What is an AR-15 Dissipator & What Is It Used For?

What the heck is an AR-15 dissipator?

To be honest, it sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick. But it’s not. It’s a real term within the gun world.

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We all know what an AR-15 is…but what’s a dissipator??

By this point, you’re likely scratching your head wondering what it means.

So, fear not…

Today, we’re tackling AR-15 dissipators to help you get spun up. We’ll go over the definition, pros/cons, and whether the design is still useful in this day and age.

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AR Dissipator Defined

605
Colt 605 with suppressor, Vietnam 1968

A “dissipator” or “dissy” is an AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel but with a rifle-length front sight post

There’s some controversy about who invented what, but they can first be seen in Vietnam era photos.

Why were they used, you ask?

The concept of the dissipator hinged on two positives:

  • A shorter barrel allows better maneuverability and weight savings
  • A longer sight radius allows for better accuracy

How Were They Created?

Original designs were created simply by cutting down existing 20-inch rifles down to 16-inch. However, this led to reliability issues due to changes in the overall timing of the rifle.

Colt 605a with MX148 launcher

Cutting down the extra 4-inches reduced the “dwell time” which is the amount of time the weapon maintains pressure so it can cycle. 

You can think of it as the amount of time the bullet stays in the barrel after it passes the gas port. In the dissipator barrel below, there’s almost no length left for the bullet after it passes the gas port which made the weapon unreliable.

AR-15 Gas Systems & Barrel Lengths
AR-15 Gas Systems & Barrel Lengths

Current Dissipators

Bushmaster came out with the first civilian AR-15 actually called the Dissipator which had shaved-down gas blocks at the normal carbine length and then a “dummy” A2 sight block up in front at the rifle position.

While no longer made new, they can be found on places like Gunbroker.

Bushmaster MOE Dissipator
Bushmaster MOE Dissipator

PSA also offers their mock version of the dissipator with a mid-length gas system.

PSA Dissipator
PSA Dissipator

However, there are still some “real” dissipators out there with enlarged gas ports and just one real front sight/gas block at the rifle position that have since solved the reliability issues. Del-Ton is the one that stands out.

Delton AR-15 Dissipator
Delton AR-15 Dissipator

Pros & Cons

We’ve already gone through the major pros with shorter barrels and a longer sight radius.

Some other advantages include a longer handguard which allows a more forward hand placement, protection from a hot barrel, and more space to accessorize.

“New York” with Colt 605a and suppressor and “Jackie” with M-16/M79 grenade launcher

And lastly, they bring an old-school kind of cool that resembles a short-barreled rifle (SBR) from far away.

Some of the cons include reliability and weight.

While reliability has mostly been fixed with gas blocks at carbine or mid-length positions, this adds additional weight from “dummy” gas blocks/sights at the front and longer handguards. 

But, “real” dissipators with just one gas block at the rifle position also have fixed the weight issue with enlarged gas ports.

Is the Dissipator Still Useful?

With today’s free floating gas tubes and shift toward optics, does the dissipator still have a place?

Our answer is yes, if you are ONLY going with iron sights.

Otherwise, there are too many other options to get the same advantages of a shorter barrel and more accurate sights with a reliable red dot and holographic sights.

Now if you’re making a cool clone rifle, then there is always a place for the Dissy. But you should go with one that is properly made so it can be reliable.

Conclusion

While AR-15 dissipators aren’t as popular these days as they were during the Vietnam era, they still are a cool feature — especially when viewed through the lens of history.

Did you know what a dissipator was? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to check out our definitive resource for all things AR-15 Rifles.

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14 Leave a Reply

  • Brian

    My first build was a dissappear, from Del-Ton. Have had it for 6 years now. It is fun to hit steel with iron sights only with the setup.

    1 week ago
  • goodlander

    The dissipator is still completely relevant without irons. In fact I claim that most 16" rifle builds should be configured with rifle-length gas. A mk18 with its 10.3" barrel and carbine length gas system has LESS dwell time than a dissipator AND requires more gas to function. Why? Shorter gas systems extract sooner and under more pressure. Because of this they often require more buffer mass to further retard extraction further increasing the gas required. Does anyone describe their mk18 as unreliable?

    With a rifle length gas system in a 16" barrel you get buttery extraction that requires the least amount of reciprocating mass to function reliably. It's gentle on parts and on brass. Less reciprocating mass requires less gas which is ideal because of the dissipator's low dwell time. Less reciprocating mass also means the gun shifts less as the action cycles. Dissipators may seem old timey but the recipe works and with today's selection of parts a dissipator is inherently more reliable than a mk18 with performance approaching that of a dedicated race gun.

    3 months ago
  • Valorius

    You missed the biggest advantage of a dissipator: The rifle length gas system makes the rifle very, very soft shooting.

    5 months ago
  • NC-Mike

    I have a Dissipator with a YHM flip up/down FSB, I love it, heavy bbl, detachable carry handle. Theres practically no recoil. I can stay on target better with it than I can with other gas lengths regardless if I use the irons or glass.

    11 months ago
  • Billyjoebob

    meh, just get a mid length, better of both worlds.

    2 years ago
  • Boris

    The Bushmaster Dissipator was named that for its heavily ventilated full length handguards with built in heat shields, to "dissipate" heat from rapid fire. This in combination with the HBAR chrome lined barrel made it run cooler, and as the other poster said, with a lower recoil than standard M4 carbines. And it maintained the full length A2 sight picture for accuracy with iron sights. Bushmaster started making these in the late 90s without a threaded barrel and flash hiders to skirt the Clinton AWB. Back then they actually came with Colt sourced chrome HBAR barrels, and are extremely well built. They started threading the barrels and adding hiders after 2004. The "postban" Dissys are actually 1" shorter than comparable M4 style carbines because of the lack of flashhiders. They are smooth shooting iron sight rifles that are too often bastardized to compete with current trends. Hope this helps.

    3 years ago
    • tom acton

      fyi: Bushmaster was producing their Dissipator model BEFORE the 94' AWB and using their own marked standard weight 1/9 twist barrels ( not Colt HBAR) in the process.

      3 years ago
  • Rick_A

    Mine was born out of a 20" A2 Hbar. It ran perfectly with an enlarged port (0.110") and fixed stock/rifle buffer. When going to a collapsible stock/carbine buffer it became a single shot. A lighter action spring fixed the reliability issue at the expense of smoothness. With some experimentation it was found the light spring with an H3 buffer closely mimicked the original configuration and it then worked with Russian steel cased on up.

    It's an excellent, accurate rifle with an old school cool factor. The ninjas tell it's no longer relevant but it's been working just fine for the 19 years I've had it, save for the minor tuning issue.

    4 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for the insight Rick!

      4 years ago
  • Brad

    I also disagree for the same reason. The rifle gas system on a shorter barrel produces a vastly different much more light and smooth recoil impulse that leads to a gun which is more controllable under rapid fire. I've heard of some 3 gun guys running similar setups where lighter recoil and quick transitions are necessary, however they're guns are usually highly tuned. I personally run a dissy and it is in my opinion I like it much better than a carbine gas system.

    5 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for your comment, love that readers can see other viewpoints! Sounds like a side-by-side comparison of the recoil impulse is on my to-do list.

      5 years ago
      • Brad

        I'd be more than happy to share my dissy experience thus far. They're great guns and we'll worth the time and effort that some take to get running reliably.

        5 years ago
  • Eric

    That's interesting thanks for posting it

    5 years ago
    • Dan

      I disagree, the longer gas system provides a smoother running/lower recoil impulse. It is desirable to some shooters.

      5 years ago
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