The U.S. Army’s adoption of a new semiautomatic sniper rifle (SASS), designated M110, was one of the major military small arms events of 2005. The semiautomatic has several advantages over a bolt-action rifle, such as quick follow-up shots and helping maintain a sight picture because the sniper does not need to lift his head from the rifle to work the bolt and reload. So functionally, the semiauto offers some advantages over manually operated systems.
On the other hand, semiautomatic rifles generally aren’t as accurate as bolt-actions and fling brass some distance from the rifle where it may become lost. There are some instances in which tell-tale brass left behind is a really bad idea. So while the Army has officially adopted the M110 semiautomatic sniper rifle, we suspect that the bolt-action Remington M24 will be around for quite a while.
When the Semiautomatic Sniper System (SASS) was announced, several manufacturers of semiautomatic precision tactical rifles submitted candidates. Although ArmaLite was not awarded the M110 contract, our 30-plus years’ experience with the military tells us that the system that gets adopted isn’t always the best one.
ArmaLite decided to offer its SASS candidate for commercial sale with some modifications and upgrades with the commercial designation “Super SASS.” We have tested and bought several AR-10 rifles over the years, and all have demonstrated superior accuracy and reliability. So when we were offered a Super SASS for evaluation, we jumped at the opportunity to get our hands on another ArmaLite rifle.
There are several features that set the Super SASS apart from standard AR-10(T) rifles. First, the barrel is shortened to 20 inches and an Advanced Armament Corp. suppressor adapter fitted. The standard SASS suppressor is Advanced Armament’s S3R model that has a large expansion chamber to reduce blowback and wear on the weapon to which it is attached.
The muzzle brake/adapter actually extends into the suppressor, and the coarse threads enhance the suppressor’s attachment and removal. Its reliability is also enhanced because standard fine threads used to attach muzzle brakes and flash suppressors never were intended to stand up to the abuse of having a sound suppressor consistently attached and removed and will almost assuredly eventually be damaged.
The Advanced Armament suppressor also is held in place by a spring that prevents it from unscrewing under repeated firing. The S3R was specifically designed to be used on semiautomatic and fully automatic firearms. We found the suppressor to be extremely effective with subsonic ammunition, with the muzzle blast almost totally contained. Advanced Armament states that the S3R achieves 30 dB sound reduction with no effect on the bullet’s point of impact.
The Super SASS’ stock is fully adjustable for cheek-rest height and length of pull. The stainless barrel is fully free floated with a tube that has MIL-STD-1913 rails on top, bottom and sides. The top rail essentially extends from the upper receiver rear to the gas block. The gas block has a regulator with two positions, one for standard ammo and the other for use with a suppressor.
The two-stage match grade trigger is about what we have come to expect in ArmaLite’s precision tactical rifles—no slack and a “glass rod” break at exactly 4 pounds, although it felt lighter. We should note that ArmaLite has improved and simplified the M14-type magazines that are used in all AR-10s.
Until recently, the magazines were modified from M14 magazines with a replacement follower that had a spring-loaded tab to engage the bolt stop. The new magazines are simpler and more reliable because the tab has been eliminated and replaced with a one-piece follower that rides in a groove at the magazine rear, similar to a standard AR magazine.
Although the Super SASS came with one model of Leupold scope, we removed the original and replaced it with a prototype Leupold Mark 4 6.5-20x 50mm with Horus Vision H25 tactical reticle. We also used a Leupold Mark 4 12-40x60mm tactical spotting scope with the same H25 reticle. The matching reticles make second shot corrections easy and almost instantaneous.
The Leupold scope mated with the Horus Vision reticle should please virtually any police precision marksman, as the scope’s optics are excellent and the reticle is the most versatile and fastest available for long-range shooting. The H25 reticle, designed by a sniper instructor specifically for military and law enforcement sniper use, has achieved notable success in both Afghanistan and Iraq and was used by the winners of U.S. Army Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, GA for the past three years.
Horus Vision scopes eliminate “dialing in” clicks of elevation or windage, and they are calibrated in standard milliradians, but with no Mil-Dots. Each milliradian is divided into 0.2 milliradian increments, so that range estimation using the mil system is far more precise than with standard Mil-Dots, as is targeting. Instead of dialing in clicks of elevation or windage, Horus Vision scopes use a targeting grid that initially looks “busy” but soon becomes second nature.
The best way to describe it is to compare it to looking through an open Venetian blind. The eye focuses on the target, not on the reticle. In use, the shooter generates “come-up” card data using the Horus Vision handheld PDA computer. This card data is transferred to a waterproof, adhesive-backed paper card that is used to determine precise holdovers for elevation and windage.
If time is available and exact precision is desired, the Horus PDA can be used to generate ballistic targeting data to include elevation and windage holds for the target to be engaged. For most engagements, however, the “come-up” card is satisfactory. Once the rifle is zeroed with one load, the handheld computer can be used to generate come-up cards for other loads.
One very important feature of the H25 reticle involves its use with suppressed rifles, such as the Super SASS. This feature enables the sniper to use supersonic or subsonic ammunition interchangeably. It also enables the rifleman to use a variety of loads without touching his scope turrets. The rifleman zeroes his rifle with his load of choice and stores the data in the Horus Vision ballistic program in the palm computer. Once this is done, the ballistic data for the subsonic load is entered, and a separate “come-up” card is generated.
For example, the ArmaLite SASS 100-yard zero hold with 168-grain Black Hills ammunition is on the central cross hair. The computer program data indicated that the 100-meter hold for our subsonic test ammo was line 4. It was actually line 3.5, so we recalculated the data, confirmed the 3.5 hold and now have confirmed come-up data for both standard and subsonic ammunition without touching an elevation knob. All that is necessary is to generate a come-up card for any load desired and confirm zero. We have tried this system out to 1,000 meters.
We attached one of Horus Vision’s recently announced slope indicators to the scope for use when shooting at acute up or down angles. Unlike others, the Horus Vision device works on either side of the scope and shows both the up or down angle and the cosine to be used when calculating range to target. When shooting up or down, the actual range is less than that indicated via a laser rangefinder or mil-dot rang estimation.
The Horus Vision Slope Indicator shows not only the angle, but the factor (cosine) that must be multiplied by the measured distance to obtain the actual distance to the target. As distance and the up or down angle increase, so does the margin of error, so a device such as the Slope Indicator is essential under military operating conditions such as mountainous terrain or urban operations where angles are acute and distances may range out to 300 meters and beyond.
The Super SASS performed without incident and delivered satisfactory accuracy. Our test Super SASS wasn’t quite as accurate as the best bolt guns but equaled most other semiautomatic match-grade rifles and was better than some. The best groups came with Remington 168-grain HPBT Match (0.75 MOA), followed by Lapua 167-grain HPBT Match (1 MOA) and Black Hills 168-grain HPBT Match (1.5 MOA).
In terms of cycle reliability, shooting the Super SASS was uneventful. As mentioned, there is a gas adjustment so that the rifle will function reliably with a suppressor attached. The Advanced Armament suppressor made a noticeable reduction in muzzle blast when attached, but there was still some noise.
When we tested the Super SASS with Black Hills 180-grain subsonic ammo, however, the suppressor was almost totally silent. Muzzle blast was a slight “cough” sound, and the bullet striking the plywood target back was actually louder than the report of the rifle, although bullet drop at 100 meters was about 5 inches.
When we test fired one group without the suppressor and a second with it in place using Black Hills 168-grain match ammo from the same lot, the group shifted about an inch to the left, again confirming that anyone using a suppressor from any manufacturer must verify point of impact both with and without the suppressor in place.
The bottom line is that this version of ArmaLite’s AR-10 is designed for use by tactical teams and precision tactical marksmen. The big AR has features that will appeal to any tactical team or individual seeking a semiautomatic precision tactical rifle. It is accurate, reliable and rugged. Semiauto precision systems such as this will probably not replace bolt guns, but they have advantages like rapid follow up shots that cannot be ignored.
Charlie Cutshaw is a small arms, ammunition and infantry weapons editor for Jane’s Defense Information. He served as an Army infantry, ammunition and intelligence officer before retiring in 1996. His military assignments included a tour of duty in Vietnam as an adviser. He currently lives in Alabama, where he is a full-time writer and reserve officer. He can be reached at CQCutshaw@aol.com. Photos by Chris Rohling.