By Nick Jacobellis
FNH-USA’s AR-15 variant is a worthy choice for police use.
If you are in the market for a reasonably priced, semi-automatic, magazine-fed 5.56 NATO caliber patrol rifle, you have a number of options from which to choose. The question that you have to be concerned about is, “Will I make the right selection?” To help with that decision, we will examine one of the newest semi-automatic M4 variants for consideration as a patrol rifle or a tactical carbine.
A Field Test Worth Mentioning
During the Global War on Terror, I supplied six entry-level M4 variants to a desert training facility that was preparing U.S. Intelligence personnel for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. During this extensive field test, over 4,298 rounds of name-brand, brass-cased 5.56 NATO caliber ammunition was fired through two entry-level Bushmaster M4s and 6,800 rounds were fired through two entry-level Stag Arms M4s by a number of U.S. personnel. Other than the three stoppages that were attributed to defective/worn-out magazines, the two Stag Arms entry-level M4s proved to be flawlessly reliable. Two other stoppages (that were easy to clear) occurred when one of the Bushmaster rifles was completely covered and filled with sand after being exposed to a 50 mph sand storm in the Arizona desert. It successfully fired 109 rounds of 55-grain 5.56 NATO caliber ammunition in rapid-fire succession.
One of the reasons the results of this field test are worth mentioning is because the entry-level Bushmaster and Stag Arms M4 variants that were used in this evaluation reliably fired more rounds than the average patrol officer fires in a 20-year career. This means that a rifle that includes certain upgraded features should perform even better. Remember, even if you never intend to put 5,000-plus rounds through your patrol rifle, your goal should be to own and carry a rifle that is capable of doing so as long as it is properly maintained.
Since the above mentioned field test was conducted in 2006, a number of advancements have been made that improve the quality and durability of rifles that are ideally suited for front-line law enforcement service. These improvements include the widespread use of Mil Spec parts; specially coated bolt assemblies; improved triggers; barrels with a 1:7-, a 1:9- and or a 1:8-inch twist; different types of operating systems to include direct impingement or carbine length; mid-length direct impingement; gas piston and mid-length gas piston; upper receivers with a removable carry handle; M4s with a fixed front post sight and a flip-up rear sight; M4s with a flat top upper receiver and flip up front and rear sights; a number of retractable stock options; optional rail systems including lightweight accessory rails and fore ends; modified charging handles for improved operation in combat situations; ambidextrous controls; a variety of high-quality metal and plastic 20- and 30-round magazines; and a variety of sling attachments and nylon slings. Modern-made 21st-century patrol rifles are also designed to be used with a variety of accessories including an optic, a tactical light, a laser, and a forward vertical grip. Non-M4 style patrol rifles such as the new 5.56 NATO caliber Beretta ARX 100, the SIG 556, and the new SIG Sauer 556xi use M4 magazines, accommodate the same optional features, and are equipped with a side folding stock.
Evaluating 21st-Century Patrol Rifles
During my career with the U.S. Customs Service, I trained with and carried 9mm submachine guns, Remington 870 shotguns, and various rifles including the M1 Carbine, the Colt M16, the Colt CAR 15 (Carbine), and the Ruger Mini 14. Those were the days when Colt was the only company that manufactured the famous “black rifle.” Since then, times have changed. In fact, today you can purchase reasonably priced, high-quality patrol rifles that are made by companies that manufacture their own firearms, as well as by a larger number of companies that sell rifles and carbines that are “assembled” from parts that are provided by machine shops and parts manufacturers. I mention this because the quality of the finished product is all that really matters.
To date, I have had the opportunity to field test and train with a number of M16/AR15/CAR15 and M4 variants made by Colt, Bushmaster, Stag Arms, LWRCI, Bravo Company, Smith & Wesson, FN, SIG Sauer, SIONICS, Rock River, ArmaLite and Anderson Arms. These rifles included standard carbine-length direct impingement models, mid-length direct impingement models, gas piston-powered rifles, and mid-length gas piston models. While all of these platforms provide reliable service, many law enforcement agencies continue to use an M16/M4 patrol rifle and tactical carbine that utilizes a direct-impingement/carbine-length gas system.
The FN 15
Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FNH) is one of the oldest and most famous manufacturers of high-quality firearms in the world. If you need a reference when you are looking for a superbly manufactured M4 Carbine, know that the South Carolina-based (FNH-USA) company currently manufactures every belt-fed machine gun and standard-issue semi-automatic magazine fed rifle/carbine, minus a few specialty firearms that are made by other companies that are currently in service with the U.S. Armed Forces.
The new FN15 is a semi-automatic M4 variant that is manufactured with a button broached, chrome-lined 16-inch barrel with a 1:7 twist rate with the same profile and materials as the government model barrel, an M-4 style barrel extension, a proofed and magnetic particle inspected bolt and bolt carrier, a staked gas key, forged upper and lower receivers, a Mil-Spec-sized buffer tube, and Loctite® on the FN15 buffer tube lock nut instead of staking. (Loctite® has a track record for being effective when used to secure a low-stress part.) The FN15 also comes with a removable carry handle with M16/AR15 sights, a flip-up rear sight, a left-side selector lever, a round hand guard or a Midwest Industries quad rail, standard sling mounts or left-side quick-detach sling mount, and a higher-quality cosmetic appearance than the government contract M4/M4-A1. According to FN, most of the other parts that are included in the semi-automatic version of the FN15 are similar or the same in design, material quality and construction as the government contract rifle. In contrast, the U.S. Government Contract rifles are available with a 14.5-inch barrel and select-fire burst capability on the M-4 and a full auto capability on the M-4A1. Government contract rifles also have different markings and are manufactured on a different assembly line.
While conducting a field test of the FN15, this rifle proved to be dead-nuts accurate right out of the box. After making one minor adjustment that was required to center the shots fired in the head of a TQ19 Law Enforcement Qualification Target, the FN15 was used to engage a target at a distance of 345 yards from both sitting and standing unsupported positions using iron sights.
Since a number of agencies have transitioned to the use of optics on their patrol rifles, as well as their tactical carbines, the FN15 was also field tested with an Aimpoint Comp M3 that was equipped with a GG&G throw mount. With a battery life of 50,000 hours, the Aimpoint Comp 3 is one of my favorite red dot optics. After sighting in the FN15 with the Comp M3, it was effortlessly used to engage targets at CQB distances as well as out to 300 yards. During the evaluation, the FN 15 was field tested while using a 30-round metal FN magazine, as well as various Magpul magazines that were loaded with 55-grain Winchester and Federal 5.56 NATO FMJ ammunition.
Whether you operate a patrol rifle with or without an optic, the most important accessory that you should install on any patrol rifle or tactical carbine is a tactical light. I say this because anyone who is proficient with firearms should be able to deliver accurate shot placement when using iron sights on a rifle. Conducting searches while armed with a rifle and being able to engage armed subjects in low-light conditions or in complete darkness requires adequate illumination. Two lights that are worth their weight in gold are the SureFire 200 Lumen Mini Scout Light that weighs four-plus ounces and is capable of operating for 1.3 hours with fresh batteries. If you require more powerful illumination, consider adopting the SureFire M600 Ultra Scout Light that produces 500 Lumen for 1.5 hours of running time (with fresh batteries) at a weight of 5.6 ounces without the battery.
The FN15 is a very impressive M4 variant that proved to be well balanced, comfortable to wield, easy to carry, flawlessly reliable, and extremely accurate whether used with iron sights or a red dot optic. If you are in the market for a high-end, entry-level M4-style patrol rifle, the FN15 is an excellent value for the money with a real-world selling price around $1,000. PM
Nick Jacobellis is a Medically Retired U.S. Customs Agent and a former police officer who was disabled in the line of duty while working as an undercover federal agent.
- The FN15 proved to be flawlessly reliable, lightweight, easy to wield and accurate, whether used with iron sights or with an Aimpoint Comp M3 red dot optic secured by a GG&G Quick Detach Mount.
- The FN15 proved to be flawlessly reliable, lightweight, easy to wield, and accurate whether used with iron sights or an Aimpoint Comp M3 red dot optic.
- The author testing the FN 15 test rifle is equipped with an Aimpoint Comp M3 red dot optic with a GG&G Quick Detach Mount, a SureFire Tactical Light, standard flip-up rear sight, a fixed front post sight, and a 30-round FN magazine.
- The FN15’s quad forearm rail mounts items like the SureFire Scout Light and the Picatinny top rail takes virtually any electronic or magnified optic police officers need.
- The FN15’s iron sights worked well when used to engage targets at CQB distances and beyond. It is a worthy candidate for front-line service as a law-enforcement patrol rifle.