Sleek 5.56mm built tank-tough with sub-MOA accuracy!
By Doug Larson
Photos by Sean Utley
Special Weapons® October 2014 (shootingtimes.com)
I'm not sure there is a universally accepted definition for the term "tactical operator," but I am sure that it brings to most people's mind someone who carries a gun for a living and does dangerous things in the service of the government. Whether a valid definition or not, this type of person would probably need a purpose-built carbine that is rugged, handles well and is accurate. If it were relatively light, that would be a plus.
Precision Reflex, Inc. (PRI), is now offering such an AR designed with the tactical operator in mind. Not surprisingly, PRI calls it the "Tactical Operator." It weighs only 7.9 pounds unloaded, has a 16-inch barrel and, despite its light weight, is capable of sub-MOA accuracy.
Precision Reflex has been around longer than many readers may be aware. Started in 1979, it has been involved in the development of equipment for the military, and the company not only makes complete firearms, but it also supplies parts to other manufacturers.
The Tactical Operator makes a good first impression with its Flat Dark Earth furniture, which contrasts with its black metal parts. Out front is an MSTN muzzle brake that really is effective at keeping muzzle rise to a minimum so that follow-up shots are quicker. It is attached to a 16-inch, Douglas, black 416 stainless steel barrel that is rifled with a 1-in-8-inch twist rate. That’s kind of a compromise twist between the 1-in-7-inch twist rate designed to stabilize longer, heavier bul- lets and the 1-in-9-inch twist rate, which is designed to stabilize lighter, shorter bullets. Which is the best twist rate? It really depends on the individual barrel, the cartridge and whom you ask. In any case, this gun turned out to be pretty accurate, but more about that later.
The barrel does not have an M4 contour, but is heavier throughout its length. It does have the now-almost-common-place M4 feed ramp cuts that promote more reliable feeding, though. To further aid in feeding and function, the gas port is drilled at about the 10-inch mark, making this a mid-length direct gas system. An advantage of this system is that it slows down the velocity of the bolt carrier just a bit compared to the carbine-length system usually found on a 16-inch-barreled gun. Some people also report that the recoil impulse is smoother. The carbine also features a low-profile gas block that is secured with two setscrews instead of taper pins.
Surrounding the barrel is a Flat Dark Earth-colored, rifle-length, carbon-fiber PRI Gen III handguard. It’s round with ventilation holes as well as holes for the mounting of accessory rails. The hand- guard is very similar to the handguard supplied by PRI for the Mk 12 Mod 0 precision rifle developed for the military, and the carbon fiber is lightweight and transfers less heat than an aluminum handguard. Three-inch, black anodized aluminum accessory rails are mounted forward at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions with two screws each. In the 12 o’clock position is an 8.5-inch accessory rail, to which PRI attaches an elevation- adjustable, flip-up front sight. The hand- guard, being round and long, provides a comfortable surface that allows for a far-forward grip if the shooter prefers that method of shooting, which is becoming more and more accepted. Inside the bottom half of the handguard is a heat shield, which helps prevent heat from transferring to the support hand. Starting about halfway back along the top of the handguard and extending rearward to stop just in front of the PRI windage-adjustable, flip up rear sight is a Recce-length top rail. This accessory rail attaches securely to the top rail of the flattop receiver via clamps located on each side that are held tightly by three screws. The front of the top rail is attached to the handguard’s upper rail by a screw. The effect is to tie the handguard rail and receiver rail solidly together. The buyer should note, though, that the top rail increases the height of an optic by almost a half-inch and that LaRue Tactical’s excellent optics mounts will not fit because the Recce rail’s side clamps interfere with the LaRue attachment levers. If this is a problem, the rail can be removed, but be aware that the top rail on the handguard does not mate with the receiver rail.
The upper receiver is made of forged 7075-T6 aluminum with finely applied black anodizing. Inside the upper resides the bolt carrier group and a Gas Buster charging handle that is designed to deflect escaping gas away from the shooter’s face. The bolt carrier is commercial spec and chrome lined, and the gas key is properly staked. The extractor does not have the O-ring surrounding the extractor spring that so many carbines now sport, but the gun’s mid-length gas system makes extraction less difficult. So it appears that PRI determined the O-ring was not needed. If the owner feels more comfortable with an O-ring for added extraction insurance, it’s easy and inexpensive to install one. It’s not a big deal.
The lower receiver is also made of forged 7075-T6 aluminum and shares the same nicely done black anodizing job of the upper receiver. The right side of the magazine well bears the PRI logo in subdued white, and the left side also sports an impression of the logo. The safety selector lever is just like the one typically found on AR-15s, and it worked just like it was supposed to. The same goes for the bolt catch and magazine release, and the magazine well is nicely beveled for fast magazine changes. PRI supplies the Tactical Operator with two 15-round Precision Reflex steel magazines. These magazines should have a longer service life than aluminum mil-spec magazines, but any mil-spec 20- or 30-round AR magazine should work just fine with the carbine.
The pistol grip is a Flat Dark Earth-colored, A2-style grip, which means that if the owner wants to replace it with an after-market grip, the change will be very easy. Some may want a longer trigger reach, a storage compartment in the grip or a different grip angle. That’s one of the appeals of the AR platform—accessorizing is easy, and there are plenty of options.
Now for the trigger. According to the company’s specifications, the Tactical Operator comes with a standard trigger. But I’m not sure whose standard the specifications refer to, because it sure didn’t seem like the standard AR-15 or mil-spec trigger I often see on test guns. Yes, it had the take-up found on a typical military trigger, but it didn’t have the typical gritty creep before a mushy let-off. Instead, the trigger broke cleanly at about 8 pounds with a bit of overtravel. That’s not normal, and it was a pleasant surprise. Of course, some may want a lighter let-off, but in a gun used for serious work that may not be a wise choice.
The buffer tube—or “receiver extension” as it is more properly referred to— has a 1.17-inch-outside diameter, which is 0.003 inches larger than the mil-spec tube. That’s not really all that important unless you want to change buttstocks, because a mil-spec buttstock won’t fit. The tube has indents so that the butt-stock can be adjusted to any one of six length-of-pull positions. The buttstock itself looks pretty much like a mil-spec buttstock except that it has a Flat Dark Earth color and does not have a sling loop. A sling loop can be easily added, though, if desired.
An AR-15 designed for law enforcement, military or self-defense should be rugged and deliver fairly good—but not necessarily great—accuracy. For the typical soldier, law enforcement officer or non-sworn citizen engaged in protecting life from someone intent on killing at the normal distances encountered in such a situation, being able to place rounds reliably into the vital zone—a roughly 8-inch circle) is generally accepted as adequate. At 100 yards, which is a greater distance than that of the typical gunfight,8 inches is equivalent to 8 minutes of angle (MOA). The military specifications for an M4 Carbine is better than that at 5 inches or 5 MOA. And most ARs in the self-defense category will shoot to an accuracy level of around 2 to 3 MOA, but the Tactical Operator supplied for testing did much better.
To test the gun’s accuracy, I mounted a Burris 3-10x40mm Signature Series scope. With each of the three loads used for testing—Black Hills’ 75-grain Match hollow point, Hornady’s 55-grain Steel Match hollow point and Federal’s 77-grain MatchKing boat-tail hollow point—the gun printed a group less than 1 MOA. And the average of three 5-shot groups all came in at less than 1.5 MOA. That’s very good.
For close-in testing at 25 yards and less, I used an EOTech XPS3 holographic weapon sight. This is a very good close- quarters red-dot sight because of its variable intensity setting, which allows the reticle to be seen in everything from very bright sunlight to dim light. It even has settings for use with night-vision equipment. The reticle consists of a 1-MOA red dot in the center that is surrounded by a 65-MOA circle. The circle makes target acquisition at close range lightning fast, while the red dot can be used on targets out to the effective range of the 5.56mm NATO round.
The Tactical Operator was especially easy to keep on target for fast follow-up shots due to the effective MSTN muzzle brake and heavy Douglas stainless steel barrel, which adds weight out front. But at the same time, the gun is light enough to maneuver easily.
Needless to say, I came away from the test of the Tactical Operator very impressed. The gun easily accomplishes its intended mission of delivering an accurate and reliable AR. For more information, visit precisionreflex.com or call 419-629-2603.