AR-15 Forward Assist
One of the biggest debates AR guys have with each other is over the necessity of the forward assist. Half of the AR community is sided with the Army, saying that the forward assist serves an essential purpose and makes the platform more reliable. In contrast, the other half says the forward assist is useless. So, what is the truth? Let's talk about it.
What Is The Forward Assist?
The forward assist is located on the right side of your AR rifle, directly under the charging handle. It gives the operator a mechanical way to push the bolt into the battery if a round isn't seated correctly.
Where Did The Forward Assist Come From?
The forward assist was introduced to the AR platform on the military's demand. It wasn't part of Eugene Stoner's original design, and he believed they were unnecessary. The original design of the AR-1 did not feature a forward assist, and when the US Air force adopted the AR, they didn't ask for a forward assist either.
At that time, the US army was using the M-14 as their official rifle, which was a modernized version of the M1 Garand. Both of these rifles featured an operating rod, which could be pushed to put the rifle into the battery if the round did not seat properly. The Army wanted the same feature to be a part of their new rifle, which is why Colt added it to the Military M16s. Since then, every M4, and almost every civilian AR-15 has a forward assist.
Is a Forward Assist Necessary?
A round may fail to seat into the chamber for multiple reasons. First, it could be because the bolt is not traveling forward completely due to dirt or debris. In such a situation, the AR forward assist can be helpful to some extent since it can quickly allow you to force the bolt into the battery. Secondly, a round may fail to seat because there is something wrong with its dimensions. In such a situation, forcing the round into the chamber using the forward assist may actually have a negative impact and cause the round to get stuck in the chamber, causing a catastrophic failure.
This is why people who don't believe in the necessity of the forward assist say that it is better to simply eject the round using the charging handle if it is malfunctioning. Moreover, you can judge whether a forward assist is necessary by thinking about how many times you have actually used it to clear a malfunction.
So, the designer of the AR platform didn't believe that the forward assist was a necessity. However, having one doesn't do you any significant harm either. Also, if your upper receiver already has a forward assist slot, it is best to install a forward assist since dust and debris can get into the action and cause malfunctions. If you don't like the forward assist, you can use a minimalistic or slick upper receiver, and your rifle will run as reliably as any rifle which has a forward assist.