Do you Need A Forward Assist?
Many gun owners either expect or don’t notice that their new AR platform firearm has come with a forward assist. Some think the forward assist is now a useless addition to the platform, while others view it as a tool that simply has not found its purpose yet. However, whether you think the forward assist on your AR build is necessary or not depends on how you plan on using your firearm. So lets answer the question, do you really need a forward assist?
Where did the Forward assist come from?
During the Vietnam war, the USA went through a change in the infantry unit’s standard issue rifle, going from the M-14 rifle to the M-16. The reason this switch was made was primarily because of a major change in the kind of fighting in wars. Where previous wars up until World War II had soldiers fighting in trenches over long battlefields, Vietnam sparked a very new kind of war. This war entailed Airborne strikes on a completely different scale, and involved troops engaging combat on a much closer scale, involving combat against many enemies at a time.
The soldiers needed something lighter, with a smaller round that would not have any, if at all, recoil. The M14’s caliber, the .30-06 is a big round that does not lend itself well to a fully automatic rifle platform.
That being said, the M-16 was then adopted as the new standard issue rifle for not only the United States, but other NATO allies as well.
What is the Forward Assist used for?
Now that the historical synopsis is over, here is where the purpose of the Forward assist comes from. In Vietnam, the heavy marshes and swamps that the country is characteristic of proved to be something of a challenge for US soldiers and their rifle’s maintenance. Their M-16s would be rendered useless by the overwhelming amount of murky swamp water and dirt. Precious seconds and minutes were wasted trying to make them operable again.
However, the rifle came outfitted with a forward assist for the very purpose of helping soldiers move their bolts manually after a seizure in the action had taken place. The bolt is notched on one side to allow for the forward assist to push the bolt forward until a new round can be chambered, and the rifle can revert back to its action to cycle ammunition. This integrated tool helped many soldiers during combat, as it was meant to be useful in situations where a complete field strip could not be completed.
Let’s fast forward time a little bit now to the present day. The M-16 is no longer in use in the military, but its variants are. And they are still equipped with forward assists. How useful they really are these days, is not really clear. However, one thing that is clear is how the opportunities to use the forward assist have decreased a lot in the civilian world. With a wider circulation of AR-15s in the civilian market, you can bet your bottom dollar that there isn’t a lot of fighting going on, especially in such extreme environments as the ones in Vietnam. So the forward assist’s potential to help has been severely reduced to the point where some would even just call it dead weight at this point. The aftermarket on these things is not as crazy either. It just holds no weight in the face of a market so saturated with more customizable parts that may actually affect the performance of the gun.
However, if they are so useless, why does the platform not get an overhaul in which the forward assist is moved completely from it? Well that is a great question. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the forward assist is not a useless addition to the platform. In fact, it is a very useful item regardless of whether people use them often or not. It is the same way we view the guns we carry for self defense. We carry them with the likelihood of never having to use them, but always being ready to use them if the time arises. So to may we use the forward assist on our AR builds should the time arise where we might need to.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Constant gun maintenance reduces the overall chance you might need to use your forward assist, obviously. However what you might not think about is how the forward assist is meant to be used. It is meant to be used in situations where a complete field strip of the AR-15 is not at all possible, what with time constraints, lack of a clear place to seat the gun, and the occasional bullet flying overhead. The forward assist was designed for very specific occasions, and while we find ourselves, more often than not, able to perform complete field strips on our firearms, the forward assist is not designed to be used in those moments.
Also Read: 5 Most Ignored Rifle Calibers
Can you buy ARs without forward assists?
There are upper receivers out there now that are being sold without forward assists. If you stand by your AR-15’s forward assist, that is ok, because we just discussed how situational the use of the forward assist is. Not to mention, the purpose for which someone intends for their AR build may not even require it to be there. Maybe it is not meant to be shot as much, or be involved in such close quarters combat. The purpose and intent you have for your AR build will help you decide what is best for you. That means, whether you need on or not, despite the debate, is up to you and what you want to get out of your AR.