The Picatinny rail (// or //), also known as a MIL-STD-1913 rail, Standardization Agreement 2324 rail, or tactical rail, is a bracket on some firearms that provides a standard mounting platform consisting of rails with multiple transverse slots similar in concept to the earlier commercial Weaver rail mount used to mount telescopic sights.
Whereas the earlier Weaver design is based on a low wide dovetail, the Picatinny variation has a more pronounced angular section. Designed to mount heavy sights of various kinds, a great variety of accessories and attachments are now available and the rails are no longer confined to the rear upper surface (receiver) of long arms but are either fitted to or machine milled into the upper, side or lower surfaces of all manner of weapons from crossbows to pistols and long arms up to and including anti-materiel rifles.
Accessories – which can include vertical forward 'tool' or 'pistol' grips; bipods and rests; electro-optical sights, including image intensifiers; flashlights and laser sights – can be mounted by sliding into place (or, if already fitted with a Weaver mount, clamped to the rail), thus providing backward (one-way) compatibility with any items already provided with Weaver-type mounts.
As mentioned, the rail consists of a precision crafted strip undercut to form a flattened T cross-section provided with crosswise slots at intervals interspersed with flats that allow accessories to be slid into place from the end of the rail then locked in place; slid into the slots between raised flats then moved a short distance back or forth or clamped to the rail with bolts, thumbscrews or levers (as per the Weaver system).
The only significant difference between the Picatinny rail and the similar Weaver rail are the size and shapes of the slots, where the Picatinny rail has square-bottomed slots while Weaver rails have rounded slots. This means that an accessory designed for a Weaver rail will fit onto a Picatinny rail whereas the opposite might not be possible (unless the slots in the Weaver rail are modified to have square bottoms.)
(Weaver rails have a slot width of 0.180 in (4.57 mm), but are not necessarily consistent in the spacing of slot centers. As already mentioned, while some accessories are designed to fit on both Weaver and Picatinny rails, most Picatinny devices will not fit on Weaver rails; but, from May 2012, most mounting rails are cut to Picatinny standards and, as many shooting accessories can be fitted with just a single recoil pin, this obviates issues of incompatible slot spacing.)
The rail itself dates from work by the A.R.M.S. company in the early 1980s and Otto Repa in standardizing the Weaver design. Specifications for the M16A2E4 rifle and the M4E1 carbine received type classification generic in December 1994. These were the M16A2 and the M4 modified with new upper receivers where rails replaced hand guards.
The rail is named after the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, USA. The Picatinny Arsenal's role with the rail was to test/evaluate it and to create a military standard for it. This was Mil-STD-1913, dated February 3, 1995.
The Picatinny rail was originally for mounting scopes atop the receivers of larger caliber rifles, but, once established, its use expanded to other such accessories as tactical lights, laser aiming modules, night vision devices, reflex sights, foregrips, bipods, and bayonets. Because of their many uses, Picatinny rails and accessories have replaced iron sights in the design of many firearms, and they are also on the undersides of semi-automatic pistol frames and grips. Their usefulness has led to their being used in paintball and airsoft.
- Rail Integration System, generic term for a system for attaching accessories to small firearms
- Weaver rail mount, early system used for scope mounts, still has some popularity in the civilian market
- UIT rail, an older standard used for mounting slings particularly on competition firearms
- Sling swivel, older standard used for mounting slings, particularly on hunting firearms
- NATO Accessory Rail- further development from the MIL-STD-1913
- KeyMod - open standard design to replace MIL-STD-1913 for mounting accessories (except for scope mounts)
- M-LOK - free licensed competing standard to KeyMod
- "Dimensioning of accessory mounting rail for small arms weapons" (PDF).
- Brownells – World's Largest Supplier of Firearm Accessories and Gunsmithing Tools
- Pike, John. "M16 5.56mm Rifle". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
- Pike, John. "M4 / M4A1 5.56mm Carbine". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
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