M96 Expeditionary Rifle
by Andy Albert
The Robinson Armament M96 Expeditionary rifle broke onto the scene in late 1999 as the first new American designed "assault rifle" to be brought into production in many years. Tracing its heritage back to the Stoner M63, and sharing design traits with the AK, AR, and SIG 550 the M96 represents an interesting representation of various designs, in one well conceived package.
its heritage can be traced back to the the original Stoner 63, the only
part that is common is the buttstock. The M96 utilizes a rotating multi-lug
bolt (similar to an AR15 bolt), and a gas piston surrounded by a recoil
spring, connected to the bolt to cycle the rifle (unlike the AR15, which
uses direct gas pressure on the bolt carrier). The barrel assembly is
a quick change design manufactured from 4140 steel that is 20" in
length with an integrated muzzle compensator, and a 1 in 9 twist rate.
A two stage trigger is featured as standard, as well as 100 and 500 yard
adjustable sights. The receiver is manufactured from Stainless Steel,
utilzing a welded construction of the frame, upper handguard, and barrel
mounting point. All of these features weigh in at 7.6 lbs in a 40"
Inspection of the M96 out of the box yielded a very tight and well built rifle. The takedown pins were tight, and unfortunately as they come from the factory, I find the protrusion from the right side of the receiver to be annoying - a simple workaround for this was to turn the pins around and feed them in from the right side of the receiver; much as the rear integrated takedown pin came from the factory - which minimized the extent to which those pins protrude. Doing the pin swap helped another problem, that of ergonomics and the magazine release - as the pin sits, it is terribly close to the magazine release and I found myself inadvertantly trying to press it more than once. Sights are adjustable for elevation and windage at the front and rear sights, unfortunately the front sight windage adjustment requires the use of a hex head key, which is not included with the rifle. On the positive side the safety is large, and allows for quick transitions from Safe to Fire. Ergonomics are good, with the rifle feeling a little muzzle heavy when compared to an AR15.
Initial firing of 200 rounds at the range was flawless. I utilized 55gr Winchester Ball and a variety of US military contractor magazines and one Thermold magazine. As suggested in the manual, I started firing with the gas port completely closed, but opened it up after a few rounds to half way through the settings to allow for the brass to be ejected approximately 7-10ft. The only problem at the end of the days firing was a loosening of the grip assembly, which was easily remedied (this was also exhibited on a second test gun that I fired). Much like the SIG 550 and FAL, the M96 bounces fired brass off the portion of receiver directly behind the ejection port; a series of small brass marks was visible at the end of the days firing. Felt recoil was less than that of a Colt SP1 that I fired for comparison, and was similar to a SIG 550. This reduced felt recoil can be attributed to an increased mass in the recripocating parts of the bolt and gas rod assembly, which helps reduce the amount of recoil energy that makes it to the shooters shoulder by disipating it to cycle the firearm.
Firing methodology consisted of firing 1 round every 5 seconds at a target 50 yards away; function firing was the primary concern, so not much concern was paid to accuracy. The group of 200 rounds did end up being about 1" wide by 3" tall; I attribute the vertical stringing to myself. Other shooters on the internet have noted accuracy with factory 55gr ammo in the range of 1.5" at 100yds.
Overall impressions of this rifle are good. The proximity of the magazine well takedown pin to the magazine release did cause some problems with fumbling to release the mag, and the grip loosening is not something that is uncommon with a new firearm. Reliability was exceptional for a brand new semi automatic rifle, and the ergonomics are good. With the planned introduction of a carbine version, a bren style feeding mechanism for the beginning of 2000, and a beltfed conversion further down the road, the future of this weapon system looks bright - I would not hesitate in purchasing another one.
Left side view of M96
Last Modified on
December 1, 1999