WE airsoft M4A1 RIS
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- Last updated: 27/01/2017
In the world of airsoft replica carbines, there is one model that, quite literally, dominates the marketplace globally and that’s the M4. Virtually every airsoft manufacturer on the planet produces a replica based on the Colt carbine which, quite apart from being the firearm issued to the entire US Military, has been sold in vast numbers to over 50 other countries!
If you take a look at some airsoft manufacturers, then not only do they offer one M4-style but also in some cases they have an entire range of them. It’s no wonder then that if you visit any airsoft site in the UK, or indeed anywhere in the world, you’ll find the majority of players using some kind of M4. Indeed, my very first replica was a ‘springer’ M4, which was consigned to the great armourer in the sky many, many moons ago!
I’ve personally always been into replicas of different and unusual models of firearm, but even so there have been M4s that have come and gone within my armoury. For specific loadouts the M4 is the only carbine that is appropriate but I have to admit that having fired the real 5.56mm M4 and its .223 semi-auto civilian siblings on many occasions, it’s often been a replica that I have shied away from, as the AEG versions have left me wanting more.
With gas itself becoming more stable and efficient, many manufacturers have been looking more seriously at gas blowback replicas, and WE Airsoft Europe have been at the forefront of this, with a number of different ‘open bolt’ gas-powered rifles and carbines.
During the summer months this year I’ve been taking a very close look at these models and have come away being very impressed with just how far the gas replicas have moved on since I first encountered them; gone are the magazines that vent as soon as the temperature drops a degree or two, and in have come features that make them as close to the real deal as they can possibly be.
To put things in perspective we first need to look at why the M4 has become some popular. Following the adoption of the M16 rifle during the Vietnam War, it soon became apparent that a shorter, carbine length version would be useful for vehicle and helicopter crews, and for special operations units. Although there were forerunners the Colt Model 607 was the first attempt to produce a proper carbine, which had both a reduced barrel length and, in this case, a somewhat intricate collapsible stock. However, these carbines had design issues; as the barrel length was drastically reduced, so too was range and accuracy. The short barrel also led to a massive muzzle flash and blast, so that an oversized flash suppressor had to be fitted.
The Mod 607 was the very first ‘Colt Commando’, although it was very quickly followed by the improved Model 609 (the Model 608 was a specifically designed survival carbine for aviators) or the XM177E1 to give it the correct military designation. The Model 609 went into production in late 1966, and continued production until early 1967. The 10 inch barrel on the Model 609 would prove to have reliability and accuracy problems too, and it was later phased out and replaced by the Colt Model 629 or XM177E2, it was basically the same carbine with an 11.5 inch barrel and an improved flash hider, which would allow a grenade launcher or ‘Masterkey’ shotgun package to be installed.
This 1960’s veteran stayed in service with special units of the US military for a considerable time, and in fact, if you look at some of the images of the guys in the Personal Security Detail for General ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf during ‘Desert Shield’ and ‘Desert Storm’ you’ll see that they still carry XMs!
In 1988 though, Colt had already begun work on a new carbine design called the XM4, combining the best features of the Colt Commando and M16A2 rifles. The XM4 was given a longer 14.5 inch barrel with the M16A2’s 1:7 inch rifle twist in order to be able to use the heavier 62 grain M855 rounds. The extended barrel improved the XM4’s ballistics and reduced muzzle blast even further. The XM4 was also given the M16A2’s improved rear sight and cartridge deflector. In 1994, the U.S. military officially accepted the XM4 into service as the M4 carbine, to replace M16A2s in certain roles. M4s are fielded by troops in positions where a fulllength rifle would be too bulky, including vehicle operators and squad leaders.
Designed specifically for lightweight mobility, speed of target acquisition, and potent firepower capability, the M4 delivers on all counts. The M4 can be comfortably carried, yet be instantly available to provide the level of firepower, dependability and accuracy of a 5.56mm rifle. Proven in military combat operations all over the world, it is in a class by itself as a first rate combat weapon system. The Colt M4 Carbine serves as the United States Armed Forces’ weapon of choice and the weapon of the 21st century warfighter worldwide.
In April 2012, the U.S. Army announced its intention to buy over 120,000 M4A1 carbines in addition to their initial order of 37,000, to start re-equipping front line units from the original M4 to the new, even further improved M4A1 version. In October 2015, Commandant Robert Neller formally approved of making the M4 carbine as the primary weapon for all infantry battalions, security forces, and supporting schools in the U.S. Marine Corps. The switch is to begin in early 2016 and be completed by September 2016, so now the M4 truly is used by the entire US Armed Forces!
It’s not really a surprise then that so many airsoft manufacturers have taken the M4 as their flagship carbine model, when you consider just how many real M4s there are, and when you add in all the companies that are making accessories for the carbine, there’s an entire industry and sub-culture devoted to it. Once, when travelling to a game in the USA, I had a replica M4 with me and one of the officers at US Customs was gobsmacked when he checked it through, exclaiming to his colleagues rather proudly “that’s exactly what I used in the service!”
Externally speaking, there have always been some cracking M4s, but internally it was like every other AEG, in that it had a motor and a gearbox and generally went off with a whirr rather than a crack. Although there was a fire selector and a magazine release, that was as far as the controls went, and they would happily keep cycling even though you’d fired your last BB. There were very expensive ‘Professional Training Weapons’, that simulated last round cut-off, but you were quickly into four figures for those, which put them well out of reach for most airsofters, and the additional functions relied on intricate circuitry, which needed an expert hand if they malfunctioned.
Gas pistols have been with us almost since the infancy of airsoft, and soon a number of companies were experimenting with gas technology more and more. Amongst them were WE, and soon they were channelling the knowledge gained from creating pistols into rifles and SMGs; strangely, given their understanding of all things gas, the early models were pretty atrocious and like many, I quickly became disillusioned with them. Although they were lovely to look at, in operation they left a lot to be desired and it amazes me that it wasn’t until WE Airsoft Europe (WEAE) came about that anyone took time to actually step back and look at the root of their operation… the gas itself!
WEAE went right back to the drawing board with their NUPROL gasses and also looked at the function and form of the replicas themselves; it was at this point in my mind that the current generation of gas powered replicas really emerged and changed the game.
WEAE’s gas system really now comes into its own, especially since they released their open bolt technology; this particular model comes with the open bolt system pre-installed. The M4A1 is a full-metal and polymer carbine, and it feels very solid and robust. The build needs to be utterly solid as, unlike AEGs, the receivers are built to contain the real mechanical forces of a fully functional bolt and are not just there to hold a gearbox.
The finish of all parts throughout is very nice indeed; with a mixture of matte black and grey metal and well-finished black plastic in the pistol grip and ‘LE’ style sliding stock, the carbine really stands out from the crowd.
This particular version of the M4A1 is designated the ‘RIS’ model, as it comes prefitted with a ‘Knights Armament Company’ style rail which is a real bonus; bearing in mind the standard M4 comes without the rail and costs under £10 less than the railed version, this is superb value for money. The ‘RIS’ version also comes with a two-piece outer barrel, which means that you can run it with a full-length barrel or as a CQB short barrel. The inner barrel, however, will need cropping and recrowning should you wish to run it short. On the top of the upper receiver is a removable carry handle, with a full-length Picatinny rail beneath; the carry handle does incorporate the fully adjustable rear sight but should you wish to install an optic on the top rail this becomes redundant anyway. The front sight is the traditional ‘A Post’ style. The pistol grip is the standard M16 style, but again as there is no motor within, it’s extremely easy to change this out should you wish to. The sliding stock has multiple positions, so it’s simple to set it up to work with you.
The M4A1 comes with a 30 round metal ‘STANAG’ style of magazine and a speedloader with which to fill it; P-Mag style magazines are also available. The magazine is solid and heavy, as obviously there’s a lot going on with the gas valves and the like. On the top of the magazine is a small sliding switch, which helps to control the function of the carbine; pushing it forward raises a small lever, which will lock the bolt to its rearmost position once the last round has been fired. Conversely, moving it towards the back of the magazine will allow you to ‘dry fire’ if you so desire.
The open bolt system in this carbine makes the operation pretty much identical to the real thing, in that you must cock the rifle before you fire. Once the magazine has been emptied, the bolt locks to the rear and when you insert a fresh, fully loaded magazine, you need to hit the bolt release to let it slam forward again, just like the ‘real deal’. Please note that, once again like the real world counterpart, you cannot engage the safety until the carbine is cocked; trying to force the fire selector into the safe position with an uncocked rifle could lead to damage!
In operation, the WE M4A1 is an absolute cracker, and if you’re buying it as a training or practical tool then you’ll need to do absolutely nothing to it, other than charge the magazines with green gas and load up your BBs. I tested using .20g BBs and NUPROL 3.0 gas and got an average fps over 10 rounds of 378fps and that was on a cold day; if you’re planning to use this as a skirmish gun then you’re going to need to look into an NPAS kit to reduce the power but those are easy to get your hands on these days.
The hop-up for the M4A1 is actually inside a small Allen grub-screw that sits above the barrel. To adjust it, you need to test-fire a few rounds to see if you need to go up or down with the hop, then split the receivers by removing the rear pin, hinge the carbine open, sliding out the bolt and charging handle (yes, it does field-strip exactly like the real thing!) and then, using the Allen key provided, adjust. Turning the screw clockwise will move the BB trajectory up, anti-clockwise down. Once set though the hop stays set!
At 10 metres this thing drills holes in a target like you’re hitting it with a laser, as 10mm groups were achievable from a supported position. This widened out slightly when firing unsupported but was more than adequate. At 30 metres it was possible to hit a sandbag unerringly and I believe that the M4 would reach out even further than this, as the BBs were still travelling absolutely flat when they hit the sandbag. On semi-auto, the trigger was nice and crisp, and switching up to full chat sent BBs downrange with a satisfying little thump in the shoulder.
The WEAE M4A1 retails for £319.95 and I have to say that it’s absolutely amazing value; if you’re looking for a training tool to keep your skills and drills up to date, then it works perfectly for that. If you’re in need of a base gun for a custom build, as there are no trademarks and it’s fully compatible with real steel accessories, it’s a real contender. If you’re into practical shooting, then it also works well for that, as it’s easy to show clear at the end of a course of fire. For skirmishing, I’d say that once the fps is reduced, you’d be happily sitting in prime MilSim territory, although given the accuracy, I’d also say that you could definitely hold your own in a general weekend game. I think it’s a complete gem of an airsoft replica, and certainly the closest thing I’ve ever come across to the real thing!