There are many .223
caliber autoloading rifles on the market today. Most are based on
the AR-15 design, and are well-built examples of that great rifle
that has served this country and many others as the M-16 in its
Without going into
the complete history of the development of the ArmaLite AR-15
and AR-18 designs, it will suffice for our purposes to understand
that the AR-18 was an attempt by ArmaLite to improve upon the AR-15
design without infringing upon the AR-15 patents, which at the time
had been sold to Colt by ArmaLites parent company. These
developments were taking place in the very early 1960s when the
military leaders of the World were just warming up to the idea of
a .223 caliber battle rifle.
The AR-15 design
proved much more successful in gaining military contracts, so ArmaLite
marketed a civilian, semi-auto version of the AR-18 as the AR-180.
During the course of manufacture of the original AR-180, they were
built in at least three countries; Japan, England, and the
United States. There were a few small variations to the shape of
the charging handle and the magazines used during the original run
of AR-180s, but the basic design remained one of simplicity and
reliability. While the AR-180 has been out of production for several
years, there remains a loyal following of shooters who keep these
great rifles in high demand, and to their delight and mine, the
AR-180 is back in production by ArmaLite right here in the United
The original AR-180
used sheet metal stampings instead of aluminum forgings for the
upper and lower receivers as a manufacturing advantage over the
AR-15 design, but the most significant improvements were to the
gas and recoil spring systems. Instead of the direct gas impingement
upon the bolt carrier of the AR-15 system, the AR-180 used the piston
and tappet gas system that had first appeared on the early German
assault rifles of World War Two. Besides being not nearly as ammo
sensitive as the AR-15 design, the AR-180 gas system allowed ArmaLite
to use proven technology without infringing upon the patent then
owned by Colt in the AR-15 design.
The dual coil springs
used to return the bolt carrier in the AR-180 eliminate the spring
in the buttstock of the AR-15 design, thereby allowing a trimmer
buttstock that folded sideways on the AR-180. Overall, the AR-18
program, which resulted in the AR-180, developed into a simpler,
and under some conditions more reliable, assault rifle. Keep in
mind that during the early years of the AR-15, many problems with
reliability were encountered that have now been overcome. The AR-18
at that time was a superior rifle.
The new AR-180 as
built today by ArmaLite has taken the best features of the original
AR-180 and combined them with a few features of the AR-15. The result
is the ArmaLite AR-180B. The new rifle retains the light weight,
slim profile, and great gas system of the original AR-180, while
substituting a reinforced polymer lower receiver for the stamped
lower on the original. The AR-180B also uses parts from the AR-15
for the trigger and magazine systems.
The AR-180B has
a barrel that is just under 20 inches in length, has a one-in-nine
inch twist, and is slim in comparison to most AR-15 type rifle barrels
today. Thankfully, ArmaLite has not saddled the AR-180B with an
HBAR-type barrel. Most AR-15 type rifles are fitted with barrels
that are too heavy for their intended purpose. On a varmint or target
gun a heavy barrel is acceptable, but it is a detriment to handling
on an assault-style rifle. The polymer lower receiver, trim buttstock,
and slim barrel result in a weight of only six pounds for the AR-180B,
which is a full pound lighter than most 16 inch barreled AR-15s.
The bolt operating handle is attached directly to the bolt carrier,
eliminating the charging handle of the AR-15, and giving the shooter
a simpler and better method of chambering a round. The AR-180B now
has a fixed buttstock rather than the folding unit of the original,
which was prone to breakage under rough handling.
The sight system
on the AR-180B consists of an elevation adjustable front post and
a dual aperture, windage adjustable rear. Both sights are protected
by metal ears on each side. The sling swivels are mounted, as on
the original, at the bottom of the pistol grip and in front of the
A unique feature
of the barrel is the integral muzzle brake, which has six ports
at the top of the unit to direct muzzle blast straight up. The safety
is mounted for easy operation by the thumb of a right-handed shooter.
As for the shooting
and handling qualities of the AR-180B, I grabbed up several different
brands of .223 ammo; mostly various military ball rounds. I tested
the gun with the magazines provided and with military surplus 30
round mags. Most shooting was done offhand at various ranges, with
accuracy testing at a range of 100 yards. The gun groups well with
both the iron sights and with a scope mounted. Groups averaged around
the two inch mark with iron sights and military ammo, and about
half of that with a Tasco 6 to 18 scope mounted. The gun
was shipped with ArmaLites optional scope mount that is made specifically
for this rifle. It will also fit the original AR-180. It is an improvement
over the original mount, and will accept most any one-inch tube
scope sight or optical dot sight. The mount is easily and quickly
removed and replaced without tools, and returns to point-of-aim
The AR-180B functioned
perfectly, with no malfunctions of any kind. The empty brass was
ejected to the forward right of the shooter, with no damage or dents
to the cases.
The AR-180B is a
joy to handle and shoot due to the excellent balance and light weight.
Recoil is hardly noticeable, most likely due in part to the muzzle
brake. The lack of a carry handle places the sights down low, resulting
in a comfortable cheek weld with the stock. The light weight and
low sights help the gun to handle and shoot quickly and accurately.
The .223 cartridge
in the AR-180B is a great little combo for protection against varmints
and predators of many kinds. As can be seen in the photos, the .223
ball ammo nearly penetrated a one inch steel plate at a distance
of 30 yards. It easily poked through ¼ inch steel at the same distance.
It is velocity, not diameter, that penetrates hard targets.
For a good, reliable
.223 semi-auto at a very reasonable price, the AR-180B is hard to
beat. I noticed while doing research for this article that the AR-180
listed for 700 bucks in 1982. Now, twenty years later, the AR-180B
list price retails for only 650 dollars!
Check out the ArmaLite
AR-180B online at: www.armalite.com.
The AR-180B is a
light, handy, reliable and accurate rifle that can easily fill the
need for a ranch gun or home protection. It would be at the
top of the list for a dedicated Homeland Security tool.
Besides all of that,
it is a fun gun that is a joy to shoot...and that might just be
the best reason of all for owning a firearm.
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