Kel-Tec SU-16 5.56mm Rifle
by Jeff Quinn
photography by Jeff Quinn
August 22nd, 2004
For almost ten years now, Kel-Tec CNC in Cocoa, Florida has been manufacturing firearms. Unlike most new gun companies, Kel-Tec from the beginning has concentrated its efforts on new and interesting designs. We have reviewed most of them here on Gunblast in the last few years, and we own a few of their pistols ourselves. Their small .32 and .380 auto pistols are the lightest and most compact designs available, and are great little pocket guns, and their Sub-2000 is a handy little break-down 9mm "fun gun".
A couple of years ago, Kel-Tec unveiled their design for a new 5.56mm/.223 rifle. While it was an interesting firearm, and very lightweight, I was at first underwhelmed. To me, it seemed almost too light for a serious rifle. About three months ago, Kel-Tec sent to us one of their SU-16 rifles for testing, and I have been shooting the little carbine occasionally ever since.
The SU-16 has a few unique features that set it apart from the AR-15 style rifles available. Most notable is the light weight of the Kel-Tec, which is just five pounds and one ounce, without magazine. In use, the SU-16 feels even lighter. Another unique feature of the SU-16 is its folding buttstock, which , with the removal of one pin, folds up neatly underneath the barrel and receiver, reducing the overall length from thirty-seven and one half inches down to only twenty-six and one quarter inches for easier storage. In this position, the trigger and hammer are disconnected from the receiver, rendering the weapon incapable of firing until the buttstock is returned to its proper position. The buttstock on the SU-16 also has storage for two loaded magazines, in addition to the one locked into the magazine well. While the rifle is shipped with two ten-round plastic magazines, the SU-16 can also use readily available twenty or thirty round M-16/AR-15 magazines.
The synthetic fore arm on the SU-16 is a two-piece design which, when deployed from its locked position, makes into a handy little bipod for increased stability when firing from a benched or prone position. I at first thought this to be a frivolous feature, but it has proven to be quite useful in the field. The operating handle on the right side of the weapon reciprocates with the bolt upon firing, and therefore provides a built-in forward assist mechanism to aid in the chambering of a stubborn cartridge, if one so chooses.
The bolt head is of the rotating AR-15 style, and the bolt locks open when the magazine is empty. The magazine release is in the same position as on the AR-15/M-16 family of weapons. The gas system on the SU-16 uses a piston to actuate the bolt, and is of a simple and rugged design, much like the system on the AK-47 family of weapons.
The trigger pull on the sample SU-16 measured five pounds and three ounces, and was without any excess creep or overtravel. The rifle wears an aperture rear sight and a highly visible but well-protected fiber-optic type front sight, that is rudimentarily adjustable. The eighteen and one-half inch barrel measures three-quarters of an inch underneath the hand guard, then steps down abruptly to five-eighths of an inch just in front of the gas block, tapering to just over one-half of an inch just behind the front sight. The barrel is rifled one turn in nine inches.
Shooting the SU-16 turned out to be a pleasure. I tested the rifle with several brands of military and commercial ammunition. The SU-16 functioned perfectly with every type of ammo tested. There were no failures of any kind. Accuracy proved to be good for such a lightweight weapon with coarse sights. I was able to keep a thirty-round magazine easily within a six inch circle at one hundred yards, firing quickly while using the built-in bipod. Mounting a Trijicon ACOG scope for accuracy testing proved the gun capable of holding five shots within three inches at the same range, with a couple of ammo types doing just a bit better. The receiver wears an integral scope mounting rail that accepts Weaver type rings. The factory lists the mount as a Picatinny type, but the groove width and spacing is a bit close for Picatinny specifications. However, the rail is very handy for mounting optical sights of most types.
After my initial lukewarm impression of the SU-16, I have changed my mind. The gun is absolutely reliable, and as accurate as most 5.56mm/.223 carbines available. Accuracy is on par with the majority of Mini-14s, and the gun is compact and lightweight. It would make for a dandy little weapon to keep stowed away in a vehicle for emergencies, offering lots of firepower while taking up little space. It would also make for a great little backpacking weapon to harvest game or just for plinking. The SU-16 is a fun little rifle, and sometimes that is reason enough to own one.
Check them out online at: http://www.kel-tec-cnc.com.