By Mike Pannone
July 11, 2011
I’ve been shooting 5.45 [5.45x39mm Russian] AR platforms for several years now, but the Spike’s Tactical is the best, by far. The names of the other brands are not important, other than the fact that they all ran well and were both direct impingement and piston driven. Reliability being the same, overall accuracy and shootability goes to the Spike’s 16” mid-length gas system direct impingement-driven rifle.
Before I review the Spike’s Tactical upper [5.45mm Russian tactical AR upper receiver], I will give the specs and address some of the common concerns about using 5.45 rifles:
The rifle is made by Spike’s Tactical LLC (www.spikestactical.com) of Apopka, Florida. It is a 16” Lothar Walther LW-19 CMV, 1:8 twist barrel with standard rifling, mid-length gas system, Melonite QPQ finish inside and out, and Nickel Boron-coated M4 barrel extension. Each barrel is MPI (Magnetic Particle Inspection) tested and the bolt carrier is Nickel Boron coated by FailZero [also written “Fail Zero”] to the specifications requested by Spikes Tactical using EXO Technology. The muzzle device was a Smith Enterprise Vortex Flash Eliminator, which I recently replaced with a PWS DNTC to better match my competition guns recoil dynamics.
The rifle has a Geissele SSA trigger (available from Bravo Company USA] and a Leupold MR/T 1.5-5X [Leupold Mark 4 1.5-5x20mm MR/T M2 Illum. Reticle Tactical Scope] with CMR-2 reticle. The lower is a BCM [Bravo Company Manufacturing] and is fitted with a rifle receiver extension and an M16A1 surplus stock. Spike’s rifles and upper receivers are available routinely through AIM Surplus, which is where I buy my 5.45 ammunition (as well as 7.62×51 and 7.62×39, 5.56, 9mm and 40S&W). They have great deals and stock popular calibers and projectile types (5.56mm 55, 62, 69 and 75 grain loads at great prices). Look them up; they invariably have something you want or need (which is a line I commonly blur when it comes to shooting supplies).
Common concerns with 5.45x39mm surplus ammunition
The first concern frequently cited is the corrosive ammunition that makes the rifle so cost effective. I have found it to be only mildly corrosive and easily remedied by taking 10 minutes after a training session to clean it up. If I don’t plan on cleaning it in the immediate future or am going to be doing another session by the next day or so, I spray the BCG [Bolt Carrier Group], upper, trigger parts in lower, chamber and bore with Rem Oil [sometimes also written “RemOil”]. I like it because it is good quality light oil that is inexpensive and easy to find, and with it the rifle will be fine for a few weeks without detailed cleaning. The rifle’s ease of maintenance has been greatly aided by the internal Melonite and Nickel Boron coatings.
For detailed cleaning, I initially douse the rifle with Simple Green and scrub it down with a large GP type brush. I then rinse the bulk of the carbon fouling off with water from my hose and repeat the same step with Windex. The mild amount of ammonia present in Windex deactivates and removes the corrosive salts. I rinse the rifle again with water and either let it air dry (2-5 minutes in the Arizona sun) or take it inside and use a heat gun (hair dryer on steroids) to dry it off. Next, I treat the bore with Bore Tech Eliminator Bore Cleaner and run the usual final lightly oiled patch before it goes in the lock-up. I was prompted to try Eliminator Bore Cleaner by Nathan Roads of Next Generation Arms (NGA) and find it to be an incredible product and a must for all serious shooters. I shot the groups below with a bore that had been cleaned as such with the additional use of 15 patches of KG-2 Bore Polish followed by a rinse with Gun Scrubber, and then the abovementioned dry and final wet patches. Needless to say the bore was as clean as was humanly possible…at least possible by this human.
Magazines are another topic that comes up when shooters talk about odd calibers in a Stoner platform, and for good reason. The magazine is the single weakest link in any good quality magazine-fed rifle. For that reason, when a new design is fielded, it often brings some quirks along with it. That said, I still have and use every C-Products 5.45 magazine I have bought over the past 3 years…18 in all. Every single one works reliably and the only replacement has been springs on the original 12 magazines after 12 crates of ammunition were fired through them over a 3 year period. That is 25,920 rounds of Russian surplus mildly corrosive ammunition over a 3 year period, which equates to 2160 rounds fired per magazine. That’s loading and firing each magazine 72 times each. Need I say more? They work!
The next complaint is hard primers and the need for an extra power hammer spring to get reliable ignition, which creates an extremely heavy and poor trigger pull in every way. I played around with a stock hammer spring, as well as cutting the tail off a stock hammer (the tail is a left-over from the full auto hammer, which has a step that is necessary for use with an auto sear). The cut down hammer has a faster lock-time because it is lighter and was a more reliable way to get positive ignition without the heavy trigger pull of the extra heavy hammer spring. That attempt still had problems with certain lots of surplus ammunition that had extremely hard primers. Over the years, I’ve found what I think is the perfect solution; I put a Geissele SSA trigger in the gun, and now I have a match trigger and as close to 100% positive ignition as possible. I am a huge fan of Bill Geissele’s triggers, and have them in my training and competition guns. They are made of tool steel and use full power hammer springs, so lock time is fast and ignition is as close to 100% as you’ll get. They are also the choice of much of USSOCOM, so they are truly combat vetted. There are many good triggers out there, but my choice is Geissele Automatics.
The final common complaint is ammunition availability. Currently, I know the following are available:
1. Surplus Russian 53 grain corrosive (least expensive)
2. Tula 60 grain non-corrosive
3. Silver Bear 60 grain non-corrosive
4. Hornady 60 grain ballistic tip non-corrosive (This is the most expensive but I have been told by several accomplished bull’s-eye shooters that it performs extremely well out to 600 yards)
Author’s Note: “Why two different types of target? The second target type was used so I could actually see the .5 MOA dot in that white center ring at 200 yards, giving me a truly distinct aiming point. For the first two, I used what I call the concentric method, where I adjust the power on the scope so the inside of the doughnut is slightly larger than the bull which gives me a small white ring between the reticle and the bull. That technique uses the same concept as a peep sight on a rifle; your eye will naturally center an object or another circle within a larger one. They obviously worked equally well, but I wanted to see if there was a discernable difference. The techniques I use were taught to me over the years by military instructors of all types, competition shooters ( I probably learned more from Mike Voigt about rifle shooting than any other individual) and old high-power shooters. All of these fine men were willing to explain to me their techniques as long as I was willing to listen. Thanks guys.
On the accuracy side, I made an assumption that the 5.45 surplus was the accuracy equivalent of M855, which is notoriously prone to a flyer in every string. This is caused by the steel penetrator in the SS109 projectile which makes it a non-homogenous (jacket not withstanding) bullet. The 5.45x39mm with 7N6 projectile should perform similar if not worse since it is similar in design. It’s actually base heavy due to the enclosed hollow cavity (not hollow point) that also makes it a very lethal round. That accuracy assumption was not even vaguely the case. The ammunition used in the groups seen below was made in 1982 in the Voroshilovgrad factory. The three groups were shot one after another. I had zeroed it at 100 previously and just did my come-ups based on 5.56x45mm NATO M193, since it is the closest in bullet weight (55 grain M193 vs. 53 grain 7N6). The first group is interestingly very symmetric AT .75 M.O.A., and then the usual pattern of two tight shots and one loose for the next two. I made an adjustment, fired the second group, then a final adjustment and the final group on the target with the white center. The groups are the following:
1. 1.5” at 200yds (0.75MOA)
2. 2.0” at 200yds (1.0 MOA)
3. 1.5” at 200yds (.75MOA)
These groups absolutely stunned me! I had assumed that the ammunition was 2-4 minute accurate, and then after all those rounds I would be able to pull maybe a 4” group if I was lucky. I frankly would never have expected such performance after that much hard use and with that ammunition. The first group I assumed was an anomaly, the second luck, and the third, well thanks to the Marine Corps and SOTIC/ Army SOF for teaching me well. Spikes Tactical, Leupold and Geissele did all the work, I just pulled the trigger… oh yeah, and some Babushka in the ammunition plant in Voroshilovgrad was having a good day when that lot was made.
My view of the rifle is nothing but positive and impressive. It has been extraordinarily reliable with extremely hard use. I have fired over 8000 rounds of surplus ammunition through it, and aside from the occasional failure to ignite due to hard primers or just dud rounds, it has not malfunctioned at all. I shoot the rifle hard (180-540 rounds per 2-hour session), then clean it and repeat. I have left it dirty for several weeks while I was away working and the only problem I saw was a small amount of “frosting” of the Nickel Boron BCG. That leads me to the only issue I did have; It was a minor issue due to some mysterious problem with the bolt carrier. I saw after about 4000 rounds that I had blown a section of gas ring. I noticed this when cleaning the bolt and fired another 300 rounds on the bolt pictured below. I then changed them and noticed another blown ring at around 6000 rounds fired that was nearly identical. I emailed Tom Miller CEO of Spike’s, and he had me send the BCG back and sent a complete new one. No such issues since. He is currently having it cut in half and inspected for material flaw…or gremlins.
My summary of the rifle is very positive. With a Geissele trigger and the Leupold 1.5-5X, it is a great training gun and I plan to shoot an action rifle match with it soon. As configured mine is sub-minute of angle accurate and supremely reliable. Even with 8000+ rounds of hard use it still shoots as accurately as it did day one. I couldn’t ask for more in a gun that eats $129.95 per 1080 round spam can of ammo. Next I will be reviewing the companion gun I bought from Spike’s 4 years ago, a dedicated .22LR upper receiver. In my opinion those two together are the dynamic duo for rifle training.
Photo(s) Credit: Mike Pannone
About the Author: Michael Pannone is currently the owner/operator of, and senior instructor for, CTT Solutions, which is a tactical training (including tactical shooting) and consulting firm. He’s also a certified Colt Armorer. Mr. Pannone is a former operational member of U.S. Marine Force Reconnaissance, U.S. Army Special Forces, and specially selected elements of the Joint Special Operations Command. He has participated in stabilization, combat, and high risk protection operations in support of U.S. policies throughout the word as both an active duty military member, and a civilian contractor. During his military career, Mr. Pannone was the Distinguished Honor Graduate of a Level 1 SOTIC held at Ft Bragg. He currently instructs U.S. military, law enforcement (LE), and private citizens around the country as an adjunct instructor with several different organizations. He can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].
Company Contact Info:
Leupold & Stevens
14400 NW Greenbrier Parkway
Beaverton, OR 97006-5790
Primary Weapons Systems (PWS)
800 E. Citation Court, Suite A
Boise, ID 83716
Email Contact Form: http://primaryweapons.com/store/pc/contact.asp
3801 Lefferson Rd
Middletown, OH 45044
Toll Free: 888-748-5252
Office Phone: 513-424-9960
Email Sales: [email protected]
Email Customer Service: [email protected]
Bore Tech, Inc.
100 Emlen Way, Suite #108
Telford, PA 18969
Phone: 215-799-2500 Ext. 1 or Ext. 14
Email Contact Form: http://www.boretech.com/docs/contactform.shtml
KG Industries (KG Coatings and Lubricants)
Email Contact Form: http://www.kgcoatings.com/index.php?p=page&page_id=contact_us
Email Tech: [email protected]
Birchwood Laboratories, Inc. (Gun Scrubber)
7900 Fuller Road
Eden Prairie, MN 55344-2195
Toll Free: 800.328.6156
Office Phone: 952.937.7933
Email Contact Form: http://sport.birchwoodcasey.com/ContactUs.aspx
Simple Green World Headquarters
15922 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
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