Several months ago I saw a deal on a Kel-Tec SU-16C ($515 from Bud’s) that I couldn’t pass up. Once I got it, it took awhile to find time to get to a rifle range and shoot it. But now that I’ve shot it, had it apart a few times, and done a few basic modifications, it’s time to review this carbine.
First what this rifle is and isn’t. At 4.7 lbs unloaded and just over five with an optic, with a folding stock (can shoot folded), using cheap and plentiful AR magazines, I consider this primarily a bug out weapon in 5.56 NATO. Excellent for a pack, trunk, toolbox, etc. Relatively inexpensive, few parts to break/replace, and a clean piston system. Picatinny rail on top for easy scope mounting options. Anything for bugging out is also fine for home defense. I don’t consider it a long-term survival weapon with hard use in mind – it’s not an AK or Mini-14 – and will cover that below.
There are several variants of the SU-16. I prefer the SU-16C for the thicker barrel and folding stock. If you have any of the other SU-16 versions, a folding stock can be added, if legal in your state.
The excellent Nutnfacny review of the SU-16C noted that the carbine might need a couple hundred rounds for breaking-in. I shot about 200 rounds of PMC 55 grain FMJ and 60 of Wolf 55 grain HP through mine with no malfunctions at all, so I was probably lucky and this one didn’t seem to need that. The Wolf HP was to verify it would eat cheap steel-cased ammo. Cleaning was easy, very little fouling, very clean shooting.
As part of the break-in process, I went through three 30 round magazines in rapid fire to see if I’d get any stringing when the barrel got hot. Didn’t notice any of that, but it did get hot enough that I was worried about some of the plastic parts melting, especially where the barrel connects to the stock. I did not have this concern with the Ruger Mini-14 Tactical carbine.
Accuracy was good for a break-in, but conditions at the range weren’t ideal. I was a bit rushed, the 100 yard area was in the shade, and it had rained recently so impacts didn’t cause any dust to appear. Excuses aside, I was able to sight it in with an EOTech 512 and hit a nine inch gong at 100 yards consistently. A little more time in better conditions and I’d have the iron sights dialed in, but that’ll have to be next time.
The reason I say, IMO, the SU-16C isn’t a long-term survival carbine with hard use is that I suspect the polymer stock isn’t up to it. Let me stress couple phrases here; long-term and hard use. Glocks have stood the test of time, but an SU-16 has a lot more surface area that needs to hold up. When TSHTF, I’ll be fine with the SU-16C for bugging out. When I get to the retreat, I want my Mini-14 Tactical. The SU-16C will remain for occasional use.
I changed three things on this carbine; added a Kel-Tec compact fore end, a Yankee Hill Phantom C2 flash hider, and a single point sling attachment. The flash hider was a pain because the SU-16C threads didn’t quite lend to easy installation. Took awhile, but I got it. The sling attachment was actually for a PLR – but works perfectly for the SU-16 (note to Kel-Tec, you need to market the PLR sling attachment for the SU-16).
The compact fore end installation was a real pain. I wanted this change so I could use a fore grip and to mount a bipod, and maybe a flashlight. First, the instructions from Kel-Tec absolutely suck. As did the PLR sling attachment instructions. This is a big Kel-Tec fail. So I looked online – this guy did it all wrong, should be a lot more solid.
And getting the compact fore end solid was the real problem. If a fore grip is mounted to it, it must be solid, not come off easily. Some people may add it to look cool, I did not, I wanted some function out of the picatinny rail underneath. My solution was to drill holes and cut/drill/tap four small strips of aluminum to hold the compact fore grip together solidly from the inside with some hex bolts. Took a few hours to get everything right, used blue Loc-Tite. End result, its rock solid.
Overall this is a perfect bug out carbine in 5.56mm NATO, has a clean piston operation, takes cheap AR mags, has good optics mounting options, is ultra light, clean shooting, and inexpensive. Not a major consideration, but looks cool and is fun to shot. Probably not for long-term, hard use, but fine for home defense.