It was not all that long ago that Smith & Wesson entered the AR market in earnest. The first of their guns were simple rifles for law enforcement built on receivers and lowers from an outside source. After a recent tour of the facility, it became evident that this situation has changed rather radically. You would be hard pressed to find anyone, certainly any gun manufacturer not specializing in AR rifles, with a better selection. With 17 different models listed on the website alone, S&W has pretty much every angle covered. Not only are they building a huge variety of these rifles, but they are building them all in-house.
S&W has the ability to truly build these rifles from the ground up like few can—not many gun manufacturers these days have their own forge! As one of those guys who just loves big machines, that was one of the highlights of the tour. It’s pretty rare for a company to have a product start in-house as a lump of metal and come out a rifle. Virtually every other company out there relies on someone else to provide the lowers and often the receivers as well. Along with forging the big parts, even the small parts are made there. With the exception of things like buttstocks, pistol grips and some very small parts, everything is made in-house. That is about as good as it gets when it comes to quality control. There are no calls to the “supplier” if there is an issue; you walk over to the spot where that part is made and fix the problem. That kind of sole control over every aspect of the manufacturing process is every gun makers’ dream.
This also provides S&W the ability to experiment and innovate. Having been a part of companies that rely on sending out drawings for research and development projects, this is a huge advantage. It can be incredibly frustrating to wait weeks for the first example of your idea, and the process is considerably slow. At S&W, the guy who builds the part you designed is at the other end of the building. Granted it is a big building, but it cuts down on design time. It really gives you the ability to meet the customers’ needs as well. There is little doubt that this is part of the reason for the huge variety of weapons S&W offers.
One of the hardest things to do in the firearms industry is get past the hype, stereotypes, and emotional myopia of those in the business. When the M&P15 first came out, I recall statements like, “They build great revolvers, but how can they make a rifle?” Statements like that are not only odd but misinformed. People have been piecing together AR rifles in garages almost since the design’s introduction—try doing that with a revolver! It is the opposite that is actually true. If S&W can build a revolver the way they do, just think of what they can do with a “simple” AR rifle. Having tested a few, shot even more, and seeing even more at the range, clearly they have done an excellent job. To this day, the M&P15 MOE is one of my first recommendations to anyone looking for an AR-15 rifle. It does not matter whether it is for law enforcement use, target practice, home defense or just plain fun. This rifle is simple, accurate, reliable, and priced really well. In my volunteer time at a local range as a rangemaster, several of these rifles have shown up. Taking the time to ask each person how it works, there has never been a complaint. S&W must be doing something right, even if they are a “revolver company.”
The variety of AR-based rifles S&W offers is pretty impressive. There are several tactical versions for just about every need, ranging from the simplest to the best equipped. With the popularity of the system for hunting really catching on, there are models for that purpose as well. There are target models for most applications, and even the new piston-driven system. They even offer a rifle chambered in the 5.45x39mm round. This is becoming a rather popular cartridge mostly due to its availability and incredibly low price in comparison to the 5.56mm ammunition.
This is where it all started for S&W in the AR market. Their M&P line of pistols was a perfect platform for a rifle. As a lieutenant in charge of firearms, it was always easier to deal with as few companies as possible. At the time, the M&P pistols were really catching on and it seemed inevitable that police agencies would ask S&W if they would make an AR-15 as well. The M&P15 rifle was introduced and is quickly becoming a favorite for officers and agencies alike.
While it may have started out as a simple police carbine, many variations exist today. The basic M&P15 rifle is the quintessential AR-15 rifle—S&W’s version of the M4. With its carry handle sights, M4 barrel, flash hider and six-position stock, it is perfect for duty carry or home protection. It is great the way it is, or can serve as an excellent platform from which to build on. For those who want to add their own sighting system with no need for a carry handle, there is the M&P15OR (optics ready). The M&P15A provides the same flat top with a fixed front sight and flip-up rear. This allows for the addition of the many red dot sights out there. The MOE has a simple handguard with the excellent Magpul MOE stock, pistol grip and rear sight.
For accuracy and versatility, there is the M&P15VTAC with a JP/VTAC handguard, SureFire flash hider and G2 light, VTAC sling, and the excellent JP single-stage trigger and speed hammer. Another of my favorites is the M&P15T rifle. This version uses the Troy Industries free-floating rail forend and their flip-up battle sights. This is a simple system, utilizing some of the best accessories in the business. Whether an agency, officer or private contractor, S&W undoubtedly has an M&P rifle that fits your needs.
Once thought of as only a tactical rifle, the AR platform is catching on in the hunting world. For small game or varmints, the 5.56mm is an excellent cartridge. The rifles are lightweight, compact, reliable and easy to shoot. They can be incredibly accurate as well, even more so with the addition of the many available triggers out there. Although all of the rifles offered by S&W can be used for hunting, competition or just plain target practice, they do offer a rifle well-suited to this role. The M&P15PC is equipped with a 20-inch stainless steel 1-in-8-inch twist barrel mated to a free-floating Yankee Hill forend. This is a combination designed for accuracy. It includes a two-stage match trigger with a 4.5-pound trigger pull. It is all coated in camouflage, ready for blending into the background. Simply add the optics of your choice and this rifle is ready for any varmint hunting you may desire.
Like most everyone in the AR world, S&W has entered the piston market as well. The simplest of these is the M&P15 PS rifle. This rifle has a flat top, M4 barrel, rail for mounting a front sight and a collapsible stock. Retailing at just a bit over $1,500, it is competitively priced for piston-driven rifles. The PSX offers the same rifle with the addition of the Troy 7 Modular Quad-Rail handguard. This is an excellent platform from which to build your favorite piston system. Piston-driven systems are not for everyone, but for those who want the reliability and lack of gas in the bolt, these are excellent choices.
There are several other rifles offered in the M&P line that do not necessarily fit into one particular role. One of the latest things in the market is the 14.5-inch barrel with a permanently attached flash hider. This gives you a true 16-inch barrel, including the flash hider. Gone are the “pins” and unsightly welds of old; these rifles today look fantastic. S&W’s M&P15 TS is an excellent example of this rifle. A Troy TRX Extreme handguard is attached. This 13-inch handguard provides rail attachments almost to the end of the barrel, creating a very nice look. It also has Magpul sights, stock, grip and a PMAG magazine. This handy little rifle is perfect for any tactical or home-defense use.
Another rifle worth mentioning is the M&P15R, chambered in 5.45x39mm. This is a good example of S&W answering the call of its customer base. This is a simple M4-based rifle using what is fast becoming a popular cartridge. As many former Eastern Bloc countries either move to the NATO cartridge, or back to the 7.62x39mm ammunition, the 5.45mm cartridge is abundantly available. It can be found at times for as little as half the cost of typical 5.56mm ammunition. In a tight economy where ammunition prices are steadily rising, this is a great alternative and makes shooting these rifles possible where it may otherwise not be cost effective.
S&W has had to overcome a number of things over the last few years. These range from the typical corporate issues to some political ramifications from previous times. They have made a great effort to bring back their stellar reputation as an American gun maker. This has certainly been a tough road at times, but S&W is a great company, comprised of great people, and a true example of the American Spirit.
With their M&P line of pistols, they have recaptured a large part of the police pistol market, and their M&P line of rifles is doing much the same thing. Along with the tactical and police market, the M&P rifles meet the needs of the recreational shooter, competitive shooter and just about everyone else who shoots a rifle. The ability to build rifles from scratch provides them with a unique ability that they have used to produce some of the finest AR rifles available and in a huge variety. The future looks good for S&W. Looking forward to the innovation and cutting edge technology they bring to the market, it can only get better.
Smith & Wesson