Big organizations move slowly, but even the military has evolved in some places, including training. While not conducted as much as many would like, how the training occurs—especially in special operations units—bears little resemblance to past protocols. Much of the evolution has occurred after years of real-world deployments in the Middle East. The military is often accused of “training for the last war,” and Iraq and Afghanistan were no exceptions. The major difference, however, was the military’s willingness to change its training and tactics on the fly. As the tactics evolved, this drove a commensurate change in equipment. While the consumer market often drives sales, the military and police market just as often drive tactics, equipment and training. Many operators have returned from war to provide real-world experience and training. They have also influenced changes in equipment because of the lessons they’ve learned. The most prolific changes have occurred to the now-venerable M16 and its AR-style brethren in the police world.
Some operators have started to move away from short-barreled rifles (SBRs), especially in 5.56mm. It is just not a cartridge that lends itself well to barrel lengths much shorter than 12 inches—especially in direct-impingement rifles. Suppressors have also really taken hold, only adding to the problems. Piston-driven rifles have dealt with many of the issues, but even with shorter barrels they are anything but perfect. Police agencies are also less inclined to deal with the ATF paperwork for an SBR, let alone a select-fire weapon. So many are replacing their short, select-fire weapons with longer versions featuring semi-auto triggers. The result is more rifles using longer barrels—16 inches is now the norm.
Along with better ballistics and reliability, this barrel length allows for a longer forend. In the military world, this allows for the addition of numerous accessories for battlefield conditions. For both officers and military operators, a longer forend facilitates the latest techniques for operating the rifle. Pistol grips are being replaced with “thumbs forward” handholds. Extending the off hand provides for less muzzle rise and better control when moving from target to target. While not necessarily mainstream, this grip is catching on, and training is starting to demand a longer forend.
“… Operator III is in keeping with its lineage, providing a fantastic base for any duty rifle.”
Trigger manipulation is also being recognized as critical, making two-stage triggers—once restricted to “competition”—more practical for duty use. Several high-quality triggers exist today that will hold up under the harshest conditions yet allow for more accuracy and faster follow-up shots. In short, this means rifle-makers need to adapt, and one company taking that step is Rock River Arms (RRA) with its LAR-15 Operator III in 5.56mm NATO.
About three years ago, RRA’s Elite Operator hit the market sporting features designed specifically for professionals. It included a SOPMOD-style stock, an Ergo pistol grip, a forged A4 upper receiver and a 1-in-9-inch twist barrel. RRA also included its excellent two-stage trigger, a Star safety selector and a free-floating Half-Quad forend with a quad-rail forward section and a smooth rear portion. It proved very popular, resulting in a second generation followed by RRA’s latest rendition, the Operator III.
The new Operator III starts with a forged LAR-15 lower receiver featuring RRA’s proven two-stage trigger, oversized winter triggerguard and Star safety selector. A Hogue rubber pistol grip provides for comfort and control, and an RRA Operator CAR buttstock is installed on the six-position buffer tube.
Chambered in 5.56mm NATO, the 16-inch, chrome-moly, heavy barrel has a 1-in-9-inch twist rate and is capped with the new Operator muzzle brake. The RRA TRO (Top Rail Octagonal) handguard covers the barrel and mid-length gas system, which utilizes a low-profile gas block. This forend is lightweight, comfortable and can be customized with various lengths of Picatinny rails as needed. The continuous top rail makes it easy for operators to mount any optics, sights and accessories. Two mil-spec, 30-round magazines are included in the Operator III’s hard case.
For most of the testing, I used an Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO). I also added flip-up front and rear backup sights. To evaluate the carbine’s accuracy at the range, I used a Bushnell Elite Tactical SMRS 1-6.5x24mm SFP scope with the BTR-2 reticle. This scope has seen significant time on several of my guns and provides for excellent precision.
Along with the standard muzzle brake, I installed SureFire’s SOCOM flash suppressor to accommodate my SureFire SOCOM762-MINI suppressor. This design can be used with multiple calibers and operates with less backpressure than most. Coupled with 5.56mm carbines, it is fast becoming my favorite setup. The sound suppressor is plenty quiet, maintains the weapon’s reliability and produces virtually no change in impact.
For transitions and work inside of a shoothouse, I added a Vickers sling from Blue Force Gear. Patrol rifles also need a light, and the Streamlight TLR-1 has become one of the most popular in law enforcement. It is simple, reliable, affordable and puts out plenty of light. I attached the new TLR-1 HL to the top rail, in front of the sight. This allows for ambidextrous operation with the sight up or down. The switch allows for momentary or constant operation along with a strobe feature.
For the accuracy testing, I fired groups using a bag as a rest from a prone position, and the TRO forend kept things flat and steady. I also used only the Operator muzzle brake for this portion of the evaluation. As these things go for duty rifles, it is a good one. Recoil and muzzle rise were held to a minimum. Because the brake has no openings on the bottom, gas was directed up and to the sides. While certainly not quiet, it is not as loud as some other models out there.
In short, the Operator III’s accuracy was excellent. Everything fell inside 2 inches, making it more than capable for any operational need. DoubleTap’s 55-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) took the day with a best five-shot group measuring 0.88 inches. DoubleTap ammunition has proven to be very accurate the last few tests. The other round this rifle seemed to really like was the 77-grain OTM from Silver State Armory, which grouped right at an inch. The Operator III’s two-stage trigger and quality barrel certainly contributed.
“The rifle’s fit and finish were excellent as usual, and the Operator III is perfectly suited to duty work of any kind.”
Prior to moving to the shoothouse, I removed the brake and replaced it with my SureFire SOCOM flash suppressor. The three-prong design remains one of the best to date, providing excellent flash control. A recent trip to SureFire demonstrated how well it works. Using Hornady 75-grain match ammunition with low-flash powders, the SOCOM literally eliminated all of the flash. Fired in a pitch-black indoor range, there was no visual signature, which was pretty amazing.
While the SOCOM flash suppressor doesn’t help that much with recoil, the 5.56mm NATO is a soft-shooter, and this isn’t a big concern for a patrol rifle. Even so, the SOCOM accepts my SureFire SOCOM762-MINI suppressor, which takes care of that. Firing without the sound suppressor, there was no loss in accuracy, the carbine was very controllable and there was less of a concussive effect. Adding the sound suppressor did not shift the impacts downrange, nor did it degrade the carbine’s accuracy. Nor did it make the rifle unwieldy. The carbine was easy to run in the shoothouse, and it remained reliable and accurate.
Moving back to the square range, accuracy at 50 yards off-hand was excellent. Keeping everything inside a 4-inch circle was pretty easy, especially with the match ammunition. The Federal M193 ammunition was also accurate and consistent. Even with a 1-in-9-inch-twist barrel, the Operator fired everything with solid accuracy. The TRO forend made off-hand and unsupported shooting very comfortable. My tendency these days is to keep side and bottom rails to a minimum—non-existent if possible. Mounting the TLR-1 to the top rail meant the rest of the forend was smooth and comfortable, helping me maintain control during awkward and non-traditional shooting positions. The Operator III was really easy to run around obstacles and from most any position.
I completed the training and testing with some reload drills and transitions with the Aimpoint PRO mounted. For the most part I used Magpul Gen 2 PMags, which remain some of my favorites for duty rifles. They’re affordable, and they seldom fail. Although I panned window mags a bit early on, over time my opinion has changed—I like my duty magazines to have windows. Another favorite of mine lately are the Lancer Systems Advanced Warfighter magazines. These are some of the most reliable magazines out there. They seem to work in any rifle I test, often where others have issues. One thing they seem to always do is drop free, making for some really quick reloads. In fact, many of my fastest and smoothest reloads were accomplished using them. I used several magazines with the Operator III, and all were flawless. I could reload from both the strong and weak sides without issue, and every magazine dropped freely when I hit the mag release.
Moving to transitions, I mounted my Sig Sauer P226 SAO in my primary tactical rig and set up my sling for controlled drills. While sling cups exist on the rear stock, there is nothing to accommodate a sling on the forend. Rails can be added that accommodate several attachment devices, but no rails were provided with the rifle. You’ll need to take this into account when ordering your rifle. Luckily, the Operator CAR stock has cups at both the front and rear. This allowed me to turn the Blue Force Gear sling into a sort of single-point sling, facilitating transition drills. The Operator III was easy to control during the transitions, and there were no sharp edges to hang up on my gear.
The TRO handguard is fantastic—it’s smooth, light and comfortable—but if you want to mount a sling, make sure you get a rail, even a short one to accommodate a sling attachment. If you are going to use anything but a top-mounted light, you are going to need a rail for that as well. The handguard accommodates any of the modern shooting techniques with ease.
Mid-length gas systems for 16-inch-barreled carbines are quickly becoming the norm. They just tend to be more reliable with less over-gassing in my experience. The Operator III is an excellent example. Even with the SureFire sound suppressor attached, very little excess gas made its way towards my face. Using the flash suppressor or brake, it was very clean to shoot. The gun was reliable using all of the muzzle devices—that’s not something you always see with standard direct gas impingement rifles. Another nice touch is the muzzle brake; although it’s timed, it does not require shims. RRA uses a standard crush washer, making installation simple.
The rifle’s fit and finish were excellent as usual, and the Operator III is perfectly suited to duty work of any kind. RRA’s two-stage trigger remains one of the best you can get without the high-dollar price tag. It remains reliable under hard use yet provides for significant precision when needed. The winter triggerguard offers plenty of room for gloved hands, certainly critical in climates with cold winters or where tactical gloves are used.
Overall, Rock River Arms’ Operator III is in keeping with its lineage, providing a fantastic base for any duty rifle. With a suggested retail price of just $1,065, it is a fantastic buy. Just add a light, sights of your choice and some sling attachments and you are ready to operate on any level.
For more information, rockriverarms.com or call 866-980-7625.