A few years back, the Army finally realized that it might be time to modernize their 60-year-old M-16 battle rifle. The gun has had minor tweaks since its introduction, but with all the advancements in modern technology their standard issue rifle was falling behind the curve. The call went out to manufacturers to produce a better rifle for selection as the next firearm of choice for the U.S. military — the Individual Carbine Competition. LWRC International is a smaller shop than the competition from FNH USA and Remington, but they came up with the best looking rifle out of the bunch: the LWRC IC-A5.
No one won that competition. There are some rumors about floating around about testing hijinks, but the long and short of it is that everyone “failed.” That’s bad for LWRC since they aren’t being paid ridiculous sums of money on a cushy government contract to produce these guns, but that’s great for you and me since now they’re offering that same rifle (minus the giggle switch) to the public.
There are three benefits to this rifle I want to highlight: the handguards, the operating system, and the controls.
LWRC offers this gun in two flavors: a 16.1 inch barrel variant, and this 14.7 inch upper receiver. with a pinned and welded flash hider (to make it NFA compliant). They also offer NFA versions for those with an SOT or who don’t care about getting their gun before next Christmas., as well as replacement upper receivers. That extra 1.4 inches of barrel will cost you 0.3 ounces in weight, FYI.
The barrel is free-floating within the handguards, which is great. A free-floating barrel dissipates heat to the surrounding air rather than transmitting it to the handguard and burning the shooter. It also helps with accuracy since there’s nothing impacting the alignment of the barrel and the sights, throwing things all out of whack.
LWRC’s handguards are pretty slick. In addition to all the usual benefits of a free floating handguard, they have some great features of their own. The handguards attach directly to an extended upper reciever rather than a barrel nut, which increases the strength and durability of the whole system. There’s a full length top rail for all your night vision and mall ninja needs, and there are threaded holes along the sides to allow you to mount extra Picatinny rails for whatever coffee makers or fax machines didn’t fit up top. I would have preferred to see some keymod attachment points or even MLOC in use, but LWRC went with screws instead.
There is one particularly great feature of note, though.
The handguard’s top comes off easier than a Florida State undergrad’s on spring break in Cancun. There are two captured screws at the front of the handguard that can be unscrewed either by hand (thanks to the oversized and ridged screw heads) or with the use of a flathead screwdriver. Once those are out to the stops, the entire top section lifts free and exposes the top of the barrel and the main parts of the operating system.
LWRC makes piston-powered rifles (with one notable exception). They use a short-stroke recoil system in their guns that keeps most of the hot and dirty gasses out of the action and out of the shooter’s face, which is nice. That piston system also increases the reliability of the gun, since the piston system in use is much simpler than Stoner’s original gas expansion system in the AR line of rifles.
The LWRC gas system is capable of being adjusted for either suppressed or unsuppressed shooting. Silencers tend to increase the back pressure in the system, causing an increase in the rate of fire for fully automatic firearms and increasing the cycle speed on everything else. This can lead to excessive wear on the gun and isn’t really a good idea. The adjustable gas system (which can be adjusted with nothing more than a spare 5.56 NATO round) is capable of reducing that back pressure so that the gun can cycle normally. Making that adjustment is a snap, even out on the range.
That piston system is cool, but that’s an operational enhancement and not something the average shooter will really notice on the range. Something they will notice: the fully ambidextrous controls.
When most companies say “ambidextrous controls” they mean there’s an ambi safety installed and you can reach the trigger from both sides of the gun. LWRC takes the idea much further, and their IC rifle actually reproduces all of the controls for the rifle on both sides of the gun.
I’ve seen magazine release buttons on both sides of a gun before, but a truly ambidextrous bolt catch mechanism is a new one. That bolt catch is fully functional, and works no matter which side you use. I like that, even though I’m right-handed.
The controls are good, but they aren’t perfect. One thing I didn’t like was the safety selector. The blade on the selector is a little small and rounded for my taste, and I didn’t feel like I could get a good purchase on the blade when I was toggling the safety on and off. Definitely not ideal, but an easily fixed problem.
Oh, and the trigger sucks. Just FYI. It’s a single stage “milspec” trigger and there’s some definite stacking there.
Out back, the stock is an LWRC original. Slightly more compact than the Magpul equivalent, the stock nevertheless fits firmly on your shoulder and rides comfortably while firing. There’s also a QD cup built into the stock for attaching slings and stuff, which is appreciated. I like it.
Overall, the firing experience is very good. The trigger is definitely a bit of an issue, but for when you need to “BUST ‘EM” Chris Costa style, that isn’t a deal breaker. Shooting 3-gun with the rifle is entirely possible — the gun handles very well despite being a little front-heavy (thanks to the gas system and handguards). No matter how many rounds I threw down the pipe the gun kept working, so reliability definitely is not a concern.
Out on the known distance range we start to run into some issues. I tested this rifle at 100 yards with Eagle Eye 69 grain .223 Remington ammunition (our gold standard for accuracy testing and official ammo sponsor), which is pretty close to perfect for this 1:7 twist barrel. I also tested the rifle with a variety of 55 grain and 77 grain projectiles, but the Eagle Eye ammo ran the best and produced the following 5-shot group.
I have a rule of thumb for accuracy: if the gun costs $1,000 or more, it had better be able to shoot 1 MoA. That’s a pretty generous yardstick in my opinion, but this rifle doesn’t get there. The best group I could muster was 1.756 MoA center to center.
Doing a bit of sleuthing, I think the trigger is the culprit. The vertical size is well within that 1 MoA range (0.722) so the ammunition is performing well and the barrel seems to be holding fairly close to true. The issue is that the group “walked” sideways, which typically means that the pressure on the trigger wasn’t consistent for each break. I get the feeling that with a nice crisp two-stage trigger this gun would perform much better.
Oh, what’s that in my gun safe? A limited edition LWRC rifle with a two-stage trigger and some other improvements? Well, we’ll have to get you out to the range to see if that trigger makes the difference, little buddy! Stay tuned!
Overall this is a great gun with some very good features, but the details leave a little to be desired. I appreciate and applaud that LWRC wanted to provide an in-house trigger with the gun, but as SIG SAUER has done with their recent rifle lines, outsourcing some of the parts to the professionals can really improve the situation. Getting a Geissele trigger in there instead of the in-house switch would be a huge step forward. I also understand why they went with a rounded, small safety selector, but I’d love to see a little larger, more aggressive blade to give me a bit more confidence that I can get that thing on and off in a hurry.
The LWRC is a worthy contender for the Individual Carbine competition, and a definite improvement over the M4 and M16 rifles that are being fielded right now. It meets the standards that the military set out for accuracy, reliability, and usability that they want in their next battle rifle. I would definitely take this gun into combat without a second thought. The problem is that here in the civilian market we are spoiled for choice when it comes to good AR-15 rifles. Durability is a secondary concern — accuracy is king. With some minor tweaks this might be just about perfect, but as-is it falls a little short of the other competitors in the market.
Specifications: LWRC IC-A5 Individual Carbine
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Weight: 7.25 pounds
Barrel: 14.7″ (16.1″ optional) 1:7 twist, cold hammer forged, fluted
Magazine: One 30-round magazine included, accepts standard AR-15 magazines
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * *
1 MoA for $1k, that’s my standard. The price tag on this gun blew straight past that mark, and the best I can muster is 1.7ish MoA. That’s not terrible, but it isn’t where it needs to be for the price.
Ergonomics: * * * * 1/2
The trigger is the reason this isn’t getting five stars for ergos. But even with the mil spec trigger, it’s still head and shoulders above a typical M4gery.
Reliability: * * * * *
Bang. Every time.
Customization: * * * * *
I would very much prefer to see a keymod or MLOC system on the rails, but LWRC provides three(ish) additional accessory rails in the box already. If you need more than that, you might want to re-think your setup.
Overall: * * *
Keep in mind that, according to our rating rubric, three stars means I’d be comfortable plunking down the asking price for one of my own. This isn’t some game review site where a 92% review is a game to be avoided — we use the whole scale. The IC-A5 is good, and definitely worth the money. A couple tweaks and we’d be talking four-star territory. This is just another example of a great gun being held back by substandard parts. The good news: those parts are easy to swap out.