Alpha Shooting Sports 7.62 x 39 upper: Bigger holes, better build

I recently tested an Alpha Shooting Sports 16-inch, 7.62 x 39 KM13 upper. For law enforcement agencies asking how they can employ a 30-caliber cartridge in a standard AR-15 package, this is the answer. Alpha Shooting Sports is a California-based manufacturer that makes assembly parts, parts kits, and fully assembled uppers.

Amazingly, California still has some of the best AR-15 offerings in the industry with companies like Houlding Precision Firearms, and Franklin Armory. There are firearms manufacturers like Weatherby (Mark V products), and even ammunition companies like Bishop Ammunition Manufacturing and the Load-X Ammunition Co. here “under the wire”. If we look at all other industries in the U.S., few have can claim "100 percent US-made", using American labor, US design and 100 percent American-made parts. Most US gun manufacturers can...and Alpha Shooting Sports can.

Reputably, Alpha Shooting Sports is a go-to place for quality competition and law enforcement products. I came upon their product line by talking to officers who purchase and train with their own equipment. Alpha Shooting Sports does not have “lowest bidder” products, yet their pricing is very competitive. My Alpha Shooting Sports 16-inch, 7.62 x 39 KM13 Upper has a carbine length gas tube. It is a direct impinged system. The low profile gas block is dimpled into the barrel. The advantage is a very low profile design, which allows for their free float system, using one of the most advanced hand guards in the industry.

I’m going to talk about the hand guard/free float system in a second, but I have to insert my comments here: I get to handle and shoot dozens of AR-15 systems a year. No one has a hand guard as modular, comfortable and shootable as this one. The Alpha Shooting Sports KM13 rail may be the best I’ve seen for a patrol upper.

The company uses a 1/10 16-inch barrel for this upper and a melonite process for barrels, rather than chrome lining. Melonite has similar (usually better) wear resistance and lubricant qualities as chrome, but it affects the entire barrel, where chrome is only in the lining. I like melonite because it does not change the dimensions of the bore after treatment. My barrel came with an AAC (Advanced Armament Corp.) Blackout 51T flash hider. This is a three-prong tapered unit with a ratchet mount, which means it is suppressor ready.

Ever since the AR-15 platform was adopted by the American Military two schools of thought have existed. One centers around the 5.56 AR-15 cartridge, the other around the AK-47. The former is fired from the platform that is the symbol of worldwide freedom. The latter does not have the same association. Since the first time the AR-15 was fielded, designers have attempted to stuff a 30-caliber cartridge into it. In fact, the original submission from Eugene Stoner for military testing was an AR-10 7.62 x 51, which preceded the AR-15. The 7.62 x 51 works in a larger platform, but not an AR-15.

Predating the M-16/AR-15, Mikhail Kalashnikov developed the Soviet design AK-47. This battle rifle had different design goals. It is notoriously less accurate, but easier to mass produce. The 7.62 x 39 round sends a heavier bullet, but it does not approach the speed of the 5.56. The AR-15 was developed with logistics in mind. That is, a pallet of 5.56 x 45 ammo weighs much less than a pallet of 30-06 or 7.62 x 51.

If you ever want to start a heated debate, ask which round is more effective in a firearms forum. You’ll hear things like, “the 7.62 round does not fragment...” and “faster bullets are flatter shooters...” If we add the preliminary data from the 300 Blackout (7.62 x 35 300 BLK), the debate becomes even more lively.

Even the UK Ministry of Defense had their own contribution to the debate, finding the 5.56 cartridge lacking in their SA80A2 rifles when the range went out to +300m, against insurgents with 7.62 x 39. Briefly, they looked at 7.62 x 39. Eventually, they incorporated the 7.62 x 51 L129A1 in their inventory.

The elusive part is this: The 7.62 x 39 round has not been reliable in other platforms, leaving designers scratching their heads. There are some theories about this. My theory is the steepness of the shoulder of the 7.62 x 39 doesn't seal the gas for very long. In an impinged system, the gas has to bleed at a specific rate. The AK-47 style cartridge lets gas bleed past it inconsistently. Obviously Alpha Shooting Sports has mastered the timing here.

The 7.62 x 39 bullet is more than twice the weight of the 5.56 and can deliver just shy of 1,200 foot pounds of energy at 100 yards. The higher velocity 5.56 runs about 1,150 foot pounds.

What’s the bottom line on the debate between 5.56 and 7.62 x 39? It’s apples to oranges. However, in my own experience, 7.62 x 39 does a great job against solid barriers like car doors and construction materials. It also proved reliable in the Alpha Shooting Sports platform. At first, however, I was a little concerned. When we got the upper to the range, I brought two of my lowers with me. One was attached to the MMC Armory upper I recently tested. The Alpha Shooting Sports 16-inch 7.62 x 39 KM13 upper was on the other. I fired the first two rounds and it did not feed. Then it did it again. Suspecting the issue was magazine related, I switched things around a bit. As it turned out, I had just replaced the magazine catch on one of my lowers, which was not engaging correctly. I then switched to my Franklin Armory receiver and proceeded to rock the range without further incident. Note to self: Replace magazine latch.

The Alpha Shooting Sports 16-inch 7.62 x 39 KM13 upper is just plain beautiful. The inside of the receiver is smooth and the finish is well applied, even in areas that can’t be inspected without tools. After several sessions, there are no chips or wear marks.

I can’t tell much difference between the two calibers in the internal parts. The extractor is definitely better material. This company knows that users will shoot steel cased ammunition (I tried some too) and it will handle it. This is probably one advantage of the 7.62 x 39. Surplus ammunition is everywhere. I recommend that users consider cheaper ammo, just not cheap ammo.

For this test, I used the good stuff: Federal Fusion Rifle Ammunition. Federal has optimized this particular round for use in this type of rifle. This particular test would not have wrung out the capabilities of the upper without Federal. This upper consistently shot well. First we used a set of MagPul MBUS PRO back up sights. These are low mount sights that stow away for a low profile backup. I’ve used them before. Shooters can flip them up and down hundreds of times and they always keep their zero.

I mounted Redfield’s new Accelerator lightweight optic, a multicoated lens mounted in a lightweight aluminum housing. The optic is tiny and has a 6MOA red dot. This sight is simple and weighs almost nothing. The 7.62 x 39 KM13 upper was perfect for fast, multiple target shooting and the Redfield Accelerator is perfect for shooting with both eyes open. I would use this package for dynamic intervention where officers need to quickly sort targets from non-targets. If I had to pick a setup for an active shooter incident, this is it.

To tell you the truth, I may mount the Redfield Accelerator on my Glock.The Alpha Shooting Sports 13-inch Key Mod free floating rail has a full length top rail and keyhole shaped cuts where one would expect side and bottom rails. These keyhole cuts are attachment points for short sections of rail. These sections can be placed on the free floated hand guard anywhere.

Because the hand contacts almost rounded surfaces, it is comfortable under recoil. It is also smaller in diameter and lighter than most other uppers. How much of a difference does this make? First, it is much easier to control. It feels better in the hand and the balance point is more toward the body. It’s easier to shoot it on a barricade and it’s easier to tote it around. It may look subtly different, but it’s big on the range.

We put plenty of rounds through the Alpha Shooting Sports 16-inch 7.62 x 39 KM13 Upper. The recoil is a bit more noticeable than shooting a 5.56, but accurate rapid fire strings don’t really seem much different to me. It has a different feeling recoil impulse which is best described as a slight torque. Obviously, it makes much bigger holes.

The Alpha Shooting Sports 16-inch 7.62 x 39 KM13 Upper made a believer out of me and anyone who handled it.


Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. He enjoys competing in shooting sports, running and cycling events. He welcomes comments at