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Smith & Wesson’s M&P Goes Long

Smith & Wesson’s M&P15 series combines old-fashioned quality with cutting-edge design, and the offerings continue to expand.


For a cynic, the introduction of yet another AR-pattern rifle these days could be met with a sigh of indifference. As with the popular M1911, the AR has become so iconic a part of the firearms community that in recent years it seems new models or variants are introduced every week.

Nonetheless, indifference would be a very unwarranted response. This growth in the market is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, resulting in a broad variety of models at a range of prices for just about every consumer. And this expansion should come as no surprise. As with the M1911, the AR has an impressive pedigree of lengthy military service (in its M16-pattern configuration and variations), lending the platform a great deal of credibility in the minds of American shooters and hunters.

Inspired Move
Even with the variety of makes and models of ARs available, the entry of one particular manufacturer into this market in 2006 made everyone stop and take notice. That company was Smith & Wesson, and the rifle was the M&P15, a semi-automatic styled after the U.S. M4 carbine and chambered in 5.56x45 mm NATO/.223 Rem. Although S&W might at first glance seem to be an odd fit for an AR, it actually makes a lot of sense. With a history dating back to 1852, the company has a long and storied tradition of producing arms for the uniformed services, providing tough and reliable handguns to members of both the law enforcement and military communities since its earliest days.

In fact, the six-shot .38 Spl. revolver we know today as the Model 10 began its life at the turn of the 20th century as the “Military & Police,” a moniker that clearly stated the intended purpose of the design. When the company began work a few years back on a new polymer-frame pistol intended for law enforcement, military and civilian shooters, it decided that it was time to dust off the M&P name for the new line. As a result, when the decision was made to develop an AR line, the M&P branding made for a logical fit.

With the introduction of the M&P15 series, AR enthusiasts were presented with a very appealing option: an AR-pattern carbine produced by one of the most respected firearm manufacturers in the country. In addition, S&W’s large and expansive manufacturing capabilities allowed the company to produce a large percentage of the rifles in-house, affording it a great deal of control over quality. Although S&W relied heavily on a vendor in its earliest production, the firm now has its own dedicated M&P rifle line in its Springfield, Mass., plant.

A Familiar Friend
Smith & Wesson’s initial M&P15 offerings were relatively straightforward adaptations of the basic 5.56x45 mm NATO AR platform. Recognizing that the 16-inch-barreled M4 Carbine-style with a flat-top upper receiver was clearly the most popular with consumers, S&W focused on this general configuration. Initially, three models were offered, including the basic M&P15 with a carry handle attached to the upper rail and round polymer handguards. The M&P15A was similar, but with no carry handle and a Troy back-up rear sight instead attached to the rail. The M&P15T was equipped with a Troy Industries MRF (modular rail fore-end) system and front and rear Troy folding iron sights.

Operationally, the M&P15s were traditional direct-gas-impingement system (DGIS) carbines, in which gas is tapped off the bore at the gas block/front sight assembly forward of the handguard and vented back through a tube above the barrel. Although some criticize this system for dumping hot gases directly into the action causing fouling, this is the system that has been employed in U.S. military M16-pattern rifles since the 1960s.

The upper and lower receivers of the M&P15s are produced from 7075-T6 forgings made at the S&W factory in Springfield, Mass. The barrels are manufactured from 4140 steel and feature the familiar M4-style step-down contour. And those M&P15 parts not produced by S&W itself or an affiliate are acquired from reputable vendors and undergo thorough inspection before going into the rifle.

Expanding Horizons
Quickly gaining a reputation for extremely high quality (and impressive accuracy), the M&P15 series took off. This should come as no surprise considering the rifles’ generally reasonable pricing and their backing with the full S&W lifetime service policy. As the series grew in popularity, S&W developed the broad and thorough stable of variants available today. Some are reasonably priced, such as the M&P15OR (optics ready) carbine that features no iron sights and is designed for the consumer to put an optic on the rifle. Others are more radical adaptations such as the M&P15VTAC, a competition-ready AR carbine developed jointly with Viking Tactics.

The company was not tied to making only 5.56x45 mm NATO models. S&W developed one of the more unique ARs available with its M&P15R chambered for the affordable Russian 5.45x39 mm round. Externally a basic M&P, this carbine is much less expensive to shoot than a comparable 5.56x45 mm NATO variant. S&W also offers complete M&P15R uppers as well.

Equally radical are the new M&P15PS series of piston-operated rifles. These 5.56x45 mm NATO carbines, configured in the M4 style, employ a proprietary gas piston system that addresses the complaints lodged against the DGIS carbines and rifles. Rather than dumping gases and fouling into the action, the PS system’s gas piston transfers energy from gas tapped off the bore to the bolt carrier, keeping it and the interior of the action cleaner and cooler. While the PS variant features a set of specially designed round polymer handguards, the PSX variant employs a modified Troy Picatinny rail fore-end.

Another equally innovative addition to the line is the M&P15-22, a .22 Long Rifle rimfire variant with all the standard controls of the center-fire M&P15. The result is an affordable little carbine that would make for an excellent training tool that is cheap and easy to shoot. Also, when equipped with the company’s 25-round magazine, it is just plain fun to shoot (as I discovered for myself on a recent visit to the Smith & Wesson Academy). The company’s Performance Center has even dabbled with the M&P15, developing some interesting rifle-configured variants with 20-inch barrels, which are designed to wring out even more accuracy potential from the platform.

Watch Mark Keefe's video review.

An Enhanced Standard
One of the most recent additions to S&W’s AR line is the M&P15-MOE, with the “MOE” standing for “Magpul Original Equipment.” Magpul has made a name for itself with its smartly engineered products for ARs and other military-style rifles.

Magpul Industries Corp. was begun with a simple but clever attachment for an AR-15/M16 magazine designed to help users quickly extract it from a rifle or a pouch. In a short time the company’s product line grew to include magazines, stock sets, slings and rifle sights.

The M&P15-MOE from S&W is equipped from the factory with Magpul’s MOE Grip, MOE handguard, MOE buttstock and polymer PMAG magazine. In addition, the M&P15-MOE flat-top upper receiver has Magpul’s new MBUS polymer folding back-up sight. The rifle is offered in two variants: standard with black MOE components and another with flat-dark earth MOE components.

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9 Responses to Smith & Wesson’s M&P Goes Long

Scotty Mac wrote:
May 21, 2013

I'm currently looking for an ar-15 and can't quite decide which direction to go. Since reading this article, I'm almost 100[%] convinced on what to get. I've never shots a long gun before, always pistols, revolvers. I currently only own 2, and those are the S&W M&P 40 and a 9mm compact. I've wanted to try other manufacturers, but I keep wanting to come back to Smiths. They must be doing something right. I'm hoping to find this one cheaper somewhere other than the website (which I did with my pistols). Don't want a .22 or a .308. So I guess this one will be perfect :) Like I said before, great article and I think I know what in going to get!

Scott Worne wrote:
December 27, 2012

I love my M&P15T, but it is not milspec. While some AR-15's may have some "Mil-spec" parts, there are no milspec AR-15's available to the public. The closest ones that are to mil-spec are made by Colt and FN, but they still are not even close. Mil-spec is a minimum specification applied to every part of the gun including the manufacturing process, finishes and even the packaging and down to the labeling. Anyone that tells you that an AR-15 is mil-spec is wrong and has no actual clue. They are blowing hot air. This includes parts such as an upper or lower. Only the current M16's and M-4's and a few others made by FN and Colt for the military are true mil-spec. Commercial firearms are actually made to a much higher standard then mil-spec, so I would not want one anyways. Mil-spec is a myth!

Mack Missiletoe wrote:
December 21, 2012

I held a Colt AR-15 at the shop the other day which is not a big deal except... tt had the Magpul MOE buttstock and handguard. It was a sort of Desert Tan color. It felt and looked just right! Omg, I fell in love with that Magpul MOE buttstock and handguard, forget the Colt rifle! Hehe I really don't care for that quad rail crap.

WZC wrote:
October 30, 2012

Just bought one today. Was able to walk away with the full kit for $840. Got to love military discounts! Cant wait to shoot

pierce damewood wrote:
October 07, 2012

Great article is right! More than I have to spend maybe I"ll have to wait.

Eric wrote:
September 08, 2012

Great article. Your review was extremely helpful in my decision to purchase this rifle. After doing additional research, I was surprised to know this model has been available since at least 2009. Your review was consistent with nearly every review I read. That's reassuring. CH47dr1vr

dan fenton wrote:
March 07, 2012

Just bought my M&P15 MOE today. Easily the most bang for your buck. After months of R&D in magazines and on line. It all lead back to this make & model. Any more money or gun than this, you might as well go all the way and get a FN SCAR... the S&W M&P15 MOE has a perfect ballance of obviously desired upgrades on a quality Mil-Spec weapon.

Chris wrote:
November 25, 2011

Great article. I had the chance to take a look at this gun today and I wanted to do some research before I picked one up. I am definately convinced and appreciate your efforts to provide such an in depth review. Thanks!

Jonathan wrote:
February 26, 2011

Very helpful article, thanks for taking the time to put this information together.