The Sig 550 has earned a reputation as being a high quality military rifle capable of incredible accuracy and reliability. Based on the timeless and battle proven AK47, the 550 and its variants are seen by many as a refinement of the Russian warhorse. Despite its sterling reputation for reliability and accuracy, the rifle hasn’t seen wide spread adoption in NATO countries. The 550 is used primarily by the Swiss military with a handful of special units and police forces outside of Switzerland using them on a relatively limited basis.
In 1978 the Swiss laid out the requirements for a rifle to replace the homely yet functional Stgw 57 rifle (sold commercially as the SG510). The focus was on developing a modular rifle that would be immediately available in both rifle lengths and carbine lengths. Several rifles and cartridges were considered but in end the SG 541 and the 5.56x45mm (GP 90) round were adopted. The SG 541 was renamed the 550 and the legend was born. By 1983 the decision to adopt the 550 and the 551, with the later being a carbine version of the 550 rifle, was made and by 1990 it as accepted into military service as the Stgw 90 rifle.
A handful of semi-automatic rifles were imported into the US in the 1990’s before importation ceased due to restrictions passed by the U.S. government. The rarity of the 550 rifles on the U.S. market drove the prices through the roof and before long they were selling for $10,000 or more if you could find one for sale.
Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on bringing the 550/551 to the U.S. market, Sig began work on a domestically produced clone of the famed Swiss rifle and dubbed it the SIG 556. The U.S. built 556 took a number of design liberties which separated it from the original Swiss design including the use of standard AR15 type magazines and machining the lowers out of aluminum vs. using stampings.
When Sig USA introduced the original 556 rifle to the U.S. market, I was taken back by how ugly the little spud was. Nothing on the rifle looked right including the M4 stock and ridiculously shaped hand guards. The rifles languished on the walls at area gun shops — it was a flop. People were hungry for a proper 550/551 clone and they flooded the internet with requests for Sig to revamp the appearance of the rifle to make it look more like the original. This lead to the 556 Classic which sported a more traditional look but it still was an abomination that purists, such as myself, rejected. We wanted a 550/551 knock-off that looked authentic and used Swiss type furniture and magazines. Around 2011 Sig got the message and put the finishing touches on the 551-A1 which outwardly is a faithful replica of the Swiss made military rifle. I wanted to buy one but I had a slight hang-up with Sig by this time.
If you’ve followed my channel for the last couple of years, you’ll recall I bought one of the first-run Sig 556R rifles which is a derivative of the U.S. made 556 chambered in 5.56x45mm. This rifle appealed to me because it uses standard AK47 type magazines and fires the affordable 7.62×39 cartridge. Since the 550/551 borrows heavily from the AK in its operation, I thought the marriage of the popular Russian round and the Sig rifle was a novel idea. I bought one.
After taking the 556R to the range I quickly realized I had made an expensive mistake as the rifle was an absolute wreck. The fit and finish was horrendous. The rifle malfunctioned multiple times every magazine and with a wide variety of ammo. The magazines locked into a bare aluminum lower receiver which quickly caused heavy erosion when using steel magazines or polymer surplus magazines with steel inserts. The fact Sig let this rifle out into the wild in such poor shape was shocking to me, so much so I swore off Sig products for several years thereafter.
Sig got the message that the 556R was a complete mess and moved to quietly remedy the serious flaws of the 1st generation guns. Without much fanfare Sig released a generation 2 rifle that corrected the faults of the original but they didn’t change the nomenclature. Unless you know what you’re looking for, buying a 556R can yield a rifle that works great or one that falls apart with little use. Fear not, within the first couple of magazines you’ll know which one you bought.
At this point you likely understand my reluctance to buy the 551A1. I didn’t want to get stuck with another lemon and forced into dealing with Sig customer support (another story altogether). So I waited to see how the 551A1 was accepted by the market place and what new owners were saying about the rifle.
Overall the feedback from owners was positive. It seemed that the 551A1 was a solid rifle, so a couple of years after its introduction I bought one.
My initial impressions after taking the rifle out of the box were mostly favorable. The finish was nice and the rifle looks enough like a real Swiss made 551 that I was giddy about calling it my own. Sure, the hand guards rattle and the stock feels a bit flimsy, but rumor had it that these were exceptionally accurate rifles. That, and they accept the “Swiss style” magazines which are AK like in operation. Given the extremely rare nature of the original Swiss made 550’s on the U.S. market, this was as close as I was ever going to get to owning one of these classic military rifles.
I took the rifle to Young’s Long Shot to see how it stacked up against other rifles in my collection in the accuracy department. I only had two types of ammo to play with, a 55gr PMC ball load and the 62gr PMC XTAC (M855). Both have given decent accuracy in other rifles, usually around 2″ to 2-1/2″ at 100 yards. In the 551A1 the best I could muster was a 3-3/4″ 100 yard group with the XTAC. I wasn’t impressed. I plan to revisit my accuracy testing using match grade ammo down the road and hope I achieve better results.
After spending a few range sessions with the rifle I noticed that it made plenty of noise while handling it. With electronic ears on, which enhance your ability to hear under normal conditions, it became incredibly annoying. Picking the rifle up to shoot it, walking around with it, doing anything other than standing still with it in your hands would bring about a barrage of rattles. The hand guards have a good 1/8″ or more play in them, the upper and lower wobble around on the two pins that hold them together and the stock even wobbles side to side a little. With this being my biggest complaint against the rifle, I plan on using some JB Weld on the hand guards and fashioning some sort of accu-wedge to take up the slop in the upper/lower receiver fit. I’m not sure how to shore up the play in the stock just yet, but I plan to do what I can to clean that up as well.
Given the hefty $1600 MSRP price tag on the Sig 551-A1, I’m more than a little disappointed in the sloppy fit of the rifle. I should’t have to resort to garage gunsmithing to whip my pricey 551 clone into shape. I’m also not impressed with the accuracy so far, but I’m optimistic if I find the right load I can wring out at least 2 MOA from the rifle. The Swiss 550 is claimed to be a 1 MOA capable rifle however I don’t believe the US clone is going to be capable of such accuracy regardless of the ammo used. We shall see.
Right now I’m able to look past the fitment issues and I’m hopeful I’ll wring better accuracy out of the rifle once I find a load it favors. Perhaps I’m so forgiving because I so desperately want to own a 550/551 and I know this is as close as I’ll likely ever come barring an unexpected lottery win. I will hang onto the rifle for the time being and see if I can massage some of the kinks out with a little elbow grease and JB Weld.
Be sure to watch the MAC video on the 551-A1 for more information about the rifle.