Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rare Weapons - Stoner 63

The Stoner 63 was designed by the one of the most loved (by some) of all firearms designers, Eugene Stoner, who is most famous for bringing us the AR-15 series of weapons. The Stoner 63 was one of the first weapons to be designed with modularity in mind. From the outset, it was intended as a weapon that would fill the roles of a rifle, carbine, automatic rifle, and light machine gun.
The original prototype was called the M69W, because the receiver is actually turned upside down in the AR and LMG configurations and M69W reads the same upside down. Clever.

The Stoner 63 was ultimately made in 8 different versions although it was often produced as a system with all the barrels, stocks, pistol grip/trigger groups and everything else in the photo above.The main idea was for the weapon's receiver to be invertible to allow it different modes of feeding. As a rifle or carbine, it was fed from the bottom mounted, 30 round, detachable box magazine. In Automatic rifle or Bren gun configuration, it fed from the same type of mag, top mounted. Then the machine gun variant was used its own proprietary disintegrating metal links. Drums and plastic boxes were used, with a 100 to 200 round capacity. Unlike the AR-15, the 63 is operated by a gas piston, which increases weight and felt recoil, but makes the weapon operate cleaner, cooler, and somewhat more reliably.

Automatic Rifle "Bren gun" configuration

If you are not familiar with military small arms you might be thinking to yourself, why the hell is the magazine coming out of the top of the gun? To answer that we go back to WWII. The best of the magazine fed light machine guns or automatic rifles was a Czech design used by the British and Commonwealth forces known as the Bren gun. There are several advantages to the top down magazine system. Namely, you can mount a larger magazine and still go prone. Also the magazine gains some reliability by feeding with gravity instead of working against it. Usually the sights are offset to the right so you can see them clearly.

Stoner LMG with right side feed and short fluted barrel

The belt fed version is the most interesting in my opinion, it is one of the first belt-fed, intermediate caliber light machine guns ever made. For light infantry or special operations troops, this was an important step. In 1963, the M1919 Browning and BAR were still in use.
Not even hard asses can carry either one of those very far without wishing it were lighter. And while the 5.56mm gives up some power and range, you can carry about three times as much. For small units, operating far from resupply, this could be vital. If you look at photos of the Navy SEALs from Vietnam, some times you will see a group and they are all carrying multiple belts of 5.56mm, so that they can achieve high volumes of fire to offset being a small group. Unlike earlier weapons used by US forces, the 63 had a quick change barrel. A machine gun's barrel can be made completely useless if it is fired too fast, for too long. The amount of firing necessary to accomplish this is probably less than you would think.

Rifle configuration, note the gas tube is now above the barrel

The Stoner 63A in the hands of a US Navy SEAL in Vietnam

While the Stoner 63 was evaluated and used by the Marines, SEALs, and US Army Special Forces in Vietnam, no large scale orders were made for it and it has largely faded into obscurity. About 4,000 were made, and some reportedly stayed in service until being replaced by the M249 SAW in the mid 1980's. Today probably less than 50 are in existence. The carbine and rifle versions were fairly heavy because they had the reinforced receiver needed for the LMG version. The design was fairly complex, and is said to need a good deal of maintenance to stay reliable in the Southeast Asian jungles. it ended up that, as a carbine or rifle, it was heavier than the M16, and it was not as powerful as the 7.62mm M60 machine gun. All that being said, it was a revolutionary design, in my opinion at least as good as the AR-15. (Keep in mind the AR-15 has been upgraded and tweaked for many years now.)

Today, Robinson Arms Company makes a similar (looking) weapon, a semi auto rifle, carbine, or Bren type called the M96. However, they are more than $1500.00, so I won't be getting one.
(unless one of you nice folks wants to make a contribution)

The Stoner 63 Family

1 comment:

  1. well i was reading an article on the g3 and its variants and i saw a picture of the hk g41 and it looked just like the stoner