FIERCE PREDATOR: The Shrike 5.56 Advanced Weapons System
Make no mistake. The Shrike is not just a belt-fed assault rifle -- it's a whole new weapons concept: the Assault Machine Gun.
Impressive: the Shrike 5.56 weapons system.
Text and Photos By Gary Paul Johnston
Soldier of Fortune Magazine
In the animal kingdom, although the Shrike is often mistaken for the mocking bird, it is actually a fierce predator in disguise. In the world of firearms, if you are looking at the Shrike 5.56? and wondering whether it's an M16 rifle or a belt-fed light machine gun, you're on the right track, but the Shrike 5.56? is actually much more than either one.
Back in 1964, in an effort to make the M16 rifle a more effective weapon, Colt engineer Rob Roy designed a belt-fed version of it. This wasn't a totally new design, but was essentially a scaled-down version of a system originally designed in 1957 for an AR10 rifle, by Armalite's Gene Stoner and John Peck. In the Stoner/Peck design, the belt-feed mechanism was mounted through the magazine well and the belt was fed upside-down through a cutout in the receiver, actuated by a feed-cam machined in the bolt carrier.
The Shrike 5.56: Killer Features
The Shrike 5.56 Advanced Weapons System
Two-step shuttle feed belt advancing mechanism
Complements all current M16 variants
Special mounting system for the M203 40mm grenade launcher
Fully compatible with military sound suppressors such as Knight Armament's Sound Suppressor Kit
Since the Colt design was based on an assault rifle, it was not merely another light machine gun (LMG), but represented an entirely new concept -- the Assault Machine Gun (AMG). Colt's conversion also allowed the gun to use a standard box magazine (after removing the belt-feed mechanism from the magazine-well) and, while it worked under ideal conditions, it otherwise displayed marginal performance, was never fit for combat, and was not marketed. Only a dozen or so M16 belt-feed units were made by Colt, using modified Stoner 5.56x45mm (.223) links. Sometime in the mid-1980's, Jonathan Arthur Ceiner reverse engineered the Colt design and placed it into production. Customer resistance to modification of their firearm's receivers and other factors halted Ceiner's production efforts to a rumored 30 additional M16 belt-feed conversions. However, it was by no means the end of a belt-fed AMG based on the M16.
In 1998, a young small-arms designer named Geoffrey A. Herring conceived a vastly improved, unique system for converting the M16 to use a 5.56x45mm NATO caliber belt feed. In Herring's design, the M16's upper receiver would have no part in the conversion and would be completely removed, leaving the lower receiver group to host the new mechanism.
Using the standard lower-receiver group meant that the firing controls and more importantly, the firearm's lower receiver, could remain unchanged and the gun would even fire semi-automatic, all from the closed-bolt position. However, Herring also designed a ?drop-in? openbolt module for use with the Shrike 5.56?, conveniently installed in the unmodified lower receiver should openbolt sustained fi ring be desired. An important aspect of Herring's open-bolt module is that it only fits into a military full-auto lower receiver body, thereby impeding the potentially illegal efforts of those wishing to install the device in a semi-auto only rifle for conversion to full-auto.
In addition, Herring's design also allows the gun to use the standard M16 NATO magazine in the existing magazine well. The transition from belt to magazine and vice-versa is instantaneous, requiring no special efforts on the part of the operator. This is especially important in a firefight or under the stress of combat. Incorporating proven features used in a number of light machineguns (LMG's), Geoffrey Herring began building a proof-of-concept prototype. It worked, but refinement and improvements became necessary in a number of areas. These were made and the new company he formed, ARES Defense Systems (Advanced Research and Engineering Services for Defense Systems), began showing the gun on its web site. During further testing more corrections were made, many in areas subcontracted to outside vendors. After several years and lots of money, ARES Defense Systems, Inc. began production of the gun ?they? said couldn't be built; a successful belt-fed conversion of the M16. It's called the Shrike 5.56 ? Advanced Weapons System?. Four U.S. patents have been awarded to Herring for his inventions manifest in the Shrike 5.56? and others are pending. Let's take a close look.
Aside from a slightly modified bolt hold-open lever and a heavier recoil spring (both furnished), the lower receiver group remains unchanged and the Shrike 5.56? upper receiver component attaches to it using the original pushpins. Made of aircraft quality 7075- T6 alloy, the SHRIKE 5.56? upper receiver is a totally new part containing counterparts different from those used in the standard M16.
The barrel is a quick-change design with its own barrel extension and shortstroke gas piston and cylinder, much like the U.S. M60 GPMG. When a hot and dirty barrel is changed, the replacement barrel brings a fresh gas cylinder and piston with it instead of the halfseized pistons common to many other machine guns. Unlike most others, the gas cylinder and piston of the SHRIKE 5.56? is located on the left side of the barrel instead of on the bottom, key to its dual-feed capability. The standard 16.25? barrel is held in place by a spring-loaded lug, and complete accessory barrels of 12.5?, 14.5? 16.25? and 18? are also offered.
As with all short-stroke impingement systems, the piston of the SHRIKE 5.56? imparts only the energy necessary, to the bolt carrier via the spring-loaded operating rod on the left side of the receiver, to send the entire bolt group to full recoil. During the bolt carrier's recoil stroke the bolt is unlocked, the expended casing is extracted and ejected from the weapon, the recoil spring is fully compressed, the ammunition belt is partially advanced and the disintegrating ammunition link is ejected from the feed tray. All of this occurs within just 3-3/4 inches of recoil stroke, after which all elements of the bolt group stop against the back of the buffer tube.
When the bolt moves forward under the force of the compressed recoil spring, it's top lug contacts the rim (head) of the loaded cartridge from underneath, pushing it forward out of its link and into the chamber. While the bolt is closing its final 1/8-inch prior to rotation and locking, the spring-loaded ejector is fully compressed and the extractor slips over the rim just prior to the multi-lug bolt rotating to the locked position by a cam-groove in the bolt carrier. As the bolt carrier continues forward, the bolt is rotated and the auto sear is tripped, releasing the hammer to fire the chambered round. This cycle will repeat itself at the rate of about 750 rounds per minute (RPM) in the full automatic mode, so long as the trigger is depressed and ammunition remains.
Operating with a hinged top cover not unlike those of the M2, M1919, MG42, Soviet RPD, M60, Stoner 63, M240, M249 and a host of others, the feed mechanism of the Shrike 5.56? has earned its place as all but foolproof in the history of LMG's.
The belt advancing mechanism used in the Shrike 5.56? is a two-step shuttle feed, derived from the German MG- 42 of World War II, a gun known for its reliability. Lineage to its excellent beltfeeding mechanism may also be found in the U.S. M60, the U.S. M240, the U.S. M249 and most recently, the Navy's Mk46, Mod 0 and the Mk48, Mod 0 to name just a few.
To better understand the Shrike 5.56? belt-feeding cycle, we must first outline the components of the feeding mechanism and how they interact with each other. The main feeding components are housed within the upper receiver's top-cover assembly that works in conjunction with the feed tray. The feed tray and top-cover are mated to the receiver by a hinge-pin located just behind the quick-change barrel latch, where the top-cover pivots for loading of the ammunition belt. At the rear of the top-cover is a thumb-operated latch that locks the top-cover to the Shrike 5.56? upper receiver. The bolt carrier group provides the energy to actuate the belt-feeding mechanism.
The ammunition belt lies between the top-cover and feed tray. The feed tray guides the ammunition fed into the gun and into the chamber, and also guides the empty links out of the weapon. Housed within the top-cover are all components of the mechanism. A spring-biased feed-cam lever allows the top cover to be open and closed with the bolt carrier forward or locked to the rear, making the timing of the feed system automatic regardless of bolt carrier position. As the top-cover is closed, the cartridge guides accurately position the cartridge in the feed tray where they also engage the stripping surface of the ammunition link. This feature is of great value when loading an ammunition belt under stress.
When the carrier moves to the rear, the feed-roller advances the ammunition belt a distance called a half-pitch, positioning the next round for pickup and chambering by the bolt. As the bolt carrier moves forward, it cams the next cartridge a half-pitch where a pawl holds it until the carrier moves to the rear to position it, and so on.
Since the Shrike 5.56? was intended to complement all current M16 variants, it was designed to be fully MIL-STD (1913) compatible, and it can be had with either a standard insulated round handguard, or an accessory MIL-STD (1913) four-rail handguard system.
The MIL-STD (1913) designation refers to the rail system often called the ?Picatinny Rail? which was designed by Mr. Richard Swan, of A.R.M.S., Inc. With regard to the Shrike 5.56?, the hinged feed cover has an integral MILSTD (1913) rail machined on top of it, and this rail will accommodate a variety of optical sights.
Unlike most LMG's, Herring designed the non-reciprocating charging handle on the SHRIKE 5.56? to be located on the left side of the receiver like that of the FN-FAL rifle, and it folds up when not in use. Herring placed the handle on the left side for speed in charging the gun during reloads and for immediate action in case of a misfire. During firing the handle remains in the forward position under pressure from a detent pin and spring.
To complement the Shrike 5.56? with another component of the M4/ M16, Geoffrey Herring and his team designed a special mounting system for the M203 40mm grenade launcher. Mounting to a MIL-STD (1913) rail, the SHRIKE 5.56?'s M203 mount is QD (quick detach) for instant mounting and removal. Herring points out that the significant size and weight savings of the Shrike 5.56? as compared to all other machine guns makes the M203 addition both practical and extremely desirable.
Ammunition Supply and Devices
Herring designed the Shrike 5.56? to function with the common M27 disintegrating link, the same link used with the U.S. M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) and most other 5.56 belt guns. A standard M16 rifle or M4 carbine outfitted with the Shrike 5.56? can also feed from the standard 100 and 200 round linked ammunition containers and starter tabs used with the M249 SAW. Herring invented and designed an adapter that locks into the M16 magazine well and accepts the dovetail mount on M249 ammunition containers. This significant development helps streamline logistical support of weapons and ammunition and simplifies ammunition handling for the operator.
If an operator wishes to change containers, he has only to interchange the containers in the normal manner used with the M249 SAW. If all linked ammunition is depleted, the operator simply presses the magazine release, allowing the adapter and SAW ammunition container to drop free from the weapon. He can then insert a box magazine and continue firing.
In addition to using existing M16- and M4-type lower receiver groups, ARES Defense is making its own lower receivers consisting of two types; one in the standard configuration and the other as a dedicated belt feed. This means that the new version will not accept M16 magazines. Instead, the magazine well is almost entirely removed from the raw forging and a tapered dovetail surface is machined in its place, including a locking method for the 200-round SAW ammunition container or the 100 round soft pack. Although this configuration eliminates the use of the box magazine, it allows the weapon to be operated about 2.5 inches lower to the ground, a very important feature.
The select-fire and full-auto models are called the Ares- 16SPW and they are designed to fill a role similar to FN's Mk 46, Mod. 0, but with a significantly reduced size and weight envelope. The ARES-16SPW lower receiver adds a new and valuable dimension to the Shrike 5.56 - Advanced Weapons System? and new patents are currently pending on Herring's invention and design of this lower receiver.
Quick-Change Barrel Assault Rifle
Installing the Shrike 5.56? on an M16 or M4 type lower receiver does not require that it become a belt-fed weapon. By merely removing the belt-feed top cover via a pushpin and replacing it with a non-belt top cover, the Shrike 5.56? becomes a piston-operated assault rifle with a quick-change barrel that uses standard M16 and Beta C magazines. The standard top cover even has a MIL-STD (1913) rail built right in and like the belt feed cover, has its own windage-adjustable M16A2 style rear sight.
Like the M4 and M16, the Shrike 5.56? can use any buttstock system common to the M16 family including the LMT SOCOM stock, the VLTOR ModStock, the MagPul Stock and the excellent ACE SOCOM 16 Stock. Other M16 accessories that are also common to the Shrike 5.56? include pistol grips from Hogue, Falcon Industries, World Wide Ordnance, Buffer Technologies and others.
The Shrike 5.56?'s round, ventilated handguard with black ribbed insulator is the commercial standard model. An accessory MIL-STD (1913) 4-rail system will accept various bipods including the new GripPod recently adopted by FN for its SCAR Light and Heavy rifles. The forend MIL-STD (1913) rails will also accept all MIL-STD accessories including tactical lights by SureFire and Insight Technology, and lasers including the military PEQ-2 Laser Designator and the M203 40mm grenade launcher.
The feed cover's top MIL-STD (1913) rail will accept a variety of optical sights including all reflex sights, as well as long-range optics and night vision devices (NVDs). For special applications and eye-relief problems, the QD MOA Solution Rail from Mounting Solutions Plus (MSP) will extend eye relief further to the rear. This is particularly important with some NVD's.
Barrels and Barrel Devices
Herring designed the various barrel lengths and profiles to be fully compatible with military sound suppressors such as Knight Armament's Sound Suppressor Kit, NSN: 1005-01- 437-0324, a QD design used by USSOCOM forces and others. The Shrike 5.56? will also accept the new SureFire M4Fav suppressor. On a recent visit to Ares Defense, SureFire representative Rory McGahan demonstrated their new suppressor and Herring was very pleased with both the repeatability of the suppressor and its QD mount. In addition to detachable suppressors, Ares Defense is also making available their own suppressed barrel assemblies with fixed suppressor. These will be marketed under the trade name ?ShockWave?? and it is my understanding that they are very effective.
The big plus with a non-removable suppressor is that it won't come loose during periods of sustained fi re and point of impact should remain the same throughout the fi ring sequence. The Shrike 5.56? will also accept the standard M16 issue BFA and it will function reliably with blanks in both the belt-feed and magazine-feed modes of fire, an extremely important factor to military training.
During the 2005 SHOT Show I was privileged to test two versions of the Shrike 5.56?, with Geoffrey Herring making special arrangements with PMC to use their superb test range. One of the Shrike 5.56? guns had a 12-inch barrel with standard ARES-16 lower receiver, M203 grenade launcher and telescoping M4 stock. The other had a 16-inch barrel with special ARES-16SPW lower receiver and a fixed A2 stock. Both were brand new and unfired.
We drove to the range with the two guns and 2,000 rounds of 5.56x45mm M193 ball and M856 tracer ammunition furnished by Long Mountain Outfitters. This was old 1992 Lake City 5.56 NATO ammo that had been re-linked with a mixture of M27 SAW and S63 Stoner links. Geoff informed me that the fixed-stock Shrike 5.56? had an experimental recoil spring that was heavier than standard that he was anxious to test, but he cautioned that it might experience short strokes, especially with the lower-powered M193 ammunition. He confided that with a larger military customer in mind, the Shrike 5.56? has been optimized for M855 ball with M856 tracer on current U.S. Government- issue M27 links.
At the range, Geoff ran me through the entire operation of the Shrike 5.56? before we began shooting, and after some photographic layouts we went hot for the remainder of the morning. Following some familiarization shooting and initial testing of the fi xed stock Shrike 5.56? and its heavy recoil spring, we began shooting some semiautomatic and short bursts from the bench off the bipod, at Pepper popper targets at 200 yards, using open sights. I hit them nearly every time on semiautomatic and at least once from each 3-shot burst.
After shooting a few bursts standing, we moved forward of the line to shoot from various positions. Since this range is located against a mountain of solid rock, there was no danger of brush fires from the tracers and we shot hundreds of rounds of them. Although the traces don't show up on film, we could easily follow them by eye.
The Shrike 5.56 has been designed to use virtually every accessory, adaptive weapon or sight designed for the M16/M4 weapons systems, including the M203 40mm grenade launcher, shown here with prototype quick-detach mount.
During this shooting, the 12-inch barrel Shrike 5.56? performed flawlessly, but the fixed-stock gun experienced one short stroke while Geoff was firing it. Later on I experienced the exact malfunction while firing this gun prone. These were the only malfunctions experienced in the more than 1,500 rounds fired, and they were both from the Shrike 5.56? with the heavy recoil spring. Geoffrey explained that short-strokes can be easily corrected by increasing the gas flow through the adjustable regulator, but that it is desirable to operate the weapon with as little amount of gas as needed to cycle the weapon reliably. A lower setting provides for a slower cycle rate, increased hit probability and increased weapon component life.
The short-barreled Shrike 5.56? with its retractable stock was fitted with an M203 40mm grenade launcher mounted on a prototype of the mounting system described above. Although this M4-size Shrike 5.56? was slightly heavier than its assault rifle counterpart, shooting it with the M203 mounted felt pretty much the same. Since the shortbarreled Shrike 5.56? was mounted on a standard ARES-16 lower receiver, we decided to try some 30-round magazines. After all, the ability to reliably switch between linked ammunition and box magazines is one of the qualities that make the Shrike 5.56? so unique: It also worked flawlessly with magazines.
The Future of Ares Defense and the Shrike 5.56?
While traveling back to SHOT Show from PMC's range, I asked Geoff some questions about the progress Ares Defense was making with Shrike 5.56? production efforts. He was candid with his response and he explained that when the decision was originally made to place the weapon into production, the company had planned to outsource approximately 80 percent of the components and manufacture the remainder inhouse on their MAZAK CNC machining centers. As fate would have it, lackluster performance on the part of some vendors and in some cases, poor quality components, were received. Herring refuses to lower the quality standards he imposed on the product and as a consequence, they are now building almost the entire weapon in-house! These things take time, especially with a new product.
However, things are looking up. After seven years of hardcore research and development, testing and evaluation and finally production, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Shrike 5.56? and those who are anxiously awaiting it. Ares Defense Systems, Inc. has lined up customers both in the U.S. and abroad, and they have also developed a full Technical Data Package (TDP) to support the manufacture and advancement of the Shrike 5.56? and its myriad accessories. This is an important step in the military procurement process and it is also necessary in the event that other U.S. or foreign manufacturers negotiate production rights to the Shrike 5.56? under a licensing agreement with Ares Defense.
Herring sums it up in his own words, ?I've accomplished everything that I set out to do when I first conceived the Shrike 5.56?, and even more. I had never owned a belt-fed gun before I got that first Shrike 5.56? prototype running. That was a great motivator but another was the fact that I couldn't find a belt-fed weapon in the world that possessed the high performance qualities that I wanted or thought they should have. All I found were overpriced dinosaurs that weighed a lot and left much to be desired.?
He continued, ?I raced motorcycles in my youth and aside from physical and emotional conditioning, machine performance is everything when it's time to win a race. Combat is no different; it's a race for your life. I wanted an extremely lightweight modular system that was dual-feed with both a belt and a magazine. I wanted a quick-change barrel of various lengths and I wanted 5.56mm NATO so that I could carry a lot of ammo. I wanted piston-operation and I settled on a short-stroke tappet design for performance in waterborne operations. I wanted it to fit on an M16 and M4 lower receiver without permanent modification to the lower. I wanted it to be CQB capable for vehicle use and house-to-house fighting. I wanted the lighter weight and ergonomics of the M16, but when I pulled the trigger I wanted it to roar like a SAW. I wanted it to feed from standard M249 ammunition sources for improved logistics. In the event that a 200 round container got knocked off of the weapon, I wanted it to still pull that free-hanging belt without stalling. I wanted it to be intuitive for an operator, easy to maintain, easy to repair, familiar in controls and easy to train on. When I threw it to my cheek, I wanted to be looking down M16 sights because that's the weapon that I trained on. When I wanted to add an optic or accessory, I wanted a place to mount it. I wanted a full engineering package so that the Shrike 5.56? could be produced in quantity with predictable results. And ultimately, I wanted performance and reliability. So, I got what I wanted; I got everything that I wanted. I got the perfect Assault Machine Gun! ARES Defense has developed an extremely high-performance modular family of weapons and now we want our customers and soldiers to have them.?
When asked why he chose the M16 as the host platform Herring replied, ?I love the ?Black Rifle.' It's timeless and Colt has done a fantastic job in placing almost 10 million of them across the globe. It has served our country well and in my opinion, it's far from being replaced in spite of advertisements to the contrary. The Shrike 5.56? breaths new life into the Black Rifle and it does it with the quality and performance one expects in the 21st century and that which is necessary to win on today's battlefield. The Shrike 5.56? can be supplied as a new weapon, or as an upgrade to existing weapons, and it's rearward compatible to the Colt-Armalite Mod. 01. The Shrike 5.56?'s life is just beginning and you're probably going to be seeing a lot more of it in the near future.?
With small arms programs thriving such as SCAR, OICW and others, one has to wonder where it will all end and if the Shrike 5.56 - Advanced Weapons System? will play a role in the future of U.S. Small Arms Programs. Geoffrey Herring may have his suspicions, but he's not talking just yet. Stay tuned.
New Aimpoint Comp M3
At the SHOT Show, Aimpoint, Inc., not only displayed its new 3X Magnifier, but also its even newer Comp M3 Red Dot Reflex Sight. Designed especially for the 3X Magnifier, the Comp M3 has a 2 MOA Red Dot instead of a 4 MOA, but that's not all. The Comp M3 is submersible to 175 feet and ? get this ? has a battery life of 50,000 hours. That's right, this Aimpoint's power source could last for an entire war. Otherwise the Comp M3 looks exactly like the Comp M2. A new protective rubber boot is also new from Aimpoint and can be had in black or tan.
On display in prototype at MSP's booth was a brand new mount designed just for the Aimpoint 3X Magnifier. Called the Quick-Flip, this mount replaces Aimpoint's original Quick Twist mount where the 3X is removed when not needed. With the Quick- Flip, a pad is depressed releasing the 3X Magnifier to instantly flip out of the way for CQB work and then instantly rotated up to lock back behind the Comp M3.
Aimpoint and MSP were kind enough to let us borrow these units to test with the Shrike 5.56?, not only the first such live-fire test of them together, but on a belt fed machinegun no less. We simply mounted the units in tandem on the top cover using their A.R.M.S. QD ThrowLever mounts. The combination worked flawlessly and Geoff was so impressed that he has since arranged to offer it with the Shrike 5.56?. As I write this, the Quick-Flip has been further refined for ambidextrous use. Look for an in-depth report on it in a future issue of SOF.
Having fired the M249 SAW extensively, I found the Shrike 5.56? totally impressive at less than half the weight of the larger LMG. It is also simpler to operate, having standard M16 controls, especially in terms of the safety/selector and its left-side cocking handle. The Shrike 5.56?'s size and weight in a weapon that works, redefines the term Light Machine Gun, and gives new meaning to the concept of the modern Assault Machine Gun (AMG), a term you'll be hearing more and more in the future.
The status of the Shrike 5.56? is that it is being reviewed by a number of military establishments both here and by friendly nations abroad. It is also in production in order to fill long waiting lists with ARES Defense. For information on this exciting new AMG, contact ARES Defense Systems, Inc., Dept. SOF, P.O. Box 10667, Blacksburg, VA 24062; phone: 540-639-8633, (www.aresdefense.com).
Godspeed and keep low!
The Shrike upper mates to MilSpec M16/M4 lowers; note quick-change barrel, modified bolt carrier, retracting handle and belt port.
Godspeed and keep low!
The Shrike 5.56-SOF/CQB (Special Operations Forces/Close Quarters Battle) with 12.5? CQB barrel, ARES-16SPW lower receiver with 6-position stock, MIL-STD (1913) rail handguard, Aimpoint Comp M3 optical sight, SureFire M900A vertical foregrip/light and 200-round SAW ammunition container.
Godspeed and keep low!
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