One of the announcements that took me by surprise at last year's SHOT Show was that Para Ordnance, the Canadian firm best known for its line of high-capacity 1911s, was introducing a new AR-style rifle.
Not wanting to make just "another AR" Para gave its rifle a number of features that set it apart from the others. Most notable of these is its gas system, which Para says provides the shooter with the benefits of a piston-drive gun without the disadvantages.
Not too long ago, I received a sample of the new Para USA Tactical Target Rifle. It features a 16-inch barrel, a side-folding Rapid Deployment Stock, and an innovative free floating handguard/rail system. It's designed to be used on the fields of competition or in combat.
Despite being a new offering from Para, this rifle, in a different guise, has been around for more than a decade. Allan Zitta, of ZM Weaponry, first designed what Para calls the Delayed Impingement Gas System (DIGS) in 1994.
Zitta needed a lightweight, accurate yet powerful handgun for the Masters competition. While most other competitors used a Remington XP-100, a bolt-action, single-shot pistol chambered for the .223 cartridge, Zitta redesigned the gas system of a standard AR rifle. He eliminated the buffer tube and spring and placed the action spring, wrapped around the op rod, above the shortened barrel. The ability to spend more time on target gave Zitta an edge in this timed event. In 1996 Zitta offered a commercial version of this handgun and called it the Master Blaster.
A couple years later Zitta received an invitation from the military to show them his prototypes. They asked if he could outfit the Master Blaster with a side-folding stock. The resulting gun was called the LR300. LR stands for Light Rifle and the 300 stands for the effective range of an 11.5-inch barrel with a 55-grain FMJ bullet. This gun, used and tested by spec ops, became the basis for Para's Tactical Target Rifle.
A Cleaner Machine
The heart of the DIGS gas system, licensed by Para from Zitta, is a very long, 10.5-inch gas key attached to the bolt carrier. It slides over a shortened gas tube near the gas block. Para calls this part the "op rod," and the action spring is wrapped around it, thereby eliminating the need for the buffer tube and spring. Because of this a side folding stock can be used, and this dramatically shortens the weapon's overall length when folded. The Tactical Target Rifle measures a compact 26.5 inches with the stock folded.
While the upper receiver looks like a standard flat top receiver, it is actually .200 inches taller to allow for the op rod to go through. The charging handle is also taller to accommodate these changes. Zitta made the feedramps lower to allow for different tolerance stacks between manufacturers of magazines.
Because the bolt carrier is shorter by 2.90 inches, the forward assist is also moved forward. A brass deflector has been built into the forward assist to keep brass out of the face of left-handed shooters.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of this system is that it keeps the gas residue out of the upper receiver. A cleaner gun equals better reliability and that equates to greater user confidence. The DIGS system also eliminates the "twang" that an AR user hears as the buffer and spring compress and then expand under his or her ear. Moving the action spring above the barrel also helps to push the rifle back down on target instead of up and into the shoulder. Para claims that the Tactical Target Rifle is the fastest production tactical gun built.
Pros Love It
Although I wasn't able to determine any difference in firing the Para Ordnance Tactical Target Rifle compared to other AR-15 style rifles there are some professional shooters who say they can.
Todd Jarrett, Para's top professional shooter, has been using a Zitta-built rifle for years—long before there was any sort of licensing agreement between Zitta and Para.
"For the past decade one of my top secret weapons in the competition world has been the Tactical Target Rifle," Jarrett says. "I have trusted it and used it exclusively for over 10 years. Its unique design lets me get on target faster with accuracy and reliability unmatched in any other rifle. And it is just fun to shoot."
Jarrett isn't the only professional shooter who has been using the Zitta-designed rifle. Rob Leatham and Michael Voigt, two of the world's best shooters, also use this weapon. The fact that these men, whose incomes are derived by their performance on the field of competition, selected this gun speaks volumes for the efficiency of the DIGS-equipped rifles.
Gas piston drive ARs have been all the rage as of late, and manufacturers are scrambling to get guns into production to satisfy customer demand. I asked Zitta about his design compared to piston driven systems. "They (piston guns) cost more to make, and you still need to clean the piston," Zitta says. "Piston driven guns keep more heat in the piston and the barrel because it doesn't allow for the bolt carrier to work as a heat sink. So with the piston guns, the barrel heats up more than a direct gas impingement system. I'm not trying to make digs against the piston system, but manufacturing costs, weight, and barrel heat are all factors that inspired me to go a different way."