SRM Arms’ MLE Auto-Shotgun
The MLE will exceed every intent and expectation of the combat shotgun.
By and large the shotgun has been traditionally regarded as something of a brute and a blunt instrument. It lacks finesse and precision, and even if that shotgun is put to task by a skilled expert, it’s still just a shotgun. It is incapable distance or impressive accuracy. The shotgun is essentially a “ballistic hammer” used for delivering clumsy, albeit crushing blows at close range. Many were ready to give up on the shotgun as a viable law enforcement tool or effective instrument of combat for the military. It would be fair to say that outside the sporting industry, most held little hope that the lowly shotgun could ever learn a new trick, so to speak. Fortunately, it just happens that some folks in Idaho are teaching the shotgun a few new tricks. The shotgun featured here is a 12 gauge machine gun called the MLE. The ingenious magazine holds… a lot of ammo. And the MLE can fire all that ammo very quickly. In general terms, any shotgun can be described as powerful. But one must fully grasp the meaning of the word. “Power” alludes to capability, capacity, and the potential to exert force or influence. Indeed then, the MLE is powerful.
SRM Arms of Meridian, Idaho is not a newcomer to the game of small arms design and manufacture. Collectively, SRM’s team of engineers and machinists share more than a century of experience and expertise and are forward thinking problem solvers. SRM is known and respected by military and law enforcement bodies around the world. In 2010, the U.S. Marine Corps contracted SRM to diagnose and troubleshoot a serious problem with an existing design, and was tasked to improve the reliability and safety of the shotgun currently fielded by the USMC. There is no other organization in the world, military or otherwise, that can bring the kind of overwhelming force to bear than the USMC. As such, they require rock-solid and reliable weaponry to get the job done. SRM fulfilled their contract to the complete satisfaction the Marines.
In addition to boasting top-tier proficiency and capability while consulting on research design for our military, SRM also manufactures their own combat shotgun. The first working prototype came to life around 2001. It was semiautomatic, fed by a detachable rotary magazine, and used an HK derived roller-locked delayed blowback mechanism. That design was refined, improved and perfected until it went up for sale in 2009. The first semiautomatic model made available to the public was called the SRM 1216 (12 gauge and 16-round capacity). It measures 32 inches long with an 18-inch barrel and weighs 7.25 pounds. The select-fire (full-auto variant) of the shotgun is known as the MLE (Military & Law Enforcement). The core of the MLE’s design was based on the values of simplicity, functionality and strength.
The most obvious and innovative feature of the MLE shotgun is the magazine. The mag body is a cluster of 4 individual tubes, each holding up to 4 rounds of 12 gauge ammunition for a total of 16 rounds. The gun feeds and fires from one tube until the ammo supply in that tube is exhausted. When the indexed magazine tube runs dry, the bolt locks rearward and the user then rotates the magazine over to the next tube. Thereafter the bolt automatically returns to battery, ready to fire, and the shooter may resume firing. So on until the magazine needs to be refilled or replaced. This configuration is so ideal in that the ammunition feeding device does not protrude outward from the gun. It lies flat against the barrel’s ventral surface, and behaves like the forearm assembly on any other shotgun. Thus, the operator’s hand is always wrapped around the magazine; there’s never a need to shift the hands about in order to initiate a magazine change. The automatic return-to-battery feature frees up the shooter’s focus and attention to the task downrange. And of course, The MLE conceals 16 rounds inside a space no larger than an average shotgun’s forearm.
The controls to operate the magazine are found affixed to a trunnion attached to the forward portion of the barrel. The “paddles” used to rotate the mag are accessible with the thumb of the forward hand. The magazine release lever is on the front of that trunnion, below the barrel, and faces away from the shooter. The index finger of the forward hand can easily reach and actuate the release lever. When released, the front end of the mag will drop away from the gun then the rear end rolls out of a pocket located at the face of the receiver. With some familiarization, mag changes can be performed in only a few seconds. The act of indexing the mag to the next tube only takes fractions of a second. Reloading the magazine requires no trick or talent as 12 gauge cartridges are simply stuffed into the tube. The operator only needs to be able to count to four and avoid inserting the cartridges backwards.
The MLE’s design does not compromise comfort or ergonomics to achieve its mechanical prowess. The MLE can be set by the user to any of 4 ambidextrous configurations. The charge handle location and the ejection port and ejection function can be switched to either side with simple tools. So the gun is ideally suited to any discipline “gun hand” or “support hand” operation, and right or left handed. The MLE’s geometry has been tailored to enhance control and handling. The barrel and bolt are below the cheek weld. This arrangement ensures that recoil forces are delivered straight back into the operator’s shoulder; instead of up and over. Any muzzle rise would negate any advantage of a fully-automatic shotgun. The bull-pup layout of the MLE helps with the weight distribution of the gun. The heavy bits – receiver, bolt, and recoil system – are all housed above the pistol grip in the back half of the gun and all within the butt stock. The front end remains light; this becomes important once an additional 2 pounds of ammunition is loaded into the magazine. The balance of the MLE in the hands is exceptional as the mass of the gun is shared equally by the operator’s hands.
SRM has lately released their shotguns in a “Gen 2” revision. It should be noted that the Gen 1 guns never required a recall or demonstrated a general tendency to fail. The Gen 2 upgrades were not in response to some mechanical shortcoming nor were they compelled by a lawyer to “fix” a problem. Gen 2 came about to ensure that those things would never happen. The man in charge at SRM told us plainly, “We saw a way to make the gun better, so we did it.” On the previous generation, the receiver and internals were investment cast and now they are machined from billet ordnance steel. The barrels are hammer forged and the chamber was fluted to improve feeding under inclement conditions and to promote positive extraction. The polymer used in the magazine and stock was upgraded to be more durable.
The select fire MLE came about in 2012, when SRM was challenged by a foreign government agency to turn their semi-auto 1216 into a fully automatic weapon. That’s not as easy a task as it may sound. Increased wear and battery of moving parts, and excessive heating, are some negative effects of high fire rate. During full-auto fire, residual operating forces known as “carryover” tend to disrupt normal function and timing. And there’s no need to mention the effect of recoil as when compounded can effectively become thrust. This is uncomfortable in the least and can be outright dangerous at its worst. So, a tall order, yes. Unless you’re SRM arms; then it’s not a problem at all. You just add the required full-auto features to your existing platform, and voila: You’ve got a machine shotgun. The fact is that the semi-auto 1216 was so well designed and thought out, the negative effects of full-auto fire never manifested. The timing of the carrier or ejection did not need fine-tuning for full-auto function. The shape and delay of the locking shoulder and rollers did not require refitting. No extra attention was given to recoil attenuation or to control the cyclic rate. It’s as if SRM arms had been planning the full-auto version all along. The only modification to the original gun came as a size option offering a smaller and lighter MLE. The 1216 held 16 rounds. There now exists a 1212 (12 round mag- 4 rows of 3), and a 1208 (8 round mag- 4 rows of 2). The barrels on these have also been abbreviated to 13 inches on the 1212, and 10 inches on the 1208. The barrels are no longer than safety requires as the muzzle ends just past the magazine latch. How does the MLE compare to the other machine-shotguns of today? It’s lighter and more compact than most. It’s got a higher fire rate than most. It’s easier to control under fire than most, which means more rounds on target, in less time. And it costs substantially less than all the others with its low 4 figure price tag while some of the others approach $20,000 USD.
How practical can a 12 gauge machine gun be? Consider the purpose the shotgun plays in its professional role. Military, law enforcement and security personnel use shotguns predominately in urban, close-quarter environments. A shotgun can be used in aggressive response to an active threat. A shotgun can be used to
deter aggression. A shotgun can be used for less-lethal riot control. A shotgun can be used to disable vehicles, and equipment, and even open doors. There is a growing point of focus among arms designers and battle strategists. It is referred to as a “force multiplier.” It describes a certain weapon, or presentation, or mode of employ of the two that produces enhanced effect; where the overall result exceeds the direct result of the components involved. The “force multiplier” may appeal to the emotional responses of an enemy combatant; to induce fear, panic, and hopelessness. The force multiplier may give a single man the battlefield effect of many men. The idea is to break the will of the enemy without making direct engagement. The psychological effect of the sound and presence of the MLE cannot be overstated and the actual effect on target of its power and lethality also cannot be overstated. From a statistical approach, increased fire rate and improved control increases the probability of successful hits on target. In skilled hands, the MLE can expel 144 pellets of 00 buckshot in 3 seconds. At distance, the effect is not unlike an aircraft making a strafing pass. At medium ranges, 100-150 yards, the MLE makes for effective indirect area denial. Consider the combined pattern density of a “volley” fired from the MLE at a single target: four ounces of buckshot, a total of thirty six .33 caliber lead balls, fired in half a second. In an engagement of a single fixed target, a car for instance, the percussive effect of full-auto shotgun fire can achieve penetration through what would normally be impenetrable cover. Inside 75 yards the MLE is in charge. The man wielding the MLE decides who stays and who goes. If supreme lethality and battlefield dominance exceeds your needs, the MLE can be configured to fire less lethal munitions. With the quick swap of the bolt and magazine, the gun can continue its role as a select fire less-lethal launcher. The less lethal componentry (or even the entire gun for dedicated use) is identified by a safety orange surface finish. The less-lethal operating system is strictly blowback as it omits the roller locked delayed blowback system. In the case of bean bags or sting balls, the “area effect” and pattern density of burst fire allows the operator greater standoff distance from assailants while still achieving effect on target. Imagine how quickly a rioting prison yard could be quelled with a few MLEs firing salvos of rubber buck into the crowd.
The opportunity to field the MLE was approached with respect and trepidation. The MLE fires 450 rounds per minute. That’s a 50% increase over the well-known AA12. And make that fire rate; the MLE does not incorporate the slow, soft “constant recoil” design of the AA12. So at first consideration, we expected that the MLE would be violent and uncontrollable under recoil. The MLE is not violent, nor uncontrollable. To the contrary, we could not have been more wrong about it. It is outstanding in burst fire – recoil is flat and predictable. It’s possibly the best handling and most forgiving shotgun we’ve tested. With a little practice we were able to completely destroy stationary targets at 50 yards. Destroy meaning even the wood stakes that once held the target were decimated. At a distance of 100 yards, entire groups of cardboard silhouettes were properly shredded by a 4 round burst of 00 buck. At 40 yards we could put 4 slugs into a silhouette target in full-auto. That’s overkill to be sure. What kind of target would ever need to be hit by 4 ounces of shotgun slug? We will never know as that target is not talking. Besides the shock and the awe, the MLE was perfectly reliable during range evaluation. Four kinds of ammunition were fired, for a total of 225 rounds. Full power slug, low recoil 00 buck, #4 heavy field loads and #8 economy game loads all ran through the MLE. All functioned without a single foul or failure.
Where a semi-auto or pump is satisfactory, the full-auto shotgun is superlative. If we ever realize its full potential, the MLE will exceed every intent and expectation of the combat shotgun. The MLE will write the new codus on shotgun tactics. The MLE is more than just another automatic shotgun. It’s a paradigm shift in the design and direction of the shotgun’s development. In terms of reliability, balance, handling, versatility, power and presence; it’s perfect. We can’t imagine a way to make it better. The MLE could very well be among the top 10 most devastating and impressive small arms ever created.