April 20, 2015
Few guns truly benefit from carbon fiber furniture.
Difficult to mount rails to, relatively brittle and prohibitively expensive, the material can be a tough sell. However, it's also astoundingly lightweight, conducts little heat and when it does, maintains its shape better than steel. AR-15 rifles were some of the first firearms to feature carbon fiber, but in their original form, were a poor host. Original Colt M16A1-based rifles are well-balanced due to their government-profile, pencil barrel. This makes the weight-savings afforded by carbon fiber superfluous.
Today, however, many modern AR-15 rifles feature heavy bull barrels or piston-driven bolts; both greatly shift the weight of a carbine towards the muzzle, especially when paired with an aluminum rail. This setup uses mechanical advantage to feel heavier to the shooter, much like holding a weight on the end of a long stick. Here, is where featherweight composite furniture really comes into its element. SIG Sauer thought so as well, which was the impetus behind their new SIG 516 Carbon TS carbine.
The SIG 516 Carbon TS is a short-stroke, piston-driven rotating bolt AR-15-style semiautomatic carbine chambered in 5.56x45mm and .223 respectively. Feeding from standard AR15/M16 STANAG magazines, the Carbon TS appears mundane on paper; simply a piston carbine with pricey furniture. That is, until shooters take a closer look and what's under the hood.
SIG spared no expense on this futuristic, featherweight carbine; a fact reflected in its price tag and performance. Features like its Geissele three-gun-specific trigger, custom HK 416-style pistol grip, ambidextrous magazine release, extended bolt-release and Samson Manufacturing backup iron sights (BUIS). Further adding to this exhaustive list of high-end features, is the inclusion of two Lancer Systems polymer magazines and a Lancer carbon fiber handguard. The latter of which includes multiple ambi quick-detach sling points. With all these pricey additions, the SIG 516 Carbon TS spec sheet reads like a checklist for the perfect competition rifle.
What's even more interesting, unlike other competition rifles which are ill-suited to anything but competition, the SIG 516 Carbon TS retains the rugged characteristics of the standard 516 rifle that make it perfectly-suited for military and law enforcement use. Like its fully-adjustable gas regulator that allow shooters to dial the rifle to their desired load, or simply over-gas the system if using underpowered ammo. Further betraying its military origins, this same regulator has a setting specifically designed for use with sound suppressors, which SIG themselves now manufacture.
In testing, the SIG shatters the myth of inaccurate piston-driven rifles; grouping sub MOA with nearly all ammunition tested. In fact, at a recent designated marksman rifle (DMR) match in North Carolina, the SIG 516 Carbon TS cleared plate racks at 400 yards and successfully engaged steel silhouettes out to 800 yards. Still not impressed? This was done with a 4x scope and military M193 55-grain FMJ ammunition from Federal.
Reliability was stellar across the 2,500 rounds of ammunition tested. With no malfunctions across all ammo types ranging from steel-cased Tulammo and Wolf 55-grain FMJ, to Hornady match-grade 77-grain rounds.
The SIG is available in two main configurations, one with a fixed carbon fiber stock and one with an adjustable M4-type Arc Defense stock. The fixed-stock version is slightly more expensive, because it contains more of the cost carbon fiber material. The author selected the collapsible one because of his short stature, and the increased portability of the rifle.
Despite the reduced weight of the carbine, recoil is extremely light due to the short-stroke gas system and integrated rubberized buttpad. The soft recoil coupled with the light, short-reset Geissele trigger make the SIG extraordinarily fast-shooting in capable hands. The author saw his split times in three-gun matches drop precipitously after switching to the SIG from his custom-built carbine.
Perfect reliability, impressive accuracy and nearly every upgrade outside a compensator and optic a shooter could ever want on a rifle, so why doesn't everyone own this gun? In a word: price. The SIG 516 Carbon TS has a steep price tag for new shooters who might not understand the value of the product they're purchasing. In the past this carbine was cost prohibitive enough that I might not have recommended it. However, since SIG recently dropped the MSRP by more than $500 dollars, the SIG's MSRP is now well-under $2,000. Making it the perfect jack-of-all-trades carbine. Suitable for home defense, patrol carbine use three-gun competition or bugout rifle.
Shooters who take the mindset of buy once, cry once to heart will find the perfect carbine in the SIG 516. Take it from someone who has built more than two dozen AR-15 carbines ranging in price from $650 to $5,000. There isn't a better carbine for the money on the market today than the SIG 516 Carbon TS.
Get a grip with the ergonomic HK416-style pistol grip.
Magazines from Lancer Systems include steel reinforced feed lips.