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Reviews : Arsenal

Springfield Arms M1A SOCOM 16

Performance and power make the latest incarnation of the M14 a potent patrol rifle.

November 01, 2004  |  by Dave Douglas


A Great Update

The Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM 16, like the M14, is a magazine-fed, rotating-bolt, gas-operated, air-cooled, semi-automatic, shoulder-fired rifle chambered in .308, aka 7.62x51mm NATO. It also has some unique features. For example, the SOCOM's barrel has been shortened to 16.25 inches, the minimum length allowed under federal law.

Just like its long line of ancestors, the SOCOM 16 was created for the military. A bunch of special ops guys who really know their guns thought it might be a good thing if they had another tool in their close quarter battle kit.

So their weapons development team worked with Springfield Armory to come up with just that tool, the M1A SOCOM, a designation that stands for "Special Operations Command. It is unknown if the special ops guys actually deployed the SOCOM; they're a somewhat tight-lipped bunch about that kind of thing.

Development of a weapon that met special ops' demands for a short-barreled, heavy-caliber carbine was more difficult than you might imagine. One of the biggest hurdles was fine-tuning the gas operating system of the SOCOM to ensure reliable function.

A similar attempt to change the M1 to gas operation was attempted in 1944. Sometimes mistakenly called the "Tanker's Garand," the M1E5 or T26 was cut down to 18 inches and fitted with a folding stock.

Unfortunately, the weapon proved unreliable because the military could not come up with a reliable fix for the gas operating system. Additionally, the muzzle flash and jump, not to mention a problem with unburned powder, made the T26 a terrible soldier's rifle. The project was shelved.

Fortunately, Springfield Armory has  solved those problems with the SOCOM. The change from the more powerful .30-06 cartridge to the .308 Winchester helped. Also more modern machining and manufacturing techniques along with better and more efficient propellant powders played a large role in the success of the project. In addition, Springfield Armory came up with a proprietary muzzle break that is one of the most efficient ever seen on a short-barreled, heavy-caliber carbine.

Nicely Appointed

Military weapons are rarely fancy and, for obvious reasons, they aren't big on gadgets. The SOCOM is no exception.

However, that doesn't mean that this rifle is without its charms. It's extremely well built, and it sports some functional features that will help any shooter adjust the weapon to match his or her needs.

The SOCOM's barrel is chrome-moly 16.25 inches in length with one turn in 11 inches right-hand twist rifling with six grooves. It will easily launch any weight .308 Winchester round accurately out to 300 meters.

Rear sights on the SOCOM are enlarged military aperture-type sights with click adjustments for both windage and elevation. The front sight is a tritium post manufactured by XS Sights. Some earlier versions were hooded and some now have two ears or wings.

Augmenting the iron sights, the SOCOM has a 1913 Mil-Spec rail on the forward handguard for mounting optics. One-to-One optics like the EOTech 512 or Trijicon's ACOG and optical magnification sights mount easily and provide speedy target acquisition.

The two-stage military trigger breaks crisply at between five and six pounds, and there is little if any creep. The safety is traditional for the M1A mounted at the front of the trigger guard. Push it forward and it's ready to go.

One of the things the special ops guys wanted from the new M1A was less weight than the standard M14. Springfield cut the mass of the M1A SOCOM by reducing the length of the barrel and replacing the standard M14 stock with a fiberglass stock. The combination makes the M1A SOCOM 16 a lot easier to hump around than a standard M1A. It would be a stretch to call the SOCOM 16 lightweight, but this 8.9-pound gun is lighter than the original 9.5-pound Garand our dads and granddads carried or the 12-pound M25 sniper version.

Loud and Mean

I first saw the SOCOM a few months back at Springfield Armory's Writer's Conference in Mesa, Ariz. And I've seen it shot better than probably anyone ever will again. Four-time world champion and Springfield Armory promotional shooter Rob Leatham put on a demonstration with the gun that made me glad he is on our side.

Once I was able to shoot the SOCOM, I found it to be very loud but extremely accurate. The efficiency of the muzzle break was amazing. Recoil was little more than shooting an AR-15 chambered in the diminutive .223 Remington. There was no perceptible muzzle rise, which you would normally expect in a short gun of this caliber, and followup shots were easy, rapid, and accurate.

I wouldn't want to use the M1A SOCOM as an entry gun because of the noise and directed muzzle blast. Or I should say I would not want to be one of the tactical team members standing next to the shooter during an entry. But as a heavy-duty patrol rifle, this gun is outstanding.

The M1A SOCOM can supply well-directed heavy fire from an easy-to-use, cop-friendly platform. It provides fast target acquisition and maneuverability, especially when coupled with good optics. And because of its short barrel, the SOCOM is just as effective close in as it is at distances well beyond normal law enforcement engagement ranges.

There are drawbacks to the 16.25-inch barrel, namely it's really loud. But recoil from the M1A SOCOM is relatively minimal for such a short and lightweight carbine in .308 caliber. And the barrel length also has its pluses. The SOCOM fits easily in an AR-15 carry bag for storage in a patrol car's trunk. Magazines and a tremendous selection of ammunition types are readily available.

If you or your agency are looking for a patrol rifle for those "limited and specialized situations" we all know never happen to patrol cops, take the M1A SOCOM for a test drive. It provides everything that you might need from a heavy-caliber patrol rifle.

Springfield Armory
M1A SOCOM 16

Caliber: .308 Winchester
Capacity: 10-round box magazine
Mechanism: Rotating-bolt, gas-operated,
air-cooled, semi-auto, magazine-fed rifle
Barrel Length: 16.25 inches
Overall Length: 37.25 inches
Weight: 8.9 pounds
Rear Sights: Military aperture with windage and
elevation adjustment
Front Sights: Tritium posts
Trigger Pull: 5 to 6 pounds
Price: $1,727
www.springfieldarmory.com

Sgt. Dave Douglas is the rangemaster of the San Diego Police Department, a veteran law enforcement officer, and a Police contributing editor.

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Tags: Firearms Reviews, Springfield Armory, Patrol Rifles

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