September 23, 2010
By David Fortier
SIG Sauer designed its new SIG556 Classic SWAT to capture the hearts and minds of American shooters.
By David M. Fortier
SIG Sauer's SIG556 Classic SWAT proved to be accurate, reliable and soft shooting--if a bit on the heavy side for a 5.56x45 carbine.
The Swiss have always marched to their own drum when it comes to military rifles. From the 1880s until after World War II they issued manually operated straight-pull repeaters designed by Rudolf Schmidt.
In the 1950s, the old straight-pulls were dumped for the Buck Rogers-looking Sturmgewehr 57. Utilizing a roller-delayed blowback action, the 12.5-pound 7.5x55 Stgw. 57 was accurate and far reaching. Very different than its contemporaries, it was also extremely heavy and very expensive.
The beautifully crafted but portly Stgw. 57 was replaced by the Sturmgewehr Modell 90 in 1984. Also known as the SIG 550, the Stgw. 90 was a modern assault rifle chambered for the 5.56x45 cartridge. In place of the odd blowback action of its previous design, SIG (Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft) developed a gas-operated system.
It featured a rotating bolt and carrier assembly that is little more than a knock-off of Mikhail Kalashnikov's Avtomat. Fitted with an adjustable gas system and built on a stamped receiver, SIG's 550 series earned a reputation for being extremely well-made, very reliable and surprisingly accurate.
Unfortunately, the semiauto-only version of the SIG 550 is uncommon in the United States. Specimens run upwards of $7,000. While few people have seen this series of rifle, let alone shot one, there was a great deal of interest in them.
SIG eventually responded with its 556 line to cater to the U.S. market, and one of its latest introductions is the 556 Classic SWAT. This model adds a railed fore-end and a collapsible/side-folding stock that's reminiscent of the 550 series.
Like the standard 556 series, the Classic SWAT is built on a stamped steel upper receiver. Riding inside this is a Kalashnikov-type bolt and carrier. However, unlike the Kalashnikov the gas piston is a separate component retained to the bolt carrier via the charging handle. The recoil spring, which encircles the gas piston, is captive. A multi-position regulator allows the rifle to be adjusted for the conditions and ammunition.
Fitted to the front of the upper receiver is a 16-inch, military-grade, cold-hammer-forged barrel with six-groove rifling and a 1:7 twist. The barrel features standard 1/2x28 TPI threads and is fitted with an effective flash suppressor. This unit also acts as a mount for sound suppressors.
The upper receiver sports a 1913 rail for mounting optics and is fitted with a vented quad-rail fore-end.
The upper mounts to an aluminum lower via two push-pins. Unlike the original 550 series, the SIG556 feeds from standard AR-15/M16 magazines. The lower has ambidextrous safety levers, along with a push-button M16-type magazine release and bolt release.
The 556's skeleton stock both folds and collapses. With the stock fully extended, the Classic SWAT is 37.8 inches long. This drops to 35 inches with the stock fully collapsed. Fold the stock to the side and the Classic SWAT is only 26.5 inches. It tips the scales at 8.3 pounds without mag.
The Classic SWAT feels fairly good but I think it's front-heavy. Start adding optics and accessories, and it gets heavy fast. During testing, I noted the magazine release is a bit of a stretch compared to an AR, but mags inserted easily and ejected cleanly.
The Classic SWAT utilizes a long-stroke gas piston with an adjustable gas regulator. The recoil spring is captive.
Unlike an AR, you can lock the bolt back with one hand, which is nice. The reciprocating charging handle is located on the right side of the receiver. This placement is not as convenient as some others.
The safety is ambidextrous but placed a bit higher than I would like. It's also fairly stiff to operate. The trigger is best described as mushy, but it's quite usable.
My review rifle was fitted with the optional diopter rear sight. This overly complex and bulky unit features a 'V' notch and apertures for 100, 200 and 300 meters. It is adjustable for both windage and elevation, but there are much better options available, and I do not recommend it.
With a 3-9x40 Burris scope mounted, the Classic SWAT performed very well off the bench, as you can see in the accompanying chart, especially with the Black Hills match load, which averaged just 1.3 inches.
The stock is a side-folder reminiscent of the 550 series, but the lower receiver on the 556 accepts AR magazines.
While performance from the bench was quite good, that's not what this piece was designed for. Stripping off the 3-9X, I replaced it with a Burris red dot and put the Classic SWAT through a variety of drills from two to 300 yards. I immediately ran into issues with the factory-supplied synthetic 30-round magazines. The flimsy feed lips led to frequent misfeeds, and I quickly binned them for Magpul PMAGs.
This solved the problem, and the Classic SWAT proceeded to run flawlessly with Federal's American Eagle FMJ I used for the rest of my shooting. Practical accuracy was excellent, and shot-to-shot recovery was very good.
Due in part to its weight, the Classic SWAT is very smooth shooting and controllable. However its weight makes handling somewhat sluggish and slower than lighter carbines. Hits on man-size silhouettes were easily made at 300 yards, where the rifle's weight added a bit of stability.
SIG Sauer's new SIG556 Classic SWAT is both extremely robust and reliable. Its best features are how simple, tough and accurate it is. Basically it has the virtues of Kalashnikov's Avtomat with refined and improved human engineering.
However, if you compare it to more modern designs such as FNH's SCAR or Robinson Armament's XCR, it looks a bit dated.
The SIG556 Classic SWAT's price tag of $2,399 essentially puts it right between those two rifles in terms of cost.
Bottom line: If you have the AR-15 blahs and are looking for a very tough and reliable 5.56x45 rifle, SIG Sauer's Classic SWAT is one to consider.