The SIG556R is an excellent example of why a company should do all of its quality control and testing before bringing a product to market. It is also an example of how valuable professional consulting is to the arms industry in helping a company get it right the first time. The problem is that in the Age of Gossip, one flaw will immediately be known around the world with a click of a mouse...and it is hard to come back from that if it is true.
Although the SIG Rifles have been the whipping boy of the American rifle world for some time now, the original 556R had it coming. It took only a flimsy aftermarket magazine, and was not built to run well with the ubiquitous steel case ammo. Those two glaring issues kept it from any sort of success as the legions of internet pundits filmed it failing, laughing at it like it was drunken old man trying to get walk down the street.
But that "drunken old man" seems to have cleaned itself up, spent some time lifting weights, and
has come back with a vengeance.
I bought a SIG 556R through regular consumer channels out of curiosity. It is no secret that I have been trying to elevate the AK platform beyond what it is. Our attempts to do so with the Saiga and VEPR conversions yielded some success, but we were still largely unsatisfied. With the Saiga simply due to a glaring lack of any quality or uniformity. With the VEPR, it was due to the elevated price levels necessary to make it do what we wanted to do. Had I had any hair, I undoubtedly would have pulled it all out in frustration. And it was out of frustration that I bought the 5.56 SIG 556 initially.
That led me to the question my students and customers asked - what about the 556R? And yes, I saw all the internet babble about its failings, but you know my M.O. I see it for myself.
Friday afternoon I received the 556R. Friday night the Junior Staff and I gathered up samples of every single type of AK magazine out there, and loaded each with every type of 7.62x39 ammo we had. We had examples of Romanian, Bulgarian Steel, Bulgarian Circle 10, Hungarian, Russian, East German, Polish, AK30s, and several samples of seriously crappy magazines from dubious sources. As well, we had samples of every type of ammo sold in the USA since 2001, both imported and domestic.
Early Saturday morning, the Junior Staff and I drove the company Jeep out to the remote training area and set forth to see what we could see about this Sig rifle. I wrote a brief synopsis of this article at Warrior Talk, but here is the whole package. This piece will invariably get me lionized by the fans of the SIG and excoriated by its detractors. In a word...or words actually - I like it.
I wanted to run it hard before I typed a single word. I knew I would have my impressions, but I wanted the view of someone that had only run an AK. I took one of the Junior Staff who is very expert with an AK-47. He has been to several training classes, and I would put his skill level alongside any professional soldier from any army. He is 14 years old.
I gave him the rifle and a few magazines and then watched him shoot. Then I debriefed him. This is his opinion immediately after shooting the 556R for the first time.
"It feels better than my AK. It balances better. It doesn't get as hot and I can tell right when it's going to go off. The trigger is not lighter but it is easier. I can hit better with it. It recoils like my 5.45 more than my 7.62".
I took the rifle and began my work with it. I ran about 15 magazines total (that is 450 rounds for those who slept through math). Basic shooting drills, followed by our Close Range Rifle work. After about an hour, the sand at my feet was littered with steel cases and smoke was coming from the barrel. What follows are my complete impressions for the SIG SAUER 556R.
All magazines locked up solid as a safe and did not exhibit the wobbly wobbles as most AKs do with
"foreign" magazines. The ONLY magazine that is a NO-GO unaltered, regrettably, is the AK30. If that is a deal breaker for you then this is not your rifle.
I shot samples of everything I had from Steel Wolf to Prvi Partisan Match and all functioned 100%. All fired and ejected about 12 feet. The only ammo that gave it grief was some early DPX cartridges
that were very lightly loaded. These ejected, but not with enough force to load the next round. But before we hear, "You see!!!!", I will tell you that this particular batch of ammo malfunctions in every single AK that I own including an Arsenal and a high dollar "famous maker" custom AK. Normal ammo functioned normally. To cap it off I blasted through a 30 round stick of Hornady V-Max without a hiccup.
We took a break and let the rifle cool down. I ran a bore snake through it and loaded up a magazine of Lapua 7.62x39. This ammo is the most accurate 7.62x39 ammo we have ever fired and I wanted to see what the rifle would do with it, prone off a rucksack. Five rounds, taking my time and making every shot perfect, yielded 1" at 100 yards. That is the best group I have fired with any rifle in that caliber. The range session left me very impressed with the SIG 556R.
Now more specifically to the rifle itself. I found the finish and tightness of the rifle to be very high quality. This exceeds anything I have seen in the AK world from either production or custom guns and one would be better comparing this to a high end M4 rifle.
The hand guard is long enough to facilitate the various "floating hand" methods taught in various
schools. It is surprisingly cool when shooting. The pistol grip is quite comfortable and has the trap-door storage in the grip itself.
Let's talk about the stock. The stock was point of contention with the early rifles. Honestly, I found it to be identical to the stocks on the Swiss rifles I have run. It locks up solid open or closed and is very comfortable to shoot. The guys that want an M4 stock on their rifles can buy adapters for that and have whatever they wish. I like the Swiss style stock and my rifles will stay as they are in that area.
Strangely, SIG sells this rifle with no iron sights, and with a SIG Red Dot. The Sig Red Dot is a copy of the Aimpoint T-1 and not suitable for any serious work. If you buy a SIG 522 understudy for this rifle, you can put the Red Dot on that. The lack of iron sights are not a big deal although it would have been nice to have the Swiss Diopter sights in lieu of the Aimpoint copy. It is 2012 and iron sights exist as back ups to some sort of optic.
On my rifle, I added a set of sights from my original SIG 556. It now wears the excellent Samson Sig Rifle flip up sights. These will eventually find their way onto my 556R as well. On the topic of optics, I firmly believe that, given the close relationship between SIG Sauer and Trijicon, the TA33R-13 AGOG (with 7.62x39 BDC) was designed and built for this rifle. It is what will eventually sit on the receiver rail that comes on the rifle.
The extractor, ejector, bolt face, firing pin, and hammer spring have all been improved on this rifle. These were all complaints on the original 556R because they reportedly did not allow reliable function with the ubiquitous 7.62x39 ammunition. Making a 7.6x39 rifle that does not function well with steel case ammo is not a good marketing move. This one eats the stuff like food abuser at a Krispy Kreme closeout.
The barrel is another area I wish to discuss. The barrel is not chrome-lined. As soon as I typed this several M4 Mafia types just closed out the screen and went to go read something else. And as soon as I typed that, several ComBloc fashionistas just went to go hug their chromed Romy barreled guns.
The SIG barrels are Nitro Carburized. That is the same finish known as Melonite, Tennifer, and other industrial names. Let's take a hard look at the SIG barrel. With regards to wear and corrosion resistance, nitro carburizing is far better than hard chrome. It is what TSD uses on their slides and barrels. We added that because it was just as good as the AquaTerra. Nitro carburizing significantly increases barrel life without affecting accuracy. The goal of using chrome lining in military rifles wasn't to prevent corrosion. The goal was to improve barrel life. Nitrite barrel treatment will double, possibly triple, expected normal barrel life. Nitro carburizing is harder then Chrome lining (Melonite is 70 Rockwell). It is not a finish that is applied onto the bore, it heats treats the barrel material itself. Mil-Spec chrome lined barrels have thickness of approximately .0003" to .0005". Nitro carburizing hardens the material .005" deep, covers the inside and outside of the barrel, and will not chip away with extended abuse since it is not a surface coating. Hand down, nitro carburizing is a far better solution.
The SIG is the adopted "green skinned step child" of the rifle world, hated by both the M4 mafia and the AK hordes out of pure envy. It reminds the M4 of what it is not and will never be, and it reminds the AK of what it could have been.
Based on what I saw in my testing, this rifle is in fact the true ultimate expression of the Kalashnikov platform and should be called the Mercedes Benz of the AK.