal bar through the slots of the brake to remove it. This is obviously less than ideal, as it relegates basic cleaning to an armorer level function and requires that the rifle be rezeroed every time the muzzle brake is reinstalled. When I checked zero after reassembly it had shifted by 3” at 50 yards. The handguard itself actually makes handling of the rifle worse. It adds weight, making the rifle very front heavy. I found it difficult to determine how effective the muzzle brake is vs the added mass of the handguard. The handguard is too tall, making it hard to grip comfortably with a thumb over the top, and it gets hot rapidly. MPA advocates using a vertical foregrip in the manual for this reason. The included angled for grip was too small for my hands so I simply replaced it with Ergo Grip rail covers. I understand why MPA went with a different handguard. Making molds for handguards is extremely expensive. The T2 handguard mold is probably rusting in a warehouse or scrap yard somewhere in “Down Under.” Machining a new handguard is significantly less in up front tooling costs. That said, I think their choice could have been better made; for instance, they could simply have used an Aluminum free float tube with docking ports for rails; it would weigh less and be less expensive. They could have manufactured an adapter for the receiver to accept AR15 free float tubes, or machined the same handguard with geometry similar to the original T2 (there is a lot of empty space there). This would give it a smaller diameter for less weight and easier control. They could also have dapted the design to use Magpul MOE handguards configured to accommodate gas pistons. Regardless, there are a number of ways to attack the problem that would make it handle better, make it cost less, or both. The Muzzle Brake The choice to include a muzzle brake on this rifle is a strange one. Machining their own proprietary brake in house might cost MPA less than buying A2 Flash Hiders. Nonetheless the brake included was punishing to use indoors or in close quarters. The flash was incredible. Neighboring shooters could feel the blast up to 10 feet away. If MPA does not change the handguard, they should at the very least include a muzzle device that is small enough to allow for the handguard to come all the way off the barrel without removal of the muzzle device. Final Testing After several range sessions with the MPAR556, I felt it had broken in and was running well enough to proceed with the final test of reliability. I took it to the 2 Gun Action Challenge Match (2GACM) in Tucson. 2GACM is a very practical match with unconventional shooting positions and conditions that can be adverse to traditional match grade firearms. My plan was to shoot it at the match along with several other shooters to get varying feedback and get more rounds through it. I enlisted the help of Ian McCollum and Karl Kasarda of InRange TV/Forgotten Weapons for this test. They were familiar with the Leader T2 and had shot that rifle at the same match before. Two other shooters Russell C. and Steve M. also volunteered to shoot the rifle using their own ammo. I used Winchester Q3131A for the match. The four other shooters used Federal XM193 after I warned them the MPAR556 would only run on hotter ammo. Stage 1 This stage required one handed rifle operation while carrying a weight in the support hand. Whether simulating being injured or having to carry something important while running the gun, it is easy to see this as a useful shooting skill to have. Karl and Ian both suffered multiple light primer strikes with their XM193 ammo (it was from the same lot). After they shot they tested the same ammo in the Leader T2 and it worked fine. Steve M had no malfunctions but resorted to using both hands to hold the rifle because of the weight, taking the penalties for not carrying the weight in his support hand. I had no malfunctions, but the forward weight of the rifle made this stage more difficult than it would be with other less front heavy guns. I shot more than I needed to help keep the muzzle up on target under recoil. Russell C had the rifle inexplicably triple on him during this stage making a “BRAAAP” report. The stock also folded on him during the stage as the screw of the folding mechanism had vibrated loose. After we were done with the stage I applied blue locktite to the screw. Stage 2 After shooting some pistol targets inside a truck, the shooter retreats to the rear of the vehicle, acquires rifle and loads it to engage steel and paper to 50 yards. Steve M had no malfunctions but blew out the rear taillight of the range truck with the muzzle brake on this stage. Other muzzle devices used in similar proximity never had that effect before. I had one light primer strike that I had to rack out. The MPAR556 worked fine for everyone else on this stage. This stage did show a design limitation of the MPAR. The mag well is shorter than an AR15, making it very easy to over insert the magazine with the bolt locked back. I did this and had to pull it back down. The over insertion tabs on most AR15 mags will not make contact the same way when used in an MPAR556. To be fair, the Leader T2 has this problem as well, but it is one feature that should be corrected on a modernized version. Stage 3 This was an intermediate distance rifle stage with the shooter bounding forward between barrels after hitting the targets. I had no malfunctions on this stage and the rifle worked fine. Steve M and Karl also had no malfunctions either. Ian suffered more light primer strikes. Russell C had a stage ending malfunction where a cartridge case was split in half and jammed between the bolt carrier and charging handle. This required tools to remove. We suspect that cartridge fired out of battery. He reshot the stage and made it through. During this stage we noticed that the set screw on the buttstock assembly that indexes the telestock tube had worked loose too. I applied locktite to that one as well. We also saw that one of the E-clips that retains the fire control pins had fallen off, and the charging handle was putting a wear mark on the stock assembly. Stage 4 This was a physically challenging stage that required the shooter to make two hits with rifle and run to a Polish plate rack and make one hit with a pistol back and forth until all plates were down. The MPAR ran fine for me as it did for Steve M and Russell C. Karl and Ian both experienced light primer strikes and had to rack the action multiple times. After this stage we found the hinge pin for the side folding mechanism had worked loose. Conclusion Using 2GACM as a proving ground, we have never had a rifle have so many issues. Masterpiece Arms has a number of things to correct both design wise and QA wise with the rifle In order of importance 1) The MPAR556 only running with hot ammo on the highest gas setting is not acceptable. It must run with a wider range of commercially available ammunition 2) The MPAR556 needs a heavier hammer spring or hammer to work with military grade primers. The Leader T2 has a much larger hammer. The MPAR556 using a modified AR15 hammer for ease of manufacture has less mass. A heavier hammer spring would be a simple fix for this problem. 3) Almost every piece of the buttstock assembly shot loose in less than 800 rounds. Use blue locktite at the factory to avoid this problem. 4) For the price point this rifle is at and the people who are likely to buy it, it needs to run on inexpensive steel case blasting ammo like Wolf. Making it brass case ammo only reduces market share. 5) Get rid of the muzzle brake and replace it with something that is not as obnoxious and allows disassembly if the handguard is not changed. 6) Make a better handguard that reduces weight, allows for better control, and does not require removal of the muzzle brake for normal cleaning. 7) Make the mag well longer so AR15 magazines cannot be over inserted with the bolt locked to the rear. 8) An ambi safety and magazine catch would be nice. Masterpiece Arms will hopefully send out another rifle for evaluation; ideally that one will have better QA and run more reliably. Solving the design flaws will take more work. If Masterpiece Arms is interested in improving their products, I hope they take this feedback as what it is meant to be; constructive criticism not an attack on their product or business. I'll report back on that if/when they make one available. For some background on the T2 watch this video from Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hmJXqHoxac Video from 2 Gun Action Match: Studio Photography by Whiskey Two Four; Range photography by Matt Tillman Explore RECOILweb:RECOILtv Gun Room Video: Taking the AR Trigger Into the 21st CenturyFriday night gun porn: IDF X-95 Micro TavorsPistol Shotgun ShowdownBook Review: "To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth" by Jeff Cooper NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included). Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. 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