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.
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
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.
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
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.