A Rifle For Many Roles.
Brothers Mark and Chuck Larson combined 40 years of experience in the firearm business to found Rock River Arms (RRA) in 1996. Their initial product focus consisted of custom 1911 pistols before they turned their attention to AR-style rifles. The attention to detail associated with creating match-grade 1911s was soon transferred over to AR production methods. RRA’s goal with the AR-style rifle is the utmost reliability combined with accuracy, thus wringing the most out of Stoner’s original design. These two objectives are often at odds with each other. The tight tolerances associated with accuracy can hinder reliability if not applied properly. Improving fit and finish, including using a forged receiver, allows RRA to set itself apart from the majority of AR manufacturers in existence today. RRA quality control was quickly rewarded within only a few years of emerging on the AR scene. RRA’s operating methodology was quickly brought to the forefront by winning contracts to provide RRA AR rifles to the DEA and FBI. This has been followed since with other contracts for federal, state, and local law enforcement entities.
My familiarity with Rock River Arms stretches back nearly a dozen years, beginning with a Rock River Arms A4 Varmint I took on a prairie dog expedition. This was before AR rifles were as common afield as they are now. My decision has been more than justified, based on numerous trips back to Nebraska/South Dakota with no problems experienced ever in terms of .5″ to .75″ accuracy and maintaining reliability.
The exponential growth of AR popularity and Rock River’s involvement in this progression has been amazing to witness. Rock River Arms definitely has “skin” in the AR game with numerous models and calibers. They offer multiple models in various calibers in the AR genre including 7.62x51mm/.308 Win, 9mm, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM and new for 2012, the 7.62x39mm. Rock River Arms has even introduced a piston-driven AR in the form of the LAR-PDS.
In an effort to determine the LAR-8 Standard Operator’s accuracy potential, a Leupold Mk4 3.5-10X scope was mounted. The RRA LAR-8’s flat-top receiver’s Picatinny rail allows for one of the sturdiest and most versatile scope-to-rifle connections on the market.
For a rifle to be considered versatile, it must be able to satisfy multiple roles with equal aplomb. A viable rifle candidate for this title is the RRA LAR-8 Standard Operator chambered in 7.62x51mm/.308 Win. The Standard Operator joins the growing number of AR-style platforms chambered in 7.62x51mm/.308 Win. The 7.62x51mm/.308 Win’s potency in terms of ballistics and terminal effect makes it a favorite among our troops and law enforcement personnel in more rural environments. A quick look at the resurrection of the M14 and the recent introduction of several AR-style rifle manufacturers joining ranks with the long-standing AR-10 all support this observation.
The combining of the AR platform with the increased power represented in the 7.62x51mm cartridge is the key to the RRA LAR-8 Standard Operator’s versatility. This is speaking in terms of the lethality and effective range, while still allowing for multiple rounds to be sent quickly downrange if needed in a close-range melee. In training courses involving LE, military and private security contractors the mantra of “one mag, one kill” is often repeated in relation to the M16/AR-15. While the 5.56mm round is often chided in terms of lethality, the 7.62x51mm/.308 Win does not suffer from this reputation. Reports from Afghanistan and Iraq have exposed the 5.56mm’s poor performance in putting an adversary down quickly with minimal rounds fired, especially at a distance. This is why rifles chambered in 7.62x51mm are gaining popularity with the upgrade in power it offers in conjunction with its familiar AR configuration and handling.
Rock River Arms, as is their custom, offers numerous configurations of the LAR-8 platform with one sure to suit a prospective buyer’s needs — albeit an individual or department. The Standard Operator LAR-8 comes with a 20″ Wilson cryogenically-treated barrel backed by RRA’s guarantee of 1″ at 100 yards. The RRA Standard Operator’s free-floated Half-Quad fore-end rails allows for mission-specific configuration with lights, lasers, target designators and other items. The RRA Half-Quad rail runs half of the length of the handguard from the gas block back. The rest of the way back to the magazine well is a textured aluminum free-float tube. The Quad Rail reduces the weight of the Standard Operator, unlike the weight of a full-length rail. The Standard Operator, which is direct impingement in operation versus piston driven, further eliminates weight and provides for a balanced rifle (compared to other styles of rifles that are front heavy).
The RRA Standard Operator accepts both metric- and inch-pattern FAL magazines with one RRA-manufactured 20-round magazine shipped with the rifle. Smaller capacity magazines are available from RRA as well as larger 30-round ones aftermarket FAL magazines. Quality magazines are a linchpin for a reliably functioning semi-automatic or select-fire weapon. The FAL magazine is proven in this regard with a plentiful supply available. The 20″-barreled RRA Standard Operator weighs approximately 10.5 pounds and measures 42″. A fixed RRA Operator A2 stock and Hogue pistol grip get a user comfortably placed to interface with the RRA Two-Stage Match Trigger the gun comes equipped with. The 20″ barrel maximizes portability and handling while maintaining 7.62x51mm ballistics and terminal performance. Potential law enforcement and security-conscience civilians should consider the RRA Standard Operator for their primary weapon. This is due to its power, accuracy and multi-mission capability considering likely engagement distances — even in terms of precision shooting.
All of the Rock River Arms I have experienced over the years have impressed and lived up to their reputation for reliability and accuracy. The RRA LAR-8 utilizes a direct impingement method of operation as designed by Stoner. I mention this, as many AR platforms hitting the market today are using a gas-piston system. With what may be splitting hairs, the gas impingement systems are generally considered more accurate with the piston ARs given the nod for better reliability. My findings to date are nebulous when it comes to the pros and cons of each operating method.
The RRA LAR-8 topped off with a Leupold Mk4 is ready for use!
In an effort to determine the LAR-8 Standard Operator’s accuracy potential, a Leupold Mk4 3.5-10X scope was mounted. The RRA LAR-8’s flattop receiver’s Picatinny rail allows for one of the sturdiest and most versatile scope-to-rifle connections on the market. Of course, others will work in lieu of the Mark 4 Leupold for someone considering using the Standard Operator as a more general-use rifle. For me, considering the high degree of accuracy exhibited with
the LAR-8 Standard Operator, the simple solution is to keep the Leupold Mk4 3.5-10X in place and mount an offset mount bracket featuring a Leupold DeltaPoint or a similar pattern red dot offered by other manufacturers. This allows a quick rotation of the rifle in the shoulder pocket a few degrees, accessing the red-dot optic with minimal effort or disturbance of handling.
Further flexibility is possible with the Rock River LAR-8 Standard Operator by taking advantage of the rail system by mounting an ATN PS22 night-vision device in front of the Leupold Mk4 scope. The entire ATN PS22 concept is based on wanting to give the user the convenience of using their day optic at night without having to switch out aiming devices or dedicate a weapon solely for use at night. Any weapon can be adapted for night use as long as the PS22 can be placed in front of a suitable day-optic device.
The available choices for the day optic that are compatible to use with the PS22 are wide ranging. The PS22 is attached or detached with no impact on the day optic’s point of aim and parallax is not an issue. Another benefit of the PS22 is that a scope’s reticle does not need to be illuminated or IR compatible for it to be visible when using the PS 22. This differs from NV products mounting to the rear of the scope. The PS 22 is right at home on any AR-style weapon platform equipped with Picatinny rail along the top of the receiver and down the fore-end.
The basic M16/AR-15 design is hard to improve upon when it comes to launching bullets downrange accurately. The RRA LAR-8 Standard Operator takes this one step further, thanks to Rock River’s attention to detail and quality manufacturing. Winchester 168-grain Match, Hornady 168-grain TAP, Federal 168-grain Match, and Black Hills Ammunition 168-grain and 175-grain Match along with BHA Gold 180-grain AccuBond loads were tested with the Standard Operator. No ammunition tested produced over 1.25″ groups at 100 yards with the Standard Operator. This is quite the statement; this is downplayed, considering Federal Match produced .5″ accuracy regularly with the Winchester Match not far behind. There are many custom precision bolt-action rifles chambered in .308 Win not capable of this type of accuracy — let alone a factory-produced semi-auto AR.
For this article, with its emphasis on accuracy, FMJ loads from Winchester were tested. This was more for proving functionality than for primary use. The RRA LAR-8 Standard Operator proved reliable throughout this evaluation, with over 450 assorted rounds sent downrange using the RRA magazines as well as FAL magazines secured for the review. The LAR-8 Standard Operator’s 20″ barrel combined with 168-grain bullets produced velocity in the high 2,500s to low 2,600s fps when tested over an RCBS chronograph.
Who says ARs can’t shoot tight groups…
The Rock River Standard Operator was evaluated at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). The Standard Operator showed its true promise by performing not only within the 100-yard bays at EVTC, firing from barricades and engaging multiple targets, but also back at the prepared firing-position line with targets placed out to 300 yards. Numerous drills were run involving magazine changes and moving between barricades, simulating cover. A Mayflower Research and Consulting chest rig — the 7.62 Hybrid Chest Rig — was used. The chest rig is designed to carry three 7.62mm magazines (POF, SR25, M110, DPMS, FN, SCAR H or others of similar sizes) in an integral pouch with an adjustable shock cord retention-system closure. The front of the magazine pouch has three general-purpose pouches sized to carry the tools of the trade: mini binoculars, laser range finder, GPS, cell phone, PDA, etc. The sides of the chest rig have three rows of PALS webbing to tailor the remainder of the chest rig for the mission. The H-style harness features loops to route antennas, comm wires and hydration bladder tubing and is removable via four 1″ ITW-Nexus side-release buckles. It’s designed to be mounted to the front of the Low-Profile Armor Carrier from Velocity Systems. The body of the chest rig has a built-in map pocket with a Velcro closure. All buckles are ITW-Nexus IR and all materials and workmanship are 100-percent made in the USA. TacStrike steel silhouettes were situated randomly from 50 to 320 yards.
The RRA Standard Operator with Leupold Mk4 made short work of striking various targets in quick fashion. The RRA LAR-8 Standard Operator supported via bipod proved efficient against fluid-drained automobiles located at EVTC with TacStrike steel popper targets located inside the cab; some of the scenarios even involved firing through the front windshield. The Black Hills 180-grain Accubond load is a top consideration for this type of engagement. The Accubond round is a more reliable performer for barrier penetration compared to Match or other high-accuracy bullet types. Firing the Standard Operator from the prone position supported by a bipod produced consistent hits out to 300 yards on TacStrike 1/4-scale steel targets.
The RRA LAR-8’s operating controls will be familiar to anyone who has handled an AR-style rifle. There are two caveats to this statement. The first is the magazine release button, which is located at the base of the magazine well at its juncture with the pivoting triggerguard, compared to the normal configuration on the left side of the receiver. It is ambidextrous and follows the pattern established on the FAL rifle. Closing the bolt requires a downward push on either side of the ambidextrous lever. The catch locks the bolt back automatically on an empty magazine, but you can also lock the bolt to the rear by pushing the release upward while pulling the bolt to the rear. The second difference compared to the standard AR is the magazine release button found on both sides of the receiver, making it ambidextrous.
The 20″-barreled Rock River Arms LAR-8 Standard Operator handled better than expected from a .308-caliber weapon. This is based on previous experience with HK91, M1A and FAL weapon platforms. The RRA Half-Quad rail is largely responsible for this. It’s rare to find a rifle capable of fulfilling multiple roles so well the user doesn’t feel something has been compromised for utility’s sake. Range comparisons alongside 5.56mm AR-15s showed minor differences in split times in hitting multiple targets in succession — not bad considering the power difference between a 7.62x51mm and 5.56mm. Anecdotally, a casual observer can easily tell a steel target smacked with a .308 versus 5.56mm at any distance. Much is made of the increased number of 5.56mm rounds that can be carried compared to .308 as measured in pounds. While this line of thinking is appreciated, unless you are on an extended patrol or a mission not easily resupplied, the extra power and lethality of the .308 over the 5.56mm trumps this. As with most weapon system comparisons, the pros/cons can be debated forever. Individual users will make the decision of what best suits their needs.
The LAR-8 can serve as a benchmark for performance in the precision rifle role as well as perform as a general-purpose rifle. The .308 chambered Standard Operator has power to spare and the 20″ barrel is not as much a hindrance as one may imagine, thanks to how the rifle is balanced and handles. This is a combination hard to argue against in terms of utility for LE and military personnel or security conscience civilian. The characteristics of .308 in terms of lethality, ballistics and manageable recoil makes it an ideal all-purpose cartridge candidate, especially packaged in RRA LAR-8 Standard Operator, which takes full advantage of the AR platform.
By Todd Burgreen
Photos By C.R. Newlin
This article was published in the GUNS Magazine Combat 2013 Special Edition
Black Hills Ammunition
Echo Valley Training Center
Federal Premium Ammunition
American Technologies Network Corp Inc. (ATN)