Years ago, Darren Mellors and Jesse Gomez both frequented the Internet chat room called the “FAL Files.” This was the home where lovers of the venerable FAL met to chat about its history, design and where to locate sweet deals. Both Darren and Jesse loved the FAL and even started their own company, one that made topcovers with rails, allowing FAL owners to mount optics onto their guns.
Like anything we love, inevitably the day comes when we become aware of our beloved’s baggage. The FAL is a great rifle, but it’s heavy. It has a bolt that’s very unforgiving if any surface is out of spec, and it lacks options for mounting scopes, slings and night vision. It has a gas block that could double as an anvil, which often causes the rifle to string vertically when it gets hot. Many of us love the idea of a 7.62mm semiauto battle rifle, but until recently, our choices were limited.
Jesse and Darren eventually made the transition from fabricating FAL topcovers to making AR handguards and eventually came to own LWRC International. Once these two FAL lovers found their way into management of a piston-driven AR company, it was only a matter of time before they turned their resources to producing their own 7.62.
Snipers and Assaulters
I first met Darren and Jesse through a muscle-bound, red-headed buddy named Scott. Scott and I were serving in the Army together and had been for a number of years, and in 2006 we were both Team Leaders in 3rd Special Forces Group. I was a sniper team leader, and Scott was an assault team leader.
Since we were both gun enthusiasts, Scott and I did some shooting on our own, and I couldn’t help but admire the LWRC that he prized so much. Eventually, he introduced me to Darren and Jesse, who had started their own 7.62mm rifle project that same year. They were great guys, so I offered to help in whatever way I could. I was certainly no gun designer, but I had the good fortune of serving a few tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and offered to provide any feedback from my recent experiences.
In 2006 there was a movement from within the sniping community. The search began for an accurate and reliable 7.62mm semiautomatic rifle. While the KAC SR-25 and Mk11 were already in service with the Special Forces community, they were (and are) mediocre rifles that are grossly overpriced, had extremely poor customer service and were neither accurate nor reliable, in my experience. To add, I had just attended the Marine Corps Scout Sniper Advanced Course at Quantico, Virginia, in early 2006 where the Marine Corps was finishing field trials for the Mk11. The Marines (who have exceptional taste in rifles) decided the Mk11 lacked the accuracy and reliability they were looking for and decided they’d keep looking.
Semiauto 7.62mm rifles are essential for a sniper in this day and age because they allow him to carry only one rifle on the battlefield and still perform all the tasks required of a sniper in an urban environment. While bolt guns work well in rural settings or for those times when we need more ballistic horsepower, semiauto 7.62mm rifles rule in the ever-expanding urban environment where snipers must often fight in the street and in rooms like a normal infantryman. They must then be able to set up overwatch positions and provide precision fire as needed. It’s a difficult mission that requires some serious flexibility that only a semiauto 7.62mm rifle can provide.
LWRC named their initial 7.62mm semiauto rifle the Sniper-Assaulter Battle Rifle (SABR) to embrace the grassroots movement of snipers who learned they needed a rifle that could be both a sniper rifle and an assault rifle to survive on the battlefield. The number of modern semiauto 7.62mm rifles offered in 2006 that could meet the military’s needs was limited to the SR-25 and Mk11, which had a growing number of dissatisfied end-users. LWRC threw their hat in the ring and began prototype development of the SABR. Snipers everywhere rejoiced.
The SABR Evolves
The SABR was LWRC’s first foray into the 7.62mm AR rifle world. Plans for the SABR were to have it available in 12-, 16-, 18- and 20-inch barrel lengths. It would have to use SR-25-pattern magazines and have a side-charging handle that looked eerily similar to the charging handle on the FAL. The SABR was never released commercially because LWRC would change the name of the rifle as it neared the end of its prototype phase.
The reason for the name change prior to production was that the Marine Corps was about to issue a solicitation in 2008 for a Rapid Engagement Precision Rifle, or REPR. The Marines wanted a semiauto 7.62mm sniper rifle and were not content to accept the readily available Mk11 already in service, as they felt it was a substandard product. While the Marine Corps is a very traditional branch of service, their snipers recognized that fighting inside cities with a bolt gun presents a significant amount of self-induced friction that could be cured with a semiauto.
All signs indicated that the Marine Corps was dangerously close to releasing the solicitation in 2009 when tragedy struck. The penny-pinchers determined that they did not have sufficient funding for the REPR program, so they canceled it.
While it was no longer going to be competing for a contract, LWRC continued to refine the newly christened REPR for civilian production. The rifle had been in prototype phase for close to three years, and LWRC mandated a number of changes to make the rifle as accurate as possible.
The challenge with a piston-driven semiauto sniper rifle is with the reciprocating mass of the piston system. Each time the rifle fires, the piston and op rod cycle violently, a process that can adversely affect accuracy. This is partially what bedeviled the FAL and gave it the reputation for stringing vertically. LWRC discovered that when they lengthened the barrel extension, accuracy of the rifle improved. This happens because the extension creates more contact and better purchase between the surface areas of the receiver and barrel. It’s important to remember that the only point where the barrel touches the receiver on an accurized AR is where the barrel extension meets the receiver (assuming we have an otherwise free-floated barrel, of course).
Another key component of AR accuracy is making the fit between the barrel extension and the receiver as tight as possible. The process that LWRC developed involves a lot of heat and pressure and a stout barrel nut. By maximizing the contact between the barrel and the receiver and making it as solid as possible, LWRC made the REPR more accurate than the SABR.
LWRC made another change on the SABR-turned-REPR when they removed the traditionally square Picatinny-rail fore-end and replaced it with a round one. Round fore-ends are taking over the AR world, and for good reason. They are more comfortable in the hand and allow us to shave weight by only putting Picatinny-rail sections where we need them. The smaller profile also aids in more stable positioning by making more nonstandard holds possible. Where the square fore-end becomes enormous once rail covers are in place, which makes it hard to use one hand to hold the rifle and anchor it to a vertical support, the round fore-end requires no rail covers and one hand can manage the smaller profile while using a vertical support.
The ambidextrous controls added to the REPR were also a welcome addition. They not only allowed left-handed shooters to comfortably manipulate the rifle, the ambidextrous controls also meant that a right-handed shooter could keep his firing hand on the pistol grip and still manipulate the bolt catch, speeding up malfunction clearances considerably.
Shooting the REPR
The REPR has a couple of features that make it a supremely qualified candidate for battle-rifle selection. The reasons I prefer the REPR can be credited to the piston system, the placement of the controls, the 12-inch barrel option and the high quality standards LWRC maintains. Piston systems run cleaner than direct-impingement (DI) guns. I’ve heard the arguments about how both are more reliable than the other and think that’s a lot like arguing Ford vs. Chevy. There’s no decisive proof either way. However, a repeatable test that anyone can conduct will show that piston guns run cleaner than DI gas guns.
Go to the range with both a piston rifle and a DI rifle and put 1,000 rounds through each. The DI gun will have black carbon debris caked all over the bolt, bolt carrier and inside the upper receiver, while the piston gun will remain clean and require no maintenance. Scott and I once went to a carbine course taught by Kyle Lamb of Viking Tactics. Scott took his LWRC rifle, and I brought my DI gun. At the conclusion of each training day, Scott and I returned to his house to clean our guns and get ready for the next day of training. Actually, I cleaned my rifle and Scott stood by to watch. It’s hard to argue that a piston system like this one keeps the carbon out of the receiver and makes weapons maintenance much easier.
The ambidextrous controls of the REPR and the placement of the side charging handle make this AR an extremely easy rifle to manipulate. It’s possible to lay in the prone and clear malfunctions or reload without ever having to get out of the prone or remove the rifle from your shoulder. (Consistency is key to multi-shot accuracy.) The traditional manual of arms for an AR requires that the rifle be removed from the shoulder, the firing hand retracting the charging handle to the rear while the support hand activates the bolt catch. The REPR only requires the support hand to manipulate the charging handle while the index finger of the firing hand activates the bolt catch. The REPR is much less complex.
One of my favorite features of the REPR is the option for a 12-inch barrel. A 12-inch-barrel, AR-pattern 7.62mm rifle represents my first choice for a fighting rifle. The short barrel makes the rifle handy to use getting in and out of vehicles, running through thick brush and moving in and out of buildings. The 7.62mm chambering gives the rifle enough ballistic horsepower to remain effective out to 600 meters, unlike short-barrel rifles in 5.56mm.
The 12-inch barrel is possible on the REPR because of the piston system. Direct-impingement rifles have a hard time cycling reliably once the barrels get short. The shortened barrel offers insufficient dwell time for a direct-impingement gun to function. (Dwell time is the amount of time the bullet remains in the barrel after the bullet passes the gas port until it exits the barrel.) The abbreviated distance between the port and the muzzle makes it difficult for the closed direct-impingement system to work as designed. A DI gun with a carbine-length gas system has a port seven inches down the barrel and the muzzle 3½ inches past that. This means that the gun will be working with a high port pressure and a short dwell time. This frequently pushes the DI design outside its reliably functioning design parameters.
Gas-piston systems handle abbreviated dwell time much more efficiently than DI guns do. The LWRC system is a short-stroke design that only requires the gas to initiate movement of the piston. Once the piston begins to move, excess gas bleeds out of the gas port, requiring a very short amount of timed pressure for the system to work effectively. The open self-regulating system also means that high port pressure of the carbine-length gas system has somewhere to bleed off prior to driving the bolt carrier to the rear.
The REPR Today
When the REPR first entered the marketplace, it came with two C-Products magazines and had some feeding issues. The reason for the issues was that the C-Products mags that LWRC used in the development of the rifle were different than the ones C-Products sold them when the REPR went into production. C-Products changed the location of the magazine catch on the magazine and didn’t notify LWRC. Alas, once locked into the rifle, the magazines were at the incorrect height and caused the rifle to jam. LWRC quickly fixed the issue and now sells the rifle with two Magpul PMAGs.
LWRC currently offers the REPR in 12-, 16-, 18- and 20-inch lengths, and they are also available in a variety of colored finishes. If you desire to have one rifle capable of functioning across a wide variety of operational environments, the REPR is an exceptional choice.