Steve Coulston continues the discussion with Alan Handl and the Handl SCAR project. Part 2 of 2.
The Multi-caliber Promise and Then Some
The Multi Caliber promise. Oh how we love thee. That catch phased was promised on the SCAR, ACR, XCR and other similar firearms. All the fanfare, slick marketing and wet dreams about a “do everything” rifle. Empty promises. Or when manufactures finally got around to making good on their promise, it was too late and opinions and hate were already blasted all over social media and the internet. Solution? Currently Handl has 6 calibers that are currently ready for production at the time of this writing with a total of 14 calibers on the table. These are all for the SCAR 17/MK 17 platforms. Current available calibers are for 5.56, .300 Blackout, .308, .260 Remington, 7.62×39 using AK mags, and 5.45×39. Other calibers are hush hush for now.
Not only does Handl have the caliber conversions, they wanted to make their barrels sub MOA. Want more? Handl takes it a step further. Currently you would need another bolt carrier for a caliber conversion. Handl thought that was lame so all their conversions can be done with a barrel and bolt or a barrel, bolt and lower swap. The bolt carrier stays the same. To accomplish this they have developed a bolt carrier that will allow for the different tolerances and recoil forces of multiple calibers. The Handl Defense Universal Bolt Carrier is a proprietary bolt carrier made by Handl Defense and not a modified FN part. The details of this bolt carrier are still under wraps. No one has ever seen it outside of a close group of secret squirrels…
"Currently Handl has 6 calibers that are currently ready for production at the time of this writing with a total of 14 calibers on the table."
Another development that required attention, Handl was experiencing hardened optics and mounts breaking due to the recoil on the SCAR 17. This was due to a spike in the recoil due to forward impulse strikes. They did high speed testing to really put the science behind what they were experiencing and discovered ways to reduce recoil. They are putting this knowledge to the test and are currently developing a recoil reduction kit that boasts up to a 60% reduction in recoil. That is a massive claim and one this author intends to test once it is ready for release. Expected release date is sometime in 2016.
They also have plans for PDWs. Their Enhanced bolt carrier and recoil mitigation system will be compatible with both rifle and PDW length systems. Handl tells of the times he has brought his SCARs out to ranges with SF guys to test. The conversation goes something like this:
SF: “Hey, what are we shooting today?”
SF: “I f*cking hate SCARs!”
So they go out and shoot a Handl SCAR with the recoil mitigation system installed and can’t believe it. Some have compared shooting the reduced recoil SCAR 17 to an AR15. And that was with their first generation recoil reduction system. They are still improving it prior to its public release. They take the end user data and feedback and use that information to better develop their designs.
As if that wasn’t enough they have their MK20 lower receiver. Still in the prototype phase, this lower allows the shooter insert a 20 round magazine without breaking the sight picture. Once these systems are developed they will begin work on a continuous shaved gas block set up and continuous top rail version of the SCAR that will work with their handguard.
Handl firmly states, “Is this something that improves the system? I don’t want to put lipstick on a pig. I want to make an impact. We will only make things that are improvements to the weapon system. We will not make something just as a cosmetic upgrade. I can buy that from somebody else. Everything that we make has three prongs. It must be durable, have cost savings and support doctrine. If it doesn’t fit all three prongs, we don’t make it.”
Beyond the SCAR
Handl is a geek. But in a good way. He can go on and on talking about advanced materials, science and technology. Handl Defense is experimenting with Magnesium Alloys and others. “It’s 2015. There is more out there than steel and aluminum.” Handl says, “We are working with Molybdenum, Inconel, Tungsten and Titanium. All these different materials like carbon fiber and impregnated polymers.”
One of the biggest pushback’s Handl had was regarding their Magnesium SCAR 25 lowers. People said they would catch on fire. “Not true.” Handl insists. “They don’t and they haven’t.” Apparently the carbon fiber was a source of keyboard commando scrutiny as well. Handl points out that racing bikes, Formula One race cars and space ships use the material. All of those will put much more stress and heat on a carbon fiber part than a firearm. “If they can do it, why can’t we do it?” Fair question. Handl is actually working with Ferrari and Ducati to bring some of those materials into firearm industry.
Handl Defense is evolving. While they want to continue to improve the SCAR platform they also want to focus their efforts on being a go-to resource for problem solving, development and prototyping.
Handl states, “The SCAR is our main force of effort right now, it is our confidence target and it is our resume. It shows what we are capable of doing. We want to be the next level of engineering companies that are geared towards the defense market.” He continues saying, “We aren’t one of those companies that wants to hold everything to our chest and doesn’t want to share. We want to share and do what is best for the industry and for the rifle… We want to take these guns into the next generation. There is enough room in this business for everybody.”
Helping Innovators Innovate
Lots of people develop good ideas. Hell, we have all had one or two in our day. But a good idea will die unless it can be developed and refined. Handl wants to help the innovator bring their ideas to fruition. “Small arms is its own animal. We can help the customer bring their idea to life.” Handl says. They want to evaluate the concept and use their expertise to vet it and/or improve it, then trouble shoot it, prototype it and produce it. As Handl found out early on, it is hard to explain a firearms related concept to someone who doesn’t understand or maybe does not like firearms. With Handl, everyone will be speaking the same language. He says, “We try to find capability gaps and fulfill them… most firearms are designed, shot and tested in controlled environments.” Handl then sets out to break them and find the weaknesses and shortcomings. Their goal is to make them better, stronger, lighter and faster through innovation in advanced materials, mechanics and ergonomics.
Aside from their knowledge expertise, Handl will offer full concept to prototype fabrication. This will be done with engineering software to evaluate heat, stress, weight analysis, fitting and mechanics. Handl will be pushing the technology of 3D printing. For example their 3D print machine can hold tolerances of 1/3,000th of an inch and actually make production quality parts for proof of concept and live fire prototypes. They can print in over 150 kinds of metal that can be printed to a Rockwell hardness of 60.
They can blend metals, plastics and rubbers. They can print complicated shapes like springs and clips. He used the example of a strut off a car. They can print the entire assembly at once… and it will work. That is a mind blower right there!
Technology is pushing Handl into the next generation. Handl feels like there are a lot of companies out there not taking advantages of this technology. “You can see it in their design.” He says. “Nobody is really pushing the limit.” He goes on to say, “It has to be the right fit though. Meaning the material needs to fit the application.”
The future development for Handl Defense involves other firearms platforms as well as exploring other industries. “We identify as a technology, research and development company.” They have long grown out of the small apartment in which the company was birthed. Their new home is in Preston, Washington. There Handl Defense has their 3D printers, multiple CNC machines, mills, lathes, test firing facilities, engineering department and offices. They aim to get direct feedback from a customer in the field regarding a firearm part, troubleshoot it in the field, digitally change the product on the fly and send the file back to the engineering department at Handl HQ. Then 3D print it and overnight it back to the customer for use the next day. If the revision works and the customer is satisfied, their goal is to have the first proof article to the client in a couple of weeks. “We want to be able to work that fast.” Handl says. “With the technology we have access to, now we can.”
"Technology is pushing Handl into the next generation. Handl feels like there are a lot of companies out there not taking advantages of this technology."
He used the example of the SCAR 47 concept. The SCAR 47 is based on the SCAR 17 but shoots the Russian 7.62×39 legacy round using the traditional AK magazine. From request to fully functional rifle it took a whopping three weeks. Three weeks from concept to reality. Let that sink in. That included a whole new lower, recoil system, barrel, extension and bolt. They designed for proper heat mitigation, reliability, feeding, extraction and a plethora of other operating functions. According to Handl, FN is still trying to figure it out. Handl has a lot of respect for FN, but with large companies things can move slower. “We are light, fast and agile.” Handl says, smiling.
Handl ended the conversation by saying, “I want people to know that Handl Defense of 2015 is not the same Handle Defense of 2011-2012. The company structure, the people, the governance and technologies have changed. We have come a long way the past couple of years. Our quality control and consistency have evolved. We are a completely new animal. It’s just not me anymore. It is a team of people.”
Yes, it is evident that Handl is not just a company that makes lowers for the SCAR 17/MK 17 rifle. They have the vision, motivation, knowledge and tools to really innovate within the firearms and defense industry. It will be exciting to follow their future developments in the upcoming years. To all the dreamers and innovators out there, keep on grinding. We salute you.
For a full list of Handl Defense products visit them at http://handldefense.com/
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