AR-15 Rifle History

By Brad McLeod 4-24-22
AR-15 Rifle History

The AR-15 rifle is a military-style semi-automatic rifle that has been in production since the 1950s. It has a storied history that includes its use by the U.S. military and law enforcement, as well as controversy surrounding its civilian use.

The AR-15 was first developed by ArmaLite, a small arms engineering company, in the late 1950s. The rifle was designed by Eugene Stoner and was originally intended for military use as a lightweight, selective-fire rifle. However, the U.S. military ultimately passed on the design in favor of the M14 rifle.


Eugene Stoner was an American firearms designer who is best known for his work on the AR-15 rifle, which has had a significant impact on modern-day firearms. Stoner was born on November 22, 1922, in Gosport, Indiana, and served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He later became a firearms designer and worked for various companies in the industry.

Stoner’s most notable contribution to firearms design was the development of the AR-15 platform. In the late 1950s, Stoner, along with his team at ArmaLite, designed the AR-15 rifle, which was initially intended for military use. The AR-15 featured several innovative design elements, including lightweight materials and a gas-operated, direct impingement system.

Stoner’s design principles focused on creating a lightweight and reliable rifle that provided accurate and controllable firepower. The AR-15’s use of lightweight materials, such as aluminum alloys and synthetic polymers, resulted in a rifle that was significantly lighter than traditional firearms of the time. Additionally, the direct impingement system, which uses the high-pressure gas from the fired cartridge to cycle the action, contributed to the rifle’s reliability and ease of maintenance.

The military variant of the AR-15, designated as the M16, was later adopted by the United States military and saw extensive use during the Vietnam War. Despite initial challenges and controversies, the M16 evolved and underwent improvements to address reliability issues, eventually becoming the standard issue rifle for U.S. forces.

The civilian version of the AR-15, often referred to as the “modern sporting rifle,” has gained immense popularity and widespread use among civilians, law enforcement agencies, and competitive shooters. It has become one of the most customizable and versatile firearms platforms available today, with numerous manufacturers producing AR-15 variants in various calibers and configurations.

Eugene Stoner’s work on the AR-15 platform revolutionized the firearms industry, introducing innovative design concepts that influenced modern rifle development. His contributions have had a lasting impact on the design and functionality of firearms, and the AR-15 remains a highly regarded and widely used rifle platform around the world.


In 1959, ArmaLite sold the design and manufacturing rights to Colt’s Manufacturing Company. This acquisition allowed Colt to take ownership of the design and further develop it for commercial and military purposes. Colt refined the design and introduced the rifle as the AR-15 in 1964. The AR-15 was marketed to both military and civilian customers and gained popularity in both markets.

Design Improvements:
Colt made several refinements to the AR-15 design to enhance its reliability and address concerns raised during initial military testing. One notable improvement was the addition of a forward assist mechanism, which allowed the shooter to manually push the bolt carrier forward in case of any malfunction or incomplete chambering of a round.

Military Testing and Adoption:
The improved version of the AR-15, designated as the Colt Model 602, underwent rigorous testing by the U.S. military. It was extensively evaluated by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, ultimately leading to its adoption as the M16 rifle in 1963-1964.

Commercial Release:
In addition to the military adoption, Colt also introduced a civilian version of the AR-15 rifle, which it marketed as the Colt AR-15 Sporter. The civilian variant retained many of the design features and characteristics of the military M16 but had certain modifications to comply with legal and civilian market requirements.

Production and Influence:
Following its introduction, Colt began mass-producing the AR-15 rifles for both military and civilian markets. The military adoption of the M16 and the availability of the civilian AR-15 Sporter contributed to the popularity and widespread use of the platform. Over time, Colt’s AR-15 became one of the most recognizable and sought-after rifles in the firearms industry.

It’s important to note that while Colt played a significant role in refining and introducing the AR-15, the design itself was initially developed by Eugene Stoner and his team at ArmaLite. Colt’s involvement and subsequent developments further refined the design, leading to its widespread adoption and commercial success.


The introduction provides background information on the Vietnam War and introduces the AR-15 as a groundbreaking firearm that transformed the dynamics of combat during the conflict.

The AR-15 was used by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, where its lightweight design and accuracy made it popular with soldiers. It was also used by law enforcement agencies and other security forces around the world.

During that period there were several key decisions behind the adoption, highlighting the desire for a lightweight, reliable, and modern firearm for the unconventional warfare tactics employed in Vietnam. This new weapon on the battlefield would provide a lightweight construction, direct impingement gas system, detachable high-capacity magazines, and the selective fire mode (semi-automatic and fully automatic). These advantages offered to soldiers on the battlefield more options.

The high-capacity magazines allowed for sustained fire, while the selective fire capability provided versatility in different jungle combat scenarios. There have been issues related to ammunition, maintenance, and the lack of proper training for soldiers on the new rifle. There were several controversies surrounding the rifle, including early reliability issues and negative perceptions among some soldiers, as well as the controversial use of the M16’s fully automatic mode. In the end the AR-15/M16 marked a significant shift in small arms technology and its lessons influenced subsequent military doctrine and firearm development.

In the years that followed, the AR-15 continued to be developed and refined. In the 1980s, Colt introduced the M16A2, a version of the AR-15 that was adopted by the U.S. military as its standard-issue rifle. The M16A2 had a number of improvements over earlier versions of the rifle, including a burst-fire mode and improved ergonomics.

AR-15 vs AK-47 In Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, the dichotomy between the AR-15 and AK-47 epitomized the ideological and practical contrasts of the conflict. American forces predominantly wielded the AR-15, known as the M16, emphasizing precision, adaptability, and a .223 Remington round that offered good accuracy at long ranges.

However, the M16 grappled with reliability issues in the early stages of the war, particularly in the harsh, humid jungles of Vietnam. In stark contrast, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong favored the AK-47, celebrated for its ruggedness, reliability, and the 7.62x39mm round that excelled in penetrating dense vegetation. This choice of rifles mirrored the opposing strategies and conditions experienced by American and Vietnamese forces, and both rifles left a lasting imprint on the legacy of the Vietnam War. The debate is still out on the AR-15 vs AK-47 during the Vietnam War.


The AR-15 rifle, or its military variant, the M16, has been a staple weapon for the U.S. military for several decades. Navy SEALs, in particular, have used the AR-15/M16 family of rifles in training and combat operations.

In training, Navy SEALs use the AR-15 for marksmanship and tactical training. The rifle’s lightweight design, low recoil, and accurate performance make it an ideal platform for honing the skills necessary for special operations missions. SEALs undergo rigorous marksmanship training with the AR-15, including precision shooting at long distances and rapid target acquisition in close quarters.

In combat, Navy SEALs use the AR-15/M16 family of rifles for a variety of missions. The rifle’s versatility makes it ideal for a range of missions, from room-clearing to long-range engagements. The AR-15’s modular design also allows SEALs to customize their weapons to suit the specific needs of a given mission.

SEALs also use the AR-15 for specialized roles, such as sniper support. In this role, the rifle is equipped with specialized optics and is used to provide precision fire support to SEAL snipers.

The AR-15/M16 family of rifles has been used by Navy SEALs in numerous combat operations, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rifle’s accuracy and reliability make it a valuable tool for SEALs operating in harsh environments where weapon failure is not an option.

Despite these concerns, the AR-15 remains a valuable tool for Navy SEALs in training and combat operations. Its accuracy, versatility, and reliability make it a weapon of choice for one of the world’s most elite special operations forces.


However, the AR-15 has also faced controversy over its use in civilian society, particularly in the United States. Some people have called for stricter regulation of the rifle or even a ban on its civilian use, citing its potential for misuse in mass shootings.

In the 1990s, the AR-15 faced controversy over its use by civilians in the United States. Some people argued that the rifle was too powerful and too easily available to the general public, leading to calls for a ban on so-called “assault weapons.” In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of certain types of semi-automatic rifles, including the AR-15.

The assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and the AR-15 has since become one of the most popular rifles in the United States. It is widely used for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense, and is available in a variety of configurations and calibers.

Despite its popularity, the AR-15 remains a controversial weapon, with some people calling for stricter regulation or even a ban on its civilian use. The debate over the AR-15 and its role in American society is likely to continue for many years to come.

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