MANUFACTURER(S): CIS / ST Kinetics - Singapore
OPERATORS: Brunei; Singapore
ACTION: Gas-Operated; Rotating Bolt
CALIBER(S)*: 5.56x45mm NATO
SIGHTS: Adjustable Iron; Standard Optics
Detailing the development and operational history of the ST Kinetics (CIS) SAR-21 Assault Rifle.
Entry last updated on 8/12/2018.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
Singapore conducted several attempts in the 1980s to produce an indigenous assault rifle worthy of their army however both the SAR-80 and SR-88 more or less failed in their long-term attempts. An indigenously-designed assault rifle would allow for lower procurement costs when purchasing a standard issue weapon in the numbers required of any army. It was also a sound move to move away from foreign reliance when concerning military equipment purchases in the long run. Design work on a another new replacement began in 1996 under the Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS) brand label. The design process centered around a creating a new automatic weapon and the "bullpup" configuration - popular as of late - was selected, this to be built around a trusted gas-operated, rotating bolt action firing mechanism and the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. Singapore already maintained decades of experience in operating the American AR-15 and M16 (locally produced as the "M16S1") and this would influence much of the internal design of the new weapon. The resulting product appeared in 1999 and was inducted into the Singapore Army inventory a short time later as the "SAR-21" ("Singapore Assault Rifle 21"). Serial production then followed and continues today. In 2000, CIS became "ST kinetics" so the firearm is now marketed and produced under the new brand label.
The SAR-21 certainly is an impressive-looking automatic rifle. As a "bullpup" configured weapon, most of the internal working components are located in the shoulder stock which allows use of a full-length rifled barrel in a much more compact form when compared to conventional assault rifle designs such as the M16 and AKM. As such, the pistol grip is moved to the center of the design which promotes a more balanced hold, particularly when the shoulder stock is set close against the body and a second hand is set at the forestock. With the internal function set at the rear, magazines are also inserted into a magazine well located aft of the pistol grip. This clears the forend of any obstructions and makes for a product more in tune with requirements of urban warfare while retaining medium-range capabilities. The pistol grip is further integrated into the lower receiver by way of a hand guard. Magazines are transparent, allowing the operator to quickly view the ammunition count without removing the magazine. Mounting points atop the receiver allow for the fitting of optics as a standard-issue practice (1.5x standard optics magnification is issued). Additionally, a laser dot sight is also standard to assist in accurized fire at close ranges, especially in low light. Construction of the SAR-21 consists of heavy duty polymer plastic with the critical working components finished in steel. This provides a lighter overall weight with the reliability expected of a military-grade firearm. A fire mode selector is present along the buttstock.
However, the drastic move from a conventional rifle arrangement to a bullpup configuration is not without its detractors. Most bullpup rifles favor a right-handed shooter and this is prevalent in the SAR-21 design which has its ejection port to the right side of the body. Additionally, the rear-set magazine well requires a more complicated reloading process when switching out magazines. The rear-set placement of the fire selector is also a point of contention for soldiers needing the ease of fire selection within easy reach (near the pistol grip for example). Since most of the internal function of the weapon is carried by the rear of the gun, this adds a rather inordinate amount of weight to the rear and can influence firing accuracy. As one can expect, the move has been met with some resistance on the part of Singapore soldiers - these units use to the hold and action of their trusty M16S1s.
ST Kinetics (CIS) SAR-21 (Cont'd)
The SAR-21 assault rifle maintains a running length of 32 inches with a barrel of 20 inches. Overall weight is 8.4lbs. Rate-of-fire is listed at up to 650 rounds per minute with a 3,180 feet per second muzzle velocity. Effective range is out to 800 meters in ideal conditions. The SAR-21 fires the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge from a 30-round curved detachable box magazine and also supports the M16 STANAG type. Sighting is through a standard-issue 1.5x optics installation while adjustable iron back up sights are retained.
The base SAR-21 is the standard infantry assault rifle system. There also exists the SAR-21 LMG which is a light machine gun version fitting a heavier 20-inch barrel and heavy-duty folding bipod as well as a forward grip which allows the weapon to serve as a squad automatic weapon (SAW) of sorts, the bipod assisting in suppression fire. The heavier barrel also helps in longer firing bursts before overheating becomes an issue while also promoting engagement at ranges beyond that of the standard assault rifle. The SAR-21 "Sharpshooter" is a designated marksman rifle (DMR) version that sports a 3.0x scope as standard. This versions is issued to marksmen at the squad level for accurized repeating fire at ranges beyond that of the basic assault rifle system. The SAR-21 LWC is a "lightweight carbine" sporting a shorter barrel assembly and support for Picatinny rail accessories and scopes. The SAR-21 GL incorporates a single-shot 40mm grenade launcher with included sights, effectively broadening the tactical reach of the standard infantryman. The SAR-21 "P-rail" brings about standardized support for Picatinny rail-mounted optics across the top of the receiver - replacing the standard-issue 1.5x scope. The SAR-21 MMS is a much-modified "assault carbine" form designed to take on multiple accessories through a broadened Picatinny-style rail support system. A shortened barrel allows for a more compact overall length, perfect for elements such as special forces or commandos needing to operate in confined spaces.
The SAR-21 has since been developed into an improved variant - the "SAR-21A" - based on operational experience of the first-run systems. The new production model was unveiled in 2010, incorporating a thumb-based ambidextrous fire selector, broadened standard support for Picatinny rail devices and a more improved internal function.
The SAR-21 has yet to achieve much in the way of export success for the only other operator of note is the Brunei Army.