Building the Perfect M16A2 Clone

With AR-15s it seems you can pretty much build whatever you want.  

From super lightweight PDWs with 11.5 inch barrels and collapsing stocks to 24 inch equipped Special purpose rifles with carbon fiber barrels.  If you dream it you can build it.  

Of course, just like car enthusiasts have a tendency to be most excited about building classic cars, a lot of firearm enthusiasts want to build classic AR-15s.  One of the most prolific classic AR-15 models is the M16A2.  

M16A2 Clone
M16A2 Clone

The M16A2 holds a special place in my heart because it was the rifle I carried through boot camp, and I was in one of the last boot camp cycles to issue the A2 to recruits.  The M16A2 was a Marine Corps led project to improve the M16 after its Vietnam experience.  

Marines using M16A2
Note the Carry Handle

It served from the mid-80s well into the War on Terror.  It can still be found in reserve units and marksmanship units.  It’s also a common sight in the service rifle division at NRA High Power matches.  

Today we are going to look at what it takes to build an M16A2 replica, an AR15A2 if you will.  I’ve seen a lot of people asking about it, so I’ve assembled a list of the parts you need to build an M16A2.  

M16A3 parts diagram
All the Important Bits

Couple it with our How to Build an AR-15 Upper and How to Build an AR-15 Lower and you’re set!

Or if everything seems a little too difficult…Stag Arms has got you covered!

Stag Arms Retro AR-15

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Unique Upper

What really sets the M16A2 apart from modern AR 15s is the carry handle equipped upper receiver.  This carry handle upper receiver gives the M16A2 a very unique profile, and makes it stand out in a world of flat top uppers.  

Marines using M16A2
Note the Carry Handle on the Upper Receiver

This can be one of the harder parts to find, especially if you really want that classic fixed carry handle instead of a flat top with a mounted carry handle.  

Oddly enough I’ve never seen someone actually carry the gun by this handle.  Personally I know the idea of using the carry handle to carry the rifle would have resulted in ‘corrective action’ in boot camp.  The entire carry handle concept is odd, and I think that’s what makes the retro M16s so unique.  

Vintage M16
A Classic Example

Luckily, we have two options.  One’s the classic choice, while the other is a more affordable option for those on a budget.  

For a more authentic M26A2 clone, I suggest the Colt A2 upper receiver.  This is as close to the actual military upper you are going to get your hands on.

Colt A2 Upper Receiver

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you’re looking for something a bit less expensive, DPMS makes a very affordable and noteworthy model that’s true to the standard A2 design.  

DPMS A2 Upper Receiver

Prices accurate at time of writing

The M16A2 upper is equipped with a robust rear iron sight with two apertures and tons of adjustment potential.  The above uppers are both stripped, so you’ll need to purchase the rear sight separately.  

High Standard AR-15 A2 Rear Sight Assembly

Prices accurate at time of writing

You’ll also need a standard upper parts kit to finish your rifle, including the dust cover and forward assist with the necessary springs and pins.  Aero Precision makes excellent guns and gear, and this kit is a bargain.  

Aero Precision AR-15 Upper Parts Kit

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Barrel and Beyond

A 20 inch barrel on an AR makes the gun sound like a beast in a world of carbines, SBRs, and AR pistols.  The 223/5.56 round was designed for use with a 20 inch barrel so you’ll be getting optimum performance.  

20 inch barrels are easy to find, but I suggest Faxon because I know they are high quality.  A barrel typically isn’t something to skimp on.  

Faxon 20" Gunner Barrel 5.56 NATO

Once you’ve got a plain barrel you’ll need a few more things to make it an A2 barrel.  First you need that fixed front sight.  Daniel Defense not only makes one, but makes one of the most affordable models.  

Daniel Defense AR-15 A2 Fixed Front Sight

Prices accurate at time of writing

Alternatively, if you want something a little simpler you can get a 20 inch barrel with a fixed sight base already attached by Brownells’s own brand of premium barrels.  

Brownells AR-15 20" A2 Rifle Assembly

Prices accurate at time of writing

Regardless of what route you go you’ll also need a gas tube and A2 flash suppressor.  The rifle length gas tube is actually a major advantage of the 20 inch barrels.  You get less recoil, and the gun runs cooler.  

Rainier Arms Gas Tube

Prices accurate at time of writing

The A2 flash suppressor is one of the best flash suppressors out there, and acts as a compensator as well, plus they’re common and cheap.  

Brownells AR-15 A2 Flash Suppressor

Prices accurate at time of writing

You’ll also need those famous polymer round handguards.  Rail systems on rifles were only  a dream when the M16A2 entered service and rifles were kept nice and light using polymer handguards.  Rock River Arms makes an excellent set of classic round handguards that use triangular caps.  

Rock River Arms A2 Handguard

Anderson Manufacturing Triangle Handguard Cap

Prices accurate at time of writing

You’ll also need a few other miscellaneous small parts:

  • Handguard Liners
  • Delta Ring Kit
  • Barrel Nut
  • Barrel Indexing Pin

The Rifle’s Heart and Soul

At the core of the rifle, resting comfortably and softly in the upper receiver is the bolt carrier group.  The bolt carrier group is easily one of the most important parts of the rifle, and you have literally tons of options.  If you want more specific info, check out our article on BCGs here.  

However, if we are being legit with our A2 build we gotta go with the classic M16 full auto BCG, with a mil spec phosphate coating.  You have tons and tons of options, so the real question is which one do you want?  

Personally, if I’m going legit A2 I’m going with a Colt BCG.  

Colt M16 5.56 Bolt Carrier Group

Prices accurate at time of writing

It’s a little pricey, I know, but there are more less expensive  alternatives.  Brownells, for example, makes a very simple and very affordable option.  

Brownells M16 5.56 Bolt Carrier Group

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Complete Upper

If you appreciate things nice and simple, don’t have a ton of time, or are just a little lazy you can also go with a complete upper option, with the right upper, barrel, gas tube, bcg, etc. included.  

This one is from Anderson, who famously makes some of the most affordable, but still quality, lower receivers.  

Anderson Manufacturing 20in M16 Replica Complete Upper

Prices accurate at time of writing

Gettin’ Low

That’ll about do it on our upper receiver so now we can focus on the lower half of your A2 build.  The good news is choosing a lower receiver is pretty easy to do.  Unlike an upper you can basically use any standard mil spec lower receiver.  

The standard AR 15 lower receiver hasn’t changed since the A2 so you can throw a dart at the Brownells catalog and pick whichever receiver it lands on.  Personally, I’m a fan of Spike’s lowers.  They are well priced, easy to find, and high quality.  

Spike's Tactical AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver

Prices accurate at time of writing

However, any forged 7075 T6 aluminum lower with an anodized finish will be technically correct.  Stay away from lowers with short throw safeties, and stay from polymer if you want a legit M16A2.  

You’ll also need to put the clothes on (or in I guess) that stripped lower.  For this you again have dozens of choices.  If we are keeping it legit you can go with the Colt Lower parts kit.  

Colt AR-15 Lower Receiver Parts Kit

Prices accurate at time of writing

This kit does not include the pistol grip or trigger.  Both are easy enough to find. 

Cavalry Arms A2 Style Pistol Grip

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you are looking to build an A2 for service rifle competition, then the Rock Island Match trigger is a great option for you.  The Rock River Arms Match trigger provides a clean and crisp pull that comes in at about 4.5 to 5 pounds.  It’s a two-stage trigger that is much cleaner and smoother than any mil spec trigger.  

Rock River Arms AR-15 National Match 2-Stage Trigger

Prices accurate at time of writing

For those who want to go the simple route, there is are complete lower kits that are both affordable and easy to find.  Bushmaster has a great classic mil spec option that’ll fit in an A2 build.

Bushmaster AR 15 Lower Parts Kit

Prices accurate at time of writing

And for competitors that want to make their build easier, Rock River Arms also has a complete lower kit that includes their Match Trigger.

Rock River Arms AR-15 National Match 2-Stage Trigger and Lower Parts Kit

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you want to make your build as simple as possible, there are always complete lowers with an installed lower parts kit.  This will save you a bit of time, and likely some frustration from that irritating front pivot pin. 

Yankee Hill Machine AR-15 Complete Lower

Prices accurate at time of writing

Stocked Up

Finally, we get to the rear of our A2 build.  The A2 again has what some consider antiquated stock.  It’s fixed!  

Oh, the humanity!  It doesn’t collapse, fold, and it’s not easily removable.  However, it is quite durable, provides an excellent cheek rest, and even has a compartment to stow things in.

High Standard AR-15 A2 Fixed Stock

Prices accurate at time of writing

Few companies make authentic A2 stocks, but High Standard is one of them.  The High Standard stock is completely mil spec, down to the aggressive triangular texturing on the end of the stock.  

You’ll also need a rifle buffer, rifle buffer spring, and rifle buffer spring tube.  All are somewhat odd in the days or carbines and collapsible stocks.  Luckily, Brownells piled everything together in one kit, making this much easier.  

Brownells AR-15/M16 A2 Rifle Buffer Tube Assembly

Prices accurate at time of writing

Finishing Touches

Of course, you are going to need some mags to make the whole thing run right?  Well if it’s an A2 clone you can tell those Lancers, Pmags, and Hexmags they gotta go.  No for an A2 build you gotta go old school aluminum.  

The Brownells brand aluminum mags are mil spec, cheap, and available in multiple quantities.  

Brownells AR-15 30rd Magazine

Prices accurate at time of writing

For those poor souls in states with capacity limits, Brownells has ten rounders available as well.  

Brownells AR-15 10rd Magazine

Prices accurate at time of writing


Now the following items aren’t needed for an M16A2 clone, but they can add a little pizazz to your build.  These accessories hark back to those easier days, where rails weren’t a thing, and our version of MLOK was duct tape.  

Marine running obstacle course
The Marines have the essentials covered.


Bayonets are actually still issued with the M16A4 and the M4 rifles.  Bayonets have been part of the military’s inventory for hundreds of years, and will likely remain so, but do you really need one?  

Probably not, but a bayonet definitely adds something extra to the build.  As much as I love things that go boom, I also like pointy things.  I’m tossing two bayos up here because the M16A2 served long enough to be issued both.  

Ontario M9 Bayonet

Ontario Knife Company M9 Bayonet

The M9 bayonet is the bayonet of the United States Army.  It doubles as a combat or general utility knife.  A bayonet has to be extremely well made for it to function correctly. Good thing this bayonet is designed to be used as a spear point.

Ontario was one of the many companies who was contracted to produce the M9 bayonet and they still manufacture the design.  If you’re buying a bayonet you might as well buy one from a company who makes it right.  

Ontario OKC3S Bayonet

Ontario Knife Company OKC3S Bayonet

This is the bayonet I know and love from my time with the Marines.  The OKC3S is essentially the famous Marine Corps KA BAR turned into a bayonet.  It features a 7 inch blade with a little serration at the end.  The OKC3S is issued to almost every Marine carrying a rifle and they were even used in Fallujah.

Marines still train with bayonets and are required to prove proficiency to obtain their tan belt and graduate boot camp.  

Barska 4×20 Electro Sight

Barska 4x20 Electro Sight Scope

Prices accurate at time of writing

This replica of the classic Colt scope proves you can toss an optic on an A2 without issue.  Barska produces an affordable Colt replica that gives the user a 4 power magnification, and a sleek old school look.  The Barska sight isn’t a go to war optic, but it’s perfect for capturing that old school cool look and feel of the A2 platform.  

GI Sling

In a day where elaborate slings rule the roost the classic GI sling feels a bit underwhelming, but this style of sling has served for decades!  It’s simple, reliable, and the M16A2 platform works perfectly with it.  It’s another complete the look accessory.  

That’ll Do For an A2

M16A2 builds, and retro builds in general, are a very popular trend in the AR world.  Brownells is even selling old school AR receivers and furniture for A1s.  Just a quick glance at R/guns reveals how popular retro builds are.  

Plus you can get a full retro kit from Stag Arms.

Stag Arms Retro AR-15

Prices accurate at time of writing

It’s odd to see so many people clamoring for carry handle equipped uppers, but I guess everything is cyclical.  Readers, do you guys and gals have an interest in retro ARs?  What about retro guns in general?  

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8 Comments on "Building the Perfect M16A2 Clone"

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I didn’t see a mention of a retro styled charging handle (I may have missed it) – I know standard charging handles are all pretty much the same but any links or advice on a period correct looking one?

Jameel Nicholson
I carried an A2 in the Army (2003 – 2009), and hated it. It was the dinosaur passed to the aviation units once the BCTs transitioned to the M4, since Army brass decided (rightly) that we were highly unlikely to engage in direct combat. Having to carry that broomstick in very tight, confined, and sensitive places (try working underneath/inside your car everyday while having to lug around an A2, and you’ll soon see the folly) was worse than useless; we didn’t have any ammo on-hand anyway, so carrying the weapon was just a nuisance – “check the block” security theatre.… Read more »
Monte Walsh

The dpms a2 Upper pictured is an A1, note the rear sight. Decent article but with a little research the builds can be completed cheaper and better detailed.


Thanks for the head up. I link to pics rather than upload and for some reason the link picture changed. If you click it it takes you to the A2 upper. Not sure what happened there.

Homer Carter

Eric, I guess I’m kind of old school (early action in Nam (65-68) and don’t like the pretty AR15. Going on the low-end, what is the bottom line on a complete build for the M16A2? I will not be shooting a lot of ammo down range.

Ben Bruinius

Thanks for the info Travis, Ive been wanting to build retro A 2 for awhile now and your article just stirred that interest back up after seeing the colt a2 upper at Brownells I think I will be ordering it right after making my comments