ArmaLite AR-180B


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

June 15, 2002





There are many .223 caliber autoloading rifles on the market today. Most are based on the AR-15 design, and are well-built examples of that great rifle that has served this country and many others as the M-16 in its many variations.

Without going into the complete history of the development of the ArmaLite AR-15 and AR-18 designs, it will suffice for our purposes to understand that the AR-18 was an attempt by ArmaLite to improve upon the AR-15 design without infringing upon the AR-15 patents, which at the time had been sold to Colt by ArmaLites parent company. These developments were taking place in the very early 1960s when the military leaders of the World were just warming up to the idea of a .223 caliber battle rifle.

The AR-15 design proved much more successful in gaining military contracts, so ArmaLite marketed a civilian, semi-auto version of the AR-18 as the AR-180. During the course of manufacture of the original AR-180, they were built in at least three countries;  Japan, England, and the United States. There were a few small variations to the shape of the charging handle and the magazines used during the original run of AR-180s, but the basic design remained one of simplicity and reliability. While the AR-180 has been out of production for several years, there remains a loyal following of shooters who keep these great rifles in high demand, and to their delight and mine, the AR-180 is back in production by ArmaLite right here in the United States.

The original AR-180 used sheet metal stampings instead of aluminum forgings for the upper and lower receivers as a manufacturing advantage over the AR-15 design, but the most significant improvements were to the gas and recoil spring systems. Instead of the direct gas impingement upon the bolt carrier of the AR-15 system, the AR-180 used the piston and tappet gas system that had first appeared on the early German assault rifles of World War Two. Besides being not nearly as ammo sensitive as the AR-15 design, the AR-180 gas system allowed ArmaLite to use proven technology without infringing upon the patent then owned by Colt in the AR-15 design.

The dual coil springs used to return the bolt carrier in the AR-180 eliminate the spring in the buttstock of the AR-15 design, thereby allowing a trimmer buttstock that folded sideways on the AR-180. Overall, the AR-18 program, which resulted in the AR-180, developed into a simpler, and under some conditions more reliable, assault rifle. Keep in mind that during the early years of the AR-15, many problems with reliability were encountered that have now been overcome. The AR-18 at that time was a superior rifle.

The new AR-180 as built today by ArmaLite has taken the best features of the original AR-180 and combined them with a few features of the AR-15. The result is the ArmaLite AR-180B. The new rifle retains the light weight, slim profile, and great gas system of the original AR-180, while substituting a reinforced polymer lower receiver for the stamped lower on the original. The AR-180B also uses parts from the AR-15 for the trigger and magazine systems.

The AR-180B has a barrel that is just under 20 inches in length, has a one-in-nine inch twist, and is slim in comparison to most AR-15 type rifle barrels today. Thankfully, ArmaLite has not saddled the AR-180B with an HBAR-type barrel. Most AR-15 type rifles are fitted with barrels that are too heavy for their intended purpose. On a varmint or target gun a heavy barrel is acceptable, but it is a detriment to handling on an assault-style rifle. The polymer lower receiver, trim buttstock, and slim barrel result in a weight of only six pounds for the AR-180B, which is a full pound lighter than most 16 inch barreled AR-15s. The bolt operating handle is attached directly to the bolt carrier, eliminating the charging handle of the AR-15, and giving the shooter a simpler and better method of chambering a round. The AR-180B now has a fixed buttstock rather than the folding unit of the original, which was prone to breakage under rough handling.

The sight system on the AR-180B consists of an elevation adjustable front post and a dual aperture, windage adjustable rear. Both sights are protected by metal ears on each side. The sling swivels are mounted, as on the original, at the bottom of the pistol grip and in front of the hand guard.

A unique feature of the barrel is the integral muzzle brake, which has six ports at the top of the unit to direct muzzle blast straight up. The safety is mounted for easy operation by the thumb of a right-handed shooter.

As for the shooting and handling qualities of the AR-180B, I grabbed up several different brands of .223 ammo; mostly various military ball rounds. I tested the gun with the magazines provided and with military surplus 30 round mags. Most shooting was done offhand at various ranges, with accuracy testing at a range of 100 yards. The gun groups well with both the iron sights and with a scope mounted. Groups averaged around the two inch mark with iron sights and military ammo, and about half of that with a Tasco 6 to 18 scope mounted. The gun was shipped with ArmaLites optional scope mount that is made specifically for this rifle. It will also fit the original AR-180. It is an improvement over the original mount, and will accept most any one-inch tube scope sight or optical dot sight. The mount is easily and quickly removed and replaced without tools, and returns to point-of-aim each time.

The AR-180B functioned perfectly, with no malfunctions of any kind. The empty brass was ejected to the forward right of the shooter, with no damage or dents to the cases.

The AR-180B is a joy to handle and shoot due to the excellent balance and light weight. Recoil is hardly noticeable, most likely due in part to the muzzle brake. The lack of a carry handle places the sights down low, resulting in a comfortable cheek weld with the stock. The light weight and low sights help the gun to handle and shoot quickly and accurately. 

The .223 cartridge in the AR-180B is a great little combo for protection against varmints and predators of many kinds. As can be seen in the photos, the .223 ball ammo nearly penetrated a one inch steel plate at a distance of 30 yards. It easily poked through inch steel at the same distance. It is velocity, not diameter, that penetrates hard targets.

For a good, reliable .223 semi-auto at a very reasonable price, the AR-180B is hard to beat. I noticed while doing research for this article that the AR-180 listed for 700 bucks in 1982. Now, twenty years later, the AR-180B list price retails for only 650 dollars!

Check out the ArmaLite AR-180B online at:

The AR-180B is a light, handy, reliable and accurate rifle that can easily fill the need for a ranch gun or home protection.  It would be at the top of the list for a dedicated Homeland Security tool.

Besides all of that, it is a fun gun that is a joy to shoot...and that might just be the best reason of all for owning a firearm.

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


ArmaLite's AR-180B is a lightweight, reliable and accurate .223 autoloading rifle at a price that's hard to beat!



ArmaLite's version of the excellent piston and tappet gas system is the heart of the AR-180B. Proven reliable, this system is also less ammo-sensitive than the early variants of the direct-impingement system used in the early AR-15 type rifles.



The familiar AR-15 type safety system is retained in the AR-180B.



The sight system of the AR-180B includes an elevation-adjustable front post and a dual-aperture, windage-adjustable rear peep. Both front and rear sight are protected by metal ears.



ArmaLite's scope mount system used on the AR-180B is an excellent, ingenious design. The base attaches to a tapered mount on top of the frame (shown in the center picture) without tools. Rather than loosen under recoil, the base seats itself even more securely as recoil is increased. An improvement over the original AR-180 design, this mount will nevertheless work on original AR-180s. The system is rugged, reliable, unobtrusive, accurate, and returns to zero very effectively when re-mounted.



Integral muzzle brake is very effective at deflecting gases upward, making the AR-180B a very soft-shooting rifle.



Buttstock has compartment for storing valuable survival necessities.



The AR-180B easily and quickly field strips to its component parts.



The AR-180B uses standard AR-15 / M-16 magazines.



Penetration in one-inch steel plate shows why the .223 is a legendary performer, and the .223 has found a fine new home in the ArmaLite AR-180B!






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