Dave Morelli takes a look at the Armalite Super S.A.S.S. – an AR-10-style semi-auto sniper system that rocks, and is super accurate.
The bolt-action rifle has traditionally been the base for the sniper rifle. The locking of the bolt with enlarged lugs perfectly fitted by a skilled craftsman and the rugged simplicity of the repeating system has made the bolt-action favored by weekend sportsmen and professional tactical operator.
The semi auto, while offering a higher magazine capacity and faster rate of fire, has always suffered because of the tuning of all the moving parts and springs that have to be kept functioning in match-grade condition.
There also is the temptation to fall back on the fact that there are additional rounds available and not take each shot with the same precision as if it was the only bullet.
Yet the semi-auto has a place in the modern world and the U.S. military is actively seeking to deploy a semi-auto sniper rifle. That military interest has prompted many manufacturers to get in the game and produce sniper-grade quality like the Armalite S.A.S.S. (Semi-Auto Sniper System).
I tested one of Armalite’s AR-10 .308 rifles several months ago and really liked the rifle. The SASS is based on the AR-10 lower with flat-top upper and many modifications. The foregrip is a four-rail picatinny type system for adding necessities and allows the 20-inch stainless match-grade barrel to float free.
The barrel on the model I fired is fitted with a mock Advanced Armament Corporation suppressor type apparatus that wasn’t sound restricting but would hold down muzzle flash. In a police or military environment or where legal it could be fitted with a sound suppressor for quiet shooting and improved velocity and reduced recoil.
The unused sections of the rails are covered with rubberized tops that protect the hands and the rails. The lower rail of the fore grip was used for an A.R.M.S. quick-detach bipod attachment that was affixed to a Harris bi-pod. I really like the Harris bipod. It is a quality pod at an economic price.
The Super SASS has an adjustable gas block for precisely adjusting gas flow for consistency and reliable operation. This is an important adjustment to regulate the recoil gasses and is helpful adjusting the gas when shooting the SASS with a suppressor. The Magpul Precision Rifle Stock adds adjustment to the Super SASS stock. It adjusts for cheek height and length of pull with calibrated dial knobs that are easy to get to and readjust in the field if necessary. I really like the easy adjustment because sometimes I would have to get into a shooting position dictated by the environment that would be more comfortable with some slight readjustment. Adjustments that involve screws and moving parts that need a screwdriver don’t offer this advantage.
The lower end of the buttstock also has a rail for accessories like a sling swivel or other leveling attachment that certain shooting situations might dictate. The already accurate SASS was fitted with a Leupold Mark LR/T 3.5-10x40mm scope.
This scope was equipped with M3 dials which have ½ minute windage adjustments and 1 minute elevation. It also was equipped with .308 Win drop compensation numbers on the elevation dial. The 30mm main tube gives better light transmission and increased elevation and windage adjustments.
Your average scope usually offers enough windage adjustment but on a long-range rifle, those elevation adjustment can become mighty dear as the distance increases. I have never run out but extras are always appreciated.
The scope has an illuminated reticule that lights the Mil Dot portion. It also disappears in bright light when it is not needed and lights up when aiming at darker areas. The scope, like all Leupold products, has great clarity and light transmission and is a quality rugged optic.
The scope is attached with A.R.M.S. quick-detach rings so that the flip up rear sight and optional front sight could be used to meet the circumstances that might require peep sight shooting.
Even though this gun is designed to be a long-range semi auto it is still a semi auto capable of laying down sustained fire when needed. Being able to quickly take the restricting scope off for close-quarter defense should the need arise is a great feature. The improved magazines for the SASS were improvised designs from the M-14 style sniper weapon. They are rugged and less likely to malfunction.
They are also short enough to shoot comfortably from a prone position and still have 20 rounds. The improved ruggedness would be my primary concern so they would survive and function in the toughest of circumstances.
The SASS system comes with six 20-round magazines and a 10-rounder. Also included are a sling and cleaning kit all wrapped up in a Starlight Cases hard case.
The rifle has to be taken down to fit in the cutout foam lining but that is the best way to transport the system. I would recommend a soft tactical bag from Blackhawk or a similar outfit for a drag system to carry the gun to duty location.
How the Rifle Performed
I couldn’t wait to take the Super SASS out and heat up the barrel. When I put the trigger scale on the trigger and it weighed in at a crisp 4.5 pounds. The two-stage match trigger had some light take up then it was ready to drop. I keep my precision rifles at 3 pounds so it took some getting used to but it was a smooth, crisp trigger.
The action was smooth and the extended handle made the gun easier to charge with the scope on. Shouldering the 13-pound package had a familiar feel as it is based on an AR design. I packed up some Federal Police Tactical and TRU (Tactical Rifle Urban) and headed out.
I assembled the rifle at the range. Again, being based on the AR the upper and lower popped to-gether quickly and the rifle was ready for action. The A.R.M.S. quick detach accessory on the bi-pod jumped on the lower rail. The scope in stored in the case attached to the upper.
It was a great day, 0-3 mph wind at my back and about 79 degrees F. I shot off of a bench using the Harris bi-pod and a sandbag under the butt. The rifle was rock solid. I would have preferred a fatter pistol grip on the gun but that’s just a personal thing as I have become accustomed to the fat pistol grips on bolt rifle stocks.
Anyone working with a rifle in a sniper position would get accustomed to the grip. The fatter grip makes my hand fit better and helps me to place only the tip of my finger on the trigger. As this is a modification that would tailored to each individual I could see Armalite’s wisdom in letting the sniper change the pistol grip to fit his hand.
The first couple groups I shot with the Federal Police Tactical ammo. This is a 168-grain soft-nose bullet of match quality. The ammo functioned flawlessly in the semi-auto action and the bolt cycled with a positive feel to it.
I didn’t fiddle with the adjustable gas block as the rifle functioned great and the recoil seemed a bit milder than a bolt .308. I think it is a valued modification though as adjustments could be made if there was a problem with the addition of suppressor or if the sniper was using subsonic loads.
The groups with this ammo were just a bit larger than one minute. I shot five-shot groups instead of three because that is what my department required and I have adopted that way. I thought that was acceptable for not having worked with the rifle for a training period. I shot up a box of the Tactical ammo giving the barrel time to cool in between shots so every shot was more like a cold shot the police sniper strives for.
The Federal TRU ammo is a hollow point bullet also 168 grains and designed to break up quicker in an urban environment, minimizing over-penetration problems. Both of these bullets have a boat-tail design.
I think the best performance that can be achieved in the .308 is with a 165- or 168-grain boat-tail bullet. The 175 bullet is gaining popularity for longer range as its extra weight will help it make the long journey, but my department used Federal Match ammo exclusively in the sniper rifles and our five-shot weekly qualification groups were in the half minute category.
For the military sniper where the distances are longer the heavier bullet may be a better choice, but in the police environment shots would be much shorter. The TRU ammo produced a ¾ minute group. That’s perfectly acceptable for a police sniper rifle and that group most likely could be shrunk down a bit more with constant practice. The semi auto sniper system is definitely accurate enough to be an addition to the modern police tactical unit.
With the additional threat that the police may encounter terrorist activity in the course of their duties, having a sniper system with additional firepower is an advantage. The semi auto has come a long way and is proving itself in battle and on the street. The Armalite Super SASS is definitely a system to look into if a police tactical unit wants to add a semi-auto sniper system to the team.