June 27, 2011

Arsenal Inc. SLR-106FR 223 Rem.

Many shooters want a lightweight, handy 223 carbine for self-defense—and that means reasonable accuracy, a good trigger, shooter friendliness, and ease of handling. In self-defense use, reliability is paramount, but the gun has to have enough accuracy to hit what it’s aimed at.

There are several potential solutions to this firearms problem, one of which is the AK-based Arsenal SLR 106FR, $925. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov’s famous assault rifle is the basis for the Arsenal gun. Likely more than 75 million AKs have been produced by more than a dozen countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, China, East Germany, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

Chambered originally for the 7.62x39mm cartridge, the Kalashnikov assault rifle was adopted by the Red Army in 1949. In this country, the rap against AKs has been their sheet-metal receivers and bad triggers, but Arsenal’s rifles seek to cure those problems. The Arsenal rifle is built on a Mil-Spec hardened 1mm-thick stamped receiver. The rifle has a 90-degree gas chamber, a chrome-lined chamber, and 800-meter rear sight, and a rear sight block calibrated for the 5.56mm cartridge.

The SLR-106FR incorporates a Warsaw Pact scope rail that will accept all scope mounts designed for this type of rail. The compact folding stock allows the SLR-106FR to be used in close quarters. This requires a cutout in the left side of the folding buttstock, which pivots to the left. The similar SLR-106F lacks the side-rail scope mount.

The fire control group of the SLR-106FR features Arsenal’s new two-stage trigger, hammer, and disconnector. The company claims these units eliminate trigger slap, which our tests supported. Arsenal also claims the initial trigger-pull weight is 3 pounds, with an 8-pound let-off. The Gun Tests test gun didn’t meet those specs.

Gun Tests August 2008

This is the best AK-style gun we’ve seen. Though it has its flaws—the trigger is too heavy, the button in the buttstock was distracting, and we’d prefer the action lock open—we’d still buy this gun ahead of the others.

Of course, the Arsenal actions have long histories of being chambered for other rounds, while the AR-15 was, in some sense, built for the 223 Rem./5.56mm NATO round, though it, too, has bigger chamberings in its current design. But for self defense, the 223 is plenty nasty out to hundreds of yards.

Here, Gun Tests worked in closer, shooting the gun at 50 yards with the attached open sights, along with extensive handling and rapid-fire work. The test ammos were Wolf (Russian) 55-grain full metal jacket rounds, Remington 55-grain Metal Case rounds, which have a full copper jacket for reliable function, and Hornady’s 60-grain TAP law-enforcement rounds, which feature a red polymer tip on top of a hollowpoint bullet.

The Arsenal came with 5-round magazines. To make shooting more fun, Gun Tests purchased extra magazines for each gun. It bought two clear-plastic 30-round Arsenal magazines for $36 apiece.

All in Gun Tests fired more than 300 rounds per gun in accuracy shooting, chronographing, and handling, so it got to know it warts and all. Here’s what it found:

The SLR-106FR is a U.S.-made AK-74 variant that comes with a magazine, cleaning rod, accessory case, drift pin cleaning jag, bore brush, combination tool, oil bottle, cleaning rod, and a web sling.

The SLR-106FR is 922(r) compliant, meaning it contains 10 or fewer foreign-made parts, according to Arsenal documents. Those parts include the major Bulgarian-made items, such as the barrel, receiver, and bolt. To make the gun U.S.-compliant, Arsenal takes a Bulgarian gun and adds six U.S.-made parts: the hammer, trigger, disconnector, buttstock, pistol grip, and handguards.

Our test SLR-106FR had an overall length of 36.8 inches with the AK74-type compensator installed. Without the compensator, the overall length was 34.5 inches. The folded length with the compensator installed was 27.4 inches. Without the compensator, the folded length measured 25.2 inches. The barrel length with the compensator installed was 18.5 inches; without the compensator, the barrel length was 16.25 inches. The six-groove barrel had a 1:7 right-hand twist. The rifle weighed 7.3 pounds without a magazine.

Gun Tests August 2008

Push the button at the back of the receiver (arrow) and the stock folds over the left side of the receiver.

The front sight base was the SLR-105 type, with 24x1.5 right-hand threads. It also uses a front-sight post that is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The small U-shaped rear notch cut into a wide rear blade, combined with the curving ears on the front sight, was difficult to read, our testers said. We thought it was the worst sight of the test, and it likely contributed to the gun’s indifferent accuracy results.

Also on the front of the gun, the upper and lower handguards, made from high-tech polymers and dyes to resist cracking and fading, looked and fit great. The company said, "Several months of research and development involving great expense, went into the design and manufacture of these heat shields, ensuring that we can provide the enthusiast with the absolute best in cooling performance. Its heat dissipation performance is unmatched!" But after 200 rounds of rapid-fire shooting in our test, the lower forearm grip, which had an aluminum heat shield under it, got too hot for us to handle.

The compensator is the SLR-105 unit, but with the mild 223 round, we didn’t see a need for it to shoot the gun accurately and fast. Pushing in a spring-loaded pin under the front trunnion allowed us to remove the compensator easily, after which we could remove the cleaning rod, which was threaded to accept a supplied jag. Also, the bayonet lug will accept a bayonet, provided the compensator is installed.

The pistol grip for the SLR-106FR is designed for use on rifles with the grip-reinforcement plate. According to Arsenal, they are matte black and are shallower in depth than the old-style pistol grips, and they fit flush with the grip reinforcement plate. Our testers said they thought the grip was too thin at 0.9 inches wide. Nice feature: The grip angle allows the rifle to stand straight up when the stock is folded.

Gun Tests August 2008

The rifle can be transported or fired with the stock locked closed.

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The polymer folding stock is made in the U.S., and it is a direct replacement for the skeleton folding stock with the 4.5mm pivot pin. The hinge and rear latch mechanism is the heart of this folding stock, and we think it is a good one. A button on the left side of the receiver releases a catch, allowing the shooter to fold the stock to the left, where it latches to the front of the receiver. We worked the folding mechanism dozens of times, and we agreed that the tolerances were tight and the swing radius was dead on. This feature gave the Arsenal a decided edge over the other guns.

However, when the stock was fully extended, we found we didn’t like the stamped-metal buttplate. Though it was ribbed to keep it from slipping off the shooter’s shoulder, it was still too slick, and the trapdoor spring pushbutton that allows the shooter to unlatch the stock from the forward catch mechanism was irritating, we thought. A plus: The rotating sling swivel on the front of the buttstock allowed the rifle to be slung and carried folded or extended.

The magazines used in these rifles are the 5.56 NATO polymer mags produced by Arsenal, Bulgaria. Distributed by K-Var, they are available in 5- and 10-round black units, as well as in green, featuring the Arsenal logo. They are also available in 30-round black waffles, and 20- and 30-round versions in clear waffle. The two 30-rounders we bought were the clear-waffle units, and they worked flawlessly. In our view, 20-round magazines in both the AK and M16 rifles offer the best combined handling characteristics for bench or field shooting.

Gun Tests August 2008

The pistol grip was checkered and offered a good grip on the Arsenal, but we thought it was too thin. Above and to the right of the grip is the rotating sling swivel, which allowed the shooter to carry the gun comfortably.

The bolt carrier, bolt group, and gas piston were manufactured in Bulgaria. The bolt carrier has a slot designed to clear the magazine lips on the caliber 5.56x45mm magazines. A spring-loaded firing pin replaces the inertia firing pins found on most AKs. A mechanical drag installed in the trigger mechanism delays the hammer’s fall until bolt bounce had settled down. AKs are famous for their reliability, and the GT unit went 265 rounds before it had a single failure to extract. It was much easier to clear than when other guns locked up.

The Arsenal gun did not have a hold-open device, so after the last round was fired, the bolt group traveled forward into battery without chambering a round. On a war-zone gun that must be peasant-simple to operate, this feature makes some sense. However, on a civilian gun marketed in the U.S, users don’t like this feature on a safety basis. Gun Tests preferred that Arsenal machine in a hold-open button.

Also, to reload the gun, the shooter must hit the magazine-release catch in front of the trigger guard and pull the magazine forward to get it out of the gun, then tilt the fresh magazine forward into the well and rock it backward to get fresh rounds loaded. In this area, other guns were clearly faster.

The fire control system has a two-stage trigger; after an initial take-up of 3 pounds, the final pull weight was 8.1 pounds. Gun Tests would prefer less let-off weight.

Gun Tests Recommends: Gun Tests testers said they would buy this gun first, despite its shortcomings. They found it fun to shoot, and said they would gladly spend the time training to learn how to reload it faster. They said the Arsenal was robust, simple, and worked great. They said: "We understand why soldiers in many countries know that after the engagement is done, they can retire from the battlefield, clean their AKs, and know that the next day, the rifle will take care of them."

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