** This article was first printed in Special Weapons for Military & Police #29 (Fall 2004)

  Canadian Tactical's .223 Reflex Silencers:
Two Inspired Designs from Finland
by Al Paulson
 
     
 

The patented Reflex suppressor--invented by Finnish engineer Juha Hartikka--is one of the most innovative and practical silencer designs since the Maxim Model 1909. The Reflex family of silencers is noteworthy because they extend back over the barrel, so the can may add just 2-3 inches to the overall length of a rifle, depending upon how many baffles are used in the suppressor. The suppressor seems to disappear as far as the operator is concerned. Other noteworthy characteristics include its relatively light weight, inexpensive price tag, and impressive tolerance to sustained full-auto fire. Hartikka's designs were the first commercially successful suppressors to work effectively on beltfed machineguns, tolerating a nonstop burst of 500 rounds. Reflex suppressors also deliver superb accuracy. Finally, the Reflex suppressor provides two valuable tactical advantages. (1) A Reflex suppressor drops a weapon's sound signature to less than the U.S. OSHA and European risk limits for hearing damage from impulse noise such as gunshots (140 decibels). (2) The Reflex suppressor tends to hide the location of the shooter. A Finnish proverb dating back to their widespread use of silenced sniper rifles during Russian invasion of 1939, known as The Winter War, asserts that "A silencer does not make a soldier silent, but it does make him invisible." Made in Finland by Asesepänliike BR-Tuote Ky, the full line of Reflex suppressors is now available to military units and law-enforcement agencies in North America through Canadian Tactical Ltd. of Calgary, Canada. What follows is a hand's on evaluation of the two most widely deployed .223 Reflex suppressors today.

The BR-Tuote Reflex suppressors being evaluated in this study are the four-baffle (T4) and eight-baffle (T8) variants for the AR-15, M4, M16, and C7 rifles. These silencers are known officially as the models T4ARM4C and T8ARM4C, respectively. Most folks simply call them the T4 and T8 for short. Their general design specifications are summarized in Table 1.

In Finland, sound suppressors are completely unregulated. The government bureaucracy worries about silencers no more than tubes of toothpaste. This has led to a tremendous amount of technical innovation in suppressor design and employment for the public well-being, as well as for sporting and professional applications. Furthermore, the widespread use of silencers has not led to either crime or poaching. The tremendous fear and loathing of silencers by many Americans is groundless in the face of what totals roughly a millennium of collective experience in those European and other countries where silencers have been unregulated and/or widely available to the civil population for nearly a century. These observations are a necessary preamble to understanding the genesis of the Reflex suppressor in its proper context.
The story begins in the dorm room of an engineering student in Finland. As a 14-year-old lad, Juha Hartikka had begun designing .22 rimfire silencers. As a college student, he began to develop a suppressor for a semi-auto version of the Finnish Valmet M62 assault rifle, a modified 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov design that is the standard service rifle in Finland. Hartikka did the work as a project for one of his engineering classes.

Hartikka developed a short and lightweight suppressor that telescoped back over the barrel to minimize barrel harmonics and to keep the overall length of the suppressed rifle to a minimum. Hartikka used pressed steel baffles, steel tubing, and welded construction for his design rather than complex machined baffles to keep the cost down. His innovative approach used both baffles and the principle of reflection to direct combustion gases back around the rifle barrel. His goal was a simple, easy to manufacture, affordable design that is what engineers call "appropriate technology." This means using the simplest, most cost-effective designs, materials, and fabrication techniques to do the job so the technology will be used as widely as possible where it is needed.

This is important in Finland, where most adult males are in the army reserve. The budget is so tight that reservists reload their own ammunition at their own expense for target practice with their service rifles. Popular local and regional competitions keep their skills high. Extraordinary marksmanship skills are prized in Finland. Finland's greatest national heroes are military men who used their marksmanship skills against heavy odds during the Winter War and Continuation War a half century ago. Hartikka's approach to appropriate technology was so successful that his affordable, robust suppressors enabled Finland to become the first country to widely employ sound suppressors in the military.

Hartikka's Reflex suppressor uses a large open space back around the barrel as the primary expansion chamber. A cone at the rear of the baffle stack directs combustion gases back around the barrel. The amount of sound reduction produced by a Reflex suppressor relates to the number of baffles. Increasing the number of baffles generally increases the amount of sound reduction. Hartikka's first prototype employed three baffles. Designated the RX3C, Hartikka tried to get Sako to manufacture the design under license in 1985.

Sako wanted better sound reduction, so Hartikka quickly returned with a nine-baffle design called the RX9A. Sako eventually rejected the design since the company felt that technology could not be patented. Hartikka turned his attention to other engineering work and ignored silencer design for nearly five years. By this time, he had also designed a number of firearms-related products as well. Word of the young engineer's developments reached a small firm called Asesepänliike BR-Tuote Ky (BR-Tuote for short). BR-Tuote quickly reached a licensing agreement to manufacture and market silencers and other firearms accessories developed by Hartikka, including a precision scope mount. In due course, the Finnish Patent Office granted patents for Hartikka's stable of inventions, including the Reflex suppressor.

Hartikka immersed himself in exhaustive R&D so that BR-Tuote could begin production of improved suppressors for the M62 assault rifle--as well as a variety of bolt-action sporting and sniper rifles--in 1989. Hartikka built all of the prototypes himself. He evaluated many variations on his theme to develop the best combination of attributes for a given application. This intensive R&D delayed commercial production until the dawn of a new decade, when Hartikka was convinced deep in his bones that his Reflex suppressors were ready for prime time.

Following the introduction of the Reflex suppressor to the Finnish market, Hartikka continued to develop new versions of the Reflex suppressor for a variety of firearms and applications. From 1991 through to 1995, he designed at least two new variants of the Reflex suppressor per week. Hartikka has designed more than 300 different Reflex variants for different sporting, law enforcement, and military arms since 1990. Roughly 60 different Reflex suppressors are currently in production. Considering the diversity of its product line, the widespread popularity of Reflex suppressors throughout Europe among both armed professionals and sport shooters, and the overall quality of its products, it is safe to say that BR-Tuote is one of the most important silencer manufacturers on the world stage.

A significant aspect of the Reflex suppressor from a production point of view is that the design is highly modular, so that the same parts are used in many different variants. In the real world, this means that the combined number of different suppressor parts kept on hand for production is much smaller than the number of versions currently being produced. This modest inventory, combined with a reduced fabrication time compared to conventional silencers, means that the cost for the end-user is kept as low as possible.

Hartikka changed the internal design of his Reflex suppressors in 1992 to make production easier and even shorter suppressors. Since then, a Reflex suppressor may only add 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) to the overall length of a rifle, depending upon the silencer model. These shorter Reflex suppressors like the ones evaluated in this study actually deliver the same amount of sound reduction as the longer models they replaced.
While Reflex suppressors aren't as quiet as state-of-the-art suppressors made in the United States, they do offer an impressive mix of performance characteristics. They tolerate sustained full-auto fire. They reduce the firearm's noise level to below the pain threshold. More importantly for the armed professional, the Reflex suppressors provide enough sound reduction to hide the location of the shooter, and to prevent short-term and long-term hearing loss. Always remember that what you can't hear might kill you. Hartikka achieved these objectives without resorting to complex baffle designs and advanced materials.

Operation and Maintenance

Every sound suppressor has its own operating requirements. The T4 and T8 suppressors are no exception. While a screw-mount is available that requires removing the rifle's flash hider, the variants used in this study mount over a barrel with flash hider in place. This is accomplished by the use of a threaded sleeve that is placed over the barrel between the flash hider and front sight. A cutout that runs the length of the sleeve goes over the bayonet lug to keep the sleeve from turning as the suppressor is screwed onto the sleeve. When screwing the Reflex suppressor onto a rifle, tighten it only moderately (this is atypical, but important). Use only as much force as you can apply with the fingers of one hand. Over-tightening can produce excessive group shift or loss of accuracy. To ensure optimum accuracy and maintain the same point of impact, screw on the suppressor to the same tightness every time.

In terms of maintenance, T4 and T8 are practically maintenance free. They should be cleaned after each shooting session. The process couldn't be simpler. With the muzzle end down, shake the can to remove loose particulates such as unburned powder and carbon granules. Then spray a light oil such as Militec-1 Synthetic Metal Conditioner into the can.

The U.S. Army report entitled Operation Iraqi Freedom Lessons Learned (published May 15, 2003) observes that our forces in Iraq have learned that Militec-1 is the preferred oil for infantry weapons. "Soldiers provided consistent comments that CLP was not a good choice for weapon's maintenance in this environment. The sand is a fine as talcum powder here. The CLP attracted the sand to the weapon. Soldiers considered a product called Militec to be a much better solution for lubricating individual and crew-served weapons." It is a bit expensive, but a little goes a long ways, and it remains effective as a lubricant and rust inhibitor for a long time since it penetrates pores within the steel. I've used it exclusively for several years.

While virtually everyone has WD40 oil on hand and it is quite affordable, I cannot recommend this product for Reflex suppressors or firearms. WD40 does have good hygroscopic properties, but it gets gummy and will attract particulates inside the can the next time it is used. Worse from an operational point of view, WD40 generates a considerable amount of smoke when used inside a sound suppressor. The smoke signature could spawn effective counterfire when used by armed professionals.

Contrary to many other silencer designs, BR-Tuote cautions that washing a Reflex suppressor with liquids or solvents is unadvisable.
When storing a rifle with mounted sound suppressor, stand the rifle suppressor-down with the action open. This accomplished several things. (1) With the can down, any water (the natural byproduct of powder combustion, along with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide) or unburned particulates will tend to accumulate beneath the front of the silencer rather than in the action of the rifle. And (2) leaving the action of the rifle open while in storage promotes the free circulation of air in the barrel and can, thereby facilitating the evaporation of any moisture and eliminating the risk of pitting caused by water combining with powder residue to form powerful corrosive acids.

Shooting Impressions

I'm impressed with the Reflex design in theory. What is it like to use in practice? Here's the skinny.

Using Black Hills 55 grain FMJ ammunition (analogous to M193 ball), both the T4 and longer T8 sound suppressors proved small and light enough to enable fast target acquisition during rapid-action drills. Note that individuals and departments can order Black Hills ammunition factory direct if it is not available locally.

With the M4's high iron sights, the relatively large diameter of the T4 and T8 Reflex suppressors was irrelevant. The M4 carbine was comfortable to shoot without hearing protection when fitted with either the T4 or T8 cans. Furthermore, using 62 grain FMJ ammunition, the M4's accuracy remained the same when either of the reflex suppressors mounted. Felt recoil dropped by 25-30 percent with these suppressors, making follow-up shots or engaging another target significantly faster than using an unsuppressed M4 with standard flash hider.

While the T8 suppressor is normally about 3 decibels quieter than the T4 when fitted to an M16 with 20-inch barrel, the data summarized in Table 2 reveal that both cans delivered the same sound pressure level (SPL) on an M4 carbine with its 14.5 inch, 1:9 inch twist barrel. What the table does not reveal is that the quality of the sound (i.e., frequency) produced by the two suppressors was much different. The T8 delivered a much lower, more pleasing sound signature that was less gunshot-like than the T4. Paradoxically, the higher pitch of the T4's sound signature attenuates more rapidly in air, so it may seem quieter to potential observers of suppressed gunshots who are far away from the weapon.

The mission essential need of preserving an operator's short-term and long-term hearing relates directly to the amount of noise researching the ear. There is no suitable artificial ear or unified ear modeling algorithm to measure the frequencies and sound pressure level reaching the ear drum, so I use the simple expedient of placing the microphone's 4 inch foam ball protector at the entrance to the ear canal facing the muzzle to get a standardized approximation. I place the mike at the left ear, because I use right-handed shooters, and clinical studies have shown that the left ear of right-handed shooters generally exhibits more hearing damage than the ear that is more or less shaded by the skull.

The sound data from Table 2 demonstrate the asymmetry of sound propagation around a firearm. It is interesting to note that the Reflex suppressors generate a net sound reduction of 25 dB 1 meter to the left of the muzzle and 29 db at the shooter's nearest ear. Some sound suppressors deliver the same amount of sound reduction at both locations. Noise asymmetry depends upon such variables as suppressor design, whether the firearm is manually operated or self loading, fires from the open bolt or closed bolt, and other design factors such as caliber. My research findings with regard to the asymmetry of suppressed gunshots since the mid-1980s are consistent with extensive research conducted by Dr. Rauno Pääkkönen of the Tampere Regional Institute of Occupational Health in Finland.

Any way you slice it, the T4ARM4C and T8ARM4C Reflex suppressors made by BR-Tuote and marketed in North America by Canadian Tactical Ltd. provide plenty of sound suppression to shoot comfortably without hearing protection and plenty of sound reduction to safeguard operator hearing without adversely affecting accuracy. These cans also deliver less recoil, less muzzle climb when firing full-auto, and a robust design that tolerates sustained fully automatic fire. Finally, both the T4 and T8 Reflex suppressors produce sound signatures that are well below bullet flight noise; this makes an operator employing good field craft invisible, just like the old proverb from Finland's Winter War asserts. This mix of performance characteristics makes these Reflex suppressors worthy of the armed professional. I give the T4 and T8 Reflex suppressors from Canadian Tactical Ltd. two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Canadian Tactical can also provide a wide variety of both custom and stock weapons for the armed professional, training in the operation and deployment of suppressed weapons, as well as a full line of both mainstream and proprietary accessories and drag bags. I can also recommend Canadian Tactical without reservation.

Resources

Canadian Tactical Ltd.
Dept. GW/LE
P.O. Box 632
Station M, Calgary, AB T2P 2J3
Canada
403-277-5184
e-mail info@canadiantactical.ca
website www.canadiantactical.ca

Black Hills Ammunition, Inc.
Dept. GW/LE
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709-3090
605-348-5150
www.black-hills.com

MILITEC, Inc.
Dept. GW/LE
11828 Pika Drive
Waldorf, MD 20602
301-893-3910
e-mail militec@militec1.com
website militec1.com

 
     
 

 Table 1. Design specifications of BR-Tuote's T4 and T8 Reflex suppressors.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Parameter T4ARM4C T8ARM4C
______________________________________________________________________________

Weight 22 ounces (635 g) 26 ounces (730 g)

Length 8.25 inches (21.0 cm) 9.34 inches (23.7 cm)

Length past muzzle 2.38 inches (5.9 cm) 3.38 inches (8.4 cm)

Diameter 2.0 inches (5.0 cm) 2.0 inches (5.0 cm)

Mounting threaded mount or threaded mount or
AR-15/M16/M4/C7 AR-15/M16/M4/C7
military flash hider mount military flash hider mount

Construction all-steel all-steel

Finish milspec nonreflective black milspec nonreflective black

Required modifications
to AR-15/M16/M4/C7 none none

 
     
 

 Table 2. Performance comparison of BR-Tuote's T4 and T8 Reflex suppressors.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Parameter T4ARM4C T8ARM4C
______________________________________________________________________________

ammunition Black Hills Black Hills
55 grain FMJ 55 grain FMJ

SPL, unsuppressed 162 dB 162 dB
1 meter to left of muzzle

SPL, suppressed,
1 meter to left of muzzle 137 dB 137 dB

Net sound reduction
1 meter to left of muzzle 25 dB 25 dB

First-round pop +0.8 dB +1.7 dB
______________________________________________________________________________

SPL, unsuppressed,
at shooter's left ear 154 dB 154 dB

SPL, suppressed,
at shooter's left ear 125 dB 125 dB

Net sound reduction,
at shooter's left ear 29 dB 29 dB
______________________________________________________________________________

Muzzle velocity,
unsuppressed 2,680 fps 2,680 fps

Muzzle velocity,
suppressed 2,711 fps 2,714 fps

Freebore boost +31 fps +34 fps
______________________________________________________________________________

Silencers were tested on M4 carbine with 14.5 inch barrel and 1-in-9 inch rifling rate of twist. Sound pressure levels (SPLs) of the M4 without the suppressor are compared to the net sound reductions provided by the suppressor 1 meter to left of suppressor front or at shooter's left ear. Temperature was 76 degrees F; altitude was 3,940 feet above sea level.

 

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