About a month ago I noted an Army Times article on the decision by Delta Force to go with the Heckler & Koch HK416, a piston-driven assault rifle, over the standard M4 carbine. Now, it appears that a Special Forces battalion is taking things into its own hands and ordering their own HK416 upper receivers to use on their existing weapons.
According to the Brand Name Justification Letter:
Currently Heckler & Koch Defense, Inc. (H&K) is the only company that can meet the Government’s needs. H&K is the only company that manufactures the 416 Upper Receiver Kit. The 416 Upper Receiver Kit is an upper receiver replacement that allows soldiers to replace the existing M4 upper receiver with an HK proprietary gas system that does not introduce propellant gases and the associated carbon fouling back into the weapon’s interior. This reduces operator cleaning time, and increases the reliability of the M4 Carbine, particularly in an environment in which sand and dust are prevalent. The elimination of the gas tube currently used in the M4 Carbine means that the M4 will function normally even if the weapon is fired full of water without first being drained. There isn’t another company that offers these features in their products. It is a practical, versatile system.
That’s a good description of the system, and note that it’s not just a new “barrel” that’s being used but an entire upper receiver.
However, the “there isn’t another company that offers these features in their products” isn’t accurate. The first alternative that comes to mind is LW Rifles, which built the weapons Murdoc fired at the SHOT Show last January. LWRC’s (formerly Leitner-Wise) system, I believe, does everything the H&K system does.
I don’t know how the LWRC system compares cost-wise. Maybe the H&K is significantly cheaper? And I don’t know how ready they are to begin large-scale production, but this order is only for 84 uppers with diopter rear sights, 10 spare barrels, and associated tools and mounting gear.
If the wares on display at the SHOT Show were any indication, piston-driven ARs are going to be the next big rage, and if Special Forces use of HK416s, HK416 uppers, and SCARs proves the value of the piston system in US weapons, manufacturers are going to have to scramble to keep up with the demand.