“Mil Spec” is a phrase that gets tossed around pretty frequently when talking about the best AR accessories and upper assembly modifications that can be made to the AR 15. The goal is to get those components as close as possible to the version of the firearm made for the US military. While AR parts and accessories being made to US military specifications doesn’t inherently make those components better, there is a reason that Mil Spec custom AR parts remain so popular even amongst all the other options available. However, just because those accessories and custom AR parts are considered Mil Spec, that doesn’t automatically make them the same as the components used by our military, nor does it make Mil Spec ARs military-grade firearms. So let’s clarify a few misconceptions and answer your questions about the US military’s version of the AR 15.
It’s All in the Name
First, for the sake of clarity, we need to specify something right from the start: A Mil Spec AR 15 and an AR 15 made for use by the US military are not technically the same thing, and it starts with the naming convention. The AR 15 was developed by ArmaLite and, as you surely know, the AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle not assault rifle; the 15 is ArmaLite’s designation for that particular set of rifle designs. The US military, on the other hand, use the M16. Of course, that distinction breaks down a bit because the AR 15 was initially developed by ArmaLite by request of the US military. However, each M16 must meet the fairly strict standards put in place for every component of the M16 and is specifically manufactured to those standards for use by the US military. So, with very few exceptions, this style of firearm can’t properly be called an M16 unless it was manufactured for and made to the specifications of the US military. Anything else would be considered Mil Spec or military style, but cannot technically be considered an M16.
AR 15 vs M16
As we mentioned above, ArmaLite developed the AR 15 based on specific requests from the government. After World War II, the request was made for a firearm that was lighter than what soldiers had been carrying. In addition, they wanted a firearm that could fire a smaller caliber, high velocity cartridge. This combination was intended to improve maneuverability, allow soldiers to carry more ammunition, and improve accuracy. ArmaLite adapted and altered their previous design, the AR 10, based on the requested functionalities and the M16A1 (the first version of the M16) was adopted for use by the US military in 1969, replacing the M14. Of course, modifications and alterations didn’t stop then; the most recent version adopted is the M16A4.
Can I Buy an M16?
Yes and no. It is, in theory, feasible to obtain an M16 produced for US military use, but those tend to be very costly and involve a great deal of hoops to jump through – we’re talking about firearms produced specifically for our country’s military, after all. However, we know there are plenty of former military service members who prefer the specs of the M16 so, if you don’t want to jump through all those hoops to obtain a legitimate M16, there is a secondary option. It is possible to get a hold of the guidebook with all the of specifications for the M16, and many custom AR parts manufacturers have done just that. So, while it isn’t technically an M16, it is possible to customize an AR 15 to those same military specifications.
The upside here, since your custom AR isn’t actually government property, is that you can customize your firearm however you choose (within legal limits, of course). If you decide you want an AR 15 made entirely to military specifications and you want to add a KMR handguard to it, you can! This allows you to get the features you expect from a Mil Spec AR 15, but you can tweak or change those couple of features that have annoyed you for ages. Or add additional functionality to customize your AR in the way that makes the most sense for you. Take, for example, handguard options; if you don’t care for the weight of a Picatinny rail system, try the Bootleg Handguard. Our proprietary design is part Picatinny rail, part KMR handguard, so you get reduced weight with military strength materials. Shop online today to see the difference!