Photo Review of the Dublin AK RCS Forward Charging System

First, let's get the "why fix what ain't broke?" question out of the way. Back in the day the musket and ball were fine and didn’t need improvement. Then one day, the other side started to shoot back :-). This was all the incentive the first party needed to re-think tools and tactics and try to get a leg up on the competition. Fast forward a couple hundred years and we're still doing that.

Besides, anything can be improved, innovated and reinvented. Anything. You could say it's the American way. The AK-47 was invented over 60 years ago and has proven to be a great, rugged and reliable platform. Does that mean it’s perfect and can’t be improved? Ethan Dublin, the inventor of the RCS AK forward charging handle and founder of Dublin AK Systems , thinks it can.

We at WASR-10.COM, decided to sidestep all the Kalashnikov dogma and judge the RCS solely on it's merits. This richly illustrated review details our findings.

Design


Let's start of by breaking down (most literally ;-) ) how this RCS works. The RCS is a "drop in" kit that replaces the standard AK gas tube with a custom gas tube – fitted with a floating charging handle. Assisted by a notched gas piston sleeve, the new charging handle pushes the bolt back, allowing the user to charge the gun or eject a misfire. Because both the charging handle and the gas piston sleeve are "floating", the charging handle does not reciprocate (move back and forth) with the gas piston.

Dublin AK Systems RCS Parts
Figure 1: Plumbing Inspection.
When the operator pulls back the RCS charging handle (in green) (which moves in grooves in the bottom and top plates of the RCS assembly) the notch on the charging handle will push the RCS gas piston sleeve (in red) backwards along the existing gas piston (in blue) until it runs into the wider part (in purple) attached to the bolt carrier. When the user continues to pull the charging handle back, the bolt carrier is pushed back far enough to cycle the gun. When the charging handle is released, the AK's return spring will push the bolt forward, stripping a new round from the magazine and loads it into the chamber.

Since the charging handle (in green) is not attached to the gas piston sleeve (in red), and the gas piston sleeve is not attached to the gas piston (in blue), the charging handle does not reciprocate when the gun is fired. The kick of the gun might move it back and forth a bit, but (if you were so inclined) you could hold your finger on the charging handle while firing the gun.
Dublin AK Systems RCS Detail View
Figure 2: Self Cleaning Rail... If only Dublin AK Systems made kitchens.
The RCS is designed to be "Self Cleaning" meaning that any dirt or debris that might get into the gas tube will be worked out of the open side by the action of the gun. The grooves holding the charging handle in place are open on both ends to allow the handle to "work" dirt out of its path.

One last thing we should mention about the design; because the RCS is made out of solid steel it is able to absorb a lot of heat before it gets hot itself. This is particularly important because unlike the original gas tube, the RCS does not have a hand guard and you do not want to be burning your hand on it after you shot a few mags.

If you want to know more about how the RCS is put together we suggested you check out our detailed RCS installation instructions.

Function


Now that we know how the RCS works, lets get into it's purpose; why would you want one?
Ergonomics, Ergonomics, Ergonomics
Anyone who has ever spent time shooting AK style rifles will notice that the AK is slower to reload than most modern rifles like, well lets just say it, the AR-15 :-). The main reason for this is the bolt of the AK does not stay open after you fire your last shot. This means, every time you insert a magazine, you'll have to rack the bolt back to chamber your next round.

Charging the AK is done with the charging handle located on the right of the gun, towards the back of the receiver. This forces right handed operators to either take their strong hand off the pistol grip, or reach over the gun with their weak hand – Spetsnaz style. Neither of these options is ergonomic and if the AK has any side or top mounted optics, the "reach across" becomes almost a non-option.
With some practice, the RCS will allow the user to reload without loosing their sight picture. Clearing jams or misfires is even more natural – slide your supporting hand up an inch, grab the charging handle and rack it back – without really taking your hand away from the fore-end.
Shooting the Dublin AK Systems RCS
Figure 3: Ergonomics: Tap Out, Load, Rack, Shoot. Repeat, repeat, repeat...

No Exterior Moving Parts
Optionally, the RCS allows you to remove the existing charging handle from the bolt, eliminating any exterior moving parts. This provides advantages in close-quarter tactical situations and allows the operator to charge the gun without disengaging the safety.

Works with Left Side Optics Mount
The WASR-10, like many other AK's, has a left side optics mount that can be used to mount a POSP Scope or a Weaver rail to allow for all sorts of tactical optics. An additional advantage of the RCS is that, because of its convenient forward position, it allows the user to retain the use of their side rail. This is an advantage over other left hand charge handles like the AK Lightning Bolt which prevents the user from using the side rail.
WASR-10 With POSP Scope and Dublin AK Systems RCS
Figure 4: The RCS allows the user to use the left side scope mount.

Form


Say what you will about the Mall-Ninjas, Arm-Chair Commandos, and Zombie Defense Masters out there, but at least they admit their guns are toys and that toys are supposed to be fun and cool. Tacticool to be precise. The RCS is the sort thing that will make any Tactiphile salivate, so we decided to make some top shelf gun porn. This is where we ran into an aesthetic problem. As much as we like the OG style of a stock WASR-10, it’s very low on the tacticool-index. In fact, it's not tacticool at all :-(.

Because we feared our RCS review pictures would turn out like some sort of "Antiques Roadshow meets Star Trek" abomination, we reached out to our friends at Tapco USA for some material assistance with the tactification process. Tapco liked the project so much, they came through and supplied us with a black AK-47 SAW grip, a T6 collapsible stock, an Intrafuse vertical grip and an Infrafuse quad rail handguard. You'll see these goodies in the RCS review pictures and video and you'll also see them in an upcoming "WASR Tactification" article.
Dubin AK Systems RCS on WASR-10.
Figure 5: WASR-10 with Dublin AK Systems RCS and sporting Tapco Furniture.

Dubin AK Systems RCS on WASR-10.
Figure 6: WASR-10 with Dublin AK Systems RCS and sporting Tapco Furniture.

Experiences


Since this a review, lets talk about our feelings...
Delivery and Installation
The RCS we used for our review was supplied and shipped directly from Dublin AK Systems. It arrived when promised and as promised. The people at Dublin AK Systems were accessible and responsive to questions we had. All parts looked like the high quality milled parts that they are. Actually, with their matte black Duracoat finish they reminded us more of AR-15 parts :-).

Installing the RCS was quick and simple. Here are the steps:
1.) Remove the gas tube.
2.) Drop in the bottom plate and close the gas tube latch.
3.) Reinsert the gas piston.
4.) Put the gas piston sleeve on the gas piston and set the charging handle in the bottom rail.
5.) Use the allen wrench (provided) to screw the top plate back on the bottom plate.

All in all, the RCS installation was a total non-event. It took us about 3 minutes to rig up the test WASR-10. You will find our illustrated RCS installation instructions here.

The only thing we didn’t like about the RCS assembly is the top plate requires an Allen wrench to remove it from the bottom part. By itself we would not worry too much about this if not for the fact that, once the RCS is mounted, you can't remove the gas piston (unless you take off the top cover and remove the piston sleeve first). This means you'll need the Allen wrench in order to field strip the rifle.
Installing the RCS
Figure 7: Installing the RCS

Shooting the RCS at the Range.
Next, we headed out to the range for the moment of truth. And truth be told, we had sweaty hands before that first shot (on account of the big opening in the side of the gas tube). We took the first shot from the hip :-).

Fortunately it turned out our apocalyptic visions of exploding rifles and searing hot gas shooting out of the side were all wrong. We never thought about this, but by the time the gas piston is pushed out of the gas cylinder, (that’s the short tube attached to the barrel) the bullet has already exited the barrel and the gas doesn’t really follow the gas piston further into the gun. (We learn new stuff every review we do!)

The first thing we noticed was the sound. It seems like the typical AK bark has gotten a little louder – most likely because of the opening in the side of the gas tube. It’s also as if the front side of the AK has gotten a little heavier – which is not necessarily a bad thing as the rifle tends to climb.

After we felt comfortable shooting, we started to practice using the new charging handle. For our review video we simulated clearing misfires and reloading. After the first few minutes, working the front charging handle felt very natural and, frankly better than the standard AK charging method. It feels very natural to slide your hand up an inch from the front grip and rack the slide back and immediately have your hand back right where it belongs. And all this while you keep the rifle shouldered and your eyes on your target.

For our review, we didn’t remove the original charging handle. One thing we kept running into: we tried to charge the gun while the safety was still on – which is not possible as long as the original charging handle is blocked by the safety.

The other thing we noticed: with the RCS charging handle pulled all the way back, it does not bring the original charging handle back far enough to reach the "Bolt Hold Open" (BHO) indent in the "Krebs Custom" fire selector switch. Not disastrous, but we love our Krebs. Besides, if you think about it; the Krebs BHO and the RCS seem almost made for each other... Imagine racking the bolt carrier back with your left hand and then locking the bolt in place with your right thumb while your right hand stays on the pistol grip!
If only the gas tube sleeve were about a quarter inch longer...
The RCS does not bring the bolt back far enough to reach the  BHO indent...
Figure 8: The RCS does not bring the original charging handle (in green) back far enough to reach the Krebs Fire selector BHO indent (in red)

We liked how the RCS performed at the range and during our testing we did not run into any problems.

Tactical Drills with the RCS.
Shooting the WASR with RCS from a bench at the range is one thing but that doesn’t tell us much about how it behaves under close-quarter combat conditions. For this reason we will have a team member run through some CQC scenarios and update this review with results and pictures later.

Both the charging handle and the gas piston sleeve are "free floating". While this ensures the handle does not reciprocate, it also means if you move the rifle back and forth quickly it makes a sound reminiscent of someone shaking a can of spray paint. While, this sound can be eliminated by holding the charging handle with your thumb, this is a tactical minus worth mentioning.

Conclusion


The RCS does everything it promises to do. It makes the AK faster to reload, faster to clear, and faster to charge – while allowing the operator to maintain better situational awareness. After the first few minutes, working the mechanism starts to feel natural. Bottom line, when it comes to running the AK efficiently the Dublin AK systems charging system is definitely superior to the regular charging handle. Overall, we were impressed with its ease of use and effectiveness.

The main drawback was the fact that you can’t remove the gas piston without removing the RCS's top plate, which requires the use of an Allen wrench. One of the things we love about the AK is how we can disassemble it with our eyes closed (under water, while drunk, and wearing mittens) All kidding aside, besides the price (more on that later), this is the biggest drawback of this product.

Minor drawbacks we found were the "spray paint can" sound the RCS makes when you shake the rifle back and forth and the fact that its not compatible with the Krebs BHO indent. The slight decibel increase will probably not bother too many people.

That brings us to the final hurdle – which for a lot of people will be the biggest one – the price. The RCS is quality CNC milled steel and is made in the USA. Combine that with a relatively low volume production and you get a price point slightly over $200 – not cheap. However to place that into perspective, the RCS is still cheaper than a nice Red Dot, POSP Scope or a Tactical Furniture redo.
Dubin AK Systems RCS on WASR-10.
Figure 9: The Tapco Tactical WASR with RCS. A pretty picture.

Suggestions for Improvement


We started this review by stating that anything can be improved. Anything. That's why we'd like to wrap this review up by putting in our two cents towards the next generation of RCS.
Tool-less dis-assembly
Of course the Holy Grail would be to have a way to remove the gas piston without disassembling the gas tube. However, after looking at this thing from all angles, we cannot see a way to adapt this system to allow that. Short of that, we would like to see a system where we would not need an Allen wrench – or any tool for that matter. Kind of like how the gas tube on the stock AK disassembles.
Picatinny Rail and/or tactical hand guard
How cool would it be to have a Picatinny rail on this thing? Or even better: The ability to mount a tactical hand guard that matches the tactical fore-end "over" the RCS? Tapco? Anyone?
Krebs BHO Compatibility
If possible, lengthen the gas piston sleeve just a little bit so the original bolt carrier reaches the Krebs BHO. As an additional advantage, the operator would not have to pull the charging handle as far out of the rail.
Ambidextrous and or lefty version.
Left-handed people need love too! And as someone pointed out to us, if a lefty is shooting to the right, around a barrier, his head can be pretty close to that nasty stock-charging handle. We also envision an ambidextrous version where the gas tube sleeve would be double-notched and both sides would have a slide.
Sell a handle-less bolt and slot-less top cover.
Not everyone has a Dremel and knows how to use it. This also opens up possibilities for an AR style safety, because you don't have to cover the slot anymore.

Videos


Specs

Manufacturer Dublin AK Systems
Product 2nd Generation AK Ratchet Charging System
Product Launch January 2012
Material Milled 4140 and 1018 Steel
Weight RCS/ Original Gas tube & Hand Guard 425 / 150 grams
Finish Matte Black Duracoat
Reciprocating? Non-Reciprocating
Side Mounted Optics? Compatible
Price $209.99
Rifle Range Conversation Piece Absolutely!

For more information or to buy an RCS go to www.DublinAKSystems.com