LWRCI's great SIX8: people thought it was a great concept, but the 6.8mm never quite achieved its potential. Now a Maryland company has applied a lot of imagination and engineering horsepower, and the 6.8 is a horse of a different color.
Lowering the carbine he flashed me a grin and stuttered, "You've got to be joking ..." before getting back to work. Yes Virginia, LWRCI's 6.8x43mm rifle is not only shockingly smooth shooting but it also packs an impressive punch. The reaction of the steel targets to the 90-grain slug was ample proof this was no mundane 5.56x45mm.
No, this was an honest-to-God intermediate cartridge developed specifically to provide an increase in terminal performance and penetration. It not only accomplishes its intended mission, but does it with Steve McQueen style.
In my personal opinion the 6.8x43mm Rem. Special Purpose Cartridge (SPC) is one of the great cartridges of our time. This may surprise you, as I'm well known as an outspoken advocate of the 6.5mm Grendel.
It really shouldn't. Just as I can appreciate equally the .303 British and 7.92x57mm Mauser, so do I admire the performance of both the Grendel and the SPC. Together the 6.5x38mm Grendel and 6.8x43mm SPC have taken intermediate cartridges to a new level of performance. Both of them run roughshod over traditional classics like the 5.56x45mm NATO and 7.62x39mm M43.
More importantly, both have evolved to new levels of performance since introduced in 2004. No firearms company has taken this cartridge as far as has LWRC International of Cambridge, Md. There I got a behind-the-scenes look at both the company and its work in taking the 6.8x43mm Rem SPC cartridge to the next level.
Sitting down with Darren Mellors and Jesse Gomez, I next went over LWRCI's work with the 6.8x43mm Rem SPC cartridge. "When we started out in the industry we were 7.62x51mm FAL guys," Mellors started, "So the 5.56x45mrn NATO wasn't what we were used to. The U.S. military had experienced issues with terminal performance with their 62-grain M855 ball load. This issue was intensified by the use of very short barrels.
Very short barrels also increased the rate of fire and often led to reliability problems with conventional 5.56x45mm direct gas ARs. We had the gas piston technology and thought it and the 6.8x43mm cartridge made an excellent combination. Plus we thought the 6.8x43mm would really shine in short barrels. Keep in mind, about this time certain companies were coming out with PDWs (Personal Defense Weapons)."
"Darren had a funny comment on the term PDW," Gomez said with a chuckle.
"What's that?" I asked.
"PDW, Popgun Devoid of Whoopass," Mellors replied. "That's not what we wanted. We thought we could design and build a very short carbine in 6.8x43mm which would be very useful for urban combat. When you are close enough to stare into the whites of your enemy's eyes, your weapon system, to include the ammunition, had better immediately arrest the enemy's ability to do you harm, despite intermediate barriers and body armor.
"So we undertook testing and made barrels in lengths out to 18 inches. We conducted in-depth velocity testing and tested faster burning powders and heavier projectile weights to optimize performance. Unfortunately at this same time, the cartridge was being pushed prematurely by some towards the U.S. military. Pushed very hard. Unfortunately rifles and ammunition were not yet optimized. Even the 6.8x43mm's chamber print was not optimized. There were issues and eventually the cartridge became toxic with the U.S. military. Some people were looking very monolithically.
"We continued working with the 6.8x43mm SPC because we saw its potential. But we kept running into the same problems over the years. There didn't really seem to be a standard, especially with the ammunition. One manufacturer would produce ammunition at one velocity and pressure while another would run much faster at a much higher pressure. This created problems with setting the rifles up properly. Plus there were magazine issues. We tried all the available magazines and worked with the manufacturers. But the magazines available were not ideal for hard military use. Eventually we just got frustrated."
"We knew we could do better," Gomez kicked in.
A strength, but at the same time a weakness, of the 6.8x43mm cartridge is that it was specifically designed to fit within the confines of the existing 5.56x45mm AR magazine well. This obviously dictated the cartridge's overall length.
But in practice, it does much more than that. It also limits the magazine wall thickness and in doing so the type of materials which can be utilized to construct magazines.
And because the magazine well width is not optimum for the 6.8x43mm cartridge, rounds do not stack perfectly: they push out against the walls of the magazine more than desired, leading to drag. They also push out on the feed lips, trying to spread them apart.
Another issue is a suppressed full-auto gun can over-speed the magazine's ability to lift cartridges. In an effort to provide as much internal room as possible, steel is utilized to manufacture traditional 6.8x43mm magazines. A polymer magazine like Magpul's famed P-Mag is not possible: there's not enough space.
For commercial sales, the ability to fit a 6.8x43mm magazine into any existing AR lower receiver is a huge selling point. It works, but it's not an ideal solution. I should note the 6.5x38mm Grendel suffers from a similar issue.
The optimum solution would be to cast aside the standard 5.56x45mm AR lower receiver and design a magazine well specifically for the 6.8x43mm cartridge. This is the ideal solution to the problem. I even proposed this idea to Alexander Arms for the 6.5x38mm Grendel.
Unfortunately, no one in the industry wanted to take a step out into the land of proprietary design. No one except LWRCI, that is. "We worked with a number of manufacturers on improving their existing magazines and then decided to optimize the basic design for the cartridge ourselves," Mellors said, handing me a magazine.
Make no mistake, developing a proprietary lower receiver is a huge step for a manufacturer to take. When you make something proprietary, you suddenly become the sole supplier and the market may or may not gravitate towards it. So it's a gamble for LWRCI, but one they think is the right decision for this particular cartridge.
So LWRCI cast aside the existing AR-15 magazine well dimensions and set out to build a complete rifle specifically around the 6.8x43mm cartridge. Initially they designed and produced prototype magazines in-house. But eventually they decided to take advantage of the expertise offered by Magpul Industries.
"It didn't make sense for us to try to solve problems Magpul had already overcome," Mellors commented as I examined early prototype magazines. "So we teamed with the folks at Magpul to build a reliable polymer 6.8x43mm magazine. While it would be similar to their famous P-Mag, we did require some changes. First off, it had to look different, so a 5.56x45mm P-Mag couldn't be confused with a 6.8x43mm magazine. Taking this a step further it also had to feel different, so the two could be distinguished in the dark.
"Plus we wanted the floorplate to be a different design, something slim. We didn't want it to protrude from the sides of the magazine. This would prevent magazines from catching on each other as they were being withdrawn from a pouch. Plus we wanted a high visibility follower."
"What we refer to as the 'Oh Sh!t' follower," Gomez interjected with a chuckle. "During the development of the magazine it was important to come up with the correct thickness of polymer for the sidewalls. We wanted it to be very robust. We also asked them to change the gate location on the mold where the plastic is injected. This was done to change where the plastic cooled first. It sounds like a little thing, but little things add up. Basically we added as much room as physically possible to the magazine without having to completely redesign the bolt carrier.
"The new design allows a longer cartridge overall length of 2.32 inches, for future long-range loads, and provides enough room for the cartridges to stack properly. Since the cartridges stack properly, we can have a full 30-round capacity without noticeably extending the length of the magazine compared to a 5.56 piece."
LWRCI then built a dedicated 6.8x43mm platform to utilize the new magazine design. While it looks identical to a standard AR-15 in size, it is not. Not only is the lower different but so is the upper receiver, to accommodate the wider magazine feed lips. The forged receivers are struck twice, once before and then again after heat treating. This is referred to as coining.
"Basically this process ensures very tight tolerances from receiver to receiver. While it doubles the cost, it is well worth it and provides a very attractive final finish," Mellors explained.
"I designed the magazine funnel to be as aggressive as possible," Gomez added, "to speed reloads. Plus I incorporated a magazine stop into the mag well to eliminate the possibility of over-insertion of a magazine. In addition a shelf was incorporated into the rear of the lower receiver by the receiver extension. This was added to mitigate carrier tilt.
"I felt it was important to not only add ambidextrous controls, but to make them truly useful when shooting the rifle either right or left-handed. As an example, when shooting right-handed, a rifleman can easily lock the bolt back or release the bolt from a firing grip. You will also note that unlike many ambidextrous safety designs, the right lever does not interfere with your trigger finger.
"When it came to the charging handle, we tried all the existing ambidextrous ones but eventually I decided to design my own. Basically I designed it like a wine bottle opener with a rack and pinion system. The upper receiver itself needed some tweaks due to the different cartridge. As an example the ejection port was redesigned. It was not only made larger but I also tapered it. Then a compound bevel was added to the case deflector."
"Why did you modify the case deflector?" I interrupted.
"Using high speed video, we determined the bolt velocity and ejection pattern both suppressed and unsuppressed. Then we specifically optimized the case deflector to provide a consistent 3 to 4 o'clock ejection pattern even when suppressed. Remember this isn't a 5.56mm gun and we wanted to eliminate the possibility of a fired case being kicked back into the ejection port."
All of this work has been incorporated into an eye-catching 8.5-inch gun dubbed UCIW SIX8. This Ultra Compact Individual Weapon offers terminal performance and penetration on a level far beyond what traditional PDWs can provide.
It easily kicks dirt in the face of the 5.7x28mm and equally short barrel 5.56x45mm, 5.45x39mm, 5.8x42mm and even 7.62x39mm systems. Developed with Personal Security Details, EOD Technicians, helicopter and vehicle crews in mind, it has a wide range of applications.
To further reduce the size of the system it features a special short receiver extension and utilizes a buffer with two internal tungsten weights. The stock is also reduced in size compared to the norm. With the stock collapsed, overall length is just 24 inches. With the stock extended, this grows to 26.7 inches. Height with a magazine inserted is 10 inches and width is 2.6 inches. Empty with no magazine, it weighs just 6.3 pounds. Loaded it tips the scales at 7.5 pounds.
The 8.5-inch barrel is cold hammer forged from 41V45 steel and treated with a NiCorr finish rather than traditional chrome-lining. LWRCI claims their NiCorr surface conversion is harder wearing, more heat and corrosion resistant than hard chrome plating. They claim the barrels have a service life of approximately 20,000 rounds compared to 6,000 to 10,000 for a standard M4. Barrel twist is 1:10, and it is cut with a SPC 11 chamber.
LWRCI is known for its patented self-regulating short-stroke gas-piston operating system. As you'd expect, this is utilized on the UCIW SIX8. One of its benefits is it eliminates the venting of hot, carbon-laden gases into the receiver and bolt carrier assembly. This not only eliminates fouling being injected into the action, but also the heat from the gases utilized to operate a traditional Stoner system.
Bolt carrier assemblies feature a proprietary nickel coating to eliminate corrosion and increase lubricity. Surrounding the piston system is a free-floating fore-end with Mil Std 1913 rails at 12, 3, 6 and 9 O'clock. This allows mission essential accessories to be easily mounted. An easily removable top rail section provides ready access to the piston system. A set of folding back-up iron sights complete the carbine.
LWRCI didn't stop with just designing a dedicated rifle and magazine for the 6.8x43mm cartridge. They took it one step further by teaming with ATK to develop ammunition. Why ATK? Unlike many of the smaller ammunition manufacturers out there ATK is a giant with incredible resources at its disposal. Their design and engineering departments are impressive with state of the art equipment and their manufacturing capabilities vast.
ATK currently manages the government-owned Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri. This 3,900+ acre facility is the largest ammunition plant in the world. Its primary customer is the U.S. Army.
To meet the needs of one large foreign contract, LWRCI worked with ATK to develop a load specifically designed for the 8.5-inch UCIW SIX8. The starting point for this project was to design and build a suitable cartridge case. Current commercial 6.8x43mm SPC cartridge cases vary in both case capacity and web thickness. LWRCI wanted a case with a strong web for durability. So ATK produced a case with a thick web suitable for military use.
To increase muzzle velocity from the very short barrel, LWRCI specified a 90-grain bullet. It would reduce felt recoil while making the UICW SIX8 more controllable, especially in the full automatic mode. Yet this bullet weight would still retain enough energy to penetrate intermediate barriers well. Practical range would be 300+ yards, even from the stubby barrel. Three loads were initially proposed for testing. These consisted of a 90-grain Gold Dot, 90-grain Monolithic HP and a 90-grain FMJ.
Next, a wide variety of powders were tested to obtain the highest muzzle velocity possible while still providing a measure of safety. Heat stability of the powders was also extremely important, so testing was conducted from -29.2[degrees] to 125.6[degrees] F. The top performing powder was then selected and loaded to provide pressures within the SAAMI specifications.
Why is this important? Experience has shown that if stable powders are not utilized, pressures can spike when ammunition is stored in a very hot environment. I can say from personal experience the inside of a vehicle can reach 140[degrees] in the summer heat of the Middle East. ATK also optimized this propellant to reduce both the flash signature and muzzle blast.
The primer was designed to meet U.S. government primer sensitivity specifications. This was then loaded with the same primer mixture as utilized on ATK's Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition. Both the primer annulus and case mouth are sealed and crimped per U.S. military specifications. Plus the annealing of the case is not polished off as is common on commercial brass.
ATK 6.8x43mm SPC 90 GRAIN GOLD DOT Barrel Length Muzzle Velocity (fps) Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs) 8.5 inches 2450 1,199 16 inches 2900 1,680 24 inches 3050 1,858 Velocity readings provided by ATK.
Projectiles were then tested to choose the most suitable design for this application. Projectiles were tested using 10% ordnance gelatin. This was done using bare gelatin and commonly encountered intermediate barriers placed in front of the gel blocks.
Testing eventually led to the 90-grain Gold Dot being selected. This features a .035" jacket and a bonded core. Average muzzle velocity for this load from the 8.5-inch barrel measured a respectable 2450 fps. In doing so, this load generates 1199 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Firing the same load from a 16-inch barrel produces 2900 fps and 1680 foot-pounds.
6.8x43mm REMINGTON SPECIAL PURPOSE CARTRIDGE SPECIFICATIONS
Parent Case: .30Rem.
Case Type: Rimless bottlenecked
Base Diameter: .421"
Rim Diameter: .422"
Rim Thickness: .049"
Shoulder Diameter: .402"
Neck Diameter: .298"
Bullet Diameter: .277"
MCase Length: 1.676 inches
Overall Length: 2.250 inches
Taking barrel length to 24 inches increased velocity to 3050 fps and energy to 1858 foot-pounds. Testing in extreme temperatures showed velocity to average 2275 fps at -29[degrees] F and 2475 fps at 125[degrees] F from the 8.5-inch barrel. When fired from a 24-inch test barrel, ATK recorded a group measuring 1.56 inches at 200 yards.
The end result of all this work is a highly effective load optimized for LWRCI's 8.5-inch UCIW. Interested to see how it would perform, photographer Richard King and I were afforded an opportunity to spend an afternoon on the range with an 8.5-inch UCIW and a 16-inch carbine. King is an LE officer with SWAT and K-9 experience as well as being a competitive shooter. So we took turns running both systems on steel and comparing notes.
We both found the ambidextrous controls eminently usable, well placed and easy to operate. Rounds loaded smoothly from the magazines and fed flawlessly.
Practical accuracy was excellent, and the stubby 8.5 inch gun proved very easy to hit with. Shot-to-shot recovery was very good for the 8.5-inch gun and excellent for the full-size 16-inch gun. Using ATK's 90-grain load made the 16-inch gun very smooth-shooting. No malfunctions or problems of any kind were experienced, even during multiple full-auto magazine dumps. LWRCI's carbines, Magpul's magazines and ATK's ammunition all performed without any issues.
My thoughts? I am impressed by LWRCI's work on building a dedicated 6.8x43mm AR. It appears very well thought-out and is intended to cast off the shackles of the existing 5.56x45mm design. All this work will pay dividends for the commercial customer as well. LWRCI will be offering SIX8-based platforms commercially.
ATK is bringing out commercial 6.8x43mm ammunition in their Fusion and American Eagle lines. The 6.8x43mm SPC cartridge has come a long way since it was first introduced in 2004. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for it next.
ATK'S GEL TESTING RESULTS Retaomed Test Penetration Expansion Weight Bare Gel 12 .616 .94 Steel 13.3 .586 .84 Auto Glass 9.8 .521 .52
LWRC INTERNATIONAL UCIW SIX8 SPECIFICATIONS
Caliber: 6.8x43mm Rem SPC
Operation: Rotating bolt via short-stroke piston
Feed: 30-round polymer detachable box magazines
Barrel: 8.5-inch cold hammer forged with NiCorr treatment
Twist: 1:10 with SPCII chamber
Controls: Fully ambidextrous
Sights: Folding front post, folding rear aperture with dual ranges
Overall 24 inches
Length: collapsed, 26.7 extended
Weight: 6.3 pounds w/o magazine, 7.5 pounds with loaded mag
Manufacturer: LWRC International, 410-901-1348, www.lwrci.com
LWRC International 410.901.1348 www.lwrci.com
Federal Cartridge Company 800.831.0850 www.federalpremium.com
Fusion 800.831.0850 www.fusionammo.com
Magpul 877.462.4785 www.magpul.com
RELATED ARTICLE: AN EMERGING GUNMAKING GIANT
LWRC International is an organization which marches to its own drum. I regard them as innovators in the field rather than just another "me too" AR company. With roots reaching back to 1999, they are a defense contractor and produce firearms for the LE and commercial market.
The company initially started small and has evolved with two individuals in particular, Darren Mellors and Jessie Gomez, acting as the driving force behind it. Mellors served in the Canadian Forces as an infantryman, and later was sent to the Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering specializing in weapons for land forces. He believes this brings an end-user's insight and the technical knowledge that ensure LWRCI makes practical decisions when they work on projects.
Gomez is naturally talented when it comes to firearms design and taking existing concepts to their next level. Both Gomez and Mellors came from their own Texas firearms company, Grenadier Precision. Between 1999 and 2006 LWRCI did a great deal of research and development work while refining and improving concepts and designs.
Unfortunately their small size and undercapitalization initially handicapped them. Then in April 2008 things changed dramatically when Richard Bernstein became President and CEO of LWRC International. Bernstein is a very accomplished businessman known for establishing high-tech manufacturing on the Eastern Seaboard. Already in his stable were Matech Solutions and Manufacturing Support Industries. These two DoD contractors had the infrastructure, human resources and experienced executive staff that allowed LWRCI to vertically integrate manufacturing by bringing complete control of manufacturing and quality assurance in-house.
LWRC International ended up in a new state-of-the-art facility with sister company Matech Solutions, just down the road. Matech Solutions is a well-respected defense contractor that has manufactured a wide variety of components for the U.S. military, most notably back-up iron sights for the M4 carbine and mortar shell tail assemblies.
In short order, LWRC International was transformed with more than 250,000 square feet of manufacturing floor available in three different facilities. Resources today include more than 50 state-of-the-art CNC machine centers, laser cutting machines, screw machines, robotic welding, and mil-spec painting. LWRCI is registered with Lloyd's Quality Registrar for ISO-9001 International Standards compliance for Configuration Management.
For well over a decade now I have watched Mellors and Gomez steadily rise in the industry. The early years were tough, but they persevered and today it's obvious their hard work has paid off. I have been very lucky to have been sent on assignment around the world to many historic companies over the years. Some are impressive, others blase and a few in far-flung places reminded me of Soviet era tank gunnery ranges with the amount of rubble kicking about. Let me be blunt, when it comes to domestic AR manufacturers, many are little more than small shops assembling parts on 2x4 benches.
What we found at LWRC International was well outside the norm. After passing through security we were introduced to LWRCI's CEO Dick Bernstein. He chatted with us and then opened up his entire facility as well as Matech Solutions to our scrutiny. As soon as we walked onto LWRCI's floor, it became apparent this was not your ordinary AR assembler.
Work areas were broken down into zones and each was fenced and gated with the commercial assembly area fenced off from the military zone. The commercial assembly area was strictly separated from their line for military/government orders. This was done to keep each area distinctly separate with no chance of parts from one area moving improperly to the next. Only workers specifically assigned to that area were allowed in.
Why all the fuss? Traceability of parts. LWRCI has a paperwork trail from the moment the material for a part arrives through each part being machined, completed and assembled onto a rifle. Each upper receiver is coded and lower receivers use their serial number. This allows them to trace back when that part was assembled onto a rifle and by whom, what lot it came from, who machined it and when, plus what lot of material it was manufactured from.
While we were there, LWRCI was finishing putting in an entirely new line dedicated solely to a large foreign contract. What struck me was how well thought out their new assembly area is. I have seen many AR assembly lines, but this was different. They had specifically and systematically designed the line to remove human error.
During each step the main assembly (upper or lower receiver) was locked into a fixture. Then certain components were assembled onto it at that particular station. If pins were being driven in a press regulated to a certain amount of force and distance was utilized. If this did not fully seat the pin properly, it automatically shut down, requiring a supervisor to come and inspect the part to see why it didn't seat properly. Most places, a worker would simply wield a hammer with a bit more force to drive it home. Items being threaded on were mounted with devices preset to a specified torque. Thought had also been given to prevent repetitive motion injuries. The whole line seemed very well thought out with traceability for each part.
There engineering department was also impressive. Many AR companies only have a couple engineers, if that, employed. LWRCI has a complete design/engineering department with state of the programs. This has allowed them to continually refine and improve their existing designs. Not only that but they can draw from the engineers at Matech Solutions whenever they have need. Having this capability provides them with the ability to tackle a variety of current and future projects.
By David M. Fortier
Photography by Richard King
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|Author:||Fortier, David M.|
|Article Type:||Product/service evaluation|
|Date:||Nov 20, 2012|
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