The 1950s Embodied: The AR-10 Converted to Belt-Feed

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The mid-late 1950s… Could there be a more optimistic time in United States history? I feel there’s no better rifle to illustrate the industry, innovation, and unbridled optimism of that time than the Armalite AR-10 7.62x51mm select-fire military rifle. Made of aerospace materials, using an advanced operating mechanism, and weighing in at an inadvisably light 7 pounds and change, unloaded, the AR-10 was an exercise in logic of the type best said “we have defeated Germany and Japan, and split the atom, why shouldn’t we do this?”

I plan to write more on the AR-10 rifle itself (including a book review of the recently-released and excellent Collector Grade book written by Joseph Evans on the subject), but today we’ll be looking at one variant that was a part of the effort to create a whole family of weapons, including sniper rifles and light machine guns, based on the aerospace wonder from Armalite. That is the infamous belt-fed AR-10:

AR10BeltFed2

AR-10 Serial No. 1026, with belt-feed module. Image source: danasrib.top

 

In fact, we are really talking about three different weapons. The first two are two single rifles created by Armalite in 1957, Serial Nos. 1025 and 1026. 1025 is notable in being the first rifle fitted for the now-familiar rear-mounted charging handle, instead of the trigger charging handle that most other AR-10s and the early AR-15s used. 1025 had no bipod, and cutouts on the upper receiver (which, like all three of these belt-fed AR-10s, was a unique forging) for the belt-feed mechanism. It also used a bolt carrier fitted with cams to actuate the mechanism for feeding in ammunition belts. 1026 added a quick-change barrel feature, a bipod, and reverted to the trigger-style charging handle. Both rifles featured folding shoulder-rest buttplates, common to many support weapons of the time. 1026 was fitted with both heavy and light contour barrels, and both Armalite prototypes used much heavier profile gas tubes than their rifle variant counterparts.

Ultimately, the Armalite belt-fed AR-10s did not work well in sustained fire, but in the late 1950s, Dutch manufacturer Artillerie-Inrichtingen (A-I) began development of another belt-fed model. This model was substantially improved versus the two Armalite prototypes, and several examples were made. It was derived from earlier magazine-fed A-I support weapon experiments, and featured an improved upper receiver forging with more material, a bipod, vertical foregrip, and quick-change barrel. The A-I belt-fed AR-10, like the Armalite variants, had an easily removable belt-feed mechanism that converted the weapons back into a magazine-fed configuration when removed. According to those that tested it and one individual who owns both types, the A-I belt-fed AR-10s worked very well, much better than the Armalite models. However, there was no interest in the weapons, and they remained developmental models only.

Chuck Kramer has posted photos of a Dutch AR-10 belt-fed prototype over at his website, GunLab. They are high quality, and I recommend you follow the link and take a look.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Vitsaus

    This is the work of some one who bought a bag of Eugene Stoner’s ashes from and old Indian, and wears it around his neck.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Why would Eugene Stoner have worn a bag of his own ashes around his neck?

      • Dan

        And why would an old Indian have them for sale?

  • LazyReader

    There
    are some nice modern AR belt-fed uppers now. Seems like the military
    using those with a 20 inch barrel and bipod would be simpler than using a
    totally different designed SAW.

    • Major Tom

      RPK syndrome says hi. There’s an earlier article about a similar concept you’re saying. They converted an RPK to belt-feed in the 1980s in 5.45 and found it wanting in many areas. It proved to be more efficient to simply have a dedicated design rather than a half-a*sed common conversion.

  • randomswede

    I’m conceptually very fond of the ARES Shrike AMG-2; the best implementation to date that I can think of, of a fast converting rifle/carbine to LMG and back.

    Ignoring the cost, complexity and weight (the factors that automatically ends the prospect hard) having every soldier equipped to fill the role of an LMG as needed but normally with the mobility of a carbine appears worthwhile for a small deployment.
    I’ll put it like this: when the proverbial kaka hits the metaphorical fan I’d rather have eight LMGs to guard the LZ than one or two LMGs and six or seven carbines.

    I’m also fond of the quick change barrel that makes it feasible, tough probably ill-advised, to change from a 20″ barrel to a 12″ barrel before heading indoors.
    That feature is also present in the ARES Shrike MCR that doesn’t have the belt feed.

    • mechamaster

      ARES Shrike 2 is great concept for high-mobility belt-fed IAR ( Infantry Automatic Rifle / Light-support weapon ).

      But still not durable enough for true open-bolt dedicated machine-gun like M249.

      • iksnilol

        My opinion:

        You guys should get rid of all M16s and M4s and replace them with KAC Stoner LMGs of the appropriate length. Sure, in many cases they’d be heaver than the M4s. But, you wouldn’t need magazines anymore, only belts of 5.56. This would help logistics and ease the burden on the soldier.

        TL;DR: I suggest replacing carbines and ARs with lightweight LMGs so as to not need magazines anymore.

        • mechamaster

          Well.. There are reason for that of course.. LoL.

          It’s fun idea to see “every infantry is a machine-gunner” rather than “every infantry is a rifleman”

          • iksnilol

            I am just saying. Logistics would be so much easier. Cause you would not only get rid of 5.56 magazines in general, but also get rid of the M249 and other 5.56 LMGs. And let’s not forget reliability; even the most sealed, most hightech M16 can be jammed up by a bad magazine.

            That and the full size M16s are like 4 kg loaded whilst the Stoner LMG is 4.5 kg unloaded. So a bit more weight for much more capability.

            + with all the quadrails and heavy lazers the M4s are also creeping up the weight scale. So yup, I stand by Stoner LMGs with Aimpoint red dots (and maybe some sort of ammo backpack so that you don’t have to reload).

          • jcitizen

            I’ve always wondered if the receivers on the Stoner 63 system were stiff enough to take the guff. Robinson Armament made a stainless version that did’nt look bad, but their business model sucked!

        • randomswede

          Get the reload time down on the LSAT LMG down to magazine levels and I think it would be a done deal.

          • iksnilol

            Or just have the entire ammo loadout in the form of one belt in one backpack. No reload is scientifically proven to be faster than any form of reload.

          • randomswede

            I see you point, and raise you mobility and flexibility.

            But if someone could solve the topoff issue for beltfed weapons so you could just have a 100-150 round sack and top it off with a 50 round belt like you do a BB-gun, just pour it in.
            Similar to a M1941 Johnson but without the reciprocating barrel.

        • Have you ever tried reloading a belt fed weapon while moving? Be honest, now…

          • iksnilol

            That is genious part, we just issue an ammo backpack and issue one continious ammo belt with the entire ammo load.

            That way no reload as well. So to summarize:

            -no reloading
            -less strain on logistics
            -more reliable
            -allows more ammo to be carried (belted 5.56 is slightly lighter than 5.56 in box mags).
            -Cheap

            and all that for slightly more weight.

          • Sounds like something out of an S. M. Stirling novel…

            1. No reloading, and a giant pain in the butt when doing malf clearance.

            2. How?

            3. No, absolutely not.

            4. That’s true, but it’s not by much.

            5. It’s cheap, but not a very soldier-friendly solution.

            There’s a reason that the guys who have to use belt-fed guns need extra training to use them effectively. Belt-fed guns are a huge force multiplier, but they are somewhat awkward and finicky to use. This isn’t something that’s terribly apparent until you try to actually use them. It might be a problem that’s soluble, but it would take a lot of work.

            The belt-in-backpack idea never tends to work out, and it’s been tried many times. I suspect I know why. Belt-fed guns work on substantially different mechanics than mag-fed guns, and while the belt-in-backpack concept is ideally very simple, in practice it carries a whole host of problems. Belt-pulling being a chief one. I’m mostly guessing here, but I feel they are informed guesses.

          • iksnilol

            Reply to #2 and #3:

            #2 = you don’t need to ship anything m249 related (except for belted ammo) since why keep it if the Stoner LMGs do the same thing? You don’t need 5.56 mags as well, that shipping could be used for other things. + you wouldn’t need stuff like M16s and M4s. Just one LMG and barrels of different lengths. So it would be streamlining a lot. Instead of M4, M16 and M249, you’d have three Stoner LMGs with two different barrel lengths.

            3# = How is it not more reliable? Magazines get damaged all the time and we all know that the US GI mag is a suboptimal design (that’s one of the reasons for the veritable rainbow of different mag followers for them).

            Eh, PKM has no problem with belt pulling. You just need a more violent action to pull a longer belt. Besides, this would be infantry. They’d be carring like 250 rounds in their backpack thingy. + a lightweight chute around the ammo so that it doesn’t pull debris into the grun.

            So yes, comrades over great Atlantic Pond should replace the silly doctrine of every soldier is a marksman with “BURY ENEMIES OF EAGLELAND UNDER MOUNTAIN OF LEAD”.

          • Gregory Markle

            Have you ever been strapped into such a contraption? I have. Sure, it was an M60E4 which is a bit of a chunk and the ammo is heavier but until you’ve been in one you just can’t get how restricted your movements are in almost every respect. First, you would need four hands to really be able to get into it yourself and that ANY sort of stoppage is a real PITA on the range and dealing with one under combat conditions is unthinkable. Sure, we thought of modifications that would get dealing with putting it on and coping with problems down to three hands (maybe) but the speed at which they can be done is still glacially slow in combat time, until you’ve coped with having a rather inflexible feed chute connected to the side of your gun (make it more flexible and the belts bind) you have no idea what it’s like. It ends up being a crew served weapon due to the wearer not being able to access ALL aspects of the system without removing the pack. It’s a very limited and inflexible system, and not even remotely something for general issue.

            It’s not like this is some sort of novel idea, it hasn’t been done for a reason. It may look cool in movies and out on the range (like my buddy below) it just simply isn’t practical outside of some very, very limited ideas I can come up with that would IMHO be better solved by adding another individual armed with a conventional rifle and ammo loadout.

          • iksnilol

            That’s a simple R&D + training issue. Just throw some money at this. I mean, it’s better to waste the money on my relatively stupid idea instead on something really stupid (IE F-35). Besides, considering the small ammo loadout you could possibly have it on the chest? I dunno, it’d possibly get less in the way that way.

          • Gregory Markle

            You seem to not understand that they have thrown money at it, it has been looked at, and it simply isn’t a matter of more R&D. If you’ve never strapped into one of these you have no idea how limiting it is. You can’t just drop, go prone, and effectively operate with a feed chute connected to your firearm, if you kink the chute you are out of the fight. Once prone the chute articulation limits the motion of your firearm almost completely. We looked at various attachment points etc. but it comes down to absolute limits to the radius at which the chute may be flexed and the stiffness required so that the chute will feed reliably, that all limits the movement of the gun once attached. The theoretical (I’d lean toward delusional) benefits of such a system do not outweigh the severe limitations of it’s utility under combat conditions. Fun to shoot? Yes. Cool looking? Yes. Good movie prop? Absolutely. Practical? Not even remotely.

          • iksnilol

            What is life without dreams, comrade?

            In all seriousness. I know it is a ridicilous idea. Though not *the* stupidest idea.

          • Bill

            I’ve actually met a guy-he’s the local AF Wing Commander, actually-who has flown both the A-10 and the F-35. He currently flies-and loves-the latter bird, which makes him a hell of a lot more qualified to comment on it than those who watch CNN and then write what they call a qualified commentary, so there must be something to it.

          • This is a tremendously unpopular opinion, but I actually suspect the A-10/F-35 scandal/controversy/thing will become one of those kerfuffles that future historians will look back on and scratch their heads about.

            I sincerely think the F-35 will be a dandy bird.

          • jcitizen

            I’ve watched several film reports on Military(dot)com showing field expedient attempts to do this in Afghanistan. The film made me think it was viable – the troops using it with the M240 seemed to like it, and were doing patrols with it!

            I saw a PKM get up demonstrated elsewhere, that worked pretty good on an assault course, but I was wondering what the stoppage procedure was going to be like. They never had that happen in the assault course test, but there again – that ain’t reality.

          • #3

            Are you serious? Belt-fed guns tend to have atrocious reliability, for a number of reasons. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the CNA soldier perspective on weapons study.

            Note which gun rates the lowest in reliability.

        • Andrew Foss

          0: TL;DR: No, just… No. Equipment weight is the biggest concern to a ground-pounder. A heavier rifle is a non-starter. More people in war are killed via explosives and other forms of indirect fire than infantry weapons.
          1: Ever dealt with belted ammo? Stuffing it into a bag means tangles and broken links. Building something like an M2/M3 Bradley’s ready ammunition box in a backpack means you’re carrying around additional weight compared to a couple mags. And you’re screwed out of easily carrying mission-critical items (My assault pack in Iraq carried the “random junk we need for this specific patrol” like a HIIDE biometric enrollment device, a camera, whiteboard and markers, or TSE/detainee processing (site/personnel searching after a raid) equipment, flexcuffs, rope, smoke and frag grenades, chemlights, junk we’ve siezed for intelligence processing, etc, or traffic control junk like search mirrors, high brightness green lasers, stop/slow paddles, Guardian counter-IED equipment, stop sticks, concertina wire gloves… And that would change on a per-mission/per-mission-phase basis.
          2: Military logistics already is pretty simple. They issue mags to companies who issue them out to individuals (once) for deployment, then send out cases of ammo cans full of boxed 5.56 on stripper clips in cloth bandoliers. Linked 5.56 comes in plastic boxes in ammo cans. The dunnage is actually important. Sometimes it gets palletized, stuffed into a C-130 and air dropped to a unit.
          3: More reliable until a round gets pushed forwards or backwards in the link, snags something or a link separates in the bag. Yes, it happens.
          4: Irrelevant. You give everyone an LMG, 200 rounds is the basic load for machinegunners, 210 in mags for riflemen and extra ammo cans in the AG’s backpack. That’s a net loss of ammo. And mags aren’t even that heavy. I knew guys who carried 300+ rounds for their rifle. By choice.

          5: Cheap, sure, except when you have to pay out $500,000 in SGLI and death gratuity because Johnny got killed when he couldn’t swing his weapon around (weight) without snagging the links on something, having a failure to feed, (reliability) resulting in him being shot by Haji Mansoor’s AK-47 (manufactured in 1948) using regular magazines.

      • randomswede

        The M249 LMG (these days used to be SAW) is 17 pounds dry and the ARES Shrike AMG-2 comes in at about 8 pounds with a comparable barrel.
        That leaves you 9 pounds of extra barrels to prevent cook-off and extra ammo to compensate for misses due to a lighter weapon.

        That said, when the weight is a non issue or you are closer to equal or outnumber the enemy the M249 or actually the M240 would be to prefer.
        (My opinions, not truth spoken by the annuals of time.)

    • HollowTs

      If you like the AUG the easy ability to change the barrel makes it a fast weapon to convert to LMG. Minus the belt feeding capability. Also way ahead of it’s time.

      • randomswede

        Wasn’t, arguably, the main “flaw” of the AUG that it took too many steps at once, bullpup, polymer frame, optics on every weapon, “progressive trigger”, translucent polymer magazines.
        There’s probably more and there’s probably earlier implementations of these features but it’s the first rifle adopted for general purpose with them that I’m aware of.

        • HollowTs

          Funny how most of those innovations are sought after now…

          • randomswede

            (Adult)Humans at a mean aren’t comfortable with change and that makes huge evolutionary sense; but it is why the scientific method is so important.

  • mechamaster

    Interesting article , keep it up !
    Maybe in next time you can make the informative article about H&K 11 / 21 machine gun family.

    ( image from James D Julia ).

    • randomswede

      I love the HK 11/13/21/23/25 to bits. It’s probably one of those, “Don’t meet your idols.” type deal.

  • Sep

    How does the quick change barrel mechanism work? Is it similar to the Stoner 63’s/Stoner LMG’s?

  • smitty26

    The original Dutch AR 10 weapon family was a very good product.I have owned a “Soedan” version my self,and a friend of mine hase two in his collection.Here in Holland they are seen at the range and shooting the “militairy rifle”matches.The place where the AI ( artillerie inrichtingen) factory was founded can be visit.Last year I made a special tour including the parts that were closed (like the forrest were the ammo and explosives testing range was ).For everybody who is interested in the ar family a place to visit.It is only 20 min drive from Amsterdam.
    There is a small visitor center with nice pics,machines (the made also machines and toys) and
    a nice AR 10 and Mannlicher M95 ,sword ,bajonet and daggers all made at AI.

  • AirborneSoldier

    Excellent. Thank you.

  • AirborneSoldier

    Interestingly, the us Army didnt get a same caliber replacement for the BAR until the mid 1980s with the FNMinimi, aka M249. The M60 had in fact been a replacement for the 1919 MMG. The adoption of something like this would have been great back in the day, as it was always a question of what gave better fire support, a M60 off the objective, carrying that pig into the assault, with reduced effectiveness generally, other considerations.
    Of course, the armys answer was to issue more mags and a bipod to two guys in each squad and call them auto rifleman on the MTOE.

    • MichaelZWilliamson

      The theory was the M14 was going to replace the BAR. It did that about as well as it did anything else.

  • buzzman1

    A belt fed M-16 was developed for use on tanks in the late 70s/early 80s.

  • (Shakes head and does double take), NO INTEREST? WTF?