Guest post by OWL21: ‘AbsoluteSurvivalist.com‘
As a complement to the Max Velocity’s article ‘The Citizen Unconventional Rifle Squad: Arming with .308?‘, here are some thoughts on the subject. (Max adds: And also ‘Citizen Unconventional Tactical Team (CUTT): Order of Battle’)
Before beginning, I will point out that my business consults and builds AR uppers for various needs. Instead of simply taking orders for parts, we ask people what they want to accomplish, ask amplifying questions, and make suggestions. The results typically become a rifle upper and parts kit to suit the specific needs of the client. We have been doing this for nearly a decade for discerning tastes.
With the recent upswing in requests for .308 based ARs over the past several years, many manufacturers have responded with outstanding offerings for this platform. It is nearly on par with the AR-15 industry and quietly growing. These are no longer the finicky AR-10’s of the past. Max’s article is a pointed query into this growing arena.
For the purposes of this article, I will only be focusing on the most commonly available and battle proven 7.62×51 (.308) battle rifles, with more focus on the 308 based AR platform, and more specifically the DPMS patterned versions, for reasons that will become apparent. I know there are more magazine fed 308 rifles out there. But I am only discussing the most common ones here. I will not be specifically attempting to address bolt action vs. semi-auto, or any caliber vs. caliber debates. We are here to discuss the viability, usefulness, and options as they pertain to arming a rifle team with the .308 battle rifles for the purposes of combat team tactics and survival.
The most common 7.62×51 battle rifles (to include their clones):
HK91 (G3, PTR91, CETME)
AR-10 (308AR, too many variant names to list)
As with most battle rifles, the original FAL is a select fire weapon. The civilian version is semi-automatic.The FAL has seen service in over 90 countries since the 1950’s. There are multiple versions of this rifle with barrels from 16″ up to 21″ (SBR’s have been made in the aftermarket community.) It operates on an adjustable short stroke gas piston system and is considered very robust. The adjustability of the gas system allows for fine tuning the action to the ammunition being used and can serve to reduce recoil considerably. The accuracy of the rifle is generally considered to be “minute of man,” but I think this is due to ammunition selection and a lack of training. With commercial .308 bulk ammunition, our FAL’s stayed within 2 MOA.
Mounting optics on the FAL can be a chore if you use the original system. But as with any free market society, better mounting platforms have been developed in the aftermarket community. With an adequate mount, any optic of your choice can be installed. But beware, the forward recoil impulse can be hard on cheaper optic’s objective lenses. There are plenty of documented cases of this phenomenon.
Because the FAL was licensed to manufacturers in other countries, there are small, but important variations in the parts available for the FAL. It is quite easy to get a Frankenstein FAL that was assembled from parts of different country’s versions of the rifles – these do not always work very well. Some FAL rifles are “Inch” pattern, and some are “Metric,” so knowing the differences can save some headaches down the road. The barrels also need to be “timed,” which takes some knowledge and/or timing spacers.
The most common magazines for the FAL are 20-round metal. Just like the rifles, different countries made their own magazines, and again they are not all alike. They also have “inch” magazines and “metric,” and they will not necessarily be cross compatible with your specific FAL. Some magazines are more valuable than others. During the ammunition and magazine shortage following Sandy Hook, common surplus FAL magazines could still be found regularly at normal pricing.
In the aftermarket community, the only source for new and properly built FALs that I can recommend is DS Arms. They manufacture the complete rifle in the United States to the original FN metric pattern. They are also a source for quality scope mounts and new magazines for the FAL and parts for other FALs as well. A basic DS Arms SA58 rifle will set you back $1100 or more, with the average price being in the $1700 range without accessories.
For the survival team, the FAL is an outstanding battle rifle with decent ergonomics. The average weight of an FAL is over 9 pounds before you add any accessories. Unless you upgrade with a very expensive stock, the length of pull is fixed. For shorter shooters, this is a disadvantage. Recoil can be manageable with proper gas system adjustment. Unless you have people knowledgable in the care and keeping of this rifle, it cannot be recommended since the average person with basic hand tools cannot fully service the weapon. A barrel change is not a simple task for an average survival group. Having owned three different surplus FALs (none built by DS Arms), I broke all three with gentle use – two piston rods, and one fire control group. If you decide to field this rifle, either buy from a known private builder, of which there are quite a few, or from DS Arms.
Since the civilian will own the variants, these are what we will address. If you are one of the lucky people to own a real HK91, this will not apply to you. As with the FAL, the original HKs are select fire. The civilian variants are semi-automatic. The German 91 did not have the popularity and wide dispersal and use of the FAL. There are multiple variants of this rifle with barrels from 18″ up to 21″ (SBR’s have been made in the aftermarket community, but are quite rare.) It operates on an roller lock delayed blow back system. The accuracy of the rifle is generally considered to be “minute of man.” As with the FAL I think this is due to ammunition selection and a lack of training. With commercial .308 bulk ammunition, the one PTR 91 variant I owned kept rounds under 2 MOA on average.
Mounting optics on the HK can be a chore if you use the original system. But as with any free market society, better mounting platforms have been developed in the aftermarket community. With an adequate mount, any optic of your choice can be installed. As with the FAL, the forward recoil impulse can be hard on cheaper optic’s objective lenses.
The HK variants are not really what they seem. Most variants are made with surplus parts kits. Their assembly may be quite good, or downright horrible. Until recently, it could be a hit or miss game to find a good clone. They were also very picky about ammunition, which could change from rifle to rifle. One of the industry leaders is PTR Industries, who like DS Arms now manufacturers the entire PTR 91 (HK91 civilian variant), and its other variants of this platform completely in the USA. In the past, I still heard of ammunition issues from people I know who have owned these since selling ours. One of the more common complaints has also been “chewed up brass,” which the one we owned also did. If any of this has be resolved recently, I do not know. I do know that if you happen to have one with a fluted chamber and you leave your brass behind, everyone will know what rifle you are shooting, because the signature left on the brass is unique and distinguishing.
The most common magazines for the HK/PTR are 20-round metal and are some of the cheapest magazines on the market. You can pick them up for under $3 each today, and before Sandy Hook, they were under $1 each. The lower unit, which houses the fire control group and grip are one piece. You are stuck with the grip angle and marginal trigger system.
The only source for new and properly built HK91 variants that I can recommend is PTR Industries. They are also a source for quality aftermarket scope mounts and parts. A basic PTR91 rifle will set you back $1000 or more, with the average price being in the low $1000 range without accessories.
For the survival team, the PTR91 is a good battle rifle with decent ergonomics. The average weight of a PTR91 is over 9 pounds before you add any accessories. Unless you upgrade, the length of pull is fixed. The options for adjustable stock vary from retrofitted AR-15 style to the HK style telescoping. The recoil for this rifle can be higher than desired for smaller shooters unless the weight is increased with accessories. As with the FAL, unless you have people knowledgable in the care and keeping of this platform, it cannot be recommended since the average person with basic hand tools cannot fully service the weapon. Field stripping requires, simple, yet extensive disassembly. Not something I would want to do while laying up on a patrol, especially the need to bang on the stock to get it removed, which is not conducive to being quiet. The overall lack of customizability for the platform is a bit of a let down as well. However, the quantity available and price for magazines makes it hard to resist.
The original m14 is a select fire weapon. The M1A civilian version is semi-automatic.The M14 has seen service in 29 countries since the late 1950’s.There are a few different versions of the M14, none of which I think deserves any special mention (The M1A has quite a few desirable options available.) It operates on a gas operated rotating bolt system and is considered extremely robust. The accuracy of the rifle is generally considered to be a little better than the previous two, but in my experience, they are all similar.
Mounting optics on the M1A…, well it was not really ever designed to accept optics. But as with any free market society, some options have been created, some good, and some not so good in my personal opinion.
I do not have any personal experience building or maintaining these rifles, nor do I know anyone who has. A few of the outfits that I have checked with that do seem to think it takes a lot of time (based on the pricing for various work, which did not involve significant, if any, parts for the work.)
The most common magazines for the M1A are 20-round metal. Of the few aftermarket sources for these, I have not heard that they always preform flawlessly, but such is the nature of magazine manufacturers. 20-25 round aftermarket magazines seem to run in the $13-$40 range each. USGI contract magazines, if you can find them are…umm…expensive. Do your research before buying magazines. Magazines from Springfield Armory are about $50 each.
There is only one source for new M1A rifles – Springfield Armory. Because of the popularity of the M1A rifle, there are aftermarket suppliers for just about anything you might desire: stocks, chassis, scope mounts, muzzle devices, etc. A Standard M1A rifle will set you back $1400 and up without accessories. There is no average price with the enormity of options available for this rifle from the factory.
For the survival team, the M1A is an outstanding battle rifle with outstanding ergonomics (after installing options) and reliability. The average weight of a M1A is just under 9 pounds before you add any accessories. The recoil for this rifle can be higher than desired for smaller shooters unless the weight is increased with accessories. This is another rifle that requires a person to have some specific knowledge in the care and keeping of this platform. Simply removing the bolt from the rifle is not a simple task for an average person, and I doubt I would want my armorer out on patrol. The field stripping procedure requires a significant amount of disassembly, which is definitely not something I would want to do in the field if it could be avoided. And who knows if it could be avoided. In order to have something better than then 9 lb trigger, gunsmithing is involved, but it is still possible.
Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) is a modular rifle made for US SOCOM. I don’t know a whole lot about this rifle other than what I have read in multiple places and seen in various videos, because I do not have, nor to I intend to spend the $2800+ on this rifle, without accessories.
It operates via a short stroke gas piston rotating bolt and is considered very reliable. The long picatinny rail allows for ease of adding optics and other accessories. Magazines are standard 20-round metal at $35-45 each. There are many dealers from which these rifles can be purchased, and several were in stock as of this writing. Based on what I know, I cannot imagine anyone would want to make changes to the rifle with the exception of a different muzzle device to suit your purposes.
For the Survival team, $11,000+ is a lot to spend on four rifles, not including optics or a pile of magazines. They are quite easy to maintain in the field and have great ergonomics based on the one I held at a gun show. Based on all of the various reviews I have read, the recoil is quite pleasant. Coming in at 7.7 – 8.5 lbs, I would love to have a team’s worth of these if someone gave them to me.
AR-10 (308 AR Variants)
I must give the devil its due here. The AR-10 is an ArmaLite product. They hold the US Trademark for the name AR-10. All other variants will have a different name, but are still commonly referred to by the uninitiated as AR-10’s even though it is false. From henceforth, consider yourselves to have been educated. For our purposes, we will refer to everything that resembles the ArmaLite AR-10, including the AR-10 itself, as 308ARs, except where necessary for the sake of clarity.
The majority of 308ARs are operated by a direct impingement gas system. A few exceptions, such as LWRC’s R.E.P.R. use a very reliable self-regulating, short stroke gas piston. The standard direct impingement gas system has well over 50 years of service, even though it can be much disliked. “Shits where it eats” is a common meme of this operating system. This system can be a cause for concern under certain circumstances, but very few people will ever find themselves in such circumstances. There are any number of reviews where this operating system has proven bulletproof except in circumstances so extreme that the barrel was destroyed before the gas system had a chance to fail.
I have broken two FAL gas piston operating systems, but have yet to have any direct impingement systems give me one single issue. It is simply not worth debating. Anything can fail, at any time, and for any reason. The DI system works.
Even a base model 308AR will readily accept a large assortment of optics without adding conversions as are required with the FAL, HK, and M1A. Of all the 308 battle rifles listed here, only the 308ARs give the most options for optics and sights. In fact, the availability of sight options are nearly endless for the 308AR. What’s your pleasure?
There are a few variations on the 308AR, and like the FAL, they all look the same. Like the FAL, the parts are not necessarily interchangeable between the variations. This included magazines, buffers/springs, some lower parts, barrels, and forearms. ArmaLite parts can only be used on the AR-10 and licensed variants (or homebuilt rifles based on the AR-10 specs.) Rock River has its own proprietary parts, as do other manufacturers. The DPMS* pattern seems to be the most prolific and common of the variants. So much so, that MagPul Industries created 20 and 25 round magazines for DMPS based 308ARs, but not for the others. So before you buy a 308AR, make sure you know and understand what you are getting. It will do your team no good, for each person to have incompatible variants.
DPMS based magazines either in 20-round metal, or Magpul 20-25-round will range in price from $15-$30 each. Magazines for other variants are more expensive and can be more difficult to find in a pinch. Regardless of which variant you choose, they all operate on the same principal as an AR-15 magazine.
308ARs are ergonomically the same as an AR-15 in most categories. In general, the stocks are the same, the grips and triggers, the functionality, and the overall appearance. They are built in the same fashion, and both have nearly all of the same options available on the open market. Anyone who has trained with any AR-15 can pick-up a 308AR and not require any additional training to operate and maintain it. They are functionally identical for the end user.
Anyone who has successfully operated and maintained an AR-15 can do the exact same with a 308AR. Anyone who has serviced and/or built an AR-15 can service and build a 308AR. Some tools might be a little different. One of the best parts of the 308AR is that it is infinitely customizable. The large assortment of rifle stocks, carbine stocks, buffer tubes, grips, trigger groups, barrels, forearms, and muzzle devices that are available for the 308ARs is significant. Having the ability to tailor your rifle to your person, team, group, etc is very beneficial. And because the market is so large and well supplied, the cost to do this is low (relatively speaking.)
A new basic 308 AR will run in the $1000 range and can reach into the $5000 range. A very high quality 308AR can be had on average for between $1300 -$1800. Why the variance? Because the option base is so large. The difference between a standard plastic hand guard at $30 and and a $365 top of the line free float hand guard is one way to point out the price variances. You want a better trigger than the $20 Mil-spec one? Those will set you back $90 to $275 depending on your pleasure, and they are worth the money. Standard barrels are under $200 while a high end 1/2 MOA barrel could be $600 and up. You can choose from a $40 carbine stock all the way up to a $500 stock that can be adjusted in four different directions, and these are only a few options.
For the survival team, the 308AR is an outstanding battle rifle with customizable ergonomics (especially for DPMS based models.) The average weight of a 308AR is just under 9 pounds before you add any accessories. But because you can pick your options, it is possible for a 16″ carbine 308AR to weight about 7 lbs or less. Because of the many options for adjustable stocks, shooters short and tall can have a perfect fit. The recoil for this rifle can be higher than desired for smaller shooters, especially when the rifle is built lighter. There are several ways to reduce felt recoil with various aftermarket parts, and by adjusting gas system length (this is done at the time the rifle is built.) Anyone who has come to love the AR-15 rifle will instantly adapt to the 308AR. All training is transferable from one platform to the next. Field stripping is identical as are all of the other service and maintenance operations, even though the parts are technically different. Unlike the other platforms above, the AR does not require as much disassembly in the field, and what is done can be preformed quietly. There are more people who know how to service and repair the AR than any other rifle and the tools necessary to do anything you might want will fit in a small tool box.
* DPMS Inc is a manufacturer of AR-15 and 308AR rifles and components. Other manufacturers and parts suppliers have cloned the DPMS design more prolifically than other 308AR manufacturer. This means that any 308AR that is based on the DPMS pattern will have significantly more options than with other patterns. You are not required to have or use products manufactured and labeled by DPMS in order for them to work with other DPMS patterned parts. This is inclusive to 100% of the parts used. So you can have a complete “DPMS patterned” 308AR without a single DPMS part in it. Just always make certain you are using parts that are compatible with the “pattern” you chose.
Regardless of the 308 battle rifle platform you choose, the changes to your standard operating procedures should be minimal. Training changes will be predicated by the differences between the old platform and the new one. Magazine shingles and pouches are readily available for the typical 20-round magazines for any of these rifles. 20-rounds of 308 ammunition in a magazine weighs approximately the same as 30 rounds of 5.56 in a magazine. Either you will carry 33% less ammunition, or you will do more PT.
Today, you can purchase 500 rounds of 308 147gr FMJ brass cased ammo for $290.
Today, you can purchase 500 rounds of 223 55 gr FMJ brass cased ammo for $165.
308 145 gr Wolf is $225 for 500
223 55 gr Wolf is $119 for 500
308 match ammo is $1 per round and up
223 match ammo is $1 per round and up
There is definitely a price difference, except in match ammo, where they are nearly identical all the way up the ladder. But because you are not going to train with match ammo (unless you are one of those special people), it pays to train with less expensive ammunition. By training with an AR-15, it is quite easy to move over to a 308AR, but not as much so to move up to a FAL, PTR, or M1A without some additional training. But if your group is training with HK93s then the PTR91 makes sense, or if your are training with the Mini-14, then the M1A makes sense. But I have not seen a soul training with a 93 or Mini-14….
Am I getting through? Compatibility is important, all the time.
By properly equipping a team with 308 battle rifles, a leader would have more options for covering danger areas and open ground. As I am sure Max can attest, there is a lot of openness in central Texas that one might be forced to cross. Being able to cover that area with a support element that has greater range and power could prove decisive. But that same group still needs to be able to conduct any standard battle drill as if they were armed with AR-15s. If that 308 support element got caught during bounding overwatch, then they would still need to be able to RTR, peel/bound forward/back, or whatever is necessary just as any typical rifle team would. This means that they probably should not have 14 lb 308AR sniper rifles with high powered scopes, but be more conservative and have 16″ or 18″ barreled lighter weight rifles with lower powered optics.
Even if the 308 team is for special purposes, understanding the benefits and limitations can go a long way to getting the right rifles. A 16″ barreled 308 is still devastating and accurate out to 800 yards in the hands of someone who knows how to do it. If you have a team of guys who can do that, you have something super special. Most people cannot. However, what they can do is put rounds completely through the base of a 16″ diameter oak tree at 200 yards, or destroy a brick wall being used for cover/concealment.
Maybe you have that one special guy who can shoot the wings off of a gnat at 100 yards with a .22LR rifle. So he gets his .308 bolt action rifle (or maybe you’ll be lucky and he will favor the DPMS patterned KAC SR25.) But he, along with the rest of the support team will carry 308 carbine or SPR battle rifles to support the mission. This way, everything is compatible throughout the support team, and in the event they bump the enemy, they can be effective when running battle drills. If all goes smoothly, and the leader calls on the team for an assault mission, they can also easily accomplish that task as well.
But what is most important to understand, and what I think Max is trying to convey, is that the 308 battle rifle is not necessarily a replacement to the AR-15, but a complement to it when properly utilized. It is the Citizen Unconventional Rifle team’s version of calling up a machine gunner, or it is a leader’s peace of mind to be able to put in a more effective and longer range overwatch. Adding a 308 battle rifle element is not specifically for the purposes of long range shooting, but more for adding significantly more firepower with other potential benefits should the need arise.
Additional Note: As I was writing this, Max posted the Citizen Unconventional Tactical Team (CUTT): Order of Battle article. So some of the points are in some ways duplicated here. But as a four decade survivalist, and not a combat veteran, I am not inclined to agree with having one individual one (or each) team carry a different weapon platform and caliber from the rest of his team, and especially his battle buddy. That one guy becomes an island and cannot rely upon his buddy or team for resupply, parts, etc. He would be forced to carry it all. Even if other teams were similarly equipped, the groups might get cut off from one another.
I personally believe it is better to have and entire team armed up similarly, so long as they can conduct the assault cycle independently, and their firearms are not overly specialized. This allows the team, as a whole, to operate on the same equilibrium and be able to rely upon each other for resupply if needed.
Addendum: Medium Support Weapons (MSW) for the Citizen Unconventional Tactical Team (CUTT):
For the average survival CUTT, most options in this arena are limited unless your group has a significant amount of funds, both for the weapons themselves and for the ammunition to keep them fed. But there are legal modifications that can be made to existing firearms as well as some off the shelf platforms that can be utilized for the MSW role.
For teams and squads operating with AK-47s (or AR-47s), the civilian semi-auto, belt fed RPD is a great option. It can be handled by a single man, and all of the parts are readily available on the open market. With its dedicated 100 round drum magazine, a significant volume of fire can be brought into the fight. The RPK is also a decent MSW, and can be fed with standard 30 and 40-round AK magazines or the commonly found 75-round drums. One nice feature of the RPK (and possibly the RPD) is swapping the original stock with a Slide Fire stock. With training, a MSW gunner can learn to send accurate controlled bursts down range.
For teams and squads who use the AR-15, the Ares Shrike belt-fed upper is a good, if somewhat expensive, beginning. It is the closest thing you can get to the M-249. Add the Slide Fire stock, quality bi-pod, and some training, and watch out! If you adverse to spending several thousand dollars on an upper, you can take a heavy barreled AR-15 with a quality free float hand guard, and use the 100-round Beta C-mags (do not use the off brand versions of these, you will just be wasting time and money.) Again the addition of a Slide Fire stock, bipod, and some training will make the MSW gunner more effective. (Max adds: or Light Support Weapon – LSW?)
There are less options for the 308 in this area, but we can make some useful modification here. (Actually, if you want to deal out low five digit cash, you can get a registered M60. I only know of a couple of dentists who might be able to afford such an expense.) There is a company called X Products who make some high quality 50-round drum magazines for most 308 battle rifles. For the purposes of a MSW, I would only recommend going with a DS Arms FAL that has been built up with a heavy barrel, or a 308AR that had a heavy .936 CHF 20″ barrel with a rifle length gas system, and a full length free float hand guard. Adding a folding bi-pod, strong buttstock, and an extra heavy buffer would complete the .308 MSW. (Bold added by Max!)
There are a few other less desirable options for various reasons. One is a semi-auto 1919, and another is the MG34 upper that fits onto a 308AR lower. Neither were designed to be shouldered, and both are designed more around a two person team operating one weapon system. I would not personally consider these options for the MSW role, but they could fill other roles, especially in a static defensive role around the survivalist retreat.
The Absolute Survivalist