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Review: Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC

[This article originally appeared in RECOIL #60]

Peanut Butter & Jealous: The Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC Elite

When the internet collectively laid their eyes on the new Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC, one refrain was “why?” — we don’t count ourselves among them. Much of AR-15 development over the last six or so decades took place out of operational necessity; barrels were shortened, gas systems changed, extractors and buffer systems mucked with, and all manner of small improvements were made. With this new model, Springfield Armory’s intentionally squeezing every ounce of accuracy capability they can from the system. Are they squeezing a dry orange? Read on …

FEATURES & DESIGN

It doesn’t look like a standard AR-15, and we chalk that up in the positive column. Upon closer inspection, you can see that it is, indeed, an AR of some stripe, but you can tell there’s more going on under the hood.

Though the AR-15 was never really designed to be a precision platform, there are many features that aid that endeavor, such as the barrel nut system. Usually when we think “precision gas gun,” a large-frame AR-10 or similar comes to mind, but there’s a history of precision .223 outside of zapping groundhogs and varmints. For 14 years, the Marine Corps used the SAM-R (Semi-Automatic Designated Marksman Rifle), an AR accurized in Quantico, in limited roles as a precision reconnaissance rifle. Often used by the spotter in a sniper team, the SAM-R was officially replaced by the M27 IAR in the mid 2010s.

This rifle is similar in terms of overall goals, but with a chassis system that even further free-floats the system. We saw this before from Drake Associates and their Athena system back in 2020, so we asked Springfield Armory about it. We’re told the SAINT Edge ATC was developed in concert with Drake Associates rather than simply relabeled.

The lower receiver Is the star of the show and where much of the precision “work” takes place. Instead of a separate handguard that attaches to the barrel nut, the Springfield Armory Saint Edge ATC integrates a handguard directly into the 6061-T6 aluminum lower. Everything north of the front takedown pin of the ATC essentially floats in space, including the barrel nut itself.

The upper handguard slides onto the lower and never touches the barrel or any part of the upper receiver. It’s secured with a toolless, spring-loaded locking mechanism and can be further anchored via the Accu-Tite system (Springfield Armory includes a longhandled hex wrench with the ATC for the express purpose of adjusting the Accu-Tite Plus screws).

The barrel on the ATC Is an 18-inch, 1/7 twist, melonite Ballistic Advantage barrel with a generous pro le, .223 Wylde chamber, and a mid-length gas system. The .223 Wylde chamber allows for both 5.56mm and .223 rounds to safely be used and has been common in precision platforms for decades.

Topping the barrel is a two-chamber muzzle brake, which is loud to the shooters by your side but quite effective at keeping your reticle settled. The entire assembly is threaded 1/2×28 so you can hang whatever you want from the end.

Springfield Armory took the additional step of securing the low-profile gas block with a cross pin rather than solely relying on a set screw. If you’re planning on installing an adjustable gas block, you’ll want one that can be tuned from the front rather than the side because the handguard mostly covers it.

Two models of the Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC are currently available. The standard is black and features a B5 SOPMOD stock and Springfield match trigger. The Elite (seen here) features a Coyote Brown finish, B5 Precision stock, and two-stage LaRue MBT-2S straight bow trigger. Both models have the same steep-angled B5 Type 23 pistol grip.

The peanut butter-brown colorway is beautiful, deep, and uniform and perfectly matches the B5 furniture (take notes, FN).

The internals are all standard fare AR-15, though the front takedown is turned 90 degrees to accommodate the proprietary lower. The bolt carrier is M-16 weight for reliability, and the bolt is magnetic particle inspected. The charging handle is standard USGI and, like many AR-15s, probably one of the first things many will swap out.

The upper handguard has a now-traditional continuous Picatinny top rail and four M-LOK slots positioned at the front and rear at the 11- and 1-o’clock positions. The bottom of the handguard left us scratching our heads a bit. The first half features a single, lonely M-LOK slot with smooth metal just beyond, then it morphs into a 12-slot Picatinny rail. For a precision rifle produced in 2022, we’d expect M-LOK or a full-length Arca Swiss rail in its stead or, better yet, an Arca-Swiss with integral M-LOK slots.

The Saint Edge ATC has four unlimited rotation QD attachments (one up front on the bottom of the handguard, two on the lower rear of the handguard, and one on the endplate) and two limited-rotation QD cups on the stock for a total of six. Of course, you can use any of the available M-LOK or Picatinny for additional attachment points.

TAKEDOWN & DETAILS

Taking down the Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC is a little different from your normal AR-15. Firstly, you’ll have to loosen some screws. Any play whatsoever between receivers can be customized with Springfield’s AccuTite Plus tensioning system, and you can virtually cement the upper and lower together.

Slide off the top of the handguard before removing the upper receiver. Back out a tensioning screw just behind the bottom Picatinny rail, then pull the round, captive handguard takedown latch. This will never happen accidentally.

You can actually shoot the ATC sans the upper handguard, though it looks strange and leaves nothing to protect the gas tube.

OUTFITTING

When we talk about piecing together a precision system, good glass is the first thing that comes to mind. While you may typically see something like a 6-24x or 3-18x on a chassis gun, we’re still talking about 5.56mm here. The new EOTech Vudu 1-10x FFP LPVO in an ADM mount gives us enough magnification to engage targets out to 1,000 yards, even if the projectiles themselves largely run out of ass at that range.

For a bipod, we chose the 100-percent billet Accu-Tac BR-4 G2. This quick-connect bipod has legs that can be individually articulated, and each has five height options with a spring-loaded return. The BR-4 G2 also has swappable feet and can be adjusted for cant.

We also wanted the option of connecting the SAINT Edge ATC directly to a tripod or monopod with an Arca-Swiss rail. Sunwayfoto is largely known for their ballheads and plates for still cameras, but like so many “photography accessory” companies these days, they also make some precision rifle parts. We mounted the Sunwayfoto NP-60 Picatinny-to-Arca adapter behind the bipod for this purpose. The NP-60 also has a QD sling swivel socket, in case you were searching for a seventh sling attachment point.

ON THE RANGE WITH THE EDGE ATC

The handguard of the Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC is reminiscent of a PSG-1 sniper rifle, with a wide, flat base that readily settles itself into shooting bags. The pronounced nose in front of the magwell was handy for pressing against supports. Since the entire system is free-floating, there’s no worries about any barrel deflection when on or around obstacles. At around 10 pounds naked and more than 3 feet of length, you’re not likely to be shooting a carbine course with it, but it doesn’t weigh much more than an M16A4.

If you’re going through all the trouble of having a special proprietary lower receiver, it’d also make sense to include some advanced controls like an ambidextrous short-throw selector, magazine release, and bolt lock/release. Sure, these can be answered by the aftermarket, but we’d like to have them there from the start.

On our example, the MBT-2S-SB trigger is clean with a first stage just below 2.5 pounds and a 2-pound second stage with a positive reset. This trigger may have been designed for precision, but you can also go fast if need be. Like the SAM-R, this is a precision rifle that can be used for fighting.

We shot five 5-shot groups with Federal Premium Gold Medal Match topped with 77-grain SMK projectiles (this rifle isn’t made for Wolf). Our best group was 0.58 MOA, but the average group size hovered right around 0.8 MOA; this rifle is more capable and consistent than we are.

Springfield Armory guarantees sub-MOA accuracy with precision ammunition; while that claim isn’t new in the world of precision AR-15s, if you can’t do that with this rifle you should switch to shotguns or hand grenades.

LOOSE ROUNDS

Despite some niggling complaints about Picatinny rails and standard AR controls, the Springfield Armory SAINT Edge ATC brings an awful lot of good to the table. While some may not see the point of this rifle chambered in 5.56mm, a cartridge not renowned for long-range precision, there are other calibers more suited to distance that’ll fit in a small-frame AR action. The first one many think of is Federal’s .224 Valkyrie, which seems to have been smothered in the crib (see RECOIL Issue 39), but there’s also 6 ARC and others on the horizon.

Since you can use any barrel that fits an AR-15 action in this system, you can choose your own adventure if you want. Our minds are reeling at the thought of all the awesome weirdness we’ll be able to put together.

This isn’t a fire-sale-and-run to your local gun shop rifle, but for those looking for a small-frame precision gas gun who appreciate pushing limits, this one is for you.

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