The first thing you notice about the Rock River Arms LAR-8 Elite Operator is that you have a stout yet maneuverable rifle in your hands. True it is heavier than a .223 version, but it is well-balanced and easy to handle.
When people start splitting hairs as to what really constitutes a “battle rifle” often times the discussion comes back around to caliber. Was the AR-15 really designed as a battle rifle? Or, by virtue of its smaller cartridge, was the AR-15 some other sort of weapon? Is the AR-15 designed for uses similar to the M-1 Carbine or the German STG-43 than to the M-14 or M-1 Garand?
This is the debate. Sure the AR-15 functions, but with its little bullet, it can’t really be called a battle rifle, can it?
Well, there are lots of rifle makers these days taking caliber out of the debate by building AR-style rifles in .308. This, of course, starts another debate. The .308 AR-rifle is what Eugene Stoner envisioned from the start. So, are we moving ahead with a .308 AR or are we going back to the starting point?
Perhaps these are questions too big for this article, but luckily we don’t have to answer them. Rock River Arms stepped up and gave the world a .308 caliber AR rifle that hits with the power of a battle rifle, but carries like an AR-15. The LAR-8 Elite Operator won’t stop the debate, but will certainly provide the power, accuracy and versatility modern shooters really want.
Out of the Box
The first thing you notice upon assembly is that you have a stout yet maneuverable rifle in your hands. True it is heavier than a .223 version, but it is well balanced and easy to handle. Adjust the buttstock to your liking and the rifle comes up naturally and easily. An especially nice touch is the “half-quad” handguard. Sure, when you say “half-quad” you might think of just two rails, but don’t worry, it has all four.
But the rails simply run half the length of the handguard; from the gas block back. From the magazine well forward the handguard is just that, a handguard… with a knurled aluminum free-float tube that is both comfortable and easy to grip. You don’t often mount accessories that close to the magazine well anyway. That’s where you want to hold when you fire so this half-quad only makes sense.
The flip-up front sight is a well-built unit with stout ears protecting the adjustable front post. Designed and built by RRA, this sight is an example of the great ideas and sound execution in the manufacturing processes. The gas block front sight also serves as the anchor for three different sling attachment points. There is one on each side of the barrel and one below allowing you to mount any sort of sling system you would like.
Beneath the sight is a one-inch section of picatinny rail in case you need it. We mounted a Command Arms bipod on the lower portion of the quad rail and that worked slick. That bipod can stow with the legs pointing forward or aft for even more versatility. I would have liked to see a rear sight on this rifle, but that’s an option, not factory standard. I guess the folks at RRA want to let you choose your own rear sight, but I would prefer to see this rifle ready to rock right out of the box.
And speaking of which… the Rock River hard case is solid, well built and easily identifiable as the container of an RRA product. It is also specifically not what I would like in a hard case. You must disassemble the rifle to place it in the case and you can’t put an upper with optics into the blue box. The good news is that’s the only part of this rifle I could complain about. Meaning this is an outstanding rifle.
Just How Good?
I think it was Ben Franklin who said “The proof of the pudding is determined by how many 165-grain bullets you’re able to put into a bad guy in five seconds.” In this case, let’s say five would be the minimum.
If you have ever handled an AR-style rifle, the controls on the LAR 8 will be almost second nature. I say almost, because there are two small changes on this rifle. The magazine release button is now ambidextrous and can be activated from either side of the rifle and the bolt release is located at the bottom rear of the magazine well. It is an ambidextrous lever you push straight down, with your trigger finger if you like. Gone are the days of slamming a magazine home and slapping the left side of the receiver with your left hand to run the bolt forward. While we are on the topic of magazines, the Elite Operator used FAL metric and L1A1 inch magazines. So there should be no trouble finding 20-round boxes for your reloads.
Now, on to the shooting. For the day’s festivities I quickly mounted a Trijicon Reflex on top of the Elite Operator. Quickly, as in, I set the sight on the top rail, flipped the ARMS locks and started shooting. It was dead on. I started plinking at 25 yards. Then still shooting offhand, I engaged the targets at 50 and 75 yards. Finally, I braced the rifle on the post and started dropping rounds on the 100-yard target. Combat accuracy was outstanding, scoring minute-of-bad guy hits on everything I pointed at.
This prompted me to drop a few sandbags on the bench and drop some rounds downrange in an effort to see where they would fall if I was really trying to shoot a nice group. With the zero-power magnification Reflex sight aligned on the dead of the Dirty Bird target I rolled through the trigger press, firing as quickly as I could get the dot back on the group. On a grid target, accuracy lives up to the Rock River Arms’ claim of 1.5 MOA at 100 yards. The two-stage trigger allows for perfect control and a clean break.
The Smith flash hider worked very well and the 1:10 twist ratio seemed perfect for the 165-grain Hornady TAP ammo. Another feature I really liked was the sealed battery storage area behind the rubber buttplate. Push the button on the left side of the buttplate and it slides down exposing a storage area for several of the CR123 batteries. Each battery tube is also spring-loaded to make sure your batteries come out as easy as they go in.
If there is one thing to note about the .308 caliber AR-style rifles on the market, it is that parts are not universally interchangeable. Where as most AR-15 rifle parts from most makers will drop in and function, the same is not true of the bigger guns. Each maker has apparently come up with what they consider to be the best idea for some part or another. As stated on the RRA website, the LAR-8 uses a unique receiver thread and barrel nut.
No barrel nut (either separate or as part of a tubular handguard or quad rail handguard) except those made specifically for the RRA LAR-8 should ever be used on an RRA LAR-8 or upper half. Although some other barrel nuts may thread onto the LAR-8 upper receiver, the depth of thread is incorrect. Use of incorrect parts may cause injury or death. So, now you know that. The parts don’t interchange with other .308 AR parts out there. Don’t try it.
The Rock River Arms LAR-8 Elite Operator gives you a rifle and a platform that offers power and versatility. In a law enforcement capacity you will get greater range if you need it and more penetration around buildings and vehicles. If you want to use this as a Modern Sporting Rifle, the Elite Operator will have no trouble taking deer-sized game at any range you feel comfortable shooting. With the Elite Operator you can hit hard and fast with no debate.
This article appeared in the January 3, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.