Friday, May 8, 2015

An Evaluation of The Faxon Firearms ARAK-21 Rifle

At the event Faxon Firearms hosted on January 22nd of this year, I had the chance to shoot some examples of the Faxon ARAK-21 rifles, especially two rifles, which I will call Fifty-Two in 5.56mm and Oh Five in .308 Winchester (the latter of which I am given to understand is a prototype). I shot other ARAK-21s, but what I will say here concerns these two in particular.

Fifty-Two, with EoTech, suppressor, ACE folding stock, and short handguard.

With Fifty-Two, I had numerous malfunctions, mostly of a minor kind that was nonetheless indicative of more serious problems the rifle may have. The weapon had a tan finish, was suppressed, with a short handguard, ACE folding stock, and it mounted an EoTech holographic sight. I assume the barrel was in the 13-16" range; I do not know exactly how long. I chose to shoot this weapon because it was in 5.56mm, had a short handguard (so I could make a more fair weight comparison to other rifles), and because I wanted to get as much trigger time on one rifle as possible. I was not led to shoot this particular rifle by any Faxon employee or anyone else. I estimate I put less than a hundred rounds through Fifty-Two. It was the rifle I shot the most at the event.

Fifty-Two had already been shot before I reached it; I am not sure when it was last cleaned, but thanks to the suppressor the rifle already had a fine film of powder residue inside the receiver. I did not consider this residue further in my analysis.

Fifty-Two's receiver was very dirty, but no dirtier than I would expect from a suppressed AR-15 after firing a few hundred rounds.

I first made some ergonomic observations about the rifle, before shooting it. Even with the ACE folder, which I hoped would add some weight to the rifle and improve its balance, it was very front heavy; I found this created significant discomfort when handling the weapon, especially when compared to an M4-style carbine. Other rifles of the current generation are also front-heavy, but I would consider Fifty-Two to be exceptional in this regard.

I noted the rifle's charging handle sits forward and very low over the rail, and folds. I found the charging handle difficult to grab in this position; essentially I could only hold onto the very tip. Before I began shooting, I noted the bolt had to be given a running start to go into battery. When charging the rifle, this became a serious problem. If Fifty-Two has a bolt-closure device, I did not discover it (I was later informed that the ARAK-21 does not have a bolt-closure device). For comparison, even AR-15s without forward assist devices can be assisted into battery by pushing against the carrier with the thumb; there is no ability to do this with Fifty-Two. While I would normally consider pushing the bolt into battery a minor problem, I found that Fifty-Two presented serious problems when trying to correct this malfunction. The bolt head was able to capture cartridges and strip them from the magazine through friction alone, causing combined bolt-over-base/double-feed malfunctions when trying to close the bolt. I had to either remove the magazine and try to feed a new round, or carefully short-stroke the gun to achieve battery; this happened several times.

Fifty-Two, and all other rifles I have fired, had serious heating issues. Even firing magazines of only 5 rounds each, which was how ammunition was provided at the event, the rifles retained heat and quickly became uncomfortable to hold with bare hands. This happened much sooner than I would have expected in a similar string of fire with my Colt 6920 (which uses old-style Magpul MOE handguards). The pace of fire was very tame. I would go to the line, shoot one or two magazines with five rounds a piece, return to the ammunition station, pick up one or two more magazines of five rounds, and repeat. I did not try to do this as fast as I could. Despite this, the rifle heated up substantially. It also held the heat long after I set it down to cool.

The recoil of Fifty Two, and all other 5.56mm ARAK-21s I shot on the 22nd, was not so mild as reviews of this firearm led me to believe. I did not shoot an AR-15 at the event, but it's my opinion that the ARAK-21 recoils somewhat harder than my 6920. The ARAK-21 most likely has softer recoil than standard AKM-type rifles, in my opinion. Given the weight of the rifle, I would consider its recoil characteristics acceptable but marginal.

The malfunctions I experienced with Fifty-Two were mostly failures to engage the bolt hold open device. The rifle would tend to overshoot the bolt catch and be stopped by the follower of the magazine. These malfunctions are indicative of a very high cyclic rate and high friction during feeding, which is consistent with the observations I made on how fast the bolt seemed to be cycling. I did not bring my high speed camera, and thus could not confirm the cyclic rate.

I field-stripped Fifty Two without the aid of a Faxon representative. However, I did feel there were improvements that could be made to the field-stripping process. Depending on how it is counted, field stripping requires four or five steps to complete, while assembly requires five steps. During assembly, I found the enclosed receiver hindered alignment of the piston with the gas tube, and that it was possible to get the bolt carrier inside the receiver without having the piston properly aligned in the tube. The delicacy needed to get the piston and bolt carrier aligned in their respective homes caused me more than once to compress the bolt during assembly inadvertently. Unlike an AR-15, it is possible to insert the bolt assembly into the receiver with the bolt in the rearward locked position, which prevents correct assembly. After I had disassembled the gun the first time, I still found the process of field strip and reassembly to be a balancing act. It is my opinion that both the AK and AR-15 are much easier to strip and reassemble than Fifty-Two, especially under duress. Fifty-Two was the only ARAK-21 I field stripped.

Fifty-Two had a gas regulator. After firing a modest number of rounds, I found the gas system too hot and too small to manipulate. Given the rifle's high cyclic rate, I feel this is a significant drawback. The rifle when I got it had the cyclic rate turned all the way to the right, if one is looking down the sights. I do not know whether that position is all the way on or at the minimum setting.

I also fired rifle Oh Five in .308 Winchester. This rifle suffered similar failures to go into battery as Fifty-Two. I shot far fewer rounds through Oh Five, perhaps ten or fifteen. My shooting with Oh Five was ended when the Fiocchi ammunition that was provided blew a primer out of the back of the case, sticking in the chamber and causing a double feed. Examination of brass fired through Oh Five showed signs of pressure: The imprint of the dual ejectors was visible on the case head, having been etched through the headstamp. This is not the first time I have seen signs of dangerous pressure from Fiocchi ammunition. It is my opinion that these malfunctions were not the result of any flaw in the rifle, but rather the ammunition manufacturer's fault. At this point, I called a representative over and he retired the rifle for the day.

Oh Five, with a blown-out primer. I have no reason to believe this was the fault of the rifle.

I have provided pictures of a little less than half of the malfunctions I encountered in shooting less than 100 rounds, embedded below. Each picture documents a separate malfunction. I have also included some pictures of Fifty-Two's condition during firing, showing how it was configured and the dirt inside of the receiver.

A typical malfunction in Fifty-Two was for the bolt to skip over the cartridge base and try to feed it into the chamber through friction from the bolt lugs. Skipping over the cartridge base is a sign of either worn out magazines, which is unlikely, or a rifle that is running far too fast.

The follower of the PMags provided produced enough friction against the bolt to stop the moving parts group. I believe this rifle cycled all the way to the rear, but skipped over the bolt hold open, another sign of a rifle that is running at too high a cyclic rate.

Fifty-Two had considerable difficulty in locking and achieving battery. The bolt as seen here has stopped against the barrel, and failed to rotate. This malfunction is caused by a poor mass ratio, ejectors with too powerful springs, and friction in the receiver. In Fifty-Two, this malfunction was needlessly difficult to overcome, due to a lack of options for manually closing the bolt. Even AR-15s without forward assists can be manually assisted into battery by pushing with the thumb against the bolt carrier. Fifty-Two has a slick-sided bolt carrier that prevents such a maneuver.

If I attempted to fix the bolt closure problem, this malfunction would often result. The first cartridge has remained in the chamber, never captured by the bolt's extractor, while the bolt has picked up the second cartridge through friction alone, causing a combination of bolt-over-base and double-feed malfunctions.

In my opinion, rifle Fifty-Two had some serious limitations. I am not sure exactly what segment of the market Faxon is targeting with the ARAK-21, but based on my shooting experiences on the 22nd of January with rifle Fifty-Two, I would not be able to recommend the ARAK-21 at this time. The rifle has serious issues stemming from a moving parts group that is too light and a mass ratio that is too poor. Faxon has tried to fix this by increasing the cyclic rate, but this most likely caused failures to eject and round skipping. It's probable that the Faxon engineers added the stronger ejectors and a gas regulator to solve those problems, but these in turn cause problems of their own. The Faxon ARAK-21 needs a total redesign to properly solve these issues.