(Feature Image Courtesy:swissarms.ch)
There are always guns that have a rabid following but never seem to gain commercial success for some reason. The Sig 550 is a rifle that has always fascinated me but unfortunately never really caught on. The Sig 550 is most recognized as the assault rifle of the Swiss Military, but was also adopted by several other countries since its development in the 1980’s. I want to be clear right from the start of this article the 550 is in fact different from the model 556,which was a more recent adaptation of the Sig 550, with some differnces but also failed to capture the hearts of the American gun buying public. The best way to look at it is that the Sig Sauer 556 is that it is inspired by the greatness of the original series of the Sig model 550, but is a totally different rifle.
The Sig Sauer 550 was intended to replace the then aging Stgw 58 rifle that was chambered in the uniquely Swiss caliber of 7.5mm x 55mm Schmidt-Rubin, the same caliber as it’s predecessor the K31 straight pull rifle. The 550 was instead chambered in the “new” NATO 5.56mm x 45mm cartridge and featured a long stroke gas piston system and feature a two position gas system. While piston driven rifles were nothing new at the time, the way the Swiss made them was far more precise than other piston driven rifles. Swiss firearms in most other peoples opinions are the perfect blend of function meets style mixed with superior craftsmanship.
The Sig Sauer 550 had several things going against it in terms of being able to be commercially successful in the United States. First the select fire version was born at the wrong time in history, that would be right around the time the ATF and the Hughes Amendment closed registration of new individually owned machine guns. The second strike against the 550 rifle was the fact it may have used the popular 5.56mm NATO round but it used polymer proprietary magazines instead of the standard military style AR-15 magazines.
The final nails in the coffin of the Sig Sauer 550 was the cost of the rifle was considerably higher than the rifles it was competing against at the time, and that rabidly anti gun President Bill Clinton seemed hell bent on taking away all of the truly fun guns from the American buying public. The import restrictions and harassment of firearms importers during the Clinton administrations made it extremely difficult to get guns like the Sig Sauer 550. Ultimately Sig Sauer stopped trying for years to import rifles into the United States. Aside from the increased cost the Sig 550 had some features that it’s competitors at the time didn’t have. Lets take a look at the dimensions and highlights of the Sig Sauer 550 and it’s various forms.
NAME: Sig Sauer 550 (551, 552)
COUNTRY ORIGIN: Switzerland
CALIBER: 5.56mm x 45mm NATO
- 550: 20.8″
- 551: 14.3″
- 552: 8.9
- 550: 9.4 lbs
- 551: 7.5 lbs
- 552: 7.1 lbs
EFFECTIVE RANGE : 400 meters max
SERVICE HISTORY: 1990- Present
NUMBER OF COUNTRIES USED BY: 28 (2016 numbers)
OPERATING SYSTEM: Long stroke gas piston
There are a lot of things about the Sig Sauer 550 that we can see on other models of rifles rather easily. We see the 550 takes it caliber from the AR-15 and Nato in 5.56mm. The magazine release looks to be inspired by the simplicity of the AK-47 style rifles with and easy to use lever. It would appear that the 550’s lower receiver as shown above is partially inspired by the Fabrique Nationale FAL rifle. To us here at the site it’s almost as if the Swiss took the parts they liked best from other weapons available and put their own brand of Swiss engineering behind it to come up with the eventual 550 series of rifles. The whole gun really makes a gun enthusiast ponder the possibilities of what this rifle could it have been if it was released in an atmosphere like what we are experiencing now.
I have never had the privilege or opportunity to fire any of the rifles in the Sig 550 series, I am pretty sure that SOFREP.com editor and former Army Green Beret Jack Murphy got to shoot one during his trip last year to Switzerland. Jack went to Switzerland to see how the Swiss military and militia actual train and debunk some of the rumors about the Swiss military and gun culture. If you haven’t had a chance to check out those articles you are really missing out. I will say that I am actively trying to get my hands on either a Sig 550 or a Sig 556 to do a test and evaluation on to see if the myth of Swiss firearms manufacturing being superior holds any credence.