NSWC Crane Recommends MLOK to SOCOM

Soldier Systems Daily reported late last night that Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane has conducted testing of multiple modular rail systems and after testing NSWC Crane recommended SOCOM adopt Magpul’s MLOK for acquisition efforts.

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The full report and testing results are not yet cleared for public release, but the executive summary has been released to the public.

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A few things in this EXSUM stuck out to me.

The EXSUM mentions “other modular rail systems” (plural) so aside from KeyMod – which is an assumption on my part, I’d like to know what other types of mounting systems were tested.  But I have my doubts that any of those lesser known attachment methods would have been recommended to SOCOM without demonstrating a clear superiority to MLOK and KeyMod. The lesser known attachment methods might have not have a chance of being the NSWC Crane’s recommendation to SOCOM due to an inability to solicit a Request for Proposal (RFP) that could be answered by multiple NAICS code holders. SquareDrop, SIGMOD, HKey, KeySlot, Qsert, and RAHG (among others) have very little traction outside of their creator companies championing those methods. If an RFP for a SIGMOD rail could only be answered by Sig Sauer, then only one entity could answer that RFP.

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KeyMod and MLOK are the two major competing industry standards for modular rail attachment in the commercial AR15 world. (image from ar15news.com)

In repeatability testing, M-LOK allowed for the repeated installation of the same accessory rail in the same location on a handguard with an average point of aim (POA) shift of 1.3 MOA, as low as one quarter the average POA shift observed by other modular rail systems.
– Did MLOK perform the best in this, or was the worst performer just 4x worse than MLOK? If MLOK did not perform the best, what attachment method did perform the best for repeatability testing?

Drop test results demonstrated that M-LOK systems maintain securement of accessories to the handguard and sustain less damage from impact forces than some other modular rail systems.
– Notice it said “some” and not all. What system or systems outperformed MLOK in this test?

Failure load testing demonstrated that M-LOK systems support the highest load of all modular rail systems tested. In fact, the test equipment used to interface with 1913 accessory rails secured with the respective modular rail system across testing repeatedly failed prior to failure of the M-LOK attachment system. Even so, testing of the M-LOK systems failed at loads as high as over three times the maximum failure load of some other modular rail systems.
– Ok, so this was a tested area where MLOK was the top performer. Again, knowing where the other systems failed would help to see if MLOK only performed marginally better than KeyMod and that 3x margin of superiority MLOK showed was over one of the more obscure attachment methods then it doesn’t really indicate the death of KeyMod.

That being said, SOCOM does have an impact on commercial industry standards.

The MLOK:KeyMod ratio in my safe is 4:1; I’d just like to know the full test data to understand SOCOM’s decision. In the EXSUM it appears that only 3 of the 5 tested areas identified a wide performance variance among the tested systems and of those 3 area only one area was mentioned where MLOK was the top performer. Knowing these test results would help drive innovation in the commercial market and in Department of Defense small arms development.

I’ve Been Thinking About “The Chart” Lately…

Two somewhat recent posts in AR15.com General Discussion have caused me to begin thinking about The Chart (Google Doc). The first thread was essentially asking if there would be interest in an updated version of The Chart, and in the second thread a poster was suggesting there should be a .308 AR version of The Chart. The first thread has already been archived, but my criticism of The Chart was the last post in that thread. The second thread is still active, and my criticism of The Chart and the added difficulty of doing a chart for a platform that has no industry standard, TDP, or STANAG associated with it is in that thread. Unfortunately not even a message board is the best avenue to relay my thoughts about The Chart.

Is The Chart bad? No. The Chart is a starting point. When it was conceived, it had a purpose. But despite the initial “good” that The Chart provided, it quickly became used in negative ways. It was used to stifle discussion about emerging technology relating to the AR15. The inclusion of some TDP derived specs as opposed to the absence of other TDP characteristics does not appear to have been done in a non-biased way.

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Are the characteristics in the left column generally good things? Yes.

Are there areas in that column that can be improved upon? Yes.

When these characteristics listed on The Chart were rigorously cited as the standard to achieve – not the bare minimum to achieve – then The Chart became a negative product.

Why is a 1:7″ twist listed? Because that is what is in the TDP. But why is a 1:7″ twist listed in the TDP? Because that is the twist needed to properly stabilize M856 tracer rounds, something that the average civilian or LEO will never use except for range fun. When not factoring in a need to stabilize M856, many experts are advocating for the use of 1:8″ twist barrels which can stabilize non-tracer 77 grain bullets.

Why is 5.56 chamber listed? Because the STANAG 4172 mandated that 5.56 is the standard cartridge for NATO forces and that was incorporated into the TDP. .223 Wylde is becoming more and more popular with long range AR-15 shooters and many of the finest barrel many manufacturers like Green Mountain, White Oak, and Lothar-Walther offer barrels with the .223 Wylde chamber.

Additionally, the H Buffer is on the list because the TDP says that an military issued M4 will have a H Buffer weight. This is another area where other options are superior, like the H2 for shooting suppressed or the Vltor A5 system which provides a lot of “tunability” for an AR15 or M4.

One thing I have noticed since I have been in the military is how the civilian world – through market innovation – has allowed the military to improve equipment simply by purchasing a COTS (Commercial Over The Shelf) solution. Other times that improvement take place by seeing the need for improvement in currently issued equipment, seeing that a commercial product is very close to achieving that solution, then issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to allow companies to tailor their commercial product to meet the RFP and be accepted by the government*.

(*I am giving a very simple version of this. Read the FAR and DFARS if you want know the entire process or if you are having trouble sleeping. )

In my anecdotal observation, the Marines have been far more willing to use a COTS solution compared to the Army. Kelty, Eureka!, and New Balance have produced products for the USMC that were a substantial upgrade over the older issued gear that those COTS items replaced. Innovation in the commercial/civilian sector led to better equipment being issued to Marines. From what I have seen the Army sees commercial products that are superior, then years later when that product is finally produced by Skillcraft or whoever else, it is emulated poorly and the commercial products that were emulated have already been commercially superseded by improvements on that product by the producer or by a competitor. Simply, the Army acquisition and procurement process is too slow to get the latest and greatest to a Soldier. The Army Rapid Fielding Initiative helped circumvent this time consuming process to get better equipment to Soldiers faster than the traditional acquisition process allows.

Although a lot of silliness (and stupidity) can occur on the online message boards like Ar15.com and M4Carbine.net, there are actually a lot of important people who try to get information from both of these message boards. People involved with the development of the next generation of the M4 visit both of these sites, so shouting down a product that does not comply with the current TDP does not help the people coming to those websites gain information to help them make a decision that will result in a superior product being fielded to Soldiers and Marines. The Chart enabled items and characteristics to be dismissed as “not good enough” simply because they were not on the TDP.

There are areas where I think the next M4 can be improved with innovation from the civilian sector. The cancelled M4A1+ program listed many areas where COTS solutions can be used to provide these improvements. Of course, SOCOM elements like JSOC teams will continue to use COTS solutions regardless if they meet the TDP or if they are on The Chart or not.

The Chart is all but dead. Even the biggest advocates for The Chart on M4Carbine.net rarely reefer to it. Even they have realized that market innovation should be welcomed. Any so-called resource that is used to dismiss new technology is not a resource that should be relied upon by anyone not wanting to build a replication of a specific product from a specific era of time.