Facts and Opinions: AR-15 Forward Assist Edition

man shooting AR-15 rifle

In the AR niche, there seems to be a trend towards the deletion of the forward-assist mechanism. Is that a good thing? Does it really matter?

As many of you have read my articles will know, it really isn’t my job to decide, but I will give you some facts and opinions.

First, Some Facts

  • Fact: of all the AR’s I own (and it is well into the double digits), only one does not have a forward assist.
  • Fact: the only time I ever use it is if I do a chamber check, then need to push the bolt the rest of the way forward to ensure it is in battery.
  • Fact: several friends who spent several tours in the sandbox said that it was a GREAT method of getting off one, maybe two more shots on a super fouled chamber, but then you were COMPLETELY locked up.
banshee 9mm AR-15

Now, Some Opinions

If you are using it as a range toy or a 5.56 precision platform, a forward assist is completely unnecessary.

There is never going to be a time when you need to immediately bring the gun into action despite adverse circumstances.

You do bring a basic cleaning kit to the range, right? You also don’t want to have to use pliers to remove a live round, right?

Are you using this AR as your SHTF gun? Is this your duty weapon and chamber checks are part of your daily routine?

If so, giant pile of yes, for the forward assist.

It is something that will be used and can quickly fix an out-of-battery situation caused by a chamber check.

Is using it to ram a round into battery in any other circumstance smart? No.

came AR-15 with no forward assist

Conclusion: AR-15 Forward Assist

For me, possibly the most important aspect of this is, where do we find this choice?

I may be wrong, but I’ve only ever seen it on super price-conscious budget guns.

If the lower has to be adjusted in order to bring down the price, how much else has been skimped on?

More directly, what else am I not getting (quality or component wise) in a build that deleted the forward assist to save $10?

For me, that just isn’t a place that I want to be, regardless of the utility or lack of, inherent in a forward assist.

What do you think of the forward assist? Let us know in the comments below!


About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. I am no combat veteran but for what it is worth, if you are running an AR without a forward assist, I suggest shelling out $200 or so for an enhanced nitride bolt carrier group by CMC (designed to have less points of friction allowing it to move more freely & an extra gas port allowing more dirt & grime to exit the rifle. The nitride coating is also easier to be cleaned if you just want to do a quick wipe down), $130 or so for the enhanced charging handle by Radian & $90 for an adjustable gas block (controls how much gas/dirt/grime is cycled back into the rifle). So basically prep your gun as if you are running a suppressor even if you aren’t. This all adds peace of mind knowing that you are doing everything you can to prevent the forward assist from having to be used in the first place. Clean your rifle when ever you have time, no matter how many rounds you have fired.

  2. I’m with Biggie !
    Better to have and not need, than
    to need and not have. Money saved
    is not an issue, especially if your life or those you love depend on this weapon.

  3. As a real old fart, I remember trading in my M-2 carbine for a brand new AR-15 Colt government model. It had a clean upper without the FA and before the brass deflector. It did have select fire but we were not allowed to use it in “auto” and the big issue with it jamming was caused by the propellent in Lake City ammo. Being USAF the weapon was never updated in the time I was serving because the USA had a much higher need for the updated designs.
    After I returned home the first weapon I purchased was a Colt Sporter version of the AR-15 that like the one I had in the USAF lacked the FA. I was upset to find the non- govt models were missing the forward push pin because it had been replaced by a large double screw drilled slightly off set from where the take down pin was located to make sure you would be unable to replace the civilian parts with military surplus parts. Drop in auto-sears were about $12.00 back then and legal to buy. It also came with two Colt branded 20 rd. magazines with an internal spacer that limited the magazine to 5 rounds capacity.
    The real shame is that I still have that old Colt AR-15. It is all original and has never had a round through it and it still has everything it came with including the original factory paperwork and box. The shameful part is I am an old fart and will probably never get a chance to ever use it and I live in California so being that it was made in the 70’s and is a “pre ban” AR-15, I don’t believe there is any way I can legally transfer it to anyone.

  4. Never used it in over 45 years of shooting them. But I wouldn’t want to need it and it not be there.

  5. When I went to a law enforcement armorer school, I was told about the purpose for the forward assist. The forward assist was not developed for shoving a jammed round into a chamber. It was designed to assist with a water submerged rifle. If your rifle is submerged, you pull back the bolt to drain the water. Note: The seal created around a chambered round would not release the water until the bolt is pulled back. Once you crack the seal, you use the forward assist to re-seat the round back in the chamber. It was not designed to jam a round into a dirty bolt. It was designed to re-seat the round after clearing the barrel of water. Hope this helps.

  6. Issued my first M-16 in June 1966. Was trained to lock bolt to rear, insert mag, release bolt to load one round, hit the forward assist. In 25 years of service, every M-16 issued to me had F/A.

    My personal AR has F/A and I still follow the drill I was taught in 66…

    no harm …no foul

    Retired Seabee Builder Senior Chief

  7. Without the forward assist S.P.O.R.T.S would just be S.P.O.R.S. Point being, if the shtf and your rifle doesn’t fire when you pull the trigger, anything that might work quickly to get you back in the game is a plus.

  8. As noted in other comments the forward assist was added with the m16a1 to help combat malfunctions and difficulties found in the Vietnam theatre of operations. In 1990 I was sent to South West Asia for dessert shield/storm my issued rifle was an M16 no A designation though by then the A2 had been approved and issued to some units. The lack of a forward assist did not hinder the effectiveness of my rifle. I do attribute that to the unit E9 he was close to retirement and had two tours in vietnam. He was fanatical about cleaning our rifles and lubricating them and even now i find the ar15 runs better on the wet side than dry you might get one that runs dry but it runs better wet. During that time i never wanted for a forward assist. After that time i was in other units and was issued M16 A1s and even an M16A2 shortly before being dischargedand I do not recall ever using the forward assist on any of them. I guess it’s more of a preference than anything else if you want one get one if you don’t don’t get one or better yet get one of each. i do like the appearance of the clean slab side no forward assist no brass deflector. Oh yeah what about that addition even the A1 didn’t have that handy knob of aluminum on the receiver.

  9. The problems with the Vietnam era M16 was the use of ball powder. This has been documented extensively. Eugene Stoner warned the Pentagon that ball powder could cause issues in the direct impingement guns but he was ignored. Once the powder was changed the problems disappeared. The foreword assist was added at the request of the Pentagon, it was not in Stoners original design.

    Most of my guns are clones so they all have forward assists except one. I have a Lightweight upper with a .625 14.5 BCM barrel and mid length gas system. It has a pinned FSB and DD light rail. Pin and welded with a BCM flash hider. Rainer Arms did the gun smithing so I could use the FSB with a free float hand guard. It is very light and I have an Aimpoint Micro on it. I never use the FA on any of my guns, in fact the M110 and SR-25 don’t even come with one.

  10. During training in the 80’s, and using the old “laser tag” harnesses in order to make the situation more real, I jumped into a depression with a big bush as cover. Granted, we were using blanks and the fouling was terrible but I believe in the manual of arms (at least in the Marines) that after sending the bolt home smashing on the FA a few times was customary. Anyway, in that depression I reloaded, sent the bolt home, and waited for the next kill. I then see one of my buddies, on the other team, come around the bush. I shoulder the rifle, laugh at him, then pull the trigger. CLICK!!! NOTHING!!! My buddy now laughed at me, shoots me, my vest now starts chirping and I’m out of the game. The bolt never fully went home and I would have been shot! A valuable lesson to me. I use the FA even at the range just to keep the habit. I never want to be in that position again. My one AR the LMT .308 doesn’t have a FA but I wish it did.

  11. I can testify that the forward assist can most definitely save your life. In more ways than one. Somehow my buffer tube got a dent in it right behind the castle nut (probably shrapnel but never found out). The round I had chambered fired, next round did not chamber because buffer got caught on dent. Wouldn’t be here if forward assist didn’t work as intended. It also has come in very handy for me on an occasion where I needed to chamber a round silently.

  12. My AR has forward assist and I asume it is there because the manufacturer also makes the upper for the military so it is probably easier to leave it in for comercial sale

  13. I carried an M4 in the sandbox. Army issued CLP is a magnet for the “moon dust” so despite regular cleaning the forward assist was needed on occasion. Even more so these days what with ammogedden. As I assume most people are, I am forced to buy whatever brand cartridge is available and would not want to take the chance of poor quality control leaving me up a creek.

  14. The forward assist on the AR platform rifle is more properly termed the “jam enhancement” device. If you aren’t monkeying around with your rifle, you will never need it. If you do need it, you shouldn’t use it, because it will make the problem worse.

  15. Read up on the AR being brought into battle in Vietnam, and the news stories of the time about so many US soldiers dead with a jammed up AR in their hands… This is all true, maybe hyped up back then in response to every veteran of Vietnam I’ve talked to hating the AR in Nam, but loved the M14, except 1 veteran. He loved the AR, and I’m sure many 1000’s more liked the gun, but the faulty AR’s made the news anyway…. The forward assist was Armalite’s fix for the soldiers dead in the mud with a jammed up AR.
    If you have an AR, I would say it’s probably a SHTF gun, among other things. Forward assist isn’t going to get in the way or cause any issues, and is designed to correct a potential problem. I say definitely yes on the forward assist.

  16. I have never used the forward assist on my AR15s, RRA NM and Ruger AR.
    However if you plan to shoot your AR at the National Matches or any other CMP sponsored and sanctioned matches the rifle MUST have a forward assist. See CMP Rule 6.1.1

  17. Personally not sure why one feels need to check chamber daily. Weapon doesn’t work without ammo in it. So why do you expect your weapon to change conditions from the last time you had it. Might see it if this was some department issued weapon. For the non SHTF crowd it isn’t needed.

    The contention that a “slick” upper is saving you money does not necessarily hold true. Looking at Aero Precision stripped uppers pricing:
    AR15 Stripped Upper Receiver – Anodized Black
    AR15 Stripped Upper Receiver, No Forward Assist – Anodized Black
    So to go without is costing you actually 5 bucks more.

    Aero Precision Assembled uppers pricing:
    AR15 Assembled Upper Receiver – Anodized Black
    AR15 Assembled Upper Receiver, No Forward Assist – Anodized Black
    The thing is that going from a stripped upper without forward assist to an assembled with it is 20 ducats more. So you figure they are basically charging 10 for each of the sub assemblies; forward assist sub assemblies and the ejection port cover sub assemblies. Leave a net savings of 5.

    So what does an upper receiver with no forward assist actually do for you:
    1) Saves weight, 1.85oz from above examples, is that really enough to worry about. Up to you, Might mean more if you have to carry it all day.
    2) Eliminates a place to snag the rifle.
    3) Can make using charging handle easier, especially when running certain optics.

    Now do those advantages outweigh the need to force a round into battery? In a critical situation no. One question should come to mind is are you going to be in that critical spot? You maintain your weapon properly it should never come up. A soldier in a prolong engagement in a crappy environment could run into the need to actually have to use this ability. Thing is once he use it, the weapon hasn’t changed, it is still dirty and fouled. The gun needs to be cleaned or you will eventually have to keep continuously using forward assist.

    I have went with a Bravo Company Mfg Upper Receiver Assembly Mk2 in my latest build. This moves the forward assist closer to the ejection port and away from the charging handle. This is my for my SHTF build and like they say – better to have and not need, then need and not have. For any other build I don’t care.

  18. I despise the FA.

    It interferes with perfectly mirrored ambi operation of the rifle.

    When shooting left handed and pulled into a CQB retention position it can be engaged by one’s gear, especially body armor, preventing cycling.

    For chamber checks, I just use the thumb of my support hand to press the bolt into place….usually done with a cold rifle, but when the rifle is hot gloves provide adequate protection.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.