VLTOR/POF USA 6.5 Grendel

Several manufacturers have introduced AR-type carbines in 6.8 Special Purpose…

Several manufacturers have introduced AR-type carbines in 6.8 Special Purpose Cartridge (SPC), properly designated 6.8x43mm and the 6.5 Grendel (6.5x38mm) in an effort to upgrade the terminal ballistics of the carbine that has become the mainstay of the US military, but whose performance in the sandbox has been less that satisfactory in terms of terminal ballistics. Upgrading from a 5.56x45mm carbine to either of the larger-diameter cartridges is as easy as changing upper receivers and magazines. There are proponents for both cartridges and there have been many efforts to directly compare them.

vltor2.jpgA direct comparison of the two cartridges may not exactly be an “apples and oranges” analogy, and such comparisons are more akin to comparing peaches and apricots. While similar in some ways, the cartridges are different and were designed for quite different purposes. The 6.8 SPC was designed as a close-quarters battle (CQB) to 400-meter cartridge that would deliver increased lethality compared to any existing 5.56x45mm (.223) cartridge.

During the development process that led to the 6.8, cartridges in 6.5mm, 7mm and 7.62mm were tested, all using .30 Remington cases. The current 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm cartridges served as baselines for comparisons. Other goals included increased range and energy, better cover destruction, better efficiency and increased bore life.

The 6.5 Grendel, on the other hand, was intended as a long-range cartridge that could be fired from an AR-type rifle. The fact that the 6.5 Grendel became a “de facto” competitor against the 6.8mm SPC came from misunderstanding the different purposes of the two cartridges and the fact that commercial deliveries of 6.8 ammunition were sporadic until recently. This, coupled with the 6.5’s superior long-range ballistics, has caused some to consider the 6.5 Grendel as a potential candidate to supplant if not replace the 6.8 SPC. Regardless, in an in-depth comparison in Infantry Magazine, it was noted that in terms of long-distance shooting, the 6.5 Grendel overshadows the 6.8 SPC. Even at closer ranges, the 6.5 has superior ballistics.

The 6.5 Grendel is more resistant to crosswinds due to its higher sectional density and superior ballistic coefficient. This is not to disparage the 6.8 SPC but to emphasize that it was designed as an intermediate range cartridge while the 6.5 was designed as a long-range cartridge.

One fact is incontrovertible, beyond 500 meters, the 6.5 Grendel completely overshadows the 6.8 SPC. We have seen reports of sub-half minute-of-angle groups fired from 6.5 Grendel rifles at 600 meters, but since our range does not extend to that distance, we were unable to confirm this claim. We did find, however, that the 6.5 we tested was extremely accurate at 100 yards. That said, we’ll leave the 6.5 versus 6.8 discussion and focus our attention on the subject at hand, that is Vltor’s 6.5 Grendel carbine conversion.

Conversion Details
Like the 6.8, the 6.5 can be assembled on any Mil-Spec AR lower receiver by simply dropping on a 6.5 upper receiver. In fact, this is how we obtained a test rifle. Vltor sent us an upper receiver and a couple of magazines. We had a few boxes of Alexander Arms 6.5 ammunition on hand and got some of Black Hills 6.5 to complete the test. Besides ammo from wolf these are the only sources for 6.5 Grendel we are aware of. We provided the lower receiver.

Because the 6.5 Grendel cartridge has a slightly different profile than the 5.56x45mm cartridge, the 6.5’s magazine feed lips and follower require a slight modification as is the case with the 6.8.

The Vltor VIS (Versatile Interface Structure) upper we received was manufactured and equipped with several items from Vltor.
VIS uppers are available in several lengths, but aren’t currently available from Vltor as complete barreled upper receivers. The VIS user will need to provide their own barrel, bolt, bolt carrier and charging handle for the moment. VIS upper receivers use standard AR barrels and all components necessary for fitting the barrel are included.

The basic VIS provides an uninterrupted MIL-STD-1913 rail from the rear of the receiver all the way to the gas block, two MIL-STD-1913 rails on the sides and a fourth on the removable bottom half of the handguard. The removable bottom half facilitates installation of an M203 grenade launcher and helps with cleaning. In addition, the VIS free floats the barrel. There are four lengths of VIS to accommodate just about any barrel length: VIS-1 Carbine (7 inches), VIS-2 Midlength (9 inches), VIS2A Extended Midlength (10 inches) and standard rifle (12 inches). Our sample VIS was the standard midlength but with a few extras.

A major innovation is Vltor’s tactical bipod that mounts on top of the handguard rather than the bottom like conventional bipods. What’s the big deal about Vltor’s top mounted bipod? Mounting the bipod on top lowers the center of gravity of the rifle by approximately 2 inches, making it much more stable and less prone to being knocked over when someone accidentally bumps against it with their foot. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen this happen many times when rifles are sitting on their bipods. Vltor’s bipod doesn’t absolutely prevent the rifle from being knocked over, but it significantly reduces the chances of that happening.

Another feature is Vltor’s proprietary muzzle brake that significantly reduces flash. Finally, the VIS conversion came with Vltor’s fully adjustable back-up iron sights (BUIS) that lock firmly into place when up and rise easily with the touch of a finger.

I used a match grade P415 lower from Patriot Ordnance Factory (POF-USA) for the bottom end. Because of its high quality and the fact that the POF USA lower came from the factory set up the way I like it with Vltor’s Modstock and single stage match trigger, I mounted the 6.5 Grendel on the POF USA lower. Vltor also offers Modstocks for full-size ARs and even for M14/M1A-type rifles and AKs.

Modstocks provide waterproof storage for small items and batteries for electroptics that are so prevalent in today’s tactical shooting milieu. Modstocks also provide a broad flat cheekrest that’s so far superior to the rounded stock on standard M4 type carbines that I can only wonder why most manufacturers do not offer Modstocks as an option or even as standard like POF.

The stock is comfortable and places the shooter’s eye in an ideal position for either open sights or optics. I like Modstocks so much that I fit any test rifle or carbine that comes our way with one, whether adjustable or full length. A Modstock makes a significant improvement in the “feel” of any rifle or carbine on which it is fitted.

Leupold Mark 4 1.5-5x20mm
Modern optics are very rugged, much faster on target and are more accurate than open iron sights. Iron sights require that the shooter focus on three separate elements: rear, front and target. Aligning the front and rear sights is critical if the shot is to be accurately placed and a small misalignment of the sights causes gross errors in aim. With an optic, there is no sight alignment necessary. All the shooter needs to do is place the reticle on the target and shoot it.

For our 6.5 evaluation, we chose Leupold’s Mark 4 1.5-5x20mm MR/T riflescope recticles. Once zeroed, the scope has “hash marks” that delineate distance in mils, enabling the user to engage targets from CQB out to the scope’s effective range without dialing in clicks. Adjustments are in 0.5 MOA increments and the reticle is in the second focal plane, which basically means that it stays the same relative size regardless of magnification. The reticle is illuminated in red so as to not interfere with the shooter’s night sight, but with state of the art night vision like that described below, illuminated reticles aren’t necessary.

The best image intensification (I²) technology is represented by Optical Systems Technology’s AN/PVS-22 Universal Night Sight (UNS). The generation III+ PVS-22 mounts ahead of the day optic. The need for an IR reticle is also eliminated. Because it mounts ahead of the day optic, the PVS-22 can be used with the day optic’s reticle. The PVS-22 delivers crystal clear images with zero “hot spots” due to its adjustable gain.

We are seeing more and more carbines and rifles like the test Vltor equipped with MIL-STD-1913 rails that extend ahead of the day optic to accommodate the PVS-22, which delivers night vision capability that surpasses that of the PVS-17, yet is significantly smaller, far more versatile and user friendly. Sales of OSTI NVS are restricted to law enforcement and military and require State Department approval for export outside the US.

SureFire M900
I also installed a Surefire M900 Vertical Foregrip WeaponLight with an optional infrared (IR) filter. This versatile foregrip/high intensity light has ambidextrous momentary activation pads for the main battle light, a constant on switch and a momentary push switch for the two integral low output LEDs that are used for stealth navigation. This light emits 125 lumens of high intensity focused light for an hour and attaches to the bottom MIL-STD-1913 rail via an ARMS throw lever.

While the OSTI PVS-22 is great in night vision technology, it requires some light and so in ineffective in total darkness. For situations like this, the SureFire IR filter is rotated into place over the lamp lens, enabling the carbine user to clear using IR light that is invisible to the human eye. Of course, IR can be detected by other night vision optics, but the IR Surefire coupled with the PVS-22 is about as good as it gets.

Range Time
If there is any limitation to the 6.5 Grendel, it is that presently there are only three manufactures for it, Black Hills 123-grain Sierra MatchKing, Wolf and Alexander Arms 123-grain Lapua Scenar hollow point boattail (HPBT) match bullet. The Alexander Arms 123-grain remains supersonic beyond 1000 yards due to its very high ballistic coefficient (BC) of 0.547.  Other loads are in development and should soon be available. These include a 90-grain Speer TNT (BC 0.281), 120-grain Nosler (BC 0.458) and 129-grain Hornady SST (BC 0.485). The testing proved that the 123-grain loads were indeed very accurate.

The test rifle had an 18.5-inch barrel (20 inches with the muzzle brake) and put every round essentially into a 0.5 minute-of-angle (MOA) group. I had one called flyer in the best group of the day and it was only 0.75 inches outside the main 0.5-inch group. In fact, the first three of five shots were touching and if I consider only those first three as many shooters do, the group shrinks to about 0.25 inches! Not bad for a gas gun!

Shooting was otherwise uneventful. The two-stage POF match trigger broke at 3.5 pounds. There was not a single stoppage during the entire day’s shooting. Felt recoil was about the same as a .223, although I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison. Brass was positively ejected almost straight out the ejection port, landing about four feet from the rifle.

Final Notes
The 6.5 Grendel brings a new capability to the AR for anyone who owns such a rifle. First, it is a cartridge that delivers true long-range performance to 1,000 yards and beyond. Since the 123-grain bullet remains supersonic to approximately 1,200 yards, accuracy should not suffer, as the transition from supersonic to subsonic velocity is a major factor in loss of accuracy because the bullet tends to become less stable as it transitions back through the sonic barrier. For the military user, this is good news.

For law enforcement, the 6.5 provides an extremely accurate rifle that not only is far more lethal than any .223 but enables quick follow-up shots. It is thus ideal for use as a perimeter rifle, CQB carbine in shorter barrel lengths, or with 20- or 24-inch barrels, for duty with precision tactical marksmen.

The cartridge and rifle combination offered by Vltor is a superb package that delivers the goods.

Load Comments
  • Bruce

    Obviously your reading comprehension is sub-standard. The 6.5 Grendel,
    Is capable of being equipped with A short-barrel…. How would a 14-inch AR,
    (Identical-lower) make it hard to clear a room? It is not a larger-framed
    Weapon, such as the AR-10 ( .308 / 7.62 )As far as ammo goes…. I’ve
    “been-there” also…and I’d rather carry almost IDENTICAL mags, with only
    26 POWERFUL rounds, VS carrying 30, 5.56 (.22 caliber / 55gr) rounds.

  • rogerdoger

    Regarding the 6.5 Grendel…I am not in the Military or a police swat team. I did spend time in Nam in the AF and I have carried an 06 deer hunting up and down the hills of Pennsylvania. Lets look at the needs of the average infantry man. Lesson from the paratroopers: weapon compact, light wt. and lots of ammo. RECON team: again light wt. lots of ammo and accurate out to 300m anything over that a plus. After looking at ballistic tables of the available cartridges if I had to go into combat today the 6.5 Grendel would be my only choice. Now why doesn’t Uncle Sam buy in: Dollars to re-arm all military personnel, secondly the US was very instrumental in convincing NATO into using 5.56 & 7.62 for the benefit of the comparability of ammo.
    6.5 Grendel – AR Platform, Weight, Rounds/Ammo, Accuracy at shot & Long range. 1 shot/1 kill
    So long story short Dollars & Politics = Flag draped pine box.

  • Nomad

    I own an AR in 6.5 Grendel from Superior Tactical Solution out of Henderson, KY. I served in the Army for six years with deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan… and continue to serve in the Guard. To make a long story short, this is the best assualt (or tactical configuarion) rifle I have ever known. Our troops would benefit greatly from such a weapon, in “21 inch” to 16, to 14.
    7.62 NATO performance (better actually) in 5.56 mobility and recoil. Forget 6.8 SPC… it is little better than 7.62 Soviet, but notable more expensive. A waste of time and money.

  • kong

    how much for it?

  • Benjamin

    Sorry Rick. The 6.5 Grendel gets it done from CQB out to and beyond 1200 yards. Beside who wants to hump a 11-16 pound rifle (depending on optics) all over the hills and valleys of Afghanistan? Not I! Lets also consider ammo weight, mag capacity, ballistics, etc., etc. The .308 and 6.8 need to be mothballed period.
    Every manufactuer of AR’s jumped on the anemic 6.8 and are now regretting it. The 6.8 or .308 short is dismal failure. Sales are down. Nobody wants it. Neither does the Military!
    The AR platform has much improved over the last 45 years. No longer the “Mattel Toy”. Now a great battle rifle. The 6.5 would serve our troops well.
    Some AAR-15’s are in use by the 10th MTn. Nuff said.

  • mrnobody

    It may appear to be 2 steps forward and 3 back but dynamic changes in warfare require adaptation. Both in tactics and tools. There is no one single tool that works on all jobs. The 6.5 grendel is looking like the middle of the road today. Tomorrow when “they” change “we” will too. Godspeed.

  • Mongo

    There probably will never be an ‘ideal’ cartridge that optimally covers MOUT and longer range shooting. 6.5 Grendel, IMO, is a happy compromise capable of doing well in shorter and longer ranges.

    Most troops in WWII and Korea complained about the weight of the 30-06, but nobody complained about its killing ability. The 30 caliber ammo weight problem will never go away, but most troops carrying 7.62 would prefer it over a caliber that requires a triple tap to kill.

    If there is one challenge with a 30 caliber cartridge, it is the long established fact that 30 caliber cartridges at 100-200 yards are still too fast and stable. So much power at shorter ranges generally results in a through-and-through shot, with a lot of wasted energy down range in the dirt.

    The weight, size, and recoil issues of the 30 caliber weapon have been resolved in the likes of the HK 417 and LWRC SABR. Both are M4 type weapons, both offer shorter barrels for MOUT, and both can accommodate suppressors for reduction of muzzle blast and recoil. Having one or more DMR’s in a squad carrying a second, longer barreled, upper is a no brainer.

    One last thought and then I’ll shut up and go back to my cave. The size element for ammunition comes into play when comparing 30 caliber against 6.5 Grendel. Typical 30 caliber magazines carry 20 rounds, whereas the 6.5 Grendel carries 25-26 in an M4 magazine. 30 caliber mag pouches are typically doubles, whereas M4 pouches are typically triples.

    Doing the math on 4X2X20 versus 4X3X25 gives a pretty obvious 160 rounds vs 300 rounds. I’m a long time fan of 30 caliber and, in spite of being an ‘old guy’, always prefer carrying 7.62 over 5.56. The 6.5 Grendel, however, gives me hope that the M4 type weapon has finally achieved a level of killing power that it always lacked in a one shot/one kill scenario.

    Now for a moment of fantasy: Steyr Aug and FN F2000 in 6.5 Grendel. Bring it, baby!

  • Nord

    In ‘Nam in 1967-68, our unit still used M-14s. Nice weapon on semi-auto, not so nice on full-auto, as recoil was a problem. The specs on the Grendel are so similar to the M-14 that it is a no-brainer to me to move to this lighter weight, better recoil rifle. Just find a company big enough to buy out Alexander as Remington was bought out and you’ll have both your bullets and your manufacturing, not to forget your big league lobbyists working hard to promote the rifle. Otherwise, we’ll still be shooting uphill in the mountains of Afghanistan with peashooters.

  • Jeff

    M-14 with a lightweight synthetic stock could reduce weight to a point where recoil and controlability are more severe, and comprimised.

    My military days are long over, and I never was in a combat unit. As an Air Force medical officer I was only required to qualify with the M 92, I think, Beretta 9mm( I date to days when it was S&W 38 revolver). I did comment to some of the less gun savey enlisted personnel that if we ever needed to be issued fireams, I would gladly trade my 9mm for a M-16.

    I have been shooting a 6.5 Grendel lately, the cartridge intrigues me. For a bit of give for weight in the ammo category it seems that you get a lot in performance over the 5.56.

    I like big battle rifles but generally speaking I think the sun has set on their day, and the lighter weight, handier, modular personal weapon is here to stay. If I were in combat in a non urban setting, and having to use iron sights, I would prefer the standard M-16 configuration. Close combat in an urban situation the M-4 carbine wins hands down. I would like the cartridge the throws a bigger bullet. For one shot kills or incapacitions nothing will probably ever surpass the 54, 58, and 69 cal Minie ball muzzleloaders of our civil war.

  • Mike Lafkas

    6.5 is the best round period. If you could only have or if I could only have one rifle. Im choosing 1200 yds at super sonic, .05 moa and slightly more kick than a .223? Oh yeah its light. What currently out there thats better? Nothing thats what. The Englishman’s on to something good and should be praised also this round should be the next one for our troops. Combining this round with Dragon Skin would save many lives.

  • Carey Erwin

    Instead of everyone displaying a condescending attitude why don’t we try and learn something from each other. I think it makes sense that someone who has either served on a Police force, Military or special ops. where their life is on the line and been in the line of fire would have a better understanding of weapons and the reasons for using a certain one in a given situation, I think that only makes sense. I admit I don’t have a lot of experience with guns and no doubt can learn from all of you. However, it bothers me when we don’t show mutual respect for each other, especially the men who have put their lives on the line for our freedom. Goodnight.

  • Mike

    The 6.5 is not a stupid idea. Its evolution. Yes, we moved away from the m-14 for its weight, recoil and ammo weight. The 5.56 is now the standard carry cartridge and there are complaints about its lethality. Tell these people to carry an m-14 with kit and ammo on top of the 80+ lbs of gear and it becomes a suckfest real quick. The 6.5 is a good balance between the two. It actually has BETTER ballistics than the m80 7.62 ball beyond 400 yards. You can still use the same lower as any m16/m4. Hows that for saving money. The 6.5 is an incredibly accurate cartridge as well.

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  • have you ever tried to clear a room with a M-14? Obviously not! Don’t get me wrong…great rifle for longer ranges but a pain in the butt in CQ. And you’ve obviously never toted a full load of ammo all day in the blistering heat with full plated vests. very reliable and effective at long ranges but way too heavy, too long, and too much felt recoil in a close quarters engagement. Hard to recover and aquire same target or related targets shots. It has it’s purpose but not an all around/ fits all weapon system. looking forward to some 1 on 1 with the 6.5


    All you subject matter experts make me laugh. The US army steered away from the 7.62 because of ammo weight. If you have ever walked a sector with the new body armor then weight is an issue. So lets rule out the reliable M14. No matter how many mods you put on that weapon to modernize it. The grendel is what i would choose. WHY ?? Be cause of my current tour which is my third in this area of the world. I am a security commander for convoys. 5.56 nor will the 6.8 punch a target at the ranges given to you by insurgents. from 10 meters to a full grid. You need to identify, access, verify, then terminate in the span of seconds. So do your research. Terminal ballistics favor the 6.5 for numerous reasons. Til your on the ground in the heat “of it” you really have no room to talk. A thousand yards fixed position. The nod goes to the M14. Mobility gives the nod to the 6.5

  • clint

    Anyone know the make of the bipod on this gun?

  • John

    my bad guys left some out i meant to write until you are trained in a mout enviroment where you clearing towns and villages if not citys, building by building you wouldn’t understand.

  • John

    Because the m14 has to much knock down power and why erase the last 40 50 years of research and devlopement of weapons. the m14 is a good rifle but the grendal is not complicated at all. You don’t want a 30-06 or close to that for a close quarters it doesn’t make any sence and until you are trained by the military or police you wouldn’t understand. Unless you took the time to actualy research combat and what it has evolved into.

    Nichols, John usmc
    Baharia Iraq

  • Brandon

    Amen to what Greg says! I am serving in th Air Force and haven’t been close to combat, but I would love using an M14.

  • Greg

    Amen to what Rick says.

  • Rick

    This 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Grendel AR stuff is stupid and too complicated. If the military wants better knockdown power (6.8 SPC) and greater range (6.5 Grendel), why doesnt the military just keep it simple? And go back to issuing M-14’s? Maybe get rid of the heavy Walnut stocks and go with a lighter synthetic stock or a adjusting synthetic stock, with a pistol grip? But otherwise, keep the M-14 the same.

    To me, this seems cheaper, simpler and probably better than either 6.8 SPC or 6.5 Grendel. There were so many complaints in the sixties when the Army and Marines went from the M-14 to the AR-15 and now, forty years later, look whats happening? The military is deciding it wants longer range and old school knockdown power.

    Just go back the M-14…