Surplus Remington R4 upper: Colt 6920 SOCOM for half the cost
It’s a truism that has rang true since even before the days of the Great Coof-ening of 2020: the salad days of military surplus are well behind us. Sure, there are some noble holdouts like Mosin Crate or DWJ Imports who still work hard to bring in interesting surplus at a good price, but the old pre 1950 stuff is pretty much long gone while Cold War and later era stuff is trickier due to the increased prevalence of full auto and the “one a machine gun always a machine gun” stance of the ATF.
Which raises the question- are there any modern milsurps to be had? As far as equipment like optics, rails, and other accessories go, sure, but we sadly still haven’t seen US Military property marked Beretta M9s hit the market since the adoption of the M17. However, due to the enduring brilliance of Eugene Stoner’s AR15 design, you will occasionally see some USGI upper receiver groups on the civilian market due to contract overruns or other less defined means.
I remember not too long ago Gunbroker of all places having genuine Capco (a DoD replacement part sub contractor) USAF contracted M16A2 upper receivers with BCG, charging handles, handguards, the whole shebang for $450. Around the same time you could find M16A4 upper receiver groups with Knights Armament rail systems for $750. Today, these prices are a thing of the past:
My Recent Find
Sad as it is to live with the realization that I passed up those deals when I had the chance, I have recently discovered military spec M4A1 pattern uppers for sale at a competitive price through the company Joint Force Enterprises who sell both on Gunbroker and their own website:
JFE also appears to be closely associated with https://gunrepaircenter.com/ which provides repair parts and services for Freedom Group era Remington firearms that the new RemArms company has decided not to cover under warranty. The link above is taken directly off the JFE site and a Google search confirms the physical addresses of these two businesses are 20 minutes apart in Jacksonville FL. Browsing both sites suggested that these companies managed to procure a sizeable chunk of Remington Defense inventory from around the time Remington was liquidating assets.
I wanted to reach out to JFE to confirm the above suspicion as well as inquire about the specific origins of these kits and frankly was unimpressed with their communication. I filled out the “contact us” form on their website first and after 3 days with no response, decided to try calling instead. Also no luck, it did not depend what time of day I called, including as soon as they opened, I never actually had one of my half dozen calls picked up by a rep.
When I left a message specifying that I was interested in buying one of the uppers I did get a call back a few hours later and the rep, while not overly knowledgeable, did patiently hear out all my questions and answered what he could. The only info I was able to get was that these R4 uppers were produced for a military customer and the contract ended up falling through. A helpful customer comment on JFE’s website correctly calls out the upper package as being configured in the same manner as carbines produced for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
R4 Upper Specs
The upper I received was from the GB ad above. It is a Remington Defense M4A1 spec upper with a 14.5” SOCOM profile button cut, chrome lined barrel. It along with all the other uppers JFE was offering came included a milspec charging handle and phosphate BCG that was magnetic particle tested and had a properly staked gas key. The upper came with a M4 waffle stock, buffer spring, and H2 buffer that ostensibly are Remington OEM parts. Aside from that was also included a MFT “Tekko” two piece quad rail, Tapco 1913 rail covers, a Tapco Intrafuse vertical grip, a Magpul MBUS rear sight, a QD sling swivel, and basic USGI sling and cleaning kit. Also a Remington factory manual. Its odd to think of a modern military using this much Tapco swag.
So while the rail and accessories here are not exactly on par with the KAC or DD parts you might see in US military inventory, the bones here are made to USGI spec and are essentially the same quality you’d find from a Colt or FN at 2x or even 3x times the price of one of these:
Not included in my purchase from JFE but purchased separately by me for the purpose of this review was a USGI carry handle rear sight that I would use as a control and also to present the rifle for this review as “clone correct” to a Philippines contract carbine.
The R4 in Philippines service
When Colt lost sole production rights of the M4 Carbine in 2009, various manufacturers leapt at the chance to sell M4 pattern carbines not only to the US government but also to foreign military governments starting to drop the 7.62 Kalashnikov in favor of 5.56 weaponry and supplies from the US and her allies.
For a short while in 2012, it looked like Remington might actually pull off a contract with the US Army but a lawsuit from Colt to attempt to stonewall that adoption killed the momentum they had and the contract ended up going to FN a year later.
Remington continued to try to market its new M4 clone to other foreign entities eventually finding success with the Queensland Police force in Australia, the Iraqi Army, and most notably, the Philippines Army and Marine Corps.
Several sources note that the R4 had some issues in the Philippines, notably the quality of the rear sight not being up to snuff. Pictures of the adoption ceremony appear to show these rifles with detachable carry handle sights. Given that Remington already skimped in favor of Tapco accessories for the carbines, it is not hard to imagine that they also outsourced the rear sights resulting in chintzy, fragile carry handles as opposed to quality milspec ones made by Cardinal or Brass Aluminum Forging.
Articles as recent as 2018 suggest that the Philippines is looking to try to produce the R4 domestically, which they are likely still pursuing given the total collapse of Remington Defense in the years since.
At The Range
After making sure the upper was properly cleaned and lubed, I put the upper on a standard milspec lower and set up a target for 100 yards to get zeroed and also test function.
Unsurprisingly the upper had no issues cycling M855 or Wolf cheapo 55gr 223 REM. I decided to zero with Wolf as that is overwhelmingly what I shoot and the result of my last zero target was this:
The 3 high shots were me walking down the sight adjustments from my first target and the final 5 (yes that damn left shot was a flyer) were my zero confirmation. Much has been said about the inherent accuracy potential of the heavy SOCOM barrel and while I don’t know if this 100 yard group would have been significantly different with a normal govt profile barrel, I have to admit I was fairly impressed with the result given I was also firing prone off a bag with Wolf ammo and irons.
So all that is great, but so what? Why would you build this in 2023? Fellow TKB contributor Papercake recently did his own article on the Block 1 configuration M4A1 and in it he notes that despite various attempts over the years to replace the 6/10 brunette girlfriend that is the M4A1, it simply refuses to die and continues functioning as the base standard by which all other modern military rifles are judged.
Sure rail space is nice for accessories and being able to get your hand out further on the gun, and midlength for pretty much all intents and purposes is superior to carbine when you have a 14.5 or longer barrel. That said, there’s something to be said for the ol reliable M4A1 (especially with a standard govt profile barrel) in terms of balance and pointability. A short little compact package like that combined with a TA31 ACOG (another GWOT era piece of kit that continues to excel in many roles modern optics just can’t compete with), you have what is still to this day one of the most utilitarian carbines builds ever.
As of the publication of this article, JFE still has that package I purchased available on their site and on their Gunbroker account. The JFE Gunbroker account also has R4 barreled receivers with BCGs and no handguards or accessories for $375 and Gun Repair Center’s Gunbroker account currently has blem R4 uppers with plastic handguards and BCG/CH for $280, which is a killer deal.
As someone who looked at those old M16A2 and M16A4 uppers a few years back and thought to myself- “Eh, these will be around a while, no hurry”, I say to you dear reader: Do NOT be like me. Buy now while the getting is good.
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