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Honest Review: Springfield Armory SA-16 Rifle



We first got a preview of Springfield Armory’s SA-16 back in January at the SHOT Show, which only industry professionals (and UnPewFessionals) can attend. The prototype was hidden in plain sight hanging on the wall among other current SAINT variants. A small placard with the name SA-16 was the only information available.

I had been hoping my favorite firearms company would finally get into the retro rifle market. It only makes sense since Springfield essentially makes a retro 1911—so why not make a rifle? Retro guns are sort of a weird category in the industry, since most people basically buy them for nostalgia or to complete a collection. This brings us to Springfield’s first release in their retro series rifles, the SA-16A2.

The M16A2 was the rifle that bridged the gap between the original M-16s and what was learned in Vietnam, all the way through what I will call the Picatinny era. The A2 was the last service rifle that was issued and used as-is. The M-16A2 and its predecessors basically had no accessory packages to customize the rifles. Military doctrine was basically everyone was “dress right dress,” meaning everyone looked exactly the same, so “customization” was pretty rare. The only mounting method was a hole in the carrying handle, upon which an optic or early night vision device could be attached. Beyond that you used duct tape to strap on flashlights and such.

Even on into the 2000s, Global War on Terror soldiers would still utilize a carry-handle-mounted cantilever mount that added a Picatinny rail above the hand guard for an optic. It was not until the M16-A4 and the advent of Picatinny rails that modularity in accessories came into true form.

The M16A2 is an improved version of the original M16 rifle developed by Eugene Stoner in the 1950s. The M16A2 was introduced in the 1980s as a response to feedback from soldiers and combat experience. It was designed to address some of the shortcomings of the M16A1, such as reliability issues and lack of long-range accuracy.

The M16A2 featured several upgrades. These included a heavier barrel with a faster twist rate for improved accuracy, a new adjustable rear sight for better aiming at longer ranges, a redesigned handguard for improved grip and durability, a fixed stock with a longer length of pull for better stability, and a new fire control group that replaced full-auto with a 3-round burst mode to conserve ammunition. All this made the M16A2 more reliable, accurate, and controllable in combat situations, and it became the standard issue rifle for the U.S. military for many years.

Springfield Armory says that the SA-16 is a “faithful recreation of the M-16A2, one of the most capable and iconic rifles in history. Built to exacting standards, the SA-16A2 offers shooters the opportunity to own a piece of history while enjoying the performance and reliability of a modern firearm.”

The DNA of the M-16A2 

Other than the three-round burst capability of the original M-16A2—this is a semiautomatic-only, civilian-legal firearm—Springfield Armory seems to have done a good job in paying homage to the real deal. For a certain generation picking up an SA-16 will instantly transport them back to their younger more invincible days. From outward appearances all the way down to the safety selector’s safe, semi and (non functional) burst engravings the SA-16A2 looks just like the M-16A2 that many of us were issued.

Starting with the A2 upper, the carry handle is integral with the upper, and has the A2 style rear sight assembly. The Marine Corps was in hog heaven allowing Marines the ability to shoot more accurately at longer distances. The funny thing is that the Army was originally against such a complex sight, on the premise that soldiers could not be trained how to use such a complex sight. Even though it is standard these days, the A2 was also the first M16 to feature the wedge spent brass deflector, which was a godsend for our southpaw shooting brethren.

The bolt carrier group is a full-auto M16 pattern carrier group. Springfield’s bolt carrier group features all of the checkmarks found in quality mil-spec style bolts and carriers. Made from Carpenter 158 steel, with properly staked gas keys, the foundation is set up for performance. Each bolt is then high-pressure-tested and magnetic particle inspected (HPT/MPI) for flaws, meaning that the SA-16 is set up for a steady diet of full power 5.56 x 45mm ammo. To finish it off, the carrier is internally chromed per mil-spec standards and then Melonite treated for rust resistance and ease of cleaning.

The SA-16A2 has the proper A2 front sight tower, which includes a bayonet lug (sorry California, we know you can’t have all those drive-by bayonettings) to attach a NATO-compatible bayonet. The flash hider is the correct style “half birdcage” A2 version with no slots facing the bottom. (Earlier “full birdcage” flash hiders had slots also at the bottom that would kick dirt up when shooting prone.) The pistol grip has the finger grove that was meant to improve the handling of the M16-A2.

The now classic round handguard features an integral aluminum heat shield that covers a correct rifle-length gas system. The chrome-lined barrel is 20” with a 1:7” twist. (Interesting to note Springfield went with the traditional mil-spec chrome lining instead the full melonite treatment of all the other SAINT rifles in the lineup, instead staying true to the original.) Keeping with the theme of originality, Springfield ships the SA-16A2 with 30-round aluminum magazines. (Remember … P-mags were only a dream back in the A2 era!)


Springfield is building a modern rifle with a retro look. Think of the SA-16A2 like a classic muscle car that has an LS engine under the hood, maybe some air-conditioning. Springfield did do a couple of hidden upgrades, that in my UnPewFessional opinion really increase functionality and accuracy potential. The upper is specifically cut with M4 style feed ramps along with the barrel extension. M4 feed ramps have in the long run proven to be more reliable when it comes to feeding modern ammunition, especially soft-tipped bullets.

The second improvement is the use of the Accu-Tite tension system in the lower. This allows you to adjust the tension screw to eliminate the play between the upper and lower receivers. People used to pay extra bucks for perfectly matched uppers and lowers to wring out extra accuracy, and now you can do it with a tension screw.

Springfield Armory is open about the fact that the SA-16A2 rifle embodies the “dedication to blending tradition and innovation for both seasoned marksmen and collectors.” Remember, most civilians will never have even seen or held a real M-16A2. The SA-16A2 is about the closest we can get to a government-issued rifle in the civilian world. The purpose of a retro gun is to take you back and and allow you to have a functioning firearm that will resonate with those that are military history enthusiasts.

The M16-A2 has historical significance and it is sad to say that history is often lost in the pages of time. Hopefully the first in a line of retro series firearms for Springfield Armory,  the SA-16A2 is the literal embodiment of their tag line “defend your legacy” by the way of allowing new generations to experience a living piece of history in the retro series. MSRP $1,249;

—James the “XDMAN” Mr. UnPewFessional Himself!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Michael Paxton

    May 13, 2024 at 2:32 pm

    When you say you were “hoping [your] favorite firearms company would finally get into the retro rifle market”, did you forget about the M1A Standard Issue ( The SA-16 actually is Springfield’s second entry into the “retro rifle market”.

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