The concept of a lightweight blowback-operated pistol-caliber centerfire carbine for use in survival situations isn’t new. Feather Industries and Kel-Tec cracked that nut a long time ago. In 2012, TNW Firearms of Oregon released its own version: the 5.5 lb. Aero-Survival Rifle (“ASR”).
The TNW ASR is notable for its removable barrel and easily convertible caliber changes. It takes the basic design concept of a German MP-18 or the British Sten (i.e. a tubular receiver, blowback-operated pistol-caliber carbine) and modernizes it to include quick change barrels, multi-caliber options, Picatinny rails, and AR collapsible stocks.
In a smart move, the ASR uses readily available and utterly reliable GLOCK magazines. Unlike the military submachinegun designs on which it’s based, the ASR’s upper and lower receivers are made out of aircraft aluminum for reduced weight. Unlike its military forefathers, the ASR fires from the closed bolt. So equipped, it’s intended for home defense, remote county travel/backpacking, boating and back country flying.
Unlike an AR, the ASR’s “upper” is the serial numbered “receiver,” which is the regulated firearm. Conversely, the “lower” is merely a “trigger housing.” Pistol versions (i.e., no buttstock, 8-inch barrel) are also available. With its removable barrel, the ASR is a great candidate for SBR treatment.
The ASR can be ordered two sizes. The 9x19mm version is the most common version. It can be converted to shoot .40 S&W and .357 SIG. It uses GLOCK 17 magazines (The other version will shoot 10mm, and .45 ACP). You can buy barrels in all different calibers, as well as their corresponding bolt heads and magazines, to ensure the ultimate in ammo flexibility.
TNW is currently developing conversion kits for .22 LR, .22 MAG, and .17 HMR. Our two test samples were chambered in 9x19mm — my first choice of the available calibers. The impressive 10mm offering is my second favored option. With its 16-inch barrel, the ASR reportedly pushes 180-grain Buffalo Bore ammo out at an impressive 1,725 fps.
There are different schools of thought on the best caliber for survival rifles. Shotguns can be a great option due to ammunition flexibility, including signal rounds such as Dragon’s Breathe. They’re also useful on waterfowl and other avian species, which can be some of the most available survival food available. Unfortunately, truly compact lightweight shotguns are difficult to find and usually require a tax stamp.
Conversely, takedown .22LR rifles are common, lightweight and will dispatch most of the smaller game one might pursue in a survival situation, firing ammo that’s both lightweight and (until recently) ubiquitous. On the other hand, .22LR does not serve well in a self-defense role against larger predators, esp. those of the bipedal variety.
Larger pistol calibers serve better in a self-defense role. They can also be used for hunting. Case in point: TNW’s CEO used an ASR in .40 S&W to take a cougar. Pistol caliber JHPs are not ideal against small game, however, because they can damage too much meat. That said, 9mm FMJ could be used in situations where meat damage is a concern (Small mammals, etc).
A multi-caliber platform that allows you to alternate between 9mm and .22lr provides flexibility; just the ticket to bridge the gap. The ASR fits that bill quite nicely.
The TNW ASR is available in a standard hard black anodized finish, OD green, tan and two variegated finishes (pink and green). Based on these colors and patterns, it’s clear that TNW expects a fair number of these guns will simply be used as range plinkers. The tricked-out colors actually look pretty rad, IMHO.
Overall, the quality of the machining is first class. Tool marks on the aluminum exterior are nonexistent, and the finish is smooth and even.
The operator controls on the ASR are small simple and utilitarian in nature. Given that this is a survival rifle, not a 3-Gun rifle, you should not expect to see oversized controls and tacticool stuff like Magpul Bad Levers. In fact, quite the opposite.
Light weight and compactness are the most important attributes for this type of rifle; if the weapon is bulky and not discreetly packable it will be left behind. Ideally the weapon should be weatherproof so you can leave it in your boat, your rig or your bug-out bag.
The magazine release is a rounded circular button located on the left side of the mag well. It’s not intuitive for those of us with AR muscle memory, but it works well once you get used to its location. Similarly, the safety is a simple cross-bolt design that’s not difficult to locate or operate.
The charging handle is well designed and comfortable. The bolt doesn’t lock open when the last shot in a magazine is fired. Nonetheless, like an HK MP5 or Sten, the bolt handle can be pulled back and tipped up into a notch in the receiver to lock the bolt in the open position.
Newer versions of the ASR come equipped with an integral child safety lock located on the right side above the trigger. An allen key is required to engage and disengage the lock. Turning the screw counter clockwise three turns will result in the trigger being blocked.
The barrel screws into the receiver, held in place by a ratchet. It features a groove to ensure that it indexes consistently with the receiver. It works, but I found the retention system to be a bit “light” for my liking. When Chris first test-fired the carbine, he reported that the barrel nut was too loose. If we’d read the manual (who does that?) we would have discovered that there’s a small allen screw that can be used to adjust the ratchet’s tension. Derp. Pro- tip: it works!
A detachable barrel that has true “return to zero” capability is an absolute “must have” requirement for any true multi-caliber survival rifle, and the ASR performs well in this regard. This type of rifle will usually be packed away in luggage or a bug-out-bag; the ability to pack this carbine away discretely is of the utmost importance.
Upper Receiver and Trigger Housing Interface.
The way that the upper receiver interfaces with the trigger housing is also innovative. In the photo above, notice two male pins protruding out of the bottom of the upper. These pins align with and insert into the lower, where they are held in place with two crosspins.
The male pins can be screwed up and down in order to adjust the tension with the cross pins. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the hang of how it works, but once you understand the physics of the system, you can adjust how tightly the upper and lower match up.
I guess I’d call the ASR’s trigger a two-stage trigger. It has a long creepy uneven stage, and then it hits a slight wall. Pulling through the wall breaks the shot. According to my Lyman gauge, the pull weight was around 10 lbs. It’s a lawyer trigger for sure. In short, the factory sear really needs some gunsmith work.
Fortunately, it’s easy to take apart and work on. A few minutes with a Dremel tool and you can vastly improve the trigger. If you happen to screw it up, a new sear will cost you a couple of bucks. I took mine over to the factory (I’m local) and they got mine down to 4 lbs. in only five minutes. It’s not Geisselle good, but its good enough that it’s not a problem.
If you’re in a survival situation, you may only get one opportunity to take down whatever game happens to enter your kill zone. The difference between a meal or going hungry for days on end could very well depend on how well you squeeze that trigger. So a crappy trigger is a no go.
Having said that, if you are just thinking about this gun as a range plinker, the factory trigger is probably good enough. I had no trouble hitting the paddles of a dueling tree at 25 yards even with the standard trigger.
The trigger is cut from a sheet by a CNC machine and is not rounded at all. It’s set back about a ½ inch too far than my liking; it’s difficult to get proper thumb placement on the trigger. Replacing the standard AR-15 handgrip with a thicker Magpul MAIG grip might help mitigate the problem.
I had a “Rite-pull” device laying around. With a little bit of bubba-Dremel action, I was able to make it fit. I like it a lot better now. Even so, I still managed to shoot pretty well with the ASR even without my bubby-mod. Again, I think the design is intended to place compactness over ergonomics, and I agree that the former should be paramount in this type of rifle.
Disassembly is simple. After making sure the carbine is unloaded, you first remove the magazine. Unscrew the barrel and remove it from the receiver. Next, remove the lower receiver by tapping out two non-captured retaining pins. Move the bolt carrier to the index point so that the charging handle can be removed.
The bolt then slides out the front of the receiver. The bolt cab be disassembled by removing the pin located on the other side of the bolt charging handle and the bolt, firing pin and retaining spring come apart from the bolt carrier. No further disassembly is required.
In the photo below, you can see how the ejector can be moved from the left to the right, in order to change the direction for shell ejection. The carbine is set up at the factory to eject to the right. You change it to left-handed ejection by removing two roll pins in the lower receiver. Basically, you’re just swapping out the location of the ejector and the bolt stop.
In the photo above, you can also see where the sides of the hammer have been peened a bit. This happened because I pulled the trigger without the upper in place. Pro-tip: don’t do that!
Sights / Scope
The ASR I tested came equipped with a Chinese-made 4×32 compact scope by AIM Sport. Not to sound like a scope snob, but I found the scope to be completely worthless. In one case, it wouldn’t even index to the point of impact: the scope was dialed all the way to the left and was still aimed a foot to the right of the bullet strike at 100 yards.
When I turned the scope’s adjustment to the right, bullet strike was three to four feet to the left of the scope’s crosshairs. I tried to wrench on it a bit and ended up breaking the scope. We replaced it with an inexpensive Bushnell TRS-25 red dot and didn’t look back.
Thankfully, TNW decided to drop the scope as an accessory. TNW now ships the ASR without any sights or a scope. Any AR-15 sights with a picatinny interface will work.
In a true survival situation, a carbine will likely be used on smaller deer species, Rodentia (rats, beaver, squirrels, nutria, capybara, etc.), Lagomorpha (rabbits, pika, etc), Suids (pigs, javalina, etc) avian species (seagulls, boobies, upland birds, turkey, ducks, herons, etc.), or small reptiles (lizards, snakes, caiman, etc.).
In my experience, typical engagement ranges are under 50 yards, and often 20-30 yards. Shots up to 100 yards are theoretically possible, but bullet drop makes these longer shots more difficult with pistol-calibers. A 9mm will have a good 9-10 inches of drop 100 yards. Ideally, a survival carbine needs to be able to shoot consistent 2-3 MOA groups or better.
The TNW ASR easily meets that requirement.
With typical cheap “target/plinking” grade ammo, accuracy was typically in the 2-3 MOA range at 50 yards, and 3-4 MOA at 100 yards. As expected, groups tightened up a bit when I used more expensive defense-grade hollowpoints such as Hornady Critical Duty, Federal Hydro-shok or Remington Golden Saber 147 grain.
A “typical” 50-yard group is shown above. Like many 9mm carbines, the TNW ASR does have its preferences. Not surprisingly, it preferred more expensive ammo with higher velocities. In fact, my best 3-shot, 50-yard group came courtesy of Cor-Bon 115 Grain +P:
Make no mistake: I don’t think that type of “cloverleaf” accuracy is typical for the ASR. You do need to get the trigger upgrade to get close to this level of performance. Nonetheless, with the trigger upgrade and some careful ammo selection, you can get 1 MOA performance at 50 yards.
Testing the return-to-zero capability of the rifle I was pleasantly surprised with the results. POI shift was about a half-inch or so at 50 yards after a barrel change. As you might expect, changes in ammunition had a much greater effect on accuracy, and in many cases, the rifle’s zero needed to be adjusted.
In addition to the guns I tested during our factory tour, I tested two samples. The green T&E sample shown in the photos started out a bit rough. My buddy (and former TTAG writer) Chris Dumm is a big fan of all things cheap, so he shoots lots of cheap-ass Russian steel case stuff such as Tula. So Chris fired 200+ rounds of Tula through the ASR and experienced frequent jams. Having a low tolerance for malfunctions, he soured on it pretty quickly.
I tend to take a longer view. Over the next five months, I took it to the range on five occasions. On my first two outings, I was mainly just plinking at rocks, in a “get to know you” fashion, as opposed to serious accuracy work. I mainly wanted to see if the barrel nut would stay tight, the gun functioned reliably, and maintained zero. I was also hopeful that the trigger might smooth out a bit with time.
I shot roughly 500 rounds, mostly a mix of factory brass ammo and gun-show reloads. I experienced an occasional jam during this phase of my testing. However, to my delight, the jams decreased as the gun broke in.
On my fifth and last range trip, I loaded up eight 32-round GLOCK mags with UMC 115-grain Ball and proceeded to empty them in over a period of about 10 minutes in fairly rapid fashion. I experienced no hiccups. Since then, I’ve fired another 2000 rounds through this carbine with only one jam. I even ran 150 rounds of steel-case Winchester through it with good results. I’ve heard other guys tell me that their ASRs worked perfectly right out of the box. So my takeaway is that you may get one that needs a 500 round break-in period. And while in an ideal world it would right out of the box every time, but I’m gonna break in any gun before I rely on it for a hunt or a “save my life” situation anyway. I do know that TNW test fires each sample before it leaves the factory.
TNW ASR Pack
If you’re going to get a TNW ASR, it makes sense to get the kit that includes the matching backpack. This pack is intended to be used both as a survival pack and the transport bag for the ASR. Te bag is designed with separate compartments to hold three 16-inch ASR barrels as well as separate bolt heads for the various calibers supported by your system. The bag retails for $99, and I think it’s a well worth the extra Benjamin.
In the photo below, you can see how the disassembled rifle is stored in the backpack, along with room for three extra barrels:
Bolt heads supporting caliber conversions and extra magazines are stored in the outside pouch.
The backpack is designed to allow the rifle to be carried with the barrel installed. So employed, the barrel pokes out the bottom of the backpack via a hole for that purpose. There are pros and cons to this arrangement, but if you decide to carry the carbine in this manner, it is important to keep some sort of cap on the muzzle to prevent snow or dirt from getting lodged in the barrel. A Velcro flap closes off the hole when not in use.
When testing this set up, I added some of the equipment I normally keep in a bug-out bag, including a tarp, bivy sack, hatchet, bush craft knife, sharpener, flashlight, saw compass, first aid kit, aluminum foil, contractor grade garbage bags, Lifestraw, two small Pelican 100 boxes filled with items for fire-starting, water purification, signaling and a few snivel items. Overall, the pack works well for this purpose.
When I first test-fired the TNW shop foreman’s privately-owned ASR samples in December of 2014 (see photo above), I really liked these handy little carbines and pistols. Of course, those guns were tuned and ready to go. When we got our T&E samples for the review, things were not as perfect, and it took us a while to warm up to them.
The long trigger initially led to lackluster accuracy. Frequent jams in one of the two samples – combined with the other sample’s scope debacle – initially lowered my confidence in the platform. However, rather than give up on the gun we soldiered on, tinkered with the barrel racket adjustment screw and scopes, and eventually got them both running pretty well.
Now that I have the kinks worked out and have accessorized the carbine, I’m really digging the ASR. The genius in the design: its simplicity and flexibility. Chief designer (and TNW owner) Tim Bero has serious talent as a gun designer. Whether you’re looking for a fun plinker that shoots cheap ball 9mm or a serious hunting rig in 10mm, the ASR has you covered.
The ASR’s take-down capability makes it a winner for its intended role as a “truck gun” or aircraft survival carbine. The ASR has earned a spot in my bug-out-bag for that wilderness survival situation that I hope never happens.
SPECIFICATIONS (U.S Models):
Barrel: 16.25 inches, 1 in 10 twist in 9mm, 40 S&W, .357 Sig; 1 in 16 twist for 10mm, .45 acp.
Overall length: 29.5 inches
Breakdown dimensions with barrel removed: 17.25 inches
Available calibers: 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, 10mm, or .45 ACP
Magazine configuration: GLOCK pistol style
Ejection: User adjustable to left or right handed
Weight: 5.5 lbs
Coating: Hard Anodizing
Action: Semi-automatic, direct blow back
Safety: Sliding safety and integrated child trigger lock
Includes: One Korean “KBI” Brand GLOCK-compatible 17-round magazine, upper and lower rail sections.
MSRP: $799, $675 at Brownells
RATINGS (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * *
Decent but not best in class: the ASR tends to be a picky date when it comes to the ammo it prefers.
Ergonomics * * *
Ergonomics suffer a bit due to the fact that the design goal is to keep the carbine small and light.
Reliability * * *
Now that I’ve worked out the parts compatibility issues and other kinks, the ASR is reliable. Both of our T&E samples needed a bit of a break-in period.
Cost * * *
The competition will be guns like the Beretta Cx4 Storm, the CZ Scorpion, Kel-Tec Sub-2000, and the Hi Point 995. The Hi-Point doesn’t support high-cap mags, and the Beretta and CZ cost more and aren’t as portable. The Kel-Tec does not have switch-barrel flexibility. Given the extra versatility the ASR provides, it’s a good value.
Overall * * *
A very solid effort, given its price point.