For decades, builders have been trying to combine the AR’s ergonomics and weight with the reliability of the AK-47. In my experience, Primary Weapons Systems has done the best job so far. Its long-stroke system adds reliability, softens recoil, keeps things cleaner, and most of all, works much better with really short barrels. The PWS Diablo remains one of the most reliable 7.75-inch-barreled AR rifles you can get. These design lessons have translated into reliable 10- and 12-inch-barreled rifles as well as pistols in both .223 Wylde and 300 AAC Blackout. The system has also proven reliable in 7.62mm NATO with short barrels—something few companies have done to date. My 14.5-inch-barreled MK214 SBR has proven reliable for thousands of rounds over several years. I’ve tested short-barreled PWS rifles in 5.56mm, 7.62x39mm, 6.8 SPC and 7.62x51mm, and they’ve all worked well, especially when quality magazines were available. Until recently, the only two PWS rifles that had not passed through my hands were the 300 BLK guns and the PWS MK212, and now I’ve finally tested the latter.
As a longtime M14/M1A fan, the .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO has always been a preference of mine. The problem, however, has always been weight and size. For many, 13-inch-barreled 7.62mm rifles are just about perfect. I’ve been in touch with a number of our most elite warriors who often prefer this setup as well. It is sized perfectly for entry yet gets you out to 500 yards and a bit beyond with useful downrange energy. The 7.62mm may be the most common NATO round, and it remains a prolific hunting option. It’s pretty versatile and has been used with great effect for many decades. The problem was getting AR-type rifles chambered in it to work reliably and consistently, especially if you put a short barrel on them. PWS seems to have overcome that hurdle, however, and it was time to see for myself on the range.
“Since my MK214 was already registered, I was sent only an MK212 upper for testing…”
The latest PWS MK212 is the company’s second-generation rifle with a number of changes. A KeyMod forend that is considerably lighter replaces the original design. It covers a gas system that is now externally adjustable, with four settings facilitating suppressors or less-powerful ammunition. An enhanced bolt carrier group now supports a user-serviceable piston head and a BCM Gunfighter charging handle. PWS’ enhanced buffer tube and buffer are used along with an ALG Defense trigger. PWS MK212 rifles and upper receivers also come with a set of Magpul MBUS sights and a 20-round PMAG magazine.
Since my MK214 was already registered, I was sent only an MK212 upper for testing. My lower is equipped pretty much as described above. The only real difference is the pistol grip. PWS shipped the upper with a new Leupold 1-6x20mm Mark 6 M6C1 scope. This may be the perfect power range for a patrol rifle. Designed to be used with both eyes open at 1X power, the scope is effective in most close-quarters situations. When range or clarity is necessary, 6X power is more than enough magnification for most realistic ranges an officer may encounter.
For testing, I replaced the Magpul MBUS sights with a set of Dueck Defense RTS backup sights. These sights mount on the top rail but index at about 1 o’clock. They also have the same offset from the barrel as standard AR sights, making it very easy to transition between the optic and sights.
SBR Range Test
Because of its short barrel length, I mostly tested the PWS MK212 in full kit. I also kept the ranges mostly at 100 yards and closer—within the typical real-world engagement distances for most police officers. But, I evaluated the PWS MK212’s accuracy at 100 yards and shot it out to a bit over 400 yards, too. It proved to be a very capable rifle at just about any range.
“It was pretty easy to tag steel at 300 and 400 yards consistently…”
Testing an early prototype Mod 1 rifle proved a bit problematic on my older lower. This production rifle suffered no such issues. It was fast, reliable and chewed up most everything thrown at it. Brass piled up as fast as I could pull the trigger. I used Silver State Armory’s excellent 175-grain OTM ammunition for most of the range evaluation. This ammo has proven match accurate in most cases, and it’s reliable in most rifles. I also tested the MK212 with Federal’s 168-grain Gold Medal Match ammo as well as some Hornady 168-grain TAP rounds and experienced no malfunctions.
The MK212’s accuracy at 100 yards was pretty impressive, with groups in the sub-1-inch range, and the best group, produced with the Silver State Armory ammo, measured 0.69 inches. There really were no significant changes in accuracy with any of the match-grade ammunition, so whatever your preference is for ammunition should work just fine in the MK212.
It was pretty easy to tag steel at 300 and 400 yards consistently. The Leupold Mark 6 scope really shined here with its CMR-W 7.62 reticle. Calibrated for a longer barrel, it remained plenty accurate at these ranges. Built in the first focal plane, the reticle is accurate for ranging, holdovers and leads at any magnification.
Set on 1X magnification, the Mark 6 is designed to be used with both eyes open at close range. Having spent a ton of time recently using similar scopes, this worked just fine for me. Turning on the illuminated reticle allowed it to operate more like a red dot than an optic. To be honest, my preference is leaning towards a second-focal-plane scope for this purpose, but after a few rounds, this setup is pretty fast. Over the past few months of testing, low-power optics have become my preferred aiming assist on a patrol carbine, and the Mark 6 is an excellent scope for that purpose.
Working at very close ranges, it is often faster to use your iron sights. Small red dots work well also, but it is nice to have a set of sights with no batteries, and the Deuck Defense RTS sights are excellent. Unlike simply adding a standard set to a 1 o’clock rail, these are timed perfectly. Turn the rifle and these sights are aligned with the barrel. With an offset the same as standard sights, they line up quickly and require no real alteration in your holds. Available with a plain, tritium or fiber-optic front sight, they suit just about any need.
Most of my firearms use over the years has been pragmatic. I’m never really emotional about guns—they are tools to me. They certainly need to fit, but mostly they need to work and do the job they were built to do. Simplicity and functionality have always been and remain my preferences. Sure, I have my favorites, but all of my guns work and I’ve carried or used them all at one time or another.
“No rifle I’ve tested has proven any more reliable or trustworthy than the PWS rifles I’ve used…”
Over the last couple of decades, I’ve used the most popular and proven rifles on duty, in competition, during training and in testing. Brand names have really meant little to me, as many companies make excellent rifles. In fact, it has never been easier to get a fine AR-type rifle. It is about the people to me, and my tendency is to gravitate towards those companies that remain grounded—especially those that started small and have grown. Primary Weapons Systems is a perfect example of just such a company, starting with muzzle brakes and moving on to build some of the most respected rifles on the market today.
No rifle I’ve tested has proven any more reliable or trustworthy than the PWS rifles I’ve used. Whether it was hitting 12-inch steel at 400 yards with a 7.75-inch-barreled Diablo or serving drug warrants on SWAT entry teams with my DC10 upper, PWS rifles have always proven dependable. When I use an AR today with my police department, it is my MK116. Simplistic in design, these rifles handle most everything thrown at them—at least everything I have been able to send their way. Recent testing of the MK212 and the MK116 have only served to continue this experience.
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