This article was originally posted on Breach Bang Clear here.
BLUF: Winning a raffle to attend DARC, the foremost CQB school in the country, informed the selection and configuration of my HK416 to enable a versatile set of capabilities.
In 2011 when I was a wee rookie of two years on the job, an unexpected cancellation of plans to attend a firearms class led to me having to suddenly find a replacement course to fill that spot in my schedule. I asked around, and on arfcom [ar15.com ed] I was directed towards a raffle being held to fill empty seats in a class at a school I’d never heard of before: DARC (pronounced “darcy”,) which is short for Direct Action Resource Center. Richard Mason (DARC Actual) was raffling off four empty seats in a class called LECTC1. I read the course description and thought it sounded awesome, so I looked at how to enter the raffle.
“Pick a number between 1 and 1000, and a random number generator will be used to determine the winner.”
I picked the number in Rich’s username, 54, and forgot all about it since I never win anything. A few weeks later, however, I got an email with the subject header “You won.” I looked inside and saw a link to the arfcom thread and a short message from Rich: “One of the winning numbers was 57, you guessed the closest.”
After panicking to grind some overtime for the extra time to take off for the extra week I’d need to attend the class, plus scrambling to make the last-minute gear purchases to get what I needed for class, off I went.
I came back having learned lessons that, among other things, would inform how I set up every serious use rifle in my stable going forward. That’s what we’re going to talk about here in this article. I tell that story about the raffle because as fate would have it, were it not for that chance of dumb luck in winning it, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this article for you tonight. That trip to DARC opened doors I still revisit and walk through to this day. So, having won far more than I initially realized that day, there’s some sentimental value in it. I’m happy to share some of that insight with you.
I came back having learned lessons that, among other things, would inform how I set up every serious use rifle in my stable going forward.
The focus of the article is going to be how I’ve come to configure my rifles in order to handle any problem that DARC (and therefore a real life scenario with active shooter/shooters) might throw at you while accounting for a few options with respect to the AR15’s modular nature. You can apply some or most of these to other platforms like the SCAR or MCX that are basically AR derivative. For simplicity’s sake however, I’m only talking about ARs, since that’s what most people doing CQB are using.
The DARC Grad’s guide to a properly equipped CQB gun
The core configuration I’ll be discussing is intuitive, easy to figure out, and therefore easy to replicate. Depending on how you have a laser situated, assuming you do have a laser, this arrangement will easily lend itself to ambidextrous use – though this will be further dependent upon whether you’re the shoulder-switching kind of guy or gal.
I will be using my ADM/HK416 (a multi-role primary weapon) to demonstrate.
The Rifle: HK416
The weapon is set up as follows:
▪ HK416 10.4” barrel upper receiver (BE date code)
▪ American Defense Manufacturing ADM4 lower receiver
▪ Geissele HKSMR MK15 M-LOK rail & MR556 trigger (on HK416 upper and ADM lower receiver, respectively)
▪ Knight’s Armament Ambidextrous Safety & BUIS (MK12/MK18 Front, Micro Rear)
▪ Radian Raptor Charging Handle
▪ Magpul ASAP-QD End Plate, MS1 Sling, & MVG
▪ HK E1 stock & V4 grip (stock spray-painted with Field Drab Aervoe, grip factory RAL8000)
▪ Elcan SpectreDR 1-4x 5.56 BDC (HK416 lower receiver)
▪ Surefire Warcomp CTN (Closed Tine) (HK416 lower receiver)
▪ Valhalla Tactical Rukh adjustable offset RDS mount (ACRO) 1.93″ height
▪ Aimpoint P-1 ACRO
▪ Surefire SOCOM556-RC2 Suppressor
▪ Surefire M600DF + DS00 tail cap
▪ B.E. Meyers MAWL-C1+
▪ UNITY Tactical TAPS Sync V1
Six Silent Men: Non-Verbal Considerations
Without getting into the weeds on the particular TTPs, one thing you come away from DARC LECTC1 with is a concept of alternative forms of communication. This is necessary where verbal either isn’t an option because of noise interference or it’s tactically ill-advised, to say nothing of radio silence being practiced with consideration toward possible IEDs.
I’m referring to hand signals, and not the kind where you’re looking at each other flashing gang signs. These are the kind you feel for in the pitch black because using your white light at that particular moment is also ill-advised.
So when you’re the guy holding long down the hallway and your team is communicating to you that they’re ready to move onto the next problem, you have to actually tell them where the next problem is, should it be located within the next two or three paces. (Any further than that and you’d just proceed down the hall as a stack and deal with the next problem as you come up to it.)
Your support hand needs to come off of your rifle in order to deliver the hand signal, but this could create a problem depending on how you have your weapon set up. If you have a tape/remote switch plugged into the back of your weapon light, and that switch is only capable of “Momentary” activation (meaning the light stays on only as long as you’re applying pressure to the switch,) you now have no way of keeping the hallway illuminated.
The bad guys may or may not know you’re there, but let’s assume they do. When the light goes off so you can hand signal to your team, the bad guys will know at the very least that while your gun might be pointed their way, you can’t see them. Now your situational awareness is all fucked up, and you’re at risk of getting shot at in a moment of vulnerability. This was a lesson taught on the receiving end of many force on force rounds (aka “bees” or “skittles”) for many a cop’s first night or two going through the DARC kill house.
As the saying suggests, “Pain Retains.”
Weapon Light Use on this (and other) HK416 CQB Carbines
In light of this (no pun intended,) I say having a constant on capability for your white light is an absolute must.
There are a few different ways to accomplish this:
- With a Surefire or Modlite weapon light, I can either run a push-button or “Clicky” tailcap switch and situate the light on the same side of my rifle my support hand rests on so I can activate it with my thumb.
- I can use a Surefire SR07 or UNITY Hot Button switch situated on the 1100, 1200, or 0100 sides of the rail (depending on whether you’re left or right-handed and whether or not a laser is present, and if your rail can accommodate it.)
The SR07 switch is a combo switch that contains both a momentary only pressure pad and a constant on clicky button built into one unit. The UNITY Hot Button is just a clicky button, but you can push it lightly for momentary only use, or give it a solid push to click it into constant-on mode.
The support hand on the weapon operates the pressure pad or lightly pushes the clicky button in such a configuration. However, if I have to deliver a hand signal, I can hit that clicky button hard to keep the weapon light on hands-free, allowing me to paint the direction I’m facing in lumens.
“But what about light-housing?”
For those in the audience wondering what that means, light-housing is when you keep your weapon light on constant as you search with your weapon (rather than manually strobing your light.) This removes any doubt as to where you are for anyone that can see where your light is pointed. It’s a calculated risk, but I would rather see who’s trying to sneak up and take a shot at me or at least use the light for area denial than hope they aren’t there laying in wait for the few seconds I let my guard down.
Those are two simple options for constant-on capability at the outright exclusion of momentary only pressure pads. This is what I would do in cases where I did not have an IR laser/illuminator attached to my rifle and my only option for fighting in the dark was with white light.
Get Both: The Third Option
There is yet one other option that allows for the use of a momentary only switch, and this is where the DS00 comes in. The Surefire DS00 basically combines both options of a clicky tailcap and a plug tailcap for running a remote switch, situated to the light itself. You can still run an SR07 combo switch or Hot Button to this, but you really don’t have to unless you just like the redundancy of it.
Either way, with a DS00 you can operate your momentary only remote switch (be it the standard Surefire variety or the Modlite ModButton) to your heart’s content. When it comes to going constant on, you move your thumb over to the rear of your weapon light, push in the clicky button, and you’re hot to trot.
As an added bonus, if for some God forsaken reason your remote switch’s power cable is severed after getting snagged on something, you’re not just shit out of luck. You have a hard backup attached to the light itself that will allow it to function regardless. Bear in mind here that you might need to adapt how you’re holding the rifle with your support hand or modify where the light is mounted to the rail for ergonomic purposes.
Frickin’ Laser Beams
When you throw a laser into the mix, things start to get more sophisticated.
Depending on whether or not that laser is IR only or IR + VIS, and whether or not it has an IR illuminator built into it (since there is no laser with a built in white light that’s worth a shit,) you have a couple of options on how and when you utilize said laser. Being that the B.E. Meyers MAWL (the KING!) has both IR + VIS lasers, and a kick ass IR illuminator built into it (which all together do an excellent job at defeating photonic barriers when compared to Class 1 alternatives and some Class 3 devices even, despite being a Class 1 device itself, hence “C1+” and why it wears the crown,) my set up accommodates all options, day or night. I say day or night because the VIS(ible) laser on the MAWL is daylight bright and lends itself well to certain situations where you might not be able to do things the old fashioned way.
Another ever-present scenario detail throughout one’s experience at DARC LECTC is the possibility of bad guys employing CBRNE [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive ed.] category weapons against the populace or first responders. Thus every run is done with a gas mask on.
Functionally, this provides PPE for your face while swapping paint. Psychologically it adds to the stress and eventual inoculation thereof…particularly when you can’t verbally communicate with each other as normal without screaming at the top of your lungs to sound off over the blaring metal music that is blasting from the speakers above.
If you’ve never worn a gas mask and tried to aim a rifle, be advised: it’s awkward as hell and not at all fun.
However, if you have any of the 1.93 in. -2.04+ in. height optic mount options from places like Geissele, ADM, or UNITY, it will be much easier to do so. Just understand that you’re limiting your rifle’s use capability to that CQB role because trying to prone out and take a far shot with a tall optic mount places noticeable strain on the neck. This is where the VIS laser mode of my MAWL comes into play.
Push the button: Laser & Weapon Light Activation
I got this idea from my buddy Jake Boudreaux, another DARC grad out of Louisiana, back when the first version of UNITY’s TAPS switch, the TAPS Pro, had initially come out. The TAPS Sync is an improved version of the previous TAPS, in that it doesn’t cause the weapon light it’s plugged into to dim as much as mine did, at the cost of deleting the “double-tap for constant on” capability, making it a momentary only remote switch.
However, due to the aforementioned DS00, that isn’t a problem. What the TAPS Sync allows me to do is activate either my white light only (Button 1) or my white light AND my laser when is set on VIS mode (Button 2.)
So now, if I’m in the dark but the decision has been made to forego NV and operate under white light, I can see AND aim at the same time. If we’ve located an innocent or unknown person in the house and my partner is searching them, I can (without flagging anyone, of course) just activate the white light to assist in that endeavor.
If I’m in a daylight setting, gas mask or not (as I was in May 2019 when I went to Forge Tactical’s Two Man CQB class in Alliance, OH), and I don’t feel like contending with the Elcan’s eye relief while on 1x, I can just as well choose to use the VIS laser alone.
Dark or light, when I use the laser to aim while in close quarters, I do so by canting the weapon 45-degrees or so on my shoulder as though I were using an offset MRDS. This puts the laser module at 12:00 relative to the barrel and only gives me an elevation mechanical offset to worry about. This is not unlike if I were aiming through any 1x optic in close quarters and dealing with the same, rather than the elevation AND windage offset made necessary by the way the MAWL hangs off to the side of the rail.
I’ve since supplemented that original 45-degree canted aiming method with an Aimpoint P-1 ACRO mounted to a 1.93 in. height Valhalla Tactical Rukh adjustable offset RDS mount. I had an extra ACRO laying around and was trying to think of something to do with it besides mounting it to a pistol (since I didn’t want or need a second RDS pistol.)
I had been thinking about how to achieve a solution for passively aiming night vision, and since the ACRO has NV mode settings, it made sense to use what I had. Passive aiming is where you aim by looking through your optic using a helmet-mounted night vision device. This avoids your IR laser and/or illuminator from telegraphing your location to an adversary that might also be equipped with night vision.
Originally I wanted to mount the ACRO right to the top of the Elcan. This would’ve put it in that 2.04 in. (-ish) height over bore, a height that is very conducive to passive aiming (it makes it a lot easier to line up the optic in front of your night vision).
That plan hit a dead end, however, and as fortune would dictate, I found a better way.
Get your offset on.
When the Valhalla Tactical Rukh adjustable offset RDS mount first came to my attention, it seemed like a cool idea. Particularly if someone wanted an offset RDS mount but couldn’t decide what angle they wanted to get one in (as of this writing, 45 and 60 degrees are the most prevalent options.)
Then it dawned on me that the adjustable offset angle meant I could set the ACRO on the same axis as my MAWL, and the 1.93 in. mount height would guarantee that the optic would clear the laser. This would provide an unobstructed sight picture.
So I grabbed one, got it set up, and tested it out with and without my NV on. Thankfully everything was cooperative.
What this means is I can:
▪ Leave the Elcan on its 4x setting for distant shots, ranging and PID [Positive Target ID ed.]
▪ Quickly rotate the rifle on my shoulder for a 1x optic with unlimited eye relief and reasonable height-over-bore to engage targets if they’re too far away for me to see my laser on
▪ Engage targets at close range, during the day, or at night in conjunction with white light
▪ Aim passively through it under night vision on the appropriate ACRO setting
With my current stock position and my TNVC Sentinels deployed, I have about a half-inch of standoff between the front of the NV and the rear of the Elcan. This was a very important relationship to check and make sure everything jived.
As expected, the added height of the 1.93 in. Rukh mount (situated immediately in front of the Elcan) puts the ACRO high enough that I can see through it passively with ease, without my NV crashing into the back of my optic or having to pick my head up too far off of the stock.
Looming over all of this is the matter of what some of us like to call Switchology.
Switchology is a phrase I learned from my friend Mark Wallach. It refers to the process of figuring out the arrangement of 2-3 different activation methods for lights and lasers on a weapon. The practice of Switchology can be a remarkable pain in the fucking ass, though it was definitely worse before the advent of the MAWL. The MAWL’s unique form provides an ergonomic solution and is one of the largest contributing factors to my selecting it personally.
With my MAWL on the HK416’s 12:00 rail and my M600DF white light situated directly under it on the 03:00 rail, my TAPS Sync sits on the 11:00 side of the rifle rail. It is situated there via industrial-strength adhesive Velcro placed on the rail and the back of the switch.
This particular approach to switchology is as ergonomic as it gets, and it also solves another problem yet to be considered and addressed: white light misfires.
AD or ND = Deadly. Even with white light.
I’ve already covered the two ways my white light’s activated between the DS00 and the TAPS Sync, which also fires the MAWL if I’m in VIS mode. But the TAPS switch itself doesn’t know when the MAWL is in VIS mode or if it’s in IR mode. So what’s to stop me from fucking up and hitting my Light + Laser button when I’m in the dark under NV and firing my white light, thus compromising my position during a stealth approach?
This is where delineation of controls comes in and is absolutely something the individual needs to work on until it becomes second nature.
I know that if I am working under NV, the ONLY two buttons I’m pushing on to help me see or aim are the ones built into the MAWL. Because the MAWL is in IR mode, and because there is no jumper running between the laser and the light, those buttons will only fire the MAWL’s IR laser and illuminator. Thus I know if I’m looking at the world in white phosphor (and I’m not aiming passively through the ACRO,) my rifle should be canted/rotated against my shoulder with the MAWL and ACRO at 1200. The only place my support hand’s thumb better be is riding at the 12:00 position on the rail, or just offset from it if I’m not needing to activate the laser.
Because this is vision dependent, it’s an easily remembered way to not fuck up.
It’s something you can work on in your spare time to get your “muscle memory” (or whatever you feel like calling it) up to speed.
So, we’ve figured out how to see and aim in the Day (Optics or VIS laser,) Night (White light + ACRO or White light + VIS laser, via a remote switch like the TAPS or onboard clicky button activation for the light,) and under Night Vision (ACRO or IR laser and illuminator VIA MAWL BUTTONS ONLY,) and what those decisions were made in regards to. What’s the rest of the stuff on the gun for? I’ll break it down.
Under the hood
HK416 Upper Receiver Group (URG)
The HK416 upper was chosen to be a dedicated suppressor host because that’s what it was engineered to do from the get go with its external piston operating system. It is THE Piston AR upper above all, without going into something entirely proprietary like a SCAR or a SIG MCX.
This isn’t an invitation to debate or discuss DI vs Piston. I lived those debates ten years ago. In 2020 both are good to go as long as you’re buying from a quality manufacturer. Do your homework and know what you’re getting out of either one, good and bad. Either way, your mileage may vary. This isn’t a must have but it’s definitely nice to have.
I picked the Elcan SpecterDR 1-4x because I liked it for its 1x capability and for the fact that it gives me an appreciable amount of magnification. This is necessary for PID and extended effective ranges. The Elcan’s 4x gives me what I need without the size and weight penalty of most of the reigning 1-6x low powered variable optics (“LPVOs.”)
This actually came in handy at Alliance when my battle buddy and I had to address a target at the end of a long hallway. It was about 25m away, too far for me to see my MAWL’s laser against, so when I braced against the corner I flipped the magnification selector to 4x and, now better able to see the target, put the rounds where they needed to go.
With the ACRO now in place, however, I can rely on the Aimpoint or the MAWL’s VIS laser for 1x stuff and treat the Elcan like a mini-LPVO, or a better ACOG. Again, your mileage may vary. Optics are a largely subjective matter.
21st Century Lower Receiver
I like the American Defense Manufacturing ambidextrous lower receivers because they provide a 100% ambidextrous capability to the rifle once you add an ambi safety and charging handle. I also like the ergonomics of their ambi control layout compared to other options available like LMT, LWRC, or Radian, which are all also 100% ambi.
With this modernized component, the rifle becomes completely lefty or righty friendly. In my case (I’m a righty) it makes malfunction clearing much less of a hassle − and malfunctions happen a lot Sims or force on force ammo. This gives me the ability to manipulate the bolt catch/release with my trigger finger in BAD lever fashion without BAD lever negatives (the lever isn’t in the trigger well or hanging off the bolt release paddle). I can simultaneously work the charging handle with my support hand as I normally would.
That is a big advantage. It makes locking the bolt back to strip a magazine during a feed malfunction a cinch. It’s also much less to think about under pressure and stress of everything else going on (during killhouse scenarios for instance.)
I understand the standard manual of arms may be ingrained into you, but if you’re curious, give it a try. It’s an easy way to streamline the process without any safety risks.
Look here and wait for the flash…
So much Surefire I can’t even.
No, seriously, Surefire has been the industry leader in weapon lights and suppressors for some time now, and it’s a reputation they’ve earned over the years. While new challengers to the throne are ever present and always popping up, it will not be a seat easily won. Given Surefire’s pedigree as a known quantity, and more importantly, the people they supply, I doubt they’re going anywhere any time soon.
The M600DF was a no brainer, being the next evolution from the M600U series that I’d already been using. The muzzle device, being a flash suppressor with some compensator capability, seemed interesting, and the closed tine variant was the recommended model for use on a suppressed short barrel.
Surefire suppressors are some of the most renowned combat rated suppressors available. I had the advice of many who’d relied on them in combat during the GWOT, so I purchased one in confidence.
My main motivation and what finally pushed me into getting a can situated and squared away was, again, DARC. I went back in Jan 2017 to retake LECTC1 as a refresher before finally attending LECTC2 in Feb 2017. The latter class incorporates live fire against bullet traps and was the first time I experienced live-fire with rifles in a CQB setting.
Understand, this isn’t like an indoor range where you have a long area of space in front of you where that concussion from the muzzle can travel away from you. Here, you’re in small rooms firing at targets right in front of you. That concussion will rattle your teeth when it’s bouncing off the walls after you or your battle buddy go loud with unsuppressed rifles. Hearing first hand the difference between suppressed and unsuppressed rifle fire in the DARC kill house was what finally made me go “Fuck this, I’m doing my print cards and getting my photos taken as soon as I can when I get home.”
Nine months later, I had my first two cans. If you have the option to suppress your rifle, do so.
Close Quarters Carbine
All in all, this rifle was put together with every lesson and eventuality I encountered as a student at DARC in mind. It’s not the lightest rifle I own, but weight is a game of give and take when it comes to this stuff.
- It doesn’t entirely accommodate shoulder switching because of the MAWL and M600DF location, but I was never a shoulder switching guy to begin with. I would rather expose myself a little bit more [yes, yes he would ed.] to get the extra stability of a shot made under duress than do it awkwardly and miss the shot entirely, even if I do lose the greater protection.
- It is sufficiently ambidextrous that I can work the weapon well enough after a debilitating injury to get myself to cover and/or a CCP.
- It is more (albeit not entirely) hearing safe without additionally fouling up the weapon.
- It can cover targets near or far, it can work in the day or the dark, and allows for my support hand to be used for multiple and clearly delineated functions even if I need to take it off the weapon for whatever reason while still covering down on a potential threat area that hasn’t been cleared yet.
Hopefully, you found this article helpful, particularly if you were stumped about how to set up your own rifle for similar problems. Or for that matter, if you’ve ever seen someone else’s rifle configuration for it (a similar HK416 or otherwise) and couldn’t figure out why it was set up that way.
Whether you’re a cop in an agency just venturing into the NV/IR realm or a civilian doing whatever you want since it’s your right cause ‘Murica and why the hell not, you should consider a NODs capability anyway (remember…MAWL)
Either way, the goal of this article was to give you an idea of what capabilities your rifle ought to provide if CQB (in the light, dark, or both) is a problem you’re looking to tackle, and just as importantly why.
Stay safe, shoot straight, and make it count.