Collaborations between firearms builders and trainers with expansive reputations are popular, yielding semi-custom weapons reflecting an expert’s equipment and accessory preferences. Students and non-students alike frequently want weapons similar to those a trainer carries or recommends. When a company makes those weapons readily available, everyone wins. For the trainer connected to its M&P brand of ARs, Smith & Wesson chose Sergeant Major Kyle Lamb, who served in the U.S. Army for 21 years—with 15 in Army Special Operations—before founding Viking Tactics (VTAC), a training and accessory company. The initial result of the S&W/Lamb collaboration was the VTAC rendition of the excellent M&P pistol and an M&P15 also wearing the VTAC moniker. The M&P15 VTAC was even popular with folks who had never trained with Lamb. And why not? It was an excellent, well-thought-out rendition of a fighting rifle.
Since that time it appears Smith & Wesson and Kyle Lamb have decided to make fairly significant changes to the original—not just making it prettier—and brought out the M&P15 VTAC II. The first difference lies in the base M&P15 model used as the VTAC II’s foundation. Gone is the carbine-length gas system—now you’ll find a mid-length version. As with many folks, I believe the mid-length gas system “shoots softer,” if you will, stays cleaner and works better. Someone involved in the VTAC II project must have felt the same way. Click here for another take on the S&W VTAC II.
“The original VTAC’s chromed components included the bolt carrier, gas key and bore, but only the bolt carrier and gas key are chromed on the VTAC II…”
A new handguard has replaced the previous trim VTAC/JP Enterprises tactical handguard. The new, lightweight, free-floating, rigid VTAC/Troy Extreme TRX handguard appears to be as trim as its predecessor, extending 13 inches down the barrel, with horizontal friction grooves and elongated venting slots. Because there are no permanent rails except on the top, the handguard is quite comfortable for almost all hand sizes. The venting slots allow users to add 2-inch Picatinny rail sections (two are supplied) for attaching what is needed in just the right spot. The top rail runs the length of the handguard, mating well with the upper receiver’s flattop rail.
Unlike the first VTAC’s 1-in-7-inch-twist barrel, the VTAC II’s 16-inch, 4150 chrome-moly-vanadium steel barrel has a 1-in-8-inch twist rate with Smith & Wesson’s 5R rifling (five lands and grooves). S&W offers around 10 of its M&P15s with the 1-in-8-inch twist rate. Many of those in the know, including Lamb, feel that a 1-in-8-inch twist is a good compromise spanning the 1-in-7 and 1-in-9 gulf to work well with all bullet weights. In keeping with Lamb’s desire for a light carbine that quickly snaps from target to target, the barrel has a lightweight profile.
The original VTAC’s chromed components included the bolt carrier, gas key and bore, but only the bolt carrier and gas key are chromed on the VTAC II. Chroming a barrel and chamber has pros and cons depending on whom you ask. The barrel’s tough Maxiumum Corrosion Resistant (MCR) treatment eliminates the need for chrome. The first VTAC carbine’s SureFire flash suppressor has also been replaced with S&W’s new Enhanced Flash Hider, which directs gases and sounds forward, reducing the flash signature significantly.
The M&P15 VTAC II utilizes the single-stage Geissele Super-V trigger, a non-adjustable trigger designed exclusively for Viking Tactics. It safely provided a smooth average trigger pull of 5.25 pounds, according to my Lyman electronic trigger gauge, with a clean break and a really nice reset. This is not a target trigger, per se; rather, it’s a battle trigger that offers target quality and ability with unquestioned reliability.
“The sling and hardware were all included, along with a 30-round PMAG magazine…”
For a stock, Lamb and S&W chose the “clubfoot” version of VLTOR’s six-position collapsible IMod buttstock. The IMod includes storage and ambidextrous QD swivel connections at the rear, and it provides an excellent cheekweld. Vltor calls this stock a “hybrid model that bridges the gap between tactical and shooting positions.” At 9.4 ounces, the IMod maintains the mandate of keeping the VTAC II light, as does the simple A2-style pistol grip.
I attached the supplied lightweight, offset, polymer VTAC Light Mount to the handguard using one of the supplied rail pieces. I removed the adapters for smaller lights and slid a SureFire G2 into the holder. A VTAC Low Profile Sling Mount (LPSM) featuring a rotation-limited QD attachment point also came with the carbine, and I attached it to the top rail.
I also ran the Kyle Lamb-designed, two-point, wide, padded VTAC sling between the VTAC LPSM and the Vltor stock using heavy, low-profile, push-button QD swivels. The sling is comfortable and easy to adjust. The sling and hardware were all included, along with a 30-round PMAG magazine.
Wielding The VTAC II
For the accuracy portion of the evaluation, I always opt for a scope offering as much magnification and clarity as I can get. The CounterSniper 2-16x44mm Crusader scope I had on hand met those requirements handily and attached solidly with the company’s rings. I fired groups at 100 yards (for record) and 200 yards (just because), testing three different loads using 55-, 65- and 75-grain bullets to see how the 1-in-8-inch-twist barrel would handle the variety.
“Working from 7 yards to 50 yards, the carbine handled well and showed no intention of stopping—there were zero malfunctions!…”
As best I could tell, there was no significant difference between the performances of the three bullet weights. In fact, I suspect a different day might shuffle the numbers around, but it still shows the capabilities of the VTAC II! The best load for this day, an impressive 0.73 inches, was produced with Barnes’ 55-grain TSXFB ammo. Don’t let the absence of the word “match” from the Barnes box fool you—the folks at Barnes don’t produce anything short of match quality! Of course, the Wilson Combat and Black Hills loads were not slouches, either.
I enjoyed repeatedly ringing my Tubb Enterprise Tactical Stake Target at 200 yards with all three loads and even a few less-than-stellar practice rounds. The smooth Geissele Super-V trigger undoubtedly contributed to the excellent distance performance. Backup iron sights (BUIS) are not part of the VTAC II package, and unfortunately I had no VTAC/Troy folding sights on hand, so I added a Daniel Defense fixed-sight set. Daniel Defense sights are built for rough use, and they’re always ready but light enough not to compromise the lightweight rifle goal.
For a CQB optic, I attached the excellent, lightweight EOTech EXPS3, with its compact base but wide holographic screen, on the handguard’s top rail. The EXPS3 is the lightest model offered by EOTech—it’s almost 3 ounces lighter than the 512, the next lightest EOTech. With the EXPS3 in place on the M&P15 VTAC II’s top rail, I began to work my way through a few standard exercises. The VTAC II moved snappily from target to target, validating Lamb’s belief that a lighter-weight rifle would do just that. Working from 7 yards to 50 yards, the carbine handled well and showed no intention of stopping—there were zero malfunctions!
All said and done, with the smoke dissipating, I took one last look at the VTAC II carbine. It was built with S&W’s known quality to meet the demanding requirements of someone who has probably handled an AR almost every day for a lot of years, much of it in troubled lands. Was it worth the money to upgrade to the VTAC II from any other M&P15? For those who want the very best equipment as they go about protecting their skin and that of their loved ones, the answer has to be “Yes!” Outfitted based upon Lamb’s years of intimacy with an AR, some might have made a few different choices based upon their own preferences. Even then the rifle would only be different, not better.
“How much did I like the Smith & Wesson M&P15 VTAC II? Enough that I bought the test gun…”
As hot as AR/M4-platform rifles are and have been for a number of years, it is not surprising to see new versions and new manufacturers popping up. Of course, Smith & Wesson is certainly not a new company. Sure, it has only been making AR-style rifles for the past few years—a small fraction of its historical timeline—but in that short time S&W has produced a lot of ARs and become a significant force in this arena.
With this status, Smith & Wesson can easily persuade accessory manufacturers to supply exactly what it wants. It is also large enough to manufacture many of its own parts. Thus, the folks at S&W can produce any rifle they desire using some of the finest parts available.
I suspect the variety of its M&P15 line was somewhat influenced by the carbine’s popularity, for which AR fans should be glad. The more offerings, the more to pick from and the greater the opportunity to choose a carbine configured close to what the user wants. Many folks consider the AR the Tinker Toy for big boys and girls, but if I can purchase a firearm already decked out to my preferences, I’m not going to complain!
How much did I like the Smith & Wesson M&P15 VTAC II? Enough that I bought the test gun. Once it was outfitted perfectly, I saw no reason to return the VTAC II to Smith & Wesson! After all, if it is good enough for Kyle Lamb…
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