By Janne Pohjoispää
Photos by Juha Rintala
The arena of modern sniper rifles is one of hardest playgrounds in the small arms industry. While even small manufacturers have a potential to succeed in military and law enforcement sales because of the small number of rifles usually delivered, the competition is fierce because virtually all rifle manufacturers have their own version of a so-called precision rifle. Military markets outside United States have been dominated by the British company, Accuracy International.
Although the Steyr SSG has been around more than 25 years, and the Accuracy International Arctic Warfare and Sako TRG are among the most modern sniper rifles currently available, a general European precision rifle concept needs some modernization. The worst stereotype is still an ISU-approved target rifle fitted with an optical sight. The SIG-Sauer SSG 3000 will certainly not meet this stereotype, but it is a good example of a well-built European precision rifle.
Another joint venture of two old-line European manufacturers, Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG) of Switzerland and Sauer & Sohn of Germany, the SSG 3000 is marketed with SIG’s reputation of military small arms, but not manufactured in the SIG facility in Neuhausen, Switzerland. Like most other European nations, the Swiss government very strictly controls military firearm exports. Therefore, SIG has previously avoided Swiss export rules by producing guns in neighboring countries. For example, in the early 1960s Beretta manufactured the SIG 510 caliber 7.62x51mm battle rifles for Chile and in the 1970’s Manurhin manufactured under license noticeable quantities of the SIG SG540 series assault rifles for African and South American customers. However, it’s very unlikely that Germany and its restrictive export regulations would in the future provide much assistance in endeavors of this type.
But, the SIG-Sauer SSG 3000 rifle is manufactured in Sauer’s current plant in Eckernferde, Germany. Because the SSG 3000 is based on a Sauer-designed rifle, Sauer’s plant is the most logical place to produce it. Sauer also manufactures all other military small arms marketed under SIG-Sauer brand name including the P220 and the P230 series handguns, and sniper rifles, while SIG in Neuhausen manufactures assault rifles and the aging P210 pistol series.
The SIG-Sauer SSG 3000 (SSG stands for scharfschutzen gewehr or sharpshooter’s rifle) is based on the Sauer 200 bolt-action hunting rifle introduced more than ten years ago. Regardless of a very traditional external appearance, the Sauer 200 (the current model’s name is the Sauer 202) is a modern design including an outstanding feature of the rapid interchangeable barrels, which allows quick caliber conversions with pre-headspaced barrel-action combinations. First and foremost, the Sauer 200/202 is a hunting rifle, but its action is used with certain precision rifles including the 200 STR, 205 and SSG 3000. The 6.5x55mm caliber Sauer 200 STR (Scandinavian Target Rifle) was developed upon request of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish military reservist organizations for field rifle competitions, and the model 205 is an orthodox target arm primarily aimed at Swiss civilian markets. Unlike the 200 STR or 205, the SSG 3000 is not a target rifle, but a pure sniping arm. It was introduced in 1992 as a potential, and more competitively priced, successor to another SIG and Sauer joint venture, the SSG 2000 sniping rifle based on the Sauer 90 action.
The SSG 3000 is available on a special order basis, and it has been purchased by at least the military/law enforcement forces of Argentina, Czech Republic and Hungary.
The SSG 3000 receiver is machined from an investment cast steel blank. It is similar to the Sauer 200, but has thicker walls and smaller openings (ejection port and magazine-well) and thus is designed to be more rigid. The receiver has an integral magazine-well, which is indeed an expensive detail, but makes the receiver a bit more rigid than a stamped steel magazine-well bolted underneath the receiver. The distinctive feature of the easily interchangeable barrels has been retained in the SSG 3000, although the barrel-change feature doesn’t provide great benefits for SSG 3000 operators except that it allows use of the .22-rimfire conversion kit reportedly developed at the request of a South American customer. The receiver has no mounting thread for a barrel, but the barrel is mated onto the receiver by means of a tangential crimp joint tightened with three cap screws, and the barrel is kept in the right position by an indexing stud. The bolt does not lock up on receiver, but on the barrel extension, which is permanently mounted over the breech.
Because the bolt does not engage the receiver, the receiver doesn’t need to withstand much firing stress. Hypothetically, the receiver could even be molded from suitable polymer material. Although plastics were likely not used, a limited number of the Sauer 200 receivers were manufactured from an aluminum alloy. Although the receiver is made from a cast blank, its fitting and finishing require a lot of precision machining. That is one of the answers to the question: “Why does it costs so much?”
The bolt body including an integral handle is made from single forged steel blank. The SSG 3000 bolt design differs from a classic two-lug Mauser concept. The bolt is of the fat type, i.e., the body has the same diameter as the locking lugs. Six locking lugs are placed at the bolt’s head symmetrically, in three rows similar to the Weatherby Mark V, except the Weatherby bolt has nine lugs. The bolt lift is 60 degrees. The bolt handle is turned slightly backwards and fitted with a black plastic knob. If the case breaks or primer blows, the multi-lug action is tight and there are two gas ports milled through barrel extension on the top of receiver to guide gas off from shooters face.
Due to the closed bolt face design, the extractor is a spring-loaded single claw. The ejector is a spring-loaded plunger, which operation is not dependent on the bolt’s opening speed. The bolt takedown for cleaning is a simple task, if a proper takedown tool (supplied with the rifle) is used.
The heavy-contour barrel has a length of 23.6 inches (600 mm), which does not include the flash hider/muzzle brake combination mounted on the muzzle by threads. The barrel length is tailored to meet requirements of German Firearms Act, which demands that the LONGEST part of a rapid takedown rifle should not be shorter than 23.6 inches (600 mm). The bore has four grooves with a right hand twist of one turn in 12 inches (305 mm). This type of rifling is best suited for firing 168-grain (10.9 grams) and lighter bullets.
The flash hider/muzzle brake combination serves primarily as a flash hider, but ports directed upward will somehow tame the muzzle climb, too. The flash hider can be replaced with a sound suppressor if required.
The trigger mechanism is housed in an aluminum alloy module frame, which also includes the trigger guard. The trigger housing is mounted underneath the receiver, and can be separated by removing two cross pins. The SSG 3000 standard issue trigger is of the military two-stage type, and is fully adjustable, including pull-weight, pull-length and trigger placement adjustments. Pull weight is adjustable from 13 N (2.93 pounds) to 17 N (3.81 pounds). A single stage trigger is available upon request.
The vertical-moving safety catch is located next to the bolt handle. While set to “ON”, the safety catch is pushed down. The other end of safety catch will drop to the front of the trigger to show when the safety is set to “ON.” The safety can be easily set to “OFF” by lifting the catch upward with the index finger. A similar safety catch is also used with the Sauer 200/202 rifles. This is, in my opinion, one of the best patterns ever issued for small arms.
Like most other current sniping arms, the SSG has a detachable box-type magazine. The SSG 3000 magazine is certainly one of the best bolt-action feeding devices around. The single-column magazine takes five rounds, and the feeding reliability is top class. It will feed cartridges with a wide variety of bullet shapes, and even empty cases. No capacities other than five rounds are available, but the SSG 3000 is normally supplied with two extra magazines. The magazine-catch is a press-type button, placed at front of the magazine-well.
Almost without exception, modern sniping rifles have stocks made from composites, and more frequently fitted with a built-in bedding block machined from solid aluminum. Such configurations are used with the Sako TRG and Accuracy International and H-S Precision rifles. Sauer has chosen a far more traditional approach for the SSG 3000’s stock. While the black paint may give a false image of plastic, the SSG 3000’s heavy target type stock is made from laminated Beachwood and is a very conventional design. (Note: this has been changed on the most recent variant.)
The receiver is bolted to the stock with two screws at each end. The fittings are made very carefully, and there is no trace of any bedding. The barrel is free floating, and its cooling is enhanced with large holes milled beneath the barrel channel.
Human engineering qualities of the SSG 3000 stock are excellent. It is fully adjustable, but in my opinion, it is somewhat heavy and bulky to be carried in field. With a stock made from composite material, the system could be even 2 pounds (0.9 kg) lighter, and that will make the SSG 3000 far more acceptable for military purposes. The buttstock is adjustable for both pull-length and comb height. In addition to this, the plastic cheek piece is vertically adjustable for comb height, and the butt-stock pull-length is adjustable with four removable spacers. The buttplate is also adjustable for angle and location by moving it along the arc-shaped rail. The vertical pistol grip has a palm swell. The pistol grip area is covered with texture-type checkering. All this is for right-handed shooters only.
The forearm has an Anschutz-type accessory rail to accept sling swivels and hand stop/sling swivel unit with a spigot for mounting the Parker-Hale bipod and shooting/carry sling. The excellent quick-detachable sling swivels have push-button releases. There are two sling swivel mounting points on the forearm and one beneath the buttstock. The SSG 3000 comes with an Uncle Mike’s black nylon shooting sling, which turns to a carry sling if needed.
The bipod issued with the SSG 3000 is manufactured by Parker-Hale, England. The SSG 3000 bipod is slightly different from Parker-Hale’s standard issue model. It has round rubber soled paws pivoted on bipod legs. This is apparently some kind of “urban model” intended for shooting over hard surfaces. The Parker-Hale bipod is superb, but this particular model unfortunately has a built-in self-destruction mechanism: One half of bipod hinge is made from aluminum while another part is of steel.
The color of the SSG 3000 rifle is all black. The stock is painted black and most steel surfaces have a matte manganese-phosphate (Parkerized) finish. The few aluminum components used are anodized black.
The SIG-Sauer SSG3000 comes with a hard transport case, the Hensoldt variable-power 1.5-6X42mm scope, two extra magazines, a Parker-Hale bipod, all tools required for disassembly and cleaning, including the best take-down cleaning rod I have ever seen, and even a small torque wrench intended for tightening stock bolts in right momentum.
The ZF 1.5-6X42mm riflescope issued with the SSG 3000 is manufactured by Hensoldt Optische Werke AG in Wetzlar, Germany. For those who have not heard about them, Hensoldt is a German military optics manufacturer, and a member of Zeiss optical group. Hensoldt scopes were issued with FN and Heckler & Koch small arms. Quality is comparable with other military optics manufactured in Germany and Austria.
The Hensoldt 1.5-6X42mm scope has a single-piece body turned from aluminum alloy. Tube diameter is 30mm, which is becoming a more popular feature with modern military sniper optics. This scope accepts no rings, but has an integral rail mounted beneath the tube. The rail is similar to those used with current Zeiss scopes. The scope mount is a simple aluminum bar bolted on the rail beneath scope, and clamped on a dovetail at the top receiver. The specimen provided for SAR’s test and evaluation had the mounting bar additionally glued on the tube. On top of the receiver is an integral 0.43-inch (11 mm) straight dovetail rail for mounting an optical sighting device. Other sighting devices will require a Mil-Std-1913 or NATO STANAG rail adapter.
The reticle is similar to the duplex-type crosshair, but the Hensoldt reticle is a slightly eccentric with skeletonized outer portions. The lower vertical post has two additional aiming points similar to the Russian PSO-1 sight. Typical to most other European-made variable scopes, the size of the reticle changes when magnification is changed.
Elevation and windage adjustments have 0.34 MOA clicks. The elevation adjustment has range scale calibrated for an unknown 7.62x51mm NATO caliber load to serve as the bullet drop compensator (BDC). The Range scale starts from 22 yards (20 meters) and goes up to 711 yards (650 meters). When set for 650 meters, the lower aiming points on reticle can be used for 750- meter and 850-meter ranges. For fine adjusting, there are adjustment screws in the center of both windage and elevation knobs.
Mechanical construction and optics of the Hensoldt scope are of top quality. Like many other Hensoldt scopes, there is a soft rubber protective cap for the objective, but no lens cover for the ocular. Flip up lens covers for both ends won’t be too expensive.
The SSG 3000 was fired at a range of 164 yards (150 meters) from a sandbag rest using the Hensoldt scope issued with rifle. Velocities were measured using the Chrony F-1 chronograph. Shots were fired a distance of 3.27 feet (1 meter) from the start screen.
Two types of Lapua 7.62x51mm NATO caliber match-grade ammunition were employed for accuracy testing. The first type was fitted with a 167-grain Scenar HPBT bullet produced superb accuracy with muzzle velocity of 2,694 fps (821 mps). The best five shot group fired with Lapua 168-grain Scenar was 0.48 MOA.
Lapua ammo fitted with heavier, 185-grain Scenar bullet produced best groups of 0.6 MOA with velocity of 2,434 fps (742 mps). The SSG 3000’s accuracy potential is more than satisfactory. With a bench rest scope with 20X magnification and thinner reticle, the SSG 3000 would have shot even tighter groups. However, high magnification scopes have little value outside of a shooting range. Much more valuable was a good picture of the capabilities of this combination. When a rifle is capable of firing sub-half MOA groupings, the role of the shooter becomes much more important. Not all people are capable of firing half-MOA groups, not even if their rifles are.
As I expected, the lighter, 167-grain Scenar produced better accuracy than its 185-grain counterpart. Generally speaking, the 150-grain and 167-grain bullets are the best choice for .308 Winchester caliber rifles with 1:12-inch rifling. The heaviest match-grade bullets available in this caliber, including the 220-grain and 240-grain types are best suited for the .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Wby Magnum cartridges which can develop more spin for stabilizing the bullet than the .308 Winchester. I don’t say that the heaviest bullets available should be avoided in the .308 Winchester caliber, but the best accuracy can usually be achieved with lighter bullets.
The SIG-Sauer 3000 is a fine example of European craftsmanship in firearms manufacturing. There is no place for criticism on areas of accuracy or mechanical reliability. However, with a lighter stock, and keeping the requirements of better maneuverability in mind would turn the SSG 3000 into a serious competitor for world top class sniper rifles.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N10 (July 2003)|