Editor's note: View our "IWI's SAR-21 Rifle" photo gallery for detailed photos of the firearm.
Photo by Alex Landeen
The Tavor, which is sold in the U.S. as the SAR-21 (Semi-Automatic Rifle-21st Century), was developed to be the primary infantry weapon of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It was designed to replace the IDF's M4 carbines, and it has succeeded in doing so, as Tavors have been in service with the IDF since 2006.
In addition to its service with the IDF, the Tavor has been adopted by military units and law enforcement agencies in many different countries. Select fire and semi-auto versions of the Tavor are available for a variety of applications.
IWI U.S. provided me with a SAR-21 for a POLICE Magazine test and evaluation.
Compact and Different
When you examine an IWI SAR-21 (Tavor) bullpup for the first time, two words are likely to come into your mind: "compact" and "different." Compact is just a matter of the bullpup design. But even among bullpups, the Tavor is just "different."
First, let's look at the bullpup design and what it means in the Tavor. Bullpup rifles locate the action behind the trigger with the magazine in the buttstock. Because of its bullpup design, a Tavor with a 16.5-inch barrel is actually a tad shorter in overall length than an M4 carbine with a 10-inch barrel and a fully collapsed stock.
The bullpup configuration is not just about shooter comfort. A bullpup like the Tavor with a 16.5-inch barrel, though shorter in overall length, produces much higher muzzle velocities than an M4 carbine with a much shorter barrel, and it can also be used to engage targets at longer distances with more effectiveness. Finally, the compact design of the Tavor makes it easier to operate in close quarters, including inside buildings, inside vehicles, and inside aircraft.
Here are some of the things about the Tavor that are just plain different. The soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces need weapons that can be used in amphibious assaults, so the Tavor is capable of "over the beach" operations after being completely submerged in salt water. Obviously, very few law enforcement agencies will need to use a rifle for an amphibious assault, but it's really cool that the Tavor is built to do so.
The Tavor is available in a variety of different configurations. The X95 is the micro or compact version of the Tavor. There is also a designated marksman version with an 18.5-inch barrel and a model with a grenade launcher.
If you get the impression that the Tavor is a versatile combat rifle, then go with it. It's so versatile that it can be converted from 5.56mm NATO to 5.45x39mm, and 9mm by changing barrels, bolt assemblies, and magazines. The Tavor can also be easily fitted with a left-handed bolt assembly or a right-handed bolt assembly and has both a left- and right-handed ejection port, so it's suited for ambidextrous operation.
Israel's troops needed versatility, but they also needed easy maintenance and adaptability. The Tavor field strips into two major parts and requires minimal operator or agency armorer maintenance. Tavor barrels can be removed by the operator with a tool available from IWI.
One of the best things about the Tavor is that since it was developed to replace the IDF's M4s, it works with many of the accessories developed for the M4. Tavors use standard M16/M4 magazines and can be outfitted with the same red dot sights, magnified optics, forward vertical grips, tactical lights, and grenade launchers made for the M4.
There are two ways to load a Tavor. One technique is to insert a loaded magazine into the magazine well that is positioned behind the pistol grip. Once you cycle the charging handle, a round of ammunition will be stripped from the magazine and loaded into the chamber. To execute a combat reload you depress the magazine release lever that ejects the empty magazine. This lever is located in front of the magazine well and is very easy to operate. After a fully loaded magazine is inserted into the magazine well and locked into position, you can use the thumb on your weak hand to depress the bolt assembly release mechanism that is situated behind the magazine well. Once the rather robust and easy-to-operate plastic bolt assembly release mechanism is depressed, a round of ammunition is instantly stripped from the magazine and loaded into the chamber. As long as the safety is not engaged all that is left to do is to acquire a target and pull the trigger.
During the first range session, the Tavor was sighted in using the flip-up iron sights that are imbedded in the rail system. These sights are easy to use despite the fact that the rear sight is a simple flat piece of steel with a peep sight for an aiming mechanism. The front sight is very easy to adjust and is topped off with a tritium illumination, a feature that is not found on your average patrol rifle or tactical carbine.
I found the Tavor's iron sights to be easy to use and quite accurate. From a seated position at a distance of 25 yards, I had no problem delivering Winchester white box 5.56mm NATO caliber ammunition onto a 1-inch circular Shoot 'N' See target.
After fitting the Tavor with a Trijicon SRS red dot optic, I took aim at a steel plate the size of the scoring area of a TQ19 Police Firearms Qualification Target, which was set 100 yards downrange. Firing from a braced seated position and a standing unsupported position, I made the steel ring. Similar results were achieved with an Aimpoint Comp M3 that was equipped with a GG&G Quick Detach Mount and the GG&G flip-up optic covers. Best of all, even when fully loaded and equipped with one of the red dot optics and a SureFire M300 Mini Scout light, the Tavor was well balanced.
At the end of the first range session, the Tavor was used to engage a man-sized target at a CQB distance of approximately 15 to 20 yards. These drills involved a number of rounds fired at a quick pace in between executing a series of tactical reloads.
I found that the easiest way to execute fast tactical reloads with the Tavor was to eject the magazine then pivot the rifle to the left while I inserted a spare magazine and depressed the magazine release mechanism with my left thumb, all while continuing to cover my target.
Second Range Test
I learned a lot during the first range session with the Tavor. One of the things I learned was that I wanted to spend some more trigger time with this unusual rifle.
Equipping the Tavor with an Aimpoint Comp M3, I fired on a metal plate at a distance of approximately 90 yards. No problem. I then swapped out the Aimpoint for a Trijicon ACOG TAO1NSN optic. The Trijicon sight was dead-on accurate, ringing the metal at 100 and even 300 yards.
The Tavor was built for shooting targets on an open battlefield and for close-quarter, house-to-house combat. So I decided to complete my field testing of the rifle with close-range drills, this time with the ACOG. The ACOG-equipped Tavor delivered, pumping rounds into the head and torso of a man-sized cardboard target at 20 yards.
The fact that the trigger design on the Tavor is different than the trigger design on M16- and M4-style patrol and tactical carbines concerned me before I took it to the range. So I decided to assemble a five-member team of veteran M4 shooters, including myself, and see if the trigger was a problem. It wasn't. Not one of the five shooters had any difficulty getting used to the Tavor's trigger.
During this evaluation, more than 400 rounds of various brands of ammunition were fired through the Tavor. The ammo was loaded into a number of different magazines, including a 30-round IWI plastic magazine, a 30-round plastic Tango Down ARC magazine, several 30-round plastic Magpul magazines, a 20-round Lancer plastic magazine, a metal 30-round Colt M4 magazine, and a 30-year-old Colt M16 magazine. The only magazines that needed to be manually removed from the magazine well were older model 30-round Magpul magazines. All other magazines used in this evaluation easily ejected from the Tavor when the operator engaged the magazine release lever and operated in the rifle without a hiccup.
After evaluating the Tavor for POLICE Magazine, I see no reason why U.S. law enforcement officers assigned to patrol units, investigative units, and tactical units could not easily transition to and benefit from using this rifle. However, I would never recommend that officers transition to a new platform like a bullpup on a whim. Before you consider adopting a new patrol rifle or tactical carbine, I strongly recommend that you determine which rifle you prefer and which rifle offers you a capability that you do not currently possess. If after you go through this evaluation process you are still interested in adopting a bullpup, the IWI Tavor is a good option.
Israel Weapon Industries SAR-21 (Tavor) Rifle Specs:
Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
Capacity: 30 rounds
Operating System: Piston with rotating bolt
Barrel Length: 16.5 inches
Barrel Design: Mil-Spec cold-hammer-forged, chrome lined. Easily detachable with 6 grooves and a 1:7-inch twist.
Overall Length: 26 1/8 inches
Weight: 7.9 pounds
Sights: Integral folding adjustable front and rear sights with a tritium front sight
Body Material: High-strength, high-impact polymer, available in black or flat dark earth
Features: Ambidextrous operating controls, integral ambidextrous front and rear detachable sling swivel receptacles, corrosive-resistant parts, last round bolt hold open feature, rubber butt pad, uses M16/M4 magazines, Israeli Model comes with Meprolight Mepro 21 reflex sight, 9mm and 5.45x39mm conversion kits are available
Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs agent and a former police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working as a federal agent. He is a frequent contributor to POLICE.