The attacks of September 11, 2001 have prompted many police agencies to quietly re-think their equipment needs. When faced with the possibility of confronting heavily armed and highly motivated terrorists, there is a move toward including heavy rifle capability into SWAT and even patrol functions.
The ability to lay down serious suppressive fire or to engage suspects with heavy body armor, behind barricades or in vehicles may often mean more than .223, buckshot or even slugs.
Enter the M1A platform as offered by Springfield Armory. The .308 (or 7.62x51) caliber offers a .30 caliber, 147 to 175 grain bullet at velocities in the 2600 fps arena. This kind of performance means a vehicle, concrete block wall or even a house, offers little or no protection from well-directed police fire. They can run, but they can't hide.
The M1A's performance is based on some serious family history. The basic action and concept dates back to the middle thirties. The famous 30-06 Garand rifle of WWII fame (pronounced, by the way, "Gare-rend" with the emphasis on the first syllable, not "Ga-rand" as most people think) was adopted by the U.S. military just prior to WWII.
Caught shorthanded by the Pearl Harbor attack, production commenced and by war's end, most front-line soldiers were solving problems with the Garand and those famous eight-round en-bloc clips. There were some shortcomings, however, and one was that same eight-round clip. A detachable box magazine was called for and after much experimentation and hair-pulling, the early M-14 full-auto military rifles in caliber 7.62 NATO were developed and put to war in Vietnam.
Weight and performance in full-auto fire coupled with the introduction of the M-16 platform spelled the end of the M-14. However, you can't argue with the effectiveness of the .308 and it was soon found impossible to retire the old warhorse entirely. Even today, specialized units of the military rely on the M-14 to "reach out" when needed.
"These same concepts can be applied today, as police are more and more frequently called upon to perform the role of light infantry," says Clint Smith, founder and director of Thunder Ranch, the firearm training facility in Texas. Smith is one of the leaders in patrol rifle strategy and training.
He Says, She Says
"While the .223 round is effective on personnel, the .223 round can often be rendered ineffective by even moderate cover," explains Smith. "While the high velocity 55 to 67 grain bullets can poke .223 sized holes in most body armor, when faced with an automobile, substantial structural members or even glass, the .223 becomes an iffy proposition," he adds. All at a time when "iffy" isn't a word you want to be hearing.
Federal's "Tactical" L/E ammo can often help to overcome some of these problems, but the .308 can stomp through most barriers that would slow or seriously hinder virtually any .223 bullet. With the introduction of Hornady's "TAP" round, even the .308's strong point of penetration can be safely managed with this low-penetration round.
Does It Shoot?
A trip to the range with the test rifle revealed no surprises. Function was flawless. The test rifle was a basic, no-frills "Standard M1A." Federal 168-Grain match ammo and PMC's 168-grain match were selected since they have both proven themselves in the real world.
The stock military trigger was no hindrance to good grouping. This particular rifle preferred the Federal ammo, delivering consistent groups between 1.73" and 2.2". This is simply spectacular for what is essentially a stock, military semi-auto rifle.
The PMC ammo's best group was 1.95" and, in most regards, shot closely enough to the Federal round to be called interchangeable. Casual conversation with other M1A shooters seems to put our test rifle at the top of the pack in accuracy, with some shooters reporting groups that hover around the 2.5" to 3" mark from some rifles. This may, indeed, be a function of ammo, shooter and other conditions, rather than the rifle alone.
This performance means a patrol officer or tactical team can have a serious rifle, capable of delivering decisive, accurate semi-auto fire at any range likely to be encountered by officers in the field. All done reliably and economically ($1,000 or less in the real world). Many AR platforms cost much more and any bolt gun would be at least that much with even rudimentary optics attached.
Look for models ranging from match-grade tactical rifles (the M21) to the "Scout Squad rifle" (a short-barreled version of the M1A). Each one is tailored for a given job and rugged enough to get that job done regardless of the situation.
Manufacturer: Springfield, Inc.
Caliber: 7.62 NATO (.308)
Weight: 9.2 pounds
Sights: Military post and aperture
Capacity: 10 or 20 round box mag
Trigger: 5 to 6 pound, two-stage military
Price: About $1,300 (full retail)