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.
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.
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.
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.
I had the opportunity to try out the flat-dark earth M&P15-MOE at an S&W writers’ event held at Gunsite Training Facility in Paulden, Ariz. We went through an abbreviated version of the school’s carbine course, which was designed to give us an opportunity to put the handy little carbine through its paces. The M&P15-MOE was fitted with Trijicon’s TA11-G 3.5x 35 mm ACOG sight and Crimson Trace’s MVF-515 modular vertical foregrip with integrated white LED light and red laser units. Throughout the three-day course we ran several such carbines through a full range of CQB and defensive-style shooting drills.
During the event, the DGIS M&P15-MOE carbines were not cleaned or lubricated, all in an environment that is extremely dry and dusty. I personally ran several hundred rounds of ammunition through the M&P15-MOE without a single malfunction. Accuracy of the rifle also proved to be astounding, with snap shots at 25 yards impacting within a roughly 3-inch-diameter ring.
Needless to say, I came away from the Gunsite course very impressed with the M&P15-MOE. Once I arrived home, I put in a call to S&W and requested that a test sample MOE be sent to me for a more traditional evaluation for this article. The carbine that arrived was just as I remembered from Arizona. The fit and finish of the M&P15–MOE were excellent, with a deep black anodizing on the aluminum upper and lower receivers and a dark black/gray phosphated finish on the steel parts. The 16-inch barrel of the rifle, fitted with a standard A2-style birdcage flash suppressor/brake, featured a 1:9-inch rate of twist.
The quality of the Magpul MOE parts was excellent. Light and sturdy, the stock set, rear sight and magazine all featured a matching flat-dark earth color. The MOE pistol grip, a simplified version of the company’s MIAD modular grip, featured horizontal grooves on its front and rear faces, with a pebbled surface on it sides. A polymer floorplate on the grip allowed access to a storage area inside.
The MOE stock was a slightly simplified version of Magpul’s CTR stock. The six-position collapsible unit was practically the same as its CTR sibling, except for the exclusion of the tension lock. The A-frame style stock was topped with a rubber buttpad. In particular, I was very impressed by the MOE handguard on the M&P15. Vaguely reminiscent of FAL handguards, the two-piece unit was hand-filling and extremely comfortable, with numerous cooling vents.
The polymer rear sight of the MOE was also quite clever. As compared to a steel or aluminum back-up sight, the polymer Magpul MBUS was significantly more affordable and lightweight. Featuring a dual aperture, the windage-adjustable unit was spring-loaded and could be released to pop up by pressing down on either of two ambidextrous levers on the base of the sight assembly.
The included flat-dark earth PMAG was also quite impressive. Sturdily constructed of thick polymer, the PMAG featured a clever dustcover that snapped over the open mouth of the magazine for storage. In addition, the dustcover could snap over the baseplate of the magazine to prevent loss as well as act as a “magpul” to help pull the magazine clear of the rifle.
I fitted the rifle with the Trijicon TA11-G ACOG sight and Crimson Trace laser/light MVF-515 I had used at Gunsite. The 3.5X ACOG, with its green “donut” circular reticle powered by both tritium and fiber optics, proved to be a good fit for the M&P15-MOE. The Crimson Trace MVF-515 also proved to be a nice addition to the rifle, offering excellent ergonomics as well as instantaneous access to white light, a red laser, or both.
Once I had inspected the rifle and properly lubricated it, I headed to the range with a selection of Black Hills, Federal and Winchester ammunition. The M&P15-MOE proved to be a pleasure to shoot. Perceived recoil was mild, and the handling characteristics were excellent. Through the course of several hundred rounds, there was not a single malfunction.
Accuracy of the carbine was quite good, averaging around 1 3/4-inch groups with all three types of ammunition, and it showed a clear preference for the 43-grain load with one sub-m.o.a. group. This accuracy was particularly impressive considering that the rifle had a somewhat heavy 8 pound, 8-ounce trigger pull and a relatively low-powered 3.5X optic.
The M&P15 line from Smith & Wesson has quickly taken the AR community by storm, and with good reason. Exhibiting excellent quality, unbeatable brand recognition, varied offerings, and impressive performance, any one of the M&P15s should make for an ideal addition to the AR enthusiast’s collection.
And you can add me to that list.
Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson; (800) 331-0852; www.smith-wesson.com
Action Type: direct gas-impingement, rotating bolt, center-fire semi-automatic rifle
Receiver: 7075-T6 aluminum
Barrel: 16", phosphated 4140 steel
Rifling: six-groove, 1:9" RH twist
Magazine: detachable box 30-round PMAG
Sights: MBUS folding peep aperture rear, fixed winged post front
Trigger: two-stage; 8 lbs., 8 ozs.
Stock: Magpul MOE: length of pull, 10¼" to 13½"; drop at heel, 3/4"; drop at comb, 3/4"
Overall Length: 32½" to 36"
Weight: 6 lbs., 8 ozs.
Accessories: hard plastic case, 30-round magazine
Suggested Retail Price: $1,406