Not long ago Eric Kincel invited me to tour Vltor Weapon Systems’ huge facility that is part of Abrams Airborne. Of the variety of specialized AR platform and other firearms components Vltor manufactures, it was the VIS in which I was most interested. Unique in a number of measures, the VIS is a total upper receiver component with a continuous MIL-STD-1913 rail running along its flattop from the back of the receiver to the front sight. Integral with the unit are two MIL-STD-1913 rails at 3 and 9 o’clock with the 6 o’clock rail removable. While this requires something like the rim of a cartridge to accomplish, it can be done quickly with the rail locking up extremely tight when replaced.
Two Piece Construction While examining a finished VIS upper component, I asked Eric how Vltor accomplished the intricate machining I was looking at around the front of the upper receiver. He told me they start with two pieces, a special upper receiver and a 3-rail handguard, each perfectly CNC machined to interface. As I continued staring at the unit I could see no place indicating where two pieces had been joined. Eric explained that it was done by using a special welding process (Abrams Airborne is famous for its hi-tech aluminum manufacturing processes).
Eric went on to explain that the assembled unit is put into a special fixture that perfectly aligns the MIL-STD-1913 rails before the weld takes place. When I asked how strong is was, Eric told me they regularly check the strength by pulling sample units apart with a hydraulic machine exerting 10,000 pounds of force. The units always tear apart someplace in the forend, but have never broken at the weld. The VIS is truly a monolithic upper component, and it totally free-floats the barrel preventing heat transfer and enhancing accuracy, but it doesn’t stop there.
Using a modified forward assist housing that contains the case deflector, the VIS differs from other upper receivers over most of its exterior. On the inside, the VIS is built to general M4 specifications including its extended feed ramps, but it goes the limit inside. Throughout the entire length, the VIS is precision polished to a mirror surface prior to being hard anodized. This equates to less friction with smoother operation of the bolt carrier and less wear though the life of the rifle.
Eric suggested that I put together a short barreled rifle (SBR) using a VIS upper and a barrel from Noveske Rifle Works as Vltor makes some parts for John Noveske and considers his barrels second to none. I didn’t have to think about it long. Eric also suggested I test the unit with a sound suppressor from OPS, Inc., in conjunction with the Noveske “SwitchBlock.”
Three Gas Settings
The answer to using a carbine with and without a suppressor, the 3-position SwitchBlock has three gas ports, a smaller one for use with a suppressor and two larger ones for use when the suppressor is removed. This assures that the rifle will be tailored to get the proper amount of gas to work the mechanism, not too much and not too little, so no more having to try to make a single gas port do everything. The third position has the largest port for operation of the weapon under adverse conditions, but I found that this position works best on my rifle with the suppressor removed. Break-in may change this.
Along with a new Colt M16 bolt for precise headspacing, I shipped my VIS to Noveske Rifle Works and when it was returned it had a heavy 12.5-inch stainless barrel with SwitchBlock, and had been turned for a Model 12 OPS suppressor and collar. This is the same suppressor used with the US Special Forces’ SOPMOD Program. I had no trouble installing the collar and suppressor mount. Mounting my completed VIS upper component to a selective fire Stag 16 lower, I test fired the SBR with and without the OPS suppressor mounted, using the SwitchBlock’s two positions. Everything was perfect.
Flat Dark Earth
With the US military’s chosen color being “flat dark earth,” I decided to outfit the VIS SBR with accessories in this color. Since one of my favorite pistol grips is the non-slip polymer ERGO Grip, from Falcon Industries, I replaced the M16A2 grip with an ERGO Grip in flat dark earth color. For a buttstock, I chose a Vltor Enhanced MOD (EMOD) stock in flat dark earth. Having multiple positions to adjust for length of pull, the EMOD also has two removable spare battery tubes, as well as another compartment for more batteries, spare parts, earplugs, or other small items. One thing I can’t do without on any tactical stock is a rubber butt pad and Vltor’s EMOD stock comes with a great one that stays put and won’t move about even on the smoothest nylon clothing or entry-level body armor.
Incidentally, in addition to diffusing the rifle’s visual signature, the color, flat dark earth, like other lighter shades, prevents the surface from heating up under the bright sun. If you’ve ever used a black rifle on a hot sunny day, you know what I’m talking about.
As with other rail systems, the VIS’ rails are meant for mounting and not holding, and are rough on the hands when uncovered. However, preferring a slim handguard, I chose to use the Low Profile Rail Covers from Falcon Industries to cover the unused sections of the rails. These “ladder-like” rail covers are also easy to remove quickly when necessary without first removing equipment from the rail. If full rail covers are preferred, excellent ones are offered by Falcon, Magpul and TangoDown. The color? Flat dark earth, of course, and this color really helps break up the visual signature of the rifle. However, if you live in an area that is predominantly green you may prefer OD green accessories for your rifle.
Since the VIS doesn’t come with open sights and there is no way to mount a front sight on the barrel with the suppressor, I had to select folding back-up sights for the gun. For these I chose Magpul Sights for three important reasons: superb quality, weight and price. And flat dark earth color. Made of the same virtually indestructible polymer as Magpul’s 20- and 30-round PMAG, these sights weigh right next to nothing. They also lock down, but spring up (and stay up) by depressing an ambidextrous release and are fully adjustable. In addition to locking onto any MIL-STD-1913 top rail, these sights are roughly one-fourth the price of steel sights. Where sights must be mounted on a top rail, those from Magpul simply can’t be beat.
Having used at least a dozen sling mounting systems over the years, I am also particular about this small detail and the front sling mount of choice for me is the ACE Sling Mount from DoubleStar, which fastens securely to the side rail. The sling I equipped this SBR with was the Vickers Sling from Blue Force Gear. With its super quick adjustment, this simple 2-point sling acts like a 3-point, but allows one to make instant transition, as well as the ability to get out of it instantly if necessary. Yes, it too comes in flat dark earth. If you prefer a single point sling, Blue Force Gear also offers an excellent one. Slings are Blue Force Gear’s main product, and they know what works.
During the past 40 years I have used virtually every type of M16 magazine ever made. Many have worked great…some have not. The one I currently intend to stake the rest of my life on is the PMAG. Ingeniously designed to work every time all the time, this magazine is virtually indestructible and I, and many others, had no luck in wearing one out. Flat dark earth? You bet.
One important accessory is the M84 “Gas Buster” charging handle from Precision Reflex. A mandatory item when using a suppressor, the M84 goes a long way in preventing gas build-up from flowing back through the upper receiver and into the operator’s face. The M84’s cocking extension also makes it easy to use under stress. No, it doesn’t come in flat dark earth, but like the rest of the rifle’s metal surface can be rendered in this or other colors by Lauer Custom Weaponry with their excellent DuraCoat finish.
Without a doubt, the finest weapon stabilization system the world has ever seen, the GripPod weighs 7 ounces, will support a 250-pound man and can be deployed in less than a second to go prone and make hits on a 300-yard silhouette target before others can get down and on their sights. When seconds mean life or death, the GripPod is my choice, and particularly in flat dark earth made for DEV Group and the DEA, and now in full production in addition to black.
Lights, Lasers, Optics
Just as valuable is the light rail designed as a GripPod accessory for the US military and law enforcement agencies. No more wires or remote switches to pull loose, thanks to the GripPod, as its MIL-STD-1913 rail positions a tactical light or laser perfectly accessible to the support thumb using an end cap/pressure switch, and the ambidextrous rail makes this possible for either hand to use. I mounted a SureFire G2 Tactical Light with a protected end cap on the GripPod rail and rigged a LaserMax Uni-Max Red laser and also a Laser Devices Laser Sight in conjunction with the light. Even better may be SureFire’s new X400 light/laser combination.
Optics are always an important option with any tactical shoulder arm and the EOTech Model 553 with its integral ARMS ThrowLever Mount proved an excellent choice, especially the military version in flat dark earth, which in this case not only allowed perfect co-witnessing of the Magpul flip-up sights, but also blended in. Equally handy was the Aimpoint Comp M3 with its flat dark earth cover used in conjunction with Aimpoint’s 3X Magnifier mounted on a “Quick-Flip” base from Samson. When magnification is unwanted, as in CQB, pressing the “Quick-Flip” release causes the 3X Magnifier to instantly flip over to the right and out of the way in order to use only the Aimpoint’s red dot. The 3X Magnifier comes with a simple twist-off mount that will also accept an AN-PVS14 Night Vision Device for use with the Aimpoint Red Dot Sight. Conventional optical sights can also be used with the system, but because of eye relief, would need to be mounted with medium or high rings to clear the folded Magpul backup sights.
Short barrel rifles (SBRs) like this 12.5-inch barrel VIS are intended for CQB work for several reasons including ease of manipulation in tight quarters, and their limitation increases at extended ranges mainly due to their loss of terminal velocity using FMJ bullets. However, depending on the same things that determine performance from any rifle, barrel and ammunition quality, the accuracy potential of an SBR is surprising.
Using top quality ammunition, our sample VIS SBR produced 5-shot groups of 2 inches or so at 100 yards from the bench using a Leupold 3-9x Mid-Range Tactical (MR/T) Scope, and this was with an issue trigger group. In fact, our largest group measured just over 2.75 inches at 100 yards. Still, with commercial expanding bullets and a 100-yard terminal velocity of about 2500 feet per second (fps), the SBR can perform sufficiently to deal with a variety of threats.
In shooting a variety of US and foreign commercial and military 5.56mm (.223) ammunition, we experienced no malfunctions whatsoever with and without the suppressor and when using the proper setting for the SwitchBlock.
The OPS Model 12 Suppressor proved to be extremely effective in dampening muzzle blast. As advertised, the point of impact changed only a fraction of an inch with or without the suppressor mounted, a feature I value more than noise attenuation. Of course the rifle was easier to control on full automatic with the roughly 2-pound suppressor mounted, but the OPS combination muzzle brake/suppressor mount helped control muzzle rise with the suppressor removed. Any suppressor will work with the Noveske SwitchBlock.
If you or your agency is looking for a top-of-the-line AR-15 upper receiver component, make sure you look into the Vltor VIS. The VIS is offered for all popular AR-15 combinations.
Not long ago Eric Kincel invited me to tour Vltor Weapon Systems’ huge facility…
by Cameron Hopkins / Sep 2, 2009