HARDWARE Kel-Tec SU16B Carbine

February 9, 2018 2:58 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Product Testing Articles
by the Staff of Manhattan Shooting Excursions

Originally Published in The Bullet, The Journal of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association

After witnessing the chaos of post Katrina New Orleans, a friend living in a large metropolis with an “assault rifle ban” asked me what long arms I would recommend for “running the gauntlet to escape the City” if a Katrina-like catastrophe occurred. Since car transportation is not possible in his scenario, discreet portability is essential and anything “tactical” is unlawful, the Kel-Tec SU16B made my list to meet his operational requirements.

Kel-Tec started manufacturing “Grendl” handguns in Cocoa, FL in the 1990s. Now, the company makes 9MM, 40 S & W and .223 Rem. carbines. All Kel-Tec firearms are similarly made and styled using plastic for stocks, receivers, triggers/safeties, and steel for barrels, bolts, gas tubes and searing mechanisms. The result is a light weight and inexpensively produced firearm.

Description & General Impression
The SU16B is a gas piston operated, locked breach semiautomatic that feeds from a detachable box magazine. Charging is with a right side reciprocating handle. The molded glass reinforced Zytel receiver and stock is constructed using two pieces screwed together on the longitudinal axis. The barrel, gas cylinder assembly, bolt and hammer/sear are blued steel, the sights aluminum and other parts are plastic. The barrel is mounted into the receiver using a molded-in aluminum block.

What distinguishes all Kel-Tec carbines is their ability to fold nearly in half using hinged receivers. Since Springfield Armory ceased producing its survival shotgun/rifle, Kel-Tecs are the only production guns that fold. The SU16B folds by simply removing a single pin in the grip and pivoting the stock group forward until it locks onto the barrel. Folded, the rifle is 24.9″ long, 7.5″ wide.

The SU16B has several other valuable features: compartments in the rear stock that hold two supplied 10 round magazines, a Picatinny style receiver rail, handguards that fold down for use as a bipod and most of all, compatibility with AR-15 magazines. Optional accessories including a folding stock and forward hand guards with Picatinny rail to mount a forward grip and other accessories.

The plastic parts were well molded and fitted except for the trigger guard which showed signs of poor finishing on its underside where the sprue was removed. The hand guards fit very securely around the barrel, the folding hinge was tight and metal parts fit properly. The manual was well written except when discussing disassembly/reassembly. Photos were not labeled to correspond with the text nor did it have arrows to highlight key parts that are the focus of the text.

Ergonomics & Function
The SU16B is light but handles recoil well. The optional extended butt plate would be very useful to make the rear stock (with only 13.5″ length of pull) more comfortable. The rifle does not have a raised cheek rest, but had a fairly high comb that aligned one’s eye higher than the supplied sights requiring you to crane your head down, or equip the rifle with a scope.

The heavy 7.2 lb trigger had some creep and over travel that made accurate shooting– particularly off-hand– a challenge. A pistol grip stock would have improved this. The safety is a reversible cross bolt type behind the trigger and acted positively. We found the seemingly fragile bipod usable, but tended to collapse forward after firing successive rounds because it lacks a lock. We recommend a firing technique where the shooter grasps the front left leg if the bipod is used.

Durability is an important issue for any hiking/survival gun, but unfortunately one we could not test without likely damaging our gun. However, we are skeptical as to how the forend and partially unprotected gas piston tube would hold up if subjected to likely encounters in the field (e.g. impact from dropping.)

The bolt is like the AR-15s and the action locks open after the last round is fired and the rifle has an ambidextrous bolt release button positioned just behind the magazine well. The magazine release button is positioned as on the AR-15 and the two supplied 10 round magazines do not drop free.

The elevation adjustable front sight is similar to the AR-15 while the rear sight is a very simple windage adjustable aperture. Changing it was imprecise and required much trial and error when attempting to zero the rifle.

Disassembly for cleaning is accomplished without tools, but reading the manual first is essential to stripping this unique rifle.

The SU16B was functionally accurate for a hiking/survival rifle and showed a distinct preference for Federal American Eagle 55 grain FMJ. Testing was done off sandbags with a scope at 50 yards. Five, 5-shot groups of each type were tested. Average/smallest/largest group sizes were:

Winchester 55 grain FMJ: 1.55″/ 1.375″/ 1.875″
Federal 55 grain FMJ: 1.375″/ .875″/ 1.313″
Brown Bear 62 grain HP: 2.11″/ 1.75″/ 3.0″

Five times (6.6%) during accuracy testing the SU16B malfunctioned with the bolt staying rearward with ammunition still in the magazine. We suspect the supplied magazines may be at fault.

The SU16B fits well into the hiking/survival gun niche now populated with .22LR or 9mm arms. (e.g. Henry survival rifle ) This niche is defined by a need for low cost, light weight, compactness, weather resistance, portability, reliability, having a self-contained ammo carrier, and durability. From these standpoints, the SU16B is a “best in class” rifle since it uses a high performance cartridge and partially or fully meets all but possibly the last operational requirement.

Suggested Feature Improvements

  • Optional pistol grip stock
  • Foam inserts or a case that would make the gun float
  • Inserts in stock to hold more ammunition
  • Hide-away for sight adjustment tool
  • Weather resistant finish (e.g. dull chrome) for metal parts

Technical Specifications
Action: Semi-automatic, gas operated, locked breach
Caliber: .223 Remington
Capacity: 10 rounds in each of two supplied magazines, accepts AR-15 magazines
Barrel Length: 16″, 1/9 twist
Construction: Steel button rifled barrel, gas tube, hammer/sear and bolt assembly, two piece Zytel stock, trigger, aluminum sights
Length: 35.9″ open, 24.9″ folded
Weight: 4.5lbs. unloaded
Length of Pull: 13.5″
Trigger Pull: 7.2 lbs.
Accessories: scope mount, extended butt plate, case, forend and folding stock configurations, sling
Warranty: Lifetime
MSRP: $690

Kel-Tec CNC
1475 Cox Road
Cocoa, FL 32926

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