A few years back, something started happening to the upper receivers of tactical rifles. Some of them began to appear on the market without forward assists. If you’re a simple gun enthusiast who’s new to the AR platform, you might have some questions about that particular phenomenon. Let’s start out easy.
What Is a Forward Assist?
Direct impingement rifle systems traditionally include a forward assist, which is a push button/ plunger that is intended to help push forward the bolt to ensure positive engagement of the bolt into battery position. The leading edge of the forward assist interacts directly with small grooves on the bolt, pushing the bolt forward to complete a partial engagement.
How Did the Forward Assist Come into Play?
Modern impingement system rifles are derived from the designs of their military counterparts. In battlefield operation, a failure to fire problem can be deadly not only to the operator but to other members of his team as well as those he might be charged with protecting. The forward assist was added as an additional measure to ensure positive battery of the weapon system.
Why Is a Forward Assist Needed?
The forward assist is intended to be a backup measure to assure positive battery or bolt engagement in a rifle that operates with a direct impingement system. This can be important to those who find themselves in battlefield conditions where a firearm may not cycle completely due to an accumulation of dirt or carbon fouling. Pushing the bolt forward into firing position with the forward assist makes it possible to continue engaging an enemy even if the shooter’s weapon isn’t operating perfectly.
Because failure to fire is a potentially deadly problem in battle conditions, military field drills include bumping of the forward assist in arming the weapon and as part of the sequence intended to clear a stoppage. Use of the forward assist for former military personnel is a matter of training in many cases. It’s simply part of their operational routine, much like the dribble sequence of a basketball player at the free-throw line. Is it necessary to use it when loading? No, but it’s part of the muscle memory of the task.
The Forward Assist as a Stealthy Helper
Another use for the forward assist appears in the case that an operator needs to operate with some measure of stealth. If it is necessary to arm an impingement type rifle quietly or to check its ammunition status without making a lot of noise, instead of a full pull-back and open release of the bolt, the bolt is let off gently to avoid drawing the attention of those who might be nearby. The forward assist is then used to be sure the bolt is fully engaged without the noise of a normal charging sequence.
Do I Need a Forward Assist?
The long and short of it is: No, you don’t need it, but it isn’t hurting anything if you’re not using it. For most operators, the forward assist is just part of the equipment they’re used to, but it’s never used. In the recreational and competitive shooting arenas, there really shouldn’t be a need for the forward assist. Weapons that are kept clean and in good repair should cycle completely on their own. If there is a failure, the cause should be addressed in a timely manner rather than simply forcing engagement and ignoring the problem.
Why Retain the Forward Assist?
For many shooters, the forward assist is an old friend from their military past, and they may feel that something is missing from a slick side upper. Likewise, those who feel that their weapons should be prepared to return to their tactical and combat roots at short notice will want to retain the forward assist option on their rifles.
Have It Your Way, With Some Considerations
When you build a custom AR platform rifle, you can choose an upper receiver with a forward assist included or opt for a slick side receiver that leaves out the forward assist altogether. Uppers such as Black Aura’s Billet AR-15/AR-9 Slick Side Upper Receiver offer a sleek, minimalist look that also happens to save a little mass. If you want to be prepared for less than pristine shooting conditions or just have the option to use a forward assist should the need arise, the AR-15 Forged A3 Upper Receiver Assembly from Black Aura Tactical is a perfect choice.
It is worth mentioning that if you’re putting together your upper assembly and bolt carrier group with a forward assist option in mind, you will need to be sure your bolt is grooved to work with a forward assist. Without a compatible bolt, the forward assist is a purely cosmetic component.