25 Jan 21
In the 1950s, Armalite was a division of the Fairchild Aircraft Co. An employee, Eugene M Stoner, coming from the aircraft industry, designed the AR-10 (7.62×51) in 1954. At the time he was chief engineer for Armalite, hence the “AR” designation. Armalite hoped to sell this rifle to NATO powers, but it lost-out to the FAL in most countries, the G3 (HK91) in Germany, and the M14 in the USA. Thereafter, the AR-10 saw brief military service with Sudan and Portugal, but otherwise garnered scant interest, neither military, nor civilian.
Stoner also designed a scaled-down version in 5.56×45 caliber, called the AR-15. AR designs were owned by Armalite, but Armalite, under financial pressure from parent, Fairchild, sold them all to Colt in 1961, and Stoner
went with them, briefly as a consultant to Colt, but then on to Cadillac Gauge.
As the Vietnam War expanded, the M14 could not be manufactured as fast as necessary, and the ill-conceived, but much-heralded, flechette-firing SPIW Project (Special-Purpose Infantry Weapon), was utterly discredited after producing nothing even remotely usable.
So, the AR-15, now manufactured by Colt, went on to be adopted (reluctantly, in some cases) by the US Military as the M16 (later the M4), precipitously sweeping the M14 to the sidelines, and promptly into obsolescence and obscurity.
After insisting in 1954 that all of NATO adopt the 7.62×51 rifle cartridge, the US abruptly adopts 5.56×45 caliber for itself in 1963! Thus, profit and success hoped-for by Armalite and Fairchild, all went to Colt as the Vietnam War heated-up.
Armalite’s and Fairchild’s timing couldn’t have been worse!
At Cadillac Gauge, Stoner designed his ingenious gas-piston Stoner 63 Modular Rifle System, but it never gained traction.
Meanwhile, Armalite (without Stoner) in 1963 designs the AR-18 (full-auto-capable military version) and the AR-180 (semi-auto civilian version), both in 5.56×45. Since patents for Stoner’s original gas system were owned by Colt, Armalite designed the AR-18 to be a conventional short-stroke, gas-piston rifle (reciprocating bolt handle). All came with folding stocks.
The AR-18 was designed to be easily and cheaply manufactured, using stampings and pressings, rather than forgings and heavily machined components. It was calculated that this would appeal to many militaries looking for an inexpensive, easy-to-produce infantry rifle.
Yet, like the Stoner 63, it never gained traction, neither in the military, nor the civilian, markets. Manufactured in CA, then in Japan, then in the UK, it was finally discontinued in 1985. 20k were ultimately produced. Most are still around and functional. The AR-18, despite its lack of commercial success, did influence any number of subsequent rifle designs.
The M14, resurrected by Springfield Armory and re-designated the “M1A,” has been manufactured in the USA for civilian sales since 1974 and today continues to enjoy much popularity.
Likewise the FAL, manufactured in the USA by DS Arms since 1987, also continues to enjoy exceptional popularity.
The German G3, in 7.62×51 caliber (long-since replaced in the German military) has been resurrected by PTR and is manufactured in the USA, and marketed as the PTR91 (and variants).
Marcolmar makes a version in 5.56×45, also in the USA, called the CETME/L
The Stoner 63 was resurrected by Robinson Armament as the “RA96″ in 1999, and is currently in production in the USA, finally enjoying popularity in the American civilian market!
The AR-10 was also resurrected, mostly in its original form, in 2018 by Brownells as the “BRN-10.” Several other manufacturers have chimed-in with similar products, but significantly modified from the original pattern.
And, the AR-180 was resurrected, of sorts, in 2019 by Brownells as the “BRN-180.” It is currently marketed as an upper receiver that is designed to fit on a standard M4 lower receiver. So, it is a “build,” and its appeal is thus confined to users who want to put it together.
Eugene Stoner died in 1997, at the age of seventy-five.
So, in an active, capitalistic economy, “old” weapon designs never really die, as there is always some appeal, thus a market. Of course, manufacturers dream of vast military contracts, but there is a lot of disposable income in the non-military market, in the USA and a number of other countries, often enough to keep factories busy and profitable, as we see!