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AR-15 Decision: A2 or Flattop/A3?

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by BryanP, Oct 18, 2003.

  1. BryanP

    BryanP Well-Known Member

    I keep wavering on the choice of whether to buy a standard A2 upper or a flattop and a detachable carry handle. I'm looking for input from people who own either or both. From what I understand, the pros & cons are -

    A2 / Integrated Carry Handle

    Pros - Less expensive. Structurally stronger. Larger area to stick your hand in to the handle.

    Cons - Awkward if you want to mount a scope.

    A3 / Detachable Carry Handle

    Pros - Quick & easy switch of detachable carry handle / iron sites & whatever else you want to mount in their place. Larger area

    Cons - More expensive. Structurally weaker. Smaller carry handle hole.

    Are there any other advantages and disadvantages that I'm missing?
  2. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Moderator Emeritus

    Never heard of anyone calling the A3 "weak" or the A2 "stronger." This is not a serious consideration. IMHO, unless you must fit specific competition rules that dictate an A2 configuration, you should always choose the A3 model.
  3. BryanP

    BryanP Well-Known Member

    The book I read that in was referring to soldiers using their AR's to get past razor wire by laying the rifle down and stepping on it. It claimed that the integrated carry handle made the upper receiver much stronger for stresses of that nature. And I agree, it's not terribly relevant. Of course, if I buy some of what I just made an offer on (flattop) I'll have a true FrankenAR, with parts from DPMS, Bushmaster, Rock River Arms and Century Arms all in one. Maybe I'll put it in a vise and fire it the first time by pulling a string from around the corner. :)

    Thanks for the input, BTW.
  4. Hkmp5sd

    Hkmp5sd Well-Known Member

    Put it this way....

    I don't know anyone that has purchased the Flattop and wished they'd purchased the A2. I know several folks that bought the A2 and wished they'd bought the flattop.

    If may not matter now, but there is a high probability that you will want to attach something to it down the road. Go with the flattop.
  5. 444

    444 Well-Known Member

    I can think of very few reasons to buy an AR15 with a standard carry handle. I own a few of them. On two of them, I don't care. But, if I was buying ONE AR, without question it would be a flat top.
  6. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    HKmp5sd - Count me as one who purchased the A3, and wished for the A2. Shortly after getting it, I decided I wanted to shoot in Service Rifle competitions. Not possible, as the detachable carry handle bumps you to Match Rifle.

    Not that big a deal, as I still shot in a number of small local matches to get my feet wet, and am ordering a competition-specific A2 upper. As Steve said, unless there is something like that, the A3 is way more versatile.

    As far as the carry-handle goes, I carried M16A1s and M16A2s quite a bit, and almost never used the actually carry-handle. Road marches were about the only exception, and as a civilian I don't have to do those any more. :D
  7. ACP

    ACP Well-Known Member

    BryanP -- I went through the same thought process as you a few months ago and ended up getting an A2 fixed carry handle.

    Here are my thoughts/reasons:

    1. It's classic. You'll see on AR15.com and other sites there are many members who are getting sick and tired of seeing M4'd flattop forgeries with pounds and pounds of equipment hanging off the ends -- for what? These guys aren't even in the military and they're attaching $350 Surefire lights, IR devices, forward grips, RAS, etc. What you end up with is a self defense carbine that weighs more than an M1A. I think folks who get an AR flattop figure they NEED to add all this stuff to it, since it's a flattop.

    2. What's the purpose of your rifle? Mine is for self defense and plinking under 140 yards or so. Why 140 yards? Because that's the lethality limit (i.e. tumbling limit) of the 5.56 M193 cartridge out of my 16" M4 profile barrel. I don't plan on shooting my AR at 200 or 300 yards, and I don't varmint hunt. If you do plan on doing either of those things, then get the flattop -- it makes mouting a scope easier.

    3. You can easily mount optics on an A2 rifle -- just look at the newspapers for photos from Iraq. Plenty of folks mount their optics -- I'm talking about red dot sights, EOTECHs, etc. -- atop the carry handle, or cowitnessed with the iron sights in front of the carry handle, above the handguards. ARMS and others make mounts for this (the forward mounting option uses what some call a "gooseneck" mount.) Mouting atop the carry handle doesn't require too funky a cheek weld, plus you can get a "Delta" style cheekpiece if you want (about $70). It's also gives you a nice, erect "heads up" style of sighting that I believe gives you more situational awareness and peripheral vision in self-defense scenarios, though others will tell you it places you head too high and makes it too easy a target, which is a criticism of the M16 A2 sight style anyway (at least to some). But the A2 sight works great for police and military wearing helmets and gas gear.

    4. The A2 sight IS tougher becasue it's integral to the receiver. No one can tell me that a thumb screwed anything is tougher than seamless aircraft grade aluminum. This was one of my main concerns, especially in a self-defense scenario. What if I drop the rifle? Bump it on a wall? It slides down the stairs with me? I have to whack someone with it, then sight and fire at a target some yards away? Is a screw-on A3 going to survive that? I bet the answer is 99.9 percent yes. Do you like 99.9 percent odds? What if you have taken the A3 off and just mounted a red dot or a low magnification sight there? Will that survive? On an A2, you can have a sight mounted up top or in front, and if it's ever knocked off, the battery dies, or it is knocked out of alignment, you still have the irons.

    5. YES, you can and should buy back up irons for an A3. have you ever priced them? If you think an A3 sighted AR is $80 to $100 more than an A2, try adding the price of a rear flip-up sight and/or a front/rear combo. Ouch.

    6. Want to go with a short barrel/A2 fixed sight, and a longer barrel/A3 flattop for possible precision shooting in the future? That's one of the beautys of the AR system -- Just buy another upper receiver! You can even buy it in another caliber!

    To sum it all up, what is the purpose of your rifle? Self defense? I'd go with an A2. Plinking? I'd go with an A2 with a red dot sight. Varmints? A3. Targets? A3.
  8. 444

    444 Well-Known Member

    "These guys aren't even in the military and they're attaching $350 Surefire lights, IR devices, forward grips, RAS, etc. What you end up with is a self defense carbine that weighs more than an M1A."

    This is a common internet myth circulated every time a thread like this comes up. I have an AR15 with a Aimpoint ML2, a KAC RAS II, and Surefire 900 series light on it. It weighs a little over 8 pounds. An M1A weighs 9.2 pounds. The 16" AR with nothing on it weighs 7.22 pounds. Since when do you have to be in the military to have an effective sighting system ? Since when do you have to be in the military to have the right to identify your target with a light ? If you are using an AR for personal defense, these are exactly the items you need.

    Hogwash :rolleyes:
  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Moderator Emeritus

    All of you posted excellent replies. I personally have an A2 as my fighting rifle, but that is becuase I use the A2 sights in competition constantly and the platform feels like part of my body. If I weren't so used to using an A2 I think I'd pick an A3.
  10. Hkmp5sd

    Hkmp5sd Well-Known Member

    Every AR without a 3-position selector switch is a M4 forgery. Just because a civilian wants to mount attachments to their semi-automatic M4 forgery doesn't mean they have no practical use for them.

    Me too. That's why mine has a 14.5" barrel on it. That extra 1.5" of barrel just weighs too much. :)
  11. ACP

    ACP Well-Known Member

    444, I always respect your input here, so let me clarify. I'm not saying someone with self-defense considerations doesn't have the same need to identify and deal with a life threatening situation as the military. I believe in learning and taking cues from military and law enforcement experience. But I believe the A3 design lends itself to more, ummm, expensive and perhaps needless customization. That's a personal choice, of course, and we can debate that as well as the pros and cons of stock 1911s and Model 19s versus highly customized ones, whether it's the man or the gun, etc. I just don't see too many photos of A2 all tricked out; I see quite a few A3s like that. I'm glad you weighed your improved A3; BryanP should take that into consideration. I guess I'm happy with my simple A2, though I'd like to get an ARMS mount and an Aimpoint or an EOTECH for Christmas. That's about all I'd do to mine for self defense purposes. But, that's what THR is all about -- different experiences, opinions, input, and letting the reader make his/her decision.
  12. Texas Gunman

    Texas Gunman Well-Known Member

    I was always told A2 is more of military assault rifle, while the A3 is for civilian varment shooters.I dont care much for the A3, so I went wwith what I had exsperience with, well sorta, I used a A1 in the army, but I like the A2 sights better, so I went with a bushy A2 shorty, dont have any regrets doing so.

  13. 444

    444 Well-Known Member

    ACP:Yeah, my problem is that I own to many AR15s. The last one I put together was an attempt to make it light and simple. I can understand that philosophy. The only two gadgets I have on it are a tac sling and a tritium front sight.
    The thing about getting the detachable carry handle is that you don't have to modify the rifle in any way if you don't want to, but if you later decide to do so, you can. As you mention, having a carry handle doesn't prohibit you from doing stuff, but having the rail makes it easier. I just think the flat top gives you more options. I like options.

    I sometimes like to pull chains on here, so don't take it personally.

    "I was always told A2 is more of military assault rifle, while the A3 is for civilian varment shooters."
    The military is going with the flat top and optical sights, or I should say the Army is.
  14. TechBrute

    TechBrute Well-Known Member

    I think the correct answer to the original question is: buy both.

    Buy the A2 first, so you'll be able to hit the range right away. Then buy yourself an A3 upper and configure it how you want.
  15. Hkmp5sd

    Hkmp5sd Well-Known Member

    FWIW, all of my AR/M16 uppers are A2s. My personal preference is the original fixed handle. But then, I also like the triangular handguards. I must be a little old fashioned.

    Most others I know prefer the A3 upper due to its versatility. TrapperReady is the first person I've encountered that bought the A3 and wished it were the A2.
  16. TechBrute

    TechBrute Well-Known Member

    I have a Colt SP1 all original rifle with the triangle hanguards and A1 upper with no FA. I also have several FrankenARs that I've built myself, all with 16" A3 uppers. I mostly shoot the A3s, and they all have BUIS on them, too.
  17. Swamprabbit

    Swamprabbit Well-Known Member

    Personally, I own 3 ARs and all are of the A2 variety. One is strictly for high power competition so I guess it really doesn't count for this discussion. As for the other two, one is a 16.5" and the other a standard 20". Frankly, I have been perfectly happy with the A2 uppers. I have had lots of experience with a flatop on a "varmit" style AR with a 24" barrel. In that setup, the flatop was a necessity. I have made several good hunting shots with my A2s and don't feel that I am lacking anything. To me, if you have a flattop, you also need either a detachable or fold-down front sight for it to have the most value.
  18. BryanP

    BryanP Well-Known Member

    I was originally sold on an A2 because I'm an iron-sights kind of guy, but I just found a potentially very good deal on a flattop 20" w/chrome-lined barrel. If it pans out I don't know if I could bring myself to pass it up. I don't have any particular desire to compete against others in any kind of target shooting so that's not a factor. Plinking and home defense are my applications. Silly question: Do the detachable handle sites work as well as the integral?

    Oh, and I anticipated the "get both" responses. One of the reasons I didn't bother posting this question over at AR15.com is that after a few searches that appears to be the stock answer. Sorry, I love firearms but I have other priorities and hobbies as well. Whichever upper I get will likely be all I have for quite a while. If I do get a second one it would probably be a .22lr.

    Thanks again for everyone's input.
  19. ACP

    ACP Well-Known Member

    BryanP, one last thing: if you REALLY want to stick your foot in a bucket, ask this question: should I get an AR or an AK? Or an M1A? FN/FAL? Mini 14? 20" barrel or 16" barrel? Sling it or not? Bushmatser, Colt, Armalite, or Rock River? You can spend days at your keyboard... :)
  20. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    BryanP - I can only speak to the sights on my Colt A3-style. They have worked fine all year for highpower shooting. The adjustments are immediate, consistent and accurate and I've had no problem with them losing zero even if I remove and reinstall the handle.

    Operationally, they function the same as the A2 sights, although there may be a couple small caveats. At least for Colt, there are some slight differences in the adjustments. For example, the detachable sights have a smaller adjustment increment (which is a good thing -- allowing for more precision).

    I have read, although not experienced, that at the longer ranges (600 yards or so), that you can run out of elevation adjustments. I'll have to check, but I think the A2-style sights have markings for out to 800 yards while the A3-style goes to 600 yards.

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