April 11, 2022
By James Tarr
Rise Armament (RA) popped up on my radar about 8 years ago with the introduction of the RA-535 Advanced Performance Trigger for AR-15 style rifles. It looks like something out of “Battlestar Galactica,” but it worked. Since then, RA has developed a number of drop-in triggers, in addition to all sorts of other AR-type components. That menu includes several lines of complete rifles and pistols.
Rise Armament offers its Watchman LE in rifle, pistol, and SBR configurations. For this review, I secured a sample of its Watchman LE pistol. While technically the “LE” suffix stands for “law enforcement,” it is not only sold to cops.
It was designed to honor them. The name and configurations were inspired by the tragic July 7, 2016, police ambush in Dallas, Texas, that resulted in the death of five officers, and the injuring of nine others. This was the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since the attack on September 11, 2001. RA wanted to make sure no police officer was ever outgunned by a criminal, so they developed the Watchman LE line with input from active SWAT officers, snipers, competitive shooters and firearm instructors. The objective was an offer a product that was accurate, dependable and affordable.
The Watchman LE pistol comes from RA’s factory sporting an SBA3 arm brace from SB Tactical at the back end, and an 11 1/2-inch barrel at the front. The barrel is air-gauged, button rifled, and has a .223 Wylde chamber, which many people feel offers the best balance between reliability (5.56 NATO chamber) and accuracy (.223 Remington chamber).
RA makes the barrel in-house from 416R stainless steel and gives it a nitride finish. It has a carbine-length gas system and a 1:7-inch twist. This barrel, like many 11 1/2-inch tubes, has what is called a “government profile” — skinny behind the gas block and thicker in front. From an engineering standpoint, this makes little sense to me, but the government wants what the government wants. To put their own spin on the barrel profile, RA flutes the barrel forward of the low-profile gas block.
The barrel is threaded 1/2-28 and tipped with a four-prong flash hider of RA’s own design. It’s called “Veil.” Open-end flash hiders have an annoying tendency to ring or ping with every shot, but the RA engineers specifically designed this flash hider to eliminate that ringing. It, too, is machined from 416R stainless steel and given a black nitride finish. Overall, it is 2 1/4 inches long, which means it adds about 2 inches to the length of your gun (once you add a crush washer).
As I go through the specs on this AR, you’ll see that most of the parts are made in-house. While they may be a somewhat new name in the firearms world, Rise Armament is a division of a very successful manufacturing company in the oil, gas, and defense industries. They first started making AR-15 components for other companies. Then they came out with their RA-535. After the success of that trigger, releasing more products under their own name was an easy transition.
The barrel free-floats inside the Watchman’s handguard. This is a slender handguard profile with M-Lok attachment slots at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. The Watchman rifle has a rail across the entire top of the handguard, but the 10-inch pistol handguard only has a short section of rail near the muzzle with M-Lok slots behind it to reduce weight. The empty weight of the Watchman LE pistol is just 5 pounds, 10 ounces. With the brace collapsed, this pistol measures 27 3/4 inches long. Extending the brace adds 2 3/4-inches to the length.
The upper and lower receivers are mil-spec and forged. “Watchman” is etched in white on the left side of the upper receiver, and the RA’s scorpion logo is etched into the right side of the magazine well.
While the upper and lower receivers are stock, the parts filling them are an upgrade from standard. The charging handle is RA’s RA-212 model, which features an oversize latch on the left side. The Watchman also offers RA’s ambidextrous safety, the right-side lever being slightly shorter than the left.
The bolt carrier group (BCG) has a black nitride coating and is made by RA, also. They are individually MPI tested. The bolt is 9310 steel, and the carrier is 8620 tool steel, heat-treated, and case-hardened. The gas key is tool steel and properly staked, as well. The cam pin is the proper 4140 steel. The extractor is tool steel and shot peened. These are all details you should be looking for in a quality BCG.
Standard in the Watchman is the RA LE145 Tactical Trigger. This is a drop-in cassette trigger with an advertised 41/2-pound pull. This is a single-stage trigger with no take-up, a very [crisp break, and very short reset. It also offers a drop-safety feature, making it doubly suited for law enforcement service. The trigger in G&A’s sample weighed 43/4 pounds, but it was so crisp that the pull felt lighter. As RA points out on their website, this trigger is “Manufactured and assembled in our facility according to strict AS9100 aerospace requirements.” That means it’s made to far more stringent-than-usual standards.
The trigger and hammer are CNC machined from tool steel and mounted in a CNC-machined aluminum housing. If you order this trigger separate, it comes with the anti-walk pins seen on the lower receiver. This is something I’ve found necessary with cassette-style triggers. In a traditional configuration, the trigger and hammer springs exert pressure on the grooved pins holding them in place. With a cassette-style trigger unit, that pressure doesn’t exist, so the trigger and hammer pins have a tendency to wander back and forth under recoil. “Anti-walk” pins solve this problem.
The provided pistol grip is a Magpul MOE+, which features a rubberized exterior and an internal storage compartment. I prefer pistol grips with storage compartments, as I’ve usually got something on my AR (optic, light or both) that requires batteries. The compartments on these grips aren’t waterproof, but that’s why God invented Ziploc bags.
The SBA3 brace is made by SB Tactical. While it rides on a standard six-position receiver extension it’s only five-position adjustable, as the BATFE is picky about length of pull on brace-equipped pistols. A lot of smaller police departments appreciate the utility of a short-barreled AR, but don’t want to jump through legal hoops to acquire SBRs for their officers. The same goes for individual officers who are allowed ARs on the job but have to provide their own gun.
RA states that its rifle barrels will shoot sub-MOA groups with most factory ammo. I was curious to see how the accuracy of the pistol barrel would compare. All things being equal, shorter rifle barrels are inherently more accurate, as they flex less. However, realizing that accuracy in a shorter, lighter gun is sometimes difficult.
A brief word on short-barrel ballistics. When it comes to the .223 Rem./5.56 NATO rounds out of short barrels, the 111/2-inch barrel length is my favorite; it’s the “Goldilocks” of balance between overall length and velocity. An 11 1/2-inch AR is still handy enough for use indoors and out of vehicles, but you get close to 500 more feet per second (fps) than you would with a 7 1/2-inch barrel. (Yes, 500 fps.)
At first, the above-velocity numbers don’t seem to make sense. But you have to remember the first 2.26-inch of that barrel length is chamber. In actuality, with 7 1/2- and 11 1/2-inch barrels you’re comparing 5.24 inches and 9.24 inches of rifling length, and while that still only works out to a 4-inch difference, the 11 1/2-inch tube provides 76 percent more barrel length.
Once you move past 11 1/2-inches, the increased velocity is more incremental. Depending on the load, you can see nearly the same velocity jump (plus or minus) 150 fps when going from a 10-inch barrel to an 11 1/2-inch as you do when moving from an 11 1/2-inch to a 141/2-inch barrel.
For accuracy testing, I topped the Watchman with a Trijicon AccuPower 1-8X scope in a Midwest Industries QD mount. I really like this scope/mount combo, but it adds about 2 pounds to the weight of the gun. For all other shooting, I topped the Watchman with an EOTech 512 HWS.
Shooting the Watchman was a lot of fun for me, one of my sons who was home on leave from the Army, and two of his friends. The Veil flash hider eliminated the ringing on the Watchman. During the same range session, we were shooting a Bushmaster ACR pistol tipped with an AAC Blackout 51T prong flash hider, and that thing was ringing so much that the boys thought their electronic ear pro was malfunctioning.
Accuracy was excellent though. Some loads produced groups right at 1 MOA. Reliability was one hundred percent. We ran about 200 rounds through the pistol during testing.
Rise Armament does offer some options from the factory with the Watchman. You can order it with iron sights or Vortex’s Crossfire red dot (or both) for just a bit more money. The pistol ships with one magazine and an appropriately sized lockable hard case. Every firearm sold by RA is covered by a lifetime manufacturing warranty.
Watchman LE Specifications
- Type: Direct impingement, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .223 Rem. or 5.56 NATO
- Barrel: 11.5 in., 416R stainless nitrided, 1:7-in. twist
- Overall Length: 28 in. (brace collapsed), 30.5 in. (brace extended)
- Weight: 5 lbs., 10 oz.
- Muzzle Device: Rise Armament Veil
- Brace: SB Tactical SBA3
- Pistol Grip: Magpul MOE+
- Handguard: 10-in., M-LOK compatible
- Trigger: Rise LE145 Tactical Trigger; 4 lbs., 12 oz. (tested)
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $1,449
- Manufacturer: Rise Armament, risearmament.com
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine