Eugene Stoner, the legendary designer of the AR10, AR15 / M16 and the Stoner 63 weapons family, formed ARES Incorporated in 1972. He left the company in 1989 after designing the ARES Light Machine Gun – also referred to as the Stoner 86 LMG.
The ARES LMG / Stoner 86 was designed as an extensive update of the ground-breaking Stoner 63 LMG, and was a competitor to the FN Minimi in the US Army Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) programme. In the end, the FN Minimi was adopted by the US Army as the M249 SAW and the Stoner LMG project was shelved for a few years.
In 1990 Eugene Stoner joined Knight’s Armament Company, and in 1996 made some further refinements to the design and this weapon became known as the Stoner M96 LMG. Eugene Stoner died in April of 1997, and it seemed that the future of the ARES / Stoner LMG had died with him. However, the Global War on Terror and operations in Iraq revealed a need for a more compact, lightweight and easier-to-use and maintain light machine gun than the standard-issue M249 SAW.
So Knight’s Armament Corporation dusted off the Stoner 96 design, made some further engineering enhancements to the design and created the third incarnation of the weapon – now known as the KAC-Stoner LMG. It is now one of the lightest, most compact and easiest-to-control when firing belt-fed light machine guns currently available. For these reasons, the KAC-Stoner LMG has seen fairly extensive use with private military contractors and other specialized units since its launch.
I don’t actually know if Ares Airsoft named their company as an homage to the real-steel company founded by Eugene Stoner, but at any rate it is certainly appropriate that they should be the company to create a fully-licensed and approved, all-metal airsoft replica of the KAC-Stoner LMG.
The Ares Airsoft KAC-Stoner LMG replicates the real-steel version EXTREMELY accurately – right down to being almost the exact same weight. Now, this weight makes the real LMG the lightest belt-fed LMG in the world, but it might feel a bit heavy for an airsoft gun. However, if you like your airsoft guns to feel solid enough to take whatever abuse they might suffer on the skirmish field, then you’re going to love this one.
Reed Knight and Knight’s Armament Company apparently worked very closely with Ares Airsoft to ensure that they got every detail of this replica just right – and looking closely at both of them you see that the folks at Ares did a great job. Even little details like the size and shape of the cut-out notches on the stock tube for adjusting the length of the stock are the same as on the real one. Another detail I liked is the gas pressure relief holes on the under-barrel gas tube – completely decorative on the airsoft gun, but they’re there for authenticity’s sake. The gun also features the first licensed use of KAC’s new corporate logo, and each gun comes with a unique serial number and a letter of authenticity signed by Reed Knight himself.
One of the other really, really cool things that adds to the realism of this gun is the quick-change barrel set-up. Well, on the real gun it’s a quick-change barrel, on the airsoft gun it’s a way to let you stick your battery where it belongs (up the fake gas tube), and a way to make cleaning your bore a real breeze. Another feature which shows the attention to detail on this gun is the spring-loaded charging handle on the right hand side. Once again, it serves no useful function – but it’s there for the sake of authenticity.
Also adding to the ultra-realism of this gun is the way that the BBs are fed into the gun, and the way that the wires that provide juice to the auto-winding magazine are handled. In the first case, they feed straight up from the magazine into the bottom of the receiver and chamber – just like on a regular magazine-fed AEG – so, no fiddly, delicate, and unrealistic feeding tubes to worry about. In the second case, the wires that provide power to the 1,100-round magazine are disguised within the fake belt of ammunition – which also helps make the gun look more realistic. Incidentally, the power for the magazine comes from the same battery that powers the AEG motor. That keeps things simple and straightforward with just needing to worry about one battery. It might mean that the battery gets drained a bit faster though.
Detracting from the realism, the gun is shipped with the mandatory blaze orange flash-hider installed – but ARES very kindly includes a standard one too so that you can swap it if you live in a locale that doesn’t require the blaze orange tip. Somewhat annoyingly though, Ares also paint about ¼” of the end of the outer barrel too – so even if you do swap the flash hider, you still have an orange band around the end of your barrel.
Finally, ARES includes a free set of rail covers and a free vertical fore-grip in the box. So, all you have to provide is a battery and you’re ready to rock and roll.
As mentioned earlier, the gun is designed to take a stick battery up the gas tube and easily took the 1500mah thingy that I shoved up her. Now, there is a little bit of finesse required in order to get the Tamiya-style cable connectors hooked up and out of the way, to keep the wire for the auto-magazine pulled up out of the way, and then for the barrel assembly to be re-inserted, and the gas tube cap to be lined up correctly so that it all locks into place like it should. But after a couple of times it becomes easy and natural feeling.
Before taking this baby out for a good time in the woods, I fitted an adjustable bipod, a red-dot sight – and the included vertical grip and rail covers. Then I made sure the selector-switch was on SAFE, loaded up the magazine, grabbed some eye protection and headed out to see what she could do.
Having double-checked that all wires were properly connected, I adjusted the stock to the length I wanted, wrapped my hands around her grips, hunkered down behind her, flicked the selector switch to FIRE and squeezed the trigger. Rat-a-tat-tat she went, and then rat-a-tat-tat some more, and then rat-a-tat-tat some more as I squeezed off several bursts – but I was shootin’ blanks! So I gave her a bit of a shake and a wiggle – thinking that maybe the BBs just hadn’t worked their way up to the chamber yet – and squeezed the trigger again. This time I was rewarding the slightly better sound of rat-a-tat-tat plus phut-phut-put-phut as BBs began to stream out of the business end.
By observing the flight of my BBs I could see that they were falling a bit short. So I opened up the feed-tray cover and turned the rotary hop-up adjustment wheel a bit counter-clockwise. Here we see another great design feature of this gun – the hop-up adjustment is a rotary wheel and the feed-tray is cut away so that you can access it quickly and easily by only having to open the feed-tray cover. I snapped the feed-tray cover back down into its closed and locked position, and then shot off a few more bursts. This time I could see that the BBs were flying much further, but they now had a tendency to swoop skywards at the far end of their trajectory. So I popped open the feed-tray once more, backed off the hop a bit, closed the cover and let loose a few more bursts. Now the BBs were travelling to the full limit of their velocity – and not nose-diving or swooping skywards. I could also see that they flew in a nice tight group right up until the end – then they spread out a bit to create a nice beaten zone at the far end of their effective range. Nice!
And from then on it was raining BB’s on anyone who got within range and in my sights. This little gun really does lay down a very nice cone of supporting and suppressing fire on targets – and with a totally decent effective range too! With a magazine full of 1,100 rounds you don’t have quite as much as some other airsoft light machine guns out there, but that’s more than compensated by the compactness and ergonomic handling of this gun, combined with the ease with which the magazine can be topped up.
So, with all of this good stuff, is there anything to watch out on this gun? Well, there are a couple of things about it that you need to watch out for – and they’re both related to the shoulder stock.
ARES have gone with the brutally simplistic adjustable metal shoulder stock – rather than an M4 or MOE type of adjustable stock. This follows the STEN-gun-like design of its real-steel daddy, but it can be a bit of a pain. First, the button that you have to depress to adjust the stock is located right back on the top of the butt-plate, and its fairly small and can be difficult to get it to depress all the way like you need it too. The second thing is that I found the stock to be a little bit short for me (by about an inch) even at its fully extended length. The downside of this was that I bashed my nose into the sharp 90-degree angles of the rear of the receiver a couple of times before I got my cheek-weld right. This is a minor inconvenience in airsoft, but imagine if you caught the recoil of those sharp edges hitting your nose on a real one…
The other thing about the stock relates to the ease with which it can be removed. One the one hand, this is a great thing as it means you can very quickly and easily swap out the main spring if you need to or want to, and/or the all metal gearbox if needed. Just like on the real gun the stock assembly is secured in position with a spring-loaded catch on the right-hand side of the receiver end cap. Or at least it should be… On our gun the spring was missing – so the catch rocked up and down between latched and open completely willy-nilly. I discovered this purely by chance when I happened to notice that the stock had suddenly gone wobbly. I checked the box thoroughly but the spring wasn’t in it – so I can only assume that it either decided to go AWOL out in the field, or that it was never there in the first place. Either way, not great.
But even with those final caveats about the stock, this gun rocks. Is it a better choice as a light support gun than an M249, MK46, M60, MK48 and M240 on the skirmish field? In my opinion – absolutely! With a red-dot sight and a Gripod™ you get a light support gun that is really compact and easy-to-handle that can lay down a cone of fire that will really augment your fire-and-maneuver tactics and give you more firepower than a standard AEG. And it does with truly outstanding levels of authenticity and flexibility too.
The replica was kindly provided to us for testing and review by ZShot Inc., and this review was originally written for, and was published on, Airsoft-News.eu
- words and photos by Lawrence Holsworth