If you recall our earlier blog about the history of firearms and our more recent post about what makes an AR 15 mil-spec - or if you’ve been a member of the AR community for even a moderate length of time - you can probably answer the question above. It’s one we at RailScales hear discussed pretty frequently, particularly given how many AR 15 owners are separated or retired military service members, and how many are interested in modifying their firearms to mil-spec standards. Before you go around bragging that you managed to get a hold of a military-distributed AR 15 (and sounding a bit like an uneducated newbie), here’s what you need to know about the AR 15 used by the US military.
First and foremost, we should clarify another naming issue here. You all ought to know at this point that AR does not stand for assault rifle. Similarly, when we talk about military-issue ARs, those who use terms like mil-spec or military AR 15 are referring to firearms that have been modified to the US military standard, but are not actually those manufactured for use by our nation’s service members. The US military uses the M16, not the AR 15. However many similarities, a firearm isn’t actually, properly, an M16 unless it was made for and distributed by the military according to some fairly stringent standards; everything else is just an AR 15 modified to military standards.
As is the case with many firearms, the M16 was designed for military use. In this case, it was adapted from ArmaLite’s previous firearm design, the AR 10, based on demand from the US military after World War II. It was designed in answer to the need for a firearm that was lighter and could fire a smaller, high-velocity caliber cartridge. The idea was to make a firearm that was easier to maneuver and more accurate and, since the rounds were smaller and lighter, allow soldiers to carry more ammunition. Ultimately, ArmaLite managed the right set of modifications and alterations and the M16A1 rifle was adopted by the US military in 1969 as a replacement for the M14, the then-standard service rifle. Of course, improvements and alterations didn’t stop there and, by 1998, the M16A4 became the fourth generation of the firearm to be adopted by the US military.
Whether owners previously served in the military or not, the M16 design remains an immensely popular design for this model of firearm. However, unless it was manufactured for the US military and meets DOD standards, it is not, strictly speaking, a true M16. And obtaining an M16 outside of military use involves a lot of hoops to jump through.
Don’t feel the need to limit yourself to the M16 just because it’s the military-approved version of the AR 15. Explore all the modification options and custom AR parts available! The AR 15 is largely so popular because of its modular nature, so see what’s available in terms of everything from handguard rail choices to tactical grip options. Shop RailScales for the best KeyMod and M-LOK hand stops and handguards to see what we mean!