Let Valueless Niche Features Die in Peace By: Keith Finch


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Tim over at MAC posted this video last week and it got my mind a churning.

One of the neatest and most useless features on a rifle is the “quick change” barrel.

The video Tim did is on take down rifles specifically, AR’s that come apart and stow. There’s even a military rifle with this exact feature set, the GAU-5A ASDW, for a reason. It stows small in a space where space is at a premium.

So why didn’t they take off in other circles?

Well, space isn’t at a premium for most of us. We aren’t strapped into a seat with all the likely survival equipment we need strapped to it too.

Hell don’t even have a serious space limit in a compact vehicle.

So if we don’t have the space limit, we have no need to stow the rifle in an awkward space saving configuration. It’s a neat trick a rifle can do, but we have zero need of it.

Like the ACR and a few rifles that featured the SUPER quick change barrels, done in seconds, especially where such features added weight and complexity, they were of zero value. It was a parlor trick that did nothing to add to what the rifle could realistically do and didn’t make it do its job better.

You aren’t going to swap an 11″ barrel with an 18″ to go into ‘Sniper Mode’ mid-contact with a hostile force. (Yep, I remember those ad days)

You make that choice before you step off based on mission profile, terrain, enemy activity, etc.

‘Quick Change’ has value at the maintenance and armorer level, it makes our jobs immensely easier by limiting the time and tools needed to change a rifle’s configuration or swap out worn parts. In the same vein, take down rifles have value in truly space limited stowage settings.

But again, no value is added to the typical user. Even the typical high volume user. The conventional fully assembled rifle has more value than the disassemblable one, as those extra stow focused pieces add complexity on parts that aren’t instead focused on accuracy and reliability. You’re giving them an extra job to do and nobody outside rando just-for-the-helluvait collectors “need” it.

So take down died in AR’s because nobody needs it. It was like making the driver seat in a vehicle stow-n-go. Cool trick, don’t need it. Now if the AR had evolved natively as a take down firearm that it might be different. But that evolution would make little sense either as it was never a requirement that US Forces needed out of the rifle. Also, the AR kinda had it already in a way, with the upper and lower. If necessary the M16 could’ve been given a case, probably about 26 inches long, that could store the upper and lower parallel. No such need arose. The niche of a fixed wing fighter pilot survival SBR is just that, niche. Cool, but niche.

GAU-5A ASDW via modernfirearms.net

Now let’s look at the GAU-5A, because I want to.

If GAU sounds familiar, it’s probably due to the several cannon that are also acronymed GAU. Gun, Automatic Unit (as best I can tell), has several units but the most famous is the A-10’s 30mm monster, the Avenger.

The GAU-5A is much less shock and awe, the 12.5″ barreled AR was designed to be stowable and effective to 200 meters. Plenty of barrel to do that.

People may wonder, why not something like a LAW Folder?


GAU-5A taken apart

Two things.

First is again stowage, removing the barrel allows for both halves to be very similar in length, where a folding stock assembly would only shorten the overall length a few inches. This way leaves both pieces around 14 inches in length and able to be strapped very securely into a small storage space. removing upper and lower would result in the same issue as a folding stock, longer pieces.

Remarkably ‘fits under seat’ sized now, isn’t it.

Second, some quick assembly required. The barrel attachment and fold into place grip are designed to be very easy to do in the field after the pilot has touched down. The Cry Havoc QRB keeps assembly at roughly the complexity of separating the upper and lower halves but creating a more evenly stowable package.

That takes us back to where the takedown AR era met no significant market headway. Nobody needed the AR to be storable in a nice squared off balanced package, except the Air Force’s fixed wing fighter pilots. Even helicopter crews could bring conventional M4’s without too much issue, some even have detachable support weapons like M240’s on hand. The Aircrew Self Defense Weapon is a best off in worst case solution. The pilot can role with an M4 peer instead of a 9mm sidearm and can be resupplied by any friendly force with 5.56, probably loaded in magazines too, in case the pilot has to be part of his or her own rescue squad shooting it out in contact.

Meanwhile, we comfortably 1st world ensconced folks merely need a case that is convenient to haul what we want where we want it. Even our ‘Bag Gun‘ systems are made with an eye on them remaining fully functional upon being grabbed. This is not a concern in the GAU-5A design as stowage is, again, a far more poignant priority.

I wouldn’t mind adding a GAU-5A clone to inventory, I think it would be cool. Midwest Industries even did a run of them awhile back, if I recall correctly. But it would be the most complicated AR in my collection and would almost certainly take a back seat to the more grab-n-go rifles, all of which are portable enough for my wants and needs.

Features need to solve actual problems, not contrived ones. Then the solutions needs to be geared towards the people who solve the problem. This is why the quick change barrels on things like the SCAR or LMT rifles are excellent features but the quick change on the AUG was omitted in the F90 series that Lithgow Arms ran. Also why the best and lightest versions of ACR omitted the quick change barrel. The quick change was at the maintainer level, where a bench and a few minutes with tools yields the desired result with proper checks and ready to be re-zeroed and sent back to work.

All the way back to the AR/M16 we can trace this, as swapping uppers is an easy thing to do, uppers stay zeroed even. But it is a readily available feature very rarely utilized because it isn’t as useful as we pretend it is.

Do I have one lower receiver and four different specialized uppers?

Of course not!

I have five AR-15’s, like a normal person.

The ability to swap/disassemble, in practical real world settings for most of us, is not a savings at all. It’s just work we don’t want to do.