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SIG TREAD 716i Review: You Gotta Have Faith

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The Line of Control is the military regulated border between India and Pakistan. It’s been described as one of the most dangerous places on earth. The LOC isn’t a legally recognized international border, but it’s an effective demarcation between the two countries. Think of the Berlin Wall but add terrorists, the threat of nuclear weapons, elevation as high as 18,000 feet, and a fracture point between two religions. What's more, it served as the ideal launch point for the SIG TREAD 716i?

India constructed a 340-mile barrier along the 460-mile LOC. Wire, walls, motion sensors, and land mines are all used in an attempt to make India great again. It seems everywhere else in the world that variations of walls and barriers are used to keep borders safe without protest. We’re jealous, but we’ll leave that for next year and keep the focus on India.

Indian soldiers frequently put their lives on the line patrolling the LOC. Both sides have become accustomed to strikes and retaliations in a cat-and-mouse-like atmosphere. It’s hard to hear the difference between an animal foraging for its next meal or an ambush waiting around the corner. Definitely a tense place to work.

Losing Faith

Worry is a part of the daily routine on the LOC, but doubting the functionality of your rifle shouldn’t be on that list. Indian soldiers have found themselves in this position. Since its adoption into service in 1998, the Indian Small Arms System or INSAS rifle has been somewhat of a downward dog.

The INSAS was developed in-house by borrowing features from successful rifles of the time. HK, Galil, Fal, and Steyr all have design cues that can be found in the indigenous rifle. It basically looks like someone ordered a Galil from, and this is what showed up. The INSAS saw its first live action during the Kargil War of 1999. What was supposed to be its time to shine, turned into the moment troops lost confidence in the rifle. No one can really count the casualties caused from malfunctioning equipment, but one is too many.

sig tread 716i disassembled

The ability to control the rate of fire by switching from semi to full auto was intermittent. The plastic magazines would crack in the harsh conditions of the region. Soldiers reported splashing oil in the eyes when firing. Inferior metallurgy caused other problems. Most of these issues have been addressed, but faith in a weapon cannot be retrofitted. Any of these issues would have been sufficient for re-engineering or even starting from scratch with another platform, but Indian bureaucracy, to put it nicely, is slow. There’s an Indian saying that sums it up, “The trouble with being punctual is there is no one there to appreciate it.”

It has been 20 years since the Kargil conflict, and the Indian government has finally gotten around to answering the customer complaints of the INSAS rifle.

It seems that someone high up in the Indian military finally put their foot down and decided to rectify the problem of crap equipment. Their entire military catalog is getting renewed, not just the rifles. While the media has been focused on big-ticket items like missiles, tanks, aircraft, submarines, the lowly infantryman has been walking the LOC with inferior gear. 

India has always taken pride in building things in-house, so they struck a deal with Kalashnikov of Russia. The Indian Ordnance Factory Board and Kalashnikov will produce the AK-203, a modernized version of the AK-47. The only problem is the creation of this joint venture is on Indian time and could take a few years to get rolling.

The frontline soldiers cannot wait for the factories to ramp up, so the defense ministry of India implemented a fast-track procurement process. On paper the fast-track should’ve taken six months, but in practice it’s been almost two years since the process began. Like many major government contracts there’s a bidding phase. Then, testing and negotiations. Then, the best bid has to be selected. All this while the frontline soldiers on the LOC are still waiting.

72,400 was the magic number of rifles the Indian military required for the fast-track contract. This is far from enough to supply the second biggest military in the world, but it’s not meant to supply everyone — just those soldiers that require a decent tool to survive. The idea is to issue the bulk of the Indian military the AK-203 and source a workable rifle for those frontline soldiers who don’t have the luxury of time. We can only imagine the logistical nightmare created from supplying 1.4-million active duty and an additional 1.1-million reserve soldiers.

The Hero

SIG Sauer to the rescue. Over the last few years, SIG has been one of the brightest stars of the firearms industry. Developing weapons for the U.S. military, like the M17 pistol and the monstrous MG-338, helped solidify their MVP status.

SIG threw their hat in the ring for the Indian military contract, and they won. The Indian army wanted a rifle in a larger caliber than their current 5.56mm INSAS, so they decided on 7.62x51mm.

The Indian military had a few requirements for their new rifle: a more powerful caliber, abundance of rails, adjustability, and ease of operation, among other things. That pretty much sums up the piston-driven SIG 716 Gen II. The only downside to putting that model forward was that the contract had cost constraints. While it’s toward the top of the heap for quality, the SIG 716 isn’t exactly on the lower end of the wallet spectrum.

Starting with the upper and lower receivers from the 716, SIG built a stand-alone model. The gas piston-operating system was nixed for a simpler direct impingement system. The handguard has enough rail estate to add scopes, lights, lasers, bipods, and cable TV for all those Bollywood movies. Adjustable buttstocks have been a typical addition to battle rifles since the Vietnam War, but remember we’re talking Indian time here. Arguably, there’s no more intuitively designed rifle than the AR. With the addition of ambidextrous controls, the gun can be manipulated without removing the firing hand — everything the Indian infantryman needs and more.

… Back in the USA

SIG developed the TREAD series a few years ago to provide an easily modified and cost-effective solution without skimping on quality. The rifle package that was created for the Indian contract fit the TREAD moniker so well that SIG decided it was a perfect addition to its commercial lineup. The SIG TREAD 716i is basically a 716 with bare essentials.

The SIG TREAD 716i features a 16-inch, carbon steel barrel with a 1/10 twist, which does a better job at stabilizing heavier bullets. In a departure from most 16-inch tubes, the 716i features a rifle-length gas system, which allows for a softer recoil impulse to help cushion the blow of the .308 round. The downside is the system is non-adjustable — unlike the piston-driven 716.

The free-floating handguard has a solid feel with plenty of M-LOK slots, for an infinite amount of accessory attachments. The commercial TREAD version has Picatinny rails on the 12 o’clock position only, while the Indian version adds a full rail at the 6 o’clock as well.

sig tread 716i

The bolt carrier has tasteful lightening cuts in all the right places. It’s not a Swiss cheese version that’ll have you worrying about broken parts, and the bolt itself is standard .308, albeit with dual ejectors. There’s a bit of controversy with having two ejectors. Some say it’s not needed while others revert to the “one is none” argument; either way we feel more is better. We didn’t have a single failure to eject so it must be just the right amount.

The safety and magazine release feature ambidextrous controls. The bolt release is bigger than standard, and there are QD mounting holes built into the lower receiver. The buttstock is a Magpul SL-K. The magazines are also supplied by Magpul. We swapped out the as-issued flash suppressor for a SIG QD suppressor mount, which also serves as a single chamber brake, in order to see how the gun would handle the added gas pressure and dwell time from a can.

SIG TREAD 716i On the Range

Now to the meat and potatoes — or lamb and dhal. To the range, let’s see how the gun shoots. The gun is pretty much what you’d expect from a .308 — obnoxiously loud and not too subtle on the shoulder. It functioned flawlessly with all the ammo tested. As this is a battle rifle, there’s no need for competition drills, just the ability to kill, kill, kill. And maybe look cool.

The accuracy of the SIG TREAD 716i was better than expected. We fielded four different types of ammo, all of them being on the heavy side. 168- and 175-grain Federal Premium, 175-grain SIG Elite Performance, and some old Peters (a Remington company) 180-grain soft-point hunting ammo were used to poke holes in the paper at 100 yards.

Using five-shot groups, the SIG 175-grain netted the smallest group at 0.810 inch. The Federal 168-grain came in second with just under 0.900 inch. The 175-grain Federal came in at 0.930 inch, and the worst group was still not that bad with the hunting ammo at 1.1 inches. The gun can shoot sub MOA with good ammo, a good trigger finger, and a stable position. Ejection of all empties was around the 3 o’clock position when shooting unsuppressed, but if you want to run this rifle with a can, you’re well advised to budget for an adjustable gas block. Our QRD 338 suppressor made for an over-gassed situation and more than vigorous ejection.

Loose Rounds

The SIG TREAD 716i isn’t a game changer, but it’s a good rifle. If the idea is to get you into a quality AR-10 for not too much money, then this gun does that in spades. The TREAD label adds the ability of personal customization. The feather in the turban is the TREAD 716i is the civilian version of the gun that’s currently protecting 1.3-billion people. If that doesn’t instill faith, we can’t help you.

Photography by Kenda Lenseigne.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in RECOIL Issue 50. Buy it Here


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1 Comment

  • Dave says:

    Pride goeth before the fall…
    Looks like the service rifle and the Arjun traveled the same path. Let’s hope they make a better effort on v2.

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  • Pride goeth before the fall...
    Looks like the service rifle and the Arjun traveled the same path. Let's hope they make a better effort on v2.

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