Too many variations to sort through when buying an AR15? Wondering what black rifle to build next? Consider the simplicity of the AR15 A2 configuration, otherwise known as the M16 A2 civilian rifle.
I’ve already said I think the AR-15 is the best survival rifle. I’m not trying to rehash that debate now, and I’m not saying that the A2 configuration is the choice to have for a SHTF situation, but I am saying I love mine, and that it handles – in my opinion – more like a conventional rifle than a carbine does. With its full stock, 20″ barrel, and fixed iron sights, this should come as no surprise.
The AR platform provides an opportunity to easily customize your rifle.
The M16A2 style is an older configuration that includes a full stock, fixed carry handle style upper receiver and a 20″ barrel (among other details that we’ll get to in a moment). This, in semi-automatic format, is an AR15 A2, and it screams “basic training,” and that is a reason many people enjoy shooting it, it either brings them back to basic training memories or it just a more enjoyable, beefier-feeling AR variant where the focus is not on fancy additions but simplicity.
A Brief History of the M16A2
Enter the M16. The original M16 came into US military service in 1964, and in 1965 it was being used in jungle warfare with Vietnam. It was built off the ArmaLite AR-15, which was a select-fire, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle manufactured in the U.S. between 1959 and 1964. The ArmaLite AR-15 itself was based off ArmaLite’s own AR-10, which was developed by Eugene Stoner in the late 1950s.
It fired the same caliber as the M14, a 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. ArmaLite sold its rights to the rifle in 1959 to Colt Firearms.
The M16 was shipped to soldiers in Vietnam to replace the standard issue M14. The M16 offered a number of advantages, primarily attributable to its lower weight. The smaller lighter 5.56 (.223) caliber meant the rifle could be better controlled in automatic fire. The rifle itself was much lighter, and the weight savings between rifle and ammunition meant that soldiers could carry almost three times as much ammo as with the M14.
In fact, a report from 1959 comparing the ArmaLite to the M14 lead to these findings:
a. With a total combat weight per man equivalent to that planned for riflemen armed with the M-14, a squad consisting of from 5-7 men armed with the [AR-15] would have better hit distribution and greater hit capability than the present eleven-man M-14 squad. …
b. By opinion poll, the experimentation troops favor the [AR-15] because of its demonstrated characteristics of lightness in weight, reliability, balance and grip, and freedom from recoil and climb on full automatic. …https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1981/06/m-16-a-bureaucratic-horror-story/545153/
Did the M16 Rifle Fail in Vietnam?
Yes the M16 was failing in Vietnam, but for reasons some may not know.
Reports began coming out of Vietnam in 1966 that the M16 was encountering problems. It would not feed rounds properly. It failed to fire. It failed to extract casings. Complaints continued. Soldiers began to lose confidence in their fancy new rifles.
One soldier’s letter home to his parents in Idaho contained the following:
Our M-16s aren’t worth much. If there’s dust in them, they will jam. Half of us don’t have cleaning rods to unjam them. Out of 40 rounds I’ve fired, my rifle jammed about 10 times. I pack as many grenades as I can plus bayonet and K bar (jungle knife) so I’ll have something to fight with. If you can, please send me a bore rod and a 1 1/4 inch or so paint brush. I need it for my rifles are getting a lot of guys killed because they jam so easily.https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1981/06/m-16-a-bureaucratic-horror-story/545153/
To address these concerns, a technical assistance team was dispatched to Vietnam to assess soldiers’ use of the rifle.
What did they find?
Soldiers were not maintaining their rifles. The had not been properly trained how to maintain them, and many believed the rifle didn’t need cleaning at all, never mind the fact that cleaning supplies for soldiers were in short supply. In short, the rifles were in terrible condition.
Contrary to the “maintenance-free” belief held by man, the M16 actually needed regular cleaning. Its gas impingement system was throwing carbon back into the chamber, leading to malfunctions when it wasn’t maintained.
Additional problems were encountered.
The hot and humid Southeast Asian environment was wreaking havoc on ammunition, corroding it faster than the military had realized it would. The magazine feed lips were bending too easily causing ammunition feed problems. The barrel was not chrome lined, so that too encountered corrosion. The rifle stock was cracking, steel parts were rusting, etc. Many soldiers said “screw it” and opted instead to use the enemy’s AK-47, which – compared to the M16 – was blasting through almost anything in front of it.
Enter the M16A1
By 1967 Colt was making changes to the rifle:
- They added a heavier buffer to slow down the rate of fire.
- A forward assist was added.
- The stock was constructed of a heavier plastic.
- The chamber and barrels were now being plated in chrome to combat corrosion.
- Steel parts were being treated with phosphate coating to resist ruse.
These rifle improvements were soon deployed to soldiers in 1968 (read the source and report), and by 1970, the new and improved M16A1 came into widespread. The improvements were a success!
In M16A1 summary:
The shortcomings of the M16 were not entirely the fault of the weapon’s design. Improper maintenance equipment and the lack of instruction on how to properly care for it exaggerated the problems that were inherent to its design. The mechanical improvements on the M16A1 significantly reduced weapon malfunctions.https://philologiavt.org/articles/10.21061/ph.228/
The M16A1 went on for continued use for another decade and a half before the Army and Marines took another look at the rifle.
Now, if this is where your interests lie, check out the Brownells M16A1 for around $1,200.00.
Enter the M16A2
In the early-1980s, the Army and Marines were looking away from Southeast Asia and toward Western Europe where they faced a possible new confrontation – Soviet riflemen wearing body armor. The M16A2 came into being as a stepped-up, improved version of the M16A1.
Those improvements included:
- Greater barrel thickness ahead of the front sight post.
- A new adjustable rear sight allowing it to be dialed for 300 to 800 meters.
- Modified flash suppressor with closed bottom port as to not kick up dirt or snow when firing prone.
- Modified upper receiver to deflect ejected cartridges
- Rounded front handguards to better fit smaller hands than the triangular A1’s.
- More texture added to the grip.
- Lengthened and hardened buttstock.
- Faster 1:7 twist rifling to stabilize the standard SS 109 (M855) ammunition.
- Modified action moving away from fully automatic to tri-burst.
The Beauty of the A2 Configuration
Call me nostalgic, but I still like the AR15 A2 and I think it’s a great choice for someone without a basic rifle.
The reasons I like the AR15 A2:
- It’s meaty – it feels like a rifle.
- It’s solid – there are fewer moving parts in the sights and stock.
- It’s balanced – the collapsible stock on the M4 is lighter than the full stock, making the M4 front heavy.
- It’s affordable (relatively) – an AR-15 gun purchase can quickly rob your wallet for more than just the rifle. Once you start upgrading stocks, sights, optics, etc. you may get stuck with Black Rifle Disease and risk ruining your marriage because you think getting that new flash suppressor is more important than taking your wife out to dinner.
- It’s a classic.
The AR15 A2 Package
The A2 provides a great opportunity to learn the basic rifle marksmanship on a modern platform. If you are considering an A2, there are a few extras I’d recommend.
This is what I see as a complete A2 package:
A – quality range bag with numerous pockets for magazines, tools, cleaning equipment, etc.
B – rifle sling (see two-point vs single-point slings)
C – field repair kit that fits inside the stock
D – small M16 technical manual
E – standard magazine
F – ammo (Lake City 62 grain pictured – shop bulk ammo deals)
G – basic bipod that easily screws on and off
Buying or Building an M16A2 Civilian Version
If you are thinking you want to buy or build your own AR15 A2 configuration, I like the way you think! You can take the quick and easy route and just buy an AR15 A2 rifle from these reputable buyers and have it shipped directly to your local FFL gun dealer:
If you don’t want to spend that money and would rather just build one from scratch or modify an existing AR platform you already have to an A2 configuration, that should be relatively easy as well.
M16A2 Lower Receiver
The M16A2 Lower Receiver is the same as most other AR15 lowers with one exception: burst fire. You are, of course, not going to get burst fire in a civilian version of the M16A2, but for anyone looking to get close (without going through the legal requirements), binary drop-in trigger upgrades can get you there.
For all intents and purposes, however, you will achieve AR15 A2 status without having a tri-burst feature. After all, the meat behind the A2 configuration primarily lies in the barrel, upper, and stock.
On that note, you can buy the Leapers A2 fixed stock assembly for around $50.00.
M16A2 Upper Receiver
You can buy a complete DoubleStar A2 Upper Receiver from Optics Planet for just under $200.
If you do not have, or cannot access, a fixed carry handle of this type, you can buy a detachable A2 carry handle that attaches to more modern upper receivers.
If you are looking specifically for the A2 barrel, expect to pay around the $250 range at Brownells. This will include the 20″ A2 barrel, a 1-7 twist, chrome lined barrel, and fixed front site.
Buying a Complete AR15 A2 Upper Receiver
Harder to find in the true A2 configuration, but you can get exceptionally close with the Aero Precision A2 upper receiver for about $425.00.
The only difference here is that this upper has a detachable A2 carry handle, which some people might actually prefer.
AR15 A2 Configuration Summary
If you are buying one, there are only a few modifications I’d make from the standard AR15 A2. I’d upgrade the grip to something you like, I’d have the feed ramps extended and polished, competition front post, and I’d upgrade the flash suppressor. You might want a sight adjustment tool and I recommend the AR-15/M16/M4 Rifle Marksmanship book pictured above.
You can add a bit of simple flare to it with the Ontario M9 bayonet. Not only will it attached to your rifle, but it is a great knife for general survival use, and made in the USA.