Letter Re: HK 416 Gas Piston M16/AR-15 Rifles and Upper Receiver Assemblies

Regarding the HK “416” [gas piston operated M16]s. I found a video about them. Do you think that [semi-auto only variants of] these rifles–or at least upper receivers–will be available to civilians any time soon? Also, do you know if they make a .308 [AR-10] version of the gas [piston] operated .223 you linked to? Thanks, – S.F.

JWR Replies: As background, I should first explain that standard AR-15s, M16s, M4s and AR-10s use gas tube impingement rather than a gas piston to operate their actions. This blows powder fouling back into the action. Heckler und Koch of Germany greatly improved the design with a gas piston upper receiver. (The same thing was first done 20+ years ago by Walt Langendorfer of Rhino Systems, but it took a while for the idea to catch on.) Just a few HK 415/416 uppers have hit the U.S. market thusfar. These are designed and manufactired by POF-USA. Sadly, they do not interchange with original HK-made 416 parts. The uppers sell for around $1,225 each. That is a lot of money for what is just a quasi-clone upper! (For about the same price, you could buy a complete SIG 556 rifle–also gas piston operated–which are finally shipping to dealers in the US. With the passage of time there surely will be many 416s produced and the price will inevitably fall–even for the German-made originals. Also, no doubt, there will be U.S.-made “415” (semi-auto) and “416” (full auto) upper clones (of various quality/parts interchangeability) produced.
My personal prediction is that the families of deployed soldiers in the States and/or soldiers themselves about to deploy to The Big Sandbox will start buying HK 416 uppers at their own expense. (If I were recalled to active duty, then I certainly would!) Ditto for privately purchasing an ACOG TA-01-NSN scope.) I also predict that these uppers will be the source of envy and possibly even threatened Article 15 non judicial punishment charges for the soldiers that take them on overseas deployments. I suspect that the media will get their teeth into this story and will not let go. There will be lots of acrimony (just like with the body armor procurement snafus that led to soldiers buying their own commercial off-the-shelf body armor). The pointed question will be: “Why are we still fielding the jam-prone standard M16s and M4s with a fast-fouling gas tube action, when something better (contributing to soldier safety) is readily available? So eventually Uncle Sam will be shamed into procuring HK-416s (or equivalents) as an upgrade for at least the Combat Arms regiments, if not the entire U.S. Army.

In answer to your second question: I think that with the large number of AR-10 vendors out there, it was inevitable that several of them would start making gas piston uppers that are at least similar to the “416” upper design. The first to hit the market was the POF “P-308” AR-10, but I’m sure that there will soon be others.