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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.