With the rapidly expanding use of patrol carbines in Canada, many police agencies have logically turned to Colt Canada, manufacturer of the highly regarded Canadian military rifles, for law enforcement carbines. It responded to this demand with the new LE Patrol rifle, with innovative features ideally suited to the role.
Colt Canada stands out in a burgeoning market. Its products command a premium price and are relied on by numerous agencies over the many other law enforcement rifle choices. It's not just the firearms themselves but also the people who design and build them. Blue Line Magazine was recently given unprecedented access to Colt Canada’s plant and an opportunity to talk with the actual designers and engineers.
The company is not just a Canadian success story; it designs and manufactures outstanding products in a highly competitive field. Its small Kitchener, Ontario plant produces what military forces around the world consider to be one of the best rifles on the market. More than a quarter million have now been issued to troops in Canada and Europe.
Its 110 employees work around the clock. Two shifts manufacture, assemble or upgrade weapons for various clients and one shift is dedicated to testing and maintaining the machinery to sustain high standards of quality control.
Patrol rifle market
To say the market for AR-pattern rifles and accessories has exploded in the past few years is a bit of an understatement. Immensely popular with civilian shooters because of its solid and reliable design and military heritage, the biggest selling point is its modular construction, which allows for vast customizing opportunities. If you took every single part and accessory available for this platform and laid them all end to end… someone somewhere would buy them all.
AR-pattern rifles get their name from the original 7.62mm AR-10, designed by Eugene Stoner for Armalite, and the AR-15, a lighter 5.56mm version. Armalite sold the rights to Colt Firearms in 1958 and Colt first started manufacturing the AR-15 in 1959. When it was adopted by the United States military, the full-automatic variation was designated as the M-16, and Colt continued to market the AR-15 as a semi-automatic version.
Not without initial growing pains, the M-16 has now evolved into a combat-proven weapon with many variations, including the M-16A2 rifle and M4 Carbine.
On the commercial and law enforcement side of the market, there are now literally hundreds of companies manufacturing AR-pattern rifles or building them from parts. Open the pages of any gun magazine and you will see ad after ad for rifles at every price point. Some are the cheapest rifles you can buy, others are good for casual plinking and target shooting; better examples will withstand the rigors of competition weekend after weekend, and a rare few are built close to military (commonly called mil-spec) standards. There are literally more manufacturers and distributors of AR rifles than there could possibly ever be zombies to shoot.
Police officers aren’t playing games and don’t want rifles made by the lowest bidder. They don’t want parts originally designed for plastic airsoft guns. They need firearms that work reliably under the most trying conditions. If a part fails during a competition, one could drop a few points or lose a match; if a firearm fails in operational use, one could lose their life.
Regardless of what many gun magazine ads say, one cannot buy a true mil-spec firearm unless you happen to be the US military. The term is not just the standards that the rifle is built to; it also includes the inspections the military subjects it to before accepting it. Lots of commercial manufacturers may build to nearly the same standards or contain parts built to nearly the same standards, but the reality is that in the commercial marketplace, there is no one entity except the market itself to ensure quality and adherence to standards.
Colt Canada is different. Everything coming out of its plant not only exceeds mil-spec standards but is also tested to the much-tougher NATO standard for small arms, referred to as NATO-AC225/D14.
Originally called Diemaco, the company was purchased by Colt Defense in 2005. Diemaco manufactured a Canadian-only variant of the US Military’s M16A2 rifle under license for the Canadian military, designated as the C7, and a similarly made-in-Canada version of the shorter US M4 carbine, designated the C8.
One of the biggest differences between Colt in the US and Diemaco in Canada was how Diemaco made its barrels. Barrels for the US M16A2 rifle and M4 carbine are first machined from steel. A bore hole is then drilled through the middle and a button cutter drawn through the bore to cut the grooves in a process called button rifling. Diemaco felt that no matter how accurately a hole is drilled through the middle of a long piece of steel, there is always the possibility of a tiny amount of runout that could affect accuracy. It chose instead to make barrels using a cold hammer forge process.
In a cold hammer forge, short barrel blanks start from an oversized cylinder of steel with a hole larger than bore diameter drilled through the middle. The CNC-controlled cold hammer forge machine uses multiple hydraulic hammers to pound the steel into a very dense barrel, squeezing it almost like toothpaste under pressures exceeding 80 metric tons – about the weight of a passenger locomotive – to compress and draw out the steel barrel around a hardened mandrel inserted into the chamber and bore. This results in a barrel that almost doubles in length, with a very precise bore, and zero variation from end to end: from left to right is the mandrel with the 5.56 NATO chamber already precisely milled onto it, a barrel blank before forging, a barrel after forging, and a completed barrel threaded and machined to the correct length and profile.)
Once forged, each barrel is proof-tested, magnetic particle inspected and cut to desired length, then stamped with a serial number, caliber designation (5.56) and “CC MP” to signify it fully passed the magnetic particle inspection.
Ironically, cold hammer forged barrels are faster and cheaper to make than button cut rifled barrels – provided you invest many millions of dollars into a computerized cold hammer forge machine and the space (about the size of a small warehouse) in which to operate it, like Colt and a very few other manufacturers of high-quality barrels and firearms around the world have done.
(Interestingly, Colt Canada’s cold hammer forged barrels are still stamped with a highly coveted “D” proofing mark, which a representative explained is from both Diemaco and also the last name of the aerospace company Héroux-Devtek Inc, which owned Diemaco.)
Colt Canada was one of the first manufacturers to introduce a flat-top receiver on a military rifle. Again on the cutting edge, it is building an AR rifle with a completely integrated upper receiver, handguard and rail system, made from one solid piece of machined aluminum.
The monolithic upper receiver starts off as a solid block of cast aluminum, precisely machined to exact specifications. This integrated upper receiver (IUR) fits over top the barrel, solidly locked to the lower receiver but not making contact with the barrel in any way. This design leaves the barrel to free-float, enhancing accuracy. Accessory rails are also solidly part of the receiver; you can remove an entire upper receiver – complete with handguard, sights and accessories – and never lose zero. There is no need for expensive third-party rails and the upper rail is one unbroken piece from rear to front to maximize the accuracy of any sight mounting system.
A completely straight gas tube under the handguard can be simply removed straight out the front by removing one Allen screw, meaning you can replace a gas tube without taking off the IUR or needing to remove the front gas port from the barrel. Barrel cooling is never compromised by blocked off cooling holes in the handguards, which occurs with many aftermarket accessory rails.
One wear point identified by Colt Canada in endurance testing is the slot in the upper receiver where the charging handle latches in place. It uses a steel insert in this area to ensure the upper receiver will last the life of the rifle. Once mated to the barrel it forms one solid and accurate platform.
Even parts as simple as buffer tubes are precisely machined to very close tolerances on CNC milling machines controlled by expert operators. (The company cross-trains many employees on a variety of different stations.)
The end user can easily swap barrels in seconds depending on the mission, from a Close Quarter Battle 11.6-inch, Standard 14.5-inch and Extended 15.7-inch lengths. To remove the torqued barrel nut, the company provides a unique extended barrel nut socket.
This unique combination of a monolithic upper receiver that provides a solid sight platform and cold hammer forged, free-floating barrel results in enhanced zero retention and accuracy no matter the barrel length.
We shot the 15.7-inch barrel version of the LE Patrol and a 20-inch barrel DMR rifle with suppressor on Colt Canada’s 27-meter indoor test range. I don’t pretend to be much of a rifle shooter – and a slight astigmatism in my dominant eye means I don’t always see one clear dot through an Aimpoint (and often two to four, depending on how much sleep I've had or coffee I consumed that morning) – but I managed to get five rounds into one admittedly largish hole.
Jason Ross, Colt Canada’s Law Enforcement Sales and Training Coordinator, easily upped me by putting five rounds into a group so tight (.3 inches) that even the highly–accurate acoustic shot detector could not discern a difference between at least three of the holes.
Sensitive microphones are placed downrange to give a graphical display of accuracy, and every single rifle is test-fired for accuracy before being shipped. While I would not want to predict an actual MOA accuracy number unless I was able to confirm the exact distance from the bench we were using to the target, I would suggest the combination of a free-floating, cold hammer forged barrel and a monolithic upper receiver resulted in accuracy that is more than acceptable for a patrol carbine. It is certainly far beyond my capabilities for accuracy.
It should be noted that Ross beat my score by putting every round into an area less than the size of a dime while firing standard military ball ammunition and using an Aimpoint red dot sight with three-power magnifier, not match ammo or a telescopic sight.
There will always be a debate about whether police agencies need the strength of military weapons. Some say that a well-made, button rifled barrel can be just as accurate as a cold hammer forged barrel, and the average soldier or police officer does not need the potential for that slight increase in accuracy or much longer barrel life.
It's not the training conditions that a military-quality rifle may be used in on an optimum day (if there ever were such a thing) that convince so many large and small agencies to buy patrol rifles from Colt Canada, it's the conditions that may be experienced on the worst day.
The battle of Wanat in July 2008 was once described as the “Black Hawk Down” of Afghanistan. Forty eight US and 24 Afghan soldiers were outnumbered three to one while repelling attacks during a firefight that lasted more than four hours. Nine American soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in one of the bloodiest days of the Afghan war.
Surviving soldiers described how M4 carbines were suddenly thrust into the role of squad automatic weapons, as magazine after magazine was expended keeping the enemy from overrunning their position. Wounded troops continued to hand ammunition to the firing soldiers; weapon barrels turned white hot and some eventually jammed from nonstop firing. Later tests showed that M4s modified to fire full-auto could theoretically become so hot from firing in quick succession that the barrel literally melted and drooped.
Destructive testing of the C7/C8 under sustained full automatic firing by Colt Canada has shown that gas tubes would melt and handguards would catch fire long before a cold hammer forged barrel would even begin to lose its shape.
One NATO-AC225/D14 standard is testing for a worst case barrel obstruction – a bullet stuck in the bore only far enough to get shoved forward by a subsequent cartridge, making contact with the tip of the bullet behind it. Footage from one such test taken by Colt Canada’s locked off high-speed camera is both impressive and frightening. Destruction of the upper receiver and bolt was instant, but remarkably, the shooter would be likely to walk away with only minor cuts and bruises (and one hell of a flinch in the future!) The bolt protected the receiver from any flame cutting and detonation to rounds still in the magazine and the barrel was left intact. In fact, it could have been used to shoot tight groups… albeit with a noticeable bulge just past the chamber.
Above and beyond
NATO-AC225/D14 standards additionally address many areas not covered by US mil-spec. For example, Colt Canada tests every component and accessory for operability in intense heat, extreme cold and after being submerged in special NATO-standardized mud, clay, dust, sand and water. It also applies a wide variety of solvents that one could reasonably (or even unreasonably) come in contact with.
For example, the company cited one popular polymer magazine. Coat it with a common ingredient used in mosquito repellent, return in 30 minutes and the rounds will be all over the floor and the spring imbedded into the ceiling.
Colt Canada does not just do endurance and reliability testing on a few rifles. Depending on the contract, up to five can be pulled from every batch of 40 or 50 and subjected to a battery of tests, including sustained firing of 6,000 rounds.
Every one of the 110 employees take their job very seriously. Quality control is second to none and if an issue is found or suspected to be out of spec, the rifle is removed from the line and red-tagged for further investigation. Every single piece can be inspected and compared to exact dimensions on a comparator machine.
There are numerous top quality rifles on the police market, many less expensive, but when an agency chooses Colt Canada, it is not just paying for a rifle made to NATO-AC225/D14 standards; it's paying for the company's experience and after-purchase support, including armourer training, an extended warranty package offered to law enforcement agencies and a predictable parts replacement strategy.
It is paying for the strength of a cold hammered forged barrel and magnetic particle inspection of every barrel, barrel extension and bolt before it leaves the plant, guaranteed accuracy, extensive testing and inspections, a fanatical attention to detail and an intense desire to push the boundaries of excellence where “good enough” is not good enough.
As for Colt Canada’s parent, Colt Defense LLC in the US, there is plenty of friendly competition about who makes the best products. “Our forward thinking into research and development and our focus on R&D is a win/win situation,” says Colt Canada Project Manager for Research and Development, Chuck Franklin, with a smile. “We fit comfortably into theirs.”
“There are 110 reasons why” Colt Canada products are so highly regarded among police and military, says Jason Ross. “Every single employee of this organization is intensely proud of the work they do.”
As well they should be.