Cobalt Kinetics is a brand new player in the firearms world. Founded only about a year and a half ago the company made a rather big splash with their “BAMF” rifle — a gun that not only looked visually stunning, but also implemented some truly novel ideas about how an AR-15 rifle could function. With the help of a few friends the guys (and gals) at Cobalt Kinetics have come up with a new rifle set to debut this year dubbed the “Evolve” with a very interesting twist: the gun will automatically eject empty magazines, and send the bolt home when you insert a loaded one.
The AR-15 platform has pretty much stagnated in the last couple years. The most that the design has started to wander is with the various piston kits that have popped up over the last decade, but even then it simply replaces an existing system with a drop-in substitute and doesn’t really add much to the function of the gun. Cobalt Kinetics teamed up with pro competition shooter Keith Garcia and started with a clean sheet of paper to design Keith’s ideal competition rifle. It just so happened that it might also be a pretty darn good gun for law enforcement as well.
Some of the improvements are rather mundane. For starters, the barrel has been swapped for a Proof Research carbon fiber wrapped barrel for better heat dissipation and reduced point of impact shift during rapid fire sessions. The handguards have been redesigned to have a larger vane on the top for a better grip and to reduce the heat coming up to the shooter’s hand. They’ve gone for M-Lok instead of keymod, which I’m OK with. And it comes in black.
But that’s not the cool part.
The muzzle brake was designed in-house by the resident mad scientist. Its designed to be completely linear with no venting along the top or bottom and Cobalt Kinetics claim that the distinctive butterfly design on the vents does a more efficient job of taking advantage of the expanding gasses to counteract the force of recoil. On the range it felt like the gun didn’t even move, but naturally we’ll have to get a sample to Jeremy to test out.
That muzzle brake is counter-balanced by a nifty adjustable buffer system with variable weights that can be swapped out to match the gun to the specific shooter. While that’s nifty, what makes it even more nifty is the fact that they’ve redesigned the buffer system to use a polymer tube and buffer weight combined with a more accurately manufactured spring to completely eliminate the noise that the standard AR-15 buffer makes. It’s a little more roundabout way of doing things than the JP Enterprises silent captured spring, but when you’re designing the gun from the ground up there’s a lot of latitude to make these kinds of changes.
This part makes a ton of sense for competition shooters especially if the gun comes with a complete kit of replaceable buffer weights. No longer do you have to buy a whole new buffer to change the cycle speed, you can just replace the core instead. What makes even more sense is if you slap this in a short little SBR and chamber it in 300 Blackout. That would be sweet…
The most novel part of this gun is in the lower receiver. Cobalt Kinetics have replaced the magazine catch and bolt catch with a patent pending design of their own (dubbed the “Cobalt Advantage Reload System” or CARS) which automatically ejects an empty magazine and releases the bolt when a freshly loaded magazine is inserted. This is a pre-production example which was machined last week and wasn’t heat treated (hence the excessive wear after only a few thousand rounds) but for a system that only really came together in the last couple months it worked remarkably well.
The concept is that the fewer things the shooter needs to think about the better. Instead of needing to hit the magazine release when the gun runs dry the gun does that automatically. I’m struggling to think of a situation where you would want to retain that empty magazine in a firefight, and while I’m sure there’s a fine example I can’t come up with one. Even the venerable M1 Garand immediately chunked the en bloc clip as far as mechanically possible as soon as the gun went dry so this definitely isn’t a new concept — it’s just one we haven’t seen since about WWII.
Especially in 3-gun competitions as soon as the magazine is empty it has become worthless and needs to be immediately removed. In this rifle that happens as automatically as the bolt locking back on an empty magazine.
At this point the shooter needs to insert a fresh magazine into the gun. I’m sure Cobalt Kinetics is working on a fix for that issue, but for the time being that’s still something that needs to be done manually. Once a new magazine is inserted the gun will recognize this fact and automatically release the bolt.
Cobalt Kinetics Evolve Speed Reload with Keith GarciaKeith Garcia demonstrates just how fast the speed reloads become with the new Cobalt Kinetics Evolve rifle
Posted by The Truth About Guns on Monday, December 21, 2015
This dual function of dropping things -- the magazine and the bolt -- is, according to rumor, how the gun got its unofficial model designation: the "panty dropper." However the Cobalt Kinetics crew will deny to their death the validity of this nasty rumor that they may or may not have themselves started over many many drinks.
For the average shooter this is a damn nifty idea. It removes a step from the manual of arms for the gun, meaning reload times are quicker and more streamlined. It also is one less thing to think about when flying through a 3-gun stage. There's another application where this makes sense: the law enforcement angle.
Keith Garcia has been a cop for longer than I've been alive. He does a ton of firearms training for the local LEOs, and I know he knows his stuff by how savagely he's whupped my butt in competitions in the past. One of the things that he dwells on in training is reloads and malfunction clearing with a rifle when you've only got one hand. For example, if the other arm has been shot. Or if you need to hold onto something. Clearing a double feed on an AR-15 is a huge pain with the normal configuration, but one added feature makes this gun ideal for easily fixing stoppages.
As part of the function that locks the bolt back on an empty magazine in this gun, that same mechanism will also lock the gun open if there's no magazine inserted at all. This makes stoppage clearing almost trivially simple -- drop the magazine, pull back the charging handle (the bolt will automatically lock to the rear), and proceed as normal. No longer are you stepping on your rifle to set the bolt catch or slamming the bolt home on hopelessly stuck cartridges. It's also useful for unloading and showing clear in competitions and in the field since the annoying step of finding the bolt catch has been removed.
That all said there is one minor issue with the concept.
As soon as a new magazine is inserted the bolt will automatically slam forward. For semi-auto shooters this isn't an issue since the disconnector will keep the gun from firing even if your finger is still on the trigger. In full auto (as J.J. Racaza is demonstrating here) this can be more of an issue. If your trigger finger is still depressing the gas pedal when the magazine is inserted then the gun will immediately continue to fire. That can be concerning, but what is even more concerning is the idea that someone's finger would be on the trigger during a reload. And if they're dumb enough to make that mistake then they're dumb enough to do it when reloading with a normal bolt catch system anyway and the whole point is more or less moot.
My first impressions of their gun are pretty much summed up in Alex's face here. I'm loving the fact that someone is doing something legitimately new with the AR-15 platform and adding in functionality that no one has considered before. What I'm most concerned about is the reliability of the mechanism -- on these pre-production models the guns seem to be running very well, but there are some definite preferences when it comes to which magazines they like to work with. There are some pretty loose tolerances when it comes to magazine design and getting the catch system to work the first time every time will take some fine tuning.
We dont review pre-production guns so this is going to have to stay a "first look" for now, especially since the design isn't even finalized yet. I'm looking forward to seeing the final version, and I hope to have one in hand to review before the middle of the year. Until then I'll just have to keep waiting and watching to see what else these guys cook up.