Spike's Tactical Midlength 5.45x39mm Upper Receiver Assembly
I've been a fan of 5.45x39mm for quite some time. It's a caliberthat allows me to shoot "full recoil" ammunition for practice purposes,but at a fraction of the cost of 5.56mm ammunition. I like it so muchthat I suggested to Spike's Tactical that they build a more corrosionresistant version than was available at the time - namely, the S&WM&P15R, which I had been using for a while. As it turns out, theyhad already been considering a 5.45 - so it didn't take a whole lot ofconvincing on my part.
Although my initial concern was for more corrosion resistance, whenI heard the effort that Spike's Tactical planned to put into theuppers, I was concerned about cost. The whole idea of 5.45 is cheapshooting - and that extends to the upper, as well. Naturally, therewill be less demand for 5.45 than 5.56, so prices will be higher, ascomponents are ordered in the dozens or hundreds instead of thethousands.
When I was told that the barrels, gas tubes, front sight bases, andflash hiders would be finished (treated) in melonite, and the boltcarrier group and barrel extension would be nickel boron plated, Ienvisioned a retail price of 800 to 1000 bucks, and figured that demandwould be low. However, now that the product is almost at hand, pricinghas been released - $620 shipped from AIM Surplus, including a5.45x39mm magazine and a more powerful hammer spring, required to firethe hard primers found in surplus 5.45 ammunition. That's hardly morethan I paid for my S&W upper, which had rather severe corrosionissues after being fired several thousand times without cleaning. Evenafter being assured that the price would be low, I was still thinkingthat it'd be $750 or so.
If I hadn't been sent one for T&E, I definitely would havepre-ordered one from AIM as soon as they were available. But I did geta T&E sample, along with 1830 rounds of 5.45, and happily hit therange. Before I received the ammunition, I put a full tin (1080 rounds)and a few extra boxes of surplus 5.45 through the upper. I waspleasantly surprised with the way the weapon shot - while I wasconstantly seeking ways to make my S&W carbine gas upper shoot likea 5.56 carbine, the Spike's midlength 5.45 shoots exactly like mySpike's midlength 5.56 upper. I was also very happy with thereliability of the weapon.
I started the evaluation by removing all traces of lubrication fromthe weapon. This is not a new test concept - Mike Pannone recently didthe same with a Bravo Company upper, and has done so previously withother weapons, including a FailZero-equipped (nickel boron) carbine.However, I thought I'd repeat the test, and show some photographs ofthe weapon after various round counts.
Here's the weapon out of the box. Other than minor cosmeticdifferences due to the Melonite process, and the 5.45x39mm laser markon the receiver, the weapon looks, feels, and handles just like a5.56mm government profile midlength.
The upper came tagged with various assembly and QC procedureschecked and initialed. As an end-user, I like to see this sort ofthing.
Everything you see here, except for the stainless steel roll pin,the plastic single aluminum heat shield handguards, and the slingswivel, is Melonited for corrosion resistance.
The production uppers will have a different style laser engraving/marking on the upper receiver.
As mentioned, the bolt carrier group is nickel boron plated.
The feed ramps are M4 type, machined before anodizing, and the barrel extension is nickel boron plated.
Melonited gas tube - it's my understanding that all Spike's Tactical uppers will have melonited gas tubes in the near future.
As I said before, I've fired a fair number of rounds through the upper, considering that I've only had it for 11 days.
I first fired 1200 rounds of Russian and Bulgarian surplus - onefull tin of Bulgarian surplus, and four 30 round paper "boxes" ofRussian. I shot this ammunition with carbine, H, H2, ST-T2, 9mm, andrifle buffers, along with carbine, Wolff extra power, Wolff reducedpower, Tubb CS flat wire, and rifle springs. I experienced zeromalfunctions. This shooting was done exclusively with CProducts 5.45magazines with improved followers.
I then moved on to the Silver Bear supplied by Spike's Tactical -750 rounds of 60gr FMJ. The majority of this was done with the H2buffer and Tubb CS spring. I also used the ST-T2 and carbine spring fora high speed video comparison of the ejection pattern of eachcombination. After 600 rounds of Silver Bear, at a total round count of1800, four failures to feed were experienced. 30rd Lancer L5 magazineswere being used, and proved unsatisfactory. A switch to the CProductsmagazine yielded fewer failures, but two still occurred within the nextfew dozen rounds. All of these failures occurred while the weapon wasnot being properly held by the shooter - the stock was not against theshoulder. After switching back to the ST-T2 buffer and carbine spring,no such failures were experienced, even when the weapon was held awayfrom the shooter using only one hand. The remaining 100 rounds ofSilver Bear were fired without incident.
The next day, another 550 rounds were fired through the weapon, thistime Russian surplus 53gr FMJ. 2 CProducts magazines were used, alongwith a 30rd Magpul PMag and a USGI 30rd mag. The latter two magazineswere loaded with only four rounds each, and were used to practice speedreloads. The USGI mag, loaded only with 4 rounds, still proveddifficult to insert, as the feed lips spread significantly. Nomalfunctions were experienced during this course of fire, whichoccurred within about an hour and a half.
At that point, having reached 2500 rounds, shooting ceased for the day.
I will continue to fire the weapon until it consistently exhibitssigns of being nonfunctional. The six failures experienced were, Ibelieve, an aberration, although in retrospect, I'm glad the weapon wasfired in the manner that caused the malfunctions. It showed me severalthings -
- Just because a weapon works in one circumstance does not mean that it will work in all others
- Magazines not designed for 5.45 are unsatisfactory for the caliber unless limited amounts of ammunition are used
- The H2 buffer is probably a little heavy for the midlength 5.45 shooting weak commercial ammunition
Had the lighter buffer been in use, I'm positive that themalfunctions would not have occurred. Readers make take from thissituation what they wish - yes, the weapon malfunctioned after 1800rounds and no lubrication - but the cause was identified andeliminated, and the weapon has functioned perfectly for an additional650 rounds with no lubrication.
After 2500 rounds with no lube, the weapon definitely feels moresluggish than it did at first - I get the feeling that malfunctions maybe occurring soon. However, at this point, it still functions.
Just how dirty is the weapon after 2500 rounds?
Well, it's pretty dirty.
Notice that the "steel deflector" shows significant wear. Also notethe lack of carbon where the bolt carrier rides on the upper receiver.
Yes, that bolt carrier group was originally an attractive silvercolor. Again, note the lack of carbon on the contact surfaces of theBCG.
Although I can't prove it, I believe that the lighter color of thecarbon aft of the bolt's forward contact surface is due to the highertemperatures experienced in this area relative to those on the forwardportion of the bolt. Again, the contact surfaces are clear of carbon -some was transferred to them during bolt removal, but they normally seeno such carbon while the weapon is in operation.
Here we see a "bolt's eye view" of the inside of the upper receiver.Clearly defined contact/bearing surfaces identify areas requiringlubrication when a "no-lube" test is not in the works. It's also easyto see where the bolt carrier meets the barrel extension, and that theM4 ramps are actually useful for this weapon.
We often see or hear of things "paying for themselves." Most of the time, the people selling the items tell us this.
Now, some people will skew the results depending on their personalpreferences. Some will say that they don't consider buying 5.45 surplusbecause it's corrosive, so 5.45 uppers don't save any money, becauseyou have to buy Wolf or Brown/Silver Bear 5.45x39. That's silly. Ifyou're a very high volume shooter, you'll shoot out a 5.45 upper beforecorrosion becomes a serious issue. With the Spike's upper, corrosionshould not be a factor at all.
On the 5.56 side, most people seem to assume that surplus ammunitionis the same quality as Wolf or Brown Bear. Not so. Surplus ammunitionwas produced on behalf of various militaries and was intended to beused in wartime. It's loaded pretty hot and quality control isgenerally very good. Modern day Wolf and Brown Bear is weak,underpowered ammunition. Bullet construction is not what many wouldconsider to be high quality.
That said, you can't really compare surplus to brass case5.56, because the remaining brass has a good bit of value, while thesteel 5.45 cases really do not.
So in order to determine how quickly a 5.45 upper will "pay foritself," I calculated the relative costs of large amounts of 5.56 and5.45 ammunition - approaching the subject from all points of view.
As of 8/24/10, AIM Surplus ammunition prices per round are:
5.45 Silver Bear: 18.3 cents (750 rounds or more)
5.45 Russian Surplus: 12 cents per round for 1080 rounds (11.1 if you buy 2160 rounds or more)
.223 Silver Bear: 20.95 cents (500 rounds or more)
5.56 PMC X-TAC: 30.95 cents (1000 rounds or more)
The above prices are the lowest in each category - 5.45 commercial, 5.45 surplus, .223 steel case, and .223/5.56 brass case.
Let's assume that you already own a 5.56 upper, so the $620 cost of the 5.45 upper has to be added to the 5.45 tab.
From the chart, we see that the "break even" point of surplus 5.45vs. PMC X-TAC is roughly 3000 rounds; versus Silver Bear .223, it'sjust over 6000.
Silver Bear 5.45 and the Spike's upper breaks even with PMC at around 5000 rounds. I don'tknow that many folks would consider comparing Silver Bear 5.45 withbrass case 5.56. On the other hand, it would take about 25,000 roundsfor Silver Bear 5.45 to break even against Silver Bear 5.56 when the upper is also factored in. You cansee why I don't really understand the people who buy Silver Bear 5.45when surplus is available.
Also - 5.45x39mm is only cost effective if you buy in bulk. Surplusammunition is readily available at the moment. If you want 5.45surplus, I would buy it now.
"What if surplus 5.45 dries up?" you ask.
Well, if you buy 6000 or so rounds of surplus 5.45 now, and use itup, you will have "broken even" against .223; after that, if you haveto buy Wolf or Silver/Brown Bear 5.45, you'll be paying about as muchas you would for .223 - so you'll be no worse off. Eventually, youcould swap the barrel and bolt out for 5.56 examples, and continue touse the rest of the components.
What about the 5.45 as an only AR? That's a definite possibility forsome folks. I certainly wouldn't be upset if this was my only AR-15.And the money you save by not buying a 5.56 upper or rifle would go along way towards surplus ammunition.
Here's a chart showing the rough costs of the ammunition alone.
With all of that said, if you have a 5.56 AR, and you don't plan on buying a lot of 5.45 surplus...the 5.45x39mm AR-15 uppers don't make much sense from a financial standpoint alone.
But if you do...the cost savings can really add up.
To me, 5.45x39mm ARs are an inexpensive alternative to their5.56x45mm counterparts for training purposes. For those looking totrain with a 5.45 upper, I would recommend purchasing whatever 5.45product is closest to your 5.56 (or 6.8, or 6.5) weapon. If you have acarbine, get the S&W. If you have a midlength, get the Spike'sTactical. If you have a piston/op-rod weapon, get the LWRC. However, ifyou just want a great 5.45 to have fun with, the Spike's Tactical5.45x39mm is an excellent value, and one I would prefer over competingproducts on the market (at all price points).
Video reviews of the upper can be found by clicking on the "Videos" tab at the top of the blog.