Today the ArmaLite Rifle (AR) platform remains one of the most popular modern sporting rifles in the world. There are now plenty of options for the casual/budget-minded shooter—but when quality is a serious consideration there are just a handful of companies on the shortlist.
Among those is the family-owned, privately held Daniel Defense. Unlike the titans of the American firearms industry—Colt, Winchester and Browning—which all have roots going back to the nineteenth century, Daniel Defense was only founded in the early twenty-first century, but it maintains some of the industry's highest standards and in a short twenty years has built a reputation for quality.
Company founder Marty Daniel might not be a household name like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, but like those tech industry pioneers, the story is similar. While the founders and Microsoft and Facebook dropped out of Harvard, Daniel was asked to leave the engineering program at Georgia Southern University not once but twice. He then took a new approach to his education and did what the tech guys didn’t—he finished the program, made the Dean’s List and earned his degree.
Like other firearms pioneers, Daniel also didn’t start out immediately designing small arms—and his first company actually produced overhead doors and fireplaces. He was bitten by the shooting bug and only purchased his first AR in 1999, but that was the catalyst that led to him founding a company devoted to making high quality “black guns” for the serious sport shooter.
Since being founded in 2002, the Savannah-based Daniel Defense has seen expansion and growth in the firearms market. The company, which was featured in Inc. Magazine’s Top 5000 list three times in recent years, also was unique in that it didn’t start out actually producing firearms but rather accessories. Marty Daniel had found the simple ribbed two-piece handguard, which had been standard on the AR-15/M-16 since Eugene Stoner developed the weapon system at Armalite in the 1960s, to limit what shooters could place on their AR.
While similar rails had already been adopted, the twelve-inch rail system Daniel designed found its way onto competition and designated marksman rifles used by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) at Fort Benning, Georgia in 2002, and remained in use with the USAMU until 2009.
It was soon afterward that Daniel was approached by the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) to develop and submit a forend rail system for a contract solicitation issued by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM)—and to raise the money to participate, Marty Daniel convinced his father to use the fourth-generation family farm as collateral for a $250,000 loan. After going toe-to-toe with major firms that had long-existing contracts with the Department of Defense (DoD), the underdog persevered and Daniel Defense received the contract for an M4 rail system and sling loops.
Less than a decade later, Daniel and his team of engineers made the transition from accessories and produced the DDM4, the company's first AR firearm. The original Daniel Defense rifle had a sixteen-inch barrel, Mil-Spec upper and lower receiver, along with an Omega X 12.0 FSP rail system, which features a rail section that extends beyond the forged front sight base with bayonet lug. Since then the company has expanded to include a line of bolt action rifles that feature the modularity of the modern AR platform while maintaining the highest quality in every product.
Today, while numerous companies produce AR-15s the ones from Daniel Defense are considered among the top of the line, while its rail systems continue to be used by the United States Special Operations Command and the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: Daniel Defense