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SAR-21 Bullpup Assault Rifle: World’s Best Combat Bullpup?

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by David Crane
[email protected]

March 16, 2004

The SAR-21, manufactured by ST Kinetics Land Systems (out of Singapore) and marketed by VT Kinetics in the U.S., is a roughly 2 1/2 year old, "state-of-the-art" bullpup 5.56mm assault rifle that is currently going head to head with the Israeli TAR-21(Tavor) bullpup rifle, and all other modern 5.56 assault rifles on the world market. Judging by my experience with this rifle at the range, the SAR-21 is going to give its competitors a…

serious run for their money (more on that later).

The rifle’s combined stock and receiver is comprised of an advanced polymer, and thus is fairly light. Since its bullpup configuration leaves the shooter’s face very close to the chamber, STKinetics has thoughtfully designed a protective ceramic plate into the stock, along with an overpressure bleed hole in the chamber, to protect the shooter’s face in case of catastrophic failure. While I appreciated the ergonomics of the ambidextrous non-reciprocating cocking/charging handle on top of the SAR-21′s receiver (and under the optical sight), I don’t particularly like top-situated cocking/charging handles, at all, on infantry rifles. This includes the HK G36/G36K/G36C’s top-situated, reciprocating cocking handle. Top-situated cocking handles create an operational/tactical application obstacle, making it impossible to incorporate a true 1913 picatinny rail on top of the weapon’s upper receiver. A left-side-situated non-reciprocating cocking handle is the way to go on any infantry rifle or machine gun. Lefties can make do by slightly tilting the weapon to the right and racking the left-side-situated cocking handle with their right hand. Anyway, just like the HK G36′s top-situated, reciprocating cocking handle, the SAR-21′s top-situated, non-reciprocating cocking handle swivels, making it truly ambidextrous, so righties and lefties can operate it with equal speed and efficiency.

The SAR-21 also incorporates a gas regulator at the front of the rifle that can be adjusted for different loads, similar to what can be found on the FN FNC, although the design is different. Magazines are made out of a clear polymer, similar to the magazines for the HK G36 and Sig 550 series rifles. So far, the SAR-21 only comes in standard configuration, as far as we know. Hopefully, carbine and subcarbine variants will be developed in the not-too-distant future.

I got to shoot the SAR-21 rather extensively awhile back during "Range Day" at TREXPO East 2001, right after the gun was first introduced to the American market at the two-day exhibition. The demo gun was provided by Class III Supply, and they were very generous with their ammunition, allowing people to pretty much shoot as many rounds as they wanted. I should say off the bat that I usually don’t like bullpups, but I really liked this one. In fact, this gun turned out to be my second favorite weapon at the shoot (My first favorite was the FN P90). I had an absolute blast running this gun.

The optical sighting system on the SAR-21 worked really well, being very fast to engage, and recoil was very manageable. With proper stance(I, myself, use an SAS stance with both elbows tucked in close to my body), the gun stayed on target during full bursts, and the hit percentage was extremely high. I was able to keep all my rounds within about 6 to 10 inches at 25 yards on full auto, depending on the length of the string. The balance of this weapon is superb, being right above the shooting hand, and the weight is light, considering this is a full sized 5.56 rifle. Reliability was perfect while I was firing it, and I did not see even one malfunction of the SAR-21 the entire time I was there. One of the contributing factors for this was the excellent polymer magazine. I especially appreciated the see-through feature, which allowed me to monitor my ammo supply.

The only other things I did not like about this rifle, besides the top-situated cocking/charging handle, were the location of the selector switch, and the type of switch it is. Located at the back of the stock–not a good place, by the way–it is of the push-button variety, and was awkward to operate, quickly. I would much prefer an ambidextrous M16-style sweep selector switch that can be engaged by either the thumb or index finger of the shooting hand. That solution would be far superior with regard to speed and natural ergonomics under combat conditions. If ST Kinetics/VT Kinetics makes this one change, the SAR-21 will be very hard to beat in the world market. One other suggestion I would make is that they come out with both carbine and subcarbine variants for use by special operators.

The following information has been edited/updated (5/04/04):

The SAR-21 is currently only available to law enforcement organizations and military units. If you’d like to inquire about or demo an SAR-21 for possible acquisition your organization or unit, you should now contact Vince DeNiro (American Defense Management, Inc.) at 330-518-7789, or via email at [email protected]. To the best of our knowledge, American Defense Management, Inc., run by Vince DeNiro, is now the primary U.S. distributor of the SAR-21 bullpup assault rifle.

If you’d rather contact VT Kinetics directly, instead, you can contact Clarence Newby at 703-739-2610.

Click here to read what the AFJI (Armed Forces Journal Internatinal) evaluators thought of the SAR-21 when they T&E’d it.

Click here to read Charlie Cutshaw’s article on the SAR-21 that he wrote for Jane’s.

This link contains some more good info on the SAR-21.

Finally, SAR-21.com used to be the primary SAR-21 website, but the site now appears to be down. DefRev doesn’t yet know if this is temporary or permanent.

SAR-21 Bullpup Assault Rifle: World’s Best Combat Bullpup? by
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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.
  • http://www.theaaronloy.com/ Aaron

    This article actually highlights the the Singapore Army’s lack of actual combat experience, present in the positioning of the selector switch, especially with the excuse when feedback is given, saying that the Singapore Army has had ‘no problems’ with that positioning. Typical of a top down management, even in the face of feedback from those overseas with actual combat experience.

    That said, I was the last batch to be trained with both the M16 and SAR21, I must say, despite the increase in weight and the inability to do a quick combat load, the SAR21 is a very good rifle, that’s balanced, poised and easy to maintain.

    Also the fact that it’s not a direct blowback system means that it’s more suitable for extended engagements as it requires lesser cleaning and even when cleaning is required, it’s easily disassembled with fewer parts for that peace of mind.

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