Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ICS M4A1 R.A.S. Review

ICS has become a well known AEG manufacturer throughout the years, being one of the first to offer a reliable full metal AEG.  One thing that stood out was their M16 series and their split level gearbox.  In 2007 they updated their M16/M4 lineup with several internal upgrades such as metal bushings and an M100 spring.  The model we're looking at is from the 2007 lineup - the ICS M4A1 R.A.S.

I purchased this gun way back in 2008 from AirsoftGI for $350.  I wanted the best M4 in that price range, and after narrowing down my choices between ICS, Classic Army and G&G I ended up picking the ICS.  Why?  Well... the two piece gearbox stood out and it seemed to have nice stock parts already.  I liked the functioning forward assist button which decompresses the spring tension.  All in all it looked like a convenient and attractive M4.

Accessories and Externals

The gun comes in a black detailed cardboard box showing promotional images of the gun as well as specifications for it and listings of other ICS M4 models.  I don't have a picture of the box, but here's what was inside - the full metal ICS M4A1 R.A.S. with a side folding metal stock, two 450 round metal high capacity magazines, an ICS PEQ2 replica which holds the battery, a Sanyo 9.6v 1700mah Ni-Cad battery, a standard wall charger, a vertical foregrip/bi-pod combination (known as a Gripod) and a 1,000 ct bottle of ICS 0.2g high polished seamless BBs.  AirsoftGI also included a slip that indicates they've tested the rifle and recorded 350 FPS with 0.20g BBs.

Upon closer examination of the gun one thing stood out - the build quality.  This thing is almost entirely metal.  From what I gather it's aluminum.  The only non-metal piece is the composite pistol grip which has a nice sturdy feel to it.  There is no wobble on this gun whatsoever.  It has a nice semi-gloss black finish which looks dark grey under intense lighting.  When shouldered it's not the most comfortable rifle I've ever held.  There is no cheek rest and the pistol grip is not my preferred type but I can still be accurate when firing it.

On the left side of the gun you have control over the folding mechanism of the stock.  The selector switch moves very smoothly between Safe, Semi and Auto.  The trademarks are laser engraved and include an ICS logo as well as normal AEG and 6mm caliber trademarks.  I would have liked to see some Colt, or even Olympic Arms and 5.56 trademarks but this is fine.  The receiver is as sturdy as they come and on top of it is a metal carrying handle which includes a fully adjustable dual-aperture rear sight and dual thumbscrew mount.  The bolt catch unfortunately does not function.

Looking closer reveals the details I just mentioned.

Here is how it looks with the carrying handle removed.  This allows you to mount a huge variety of optics thanks to the picatinny rail.  

On the right side of the receiver there is a dust cover and black moving bolt which is controlled by the charging handle which does not fully open like other AEGs.  The magazine release button is over here as well and should be accessed with your right index finger if you're right handed, or right thumb if you're left handed. Inside of the bolt is the tool free hop-up adjustment which is much nicer than other M16 type AEGs.  The only complaint here is the dust cover - it doesn't stay shut very easily.  Filing a bit of excess metal where it catches supposedly does the trick, I hope it does for me.

Close-up of the hop-up adjustment dial.  Because of the lack of a functioning bolt catch you most hold the charging handle back while adjusting the hop-up.  Moving the wheel downwards increases the hop-up.

Here is that metal R.A.S. unit which stands out in the name.  It is made out of a single piece of machined aluminum and is ridiculously sturdy.  It is a free floating design - loosening the two screws visible in this image allows you to twist the R.A.S. foregrip clockwise which loosens it.  Once loosened you can remove it if you have already removed the front sight.  I stripped these two screws and now it's easy to knock out of place so I suggest getting some backup screws of this type.

The front sight is adjustable and held in place by several steel pins which must be forced out in order for removal.  The same applies to the front sling mount.

The barrel is extremely solid and has some nice markings on it.  No 6mm BB markings here!  The metal flash hider normally has a blazed orange front but that came off with a bit of nail polish remover.  However you should keep a backup orange flash hider for obvious reasons.  It is easily removable - remove a single allen screw and then  rotate it until it falls off.  This reveals a 14mm CCW threaded muzzle.

The barrel is kept in place by this small allen screw which is located behind the front sight post and underneath the R.A.S. foregrip.  

Let's go back to the stock now.  It is very sturdy and all metal.  It should be noted that when unfolded it is longer than an LE stock or Crane stock in a fully extended position.  There is no rubber butt pad or cheek rest unfortunately, however a crane stock rubber butt pad fits but falls off occasionally.  To fold or unfold it, push upward on the hinging mechanism.  It folds to the left side.

Here is the stock with a crane stock rubber butt pad installed.

Here's how it looks with the stock folded.

The ICS M4 rifles use a unique stock mounting mechanism which is far more convenient than that of a regular M4.  Rather than using a screw driver down the buffer tube, all you have to do is use a flat head screwdriver and loosen this one screw.  You can however use normal M4 stocks on the ICS M4.

As previously mentioned, there are two rear sight apertures.  The larger one is for closer ranges while the smaller one is for long range target engagement.  I prefer H&K sites but these do the job just fine and can easily be changed by removing the carrying handle.

Now let's look at those accessories.  First up is that "Gripod".  It is a large vertical foregrip with retractable bi-pod legs.  Press the button to extend the bi-pod legs, and simply push the legs back into the foregrip to conceal them.  It is mounted to a picatinny rail with a single thumbscrew and it is made entirely of plastic.  It is quite sturdy though.

Two 450 round aluminum high capacity magazines were included with the gun.  They feed well but one of them stopped working for some reason.  These magazines are full sized unlike smaller 300-350 round AEG hi-cap mags which is a nice feature.

The PEQ2 replica is made out of a textured thin plastic and can be a pain to open.  You must twist the caps off although one of them is very small and hard to grab with your fingers.  Pliers can do the trick though, just don't squeeze too hard.  This PEQ2 replica can hold ICS's add-on laser sight.  Unfortunately you will have lots of exposed wiring when using battery boxes which hurts aesthetics.

The gun came with a 9.6v 1700mah Sanyo battery and a standard wall charger which has been misplaced therefore not photographed.  It fits in the PEQ2 box with little room to spare, but closes easily enough.  My Intellect 9.6v 2000mah PEQ2 battery fits with lots of room to spare.  Butterfly, nun-chuck and mini-type batteries will also fit the PEQ2 box.

That's it for the accessories.  The 1,000 ct bottle of BBs is nice to have and the standard ICS 0.20g BBs are of good quality.  They were relatively glossy and had no visible seams but a visible injection nipple.  They were yellow - in the first photo you see it loaded with Airsoft Elite 0.23g BBs.  

Anyway, let's put it together and see how it looks.

The ICS M4A1 R.A.S. is a very nice looking gun, that's for sure.  The finish is wonderful and very durable - no scratched off paint here except on the ends of the foregrip rails since I mount and dismount all sorts of things up there.  The only wobble comes from the magazine in the mag well but it's very minor.  My G&P 110 round VN mid cap has no wobble at all.  As far as I know the ICS M4 isn't compatible with aftermarket receivers without modification, but I wouldn't be changing this one anyway just for some better trademarks.  So the externals are very well done, lets see how things are inside of the ICS M4.

The Internals

Now we will open up the ICS M4A1 R.A.S. and see if the internals are as impressive as the externals.  A big deal about the gun is the split level gearbox.  In this section we'll see how it works.  Disassembly is almost the same as the real steel M4.  In this case you must first push the forward assist which decompresses spring tension.  This needs to be done after firing the rifle.  Once this is done, switch the gun to Semi since it's supposed to make disassembly of the lower gearbox easier.  After doing this you'll want to knock out the pins holding the front sight in place.  Remove the front sight and then remove the two screws holding the R.A.S. foregrip in place.  Here is a photo of those once again.

With those screws removed and the front sight post removed you can twist the foregrip clockwise to loosen it and slide it off of the barrel.  This gives you access to the 16 gauge low resistance wiring coming from the mechbox.  Here's a closeup of the wiring - a fuse is included as well.

The wiring itself is not too stiff and not too loose so no complaints there.  It's easy to route.  This is only necessary if you wish to rewire the gun.  Now let's look at receiver disassembly.  The M4 has an upper and lower receiver and it is held in place by two steel pins - one just behind and slightly above the selector switch and the other at the front of the receiver near the trademarks.  Here's a closeup on the left receiver side again.

Push out the rear receiver pin first and then you get this.

So all you have to do is remove one pin and then you can slide out the upper gearbox.  The rear receiver pin is what holds the two gearbox pieces together.  If you wish to remove the lower gearbox, you must remove two screws on the bottom of the pistol grip which gives you access to the motor.  Remove the motor contacts and then pull the motor out.  I don't have photos of this because my motor contacts are soldered now because they broke loose.  Anyway once you have the motor removed you can insert a screw driver into the pistol grip and remove the screw(s) holding it in place.  Once removed you can pull the pistol grip off.  After this remove the screw holding the magazine release button in place and remove the mag release assembly.  You can find tutorials of this on youtube - it's very straightforward.  The lower gearbox can then be pulled out of the lower receiver.

Here is the upper half of the gearbox.  It's very strong although I've seen more reinforcements near the front on other gearbox shells.  KWA and VFC spring to mind.  From here you can see a normal ported brass cylinder and the screws to open the gearbox shell are on the opposite side.  They all have a blue threadlocker applied to them.  With the upper gearbox removed you can pull out the brass 6.06mm inner barrel and hop-up unit.

I haven't disassembled the upper gearbox shell yet sorry, but you'll see more of this very soon.  Inside here we have a plastic spring guide, M100 spring, full 16 tooth polycarbonate piston with one metal tooth which is quite prone to wear, non-ported polycarbonate piston head, brass ported cylinder, plastic cylinder head and a plastic air nozzle.  It's pretty standard and could use some improvements.  The piston head for one could be ported for better compression, but the grease applied to the o-ring and cylinder head make some good compression as you'll soon see.  The piston is not very strong at all and the spring guide is a letdown.  I'm not a fan of plastic cylinder heads either but it should hold up.  The air nozzle does not have a noticeable o-ring and can't be replaced with an aftermarket nozzle.  Everything else however is Tokyo Marui spec.  

I disassembled the lower gearbox a long time ago when diagnosing a contact issue (which turned out to be in the pistol grip) but I don't have pictures of the process.  The Turbo 3000 motor is a long type as usual for M4 type AEGs and again I can't photograph it since I soldered the contacts as they broke off.  It's a high torque motor and can handle a heavy spring upgrade from what I've seen.  The steel gears are very tough, well greased and well shimmed from the factory.  They move together with ease.  The 6mm solid bushings are steel, the selector plate is strong and the trigger assembly is standard for a V2 gearbox.

The mechbox of the ICS is now pretty much standard for AEGs, except of course the two piece design.  The reinforced gears and metal bushings were a nice upgrade compared to Tokyo Marui back in 2007, but now you can find nice steel gears, steel bushings and metal spring guides in sub $200 Jing Gong rifles.  The biggest letdowns are the below average polycarb piston and plastic spring guide which must be changed if going for high FPS upgrades.  I'd like to see a tighter inner barrel as well, a ported piston head and maybe larger bushings with bearings.  However after putting close to 3,000 rounds through it with 9.6v batteries and no internal upgrades the only noticeable wear is on a few piston teeth.  In conclusion it looks like ICS can upgrade their gearboxes a bit more in order to compete with the likes of manufacturers such as VFC, but there's nothing outright terrible inside the ICS mechbox.  Enough talk, lets see how it shoots.


For the shooting tests I used ICS 0.20g BBs except for one muzzle velocity test, for which I used Airsoft Elite 0.23g BBs.  A Swiss Arms chronograph was used for recording.

First up is a muzzle velocity test with ICS 0.20g BBs.  A total of ten shots were fired, and we come up with 340-360 FPS.  It should be noted that the gun has more mechanical noise than most other AEGs.  Don't be alarmed your motor is sitting right - it's a known thing with ICS two-piece gearbox guns.  Anyway this velocity is pretty damn good for something with a non-ported piston head.  This test was done after I had already put almost 3,000 rounds through it and I never re-greased the piston head, cylinder or cylinder head.  I'm impressed.

For kicks I did another muzzle velocity test; ten shots with Airsoft Elite 0.23g BBs.  I wanted to see how much these affect the muzzle velocity.  The result?  320-340 FPS.  

Below is the rate of fire test with an Intellect 9.6v 2000mah Ni-MH battery since the included one doesn't hold it's charge very well anymore.  We get 15-16 RPS, or 900-960 RPM.  This was expected as the weapon's specs suggest 850 RPM with an 8.4v battery.  To be honest I'd like to see a higher rate of fire - we don't need a motor with this much torque in a carbine length rifle.

I don't have photos of the accuracy test but I do have some very nice results.  The first test was done against a poor fire hydrant at approximately 100 feet away.  I used ICS 0.20g BBs and the result was 18 out of 20 hits.  Very nice for a stock gun.  It helps that there was no wind.  The second test was done at 30-40 feet with Airsoft Elite 0.23g BBs, shooting a water jug.  I didn't spend a lot of time adjusting the hop-up but I came up with a grouping right around 3 inches.  Again, fairly impressive.  None of the shots penetrated by the way but I'm glad to see it's still rocking. 

Finally, here are the groupings at 20 ft.  I used the AE 0.23g BBs and as you can see the wind made some of the shots off-center.  But once I got the sights zeroed in, bullseye.


Now we will conclude the review with scores (5 being the highest) and of course a list of pros and cons.

Packaging: The ICS M4A1 R.A.S. comes with everything you need - a nice rifle, two high capacity magazines, a 1,000 ct bottle of BBs filled with high polished seamless 0.20g BBs, a 9.6v 1700mah Ni-Cad battery and a wall charger.  It also came with a "Gripod" - a vertical foregrip actually is necessary for comfortable handling with the PEQ2 installed (unless you want the PEQ2 on the top foregrip rail).  The gun was well protected in the box and everything came without a hint of damage so I will give out a 5/5.

Externals: The externals of the ICS M4 are very good.  It's made almost entirely out of metal and there is almost no wobble - just a bit of side movement with the high capacity magazines.  The barrel is amazing - you can pick it up by the barrel and hold it out in front of you with nothing to worry about. The R.A.S. foregrip is ridiculously strong - there's a video of it on youtube being run over by a car and surviving so that deserves no explanation.  I did strip two screws off of it but that could be my own misdoing.  The spring tension release button is a nifty feature as well and the unique stock mounting mechanism is much better than a normal one.  However the lack of a functioning bolt catch upsets me plus it also lacks a mock gas tube, and isn't quite as authentic as others (airsoft trademarks, no metal screw holes for the pistol grip baseplate, mag catch is held by a screw).  I'll go with a 4.5/5.

Internal Build Quality: The internals are pretty much standard for an AEG in 2011, with the exception being the two piece gearbox.  The motor is better than many stock AEGs if you're looking for a high FPS gun but apart from this the mechbox is nothing special.  Strong steel gears and steel bushings are standard these days.  The stock shimming job and seal is certainly above average but the spring guide and piston are below average so we come out to a 4/5 here.

Performance: Well ICS is doing something right with their guns.  How the heck I pulled off that kind of accuracy is beyond me.  How the gun is achieving 340-360 FPS with what is supposed to be an M100 spring and a non ported piston head is just odd, but in a good way.  Some of you may find yourselves dropping an M90 spring into this gun for CQB use.  I'll take a half point off for the average rate of fire.  4.5/5.

Value: This is a tough one because I'm so late in the game with this review.  When I got it for $350 back in 2008 I was getting a damn good deal.  Now it's priced at $330 on AirsoftGI - that's $20 less than a VFC M4 E Series Tactical Carbine which has a crane stock (hidden wiring), functioning bolt catch, more realistically sized pistol grip, 8mm bearing bushings, "self shimming" gearset, steel bearing spring guide, more reliable piston, ported piston head, 6.04mm inner barrel, higher rate of fire and two springs included (M100 or M105 and M110 or M115 from what I gather).  However looking at the other competition, I can say for sure that I'd pick the ICS over those.  So I'll go with a 4/5 since you can still upgrade the pants off of the ICS and benefit from a two piece gearbox.

Overall: 88/100 (average of above scores)

  • Comes with lots of goodies
  • Fantastic external build quality and appearance
  • Fairly reliable internals, after almost 3,000 rounds only the piston shows some wear
  • Motor is ready for high FPS upgrades 
  • Two piece gearbox
  • Strong gears with good shimming
  • Steel bushings, well-greased parts
  • High FPS for the spring
  • Easily adjustable hop-up unit (no tools required)
  • Forward assist doubles as spring tension release
  • Great accuracy
  • Non-functioning bolt catch
  • Dust cover doesn't stay closed
  • No mock gas tube
  • Not the most authentic externals or attention to detail
  • Trademarks
  • Non-standard air nozzle
  • Plastic cylinder head (might be nit-picking)
  • Non-ported piston head
  • Piston could be stronger
  • Spring guide should be metal
  • High torque motor and carbine length rifle... what?

The ICS M4A1 R.A.S. is a very nice gun although a bit outdated compared to some of today's mechbox standards.  Externals are great and the unique properties around ICS are very nice to have.  Internals are average except for the two piece gearbox and although the rate of fire is nothing special, this ICS really excels in accuracy.  All in all it's a very good gun although its value has declined over the years.  I'll end this review with a few pics of it with external add-ons.

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