December 08, 2021
Springfield Armory has been making some waves lately with their Ronin 9mm, Emissary 1911, Ronin EMP, Hellcat and especially their SA-35. They haven’t forgotten about rifles though and new from Springfield Armory is the Saint Edge ATC rifle line. This new AR family has a distinctive and appealing look to them. In a world awash with AR-15s which all look alike, the Edge ATC is a bit different. While still very much a tried and true AR-15 under the hood, what sets this rifle apart from the Ho-Hum crowd is its Accurized Tactical Chassis System. Basically the free-floating fore-end is machined integral to the lower receiver. Due to this there is zero stress on the barrel or the barrel nut from the fore-end, as with a conventional AR-15 rifle. The lower receiver kinda mimics the aluminum chassis of a dedicated PRS competition rifle, with the barrel sliding inside and the upper receiver pinned in place. The end result is a precision rifle with distinctive looks and features.
Since the Saint Edge ATC is a brand new line from Springfield Armory, let’s take a quick look at these new rifles. Currently the ATC line consists of two models, the Saint Edge ATC and Saint Edge ATC Elite. The Elite is the more upscale of the two and in Coyote Brown. Both rifles are identical in most aspects. They are both built on forged 7075 T6 aluminum upper and 6061 T6 aluminum lowers. Inside you will find a M16 profile bolt carrier assembly with a bolt machined from Carpenter 158 steel. This is High Pressure Tested and Magnetic Particle Inspected and features a Melonite finish. A GI style charging handle retracts the bolt carrier assembly and an “H” Heavy Tungsten Carbine buffer is standard.
The Flattop upper receiver assembly features a case deflector and forward assist. Fitted to this is an 18-inch Ballistic Advantage barrel with a chamber cut to .223 Wylde specifications. This allows optimum performance and accuracy with both .223 Rem and 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition. A Mid-Length gas system is used for reliability and a smooth recoil impulse. The barrel is machined with a 1 turn in 7 inches rifling twist and features 1/2x28 threads on the muzzle. The barrel features a Melonite finish for corrosion resistance and durability. Fitted to the muzzle is a Springfield Armory dual baffle muzzle brake to reduce recoil and muzzle movement.
The lower receiver’s most obvious difference is the integral handguard. This is robust, nicely contoured and comfortable in the hand. It features a section of MIL STD 1913 rail at 6 O’clock for mounting a bipod or other accessory. A top piece provides a full-length MIL STD 1913 rail for mounting optics or accessories. This also features MLOK slots as well.
The rest of the lower receiver is pretty straight-forward. A carbine receiver extension is fitted with the standard model fitted with a B5 Systems Enhanced SOPMOD stock while the Elite gets their adjustable Precision Stock. This can be adjusted for 6 different length positions while also having an adjustable cheek-piece and butt pad. A B5 Systems Type 23 P-grip pistolgrip is fitted and the Elite model comes with a LaRue Tactical flat MBT 2-stage trigger. The standard model is fitted with a Springfield Armory Flat Modular 2-stage Match trigger. Plus, both models are fitted with a QD mount on the receiver end plate. There are also multiple sling mounting points on the butt and fore-end. The standard model features a black finish while the Elite model comes in Coyote Brown.
The Saint Edge ATC Elite weighs in at exactly 10 pounds without magazine or optic. It measures 36.5 inches in length with the stock fully collapsed and the butt plate screwed fully in. With the stock fully extended it measures 39.7 inches. So, while fairly compact, the ATC Elite is a bit “thicc” for an 18-inch 5.56mm rifle. Weight though is very subjective, especially when it comes to competition and precision rigs. Many PRS rifles tip the scales at 17+ pounds and my 5.56mm AR-15 Service Rifle I shot High Power with weighed about 17 pounds. I will say the ATC Elite balances and carries well. The butt is comfortable, the pistolgrip is a bit more vertical than the run of the mill A2 grip and the rifle feels very stable. The fore-end is fairly wide at the rear but nicely contoured to be comfortable in the hand and stable on a bag. It’s designed to work well off a bipod, tripod, sandbag, pack or improvised rest.
I did initial testing with a Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44 scope and Norma 77-grain Match ammunition. Firing off a LaRue bipod with a bag under the butt I posted four 5-shot groups at 100 yards. Recoil is very mild, cartridges fed, extracted and ejected without issue. It’s a very comfortable rifle to fire and the LaRue MBT 2-stage trigger is very good. The 2-stages are distinct and the second stage breaks cleanly at approximately 4.5 pounds. Springfield Armory guarantees this rifle will shoot 3 rounds of match grade ammunition into less than an MOA. It did that with my average for four 5-shot groups coming in at .8 inch at 100 yards. My tightest 3-rounds measured .4 inch. Watch for my article in our print magazine Firearms News for complete accuracy and reliability testing. I finished up my initial testing at 400 yards. I did this engaging a LaRue “Chainbanger” steel silhouette. The ATC/Norma combination enabled me to make quick, multiple hits at this distance. Recoil is such that I could spot my own shots.
So, what are my thoughts on the new Springfield Armory Saint Edge ATC Elite? It is an interesting and logical approach to solving a specific problem. A fore-end integral with the lower receiver is very non-traditional on an AR-15. Some will love it and some will not. The question is, can the traditional AR-15 free-floating fore-end be enough of a concern to warrant such a dramatic step away from the standard? Obviously handguards and their mounting systems can fail. The military Mk 12 Mod 0 SPR for example had handguard issues in service leading to its demise and replacement by the Mod 1. Drop tests can be hard on many aluminum rails, especially lightweight ones.
Other AR-15 manufacturers have developed and introduced designs which feature either a monolithic handguard (LMT is an example) or mount a handguard directly to the receiver (LaRue Tactical and LWRCI are examples) and not the barrel nut. So, Springfield Armory is hardly the first to consider the traditional barrel nut fore-end mounting system less than optimum.
As I was testing the ATC Elite I picked the brain of my cohort and Firearms News Field Editor Michelle Hamilton and she shared her thoughts. Michelle is a very savvy AR-15 builder and a serious student of the AR-15 design. Here are her thoughts:
“While the concept of a rail attached to the lower receiver is both unique and forward thinking. It strays a bit too far away from traditional thinking and design of the AR rifle. People are so engrained with the 62 years of traditional production that even traditional monolithic receivers such as LMT's and Mega's design are often seen as somewhat "radical". While definitely well thought out and executed, I believe this could ultimately be a hurdle for Springfield Armory to overcome. Neat idea, looks rigid and I believe would lend well to a target or varmint rifle.”
Photo 06. The Springfield Armory Saint Edge ATC is very comfortable and very stable. Rounds fed, extracted and ejected smoothly, the trigger is very good, and recoil is very mellow. It’s a very fun rifle to shoot.
I agree with Michelle, moving away from the standard will be a bit too radical for some, as will the extra weight and bulk it brings. Some will say there is nothing wrong with the original design, so there’s no reason to fix something that is not broken. I also find the barrel length and caliber choice a bit odd. The 18-inch barrel length is famous from the Mk 12 SPR series. But, it’s really neither fish nor fowl. The Mk 12 SPR series was as successful as it was primarily due to the new load it was firing, the 77-grain Mk 262. For use primarily from 600 yards and in, especially with a suppressor mounted, it makes sense. But if you are going through all the trouble to develop something as far off the beaten path as the Saint Edge ATC, a bit more barrel length might have been nice. If you are going to fling heavy bullets, how about a 22-inch barrel? Other caliber options, such as a 6mm ARC, .224 Valkyrie or 6.5mm Grendel would have been nice as well. None of these are as popular as the old .223 Rem, but all three outperform it at distance.
Of course, I am probably getting ahead of myself and this is just the launch of the Saint Edge ATC line. If the introduction is successful I’m sure other barrel options and calibers will appear. If you are intrigued by the looks of this new model the MSRP on the standard version is $1549 and the Elite is $1899.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com
About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.