DSA SA58 carbine with rail interface, Leupold Mk4 CQ/T and Laser Devices MOLAD three-way targeting laser/white light. BOTTOM: SA58 carbine finished in Lauer Custom “Afghan Camo” Duracoat and EOTech Holosight.
More and more police departments throughout the United States are choosing 5.56x45mm (.223 Remington) carbines for patrol. This trend has been driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is the increased use of body armor by the “bad guys” and the increased lethality offered by the rifle caliber cartridge. Although the .223 is the primary small arms cartridge of the US military, the fact is that it is actually a “varmint cartridge” and in many states is illegal for deer hunting because the .223 lacks the terminal ballistics to ensure a clean kill of a deer. Given that a human is essentially a deer-sized target, state game laws prohibiting the use of the .223 for deer hunting calls to question its utility for law enforcement use. Indeed, the .223 has not acquitted itself especially well in Afghanistan, where reports are coming to light of enemy soldiers being shot repeatedly with M4 carbines and continuing to fight. The .223’s lack of performance was also documented in the book Blackhawk Down, where it was noted in several instances that Somali gunmen were shot with M4 Carbines, but kept coming, necessitating that they be hit repeatedly to be stopped. Informal feedback from Afghanistan indicates that many wounds inflicted by the standard 62-grain military bullets are similar to those of a .22 Magnum. This lack of terminal ballistics has driven the special operations forces to adopt a new round for the M4, the Mark 262 Mod 0 5.56mm cartridge that fires a 77-grain bullet. There is also experimentation underway for a new cartridge in the 6mm range for special operations use in the M4 carbine.
For law enforcement use, .223 ammunition such as Black Hills 77-grain, Hornady’s TAP, or Winchester Ranger should be adequate for most situations, but there are times when a patrol carbine in a larger caliber is desirable, particularly in departments whose jurisdiction encompasses rural areas where distances are greater than in cities and units which require a weapon with terminal ballistics beyond those of the .223. For these situations, the .308 cartridge is an obvious choice. The ability of the .308 to penetrate targets that would defeat the .223 bullet is a clear advantage, although in some instances and with some types of ammunition, the .308 would overpenetrate. For law enforcement use, .308 match ammunition is probably a reasonable choice because its terminal ballistics are far superior to the .223.
As overpenetration and ricochet are significant issues with law enforcement, it is well worth noting that limited penetration .308 ammunition is available from Black Hills Ammunition, which solves overpenetration concerns regarding the .308, while at the same time delivering very impressive terminal ballistics. When fired into ten percent ordnance gelatin, Black Hills Limited Penetration .308 Match penetrated no deeper than 10 to 12 inches and left a very large permanent wound cavity. In our accuracy testing, this ammunition performed as well as standard match ammunition from both Black Hills and other manufacturers. The “downside” to Black Hills Limited Penetration ammunition is that it’s more expensive compared to standard .308 ammunition. With several agencies examining the potential of .308 patrol carbines, other manufacturers are developing not only limited penetration ammunition, but frangible ammunition as well.
When it comes to selecting a patrol carbine in .308, one of the best is manufactured by DSA, Inc. of Barrington, Illinois. DSA makes what are arguably the highest quality FAL rifles in a variety of models that should satisfy any department’s requirements. The FAL is one of the few .308 rifles available as a lightweight carbine. The FAL design is a proven one and the rifle at one time was so widely used that it was referred to as “The Free World’s Right Arm.” Over 90 different countries adopted the FAL as their standard infantry rifle and it is still serving as such in some nations. The FAL carbine is extremely reliable and well suited for use as a patrol carbine, if the decision is made to go with a weapon that is more powerful than the .223. It handles extremely well and is only marginally heavier than most .223 carbines. With their short 16-inch barrels, DSA’s carbines are also no larger than most .223 LE carbines.
For the purposes of this evaluation, DSA provided us with two carbines that are intended for law enforcement use. Both are fitted with 16-inch barrels, but here the similarities end. One little FAL was fitted with a fluted barrel and MIL-STD-1913 rail mount receiver cover. It was then sent to Steve Lauer of Lauer Custom Weaponry for finishing using his proprietary Duracoat process in Desert Camouflage.
Duracoat is an epoxy finish that adheres to metal, wood or synthetic materials and is highly resistant to oils, heat, marring or scratching. We should note that camouflage is being increasingly used by manufacturers and by the military. The latter usually simply paint their weapons with standard issue camouflage paint. When the paint begins to chip, it is a simple matter to touch it up with spray cans. For a more durable finish, however, Duracoat seems to be about the best of its type available. In our experience, Duracoat seems almost impervious to rubbing or scratching.
Like the rest of the rifle, the bolt of our carbine is finished in Duracoat and after several hundred rounds shows no signs of wearing away. Perhaps the best aspect of Duracoat is that it can be applied in a home environment, meaning that it isn’t necessary to send one’s firearm to Lauer to have the finish applied, although better results might be obtained by letting Lauer do the work. Duracoat is available in over 20 colors and can be applied in virtually any pattern imaginable.
Duracoat finish in camouflage is permanent, which brings up the question as to why camouflage in the first place? News photos from Afghanistan show special operators with their weapons painted in camouflage colors. For the operator, this is a virtual necessity because nothing in nature is black with straight lines. A black rifle or carbine stands out like the proverbial sore thumb; hence, camouflage is applied so that the weapon blends in with its background. The same rule is applicable to law enforcement users, who may wish to decrease their threat profile by making their “long gun” blend in with its background.
The second DSA FAL carbine was furnished in standard black. It also had the MIL-STD-1913 receiver cover, along with the company’s FAL Rail Interface forearm. This enables one to add any number of accessories, such as lasers, white lights and vertical handgrips. The second carbine also came equipped with an integral muzzle brake and grip sleeve. Both carbines were fitted with a “Snap Sling” tactical multi-position heavy duty 1.5-inch wide sling that carries the carbine “hands free” across the chest in a ready position but allows deployment directly into firing position with no adjustments. This is thanks to a metal clip that keeps the sling snug and in an upright position against the user’s body, but releases the sling for instant use as the carbine is brought to a firing position against the shoulder.
We fitted the desert camouflage carbine with an EOTech Holosight that we sent to Steve Lauer so that it matched the carbine. The Holosight uses a laser to project a holographic reticle onto a window of hardened glass in much the same way that a heads-up display weapons sight is used in fighter aircraft. The Holosight ring subtends 65 MOA and the aiming dot of one MOA. The “dot and ring” holographic image is parallax free and can be used even if the glass is partially obscured or broken. The night vision capable Holosights have ten levels of night vision intensity built in. The Holosight has no illuminating signature, as it does not project any light forward towards the target.
We also equipped the black DSA carbine with an optical sight, the Leupold’s Mark4 CQ/T 1-3x optic. Like the Holosight, the CQ/T uses a “dot and ring” reticle that’s etched onto the glass. The ring subtends 18 inches at 25 yards and six feet at 100 yards when the scope is set on 3x. The dot is three MOA at 3x and nine MOA at 1x. The CQ/T is especially well suited to a .308 carbine like the DSA because it can be used from CQB ranges out to medium ranges of 200 yards and beyond. Both sights offer the user the advantage of rapid target acquisition. To use either sight, all that’s necessary is to look at the target with both eyes open and raise the rifle to a firing position. The reticle is almost instantly superimposed over the target by the shooter’s eye. Since the eye has only to accommodate two elements, the reticle and target, sight alignment is automatic and instinctive with sights such as the Holosight and CQ/T.
In addition, we installed DSA’s “black” carbine with the latest product from Laser Devices, the innovative MOLAD, or Multi-Operational Laser Aiming Device. This unique device incorporates a high-intensity (95 lumen) white light, a visible laser aimer, an IR laser aimer and LED illuminator in an extremely lightweight and compact package. The white light can be focused from a narrow spot to a diffuse beam to illuminate a broader area. The MOLAD is activated via toggle switches on either side of the housing, or via a remote press pad. The MOLAD is completely waterproof and the laser aimers are fully adjustable for windage and elevation. Besides the rifle mount we used, the MOLAD can be quickly attached or detached from any MIL-STD-1913 rail mounting system. Because of its light weight and compact size, the MOLAD is particularly well suited for handgun applications. Mounting and removal is accomplished via proprietary rail “grabbers” that can be released by simply pressing them. There are no screws, knobs or levers to worry with. Once the “grabbers” are locked in place, unintentionally pressing both to cause the MOLAD to fall off is virtually impossible. Because it incorporates three different types of illumination, the MOLAD enables an operator to move from low light using night vision to a bright white tactical light at the touch of a finger. Further, the MOLAD can be switched between any possible operational configuration via the rotary mode switch. Changing from IR to visible light is accomplished via a small recessed toggle switch at the right side of the device. The MOLAD weighs only 7.5 ounces, 4.5 inches in length, 2 inches high and 1.5 inches wide. We predict that the versatile MOLAD will find widespread acceptance in the military and law enforcement communities.
We evaluated DSA’s carbines at 50 yards because the vast majority of law enforcement engagements take place within this distance. Instead of structured testing from a bench rest or the prone position, we conducted our test firing over the hood of a police cruiser, a much more realistic scenario for carbines such as these. The DSA carbines delivered excellent accuracy and flawless performance, although the short barrel length made for a distinct muzzle blast. We obtained our best accuracy with Black Hills, Hornady Tactical Application Police (TAP) and Remington match ammunition, although the carbines delivered acceptable accuracy with all types of ammunition tested. Complete accuracy results can be found in the chart.
In the final analysis, DSA’s FAL carbines are the ideal size and weight for patrol carbines. The proven .308 cartridge is available in a great variety of law enforcement loads, including both limited penetration and frangible loadings for those situations where overpenetration or ricochets are concerns. Even in these specialized loads, the .308 outperforms the diminutive .223 in terms of both range and terminal ballistics.
DSA’s carbines are especially useful for agencies that operate in both urban and rural environments. They should be one of the first choices for agencies whose jurisdictions encompass only rural areas where a compact powerful carbine is a virtual necessity due to possible encounters with large dangerous targets of both the four and two-legged varieties.