The Ruger SR-556E, despite its piston-operated upper receiver, employs a standard lower receiver with traditional AR controls in the familiar locations.
I think it would be fair to name the current times the “Age of the AR-15.” Few weapon platforms currently enjoy the popularity of the AR, with models and variants continuously being introduced by multiple manufacturers. In reality, these models are nothing more than hardware modifications with varied accessories such as stocks, grips, sights, forends and the like being swapped about with the guts of the platform remaining the same. There isn’t really much that can be changed to the basic design beyond making it a gas piston operation in direct opposition to the somewhat dirty direct gas function. Though, in all fairness, the direct gas impingement action has been perfected and works just fine. So what does a company add to their product line once they have produced a popular model? How about offering it at a reduced cost? That is exactly what Ruger has done with their extremely popular SR-556 gas piston rifle, and I believe they may be on to something here.
Ruger SR-556E offers the same internal features that made the original Ruger SR-556 a success, but it is a more basic configuration with a simplified forend and A2-style pistol grip. Shown here with Aimpoint CompM4s and Troy BattleSights.
If you take a moment to study the AR-15 phenomenon, the whole “It’s Barbie for men” joke is really not that farfetched. Please understand, I am not making fun of anyone here—I’m just as guilty as the rest for trying different equipment options for my AR. Is this really any different than trying various holsters, magazine pouches and other related gear to find the best daily carry set up? I think not! Where it becomes absurd is adding gadgets to the gun for the “cool factor” with no realistic, foreseeable problem being solved. If you have hung an accessory on your gun for no other reason than “it looks cool,” you have missed the point of the exercise.
Ruger looked at what accessories well-informed end users purchased for their gun and decided to let them choose what was best on an SR-556. Thus, the SR-556E (Essential) is a carbine shipped from the factory with only those essential features you need to build your gun the way you want it. By doing so, Ruger is able to reduce the cost of the gun, which will lead some to believe that “E” stands for economy.