The NEA 15 Rifle: The other Canuck AR
Earl Green blesses us with a thorough and critical review of the NEA-15 by North Eastern Arms. Here’s the PDF for the article, I’ll work on getting it up here ASAP.
In recent months, many Canadian firearms enthusiasts and shooters have been waiting and watching for a new black rifle offering from a new Canadian company and we finally got one.
North Eastern Arms (NEA) is an extension of North Eastern Aerospace, a company that specializes in high quality, extreme performance aircraft parts. NEA was founded in 2008 in response to a demand for high quality firearm components and they claim to offer improved versatility and construction. In the last couple of years, they have embarked on the design, development and production of increasingly innovative and unique firearms parts and products and they have become a company that Canadian firearms enthusiasts should watch. Jeff Hussey, the CEO of NEA and his military and law enforcement sales officer, Dave McFaul have been instrumental in rolling out a Canadian made AR that has the Canadian shooting public talking.
In early 2011, the folks at NEA announced that they would be producing a new AR 15 based platform that they felt would offer unique features and designs that would directly compete with the US AR15 market. As readers are well aware, we were teased for months as we saw product information, prototypes and promises of well-made and competitively priced AR parts and platforms popping out of the offices of NEA. We saw pics and vids but we weren’t receiving any product. Some of us were to the point where we were ready to give up on NEA. Sure, they had great ideas, but could they deliver? We were subjected to delays and what many felt were excuses, some of us got to attend product demos for more teasing and frustration then, almost overnight, deliveries of these platforms began to occur.
About a month ago, I was asked by Jeff Hussey and Dave McFaul of NEA if I would shoot an NEA rifle at an IDPA three gun match that was being held in Kingston, Ontario. Many of you who know me, know that I instruct police, military and civilian shooters in the deployment of various firearms platforms. Many folks also know that I love the AR platform due to its versatility, reliability, ease of use and the myriad of options that are available for these rifles. I’m also quite particular about the guns I shoot and I do not like to shoot untried or unreliable platforms. I also do not like to shoot a match with a gun that I have never shot before. With some trepidation, I agreed to shoot the NEA 15 for the carbine components of this match.
The carbine that I shot that day was a box stock rifle not unlike the gun in the pictures accompanying this article. It sported a standard 14.5 inch barrel, an Aimpoint H-1 on a medium mount, a regular A2 pistol grip, a regular M-4 six position stock and a Cadex fore-grip. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but when first I examined the rifle I was struck by its utter ugliness!!! This thing is so ugly it’s gorgeous! I love angular lines and this thing has them! In the gun game, aesthetics are everything…. come on, admit it, you’ve bought a gun based on how it looked… we all have!
The upper receiver has a squared housing for the forward assist and has flats on both sides. Nothing appears rounded. The lower has an integral trigger guard that is beefy and is cut liberally enough that the trigger can easily be accessed and manipulated while wearing gloves. “X” patterned cuts have been machined onto the front of the magwell housing and the lines of the magwell are also quite angular and crisp. The fire control markings are of the “x”ed out bullet/single bullet design so familiar to those who love the H&K markings. The fence around the magazine release is a raised squared fence in a semi-circular design.
The fore-end rail on the NEA is kinda cool too! There are full rails top and bottom but there are only partial rails of about 2” long at the front of the rail. These short front rails have been machined to accommodate a push-button sling swivel, although I like the look of this set up, if you use a side mounted light, you’ll lose the function of the sling swivel socket and vice versa. If you prefer to mount your swivel forward then you’ll end up with your light at the six or twelve o’clock position. While this isn’t of much concern to the Canadian civilian shooter, it could be an issue for the law enforcement or military user who has need for a sling, a light and possibly a laser. If you ask me, the configuration isn’t much better than the CF issue tri-rail and could be remedied by extending these rails back by two or three inches. The rail itself secures to the upper by way of four mounting screws at the rear and on opposite sides of the rail where it meets with the receiver. At the time of this writing, I had not yet ripped the rail off the gun to see how it fully secures but it felt solid with no play and it is a surprisingly light package.
The lack of weight on this gun had me concerned with regards to how it would function under recoil. While the .223/5.56 mm round is not known for being a heavy recoiling round, many of you know that it does have slight muzzle rise and a fast, snappy recoil impulse. I was concerned that follow up shots would be slightly slower than my heavy barreled 11.5 inch barreled carbine. I was in for a surprise!
During the course of the match, I was only able to fire about 40 rounds through this gun but I will say that the thing shot like a laser! It pointed well, was not very heavy and I was able to get my support hand very far forward on the fore-end which aided in my stability and accuracy. Recoil was straight back and light. Not knowing what to expect from this carbine, I started the first stage with three very controlled rounds in order to get the feel of the rifle. After the recoil of the second round, I realized that the dot was staying on my point of aim during the recoil impulse and wasn’t lifting at all. I gave a quick little grin and picked up the pace of my shooting. I found that I could bang off accurate, tight shots very quickly and with impressive accuracy. The gun pointed quickly and swung naturally. I will say that the angular magwell slowed my magazine changes very slightly but this is something that I know can be overcome with practice.
So that’s it, right? Wrong! Obviously forty rounds does not a test make! Jeff recently sent a rifle to me to test, abuse and pick apart. He and Dave have asked me to be very candid in my criticism of this rifle and I have agreed to be.
She arrived this week…
I was pleasantly surprised with this rifle!! Jeff informed me that due to the number of orders they had been processing he threw together a rifle using some of the blemished receivers and rails. I told him that I didn’t really care about how she looked. Based upon my wishes, Jeff provided me with a 14.5 inch rifle much like the one I shot at the match. The only differences between the two guns were the installation of an NEA hybrid muzzle brake and Troy flip up battle sights. She sports NEA’s twelve inch rail, an A2 pistol grip and M4 six position stock. The rifle is the same as any other customer would get except for the use of scratched and blemished parts. Blemishes don’t scare me, I’m more concerned with a gun’s ability to shoot accurately and reliably, I scratch them up and sometimes paint them so cosmetics aren’t an issue for me.
Upon removing the rifle from the box, I found it to be really gritty and tight. For a new rifle this isn’t uncommon so I tore it down, examined it for fit, finish and tightness and lubed it. The only quickly discernible issue that I noticed was that the castle nut hadn’t been tightened down or staked so, out came the stock wrench and the punch. Since I couldn’t get to the range until the weekend, I did a bunch of dry fire practice to get used to the feel and balance of the gun and to work the action and parts. Even though I spent a couple of hours a night doing this it did not appear to loosen up very much.
Out at the range, I found the gun to be very pointable and user friendly, then again, it’s an AR platform so, why wouldn’t it be? Over the course of a lazy afternoon I put about 200 rounds through the gun. It shot well with only one FTF (fail to feed) and upon examining the ejection port and magazine, I determined the FTF to be magazine related.
Initially, I went to the 25 metre range and I sighted in the irons. I will admit that the Troy flip up sights were a bear to sight in. Initially they were shooting almost a foot low so I had to make front sight adjustments. I also found that they were shooting almost a foot to the left! In order to correct this, the rear sight ended up being adjusted almost completely to the right but I finally got it on target and found I was satisfied with the accuracy of the sights. I have no idea why the rear sight had to be are so far over to the right and suspect that the rail could be slightly out of spec but, I’m not overly concerned. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to switch from an optic to irons and I highly doubt I would have time to make adjustments to the irons on the fly so it isn’t a big deal. Now that I’ve said that, I bet the gun gods of above will test my iron sight skills by killing one of my optics on a course or in the middle of a match. (Note: I asked Dave McFaul why the sights were so far right and he confirmed that I had received a rail that was from an out of spec pile and that new rifles being sent to customers are getting new and in spec rails!).
Speaking of the rail, I showed this gun to a couple of my shooting buddies, one of whom is a very experienced and knowledgeable infantry senior NCO. He was concerned that the rail was out of spec as well and informed me that he was concerned that it wouldn’t take certain quick detach mounts. Fearing this, I played with some configurations of quick detach mounts from ARMS and Larue… they worked!!
I was asked by one of our Canadian companies if I would test and evaluate a Lucid Optic that they provided to me. So, in preparation for an up-coming course that I’m teaching I mounted and sighted in the Lucid HD7 red dot optic. I’ll be writing a short separate article about it after I’ve had more time on it but while I didn’t find this particular optic to be something I would normally run, it worked well and I managed to print a few groups of about 2 to 2.5 MOA at 100 yards with it.
So here’s what sucked…
The springs in this gun are brutal! This thing must have a 20 lbs trigger pull! I’m not weak but my finger was killing me by the end of the session. First thing I did when I got home was rip out the hammer spring and put in a spare that I had. It isn’t perfect but it’s definitely softer and I’ll be changing it out once I get a competition one from JP Enterprises. For those military or law enforcement folks who might be running military ammunition with extremely hard primers, I wouldn’t suggest switching out springs unless you’ve tested the lots of ammunition to ensure consistent ignition of the primer. That being said, I’ve run a JP spring in my 11.5 inch training AR, I’ve run approximately 6000 rounds of various makes both commercial and military and I haven’t had a single failure to ignite. So, Brownell’s here I come for a reduced power hammer and trigger spring I’ll swap ’em out.
With the irons and my eyes, the best I managed was a few 2 moa groups and a couple of threes…. and then I noticed that the groups started to open up… and not just slightly. In fact, I fired 5 rounds and could not figure out why there wasn’t a single hit on a 5’ by 2.5’ target at 100 metres. Something had gone wrong with the gun… after some cursing and a few tears, I gave her a quick once over…. the comp had shot loose! The comp hadn’t been torqued down…so, after a quick fix on the tail gate of the truck, we were back in business and she shot a couple more 2 MOA groups!
There was a learning point here and I almost missed it! Whenever you buy a new gun, regardless of the manufacturer, make sure that you give it a thorough examination prior to shooting. Yes, I had checked the barrel for obstructions, examined the action for fit and checked the pins, safety function, trigger reset and fit of upper to lower but I had failed to examine the compensator to ensure it was snugged down tightly on the crush washer. Lesson learned and lesson passed on!
I’ve already passed this info onto Jeff and Dave and I was assured that they would up their quality control prior to shipping.
I’m still running this gun and I’m still documenting her strengths and weaknesses in order to provide a fair evaluation to NEA and to you folks who are both lovers and haters of NEA.
I like it! Looking at her angular lines and flat features, I’ve determined that this gun is ugly! Sure she’s an AR like any other but with those cuts and her flat grey colour she’s nasty looking and I like nasty looking carbines.
Like many of you, I like to customize my AR’s and so she is now wearing a Mapgul MOE stock in Dark Earth, a Tango Down Battle Grip in flat dark earth, an InForce WML in white light/IR, a Troy stubby vertical fore-grip and a Vickers sling. I also threw in a BCM charging handle. These are all items that I personally prefer. I still have the Lucid on her for the other test but I will be setting this one up for my Larue mounted Aimpoint H-1.
I know that many folks are watching NEA and hoping that they fall on their face. I have also read that many people think they’ve had to wait too long or that there currently isn’t enough of a user-base to determine if these guns are going to be lemons or not. The shooting public can be a brutal group with strong opinions and a wealth of technical knowledge and rightly so, I don’t like spending my money on junk either.
Based on my observations of this rifle and my conversations with Jeff, Dave and others, I believe that NEA is willing to listen to their customers and address any concerns that we may have. It appears that almost all of the kinks have been massaged out of this platform and NEA has a viable, inexpensive black rifle that is here to stay.
For those of you who are looking for a good quality, low-priced AR that is Canadian made and reliable, buy an NEA…. or two quote Barney “Buy two or your…..” well, you guys and gals know what he says. I’ll be keeping mine.
– Earl Green