I was a little taken aback by such a definitive statement, knowing that both of us have handled a lot of M6 carbines and REPRs the last few years.
“Seriously? You can’t say that yet,” I replied. “You’ve at least got to shoot it.”
The M6-IC-SPR should be an appropriate name describing the next generation of the LWRC wonder guns. The “M6” indicates that the model is based on the company’s equivalent to the U.S. military’s SOPMOD M4. Fundamentally, this rifle is a standard carbine available in various barrel lengths. Although M6s have been chambered in either 5.56 NATO or 6.8 SPC, this one is only available in 5.56 NATO — for now.
The “IC” designates the added features carried over from the rifle LWRC submitted for the U.S. Army’s Individual Carbine (IC) solicitation. This was supposed to be an open competition to replace the M4. However, the field of eligible competitors was quickly reduced after Phase II required manufacturers to submit rifles that could handle the new M855A1 round and offer specific capabilities. It’s often alleged that Uncle Sugar was trying to direct the outcome toward one or two of its favorite small arms manufacturers. As to one example, in my research and interviews I performed in writing the March 2012 “Shooting Times” cover story, “Individual Carbine,” I learned that the IC solicitation required the attachment of the M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System (MASS), the M203 and the HK M320 EGLM. This particular requirement created a difficult challenge for new businesses that were not already plugged in to the defense industry. Neither the military nor the manufacturers were allowed to send these systems or engineering drawings to interested candidates.
“You can’t buy the HK M320 EGLM or C-More M26 shotgun,” says Darren Mellors, executive vice president for LWRC. “The Army only shared engineering drawings that it owned, which did not include the shotgun or grenade launcher. They gave each candidate eight hours at HP White Labs to essentially measure and figure out a method to mount these. We sent an engineer to try and reverse-engineer the mounting interface. To determine if our new rail would hold up to the unique stresses of each system, we bought a Remington 870 and chopped it down to a short-barreled shotgun and attached it to the rifle for in-house live-fire testing with military buckshot and breeching loads.”
On March 19, 2013, the U.S. Defense Department included testimony from the Pentagon Inspector General to reconsider the Individual Carbine program to replace the M4 in an effort to improve spending efficiency and reduce overall waste. The Inspector General questioned why the Army was shopping for a new rifle when the total force was being reduced and M4A1 carbines were still scheduled for purchase through 2018. Phase II of testing had been completed by the time the Army announced it was considering canceling the IC competition on May 2nd, but no contract was awarded for candidates to enter the Phase III soldier evaluation. The three-year competition was canceled on June 13, 2013.
On June 17, 2013, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) sent a Letter of Disappointment to Secretary of the Army John McHugh over the decision to cancel the Individual Carbine program without giving soldiers an opportunity to field test the rifles and determine if there were marked improvements over the M4. For now, it appears that FN Manufacturing will be the provider of M4s and M4A1s after outbidding Remington Defense and Colt Defense for the nearly $77 million contract. At the end, PEO Soldier reported, “No competitor demonstrated a significant improvement in weapon reliability to justify buying a new carbine.”
There are a number of improvements developed for the IC competition that LWRC applied to the new M6-IC-SPR, and it starts with the ambidextrous IC lower we’ve all been waiting for. The LWRC M6-IC candidate featured a completely redesigned lower receiver utilizing an ambi magazine release and bolt catch, as well as a dual-fire-control lever. Even the charging handle offers ambi levers. Not only can both right- and left-handed shooters benefit from controls favoring their dominant side, but this configuration gives both types more options for function when having to employ the rifle from the support side. And even though the IC lower is a departure from the typical AR layout, it can still accept standard AR-patterned uppers.
I’m quite familiar with the Mil-Spec trigger. In my 12 years of experience as a military armorer, I know that they release the hammer after six to nine pounds of pressure is applied. There are varying amounts of creep, crunch and overtravel, and it requires practice and familiarity with a particular Mil-Spec trigger to master it. LWRC makes a more consistent and smoother pull by applying a Nickel Boron (NiB) treatment that works as a hard, permanent lubrication. This treatment is used on the barrel extension and bolt-carrier group also. Carbon residue doesn’t build up on these surfaces, and the slippery quality improves the feel of a Mil-Spec trigger without changing geometry between parts necessary for longevity. In my analysis, the trigger pull on the M6-IC-SPR deceptively measured 6.2 pounds on a Lyman scale.
LWRC will offer the SPR with trigger options depending on the user’s intended function. If a CQB gun needs an upgrade, LWRC will install a trigger treated with NiB. The SPR series is much like a designated marksman rifle (DMR) or one that’s used for 3-Gun competition, so it will be available with a Geissele option as well. LWRC tells me that it will address these changes to existing models as long as the change makes sense.
The “SPR” designation in the LWRC M6-IC-SPR stands for “Special Purpose Rifle.” This suffix was first given to the M6A2 SPR that this IC version resembles. In fact, the M6-IC-SPR is basically an M6A2 SPR upper attached to an M6-IC ambi lower.
LWRC’s innovative Monoforge upper receiver was first seen on the M6A2-SPR and is expected to appear on all future LWRC IC rifles. The takeaway is that the mounting base for the handguard is machined as part of the upper receiver for added strength and reduced weight. Though screws secure the lower half of the free-float forend to the Monoforge upper, the top half of the handguard can be easily removed for inspection of the piston assembly or maintenance.
LWRC’s take on the SPR concept was designed to epitomize a balanced, fast-action tactical carbine by reducing the weight up front, just as the Special Operations community initially asked for. The SPR uses a lightened and sculpted rail, called the SPR-MOD, which was borrowed from the company’s 7.62 REPR platform. It measures 12 inches in length, which is a third longer than the Mark II-B rail, but 5 percent lighter.
The narrow-handling forend shrouds a cold-hammer-forged barrel that has been spiral fluted to shave 20 percent of the weight. This SPR is available from LWRC with either a 14.7-inch or 16.1-inch tube. The barrel is treated with a NiCorr surface conversion process. LWRC contends that the spiral fluting relieves longitudinal stresses that can cause stringing. User-configured and removable rail sections keep unnecessary weight off the forend and help balance out the SPR.
The SPR utilizes a mid-length gas-piston system designed to direct the recoil impulse in a more linear manner to help keep the muzzle level for faster follow-up shots. Not only does it help keep the internals clean and cool, the shooter doesn’t feel like he’s fighting to control the rifle.
Although the M6-IC candidate was submitted with a set of Magpul furniture, the M6-IC-SPR lower is equipped with the new LWRC Compact Stock. It’s a drop-in replacement for Mil-Spec-diameter buffer tubes, and I think of it as a hybrid of the original M4 CAR stock and the SOPMOD. It’s extremely light at 7.9 ounces, nearly half the weight of almost every other stock currently on the market. It features integral sling attachment points, one-hand adjustments, an angled comb and a rubber pad that seems to stick in your shoulder. It is currently available in either black or FDE colors and can be purchased separately from LWRC for $60.
“We used to sell Vltor, the SOPMOD and Magpul,” says Mellors. “We found that they were all good for one reason or another, so we tried to incorporate what we liked in one simple stock. The cheekweld is inspired by SOPMOD, and it’s shorter than the CTR. We managed to eliminate the dead space in the CTR.”
The CTR is a narrower stock than the standard compact stock, but LWRC is developing an even smaller stock that takes two inches off the length of pull. It will be called the Ultra Compact. Though it does slide over a Mil-Spec tube, it’s not actually Mil-Spec because it is so short.
“We’re redoing our product line this year,” says Mellors. “We’ve come up with so many different models that [I’m afraid] there is market confusion. We have the REPR, the SIX8 and now the IC. Right now, the IC is 5.56 only. Incremental changes have come out, and with [the M6-IC-SPR] we wanted to incorporate all the useful stuff like the ambi controls and the spiral-fluted barrel. The IC SPR has always been in our plan, and [the M6A2] SPR was one of the most popular due to the long, configurable rail. People want rails where you need them, and without a barrel nut we were able to further decrease weight. The barrel nut is actually part of the 7075 aluminum receiver, and then there’s a steel torque ring that we attach the barrel with and precisely tighten to 65 foot-pounds. Our consistency is achieved in how we mount the barrel. On a conventional M4, one rifle may have a barrel attached by a nut torqued to 20 foot-pounds, while another has been tightened to 80. We firm it up for repeatability and have a true, free-float barrel.”
Tom Beckstrand, former SF captain and sniper team leader, joined me in an exclusive demo of the M6-IC-SPR prototype you see on these pages. We uncased it and found that the firing pin was missing, but after I gave it an armorer’s technical inspection and saw that it could be fired, I decided to cannibalize a firing pin from another rifle and dropped it into the bolt-carrier group. (Sorry, LWRC.)
Unfortunately, it was not ready for accuracy testing, but we did manage to smack some nearby 3-Gun targets using a Steiner optic. In the course of a day, it was obvious that the M6-IC-SPR preferred the heavier bullets. No surprise here; barrels with 1:7-inch twists tend to perform better with the expensive stuff. In this case, we were primarily using the Hornady TAP in the 75-grain variety. I managed to scrounge some Federal 55-grain XM193 and Winchester 62-grain FMJ loads for a quick run over a portable ProChrono.
The Steiner 1-4X is perfectly suited for work on this SPR. It is easy to shoot multiple targets on a dynamic range with both eyes open, and the quick turn of the power ring provides assured target ID when you need it.
If you’re like us and have been waiting the last two years for LWRC to offer us its ambi IC lower, get ready to play. You’ll have to wait for the results of a complete test fire of a production M6-IC-SPR, but you should expect that you’d be able to exploit this rifle’s achievement in balanced handling when using it to engage multiple targets. It’s a dream to shoot. The trigger is instantly responsive, and it’s a thrill to drive the gun when transitioning between silhouettes or cardboard cutouts.
If you need a lightweight, reliable rifle that benefits from the best materials, coatings and manufacturing processes in the industry, this is going to be it. In making a completely ambidextrous SPR, LWRC really does turn out a premium product. Though the troops won’t be getting something better than Uncle Sam’s M4 for the foreseeable future, you can find one of your own in the fourth quarter of 2013. If you decide to buy it, try and find one of LWRC’s 1,500 guitar cases. The combo is sure to make you a rock star.
<h2></h2>This M6-IC-SPR prototype was demo’d with a Steiner 1-4x24mm tactical riflescope set in a Burris P.E.P.R. one-piece mount. It’s great for use on AR-type rifles, as it properly places magnified optics forward for optimum eye relief. If you foresee a need to quickly remove the optic, the Burris P.E.P.R. QD mount is for you.