The Sa. Vz. 58 is an excellent weapon system, but its stock configuration is admittedly a bit dated. Fortunately, there are quite a few firms that invested in modernization programs for the venerable little carbine. One of these, an Israeli firm named FAB Defense, makes Vz. 58 accessories authorized for use by the Czech military. The Mako Group distributes FAB Defense products in the United States, and was kind enough to send me some T&E samples so I could pimp out my Vz. 58. I’ve been running the FAB Defense products through their paces for two months and can now make a full report to the Armed Intelligentsia . . .
Prior to visiting their booth at SHOT Show, I will confess that I wasn’t very familiar with either FAB Defense or The Mako Group. I had seen some of their products at my LGS, but I had always lumped them in the category of UTG or Tapco, which is to say that I thought they made lower-end, budget-oriented products. Turns out I was very wrong in that assessment, both in terms of quality and price. I think I had them confused with CAA or something.
Well, after doing some research I found out that FAB Defense is primarily a manufacturer of high-end weapon accessories for the Israeli military and police forces, including many of the Israeli Special Forces units. FAB Defense got its start in 1961, so they aren’t some Johnny-come-lately company trying to take advantage of the tacticool craze.
Truth be told, the Israelis pretty much invented tacticool – in the early 1980s they were working on ergonomic grips, stocks, slings, and other war fighter equipment for grunts. This was at a time when the U.S. special operations community were mostly using G.I. issue ALICE gear and generic M-16s and Colt Commandos. In fact, a fair amount of what the U.S. special operations forces community learned about this type of specialized equipment was gleaned from bilateral operations with Israeli military units. Let’s face it, in that pre-9/11 world of the 1980s and 90s, the Israeli military was getting more combat experience than the rest of the free world combined.
In any event, as it relates to the Vz. 58, FAB Defense was the first company to offer a full range of modern tactical accessories to increase the effectiveness of this Czech weapon system. The Czech military has approved these accessories for use by their military, and various components had been fielded by Czech Special Forces units deployed in Afghanistan since 2004. So let’s go down the list of specific products:
Gen II VFR-VZ Quad Rail System
When the full-length AR quad rails first hit the U.S. market I really hated them. From the perspective of a former grunt, all I saw was an uncomfortable, sharp, pointy, heavy, cheese-grater apparatus that would ensure that a seven-pound rifle would end up being a eleven-plus-pound rifle once a bunch of doo-dads were hung on it. And it would be hard to clean.
For someone who had to carry a rifle at the ready for 10-20 miles a day, the motto “light is right, heavy is wrong” certainly applies. Of course, I would state my opinion about AR quad rails in conversations with staff and customers at the LGS, but largely to the disapproval of all the gun-store commando fanboys who thought that these rails were coolest thing since sliced bread. Fast forward 10 years or so and I feel vindicated seeing the next generation rails such as Keymod coming in lighter and leaner than previous generations.
As much as I hated those old full-length quad rails on M-16s and M-4s, lately I’ve been testing out the shorter quad rails on AKMS systems such as the M+M M-10 and the Vz. 58, and for some reason they don’t bother me nearly as much. Maybe my former grunt-centric thinking, 20+ years removed from my current desk-jockey reality, has faded. Maybe the new rail covers on the market sufficiently mitigate the objectionable feel. Or perhaps I am accepting of these rails in my subconscious because I know – deep down – that AKs and Vz. 58 really need that top rail for optics in order to make up for those crappy combloc sights.
In this case, I’ve been testing the rail in conjunction with the Fab Defense “PTK” Ergonomic Pointing Grip and “VTS” (Versatile Tactical Support) grip and I really love everything about the combo.
As far as I know, the VFR-VZ is the only military-quality aluminum MIL-STD-1913 quad-rail system available in the U.S. for the Vz.58. These rails are precision machined from solid blocks of aviation-grade 6061 T6 aluminum, and are hard-coat anodized. The top and bottom sections of the rail attach to one another using four Allen screws, in a clamshell design. Installation takes less than two minutes, and the rails can easily be removed for cleaning. The fit is very snug, and, as a result, the rail can be removed and reattached without experiencing any significant POI shift. In my testing, the POI shift after removal was less than ½ MOA at most, and in some cases was imperceptible.
Perhaps the best feature of the VFR-VZ is that it redirects gases that would otherwise escape between the space between the top and bottom handguards so that they vent out away from where the operator would normally hold the fore-grips. In the photo above, gases have left powder on my hand using a North Eastern Arms top rail. I never felt the hot gas, but as you can see from the photo, I got powder residue on my hands from shooting the rifle. The FAB Defense rail redirects the gas away from the shooter’s hands so this doesn’t happen.
The VFR-VZ does not allow you to co-witness your iron sights with your optic. I’m usually a big fan of rails that get your optic as low as possible. There is a school of thought amongst rail designers, however, that takes the position that the “low” rails such as those made by UltiMak and NEA allow the optic to get too hot, which can damage the optic. You see the issue discussed on internet boards as a “thermal cycling,” whatever that means. I’m not sure what to make of that argument, other than to say I’ve never had an optic fail on me because it got too hot.
Nonetheless, FAB Defense has taken a conservative approach in designing their VFR-VZ, by giving it thermal buffering properties. There are two aspects to this: the FAB design holds the optic higher away from the gas tube, but more importantly, the rail is designed to redirect gases out the front so the rail does get as hot as quickly. They make an effort to solve the co-witness issue by milling out a path down the middle of the top rail. If the optic fails, it can be quickly removed while leaving the rail in place and then using the iron sights as a back-up. Although I don’t have mine set up this way, ideally I should get a QD mount so I can remove it if it the optic fails.
My sample has four QD sling swivel connectors built into the rail. However, I couldn’t get them to hold tight even though I used two different brands of QD sling mounts. These same mounts did correctly interface with the QD sling swivel connectors built into the Fab Defense buttstock. I called the Mako Group and they told me that my sample is from an older batch that featured sockets that are built to a foreign standard QD swivel. The QD sockets on the more recent handguards have been changed to the American size, but it may takes a bit of time before the stock turnover replaces all of the older versions in stock. If this is a big deal, make sure you get a newer one. In the meantime, I’m hoping I can find some QD mounts that work.
Priced at $300, I’ll be the first to admit that the FAB Defense quad rail isn’t cheap. But overall I prefer it to the North Eastern Arms rail combo, which comes in at $220. Having said that, I do appreciate the slimness and light weight of the NEA system. But for the extra $80, the FAB Defense offers more versatility and better return-to-zero capability. Overall, the FAB Defense delivers the goods in a first class manner, the QD connector issue notwithstaqnding. Unless you’re focusing on maximum weight reduction for your Vz. 58 build, conscious, I’d go with the FAB quad rail.
Fab Defense UAS-VZP Folding Buttstock
The Fab Defense UAS-VZP folding buttstock is another serious piece of kit. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, and the pessimist in me thought that a polymer hinge was going to be a rather shaky and delicate “Tapco-esque” affair. Nothing could be further than the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily mean to bash Tapco. I own an inexpensive Tapco “Galil” folding stock for my 1992-era MAK-90, and it’s fine for what it is (a civilian range toy). And in fairness, Tapco never intended their stock to be military-grade hardware, nor do they charge you a price as if it were. But if you need a more rugged unit intended to take serious abuse, the FAB Defense folding stock is the ticket.
I could tell from the moment I first picked it up that this stock is built to last. Indeed, it’s currently in military service in the Czech Republic and other countries. But quality comes at a price, and this puppy will set you back $144.00. It’s worth it.
One of the hallmarks of a good folding stock is that it’s rock-solid when deployed. The FAB Defense stock passes that test: absolutely no wobble, no slop, no worries. In fact, once it’s deployed and you are on the sights, you can’t tell it’s a folding stock at all.
Another feature that really rocks is the adjustable cheek piece. By depressing a spring-loaded lever, the operator can move the cheek rest up and down over a 1½-inch span. This way, you can set the stock for use either with optics or iron sights. The system is completely ambidextrous (reversible) insomuch as the operator can switch the hinge on the stock so that the stock will fold to either to the left or right. I wasn’t really thinking much about it when I first installed it, but the more I do, I think I will switch mine over so that it folds to the right.
Apparently, FAB Defense makes these buttstocks in two versions: one which a polymer hinge ($144) and another with a steel “Galil” hinge ($436). The steel “Galil” hinge version is an adaptation of an AK-47 buttstock that FAB Defense developed at the bequest of the Israeli “Shayetet 13” naval special operations unit (their version of the SEALs).
Shayetet 13 runs AK-47s equipped with FAB Defense buttstocks, but they insisted on steel buttstocks. The Galil hinge is an excellent design, but it can’t be replicated in polymer without compromising the strength and rigidity of the hinge, as in the case of the Tapco unit. In this case, the metal hinge is actually manufactured by IMI for FAB Defense, and FAB pays a steep royalty to use it.
There is only one aspect of the FAB Defense stock that may be a compromise. Unlike, say, and Arsenal folding AK stock, the FAB Defense stock doesn’t lock into place in the folded position. Rather, it’s held by spring tension and a cam. The advantage to this design is that the stock can be deployed in seconds with virtually no fumbling or fuss. The disadvantage is that you really can’t add a sling to the end of the stock without adding some sort of home-made jury-rigged Velco strap to hold the stock in place while carrying.
Whether or not this is a big deal to you will depend on how you intend to carry this weapon. Certainly, one school of thought is that not locking in the folded position is preferable from a fighting standpoint. This allows the stock to be popped out to the open position. The Galil-hinge version has a sling loop at the rear of the receiver. The polymer-hing version of the UAS stock is a modular system that can be configured to fit a number of different weapons in different configurations, with only one component specific to each weapon.
On the polymer hinge version, I would tend to keep the sling configured for fighting, not for carrying it folded. However, if the sling is attached near the rear of the receiver and stock configured to fold to the right, the sling is right for carrying both folded and extended. The IDF uses 550 cord to attach slings – it is quiet and works well, and can be attached almost anywhere. I think I will attach the sling near the back of the receiver using a screwed-in sling swivel, and set the stock to fold to the right.
AG-58 Pistol Grip
The pistol grip that comes standard on the Vz. 58 is your typical combloc affair: it was made for your average 5’6’’ underfed Warsaw Pact conscript. For $33 bucks, the FAB Defense AG-58 pistol grip is a no-brainer upgrade. Not only is it ½-inch longer than the stock commie grip, it has a comfortable ergonomic design with textured finger groves. This gives the operator a secure grip, even in wet conditions. It’s got a built-in storage with removable cushioned battery holder. It comes in three colors: black, green, or flat dark earth (aka: tan). I say “two thumbs up” as compared to the stock version. Well, not literally, but you get my drift. And apparently, the Czech military agrees: they issue it to their troops who still use the Vz. 58.
“PTK” Instinctive Pointing Foregrip and “VTS” (Versatile Tactical Support) Grip Position Support/Handstop
OK, I’ve saved the best for last. For the past few years, the hot ticket is to run an angled foregrip. FAB Defense was one of the first firms to introduce the general concept; in the form of the potato–shaped Miki flashlight holder.
But most U.S. shooters really learned of the concept because of the Magpul AFG, which came on the market in 2010. Designed by Chris Costa and Travis Haley of Magpul Dynamics, the AFG represented an effort to move away from vertical foregrips to more ergonomic solutions consistent with the style of shooting that they taught in their training classes. I bought a Magpul version of the angled foregrip for a Rock River AR a while back, and in my opinion, the FAB Defense design is superior, especially when running it in conjunction with the VTS grip position support/handstop.
The PTK improves on Magpul’s design concept, both by improving the ergonomics and by adding the VTS thumb support. The PTK grip allowed the shooter to maintain a natural body stance while implementing the combat proven Israeli Special Forces instinctive shooting method, which places emphasis on “point and shoot” techniques. In this regard, the PTK ensures that the index finger is rested on its own as close as possible to the hand-guards, while the rest of the hand maintains natural angle to prevent wrist fatigue. When combined with the VTS on the side of the rail as a thumb support, I can tell you that the combo is damn comfortable and ideal for quick shooting drills.
In addition, the PTK provides an additional compartment to store cleaning supplies or a spare AA battery. I mention that more fore sake of completeness than anything else, since in my estimation those little goodie compartments are not that critical of a feature. YMMV.
Both the PTK and the VTS are made durable polymer composite material, and can be found in black, green and Flat Dark Earth (aka: tan). The PTK retails for $41, but I’ve seen it going for as low as $30. The VTS comes in a 2–pack that retails for 18 bucks. I like the PTK and VTS combo so much I’m gonna outfit a few more of my AR and AK rifles with them.
So, in retrospect, with all these great products, I’ve been wondering why FAB Defense hasn’t been on my radar. Well, FAB Defense definitely has not followed the latest trends in aggressive uber-cool marketing in the U.S., which seems to involve a formula featuring tatted up hipster chicks and bearded lumberjack-looking dudes (a la Noveske, AAC) or building fancy display vehicles of questionable utility (a la Magpul, Surefire). Nah. That’s not the Israeli way. Nor Has FAB Defense shelled out big bucks to celebrity gun-gurus like Larry Vickers to advertise their products on TV.
I get the feeling that U.S. civilian sales have been incidental for them; meeting the requirements of their military and law enforcement customers seems to be their biggest focus. If I had to guess, I’d say that the shit is still too real over in that part of the world for Israelis to have time to focus their efforts on creating brand identity aimed the U.S. civilian market.
Case in point: when you look through their catalog you will find that some of their products are catering to fulfilling a rather narrow, client-generated need. As an example, there aren’t going to too many Americans that need a $200 AR-15 tire deflator muzzle attachment that will deflate a car tire in seconds and has shoot-through capability. But in Israel, it’s apparently a pretty useful tool for ruining some Johnny Jihad’s day.
Two final bits of advice when buying FAB Defense stuff. First, buy them directly from Mako Defense’s website or some other authorized retailer located in the United States. Mako Group is the exclusive distributor for FAB Defense products in the U.S. The folks at Mako Group are pretty solid and, based on my experience, you can expect good customer service from them. However, it’s my understanding that competitor companies based out of Israel, such as Zahal.org and Israeli-Weapons.com, do not have the proper import licenses to sell gun parts in the U.S. At times, gun parts sent from them get stuck in customs, and that can take months to resolve. Also, there have been cases where folks in the U.S. buy grey-market products directly from companies in Israel, get shitty (and slow) customer service, and then expect Mako Group to handle returns and exchanges. Don’t be that guy.
Second, be advised of the fact that, like Magpul gear, you will occasionally see counterfeit versions of FAB Defense products on the market. If the price on eBay seems too good to be true, it probably is.