LWRC SixEight – SOCOM Dream Machine Comes to Life

LWRC SixEight in OD Green, with Trijicon MRO.

You may or may not have been paying attention to military procurement over the last couple of years, but a new arms race has been on. The DOD wants a new rifle and automatic weapon cartridge and actually narrowed it down to 3 finalists. Many of the exact specifications of the new round are close hold, but we do know one thing for certain. The caliber will be 6.8. Which really got me thinking about the last time 6.8 was a contender.

Accuracy testing set up.

We are talking about of course the 6.8 SPC. If you aren’t familiar with 6.8 SPC, let me tell you the story as I know it. Very early in the GWOT, we learned something about the 5.56×45 NATO. This was the first time in a generation that US troops had shot other humans in large quantities, and honestly, the first time since 5.56 was brand spanking new. Yes, we had some other conflicts between them. But nothing like the level of early Afghanistan. It was the wild west, and a lot of myths got shattered on the anvil of combat experience.

556 Left, 6.8 Right

5th Special Forces Group, specifically, was unimpressed with the performance of 5.56 against bipeds. So after their first rotation, they asked the Army for something better. These were heady times. To support 5th Group’s initial incursion, SOCOM had just bought out three entire states Toyota dealerships stock of Tacoma’s. If you had a Green Beret on, and you said moon rocks would help you kill the Taliban better, Rumsfield would send somebody to NASA to collect them. So this looked like it might really happen.

5.56 left, 6.8 right

The Army, however, did also have other things to think about. A generation of General’s had just learned that the Fulda Gap was canceled indefinitely, and we would now be fighting guerrillas on horseback. Please shift your massive organization accordingly. So the Army agreed to a compromise. They would put out a “no cost” solicitation, meaning they would pay zero dollars for R&D of a new cartridge. But if a company could build it, and it delivered, they would buy it. Done deal.

5th Group, realizing they held in their hands the potential to bootstrap a lethality enhancer to the entire DOD, did the right thing. They tagged in the Army Marksmanship Unit or AMU. The AMU is generally a bunch of competition dorks, though occasionally real gunfighters end up there as well. But they have something else. Access to R&D capabilities mortals can only dream of. The AMU is a huge recruiting tool for the Army, and they spend “marketing” dollars accordingly. To be fair, they do make champions at sport shooting, even the Olympics. But the cost is not a problem for them, and they act accordingly. I’ve seen, in my lifetime, AMU members competing with calibers that don’t even exist. In 3 Gun, which is not exactly low volume on rifle rounds.

6.8 left, 5.56 right

What the combined brain trust of 5th Grp/AMU determined was that 6.5mm caliber projectiles generally fly the best, but 7mm projectiles are the real floor of lethality. So they compromised at 6.8, based off the 30 Remington cartridge. 30 Remington’s dimensions lent themselves to easy new bolt machining for an M-16/AR-15. The final package meant you could swap calibers in an M-4/M-16 with just a new barrel and bolt, and everything else to include magazines worked. And in the spirit of post 9/11 patriotism, an ammunition maker and a rifle maker did agree to make the free samples needed for testing.

Leupold Mk5 and Accutac bipod.

So what happened? I asked the same question the minute I reported into Group. “Where is my 6.8 at?” And this is the answer I got. The samples kept blowing primers and failed to perform in general as advertised. The gunmaker blamed the ammo company, and the ammo company blamed the gunmaker. And the Army had bigger things to worry about, so the entire project was shelved. And we fought the next 20 years with 5.56×45 NATO.

American Eagle 115 grain

But all was not lost. 6.8 SPC had entered the consciousness of the civilian mind. And it was already developed, it wasn’t a wild cat. So slowly, for the civilian market, rifle makers began to produce 6.8’s. Hog hunters in particular really took to them, as the 6.8 SPC round performed better on those tough-skinned beasts.

Hornady Black 110 grain V-MAX

Meanwhile, LWRC staked out a claim on the 6.8 markets no one has come close to. The US military might have passed on the 6.8, but that didn’t mean foreign militaries didn’t want it. With demand surging, LWRC had a chance to change the fortunes of 6.8 SPC. And the end result of that feat of engineering is what I got to take to the range this week. (Sans full auto switch, and with a 16-inch barrel. But pretty much the same thing.)

LWRC built-in sling QD point.

It is always a great week when it’s LWRC review time. Bigger price doesn’t always mean a better gun, but sometimes you do get what you pay for. LWRC has a quality about it that is hard to fully quantify. When you hold one it just feels…. right. The weight, the balance, the size of the forend. It could probably be quantified with science and calipers. But it doesn’t need to be, if you’ve ever picked one up.

In house built buttstock.

Like all the weapons in the IC-A5 series, the SixEight has all the bells and whistles. It has a nickel boron bolt carrier, a process that infuses both inherent lubricity and corrosion resistance. It feels like it’s been oiled, even if you wipe it dry with brake cleaner. It is truly Ambi, with bolt release and mag release on the left and right sides. And in the world of Ambi mag releases, in a class all its own. Charging handle? Ambi. Safety? You know it.

Ambi bolt release.

Our test 6.8 is a piston-driven gun, as are most of LWRCI’s rifles. But as an experienced hand with piston guns, I can say also that LWRC does it best. The rifle lacks the normal front-heavy balance, as well as the normally increased recoil impulse. Many piston guns recoil harder than their direct impingement brothers. With LWRC, you can’t tell the difference.

Industry leading Ambi mag release

And what LWRC is most famous for, the barrel. The A5 models feature a spiral cut fluted barrel, a full 20% lighter than nonfluted barrels of the same diameter. The barrel is also NiCorr coated to enhance service life, as well as corrosion resistance.

Spiral fluted barrel

It was with much anticipation that I finally got to go to the range. A range trip 20 years in the making. 6.8 SPC is a caliber that I have often thought of adding to my stable, as an all-purpose round. Because we are in an ammo crunch, I only had two options on hand. 115 grain American Eagle, and 110 grain Hornady Black. But, that is a pretty good sampling if you can only pick two.

5.56 sized magazine in LWRC 6.8 SPC mag well.
Correct fit with LWRC/Magpul 6.8 Magazine.

For accuracy testing, a big caveat upfront. After my injury in February, I am still unable to shoot with my dominant hand. And I’ve not spent much time in my life prior to this shooting scoped rifles with my nondominant hand and eye. Prior to this, I have never had an LWRC print worse than ½ MOA. But even with a Leupold Mk5 on top, it was not to be this time.

Cerakote, even where it doesn’t matter.

I blame myself, and I’m sure there is more accuracy in the gun. The American Eagle was by far the better of the two for groups, averaging right at 2.25 inches. My test gun really didn’t like the Hornady, which is odd in my experience. But facts are facts. My groups with the Hornady Black averaged over 3 inches.

Ambi charging handle.

Moving on from accuracy, how about energy delivery? On that front, I was very happy. The 6.8 does slap noticeably harder on both steel and ice blocks, my improvised reactive targets. Which is something that shouldn’t really be a surprise. Not only is it true on paper, but it should be obvious from the aforementioned hog hunter’s affinity for the 6.8 SPC. I’ve shot a fair number of both hogs and bipeds myself, and I know this: Hogs are a much tougher animal, in terms of giving up the ghost. Anything that the hog crew swears by, is absolutely going to work on humans.

Nickel Boron bolt

Now, how about that recoil? It is basic physics, after all. Bigger energy delivered, bigger energy required to get it there. I would call the recoil impulse exactly halfway between 5.56×45 and 7.62×51. I was actually a little surprised by my first shot out of the SixEight. It isn’t painful, but it is noticeably more present than with 5.56. The trade-off is obvious. Your follow up shots are going to be slightly slower, the cost of your shots arguably doing more damage. It isn’t a huge margin, but it is one you will notice.

Nickel Boron enhanced trigger group.

I am more intrigued by the 6.8 SPC now than I was before this test started. I can see a huge potential for this caliber, it is basically everything I dreamed it could be. Now I want to know how it does in short barrels. And subsonic (such a thing does exist). I actually can’t believe it took me this long to get one, and I promise this; it won’t be my last.

Hog-pocalypse or Home defense, 6.8 packs a wallop.
Included LWRC flip up irons, among the best in the business.

For more information visit LWRC website.

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Steven L Cooksey June 30, 2020, 1:55 am

    I’ve built 7 or 8 6.8 SPCII with AR 15 Performance barrels, two pistols and other configurations for specific applications or General Use. ALL of them shoot sub moa with Hornady, S&B and my reloads. There is plenty of Ammo. It kicks considerably less that my 308’s, matter of fact I’m pretty sure it kicks about the same as all my 5.56 builds. Luv the round!!!

  • Liberty Is Great June 26, 2020, 7:38 pm

    6.8 x 43 Special Purpose Cartridge was a good round but never got as popular as .300 AAC Blackout. I picked a 16 inch AR-15 that uses supersonic .300 AAC Blackout. Supersonic .300 Blackout using a 16 inch barrel is effective to around 280 yards and somewhat effective to about 430 yards.

    6.8 x 43 beats .300 Blackout in effective range but not in available ammo. Some Special Forces soldiers are also using subsonic .300 Blackout firearms in 2020.

  • Steve June 26, 2020, 3:34 pm

    Clay, Ordered Concrete Jungle weeks ago (3 copies) but Amazon only created a shipping label then nothing more. Now they say it’s “delayed” and if no arival by 27 June I can get a refund. Maybe something happening inside Amazon suppressing this. I NEED AN ALTERNATE PURCHASE SITE vs Amazon. What’s up?

  • Mongo June 26, 2020, 9:56 am

    6.8 SPC is basically a very improved AK Round ballistically, which us great if you are an individual shooting at soft skin targets. In the military, today, what matters is the ability to defeat LVL IV body armor, which is becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous on the battle field. US and Russian Body armor can defeat all small arm threats, including 30-06 M2 Armor Piercing ammunition. This is a big issue.

    Today, only the very rare and expensive M995, 5.56×45 with a tungsten AP core, can defeat LVL IV up to around 100 meters. Usually found belted up for the M249 machine gun. The new Sig Sauer 338 Lapua Squad Machine Gun can defeat LVL IV at extended ranges with AP ammo. Next up is 50 BMG Ball Ammo and that’s it, sorry 7.62×51 fans.

    What is needed is a rifleman’s round that can defeat LVL IV out to at least 250 meters, if possible, in a small light and reliable carbine platform. 6.8 is not this round, as increased diameter is going in the wrong direction. Likely the solution is a 4,000 fps+ .5.56 diameter round with a hardened core. Tungsten can’t be used, as it is a strategic metal, neither can DU, for health reasons. Barrel wear may be an issue at these velocities, so develop a rifle with a quick change barrel, better to spend money than the lives of our men.

    The 6.8 SPC was designed to fit into a standard M16/M4 platform. Going forward; first you create the bullet itself, then the cartridge to propel it. Finally, a rifle or carbine to fire the new round. The new SIG Sauer steel and brass cases cartridges might offer a way to have an efficient, high pressure cartridge in a small package, without safety and reliability issues cause by the Army’s folly of the M885A1 cartridge that failed to provide anything of value, but was dangerously high in pressure and simply broke gun parts.

    Today (and maybe ever) the 6.8 SPC was a solution to ZERO real military problems. Good for killing Bambi or Hogs, but not much else.

    Time to move on from this one.

    • Mehul Kamdar June 27, 2020, 10:51 pm

      Depleted uranium bullets, perhaps? We have huge stockpiles of depleted uranium waiting to be put to use, and it should be possible to make billions of them if we want to.

  • Roger Bump June 25, 2020, 10:39 pm

    Much development has been done in the last 15 years on improving bullets. I would favor a 6.8 over any 6mm just for the increase in diameter and weight, My 6,5x55AI is very good out to 1300yds but I’m primarily a paper puncher interested in small groups. Having 1 squad member be a designated sniper with a 300WM ( accuracy proven at the range) and the rest equipped with a rifle and round deadly out to 400+yds should be a formidable foe.in any conflict. The proven effect of kills at 600 to over 1,000yds on the enemy should not be overlooked hence the designated sniper.

  • kkuhlman June 23, 2020, 9:16 pm

    Was the 6.8 upper swap from Barrett ever in running?I have seen complete rifles being offered by them and originally heard about just the upper at least a decade ago.

  • triggerpull June 23, 2020, 5:36 pm

    I have built many AR’s in many flavors of both the 6.8 spc and the grendel and they are both great cartridges. The “which is better feud” will rage forever and I use them both a lot. If it came down to SHTF and had to make a choice between the two as to which is the most over-all reliable in a wide range of conditions/situations–I’d grab the 6.8 spc.

  • JohnW-Texas June 23, 2020, 4:56 pm

    As usual a great article from Clay, thank you.

  • SJH MSG(R), designed 6.8 SPC June 22, 2020, 7:52 pm

    2nd Amendment brothers, my first official reply “on any forum regards 6.8 SPC since I designed circa 2002… some of the comments I’ve read are misinformed “urban legend”… No Harm No Foul… God Bless America and Our 2nd Amendment “ we can own firearms and we have free speech… if you own a 6.8 SPC, go to the range, shoot hard-shoot straight… Enjoy! God Bless 🙏🏽💯🇺🇸R/SJH

    • George Joy June 29, 2020, 11:12 am

      Steve, some of us remember your significant contribution to this round. Hope you are well my friend, all the best from the English guy from the original LWRC…

  • Don June 22, 2020, 3:39 pm

    The 6.8mm SPC is NOT being considered for the US Army. A different 6.8mm round is under consideration.

    • Green tip June 25, 2020, 3:41 pm

      Hey Don, care to elaborate..? Maybe expand on that a bit…”straighten out” Clay. After all Clay himself MIGHT be interested…

  • Philo June 22, 2020, 3:10 pm

    I try not to be hyper-sensitive to grammar these days but this article was tough to get through.

  • Maurice June 22, 2020, 2:52 pm

    I got on the 6.8spc band wagon years ago when the rifles first hit the market. I got barrel and bolt , as well as a full 6.8 rifle. I reload everything I shoot, so all necessary does and brass were bought.
    I shot factory ammo of every sort I could find, I reloaded with different bullets and recipes on both the factory rifle and the conversion kit rifle and the results were extremely disappointing. Rarely could I get a group under 2 inches.i am a shooter who enjoys tight groups well under 1moa. The whole 6.8 spc adventure soon came to an sad end , with me selling off everything, but the reloading does and brass. Since then I have tended to stay with my reliable calibers, which is 30 for rifle and 45 for pistol. I shoot acceptionly well with both, so why change.

  • Paul Ruffle June 22, 2020, 12:22 pm

    Clay,
    Thank you for your service as a Marine and Green Beret. Sorry to hear about your injury. I hope you recover and regain the full use of your right hand.
    The dispersion results you report are rather disappointing: 2.25 and 3.0 inches at I assume 100 yards (the distance isn’t mentioned) but perhaps that is adequate for the intended use.
    The spiral fluting does reduce the barrel weight, but is an expensive way to do that. If you want a lighter barrel, reduce the outside diameter. If stiffness is an issue, increase the O.D. If you want the best stiffness to weight ratio incorporate straight longitudinal flutes.
    The ammo ballistics, per the manufacturer’s websites:
    American Eagle, 115 gr FMJ: muzzle velocity 2675 fps, muzzle energy 1827 ft.-lbs.
    Hornady, 110 gr V-Max: muzzle velocity 2550 fps, muzzle energy 1588 ft.-lbs

    • Doug June 26, 2020, 8:39 am

      I have a 14.7″ LWRC Six8 and have found it likes the lighter bullets. 90 grain projectiles will produce sub MOA all day. 100 grain will make a larger ragged hole, but 110 and 120 grain factory loads are 2-3 MOA. The twist rate just doesn’t stabilize the heavier options enough for good groups. But 2-3 MOA works for pigs. If you can find Federal XM68GD, buy it. Great bullet and accuracy.

  • steve June 22, 2020, 11:50 am

    I have a 6.5 grendel AR that shoots 123gr amax and is SS to 1100.. Federal just came out with 130 grain match for the grendel. shot those too in a long range course out to 1000.. you can fit 26 rounds in a AR 30 round mag, the only issue I see (which can probably be overcome with some engineering) is that the grendel requires special mags, I forget why, but a quick google will turn up the reason. With that being said if your entire team is carrying them, then it is not an issue. and the mags aren’t any more expensive than regular AR mags..

    • michael smith June 22, 2020, 4:05 pm

      I am with you Steve the 6.5 is just a better bullet. Grendel or creedmore are the tops to me.

    • Guts June 23, 2020, 2:22 am

      Good point, the 6.5’s are good paper punchers. However, the 6.8 isn’t just better on paper targets, it has better terminal performance to get the work done when hunting and stopping bad guys. There is always some 6.5 fangirls showing up to squat on the 6.8. Every 6.5g or 6.5c, I’ve seen in the field, has had abysmal performance on game. I debated between the 6.5 g and the 6.8 SPC II. I made my decision after seeing multiple hits to bring down hogs with the 6.5g. It usually takes one with the 6.8SPC II. The only 6.5 that is any good is the original, The 6.5 Swede.

  • Nicholas June 22, 2020, 11:22 am

    How often does the military make the right decision?

    I’ve heard from both Marines and Army who served in the Middle East that they were satisfied with the performance of the 5.56. I’ve also heard, in columns like this that they were dissatisfied. A person would tend to believe those he heard it from first hand.

    Situations vary, and the ammunition has to perform in a variety of ways. If the situation calls for it, the ammo should be very accurate at range. Other times, more often at close range. There is the encounter of Audi Murphy with a German Mechanize Unit. When asked how far the Germans were from his position he replied, “Just hold on and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.” There are times when your concern is carrying a lot of ammo.

    I think that the military, as did MacArthur did with the M1 Garand, make choices based on anything but what the guy in the field actually needs. I’ve thought for awhile that in general a 6mm, 85gr, @ 2800 fps would be a good choice for the majority of ground forces.

    • Placement June 22, 2020, 2:34 pm

      Put it in their ear and it doesn’t make any difference about any of this.

  • Ted Koler June 22, 2020, 11:13 am

    Sooo…if the 5th Grp/AMU determined a 7mm projectile is the floor of lethality, why compromise on a smaller 6.8 projectile? .268 v. .275 caliber? If you really wanted a small bore caliber, I agree with Mad Mac (above); the .270 is tried and true with the proper barrel twist.

    So, the DoD is wasting more money on development of another under-performing ‘.2x caliber’ platform. If I had to fire two or more rounds at a bipedal target to drop their blood pressure to zero, that’s extra rounds that could have been used to engage other targets during the firefight. I would, in a tactical situation where every second counts, fire a single round capable of devastating effect at center of mass. Then move to the next threat knowing the previous target is forever neutralized.

    I am a proponent of projectiles of the .30 caliber (7.62mm); these have enough terminal energy to neutralize a target out to 500 meters. The .300BLK is an effective urban threat neutralizer. The DoD needs to quit wasting taxpayer funds; they should continue issuing the AR15 platform in 5.56 with a bolt/barrel change kit for .300BLK and call it good.

    • Don June 22, 2020, 7:03 pm

      The 6.8 should shoot a .277 diameter bullet versus a 7mm using a .284 bullet. Realistically if the bullet is configured like a Lapua or Sierra Match King bullet it should fly exceptionally well regardless of caliber. That is why heavy 5.56mm bullets do well. It is why the 6.5 Swede has performed over the years. There is no secret to what caliber bullet is the best. It all comes down to bullet shape and velocity. Why is 6.5 or 7mm the “best”? Really they are not the best except for long-range hunting where you have to reach the target and have enough bullet to do the damage needed. It is why we now have people shooting .224 diameter bullets at 1200 yards. You can reach the paper, but there isn’t enough bullet to hunt large game with. Line up the ideal weight and shape of the low-drag bullets side by side and you can’t tell them apart unless you have a scale to reference to.

  • bill cattell June 22, 2020, 11:07 am

    with the right load for the barrel, i have an inexpensive 6.8 that shoots 1moa . that said, i only my own ammo since no factory ammo that i have tried comes close. great round in my AR-15. won’t ever get rid of it which says a lot for me. not many guns have a pace in my safe for long.

  • R. L. Clark June 22, 2020, 10:41 am

    Barnes 6.8 95 Grain TTSX bullets with H4198 give me .5” groups , great velocity and knockdown effect on hogs and deer

  • Michael Aaron Karpinen June 22, 2020, 10:07 am

    Clay, what I would really like to know is how the 6.8 SPC performs on “Insurgent Whistle Pigs”?

  • Mad Mac June 22, 2020, 9:45 am

    This kurmudgeon grumbles as follows:
    The 6.8 mm bullet is a mere two one thousandths of an an inch shy of the venerable .270.
    A great caliber but nothing new here.
    The cartridge is only 3 mms, an 1/8th of an inch, shy in length of being a 7.62×51.
    Wouldn’t it have been easier and much less expensive to simply neck down the .308 to .270
    and rebarrel the AR10 platform. Wouldn’t that provide even greater penetration and range at less cost?
    But I could be wrong. I often am.

    • Matthew McGaughey June 29, 2020, 10:19 pm

      I think that’s the 7mm-08 right?

  • Rene June 22, 2020, 9:01 am

    I too would like to see a comparison to the new 6 ARC.

  • Jess June 22, 2020, 8:54 am

    The difference between the 6.8 cartridge that the military tested and the one this rifle (and almost all others now) is chambered for is in the bullet throat or leade in front of the cartridge chamber, with the difference being noted with the marking “6.8 SPC II”. When the throat was deepened, the pressure problems went away.
    Also, it’s not necessary to go get new magazines for one’s 6.8; all that is needed is a 6.8 follower to replace the 5.56 follower in the standard magazines. Those are available, as are magazines with the 6.8 follower installed by the manufacturer. From my perspective, I have not noticed any problems with recoil, and the deer have not noticed any lack of penetration or effectiveness, at least so far as I could tell. Just FWIW.

  • Phil June 22, 2020, 7:01 am

    How much does it weigh? And 3 inch groups with increased recoil? My .308’s will shoot sub 3/4…

    I think I’ll wait on the 6 ARC. From what I hear, less weight, sub MOA, supersonic you 1200 yards and no recoil.

  • Frank S. June 22, 2020, 6:57 am

    What about comparing to other larger AR frame calibers, such as the 6.5 Grendel and .300 Blakout?

    • Gregory June 22, 2020, 9:22 am

      Thank you!

  • Bill June 22, 2020, 3:06 am

    Velocity? Penetration? Energy dump?

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