Around the time I decided to order an AAC SPR/M4, I got to thinking that the suppressor would add ~5” to the 16” barrel on my existing AR-15s . This was the perfect excuse to build a short-barreled rifle that that would an effective barrel length around 16” with the suppressor mounted. So I purchased a Noveske AR-15 lower from Bullseye, had them draw up a trust, filled out the Form 1 using these guidelines, and mailed it in with my $200 check. This gave me 3–4 months to get the lower engraved and gather up parts while the ATF processed the paperwork.

Getting the lower engraved turned into a comedy of errors. Bullseye suggested using a trophy shop, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. They didn’t even cut through the anodizing, let along get down into the metal. I ended up taking it to John Franciscus at LJ Lewis Silver Company to trace over the trophy shop’s mess and get down into the metal. Now I know to use Ident Marking Services or Orion Arms and verify that the engraving looks good before sending in the Form 1.

The first component purchase was a Geissele SSA-E trigger, prompted by a sale at Botach Tactical. They’re not a favorite retailer due to their lackadaisical shipping, but I wasn’t in a rush on this purchase. I have Geissele’s DMRtrigger in my other two AR-15s, found them perfect out of the box, and hadn’t seen a need to adjust them. The SSA-E is essentially the same trigger without the adjustment screws, so it seemed like a safe bet. Another easy choice was a Vltor IMod kit. The IMod stock provides a good cheek weld, waterproof storage compartments for stashing a copy of the tax stamp, and a short length of pull for running a non-magnifying optic.

I decided on a 12.5” barrel with a 9” handguard after considerable research. Experimenting with my 16” carbine, which has an 11” handguard, indicated that a 9” one would provide enough room to mount a Magpul AFG II and shoot in a squared-off stance with and extended support arm. This worked out well since 9” is a readily available length. It also necessitated a 12.5” barrel to provide clearance for the AAC Blackout M.I.T.E.R. Mount. These lengths ended up working perfectly. An inch longer handguard or inch shorter barrel would have blocked the mount. A 12.5” barrel should also result in less blast and abuse to the suppressor than a 10.5” one.

The LaRue handguards worked fine on my two other rifles, but I wanted to try something different on this one. The Vltor VISand MTS from Mega Arms (since discontinued) integrated upper/handguard both come in 9” lengths and piqued my interest. The MTS is machined from a single piece of aluminum and uses a proprietary barrel nut with threads on the outside that pushes the barrel extension back against the receiver. The VIS consists of a three-sided handguard welded to the upper receiver. The bottom rail (fourth side) of the handguard then attaches securely in place. This lets the VIS use a barrel with a pinned gas block while the MTS requires a barrel with a clamp-on one. Quoting the Noveske web site: “We recommend a pinned gas block for Military, Law Enforcement, and Self Defense use.” Score one for the VIS. The VIS also uses a barrel nut that is threaded on the inside and surrounds the barrel extension much like with a standard AR-15 barrel nut. A potential concern with the MTS design is whether it would loosen up when hot since aluminum has nearly twice the coefficient of thermal expansion as steel. The MTS barrel nut does not surround the receiver extension like in the VIS design, so the MTS receiver might expand and loosen up around the barrel extension. I’ve no way of knowing whether this is a real problem or not, but I was leaning heavily toward the VIS by this point, so VIS it was.

Barrel choice came down to BCM, Centurion Arms, Daniel Defense, and Noveske, with the first three being chrome lined and the Noveske being stainless. I knew that I was going to shoot lots of cheap steel-cased ammunition. Noveske’s stainless barrels are designed for full-auto use, so I wasn’t concerned about wear, but I’ve run into far more extraction problems shooting Wolf through the stainless barrel of my LaRue than my chrome-lined Centurion Arms barrel. It’s a combination of the steel case and weak loading of the rounds. This sadly ruled out the Noveske barrel despite it having the most appealing profile. I opted for the Centurion Arms barrel because of my very positive experience with the 16” one in my carbine.

For sights, I very much liked the ones on the H&K MP-5 that a friend of mine owned. Centurion Arms used to sell their C4 sights, which were H&K sights sized for AR-15 rail height. A standard set of H&K sights would attach to the rail but sit too low for easy use. The C4 sights got added to my list of items to order from Centurion Arms. The Aimpoint T-1 seems all the rage and looked good on a friend’s rifle. I ordered the >LT-660 combo, which arrived a few days later along with a LaRue hat, dillo dust, bumper stickers, and beverage entry tool.

My original plan was to assemble the entire rifle myself, but I decided to order the complete upper from Centurion Arms after exchanging a couple of emails with Monty LeClair. He sells Vltor products, and I placed an order for a Vltor VIS-2-AK (9”) upper, 12.5” barrel, HPT/MPI bolt carrier group, and charging handle. He had the assembled upper and a set of C4 sights to my door in four business days. You can’t ask for better than that. I installed an extractor upgrade kit to maximize extractor tension. The carbine-length gas system and short barrel produce a sharp, violent bolt movement, and I didn’t want to worry about the extractor slipping off the case rim once the chamber got dirty.

I ordered the remaining parts, including the flash hider, Magpul XTM rail covers, VTAC sling, lower parts kit, and sling swivels/socket from Rainier Arms. No problems there—Rainier Arms is a model of how an Internet retailer should operate.

The only problem came when I mounted the optic, as the LT-660 positions the T-1 too high to use the C4 sights. The front sight disappears below the lower rim of the T-1 before it centers in the rear sight aperture. I installed a set of Magpul MBUS, which sit slightly higher than the C4 sights, for use in the mean time. I shoot with my nose brushing the charging handle, and the lower rim of the T-1 intrudes slightly in the sight picture through the small aperture. The view through the large aperture gets rather cluttered with the mount obstructing much of the sight picture. I tried an LT-660HK, but it drops the T-1 too low and gives an absolute co-witness. I plan to try the KAC T-1 mount, which comes with two spacers. It appears just the right amount lower than the LT-660 with both spacers installed. You can see it compared to the LaRueand by itself.

The complete rifle runs beautifully and I’m absolutely loving the VIS. It’s a work of art, feels incredibly solid, and sheds heat quickly compared to my LaRue handguards. The 12.5” barrel feels snappier than a 16” one, particularly in drills around barricades and barrels, and doesn’t produce noticeably more blast for the shooter. The rifle also shoots surprisingly well at a medium ranges. I’m able to get consistent hits on an 8” plate at 300 yards (7 for 10 in one run) shooting prone unsupported and on a silhouette at 400 yards using a bipod. I didn’t have an opportunity to try the silhouette without the bipod.

I tried shooting the rifle with just the C4 sights and like them a lot. They seem faster and just as accurate as the MBUS. The curved wings around the front-sight post seem to help with the initial centering of the post in the rear aperture. Their main downside is the difficulty in adjusting them: they require an HK sight adjustment tool or a set of needle-nose pliers and a flat-bladed screwdriver. But this only needs to be done once.

I also like the T-1, as it feels less like looking through a tube and more like viewing a dot floating in space. I credit the thin tube and low-profile knobs compared to Aimpoint’s larger sights. But I’m not sure that it’s as good a match with fixed sights, as there might not be enough room in the tube to fit everything without resulting in a particularly cluttered sight picture. The C4 sights are now on my 16” carbine, where they work beautifully with an Aimpoint ML3 in a LaRue LT-150.

I’m not entirely thrilled with the VTAC sling. There’s a lot of loose webbing hanging on the adjustment end compared to the Vickers sling. I’ll likely replace it with a Vickers sling in the near future.

This is a snapshot of the rifle in its current configuration.

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Last edit: 11 June 2014