Ever since the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery in which the LAPD found itself outgunned by the bad guys, law enforcement agencies nationwide have transitioned in mass from using pump-action shotguns to military style rifles and carbines.
The most popular U.S. law enforcement patrol or tactical (SWAT) rifle or carbine has been the AR15/M16/M4 variants that operate using Eugene Stoner's direct impingement design. But in the last few years a number of new rifles that use gas piston operation have been marketed to both law enforcement and the military.
Why would anyone use a rifle or carbine that is different in any way from the proven and popular direct impingement black guns? The answer to this question is that some law enforcement agencies are willing to step out of the box and examine other options because as good as the AR variants are they are not the only magazine-fed, semi-auto rifles suitable for law enforcement duty.
Even someone like me who has carried an issued Colt M16 variant as well as a personally owned Ruger Mini 14 in harm's way and has a long history of using direct impingement rifles has to admit that some of the piston operated rifles are excellent guns. One such rifle is the SIG Sauer 556 Patrol Rifle.
Don't let the name "Patrol" fool you; the SIG 556 Patrol is well suited for tactical team use as well. The new SIG 556 Patrol Rifle comes in two versions: the standard model and the SWAT model. The SWAT model is equipped with a quad rail for the attachment of accessories.
The Original 556
After I retired and started field testing firearms and publishing magazine articles, I tested a rather long list of handguns, shotguns, rifles, carbines, machine guns, and submachine guns, including the original SIG 556 and now the SIG 556 Patrol Rifle.
Looking back I admit that I was impressed with the original SIG 556. But I had two complaints about this rifle that prevented me from buying one.
My first problem with the original SIG 556 was that it had a cheap-looking rear sight. The rear sight was like a piece of cheap steel with a hole drilled through it. I mean this sight was like something you would find on British Sten guns constructed in occupied territory during World War II by Allied resistance fighters.
I also had a bit of a problem with the original SIG 556's lack of a dust or bolt cover to keep sand and dirt out of the internal operating parts of the receiver. I haven't had a problem with dirt or sand getting into the receiver of the two SIG 556 rifles that I have tested to date, but I would still like to have extra protection that a dust cover provides.
Now that I have shared my criticisms of the original SIG 556 you must be wondering why I enthusiastically asked to test and evaluate the new SIG 556 Patrol Rifle.
The reason is simple. In all my years of testing and using all kinds of rifles I have yet to find the so-called "perfect" firearm. There is always at least one feature or aspect of every firearm, even if it's so minor it is almost not worth mentioning, that prevents it from being perfect. And while the original SIG 556 had its faults, it was still an excellent firearm.
OK, let's look at the new SIG 556 Patrol Rifle. SIG designed its 556 series of rifles to use M16/M4 magazines, which was a wise decision, and I applaud them for it.
But like I said nothing is perfect. The Patrol version of the 556 lacks the real estate or a longer forend to enable the operator to extend his or her non-shooting hand to grip the rifle as close to the front sight as possible. This method of gripping any assault rifle or main battle rifle is highly recommended because it effectively steadies the rifle under firing conditions.
If this is a problem then you have options. You can use the SWAT version, which is equipped with a quad rail system. The quad rail lets you install a forward vertical grip. Or you can do as I do and use the 556 Patrol Rifle as is because the plus of having a shorter forend is that it makes the rifle a tad less "nose" heavy.
Now that I have my criticisms of the original SIG 556 out of the way, here's the good news about the 556 Patrol Rifle.
The new Rotary Diopter sight system on the 556 Patrol and SWAT rifles is light years ahead of the original poorly executed sights that were first used on the original SIG 556 Rifle.
The Diopter sights have two basic settings. One is an open V-shaped combat sight that gives you a very wide field of view while the large front sight post is clearly visible in the center of the sight picture. The second is a peep sight that also comes on the diopter rear sight. It's easy to use and has a large enough aperture to present more than enough of the target for accurate shot placement.
As someone who had some previous trigger time with the original SIG 556 variant, I was curious how the new SIG 556 Patrol would handle. From the moment I removed this rifle from the box I liked it and looked forward to shooting it with and without optics.
To kick off the testing of the SIG 556 Patrol, I decided to sight it in using 62-grain NATO green tip ammunition. At 50 yards, I fired into a two-inch diameter Shoot N See target. After a few adjustments the rifle was ready to test.
So with the help of my shooting buddy Rick Batory, we co-witnessed the iron sights to an Aimpoint Comp M4. The Aimpoint optic proved to be an excellent match for this rifle and I used it throughout the next 120 days of testing. I also plan to keep it on the SIG 556 Patrol should I buy this test gun, as I expect I will.
The SIG 556 proved to be a fun rifle to shoot. It barely displayed any muzzle climb or recoil and was as reliable and accurate as a service rifle should be.
I especially liked the way the SIG 556 handled under rapid fire drills while using the red-dot Aimpoint optic. But even when the rifle was fired using iron sights, I had no problem confidently placing my rounds on target. The SIG 556 let me make head shots and upper body shots on a TQ19 Police Firearms Qualification Target with ease.
The fact that SIG Sauer has a well-earned reputation for producing incredibly high-quality semi-automatic pistols lets me safely assume that any firearm that SIG manufactures will be of the finest quality. And the SIG 556 Patrol Rifle did not disappoint.
Even though I have always found direct impingement rifles to be incredibly reliable and easy to clean and maintain, I appreciate the enhanced capabilities of the gas piston system that is used in the SIG 556. I also like the fact that the SIG 556 uses M16 magazines.
So if your agency is ready to step out of the box and use a true 21st century tactical or patrol rifle, the SIG 556 models may be ideal. I even see a use for the SIG 556 Patrol Rifle with its side folding stock as the perfect tactical rifle to be used by cover teams that provide backup for undercover agents. Surveillance teams and stakeout units could also take advantage of the more compact design features of the SIG 556 Patrol and the SIG 556 SWAT Patrol.
The bottom line is if you like using a traditional M4 carbine without any accessories attached, then you will probably have no problem using the standard SIG 556 Patrol Rifle. If you need or want to use certain accessories on your patrol or tactical rifle, you will probably prefer to use the 556 SWAT Rifle or the 556 SWAT Patrol Rifle because both of these guns are equipped with a quad rail system.
As far as I am concerned, I have decided that at some point in the immediate future there will be a SIG 556 in my gun safe. What sold me on this gun was its weight and balance, flawless reliability, compact size, and its clean and cool running reduced length gas piston operating system. My only dilemma is which model to buy-the plain Jane SIG 556 Patrol Model or the SIG 556 Patrol SWAT Model.
Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and a former police officer. He was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.