Caliber - .5.56mm NATO (.223 Rem)
Capacity - 20 or 30rd box magazines
Action - Gas-operated semi-automatic
Barrel - 16"
Weight - ~9 lbs. w/ empty magazine
The "Recce" Concept
The "Recon Rifle", or simply "Recce" (rhymes with "Becky"), was conceived by the US Navy SEALs prior to the 9/11 attacks, to give sniper/observer teams a support weapon with greater range, lethality and precision than the issue 14.5" M4 carbine. First constructed in-house by SEAL armorers and later at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) at Crane, IN, Recce rifles feature feature a 16", 1x8-twist Compass Lake barrel with KAC flash hider, standard front sight base and carbine-length gas system, mated to a flat-top upper receiver. Back-up rear sights, optics, rail systems and other accessories vary widely, according to mission requirements and individual operator preference. Standard-issue M4A1 lower receivers are utilized, along with various types of fixed and retractable buttstocks.
In the civilian world, the term "Recon Carbine" (which is technically more correct, given that the barrel is shorter than rifle length) has come to mean a multi-purpose or "do-all" weapon with a flat-top upper receiver and 16" free-floated barrel. Style and brand of components used in civilian Recon Carbines vary even more widely than those used by the SEALs. Barrels may be 1x9, 1x8 or 1x7 twist, chrome-lined or stainless steel, with a medium, heavy or hybrid profile. Mid-length gas systems and flip-up front sights are popular, as are low-powered variable optics and match-grade triggers. Configurations run the gamut from "plain jane" to "mini-SPR" to exact NSWC Recce clone, with all stops in-between. My goal was to bridge the gap between my Aimpoint-equipped M4 and an SPR. My Recon Carbine needed to have the capability for rapid, accurate shooting at close distances as well as reasonable precision out to 300 yards, in a package light and balanced enough to be shot off-hand for long periods of time.
For the lower receiver, I used one of my tried-and-true Bushmasters, equipped with:
I took the finished build, sans optic and mount (which had not arrived yet), to the range for initial break-in and testing. I was very pleased with the gun's relatively light weight and excellent balance - many "general purpose" carbines I'd handled previously had been bloated with cumbersome rail systems, heavy barrels, and "accessories" of questionable utility. I attached a Harris bipod to the rail forearm via a lightweight QD mount and set up at the bench for some iron-sight shooting. To my shock, the gun experienced a failure to extract on the very first pull of the trigger! Dummy me forgot to lube the gun. I cleared the malfunction, squirted some SLIP2000 on the bolt carrier, worked the action several times, and proceeded through the rest of the 200-round test without incident. After establishing a good zero at 50 yards, I moved out to 100 for some accuracy work. Shooting a variety of ammunition types (55gr M193 and 62gr M855 ball, as well as heavier commercial "match" loads in 69 and 75 grains), the Recon Carbine averaged about 2" groups on paper, which is about as well as I am able to shoot any AR with iron sights. So the gun definitely showed promise, and the "nut behind the trigger" was the weak link – which is how it should be! Also notable was the gun's incredibly smooth recoil impulse - not that a .223 develops much recoil per se, but the combination of mid-length gas system and extra-heavy buffer make for a less abrupt "snap" compared to my M4 carbine. A subtle improvement, perhaps, but it serves to make the gun an even more stable shooting platform and facilitates quick followup shots.
The optic I chose was the GRSC 1-4x Combat Rifle Scope. The CRS features a "first focal plane" reticle design, meaning that the reticle itself gets larger as the scope's magnification increases. At 1x, the reticle appears as a horseshoe shape with an aiming dot in the middle. At 4x, additional features, such as a horizon line with leader dots and offset aiming points for 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards – become visible. This allows fast, two-eyes-open shooting at 1x, using the horseshoe reticle like a large Aimpoint dot, while also providing the ability to crank up the magnification and use the ranging function for precision at longer distances. A number of 1-4x scopes with illuminated reticles have hit the market in recent years, and this type of optic is widely regarded as the perfect solution for a multi-purpose carbine like the Recon. In my opinion, the CRS is among the best in terms of utility, features and price. Unfortunately, as of this writing, production of the CRS has been suspended indefinitely due to quality control issues with the overseas manufacturer. Only about 30 scopes were actually delivered; I am certainly glad to have received one of them. Ed Verdugo, owner of GRSC, has vowed to find an alternate source for production of this scope, and is also exploring licensing the CRS reticle for use in other manufacturers' scopes. I hope he gets something worked out, as his reticle design is excellent.
Baptism By Fire
The first real test of the Recon Carbine came in the form of an EAG Tactical Carbine Operators Course in July 2007. Over the course of 3 days of hard training and 1181 rounds fired, the Recon performed admirably, experiencing only two failures to fire. These were two separate rounds in the middle of two separate mags, and the hammer fell both times, yet there was no mark on either primer. I solved the problem in both cases by transitioning to the pistol and completing the drill, and experienced no other problems before or after. My maintenance routine was limited to wiping down the barrel extension and bolt/carrier every night, and lubing every morning with a couple extra drops in the bolt gas holes at lunch. I ran the CRS at 1x for the entire course, since distances were kept to a maximum of 50 yards. I didn't have any problem picking up the black reticle against dark backgrounds or targets (unfortunately, the illumination is not bright enough to be used in full sunlight), and found that I could more easily shoot tighter groups than with my M4, since the CRS' 1 MOA center dot provided a more precise aiming point than the red-dot optics to which I am accustomed. Along with the illumination issue, the other problem with the CRS is that the reticle has a slight counterclockwise cant. This only becomes apparent at the 4x setting, and while it is a bit annoying, it is not severe enough to be a functional problem for me – evidenced by the fact that I took top shooter honors at the end of the 3 days! I came away from the course very pleased with this build, and confident in the merits of the Recon Carbine concept in general.
Update 7/9/08 I took the Recon Carbine through another EAG carbine course in June 2008, firing 1069 rounds with 4 non-induced malfunctions (none directly traceable to the gun itself) and finishing 2nd in the Modified Navy Qual. The gun is now up to almost 4000 rounds and continues to run well. I have swapped the Vortex flash hider for a VLTOR VC-1, which offers some compensation in addition to flash suppression, but lacks both the "tuning fork" sound of the Vortex and the annoying side blast of a true muzzle brake. It is also compatible with the Gemtech HALO silencer, which I plan to purchase next year.
Update 5/2/07 I have started a performance log on the Recon Carbine, and will provide periodic updates on round count, reliability, parts breakage/replacement and other statistics. Stay tuned!