The word “iconography” has many definitions. One of those applies to the use of icons in advertising and the emotions invoked by the use of powerful images. For example, a picture of a Ferrari invokes speed and style. Likewise, the Daniel Defense MK18 invokes strength and accuracy. In fact, the MK18 is the icon of the short-barreled rifle (SBR) world. If you’re looking for an SBR that can do it all, this is it.
Those of us who’ve been around long enough remember when Daniel Defense came onto the scene and Marty Daniel really got our attention. We woke up one day to find Daniel Defense everywhere. In advertising, constant contact is how you get your message across. In his excellent book Start With Why, Simon Sinek writes that you must know why you do what you do to drive your message home. Few companies know their why. Instead, they focus on polishing their what and how messages. In an industry that likes to offer mediocre products to an unsuspecting public that can’t discern between ordinary and extraordinary, Daniel Defense consistently delivers extraordinary in a humble manner.
Speed Meets Accuracy
Although we live in a world where 1,400-yard shots are normal, you must understand that 100 yards is still a long shot when human life hangs in the balance.
I work off a 50-yard zero with my MK18 and primarily use 55-grain M193 ammo. At 50 yards, the MK18 can stack rounds and still bust Level IIIA body armor. Remember, bad guys now wear armor regularly, so you must plan for it. When I move to 100 yards, I can quickly hit anything I want to that’s about the size of a softball with an Aimpoint Micro T-1 installed. I know some folks might wonder about MOA versus sub-MOA performance. Simply put, I don’t know and I don’t care. If I can smack a softball at 100 yards without trying and a baseball with a slow trigger press, I really don’t worry about sub-MOA accuracy. Besides, look up what the U.S. military considers acceptable accuracy from a battle rifle. Go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait.
When I started working with the MK18, I noticed it had a very fast recoil impulse. That’s because when you’re dealing with a 16-inch-barreled rifle, you have several inches of barrel in front of the gas port. That length lets you run a smaller gas port and still maintain reliability, regardless of your dubious ammo choices. You typically give that up with a 10.3-inch barrel unless the gun has been slightly overgassed so it runs on everything. Such is the case with the MK18. Understand that this is a responsible choice on Daniel Defense’s part and not a corner-cutting technique.
Daniel Defense MK18 Barrels
The heart of a great rifle is always the barrel. As a builder, I begin there and work outward. The MK18 possesses one of the finest short barrels on the market: Daniel Defense’s own 10.3-inch, cold-hammer-forged barrel. Daniel Defense makes its barrels in-house at the company’s state-of-the-art facility in Black Creek, Georgia. The 10.3-inch barrel used on the MK18 has to be overgassed because you only have about 2 inches of barrel to work with when the round has passed the barrel’s gas port. This is known to rifle builders as the amount of dwell time. You must build adequate pressure in the system to cycle the bolt carrier group reliably, and you must have enough barrel to stabilize the round before it’s on its way.
The MK18’s barrel also has a 1-in-7-inch twist rate, which means each projectile rotates just a fraction more than one time before it leaves the barrel and physics starts working on knocking it off its trajectory.
What You’re Getting
I often tell people that when you shoot a Daniel Defense MK18, you must understand it’s a Hummer, not an Formula 1 racer. That’s not meant as a slight. This thing is overbuilt for a reason.
You can find the full specs of the MK18 online. However, I want to cover a couple of points that really deserve note. The MK18 I tested came from the factory with the company’s proprietary flash suppressor. It’s made from 17-4 PH stainless steel and is finished with a salt-bath-nitride treatment for corrosion resistance and durability. It’s surprisingly adept at attenuating flash, even with cheap ammo. The true test of any component is in full-auto, so I tested that, too. Even in darkness, the flash suppressor keeps muzzle flash to a minuscule blip and also keeps the front end down.
Form and Function
Aesthetics are seldom understood for what they really are. Just like the aforementioned Ferrari, aesthetics create desire in an audience that doesn’t really understand what it’s like to drive such a car. The same goes in the world of top-end weapons. If you look at a MK18, the sizzle in its aesthetic profile comes from the iconic Daniel Defense RIS II handguard, which is what put the company on the map in 2005. There are tens of thousands of these superb handguards in use throughout the world, but it doesn’t get better than an RIS II.
The optional Daniel Defense fixed sights are another notable facet of the MK18. I’ve always preferred the A1 rear sight. Unlike the A2, which has an elevation wheel that can be knocked off zero, the A1 is windage adjustable only and requires a bullet tip to change it. When you have your dope set, you’re done for life. Elevation is dialed at the front sight post during zeroing. If you need more elevation under fire, remember your holds and trigger management. This has been overcomplicated for too long, and I really like that Daniel Defense has made these great sights, which bring us back to old-school marksmanship skills.
What You Need
Let’s shift gears for a moment. I’m presenting this select-fire Daniel Defense MK18 to you as a lesson in desire. To most guys, a machine gun is it. However, the reality is that machine guns are not what you want. You want the notion of a machine gun; you want an SBR. I’ve worked with machine guns for many years. They’re hard on the shooter, themselves and your wallet. As an FFL/SOT 72 manufacturer and dealer of NFA weapons, I have machine guns because I need them for demo work. However, they’re not my first love.
Few people in our industry understand what “full-auto rated” really means. Machine guns come down to one thing: proper dwell time. Again, this is essentially the time in which the rifle has fired a round, tapped some of the expanding propellant gases to cycle the system and bled off the overpressure. In semi-auto, your rifle has all the time it needs to complete each function of an individual cycle. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in full-auto.
AR-15s work by harnessing small explosions. There’s a lot of excess pressure that must go somewhere. If you look closely at a bolt carrier group in a slow-motion video, you’ll see two gouts of fire jetting from the vent holes in the bolt carrier group’s detent. That’s the overpressure bleeding off as it unlocks the bolt from the barrel extension and pushes the bolt carrier group back. In full-auto mode, your rifle can’t bleed off that overpressure, and by the second round, your gas system is already backing up. That, coupled with the reduced upward pressure from the magazine stack as rounds are fed out, produces an increase in cyclic rate that catches some shooters off guard. That’s seldom discussed because most manufacturers don’t even get how full-auto works.
Those of us who build rifles pay close attention to which direction our brass ejects, because that indicates how high or low the pressure in the gas system is. You can retard the gas system on your rifle by using an adjustable gas block or bolt carrier group. Both of these fixes work well, but they create potential problems that can bite you. If you set your gas block or bolt carrier group to run just right with a specific load, it will run differently—or not at all—with another load. Then your rifle goes click instead of bang.
So what do you need? Release your vapid dreams of full-auto. It’s nothing but grasping at the wind. Go the way of an SBR with a fast trigger, such as a Geissele SSA. Now that’s something you can get your hands on and really enjoy. An SBR doesn’t detract from the pleasure of owning a fine rifle such as the MK18.
If you’re looking for the perfect SBR that can do it all, the MK18 is your gun. It flies in close-quarters-battle work and still has enough accuracy to consistently smack bad guys at considerable distances.
As our industry refocuses its efforts and companies change their products, it’s good to see that Daniel Defense has maintained its core values of quality and customer service. Make sure you check them out. For more information, visit danieldefense.com.
Daniel Defense MK18 Specifications
- Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
- Barrel: 10.3 inches
- OA Length: 26.75-29.88 inches
- Weight: 5.88 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Collapsible
- Sights: None
- Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
- Finish: Mil-Spec+
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $2,004