The SIG 556 rifles didn’t have a great run in the United States. They lasted around ten years and came in various calibers and configurations over that time. They died an uneventful death in 2017. Throughout their lives, they were plagued with issues.
Early guns had accuracy and reliability issues and weren’t well regarded, especially for the price. Regardless, as a fan of firearms that aren’t AR-15s, I knew I had to have one. As a guy with a ton of AK magazines and ammunition, I knew I wanted the SIG 556R.
The R stands for Russian. The SIG 556R was designed to be an AK replacement that could utilize AK magazines and AK ammo without issue. It gave you AK power and common magazine patterns with a more modern and modular platform.
I liked that idea, and I like weird guns. SIG made a few different variants of the 556 rifle, and this includes the Xi, the SWAT, and more I won’t list here.
SIG 550 History
The SIG 550 series have rifles that have been serving the Swiss military for some time and they seem to be doing so successfully. The 550 series is a weird amalgamation of parts and pieces from other guns. The long-stroke gas piston is very AK-like, and the receivers split into halves like an AR or FAL design.
The guns feature a manually adjustable gas valve that has two settings. One is normal, and the other is for adverse situations in which the weapon is heavily fouled. The trigger guard pivots to accommodate gloved hands for use in those chilly Swiss alps. An attachable grenade launcher is also an option.
Various models were produced, and the original 550 used a 20-inch barrel, the 551 uses a 14.3, and the 552/553 Commando variants were equipped with a short 8.9-inch barrel, and lastly, the SIG 550 Sniper wore a 25.6-inch barrel.
The SIG 553R is the precursor to the 556R and was designed with export in mind. However, I’m unable to find any actually adopted and used anywhere in the world. The 5.56 variants served across the Swiss military and various other military forces around the globe.
The SIG 550 series has served far and long from UK police forces to the Swiss Guard at the Vatican. It’s in serve across Asia, East Europe, and even one of my favorite countries ever, Malta.
The original 550 series utilized a proprietary polymer magazine. Those magazines could Jungle clip together based on their design and came in 20 and 30 round variants. It seems at some point some real SIG 551A1s were imported and used the original Swiss magazines.
The new SIG 556 series utilized AR magazines, and as mentioned, the 556R used standard AK magazines.
Hands-on with the 556R
With some horse-trading, I was able to acquire a SIG 556R classic model. The classic model wasn’t fancy. It has a right hand only charging handle, a stock I am not impressed with, and usually, the guns do not have rails for accessories.
Since I was trading on the second-hand market, I found a SIG 556R equipped with a Troy quad rail. It was a little heavier, but the rail increases modularity even more. I also tacked on a set of LPA sights designed for a CZ Scorpion, and they worked like a charm.
The stock feels rather cheap. It does collapse as well as fold. When you try to extend the stock, it will often just pop off the receiver extension. The cheek weld isn’t great like the Xi model, and the 556 rifles really should have used the classic Swiss style stocks.
Admittedly the gun gave me some jamming issues. I was disappointed, so I reached out to SIG, and they charged me for the return tag, and it was off. A few weeks later, I had my rifle back at no further charge, and it worked like a champ. I do appreciate SIG’s customer service, and the gun has been running problem-free for years.
After SIG fixed it, the gun ate every cheap load of ammo I could put through it. The AK is a gun produced by so many across so many different countries that magazine compatibility can be tricky. Oddly enough, the SIG 556R can seemingly run with every magazine I’ve put through it. This includes Romanians, Koreans, Chinese magazines, Yugos, Magpuls, Tapcos, and more. The SIG 556R even works with the last round bolt hold open on Yugo magazines. The only magazines not compatible are drum magazines.
Get a Grip
The controls are well placed to me and for my big hands. The safety is ambidextrous and is head and tails above a standard AK controls. The right side charging handle is well suited if you are already a fan of AK style charging handles and used to reach under or around to access it.
I also love the big pistol grip. It reminds me of a SAW pistol grip. It’s vast and easy to grip and fills my hand well. The stock LOP is just right for me, and while I typically don’t like the stock, it does have a comfortable length of pull.
Yeah, the trigger admittedly sucks. This two-stage design takes a hair over 7.5 pounds to go bang. I guess the Swiss don’t trust their soldiers with proper triggers. Is it bad enough to mess with accuracy? Likely. I could see better groups with a better trigger. However, the accuracy isn’t horrid.
A two-inch group with cheap Russan ammo isn’t too bad. If I had paid over a grand for the gun, I would be disappointed, but I’m not complaining too hard. Two inches are admittedly the best groups, but they all stay under 3 inches or so. The longer sight radius and peep sight must help a ton, at least compared to a Kalashnikov.
The recoil is mild and comfortable with minimal muzzle rise. The gun is plenty controllable, and that heavy Troy rail must help keep things under control. It most certainly doesn’t get hot when firing tons and tons of rounds. The gun keeps ticking and is fun to shoot. It’s smoother than AK and different enough than the AR series to make it enjoyable.
The magazine release is an AK style design, and this is the same for standard 550 rifles. The placement is naturally ambidextrous, and you can do the classic Battlefield 4 AK speed reload. The gun also has a manual last round bolt hold open, but it only engages should the end-user manually utilize it. Even the LRBHO Yugo magazines won’t engage it.
The SIG 556R is a rifle that makes it very easy to attach an optic too. You aren’t limited to red dots or weird side mounting fixed powers. You can toss on whatever optic you’d like, and best yet, you can get an actual cheek weld and use it naturally and with ease.
The SIG 556 rifles, in general, have become seemingly quite rare these days. It seems their owners are holding onto them, and I’m one of those owners. Because of a lack of spare parts, its not a rifle that sees a lot of action, or would be counted on as a primary combat rifle. It’s a dedicated safe queen these days, but she makes her way out to the range a few times a year.
Are their better rifles? Oh yeah, but the real question you have to answer is, are there cooler rifles?