I interviewed Drake Clark from Magpul about their new Masada rifle, the firearms industry and internet marketing. I was very impressed at the passion Drake and Magpul have for creating the next American fighting rifle.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself, your background in the Firearms industry and involvement in the Masada project?
I was in the Air Force for four years. Got out in ’99 and became a cop in California for about four years and was on the entry team. I moved on to Colorado and was a deputy sheriff. I got an offer from Rich, the owner of Magpul, to work at Magpul. Prior to that I was doing consultancy work for them. I have been working with magpul for about four years and full time for about a year. I am constantly keeping my skills up to date. I do a lot of training. I do some three gun shooting and recreational stuff.
Like everyone else I was amazed that it only took 4 months from idea to a working prototype. Is this common in the firearms industry? Ruger, for example, have recently said their new SR9 pistol was 20 years in the making!
It’s not common. For us it has been a project that has been in Rich and CEO Mike Mayberry’s minds for several years probably been ten years that we have had ideas about revamping the AR platform. Rich and Mike talked about it and we finally decided about this time last year, November to abandon the idea of a revamped AR. We went in a different direction and ended up drawing some sketches on a napkin at a breakfast meeting, four months later we had a functional prototype. So we had a lot of the ideas worked out before hand in our minds before going down and blueprinting the design of the rifle. We knew what goals we had and what we wanted to achieve and had a really good game plan going.
Overall it probably took us ten years to get the ideas squared away and then four months to put them on paper and make a functioning prototype.
That was still quick!
We have all the right resources and skills in plastic and prototyping. We have a lot of contacts in machining and injection molding. So for us to use those resources in combination with the talent we have got at Magpul it was just a matter of getting it done. We actually didn’t think it would happen that fast but we wanted to get something ready for SHOT Show. We were testing firing the day before we went up there!
Are you considering offering more exotic calibers such as 6.8 SPC, .50 Beowulf and .458 SOCOM in the future?
Yes. Specifically we are working on getting the 5.56mm prototype up and running. We put several thousands of rounds through six guns, I would put the estimate at 75,000-100,000 rounds. Which isn’t a lot but is decent amount for were we are at in the project.
We do have a functioning 6.8 SPC prototype that we have got up and running recently. Other calibers that we plan on doing are 5.45x39mm (AK-74), 6.5mm Grendel and 7.62x39mm.
Is there going to be much demand for the 5.45x39mm round?
With current prices of 5.56mm rounds going through the roof, with similar ballistics to the 5.45mm and the 5.45mm being dramatically less expensive, although not as widely available, we think there is a possibility that it will be something that will take off.
5.45x39mm. Note the hollow tip.
Should we be expecting an AK compatible PMAG?
We plan on using existing AK-47 mags. It is undecided at this time whether or not we will offer a propriety 7.62x39mm mag.
Magpul 5.56mm PMAG
Is the semi-auto 16″ civilian versions’ projected price still going to be around $1400 and available next year?
That’s what we are shooting for. It will be around that price. We think that is a reasonable guesstimate.
The Masada seems to share the same goals as the Robinson Armament XCR Modular Weapon System. What advantages does the Masada have over the XCR?
Some background history, we make M16/AR-15 accessories, grips, rail panels, magazines, etc. we are not really a firearms manufacturer and never have been. We see the current mindset in the US market as being very stagnant as far as design is concerned I am not going to talk bad about Robinson Armament and the XCR. Its a new weapon, its an American company thats looking forward and trying to come up with something new.
If the XCR had fulfilled all the gaps and requirements of what a fighting rifle can be then we would have never moved forward with the Masada. If they had build something with the Masada’s features we would never have done it because our ultimate goal in this whole project has been to come up with a fighting weapon with specific requirements. These requirements are not necessarily set by the military, government or law enforcement but what the mission needs. It seems like a lot of these weapons do not fit these needs.
That said, we defiantly see the value in the XCR and what Robinson Armament are doing but its not really meeting all these requirements. There are a few things they didn’t do that we have done. Ergonomics for example are not what we think they should have been.
We have picked up the slack where they missed the mark a little bit.
The master goal in Magpul’s mind is to create a weapon that is superior to what is out there now, and with specific requirements. That is our ultimate goal. Whether we do it or whether someone else does it we don’t care. As long as someone does it.
The Masada is way bigger than Magpul. Robinson Armament, I don’t want to say bad things about them, there’s too much of that in the industry already. The internet seems to get a lot of otherwise good guys in trouble. We are both American companies and we want to be successful, the markets been very stagnant for a long time and we are both doing good things. We should embrace the competition and let it grow.
When you say you want to design the next best fighting weapon the trend has been towards bullpup rifles (Australia, NZ, UK, Israel). Why didn’t you go that route?
And the Chinese! We think the western perception would be one of the reasons. The primary reason would be for us is that we believe that the next best combat weapon needs to be a stopgap weapon that may only last 15 years until they can invent a laser gun or something that shoots caseless ammo.
For now they need to work with that they have got such as 5.56 which will be in service for quite a while. We think that making something that is outside what our troops already have is going to be difficult as it will require dramatic retraining for millions of troops so if you look at the Masada features are very similar to the M16 so the crossover training will be minimal. There are a couple of changes that are the M16 such as charging handle and bolt lock, for example, is different but those are things that had to be changed and will not make an difference to the end user. You are getting M16 performance from a weapon that has the safety in the same place. The grip angle is the same. The magazine is the same. Charging the weapon and locking the bolt is a little different.
The Chinese QBZ-95
I read back in August that you were going to enter the Masada in the Army M4 “Sandstorm” test. [Editor: this interview was done before the test results were released)
We were not entered in that. We contacted congressmen and senators and talked to them about this and we just got a reply back today. To be honest with you, we do not have that much knowledge about this, nor do we have the contact in the military and government and we have no lobbyists. We are a small mom and pop shop with 15 employees and do our best to keep up but it's very hard. To the best of our knowledge outside of Colt the military only looked at foreign manufacturers, HK, FN and no one really had any interest [in other American manufacturers].
We tried to get in with short notice but we were not considered, no one contacted us, no one asked us. It is not open, there is nowhere that tells you how to submit your rifle. We did what we could at the last minute when we found out about the test. Saying that, we have been doing our best to conduct our own testing. I can’t go into the specifics but we are very satisfied with how the Masadas operates and functions in a dusty dirty environment We look forward to any future testing that we are invited to.
From what I have read, the Army is not interested in replacing the M4 despite its obvious limitations and the test is only being held due to Senator Coburn’s efforts. In light of the recent Dragon Skin controversy it seems to me that the tests the rifles will be put under may not be very objective. What is your view on this?
I can tell you that my recent experience with military and government as far as sales of weapons go, and the involvement they have with selecting weapons it is very complex, way over my head. Our knowledge is limited in this area but we’re learning more every day.
To answer your question on whether or not they are fair: its up for interpretation, I don’t know. We have not been involved in one [testing and selection]. It is frustrating for us as an American firearms manufacturers to see foreign governments and companies providing American soldiers with weapons. We have the ingenuity, the know-how, the capabilities for doing this in our country, instead of relying on foreign entities. In my opinion we can do it better.
Don’t you think if American firms were not competing with overseas firms the quality would decrease?
Your right. Foreign ideas and weapon development do push the competition and makes sure we stay on our toes. We just would really like American soldiers carrying American weapons made by Americans and designed by Americans. We want the best for our guys.
There have been several US allies interested in the Masada platform. They are interested in seeing what the future holds for the platform itself.
FN SCAR Rifle
Can you give us any updates on the MagPul PDR?
We are moving forward on it. We are not releasing any info on it right now. We are happy with the design. It’s the bullpup style but a different mission. Its chambered in 5.56, takes GI mags and can easily be integrated into the military for use by tank operators and convoy drivers; the guys that would normally carry an M9 pistol but need the capability to reach out with the 5.56 round. With the short barrel the ballistics are not good after a couple hundred yards but the majority of combat these days is close quarters, anywhere from zero to a couple hundred feet. At the least the idea gives you more options than a pistol.
Magpul seems to take an interest in internet marketing. For example, you have many videos on youtube and are doing this interview with me. This is in contrast to Remington, who recently announced the R-15, their AR-15 hunting rifle. As of today their website offers no information or press release. I hope your internet marketing pays off for you in civilian sales.
We found that being a small mom and pop accessories shop we are in touch with the end user and that has a lot of impact in getting feedback. We find out things we need to look at or change or add. Most of our products are pretty well thought out before they go to market but product videos and gorilla marketing is great because it lets the public feel they have inside access to what we do every day. There are a lot of people really interested in the Masada and what we are doing.
Magpul Precision Rifle Stock
Giving someone the options of looking at what I did today and with a new video update showing how you take the Masada apart you get instant feedback and opinions on it. We don’t like to keep guys in the dark. We want to keep them as much in the light as we can. We are very proud of what we do. We have a lot of good ideas and we like to share them. If people can’t get their hands on it the next best thing is to watch it on TV or the computer.
We have hardly any influence on these [military and government] guys. Some of these companies have a lot of influence. They have the lobbyists that work for them that push their stuff. We don’t move in that direction. We want the product to speak for itself. We put our money and time into making the product. Our grassroots campaign is obviously working. I will go out and make a video for the internet and someone in the army will call me and say they want to test it out. Obviously we would love to have lobbyists and afford to say “Hey senator, let me take you out for dinner and have a chat about this new rifle”. At this time our money is better spent designing and making the most superior product we possibly can.
Magpul YouTube Videos. Note the high views!
YouTube Video released by Magpul