Over the past 10 years the industry has seen several new weapon systems emerge with the older piston technology making a comeback. Due to the campaign of certain manufacturing firms, the consensus is that the older retro piston operating system is superior to the current direct gas system of the current issue M16 and M4 weapon systems. While no statistical data has come forth to support the claim, several manufacturers are coming out with piston operated 5.56mm weapon systems including Colt, POF, Heckler & Koch, LWRC and, now, Magpul Military Industries.
Magpul introduced their Masada Adaptive Combat Weapon System at the 2007 SHOT Show. There was quite a buzz around the booth from both the introduction of the Masada as well as their revolutionary new PMag polymer magazine. The Masada is, of the entire current available piston operated 5.56mm weapon systems, the most advanced and conceptually new weapon system out in the market. Unlike the POF, Heckler & Koch and LWRC models, the Masada is not based off of existing M4 weapon platforms. Like the Heckler & Koch XM8/G36 weapon systems and the British SA80 weapon systems, the Masada uses technology borrowed from the Eugene Stoner designed AR-18/AR-180 weapon systems of the early 1960s. The Masada however, takes it to the next level.
The Masada name comes from the battle of Masada where the Roman X Legion laid siege to the Jews in 72 AD. The fortress stood on top of a plateau and had a secure source of fresh water. Due to this, the Romans were forced to build a ramp to permit their formations to attack the fortress without breaking ranks. With the ramp being nearly complete, the Jewish defenders decided to end their existence rather than come under Roman rule. The citizens of Masada left their food out in plain view so the Romans could see they were in no danger of starving and through this act of defiance, the citizens of Masada decided they would kill themselves rather than have their women and children raped and enslaved by the Romans. Controlling their own destiny, the entire town perished by their own hand. Magpul found the story of Masada a bold example of defiance. Most weapon systems bear the name of their designer or manufacturer; the Masada name is more of a symbol of defiance.
The Masada is the first weapon system to be developed by Magpul. Conceptually, Magpul had thought of a firearm design for several years; however it was not until 2006 when pen went to paper. Magpul’s Mike Mayberry headed the Masada design team and it was designed in only four months time. Like many other firms, their initial goal was to take the current successful M16/M4 weapon systems and incorporate those desirable traits into their weapon system offering potential users an easier transition. During the developmental stages, many weapon systems were examined and Magpul was able to extract what they felt were the benefits of each design and would incorporate those into their final design. Magpul was able to keep some parts commonality with AR-15/M16 components that included the barrel and barrel extension, trigger, disconnector, hammer assembly, hammer/trigger pins, trigger spring, front sight assembly, extractor pin/spring/plunger, ejector/spring and retaining pin.
Magpul found that to retrofit the standard M16/M4 weapon system with their improvements would be quite difficult and costly. In March of 2006, the decision was made to abandon the retrofit design and start from a clean sheet of paper with the project commencing in the fall of 2006 from scratch. As previously stated, they would model the mechanics of the operating system of the AR-18/AR-180 making many modifications from that design. The AR-18/AR-180 was not a combat proven design by any means. The ArmaLite rifles were never manufactured in quantity for military sales, only commercial sales. The first military production of this system was the British SA80 which was, and in this author’s opinion still is, a disaster. The H&K XM8 was never fielded and the G36 has seen limited use.
The Masada was not designed to fit any military requirement so Magpul had freedom to do what they wanted in order to build their own vision of a durable and reliable weapon system. Military weapons programs will often mandate parts interchangeability with current systems, which are good for the supply channels but do not allow the weapon to perform to its capabilities.
The final design shows clear M16 influence in the way the weapon breaks open for maintenance, the bolt and the fire control group. The standard M16 NATO magazine is used which we will discuss later. However, Magpul has integrated several of their trademark enhancements into the Masada including the ability of the pistol grip to accept MIAD cores, Enhanced Trigger Guard, UBR Stock concept and PMag. The Masada will allow the user to be able to change calibers by simply changing the bolt and barrel and, depending on the cartridge, the lower receiver magazine well. The 7.62x39mm Masada will use a special lower receiver enabling it to accept standard AK47 magazines. The Masada will be available in 5.56x45mm, 5.45x39mm, 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Grendel and 7.62x39mm calibers. Magpul will make available barrels, bolts and if needed, lower receivers to let the customers convert their Masada to a different caliber.
Upper Receiver and Handguards
The Masada utilizes a one-piece upper receiver. Throughout the industry, several companies have designed one-piece upper receivers including Colt, LMT, VLTOR, FN and more and the benefits are many. One of the first things an operator will do when he gets a weapon is to procure a quad rail system. Often, the addition of an aftermarket rail system will increase weight. Many of these are not going to free float the barrel and will transfer heat from the front sight assembly back into the receiver. Additionally the extra weight put on the barrel from the addition of optics, lasers, flashlights and vertical pistol grips may cause accuracy issues and, in extreme cases, the barrels to bend. Free floating handguards assist with both accuracy and cooling. The Masada’s upper receiver is manufactured from high-strength 7000-series aluminum alloy and extruded in a closed box profile. There is a fired cartridge case deflector at the rear of the ejection port to prevent left handed shooters from being struck in the face with a hot cartridge case. On the top is a 37-slot Mil-Std 1913 rail. Magpul provides a front sight that is identical in length to standard M16 front sights permitting the use of a standard BUIS (Back-Up Folding Sight). No BUIS is provided and the user may use any commercially made M16/M4 BUIS. The Masada uses a steel-on-steel interface. Bolted into the receiver are internal receiver rails that guide the bolt carrier group. Bolted and pinned into the receiver is a steel alloy barrel trunnion that is heat treated to cope with the heat caused from high firing schedules. The receiver will accept a 40mm grenade launcher.
The handguard (lower) is injected molded from high strength polymer with the ability to accept Mil-Std 1913 rails at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. There are two lengths of handguards. The standard length allows 11.5+ inch barrel lengths while the short handguard permits the use of a 10.5 inch CQB barrel.