An understudy AR can be used for training, but at a much-reduced ammunition cost. For example, as I write this, 500 rounds of .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO ammo will cost you around $200. And, if an officer is going to carry a patrol rifle, that is only about a fifth of what he or she should shoot per year in practice and training, at a minimum. For the same $200, you can purchase 5,000 rounds of .22 LR ammo. That’s 10 times as much, and enough to give two officers enough range time for the full year.
What brought about the Smith & Wesson M&P15-22? About six years ago, there was a shift in the firearms world. An election that left many gun owners unhappy, combined with a growing acceptance of the modern semi-automatic rifle, elevated AR-15-style rifles to the most popular long guns in America. They sold so fast manufacturers could not keep up. This newfound interest in the AR sparked another trend, and that was the desire for a rimfire version on this platform.
For some time, rimfire conversion kits have been available for the AR-15. The military had even used them as trainers. But these kits, though unique and relatively affordable, often offered less-than-stellar accuracy and reliability. Dedicated upper receivers were another way to address the demand, but while convenient, their retail price was as high as many rimfire rifles. This was their main detractor.
“Law enforcement or civilian, it doesn’t matter. If you own an AR-15, you need an M&P15-22 to go with it.”
Several manufacturers began offering modified versions of their bestselling semi-automatic rimfires. These rifles were tricked out to look like an AR. And other companies even built dedicated rifles that were similar to the AR. Though consumers responded to these new rimfire rifles, none were completely identical to the AR-15. They field-stripped differently, required different maintenance and demanded a different manual of arms than an AR-15.
Smith & Wesson found the answer. The company built a rimfire version of the AR-15 but used polymer for the upper and lower receivers. S&W designed the rifle so that it shared the same trigger group, could be field-stripped in the same manner and had the same manual of arms used for the centerfire AR-15. It was nothing short of a success, and it wasn’t long until S&W M&P15-22s were selling as fast as their centerfire counterparts.
Since then, Smith & Wesson has not been sitting on its laurels. Not only did it introduce the most AR-compatible rimfire rifle of all time, but the company also immediately began tweaking and modifying it. Now there are more than a dozen standard models and several Performance Center models to choose from. S&W’s latest Performance Center version could be the perfect understudy for anyone who owns a centerfire AR and especially for LE agencies looking to reduce training costs.
The threaded-barrel version of the Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P15-22, like all M&P15-22s, does not weigh much because it is built on a polymer upper and lower receiver. There are three primary differences in this rifle and the standard M&P15-22. For starters, it comes with a Vltor six-position collapsible buttstock. It also has a match-grade chamber for precision and an 18-inch, threaded barrel.
The Vltor stock provides two small storage chambers, but more importantly, it is much more comfortable when shooting. Those storage chambers increase the cheekweld area on the stock. In addition to the storage compartments, the stock is pre-fitted with two sling attachment points. One is for a standard loop attachment on the top rear of the stock. The other is ready to accept a quick-detach swivel and is located in the lower portion of the stock.
The advantage the threaded barrel offers is the attachment of a suppressor. Many civilian shooters do not realize suppressors can be legally owned, and even fewer understand their advantages. At last count, only 12 states outlaw suppressor ownership. By virtue of reducing the report of a .22 LR down to a level below that which will damage hearing, suppressors also help with noise pollution. In other words, they make it easier to shoot in areas where excessive sound can be an issue with neighbors. In many countries with far more restrictive firearms laws than America, suppressors are much easier to acquire and are considered a valuable tool to reduce hearing damage. If you opt to not use a suppressor on this rifle, it comes with a thread protector.
Aside from these features, this rifle is like any other M&P15-22. And, it’s just as reliable and as accurate. After firing 500 rounds, there were only two failures to feed and both occurred with Winchester Tin hollow-point rounds that turned out to be duds. As for accuracy, the rifle did not like the Winchester Tin hollow-point load. With the Federal Match load, accuracy was just as expected with five-shot, 50-yard groups measuring just a shade over an inch.
For any police agency that utilizes AR-15s as patrol rifles, the Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P15-22, or for that matter almost any M&P15-22, makes for a great training understudy rifle that will reduce costs and give officers more time on the range than training with a comparable weapon system. It’s easy to run the M&P15-22 for standard qualification courses at 50 yards and in, as well as tactical exercises and weapon transition drills. Just by simply switching the optic from the centerfire AR to the M&P15-22, complete weapons familiarity can be maintained. The M&P15-22 can even be used as in familiarization exercises with night-vision devices.
I used the Performance Center M&P15-22 to run one of my favorite combat carbine drills that I call the “Scout Rifle Workout.” In this drill your goal is to hit a 5-inch circle at 50 yards four times in 30 seconds. You start standing in the outdoor-ready position and fire one shot standing, one kneeling, one sitting and one prone. I’ve done this drill hundreds of times with an AR. In fact, I run it with every AR I review. For all practical purposes, running it with the M&P15-22 was no different.
The AR-15 was a groundbreaking design almost 50 years ago, but the Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 represents one of the greatest firearms design achievements to come along since, particularly if you are an AR-15 aficionado. Law enforcement or civilian, it doesn’t matter. If you own an AR-15, you need an M&P15-22 to go with it, and the one from the S&W Performance Center is as good as it will get.