Spanning high desert and Gulf swamps, we've been abusing a 5.56 caliber AR carbine made by North Star Arms for the past several months and have a few things to report. 

Table of Contents

Overview
The Specs
Features
On the Range
Pros & Cons
Conclusion

Overview

 

An offshoot of RSW Aviation, North Star Arms is the second and more commercial firearms endeavor that has sprouted from the Arizona company. The elder RSW-related gun company is the better-known Profense, a maker of improved M134 Mini Guns in 7.62 and its downsized 5.56 little brother that started when RWS was looking for gun pods for its aircraft.
 

North Star's related companies.


North Star has only gotten into the AR game very recently, and from the outset it sought to build a low price point gun (around $1K) with premium features that would be tough to beat in its class. We came across our test gun in kind of an unorthodox way, but before we get into that, let's go over those specs for those who are curious.

 

The Specs

 

  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Action: DGI, mid-length gas system
  • Overall length: 33 inches (buttstock collapsed), 36 inches (extended)
  • Barrel length: 16 inches, HBAR contour 4150 CMV
  • Handguard length: 15 inches
  • Trigger: ALG Defense Mil-Spec
  • Furniture: Hogue
  • Weight: 6.5 pounds, unloaded

 

Features

 

North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
Taking a closer look at the NS-15 past the basic specs, the carbine at its heart runs 7075-T6 forged uppers and lowers that are machined in-house in matching pairs at North Star. (All Photos: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
The receivers fit together beautifully and are machined. At least in the case of our T&E gun, they are made from Cerro Forge forgings. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
The 1:7 twist 16-inch barrel is constructed of 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium steel and is made by Ballistic Advantage with an HBAR contour, M4 feed ramp, and a hard-wearing QPQ corrosion-resistant finish. They come from North Star with an A2-style birdcage installed, but the one we have been testing has a SilencerCo quick-detach Active Spring Retention (ASR) flash hider for reasons you will see below. Of note, North Star says it has proof-tested samples of these barrels to 10,000 rounds in-house. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
When it comes to furniture, the NS-15 comes standard with Hogue's 15-degree vertical polymer grip, which is kind of Hogue's version of the MOE K-grip. It is light and effective, covered with Hogue's typical pebbled texture. North Star also uses Hogue's contoured polymer trigger guard that allows for use with gloved hands. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
The NS-15 also uses Hogue's Overmolded collapsible buttstock on a Mil-Spec buffer tube. It is anti-rattle and "beard proof" with a rubber/polymer hybrid butt pad and cheek cushions. It is six-position and includes three dual-sided sling QD cups and two sling slots as well. Of note, sister company Profense uses Hogue Overmolded grips on its Mini-Guns as well. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
North Star uses the ALG Defense Quality Mil-Spec (QMS) single-stage trigger pack as its standard. It is truly nothing to write home about but breaks cleanly at about 6.5 pounds in testing, feels better than an unhoned generic AR trigger, and proved reliable in testing. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
The handguard is free-floating, runs true-to-spec M-LOK (not M-LOK-ish) accessory slots at the 3, 6, and 9-o' clock positions, and has a full-length top Pic rail on its roof. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
All told, the NS-15 shows up with 24 M-LOK accessory slots, 11 QD sling cups, and 21 inches of Picatinny rail. Odds are, if you want this 6.5-pound carbine to weigh twice that amount, you are going to find the space to make it happen. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
The bolt carrier group is full-auto rated, marked HPT/MPI (High-Pressure Tested and Mag Particle Inspected), and has a staked gas key. The charging handle is a standard Mil-Spec variety. The wear you see on both is post-cleaning after at least 1,000 rounds downrange. 

 

RELATED: Unboxing the NS-15 From North Star Arms

 

On the Range

 

We first came across the NS-15 while at Gunsite in Paulding, Arizona, during a suppressed carbine event last August. Most of the carbines on hand for use in the course were ArmaLite M-15 LTC (Light Tactical Carbine) models with 16-inch barrels provided by Strategic Arms Corps. However, there were a couple of North Stars on hand as well. As I've shot lots of ArmaLites before but never seen one of these, my easy choice was a North Star NS-15. 

 

North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
This is how I originally fell into the test NS-15 at Gunsite, fitted with an EOTech XPS and Troy Battlesight folding backups, and carrying a SilencerCo Omega on an ASR QD mount. It already had a fair bit of use on it as you can tell from the wear on the grip. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
It stood out (center) when stacked next to the other rifles on hand. 
I used the same Omega 36M can throughout the course, mounted with an ASR mount in place of the standard flash hider on the NS-15. A modular suppressor that allows you to shoot just about everything on the shelf, you can remove the front section, which provides the user a shorter and lighter suppressor that still offers impressive sound performance, or keep it long for a better tone. With upward of 500 rounds through the can and carbine under dusty conditions, the Omega held up and wasn't unmounted for a second of it. In the short configuration, it covers about 90 percent of the stuff you need, and when using a flash hider front cap – the one with "lips" – is great when using night vision. 
Over three dirty days at Gunsite during monsoon season, I put about 500 rounds of Federal's bulk-packed American Eagle 55-grain XM198 5.56 through the NS-15 in short order, having to stop about halfway through to clean the gun as it was extremely caked with fouling due to a combination of its uninterrupted use with a can and the moon dust quality of Arizona. Of note, most of the other ARs in the course suffered a higher rate of issues.
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
After the course, I asked Mike and the gang at North Star if they could ship the test gun to me in Mississippi to keep kicking it around in the brackish marsh that I haunt down there. A couple of weeks later it showed up in more "bare" condition but still with the ASR mount, which is good because I mounted my own Omega on it whenever I wanted quiet time and kept trucking. 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
Instead of the Eotech, I went with Magpul's new MBUS3 flip-up sights. They sit lower than the previous MBUS family but still co-witness through the Eotech and still include toolless elevation and windage adjustments – about 0.7 MOA and 0.4 MOA per click respectively with the 20-inch sight radius we were able to reach – while having the enhanced front post from the MBUS Pro. Plus, they weigh almost nothing (25g with hardware). 
North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
Loaded with one of North Star's standard D&H Tactical metal mags carrying 30 rounds of Greentip, the MBUS3s, and a Blue Force Gear sling attached, weight came in at a handy 7.7 pounds. 

 

In the course of sighting in the MBUS3s and switching back into field testing, we chewed through half a can of German military surplus MEN-marked M193, a few boxes of Tula 62 grain .223 – remember, you can run .223 in a 5.56 but should stay away from 5.56 in a .223 – and some South Korean PMC X-TAC. I added another 700 rounds to my count on the NS-15, pushing well past the 1,200 mark, with at least half of that suppressed. Keep in mind the carbine had been well-used before its run-in with Guns.com, having been on the range at several prior events. 

When it came to reliability, the carbine was a champ, logging three cleanings (one in Arizona and two in Mississippi) when it got especially sluggish, and two quickly-cleared stoppages (a failure to fully eject Tula on a PMAG and a double feed with German ammo in an old steel Colt-marked 20 rounder mag.) 

 

North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
I ran a combination of polymer mags, including 30-round PMAGs and Lancers as well as steel/aluminum mags from Colt, DuraMag, and D&H. A D60 that was on hand clicked as well. 

 

When it came to accuracy, the NS-15 excelled for a 16-inch barreled carbine with a polished Mil-Spec trigger and no magnification. At Gunsite, I easily managed the practical targets both on the flat range and in the Scrambler and Shoot House. Back in Mississippi, working off the bench and on sandbags, I was able to get some very nice groups with match-grade ammo. 

 

North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56 target
The best group I logged was this three-round 0.74 MOA with Winchester black box 77-grain BTHP match at 100 yards. Of course, it was from a bench with a death grip keeping it in the bags and a slow-moving trigger finger, but it holds up to North Star's sub-MOA guarantee on their rifles. 

 

Pros & Cons

 

Pro

  • High quality, accurate barrel.
  • Lots of M-LOK slots, QD cups, and Pic rail length.
  • Decent trigger.
  • Good fit and finish.
  • Reliable, even under rough conditions and with a suppressor.

Cons

  • Could have a better trigger.
  • Grip/stock may not be for everyone.

 

Conclusion

 

North Star has an MSRP on the NS-15 series of $1,099, but we have been carrying them for a good bit less than that in recent months. When it comes to ARs at about the same price (or cheaper), there is a *lot* of competition out there, such as the Diamondback DB-15, DoubleStar Forged Star, the IWI Zion-15, S&W M&P Sport, and Springfield Armory Saint Victor. I've shot most of those, some extensively, and the NS-15 can definitely hang with its competitors and even outshines many, especially in terms of accuracy. 

Competition is a good thing, and the NS-15 has taken the field ready to play.

 

North Star Arms NS-15 Carbine in 5.56
The North Star Arms NS-15 has an MSRP of $1,099. 

 

revolver barrel loading graphic

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