I can’t remember who the famous shooter who stated. “The charging handle is the weak point of the AR-15 design,”. Despite my faulty memory, I agree with the assertion. The original charging handle design of the AR-15 is, in a word, “under-engineered.” Outside of its structural issues (which cannot be solved without a fundamental re-design), the charging handle is plainly too small for combat manipulation and lacks ambidextrous ergonomics.
Ranging from the practical to the uber-tactical, shooters now have a myriad of options. Companies such as BCM, Rainer Arms, Parabellum Armament, Badger Ordinance, and a multitude of others have created an assortment of designs. To date, all have been improvements over the original design, relying on a pivot pin(s) to rotate the the latch over its indentation allowing the handle to be pulled to the rear. These pivot pins tend to be the weakness of handle. Secondly, when suppressed excess gases easily pass over the handle venting into the shooter’s face. Yes, ergonomics have improved and there are gas-busting handles, but no one has thought to change the design and incorporate solutions to both issues until now.
Armageddon Tactical and the GMS-15 Design
Enter Armageddon Tactical, a new components manufacturer out of Colorado. The President Chris Bailey is building the company on his over 30 years of designing industrial tooling and products for others. The GMS-15 charging handles are the first of a slew of innovative accessories under the Armageddon Tactical brand (see the newly released crush washers and upcoming flash hider). Chris promises that there is even more new designs in the pipeline.
The GMS-15 (for standard receiver AR-15s) and the GMS-15E (for high receivers such as SWORD) are Armageddon Tactical’s first product released to the wild. At first glance these look like typical ambi charging handles, with the flared latch handle and vertical serrations for grip. Upon closer inspection, the GMS-15 is not just a typical handle. Rather than relying on exposed pins, the GMS-15 is a nearly fully-sealed unit that pulls straight back. The latch itself pivots on an internal cam mechanism squirreled away from the debris of the outside world.
The latch handle does not pivot or change position relative to the shooter’s hand. While losing grip on modern charging handles is rare, this design minimizes the risk even further. Further, it provides for the exact same tactile feelings on either the right or left side.The profile of the handle is identical on both the right and left sides. The handle extends about 1 1/4″ from the center-line and is a good balance of size for manipulation and not extended too far to be uncomfortable or accidentally charged.
Most interestingly to shooters with suppressors of hot-gassed carbines, the handle incorporates built-in gas redirection. Looking at the top of the handle, there is a visible hole cut into the handle. It is actually at a 45-degree angle directing gas into the hood on the top of the handle. From there, the hood redirects the gas around 180 degrees so when it does egress the handle, it is now travelling forwards away from the shooter.
Handing the Armageddon Tactical GMS-15
Note* Armageddon sent two handles to myself and another two to Phil for review.
Packaged without too much ceremony, the handles arrived in great shape. The black matte finish was uniform across the entire handle. No mars, tool marks, or other indications of poor QC. (Note- all pictures may show CLP on the handles. That is my doing as I run my ARs very wet to ease clean-up after range trips).
Installation was a breeze. It is drop-in replacement for any standard AR. If you have field-stripped an AR for cleaning, you can install the GMS-15. Both handles slid easily into my Del-Ton AR-15 upper receivers and glided without issue fully forward until latched. To ensure the GMS-15 worked across multiple platforms, I ran it in an Adams Arms 5.45×39 upper receiver that was also in for review. No issues there either.
While I did not have a suppressor (see my odyssey to get a FFL 07) to fully test the venting capabilities, I was able to compare the differences running hot hand-loaded 5.56. During normal shooting, it was like someone puffed a short burst of air into my nose. After installing the GMS-15, I did not feel anything, but could still easily smell the powder. The handle was doing its job and keeping the gasses from my face.
I was invited and will attend the American Suppressor Association shoot next week in Indiana. I will bring the handle with me for further testing!
To test the strength, the handle was run vigorously by myself and a few local shooters out on the range with me. Standard charging was no issue. The latch released and caught each time as intended. Removed from the rifle, there is no sign of fatigue when pulled using opposing hands (I am a big guy). It held fine and kept on trucking after re-installation.
Finding Few Faults
I will make no secret about it, I do like the GMS-15. It is sturdy, fully ambi, and a gas-buster. But, this functionality comes at a small cost. During my testing, I found a two small detractions with the design:
The first is weight. Having a nearly solid handle adds about an ounce and a half over the original AR-15 design and its derivatives. Think the same way a billet upper can be stronger than forged when enough material is added. For those going for the ultimate light-weight carbine, this may not be the right charging handle.
The second is that the handle will not release from the receiver when the bolt is locked back and the shooter is only using the “blade” method with their hands. The GMS-15 requires some amount of resistance to overcome its internal release mechanisms. This is easily supplied by using your thumb to hold the rear nub in place while pulling the handle to the rear. Considering that I never use the charging handle to release the bolt from lock, this is almost a non-issue.
For those looking for ambidextrous capability, solid reliability, and gas-redirection, the Armageddon Tactical GMS-15 is an excellent choice. At the cost of an once or so, shooters get added capability and the ability to run suppressors with comfort.
Armageddon is not reinventing the wheel by any means, but shows there is plenty of room to make it rounder. The GMS-15 charging handle is a solid piece of kit. Listed for $80 on their website (with a bonus 10% off until the end of May), it is a bargain compared to other ambidextrous charging solutions. Both Phil White and I like them so much, they were just dropped onto our mainline AR’s and I don’t see them being replaced for while.
Note from Phil: As Nathan said we’re both keeping this charging handle in our primary AR’s. I have also found it to be very smooth in operation with no binding of any kind no matter how I’ve tried to get it to bind. Part of the reason for the smooth travel is two ball bearings inside the unit. It’s just a well made well thought out charging handle. Honestly it’s the best I’ve used.
Gallery below for your viewing pleasure. The comparison charging handles are standard AR, BCM Gunfighter Mod 3 (Medium), and the GMS-15.
Armageddon has indicated a GMS-10 for DPMS-pattern .308s is in the works. They will be available for purchase on their website soon.