History of the AR-15 rifle

The classic assault rifle, ArmaLite 15 or AR-15, that was first designed in 1959 has come a long way in all these years. The weapon gets its name(AR) from its parent company Armalite. Most of us know it better as the M-16 is the US version of the weapon. 

The history of this weapon intrigues most gun enthusiasts and this article means to address just that. We will let you know the brief history of the awesome weapon that has been used for over 6 decades now.

The early 1950s- Inception of Armalite:

When: In the early 1950s

Where: Hollywood, California

Founder: George Sullivan

Funded by: Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation

George Sullivan worked for the Lockheed Corporation as the patent counsel. The company that offered the initial funding was renamed the Fairchild Republic. Fairchild Republic is instrumental in manufacturing military aircraft for the US Military.

Armalite initially focused only on designing weapons and not manufacturing

Eugene Stoner was the designer primarily involved in designing weapons for Armalite. He held the position of chief design engineer at Armalite

1954-1956: ArmaLite started Designing Rifles

ArmaLite manufactured its first weapon design in 1954. AR-5 was its first rifle. It was a bolt action rifle with a 0.22 Hornet round.

The AR-5 was meant to be a part of the survival kit on planes. The flight crew in the US Airforce were equipped with AR-5 as a survival weapon. It was compact and light and thus could easily be accommodated on a bomber on board.

The Airforce named it MA-1 and adopted it for regular use. It was a great addition to the military weapons as it could be stowed easily and was perfect for water landing owing to its floating capabilities.

AR-5 offered recognition to ArmaLite that was enough for them to develop new firearm designs.

Armalite designed the earlier weapons to be civilian survival weapons. The AR-7 was one of them. Although they were backed by two military aircraft manufacturers, their initial intent was not to develop weapons for the military. They wanted to focus on civilian weapons instead.

The early designs were modular and could be separated into pieces. This made it easy for them to be stored on aircraft or vehicles. 

1955: The U.S. Army decided to phase out M1 Garand

The M1 Garand had been serving the US army since World war II. It was a great companion to the military but had a limited ammunition capacity of 8 rounds. It wasn’t enough anymore and was heavy at more than 10.5 pounds

Introduction of AR-10:

The AR-10 prototype design had the following features:

  • Straight stock
  • Elevated sights
  • Suppressor made of aluminum flash
  • Gas system
  • Recoil compensator

Feedback about AR-10 from the military: Most military persons that tried it, recognized it as one of the best rifles they had used. Its low weight was one of its key distinguishing features. 

Why was AR-10 not accepted as a military rifle? The AR-10 failed the torture test and burst under pressure. While Armalite tried to fix this by quickly introducing a steel barrel, they lost to Springfield Armory. In 1957, the Springfield T44 was adopted instead. Springfield T44 is now known as the M-14.

1956-1959: International Licensing Agreement for The AR-10

On 4th July 1957, Armalite sold the rights to produce AR-10 for 5 years to the Dutch weapons company Artillerie Inrichtingen.

In the same year, Samuel Cummings, an international arms dealer, and Nicaragua signed a weapons contract. At the time of signing the contract, General Anatasio Somoza was the chief military commander of Nicaragua. 

End of AR-10 deals with Nicaragua:

Anatasio tested all AR-10 rifles on his own. Once while firing, the ejector bold broke and injured Anatasio. This was the end of all deals with Nicaragua.

Why was the distribution of AR-10 rifles low?

Artillerie Inrichtingen came across multiple factory defects and operation issues with AR-10. This led to a decline in distribution. Most of these rifles were sent to Sudan and Portugal. 

1959: ArmaLite Sold the design of AR-15 to Colt

ArmaLite finally hit the jackpot in 1959 as they signed a deal with Colt Firearms for the AR-10 and new AR-15 designs.

Colt then started the production based on these designs. 

Malaysia, that was then the Federation of Malaya bought the first AR-15 weapons from Colt Firearms.

1961: US Air Force tested and commissioned AR-15 

In 1961, the US Airforce tested the AR-15 and commissioned 8500 for AirForce use. 

1963: The M-16 came into existence

M-16 is now a very popular weapon used by the US Military. It was a standard model that was designed and ideated after the AirForce used the AR-15.

In 1961, General Curtis LeMay who was impressed by its demonstration in 1960 became the AirForce Chief of Staff and ordered 80000 AR-15 rifles for the US AirForce. 

10 rifles were sent to South Vietnam in 1961 as a part of the US’s tryst to penetrate Indochina. The US Army was still apprehensive about adopting AR-15. Although multiple tests were ordered, they were still not convinced. This was because the US was outgunned in south Vietnam by AK-47 and also that the US Army didn’t want to change the M-14. 

How was M-14 phased out?

Despite the inferiority of M-14, the US Army was reluctant to let it go. However, due to production problems, the US secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara had to discontinue it.

The US defense now needed a weapon that could be used by all the branches. 

That went on to be M-16 that was adapted initially to be used against AK-47

1965: The M-16 became the Primary Service Rifle

The first M-16 rifles were issued in March of 1965. Colt sold them to American Troops as a weapon in the Vietnam war. M16A1 then launched as an improved version of M-16.

1989: Production of the AR-15 started for Civilians

1989-1994: AR-15s were sold to civilians

1994-2004: Civilian Production was halted due to the Federal Assault Weapons ban

The current status of M-16: 

  • Phased out in the US 
  • Still used by militaries across the world
  • Under media spotlight but one of the most popular sporting rifles available

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