The AR-15 is undeniably the most popular rifle in America.
It’s lightweight, easy to shoot, insanely versatile and accurate. But we keep forgetting about the AR-15’s father: The AR-10.
Now, I know what you’re thinking:
“The AR-10 is no match for the AR-15.”
And for that, my friends, you couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the AR-10 is VERY similar to the AR-15: It’s lightweight, powerful (capable of firing off 700 rounds in 60 seconds) and accurate — especially if you use a good AR-10 optic.
And in today’s guide, I’ll show you why detailing out the AR-10’s history and the myths made the AR-10 fall from stardom.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the AR-10’s birth story.
ArmaLite Comes To Life
On October 1, 1954 ArmaLite came to life as a subsidiary of Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation.
George Sullivan, the president of ArmaLite, wanted the company to focus on creating small arms concepts and designs to be sold to other manufacturers.
So he leased a small workshop in California, hired a few employees and began to work. At the time, ArmaLite was working on a lightweight survival rifle prototype called the AR-5.
And because of this rifle…
George Sullivan Meets Eugene Stoner
George Sullivan was testing his new AR-5 at a local shooting range when he noticed a young man shooting a rifle that he has never laid eyes on before: the M5.
His name? Eugene Stoner.
Sullivan, seeing the huge potential in this young man, immediately hired him as the Chief Design Engineer at ArmaLite.
That decision would be the best Sullivan has ever made. Because that young man would later invent the AR-10 and the infamous AR-15.
How did he do it? The answer lies in…
Eugene Stoner’s Origins
Stoner was born on November 22, 1922 in Gasport, Indiana.
After graduating from high school, he worked for Vega Aircraft Company — a company that produces advanced lightweight aircraft designs. He’d later use what he learned from aircraft design to build the lightest weapons known to man.
Anyways, he’s forced to leave the company and respond to his call of duty in World War II. He’d serve in the U.S. Marine Corps as an Aviation Ordnance man. This experience would later inspire him to design rifles.
And guess what? That’s exactly what Stoner did in his free time: design rifles. But his designs didn’t go anywhere until he met George Sullivan at the Topanga Canyon Shooting Range and was hired as the Chief Design Engineer at ArmaLite.
For the first time, Eugene Stoner was given the chance to unleash his creativity to design the most advanced (and lightweight) guns the world has ever seen.
And that’s exactly what Stoner did when he used light, aircraft-grade aluminum and synthetic material to make the lightest battle rifle in the world.
The natural next step? Find a customer that would take it. And that opportunity opened up when…
The U.S. Army Needed to Upgrade Their Rifle
The trusty ol’ M1 Garand became obsolete.
The United States Army needed something new. More specifically, they were looking for a rifle that was accurate, lightweight, and fully automatic.
So the Rifle Steering Committee (formed by NATO) started the Army’s Lightweight Rifle Program. Through this program, gun makers had the opportunity to compete with one another for a chance of getting their rifle adopted by the military.
Everyone submitted their designs.
Springfield Armory submitted the T44E4, which was essentially an updated version of the M1 Garand chambered for the new 7.62mm round.
While on the other hand, Fabrique Nationale submitted their T48 FAL.
Both were decent rifles. And the Committee was about to wrap up and choose a rifle However, right before they could, a new competitor came with a gun that would blow them away…
The AR-10 (built by Eugene Stoner) was FAR superior to the T44E4 and T48.
It featured a recoil compensator, straight-line stock design, an oversized aluminum flash suppressor, rugged elevated sights, and an adjustable gas system.
In other words: it’s everything a military man could dream of.
And the best part? The AR-10 was INSANELY lightweight (only 6.85 pounds empty) because of the fiberglass reinforced construction.
At that point, it met ALL of the requirements the US Army were looking for…
- Fast rate of fire
… and it shot like a dream.
In fact, the Springfield Armory staff (who tested the AR-10) commented the AR-10 was the “best lightweight automatic rifle ever tested by the Armory”.
So the deal was sealed, right? It was about to until George Sullivan, the president of ArmaLite, decided to…
Modify The AR-10
He wanted to submit an untested AR-10 prototype design that featured an aluminum/steel composite barrel.
This would turn out to be a HUGE mistake. Even Eugene Stoner himself tried to urge Stoner to reconsider…to no avail.
Stoner submitted the design to the military and then the U.S. army torture tested it. The result?
As Stoner predicted, the aluminum/steel composite barrel BURST.
And as a result, the U.S. Army decided it wasn’t going to adopt the AR-10 rifle. ArmaLite tried to fix the mistake by quickly replacing the barrel with the original steel barrel design.
But, it was too late. The damage had already been done. The Army viewed the AR-10 as a prototype firearm and that it would take, as the army put it, “five years or more to take it through tests to adoption”.
As a result, the committee passed on Stoner’s rifle and opted-in for the more conventional (and safe) T44 as their next service rifle.
It was a real blow for ArmaLite, but they weren’t willing to give up. So what did they do? Change directions.
ArmaLite’s New Direction
Rather than selling it to the U.S. government, Armalite decided to sell it internationally to whoever was interested.
Whether you were Fidel Castro or an isolated country, Armalite was willing to sell their AR-10s to you.
But before they could, Armalite needed two things:
- A gun manufacturer
After doing quite a bit of research, ArmaLite ended up licensing the AR-10 to a Dutch manufacturer called Artillerie-Inrichtingen (A.I.). Afterwards, they hired 4 salesman — including the famous arms dealer, Sam Cummings.
Now that they had a gun manufacturer and reputable salesmen, Armalite was ready to start selling the AR-10. And that’s what they did when they landed…
The Nicaragua Deal
In 1957, Cummings demonstrated the power of the AR-10 to Nicaragua’s chief military commander, General Anastasio Somoza.
Surprised with the rifle’s capabilities, Somoza placed a whopping order of 7,500 AR-10 rifles! Not so bad considering they only had 50 rifles. And that was the problem:
ArmaLite was in short supply of the AR-10. So Cummings left his personal AR-10 demonstrator rifle with the General and left.
This was a big mistake. You know why?
It turns out General Somoza conducted the endurance test trial on the rifle. The problem?
The AR-10 malfunctioned (the bolt lug over the ejector popped off) during the test, almost killing the General himself. And understandably, the General made sure Cummings heard hell for the malfunction.
He cursed Cummings out and canceled the 7,500 AR-10 order.
At this point, the AR-10 was pretty much a failure. Nobody wanted it, including the U.S. military and Nicaragua.
But that didn’t stop ArmaLite. They decided to…
Sell The AR-10 To Militaries Worldwide
In fact, ArmaLite’s first sell came from the Sudanese government — selling 2,500 rifles for $225 each.
This boosted the AR-10’s credibility. After that success, ArmaLite couldn’t keep the AR-10’s in-stock.
Everyone wanted them.
Countries like Portugal, Guatemala, Cuba, Burma, Italy, and Germany all bought up the AR-10’s limited stock.
In addition, other countries like Austria, Netherlands, South Africa and Finland purchased a couple of AR-10s for ‘test’ purposes.
Despite that huge success, ArmaLite unfortunately couldn’t stay in business due to logistical and political problems like:
- Dutch export restrictions
- Cuba’s worsening relations with the U.S.
- Netherlands embargoing AR-10 shipments to Portugal
- A.I.’s poor production capabilities
The result? ArmaLite was drowning. They needed a lifeboat to save them from bankruptcy. Fortunately, Armalite’s luck was about to change when the U.S. began the…
U.S. Continental Army Command Rifle Program
This time, the U.S. Army was looking for a new ‘super rifle’.
One that could:
- Chamber .22-caliber
- Weigh 6 pounds
- Accurate up to 500 yards.
This was ArmaLite’s final chance at survival. And Eugene Stoner didn’t want to miss it. So he assembled together his own ‘Avengers of Firearms’ team.
It consisted of Eugene Stoner, Jim Sullivan, and Bob Fremont. These 3 geniuses put their minds together to produce the exact rifle the U.S. Continental Army needed.
In 1958, ArmaLite introduced the infamous AR-15 (which is VERY similar to the AR-10) and AR-10A.
Despite the incredible attention the AR-15 got, the AR-10A didn’t attract any buyers (domestically or abroad).
Fed up with what seemed like a failure, ArmaLite sold the rights of the AR-10 and AR-15 to Colt Firearms for a mere $75,000 and 4.5% royalty on all future productions.
And, as you know, that was a HUGE mistake. Because the AR-15 ended up being…
America’s Most Popular Rifle
And it was simple.
All Colt had to do was make a few slight modifications on the AR-15 (most notably, relocating the charging handle) and it was golden.
Matter of fact, the U.S. military would later adopt the AR-15 as the M16 rifle. After that happened, Colt just bathed in the AR-15’s cash.
All the while, the AR-10 continued to fall from the spotlight. Was it because the AR-10 was an inferior weapon? Of course not.
It just boiled down to marketing. The AR-10 just got a bad vibe from its early history. But as that early history slowly became forgotten, the AR-10 saw a comeback.
Nowadays you’ll see hunters, competitive shooters, and even militaries use the AR-10. And as one Congo Police instructor put it:
“[The AR-10] was a good combat weapon that never failed me.”
And if you’ve ever used the AR-10, you know just how true this phrase is. That said…
It’s Now Your Turn
- What are your thoughts on the AR-10?
- Do you think the AR-10 is a bad rifle? Or do you like the AR-15 more?
- Let me know your thoughts by leaving a quick comment down below.
* This guest post is brought to you by our friend Richard Douglas *
Richard Douglas writes on a variety of topics ranging from guns to self-defense, all presented through years of hands-on experience. He’s been featured on various publications like NEWSREP, ODU Magazine, Boyds Gun Stocks, Burris Optics, JPFO and so much more. Richard is also the founder of Scopes Field, a blog where he personally reviews various scopes and guns on the market.