In a marketplace saturated with AR-15 pattern rifles, some companies opt to march to the beat of their own drummer. FM Products (short for Foxtrot Mike) is just such a company. With the goal of providing top-quality rifles at blue-collar prices, this company offers reliable .223 Rem. and 5.56 NATO rifles designed for use with folding stocks. The model that caught my eye is a Brownells exclusive called the Gen II FM-15 Zhukov, which incorporates the company's forward-mounted charging handle design with a sleek, AK-style shoulder stock.
The Gen II FM-15 Zukov, like other members of the FM-15 family, is a direct gas-impingement operated semi-automatic carbine outfitted with a .223 Wylde chamber. It should be noted that the company is in the process of changing the product line name from FM-15 to Mike-15. But for the sake sake of brevity, and because it's the model name used on the Brownells website, I'm going to stick with FM-15 for this write-up.
The upper receiver assembly and action have been redesigned to accommodate a recoil assembly housed inside the upper so as to eliminate the need for a recoil buffer assembly and tube. The rotating seven-lug bolt is typical AR design. But the bolt-carrier group (BCG) is shorter and sports a modified gas key. A typical AR-15 BCG that I pulled from a different rifle weighed in at 11.5 ozs. with an end-to-end length (including the bolt) of 7.5". The FM-15's BCG tipped the scales at 8.1 ozs. with an overall length of 3.6".
The taller, wider gas key fills three roles instead of just one. It has a port that lines up with the mid-length gas tube, as expected with a gas-impingement operated rifle. But it is also topped off with another cylindrical port that engages the internalized recoil assembly consisting of a single guide rod and a pair of nested round-wire recoil springs. It's secured into the receiver by a slide-out aluminum retention block. The guide rod passes through a front-facing opening in the gas key as the action is cycled.
The gas key's third function relates to the charging handle. Because the recoil assembly occupies the space usually reserved for an AR's T-shaped charging handle, the FM-15 is outfitted with a forward mounted, non-reciprocating, four-position handle. This spring-loaded handle can be positioned for right- or left-handed operation at either an upward or downward facing angle. It’s attached to a rod that is pressed against the front of the gas key when manually cycling the action.
This recoil assembly and charging-handle configuration calls for a 0.75" tall optics rail atop the upper receiver and handguard. For comparison, I measured three other similarly styled aluminum AR handguards from various manufacturers. Optics rail heights were 0.55", 0.58" and 0.60", according to a set of digital calipers. This means the FM-15 shifts an optic's height upwards by 0.15" to 0.20". Some folks may notice this height difference, but I didn't find it to be an impediment to running the gun. Because this handguard design is unique to the FM-15, it cannot be readily traded out for other aftermarket options.
The FM-15's monolithic upper receiver and sleekly styled lower receiver are both milled from 7075-T6 aluminum billet and treated with a matte-black Type 3 hardcoat finish. The upper arrives with a dust cover and a removable polymer brass deflector installed, but a forward assist assembly has been omitted. The 15.25" handguard features M-Lok accessory slots.
The 16" barrel is manufactured in-house using 41V50 chrome-moly-vanadium steel, which is treated with a matte-black Melonite QPQ finish. The muzzle is threaded at 1/2x28" TPI and fitted with an A2 type flash hider. Flats milled into the barrel at the muzzle allow the use of a box-end wrench to stabilize the barrel while removing and installing muzzle devices. This is just one of those little details that the company pays attention to, thereby elevating its products above its competitors.
The lower receiver has sleek, modern styling. This includes an extended and beveled magazine well, which is complemented by an oversized, skeletonized integral trigger guard. This lower is compatible with mil-spec components, including the AR-pattern bolt catch and magazine release. The safety has been upgraded with an ambidextrous lever.
The rifle arrives with a better-than-mil-spec trigger, which has been polished a bit for a clean, smooth single-stage trigger pull of 4 lbs, 9 ozs. It's a likeable factory trigger that doesn't call for an upgrade unless a reduced trigger weight is required. The Magpul polymer MOE pistol grip is moderately textured for improved purchase, and it has a removable base plate, which allows the grip to be used for storage.
The folding Zhukov stock is also made by Magpul. A bolt assembly secures the stock's aluminum hinge into the buffer tube port. Pressing the left side release button frees the stock to be folded to the right side of the receiver. A five-position adjustment lever allows the length of pull (LOP) to be adjusted between 11.5" to 14.25". Some platform purists may get a bit itchy under the collar seeing an AK-style stock on an AR. But I liked how it handled and, when folded, it doesn't block access to the trigger guard. The FM-15 arrived with a set of three textured 3.75" long M-Lok grip enhancement plates but a magazine was not included.
Because this carbine is a Brownells exclusive, it only seemed right to outfit it with a Brownells Match Precision Optics (MPO) scope for accuracy testing at 100 yards. This optic is the 1-8x24 mm version with an illuminated CQ-NOMR second focal plane reticle. It was secured to the rifle using Brownells 0 m.o.a. 30 mm Cantilever Scope Mount (080-001-351WB).
This version of the FM-15 is relatively light for an AR with an unloaded weight of 6 lbs. This gave it a handy feel when shooting off the bench. Inside and out, this rifle shows the company's dedication to quality craftsmanship and proper fitting. The front edge of the charging handle is 10" in front of the magazine well. This makes it a bit of a reach for small-framed shooters. The charging handle felt relatively heavy and gritty to start with. The grittiness smoothed out quickly with use, but the weight remained.
I will admit to short-stroking the charging handle maybe once or twice early on. But beyond those user-induced malfunctions, this rifle operated flawlessly with all of the ammunition and magazines tested. As for felt recoil, the reduced-mass BCG and recoil assembly took the edge off of the already modest kick, leading to quicker and easier follow-up shots.
The rifle was tested with four different 30-round magazines. They included two polymer magazines made by Magpul and Mission First Tactical (MFT) along with two mil-spec aluminum magazines from Brownells and SureFeed Magazines. As of this writing, it's still tough to find a reliable supply of .223 Rem. and 5.56 NATO ammunition. For this reason, I went ahead and used a somewhat unusual mix of 55-grain loads for formal accuracy testing. They included a tactical load from Norma USA, Hornady's bulk box Frontier rounds and an imported steel-cased, soft-point boattail hunting load made by Barnaul. The range results are shown in the following table:
The FM Products Gen II FM-15 Zhukov is an AR-pattern rifle that provides greater value than the price tag might imply. The level of craftsmanship is on par with guns that usually cost hundreds of dollars more. It also pushes the boundaries of what an AR-15 platform can be. The internalized recoil assembly provides a simple, lightweight means of installing a folding stock without exposing the innards of the rifle to the elements like some systems do. The forward-mounted charging handle takes some getting used to, and the Zhukov stock may not be to some AR fans’ cup of tea. But the liking or disliking of these uncommon features is a matter of personal preference, not proper execution. FM Products offers more traditional AR stocks for those who prefer them along, with a selection of 9 mm Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC).
Manufacturer: FM Products
Model: Brownells Exclusive Gen II FM-15 Zhukov
Action: Direct Gas-Impingement Operated Semi-Automatic
Chambering: .223 Rem. / 5.56 NATO
Upper Receiver: Monolithic Style, Milled Billet 7075-T6 Aluminum, Type 3 Hard-Coat Anodized
Lower Receiver: Milled Billet 7075-T6 Aluminum, Type 3 Hard-Coat Anodized
Stock: Magpul Zukov Folding, Five-Position Adjustable
Barrel: 16", 41V50 Chrome-Moly-Vanadium Steel, Melonite QPQ Finish, 1:8” RH, Six-Groove
Trigger: Mil-Spec Single-Stage, 4 lbs. 9 ozs. (As Tested)
Magazine: N/A, Accepts AR-15 Pattern Magazines
Overall Length: 34" Stock Extended, 25.75” Stock Folded
Weight: 6 lbs.
Accessories: Three 3.75" Textured M-Lok Grip Plates, Owner's Manual