Part 2. The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)

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By Joel Jefferson •  6 min read

Part 2: (History) In order to better understand the capabilities of the modern AR style rifle and how it can be an invaluable tool in the right situations, it’s important to understand its origins and history (both good and bad).

This article is Part 2 in a series of posts.  Read Part 1: (A Little Background)

Knowing these facts can help you make a more informed decision as you purchase or build your ultimate survival carbine.  The history of the carbine in our society and the part its played in military applications has a very long and sordid past.  


During Vietnam the military switched from the tried and true M14 platform to the M16 platform.  There were a lot of complaints from the soldiers on the ground using the new weapons (often with good reason), many of these were related to reliability and functionality of the direct gas impingement system and the terminal ballistics from the new smaller 5.56×45 NATO cartridge the M16 used; as opposed to the larger and more formidable 7.62×51 NATO cartridge that was fired from the very reliable M14 rifle.

Some of the positive aspects of the M16 were the lighter configuration, ergonomics and expanded magazine capacity.  

The most modern variation of the U.S. combat rifle is the M4 carbine.  It was adopted by the U.S. Army in the mid 1990’s and replaced the M16.  Both the M16 and M4 carbine use the same 5.56 mm NATO round with similar design and functionality.  

The M4 carbine is available in a number of M4variations depending on the specific military or law enforcement applications it is used for.  One of the interesting notes is that the M16 and the M4 carbine have about 85% of the same parts compatibility.

Some of the nice features of the M4 carbine are that it is lighter, more compact and has a number of attachment options which allows for greater flexibility in use.  In comparison with the AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 -Soviet-Made 7.62×39 mm Assault Rifle) the modern M4 carbine has a reputation for being more accurate at a greater range. 

The civilian version of the U.S. military M16 / M4 carbine is usually referred to as an AR15 or simply AR and in most variations is almost identical.  Other than being semi-automatic, if it is constructed according to MIL-SPEC, it’s almost completely interchangeable with the military M16 / M4 carbine select fire variations.

Quick Fact

An interesting fact is that ArmaLite sold the rights and designs of the AR10 and AR15 to Colt in 1959, from which Colt started designing the M16 assault rifle and later the M4 carbine.  This is where we got the name AR (from ArmaLite).

The AR

From Wikipedia:

“The AR-15 is based on the 7.62mm AR-10, designed by Eugene Stoner of the Fairchild ArmaLite corporation.”

Some attractive features of the AR style rifle is that: with a simple barrel and receiver switch,SEAL using the MK12 Sniper Rifle Firing 5.56mm round this rifle can fire numerous different calibers and sizes of ammunition.  It is almost completely customizable.  

This rifle can be a personal defense firearm at less than 30 inches long or a sniper rifle (MK12) over 50 inches (read “Lone Survivor” for a good book about a SEAL team using the MK12 sniper rifle in Afghanistan; also see Video of Blackwater Snipers in Iraq using MK12). The standard magazine is 30 rounds, but aftermarket 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, 90, and 100 round magazines and drums are also available.

The boutique options of the modern AR carbine such as those listed above make it a very attractive survival rifle.  With companies offering upper receiver/barrel options capable of accepting and accurately sending a number of different caliber rounds downrange, the flexibility is unsurpassed by other platforms.  

Also, the compatibility of parts between the AR15 / M16 / M4 carbine type systems and their availability mean that they will probably be able to be maintained (one can acquire replacement parts as needed) without much trouble in the future (unless there are new legal obstacles put in place).


There has also recently been a re-emergence of the Springfield Armory M1A / M14 battle rifle, typically with a shorter barrel, synthetic/lighter stock and with modular configuration options (i.e. MK14 and SOCOM 16) that allow it to accept many modern accessories (scopes, laser sights, weapon mounted lights, etc.).

 This platform enjoys a legacy as a durable and reliable weapon, has excellent performance in both arctic and desert conditions and fires a round that is about twice the weight and size of the typical 5.56 AR15 / M4 carbine system.  

If I had an M1A battle rifle variant as my primary weapon system early on in my career as a gunslinger, I would probably be more partial to it, however it emerged as an option for me late in the game.  I found it slightly heavier and a bit more cumbersome and ergonomically challenging to carry and manipulate than my M4 carbine and MK12 sniper rifle, so I decided to stick with what was familiar and comfortable.  

It’s personal preference.  The M1A may be a good alternative to those folks who don’t like the AR style rifle platform for various reasons.  Although it didn’t work for me and what I wanted in my primary weapon system, it may be the best survival weapon choice for others.

Wrap Up

As I mentioned before, I am partial to the AR platform, I have been conditioned to like it.  I lived with it, slept with it, spent nearly every moment with it within arms reach for months at a time.  I like the weight and the balance in my hands. I know what types of problems it is partial to having and how to avoid a majority of them based on maintenance, proper usage and configuration.

Recently, several manufacturers seeking to create a more reliable M4 carbine have revamped its legacy direct gas impingement system into a gas piston operated alternative.

In addition to the U.S., there are around 35 countries that have also purchased and are currently using the Colt M4 carbine system, in some capacity, in their military and / or law enforcement ranks. 

There is quite a bit of information out there on the history, controversy, and future direction of the modern U.S. carbine rifle. Individuals interested in reading more about modern developments on the M4 carbine rifle should read the following link(s):

The USA’s M4 Carbine Controversy
M4 Carbine Good Enough for US Army (Counterpoint)

Marine Corps Rifleman’s Creed
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine…..

Continue Reading:  Part 3: (Direct Gas Impingement (DI/DGI) vs. Gas Piston Operated)

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Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here.