If It Ain't Broke - Don't Fix It?: A Discussion Of The Piston AR
We have all heard that old phrase haven't we? But in my opinion, it is a motto of the underachiever...the change hater who wants things to stay as they are and never change due to the inconvenience it would create for him...or his company. Change is disruptive and disruption in an industry requires rethinking, retooling and remarketing. All inconvenient and expensive. But change is often progress, and it is a powerful concept...to make things better.
Can you imagine an airline company using, "If it ain't broke - don't fix it?" Who would fly in such a machine? Advancements are brought about by preemptively "fixing" things. That mindset is what brought us smartphones, laser surgery, and other advances. Had these innovators taken the "Don't Fix" approach, we would still be using rotary dial landlines and cutting open an entire arm just to get to the carpal tunnel.
But on to the point!
Nothing is perfect, and in seeking to make it perfect, we do in fact make it better. Those who are invested in doing this one way will resist any deviation from that path...even though subsequent paths will be faster, and well...better.
The AR/M4, like it or not, has a reputation for being unreliable. Whether one particular AR has gone 150,000 rounds (like Chuck Taylor's Glock) is not relevant to the discussion. The reputation remains as much as that of the AK not being accurate.
Just as attempts to make the AK more accurate are warranted, so are attempts to make the AR more reliable. One of those attempts has been the use of a Piston in lieu of the Direct Impingement.
Go to any forum where there are a higher number of DI makers advertising and the Piston AR is reviled as if it were the product of Lucifer himself. And of course, the only DI guns worthy of consideration are those sold by the advertising companies....who also happen to be on some arbitrary list. Yet go to a forum where Piston guns advertise more and DI is seen as some backward rifle akin to a crossbow. With the guns sold by the companies in question being the only choice.
Business is business and nobody can blame them. But I must say...after studying the matter thoroughly, the piston AR is an improvement over the Direct Impingement concept. Argue if you will but that is the conclusion I arrived at on the matter. I suspect this will create at least twelve pages of excoriation at one of those wannabe AR-15 forums. Well, I hope at least the get the URL correct.
In subsequent discussion we will discuss which guns are the best value and why (HK416 vs. LWRC vs. SIG516....for examples), as well as answer the detractions of the piston concept.
DI Gun Advantages -
1). It will cost the buyer less money. I do not use the "C" word (cheap). That can be good or bad depending on what you get. A WASR 10 will also cost less money, but it is hardly anyone's first choice. A rotary dial phone will still work, but it hardly the best choice today. DI gun can be very good...but it is still a DI gun.
2). Lighter recoil than Piston Guns (are we realy comparing the recoil of a 5.56!!??)
3). One thing you commonly hear is that it has commonly available parts. Well we need to qualify that. If you have the parts in your possession that is fine. if not, you will have to order them. Not being in a military role, that is what you will need to do anyway. So if you simply buy what you need beforehand, and have it available, it is really as much a non-issue as AK-magazine availability.
Piston Gun Advantages -
1). Avoids the fouling and carbon build up common in DI guns. Fouling is the main cause of the AR's unreliable rep. Fix that and you have a new animal altogether.
2). Did you know that an M4 in service is intended to be rebuilt every few thousand rounds? The parts wear out. That is directly from a US Army M16 Armorer. A Piston gun, OTOH, does not heat the internals of the gun as much as DI guns. That means that the various small internal pieces and springs will not get subjected to the heat in a DI platform. That translates into far longer service life and enhanced reliability.
3). In our in house testing, I have found the piston guns to cycle faster than the DI guns. Not a conclusive, split-time examining test, just a feel. On the DI guns you can feel the action working between shots. On a piston gun, it is press trigger, shot out. Perhaps we need to dwell in this area a bit more.
4). Ease of maintenance is only overshadowed by ease of replacement. Carrying a spare anything with you is as easy as it is with a DI gun, but only easier to replace.
5). Finally, the piston gun keeps the blowback out of your face and nose and lungs. We hear all manner of dram from "second hand smoke" yet we hear nothing about the lung-full of gas the DI shooter gets everytime he touches off a shot. I wonder if the Piston Guns are..."healthier".
One cannot have a discussion of the Piston M4 without the HK416 dropping in. I am not certain if it was first, but it certainly was the most marketed, and of course...it is a top choice among US Special Ops. Using an HK416 to kill Bin Ladin was a telling rebuttal to "piston dtractors". These guys...the Special Ops guys tasked with the mission could have anything they want as money is no object. Yet the gun they used, and use, is not a Direct Impingement Rifle.
Ernst Mauch, at HK, was tasked with an improvement program for the M4 as far back as 2001 and one of the primary issues faced was the DI gas system. Rather than build a "faster horse", Mauch went with the proven successful piston system as is seen in the G36. In less than two years, including time wasted fighting a lawsuit by Colt. I find it amazing how often American companies, resting on their laurels, fail to innovate, and get legally upset when a disruptive company does what they should have done all along.
The advantages of the 416 over standard DI M4 are well documented in the various tests conducted. Those advantages are of course said to be inconsequential by HK's competitors. What would anyone expect them to say....that yes, the HK is better? Unlikely.
The issue with the HK is simply that Heckler & Koch was damaged in 1994 when the AWB took place and, rightly so, they saw the US Civilian market as too unstable to mess with. This has changed of course, and many companies came back after 2004, but not HK. Their standing in the civilian market is poor. But one has to mention the 416 in any discussion like this as it is the gun that other try to emulate.
PART TWO FOLLOWS -