The New New Zealand Battle Rifle – Overview of the MARS-L/LSO with Chris Bartocci

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We reported previously on the New Zealand Defence Force’s purchase of new LMT-made infantry rifles, but beyond a brief promo video released after the selection was announced, we haven’t yet seen an in-depth look at the rifles, which are based on the recently released LMT MARS family. Chris Bartocci, a gunwriter and author of The Black Rifle II, has taken a look at the elusive Kiwi LMT in a recent video:

What I found most interesting was the improved bolt carrier design used in the MARS-LSO, the special forces variant. LMT’s improved bolt carrier includes a number of features designed to improve the function and lifespan of the bolt carrier group versus the standard AR-15. These include hemispherical stress-relieving cuts on the locking lugs, an improved forked gas channel design in the carrier, added underslide to the cam track, and a third exhaust vent on the carrier body. Beyond that, the BCG features sand grooves cut in the carrier body, a different bolt finish, and “lobster-tail” extractor with dual springs and more engagement surface. More pedestrian features of the LSO versus the L include a Magpul CTR buttstock, longer rail system, different muzzle device, and no provision for a bayonet.

Bartocci mentions in the video something I had heard rumored but not confirmed: The NZDF is using, instead of a NATO standard cartridge or any of the more recent improved 5.56 loads like M855A1, the Mk. 262 Mod. 1 round designed for the US SOCOM. Mk. 262 is a very effective load with additional range versus other 5.56mm loads, although it also comes with higher peak pressure and more limited hard target penetration.



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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  • Andrew Miller

    Interesting.
    But can somebody who lives there buy one?
    Doubtful…
    Even without The Switch I bet it’d be difficult.

    • Crumpy

      Yeah mate. We just don’t want to fork out MOD dollars for one

    • jono102

      AR’s in general are pretty common and easy to get here less select fire which can’t be used. Its more painful getting firearms out of the US in the first place than actually getting them into the country.

      • Andrew Miller

        I actually recall reading years ago that New Zealand’s gun laws aren’t bad, but the prices were higher than what we’d pay in the US.

        Also that to get a gun which accepts a magazine bigger than what, 5 or 8, required a strong gun safe but wasn’t too difficult other than that.

        So in other words your laws are a little better than California or New York, or ironically, much of our “New England” states.

        Plus, “noise suppressors” are evidently not very restricted.

        • jono102

          Yeah they aren’t to bad when you look at the US as a whole or UK and Australia. Suppressors here are just seen as an accessory so no restrictions at all.

        • Blake

          If I remember correctly if you don’t use a suppressor in New Zealand you’re considered a bad neighbor for creating so much unnecessary noise. Oh if only…

        • KiwiGuy

          Very true. No restrictions on suppressors, got them on all my guns except the LE MK4 and Nagant. As Blake has mentioned, you’re considered a bad neighbour if you don’t have one hehe.

          And not really hard to get larger capacity magazines for AR’s etc, just need to get registered with the Police, and have a brain. Gun control and the world hasn’t ended.

    • Vic

      nz gun laws are actually pretty relaxed, but it’s generally a tedious procedure with license endorsements and others if you want to buy MSSAs, and the price is often quite ridiculous, frankly.

      • jono102

        Yeah, at least AR-15 pricing dropped some what 4-$5000 a few years back to $1800ish. Poor interpretations by the powers that be over what constituted a MSSA (Military Style Semi Auto) saw the marked get flooded for a while so that’s helped a bit too. But still pretty pricey at least we have “some” local importers with scruples who broke the price fixing that existed before.

        • Tom

          Bless Kens cotton socks

          • jono102

            Yeah good on him, he’s put a lot of other importers in their place. Hasn’t stopped them winging to their suppliers in the US that he’s charging reasonable prices and still under cutting them.

      • Kivaari

        Are they priced like M91/30s in Australia? I saw an add for an $80 rifle being $795. Ouch.

        • jono102

          What ever the ticket price is in the US, you can pretty much double it and then convert for currency to work out what we’d pay to get it here. That’s after you’ve sorted your paperwork in both the US and NZ and found someone who will export.

          • Kivaari

            Lotsomoney.

          • jono102

            Even worse when you consider we’re talking metric money and not old worldly imperial monies

          • Andrew Miller

            The 91/30 “used” to be an $80 rifle.
            But that’s been a while.
            Remember, “surplus” means “haven’t been made for years and is now considered obsolete by the producers”.
            The Soviet Union isn’t currently building stocks of the Nagants in the Cold War to sell for bargain basement prices when Communism ends.

          • Cal

            What is metric money? Never heard of it.

          • jono102

            Any currency other than US

    • Porty1119

      Yes, NZ gun laws are comparatively non-retarded.

    • Jeff

      Of course we can. AR’s are extremely available here. Do some research. I just don’t know one ‘cos they are over priced and I hate chasing brass.

    • Jamie Barrett

      excluding the happy switch, the folding stock, free standing pistol and the 30 round mag make it an MSSA (military style semi automatic) so youd need an E cat license to purchase one. our firearms laws here are excellent compared to virtually anywhere else in the first world bar the US. nothing like the aussie bollocks over here

  • Richard

    I like how the bayonet lug is on the side of the barrel

    • Anonymoose

      That way you can run a grenade launcher or undermounted shotgun with your bayonet, for maximum crap-hanging-off-your-rifle factor. 😀

      • Richard

        You never know when you need to bayonet someone right after you blast off some door hinges or hit a truck with a grenade

        • Anonymoose

          That’s why you put a bayonet on your Mooseburger and then load it with Frag-12s.

      • jono102

        Or you can just drop the bayonet and mount an M-203 off each side of the hand guard. Quad 40mm go on!!!

        • Richard

          That would be really interesting to see

    • Elijah Decker

      Actually, that makes a lot of sense. Originally, bayonets were meant to be used against cavalry horses, which have vertical rib cages viewed from the front. So bayonets were oriented vertically, but have stayed that way despite the obsolescence of cavalry horses. Human rib cages are horizontal, so a vertically oriented bayonet is going to have a harder time piercing a human target’s rib cage. A horizontal blade bayonet is more effective against humans, though I doubt New Zealand will ever actually use the bayonets in combat.

      • Anonymoose

        The Brits did in Afghanistan and Iraq, though.

        • Elijah Decker

          True, but out of all of the engagements in both of those theaters of war, there are two examples of bayonets being used as intended. I do think bayonets are an important piece of kit, but more for their utility as multi-use tools than as impromptu spears when affixed to a rifle. Of course, in the rare instance when a unit runs out of ammunition, an impromptu spear is better than nothing. It’s just rare for western military units to get that desperate in the first place with modern logistics being as good as they are.

          • jono102

            They are good for mental key or trigger soldiers be it in training or operations. When soldiers are told to fix bayonets in an FUP, it helps “flick the switch” or leave no doubt on what they are there to do.

        • Giolli Joker

          Just to get an additional reason to complain about having a bullpup rifle. 🙂

        • Nellan

          In the Malay Campaign (British, Australian, and I assume new zealanders). SMG carrying troops were routinely attacked by tribesmen with spears and bow and arrows. They thought the western troops were unarmed. So they added rifle bayonets to their smgs and the attacks stopped. Alot of poorly educated third worlders may not know how guns work, and assume they aren’t dangerous or perhaps operate on magic so if they get a blessing by a shaman to make them bulletproof, they can now attack. In contrast cold steel knife they are much more familiar with and no magic stops that.

      • Tassiebush

        they have deployed to most of the recent conflicts and seem as involved in the pointy end of things as anyone else so given that hand to hand fighting still occasionally occurs it’s good if they have provision for it. Good observation re rib cages.

      • schizuki

        That rib-cage analysis is one of the most interesting comments I’ve ever read. Kudos.

        • OldHand241

          Except it overlooks that one tends to hold the rifle rotated with the magazine pointed sideways when actually using it as a spear.

      • ARCNA442

        While that sounds good in theory, in practice I doubt it is a serious concern. First, the ribs cover a relatively small portion of the human body. Second, it assumes that the target is standing upright.

        Also, the bayonets used when repelling cavalry charges was common were more often a simple spike that went over the barrel and did not necessarily line up below the muzzle. Further, the bayonet was mainly used against fellow infantry through its history simply because there was always more infantry than cavalry on the battlefield.

        I would argue that the real reason the sword/knife type bayonet is usually mounted on the centerline is that it makes it more intuitive to use as a cutting weapon and has less impact on the balance of the weapon.

      • Ken

        Muskets and musket rifles had ramrods, which necessitated a side mounted bayonet to let you draw the ramrod and load your weapon. Stuck cases were a concern for early cartridge rifles, so the cleaning rods had to be accessible easily too. In addition, ramrods and cleaning rods were often used for stacking arms (stacking your rifles in a pyramid to keep them off the ground), so bayonets had to not interfere with that feature.

      • jonathan scott

        Actually New Zealand’s Maori battalion are famous for using their bayonets to rout the Germans during the evacuation of Crete, they also gave Rommels Africa Korps a hard time in Tobruk and El Alamein.

  • Is there a version of this rifle available here in the US?

  • Anonymoose

    I haven’t seen anyone complaining that a “battle rifle” has to be .30-caliber yet, so I’ll bite. A battle rifle actually has to be an “assault-style” (suitable for use in an assault, which basically means ANY repeating rifle) of 6.5mm caliber or larger. Some people call the 7.62×39 AK a “battle rifle” and the 6.5×55 is definitely a battle rifle cartridge, so intermediate 6.5mm+ rounds all count as battle rifle cartridges. This is a 5.56 though, and thus not a true “battle rifle.”

    • Kivaari

      Moose – REALLY!!!

      • Anonymoose

        ya rly.

        • LCON

          So Battle is 6.5 or bigger… And Assault is from about 4mm to 6.5mm
          So I guess if we start getting hyper velocity flechette rounds under 4mm It would be a Skirmish rifle?
          And What if we get bigger then 8mm? War Rifles?:P

    • iksnilol

      battle rifle is a made up term made to sell M1As.

      • Anonymoose

        Still makes more sense than claiming that revolvers are not pistols, since they had been called pistols since their invention up until the late 20th century when American companies wanted to simplify their catalogs and stop using “automatic” or “semi-automatic” to differentiate their revolving pistols from their semi-automatic pistols.

      • Rock or Something

        I don’t recall the term battle rifle ever mentioned on the box or in any of the literature that came with my M1a.

        I have heard it thrown around for any rifle semi or fully auto that fires the 7.62X51/.308 round, but I am not aware it is a standard term like “assault rifle” would be.

  • IndyToddrick

    Okay, so basically fully ambidextrous, mid-length AR’s with unirails. Pretty smart, modest–but definitely desirable–improvements.

    • Kivaari

      It looks like one of the most reasonable combat rifle/carbines fielded anywhere.

  • Kivaari

    A fantastic looking rifle.

    • iksnilol

      Only change I would have made would a keymod or M-Lok rail.

      • jono102

        Maybe for the side rails, but wouldn’t be keen to attach an M-203 by either method. On that, have any of the outfits producing either backed or rated them for 40mm firing?

  • Vitor Roma

    The bolt looks strong AF. I know the standard bolt is good enough, but this one seems like a must have improvement for a military rifle.

    • DaveB

      Yes, the one thing I would change is that we buy the enhanced bolt carrier for both variants, and while we are at it, also for the LMT 308MWS that is the Designated Marksman’s Rifle. I doubt that will happen though. The cost would; be prohibitive.

  • noamsaying

    This is just a comment about all guns. Might want to tap the brakes on having a microchip on your combat rifles. What would prevent you enemy from having a discrete microchip reader/ detector that would clue them in that you are in the area?

    • Kivaari

      I believe the transponder needs to be very close to the device collecting the data. Like a credit card sliding into the machine at Wally World.

    • tipsey

      Its only an low freq RFid chip. If your enemy is within 10cm to your location then your in serious trouble.

      • jono102

        ROE will be modified to include the engaging of any one holding a super market scanner or any other similar high capacity assault scanning device

    • DaveB

      As others have indicated, the distance to be able to read these RFID chips is very short. I am not a big fan of technology just for the sake of it, but this will be a boon to the poor QM staff. The powers-that-be here are so paranoid about the possibility of anything going missing, that they have instituted a series of checks that under normal circumstances are pretty onerous. With RFID, they will be so much simpler.

  • Kivaari

    Bayonets are mostly for herding EPOWs.

  • 40mmCattleDog

    Excellent choice kiwis. And mk262 mod 1 on top of that too. Really nice combination.

  • Wellp, looks like Kiwi grunts will be well equipped for combat cheesegrating.

  • vereceleritas

    Whoever is in charge of small arms procurement for NZDF knows what they’re doing. US Army should take note.

    • jono102

      One of the very few pro’s to being a small defense force is although we don’t have the buying power of larger military’s we can afford to shop around and where possible tack onto other Nations buys. Not having a domestic military small arms industry probably helps because it limits political pressure to buy local for the sake of it rather than an open competition.

      • Rosenber

        NZ military is fairly unique – island with few threats, means less emphasis on armor, air and ships.

  • NewMan

    Well, at least LMT can make OK DI guns, because their piston guns are crap.

  • A Fascist Corgi

    According to Battlefield Vegas, Colt M4s are lasting 60,000 rounds before the bolt lugs start to shear off. In comparison, LMT bolts only last about 20,000 rounds. So, unless the newly designed LMT bolts are 3 times as strong as their older bolts, then I don’t see why the NZDF didn’t just go with a standard Colt M4.

    • I happen to know Ron Cheney personally, and I have NEVER heard this figure quoted, so you’re going to have to throw up a citation for their M4 bolts lasting 60,000 rounds.

  • Nigel Tegg

    I’ll just be on the other side of the water, crying on my EF88…

    • 2805662

      At least we have a better optic – the SpecterDR. Sorry, F2 Day Sight.

      • jono102

        The ACOG/RMR are legacy optics being already in-service items. I doubt they with be the common sight in 5-10 years. We probably couldn’t have got any anyway, between you guys and the Poms taking them all at the moment

        • 2805662

          At least we didn’t go retarded like the poms & REMOVE(!) the variable optic. Idiots.

          • jono102

            And at least you’ve mounted them on something more reasonable.

      • DaveB

        The Specter DR was tested extensively, and frankly the troops preferred the ACOG. Nobody liked the external adjustments on the Specter.

        • 2805662

          Exactly the opposite experience in the Australian trials. The Specter also consistently out shot & out ranged the ACOG (detection, recognition, identification).

          • DaveB

            And that is why this “well the Aussies bought X so we should too” attitude that is so rife within the NZDF bothers me so much. The fact is that we have different ideas about what works, and we should buy the gear that suits us, not the ADF. Troops liked the glass (well it’s Ernst Leitz Canada- what’s not to like) but they really hated the external adjustments. Just don’t trust them.

    • Samer K

      Kiwis have new AR15s but they still can’t call in an airstrike

      • asterix

        New Zealand should have had F16s but for a change to the Labor (left) government in 1999.

  • Paul Joly

    That’s a really good choice for an infantry rifle, actually a better rifle than the SF one.

  • Great, thank you. I searched the thread and couldn’t find it.

  • Patrick M.

    Kinda cool to see LMT getting military contracts

  • Jakewwa

    Could someone please explain the intended advantage of a forked gas channel design in the carrier, underslide to the cam track, and a third exhaust vent on the carrier body?

  • Scott Connors

    This is certainly an intriguing development. I was wondering: since the LMT enhanced bolt carrier was designed for carbine-length gas systems, which have a chronic problem with being overgassed, would its use with a mid-length barrel perhaps run the risk of the rifle being undergassed?

  • Sakki

    The Mk 262. Where is NZ sourcing their ammo from?

    • asterix

      Most likely from Australian Munitions (ADI) in Australia, most current NZDF small arms ammo comes from there.