Subscribe To the GunsAmerica Digest and News This Week

A 6-pound, sub-MOA, $999 5.56mm AR?—Full Review.

Send to Kindle
The Armalite M-15 Light Tactical Carbine. I added the big Burris XTR II for accuracy testing.

The Armalite M-15 Light Tactical Carbine, shown equipped with a Burris XTR II that the author used for accuracy testing.

For more information, visit https://armalite.com/.

To purchase an Armalite M-15 LTC or other M-15 variant on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Armalite%20M15.

Based on sales figures and some good, old-fashioned SWAG math, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million AR-15 rifles floating around the country, give or take a couple of million. And guess where all that AR popularity started? Armalite. That’s right, the “AR” in AR-15 AR doesn’t stand for Assault Rifle, Apocalyptic Rampage, or even Alpaca Rabies. Instead, the letters “AR” represent an abbreviation the original company’s name. Let’s take a quick look at how we got to the subject of today’s rifle review, the Armalite M-15 Light Tactical Carbine.

History

It all started back in 1952, or 1954 if you count from the production date of the AR-1 7.62x51mm Parasniper rifle. Even back then, light and handy was the design goal of the day – that rifle had an anodized aluminum barrel with a steel sleeve. One of the founders, Eugene Stoner, had a big bee in his bonnet about the possibilities of using space-age materials like polymer and aluminum to make rifles lighter without sacrificing durability and performance.

The M-15 has everything you'd expect on a service rifle , forward-assist included.

The M-15 has everything you’d expect on an AR-15-pattern service rifle, forward-assist included.

The AR-1 was followed by the AR-5 .22 Hornet Survival Rifle, adopted by the Air Force as the MA-1 Survival Rifle. In the late 1950s, Armalite worked on the AR-10 in 7.62x51mm. Army officials asked for a smaller version of that rifle as a potential replacement for the M1 Garand, and the AR-15 was born.

In 1959, the rights to the AR-15 designs were sold to Colt’s Manufacturing, who assumed responsibility for the manufacture and sale of the AR-15 design to the U.S. Military and others. Over the next 30-some years, things got a little confusing as the Armalite brand passed through Elisco Tool Manufacturing Company and later Eagle Arms. The final resolution came about in 2013 when Strategic Armory Corps (SAC) purchased Armalite, and that’s the company you know today. Just to keep the big picture straight, SAC also owns OWC (suppressors), Surgeon Rifles, Nexus Ammunition, and McMillan Firearms. The bottom line is that Armalite is back and in the business of producing AR-type rifles, bolt-action guns, specialty weapons like integrally suppressed rifles and pistols, and a slew of other stuff.

The rifles comes with a standard birdcage flash hider timed with a compression washer. If you want to change muzzle devices, the thread pattern is standard 1/2x28.

The rifles comes with a standard birdcage flash hider/compensator timed with a compression washer. If you want to change muzzle devices, the thread pattern is standard 1/2×28.

Specs

  • CHAMBERING: 5.56×45 mm/.223 Rem.
  • BARREL: 16-inch chrome lined/chrome moly, threaded 1/2-28
  • OA LENGTH: 32-35.3 inches
  • WEIGHT: 6.0 pounds
  • STOCK: Six-position
  • SIGHTS: None
  • ACTION: Direct gas impingement
  • FINISH: Anodized/manganese phosphated
  • CAPACITY: 30+1
  • MSRP: $999.00

The Tour

The first thing you notice about the M-15 Light Tactical Carbine is the handling. It’s light, weighing in at just six pounds flat. Part of the “feel” is related to the weight, but the slim handguard also contributes to the perception of “handy.” The anodized aluminum handguard is a very narrow, free-floated, 10-inch Keymod compatible model. Without the built-in rails, it’s not only svelte, but smooth on the hands. I really like the feel.

One of my favorite things about the M-15 LTC is the Armalite handguard. It's narrow, light, and uncluttered thanks to the Keymod configuration.

One of my favorite things about the M-15 LTC is the Armalite handguard. It’s narrow, light, and uncluttered thanks to the Keymod configuration.

Starting at the muzzle, you’ll see a standard birdcage flash hider mounted on a ½-28 TPI threaded barrel. The barrel is manganese phosphate treated on the outside and chrome lined on the inside and has an M4 Carbine-style cut stepdown on its outer diameter. The 1:7-inch rifling starts right after a 5.56mm chamber, so it’s ready to go with either commercial .223 Remington or 5.56mm NATO ammunition.

The gas key on the bolt carrier was staked into position as expected.

The gas key on the bolt carrier was staked into position as expected.

The gas system is carbine-length and uses a very low-profile gas block, allowing for the rifle-length slim handguard to fit over the top of it. The rifle is an optics-ready model, so there is no front sight gas block assembly. If you want iron sights, you need to mount them on the top rail. Speaking of the handguard, it’s octagonal in shape with a full-length Picatinny rail all the way across the top. The other seven sides all have Keymod attachment points, so you can mount stuff at the 1:30, 3, 4:30, 6, 7:30, 9, and 10:30 positions. The handguard is secured to the receiver with two hex bolts across the bottom. One more thing; the handguard is an Armalite custom design.

The handguard is also free-floated - likely a key feature that contributes to the excellent accuracy of this rifle.

The handguard is also free-floated—likely a key feature that contributes to the excellent accuracy of this rifle.

The receiver is made from 7075-T6 aluminum and has all the standard controls where you would expect: Safety on the left, magazine release on the right, and bolt catch and release on the left. You’ll also find a forward assist.

The trigger is what you would expect from a mil-spec’ish rifle. I’d describe the pull as having some rough take up, followed by a short distance of stacking, and a little bit of a mushy break. I measured pull weight a bunch of times with my Timney Triggers scale and got figures ranging between 7.25 and 7.75 pounds. Like with most AR rifles, this is the first thing I would upgrade.

The charging handle is standard and perfectly serviceable.

The charging handle is standard and perfectly serviceable.

The buttstock is standard six-position adjustable and mounted on a mil-spec receiver extension tube.

The buttstock is standard six-position adjustable and mounted on a mil-spec receiver extension tube.

The bolt and carrier are what you would expect, including a well-staked gas key. That’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The bolt carrier is made from 8620 steel, while the bolt itself is 158 carpenter steel. The charging handle is also standard with a latch on the left side.

The receiver extension tube is mil-spec size, and I measure the exterior diameter at 1.145 inches exactly. It holds a standard six-position adjustable buttstock. The buttstock has both a steel fixed sling loop and a cut just below the buffer tube for alternate sling attachment.

All in all, think of this rifle as a standard, optics-ready platform. It’s ready for whatever you want to do with it.

As an optics-ready design, the receiver rail is "extended" full length with a Picatinny rail along the full length of the handguard.

As an optics-ready design, the receiver rail is “extended” full length with a Picatinny rail along the full length of the handguard.

Variants

Armalite makes about 75 different rifles at this point, including M-15 models, AR-10s, and a wide array of bolt-action rifles. Just in the M-15 Light Carbine family, you can find four different models. The standard rifle discussed here is complemented by an 11.5-inch barrel model (requires and ATF tax stamp), a 6.8 SPC caliber model, and even one chambered in 7.62x39mm.

Nexus Ammunition

In the “learn something new every day” category, it turns out that the parent company of Armalite, Strategic Armory Corps, also owns Nexus Ammunition. The Armalite folks who loaned the rifle sent along some of Nexus’s 77-grain match grade .223 Remington ammo to test with the rifle. This load uses a Sierra Matchking projectile, which is perhaps the gold standard for accurate bullets. It’s loaded to factory rated velocity of 2,767 feet per second, yielding 1,309 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The box is stamped with 2,720 feet per second, so I tested it myself – we’ll get to that in a bit.

I sampled randomly selected cartridges from the Nexus match ammo and tested bullet runout using this Hornady Concentricity Gauge. No rounds showed more than 2/1,000ths off center. That's excellent.

I sampled randomly selected cartridges from the Nexus match ammo and tested bullet runout using this Hornady Concentricity Gauge. No rounds showed more than 2/1,000ths off center. That’s excellent.

Our friends at Midsouth Shooters Supply recently loaned a Hornady Lock-N-Load Bullet Concentricity Gauge. This nifty little tool checks the degree of bullet runout – a potential spoiler of accuracy. In plain English, it tests how straight the bullet is aligned in the case. If the bullet is straight, it’s like launching a bowling ball right down the middle of the lane. Common sense would dictate that the straighter a bullet is starting out, the more accurate it’ll be. I randomly selected a bunch of cartridges from the Nexus 77-grain match ammo supply and measured concentricity variance with the gauge. The lowest reading came in at 1/1,000th of an inch and the highest at 2/1,000ths of an inch. Most rounds were somewhere in between. Those are excellent results based on other ammunition brands I’ve run through the gauge – many move well into the 3 to 5 one-thousandths of an inch runout. Later on, I’ll discuss the specific accuracy results of the Nexus ammo from the Armalite M-15 Light Tactical Carbine.

Shooting the M-15 Light Tactical Carbine

As this rifle features a 1:7-inch twist rate barrel, I had no qualms about feeding it heavier and longer 77-grain bullets in addition to the standard 55-grain varieties.

Armalite's parent company, Strategic Armory Corps, also owns Nexus Ammunition. The 77-grain match load performed shockingly well.

Armalite’s parent company, Strategic Armory Corps, also owns Nexus Ammunition. The 77-grain match load performed shockingly well.

I also tested quite a bit of Norma's Match-223 77-grain ammo loaded with Sierra Matchking bullets.

I also tested quite a bit of Norma’s Match-223 77-grain ammo loaded with Sierra Matchking bullets.

In addition to the Nexus Match ammo, I also shot groups and velocity with Norma’s Match 223 ammo, also tipped with 77-grain Sierra Matchking bullets. To check performance with standard-weight bullets, I fired some groups with Hornady 55-grain V-Max ammo, also known for great accuracy performance.

I first measured the velocity of the various types of test ammo. I set up a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph 15-feet down range and fired ten-shot strings through that to get some decently reliable average velocities, extreme spread, and standard deviation figures.

AmmunitionAverage VelocityExtreme SpreadStandard Deviation
Nexus Match Grade 77-grain Sierra Matchking2,622.8 fps54.0 fps15.45
Norma Match 223 77-grain Sierra Matchking2,533.8 fps90.0 fps30.03
Hornady 55-grain V-Max2,832.7 fpsNANA

To test precision, I mounted a Burris XTR II 2-10x42mm optic. This particular 34mm tube optic has the SCR MOA reticle which offers very fine crosshairs to facilitate precise aiming. That and the 10x magnification gave me reasonable confidence that I could remove most of the “human eyesight” error from accuracy testing. I used a Blackhawk! Titan III rest with a rear bag and anchored it to the shooting bench with a 25-pound bag of lead shot.

For accuracy testing, I mounted this Burris XTR II 2-10x42 scope.

For accuracy testing, I mounted this Burris XTR II 2-10×42 scope.

To get a decent indication of the precision of the various combinations of rifle and ammunition, I shot multiple five-shot groups with each ammo type and averaged the group sizes, center to center. Here’s what I found:

AmmunitionAverage Five-shot Group Size (inches)
Nexus Match Grade 77-grain Sierra Matchking0.86”
Norma Match 223 77-grain Sierra Matchking1.09”
Hornady 55-grain V-Max1.07”

As you can see, for a standard, mil-spec-ish AR-type rifle, the M-15 LTC is surprisingly accurate – among the best off-the-shelf models I’ve seen, and even more so considering the price point. While I didn’t have the opportunity to test this hypothesis, I’d bet a wooden nickel or two that I could have shrunk those groups even more with an improved trigger. I had to work pretty hard to overcome the pressure and roughness of the trigger without blowing an otherwise perfect shot. Of course, an upgraded trigger won’t do anything to improve mechanical accuracy, but it would help the shooter break a better and more predictable shot.

The Nexus 77-grain match ammo shot exceptionally well from the M-15 as evidenced by this 100-yard, five-shot group.

The Nexus 77-grain match ammo shot exceptionally well from the M-15 as evidenced by this 100-yard, five-shot group.

The best five-shot group using the Norma Match-223 77-grain ammo measured just .69 inches from 100 yards.

The best five-shot group using the Norma Match-223 77-grain ammo measured just .69 inches from 100 yards.

Functionally, the rifle ran like a champ. I shot plenty of standard 55-grain ammo and a few hundred rounds of 77-grain match ammo of various types, although both brands of that used the Sierra Matchking projectile.

I liked the feel of the rifle. The handguard is slim, and relatively short, which makes handling easy. The weight is only six pounds, but it handles even lighter due to the shape and proportions if that makes sense.

I also didn’t mind, and even welcomed, the absence of built-in iron sights. The accuracy potential of this carbine lends itself to a quality optic, magnified or not, so I might only install lightweight backup sights if any at all.

Summing It Up

I didn’t know what to expect with this rifle. With all the changes in the Armalite brand and underlying companies over the last 50-some years, it would be hard to make any assumptions one way or the other about the underlying quality of construction and components. Based on what I saw and shot with the M-15 Light Tactical Carbine, this is a winner. Yes, I’d upgrade the trigger pretty quickly, but there aren’t a whole lot of sub $1,000 rifles where I wouldn’t do that particular operation right off the bat. Everything else is good to go as is so I would save my money for a big supply of 77-grain match ammo.

The bottom line? I think this rifle is an excellent deal. Its inherent accuracy capability is something you don’t normally see in this price range and I think that’s an indicator of the quality of components and care during the manufacture and assembly process.

For more information, visit https://armalite.com/.

To purchase an Armalite M-15 LTC or other M-15 variant on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Armalite%20M15.

The Keymod-ready handguard allows you to mount gear on seven different angles around the guard.

The Keymod-ready handguard allows you to mount gear on seven different angles around the guard.

Attention to detail was evident - everything was fit together seamlessly.

Attention to detail was evident – everything was fit together seamlessly.

For accuracy, velocity, and function testing, I used a variety of factory ammo and plenty of my own handloaded 55-grain plinking ammo.

For accuracy, velocity, and function testing, I used a variety of factory ammo and plenty of my own handloaded 55-grain plinking ammo.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • MOS8541 October 16, 2016, 3:26 pm

    Although I was/am an exceptional shooter, I wasn’t the only one. When I was awarded Company High shooter before going to sniper school, (the real one, actually the only one at the time) We shot at 2, 3 and 500 meters, with max score of 250 which at that time had never been done. I think this took around 20 years to accomplish with an ARMORY STOCK NO ENHANCEMENTS rifle. When I shot my 242, I was astonished as were most of the armory peeps and the rest of the guys. Why??? BECAUSE BEING AN A2 THE RIFLE HAD 3 DIFFERENT TRIGGER PULLS!! I dare anyone to do that today. ITS NOT the equipment its the shooter, period.

  • Wake_up_America October 11, 2016, 10:09 am

    Nice article! I would definitely consider buying one of the rifles from them!!!!

  • Mc Muffin October 10, 2016, 10:49 am

    Not sure I would call that “seamless” from the mate up between the Handgaurd and upper reciever. Id say fit looks “ok” but lets not get carried away. Nice looking gun and looks like great value.

  • Pete October 10, 2016, 9:55 am

    Love, love, love my Armalite M-15 3 gun 18″ barrel. Bench resting it, consistently shoots sub 1/2 MOA @ 100 yards with Nexus match ammo. Best group so far has been .285″… and those are 5 SHOT groups.

  • Jack blevins October 10, 2016, 9:06 am

    Interesting article, I was pleasantly surprised with the Armalite 15, sounds like something to look into. The Nexxas ammo,faired well than expected. Good read

  • jon October 10, 2016, 8:50 am

    Thanks for this & other well written tests.

    I appreciate accuracy in rifles available at reasonable prices and you provide a good indicator here.
    But….it would be great if you could add test results for the cheap ammo that most of us shoot every day. Russian steel case, bulk green tip, etc. We know it won’t match the hi-priced, optimum, ammo you tested, but it would be nice to see just how much accuracy suffers.

    thanks

    • Tom McHale October 10, 2016, 11:23 am

      Hey Jon – I did shoot a couple of groups with Freedom Munitions 55-grain FMJ. I didn’t include the results in the article because I only had a little and could only shoot three 5-shot groups at 100 yards. Normally I like to shoot more 5-shot groups than that and average the results. The three groups I did shoot measured 2.81, 2.85, and 1.56 inches all from 100 yards.

      I’ve not gotten very good accuracy with this particular ammo from any rifle, so those results were not surprising from the Armalite either. Anyway, thought you might enjoy the limited report on that.

Leave a Comment

Send this to friend