Shooting the Singapore Technologies SAR-21

We lucked into a chance to disassemble and shoot a pretty rare black rifle recently – an SAR-21 bullpup made by Singapore Technologies (and this is why we take a camera everywhere we go). Singapore is another one of those countries with an impressive arms industry that most folks don’t know about, and the SAR-21 is a pretty impressive product. So, let’s take a look:

Unlike so many new rifles out there, this is not just a remake or variation on the AR15 or AR18. The two-lug bolt and carrier remind us a bit of the FG-42, although the SAR-21 uses an AR-style cam pin instead of the FG-42’s method of holding the firing pin on the oprod. There seems to have been a lot of practical thought put into the design, with a very controllable rate of fire, good all-purpose optic, built-in laser, easy disassembly and easy cleaning access. We have a bunch of very nice photos of the gun courtesy of its owner, and we’ll be posting those along with a more thorough writeup shortly.

Equip a military unit with these and Ultimax LMGs (also made in Singapore), and I don’t think you would have no worries about small arms and could move on to dealing with other issues.


  1. Less than five and half million people, too. I suppose getting overrun and slaughtered by the Japanese might provide defensive incentive.

  2. The major puzzle to me is that these and other weapons created in Singapore Kinetics (SK) are not sold worldwide. Do they not have sufficiet political clout? For example, the mentioned Ultimax – who bought it? There are various hi-tech grenade launchers, machineguns from SK etc, etc.

    • I am far, far away from keeping track of the arms industry but do know the Ultimax was bid or sold as a replacement for the SAW with the U.S.

      • Actually, the Ultimax 100 emerged at the tail end of the SAWS competition when it was just too late to be included as a contender. The U.S. Army had already decided on the FN Minimi (M249) and that was that. History is rife with otherwise outstanding weapons that never saw universal adoption for any one — or more — of a number of reasons, and this particular example is yet another case illustrating how important market timng is within the arms industry ; it is, in fact, as important as the outright functionality, quality and cost-effectiveness of the weapons system it represents. FN is to be commended for not only designing and manufacturing top-notch weapons, but also for having tremendous marketing foresight. As a result, they swept the world small-arms market with the FAL rifle, the MAG58 GPMG and the Minimi.

        The Ultimax 100 LMG is in general service with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), as is the SAR-21 rifle. The former was the brainchild of Scottish expatriate engineer A.C. “Sandy” McCormick, who worked for CIS (Chartered Industries Of Singapore), which subsequently became STK (Singapore Technologies Kinetics), and James Sullivan, of Armalite fame. In the 1980’s, STK produced the SAR-80 5.56mm assault rifle, which was based on the Sterling Armaments LAR, itself a development of the AR-18, to which Sterling had licencing rights. This was followed by the SR-88 series of modular rifles and carbines, again in 5.56mm NATO. The SAR-21 is a logical descendant of the SAR-80 and SR-88, albeit with many design changes and improvements. Looking closely at the gun, one still senses the guiding hand of McCormick and Sullivan behind the engineering genius of their Singaporean proteges, who reportedly were mainly responsible for its design and development.

        Another interesting product from STK is the CIS-50 50-cal.(12.7mm) HMG, which again has been adopted for general service by the SAF. It is a modular-design, tubular-chassis, dual-feed gas-operated machine-gun with a quick-change barrel that has replaced the Browning M2HB in SAF service. The CIS-50 is of the same general concept and layout as the American “Dover Devil” and AAI GPHMG, which were very advanced lightweight HMG designs from the 1980’s when the U.S. Army was actively soliciting a completely modern, new-generation replacement for the venerable M2HB. However, the CIS-50 additionally incorporated several innovative features, including the famous soft-recoil system of the Ultimax 100 and dual ammunition feed that could be selected with the flick of a lever, that made it superior to the competition. It has also become the service HMG of the Indonesian Armed Forces, and the state-owned PINDAD Industries manufactures it under licence as the SMB-QCB.

        By all accounts, the STK guns are very good weapons, generally equal to the best the rest of the world has to offer. However, STK’s marketers still have a lot to learn in getting their product timing just right in concert with the application of the appropriate amount of political flair. They have had some success in recent years, eg., the Ultimax 100 has been sold to Brunei, Croatia, Indonesia (for use by the KOPASKA Tactical Diver Group — equivalent to the USN SEALs — and the KOPASSUS Special Forces Group), Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Slovenia, Thailand and Zimbabwe ; the SAR-80 was sold in quantity to Sri Lanka, Somalia, Slovenia and possibly Croatia ; the SR-88 was adopted by Slovenia ; and the SAR-21 has been exported to Brunei, Indonesia (used specifically by the PASKHAS TNI-AU or Air Force Special Forces Units), Morocco and Thailand.

        • Singapore Kinetics may not have hit the big time with their guns (yet).

          In the past year though, they got a contract to supply 600 of their articulated tracked troop carriers, allong with spares and support, to the British army.

          They are armoured and are intended to replace the smaller and un armoured Hagglunds BV206.

          The interesting little twist is, Hagglunds is owned by BAe Systems, who are generally a good place for retiring British politicans and senior civil servants to get an underworked and lucrative position.

          The BV206 is actually a very able vehicle, much improved by the very over due addition of locking differentials (it should have had them from day one!). Perhaps equatorial Asian mangrove swamps and Scandanavian snow both inspire very similar vehicles.

          Britain can’t afford a new service rifle, but, perhaps the articulated carrier is an indication that BAe Systems won’t get it all its own way when the time comes.

  3. Just have seen the video – very impressive showing! Now, imagine this thing in 300 AAC (BLK). It would beat any euro&Chinese bullpup, hands down.

      • Magus, what a great idea! As an extension of the proposed QBZ-95 evaluation, how about a comparative test between the SAR-21 and QBZ-95? That would be really interesting. And if other bullpup designs such as the numerous variants of the STEYR AUG-77 (especially the AUSTEYR weapons family) were to be added to the testing schedule, we would have a groundbreaking comparison on our hands. Of course, this is just an idea that may or may not see fruition anytime soon due to the difficulties in acquiring certain candidates (how do we get our hands on a legitimate QBZ-95 at this point in time?), but it might just be something to keep in mind for the future since newer weapons usually tend to eventually become more widely-distributed and increasingly accessible over time.

    • While the standard magazines issued with the SAR-21 are proprietary in the sense that they are of translucent high-impact polymer construction and not adopted from another weapons system, it should be kept in mind that the SAR-21 is designed to also take STANAG-specification 5.56mm magazines, (including Mil-spec M16 magazines), of which there are literally several different yet compatible types manufactured by assorted companies both here and abroad.

  4. I would really like to see review video of Ultimax 100 one day.

    @Earl Liew

    “In recent years” Sar80, along with U 100 and german Armbrust light anti tank rocket launcher, also made in Singapore, was imported in Croatia and Slovenia in the 1990-1991. As an independent effort in arming the police and (soon would be) army defence forces in the eve of ongoing occupation of republic teritory and possible secession of occupied territories and joining of them with some other republics, performed by nationally unified “yugoslavian” army forces (especially officers cadre). And I believe it was before all around UN arms embargo that was placed upon all of Yugoslavia (which did not bother some sides as they ammassed vast quantities of heavy weapons confiscated from republic people territorial defence armories). Geopolitics history aside, the exact number of these singaporean weapons in service is not known, but it is reasonable to suggest it is not numbered in tens of thusands, for sure, since the whole import was probably one time affair. What is known that these weapons proved themselves good on the battlefield, although as the army forces amassed, their calibre (opposed to 7.62×39, which was deeply prevalent on any battleground) and their initial small number dictated for them to be “put aside”, and in the end, mostly used (and praised of course) was U 100, but in some skilled special army and police units, since there was obviously not enough number of it, nor in suitable calibre (that could be obtained easily on black market-transitional former eastern block countries like Ukraine, Hungary, Poland etc. did not use 5.56mm), to arm the whole brigades with it to function as SAW. So, from the tactical point of view, import of these sing. arms were a good idea, but from a strategic (looking in the long run) was not so great (unfortunately the dire shortage of arms dictated that any and of any calibre was initially warmly welcomed by early, formally police forces troops.)
    Why the singaporean weapons industry did not succeed in selling these solidly designed and made fireams to wider number of users, despite their aggressive marketing of them in the 80s, it is a good question, maybe because the whole concept was that they did not wanted to buy expensive foreign weapons (like ar15), and opted for their own production based on some imported and some domestically made parts (if I recall correctly from some old articles, 45% percent of rifle parts were imported to singapore, I do not know in what year and production stage of what weapon). But I suppose the problem was in that highly developed countries certainly did not have a need for buying these weapons from Singapore (as they had their own designs and factories to make them), but on the other end, “Third World” countries were probably too poor to import and buy these firearms (also 5.56mm is not very third world friendly calibre), so the CIS and their export plans ended up “hanging in the limbo”. Since, for example, Ultimax 100 is very fine design, I suspect maybe it would be more sucessfull if the singaporeans actually started to sell or loan the technology and tools to produce the guns, to some interested countries (like for example HK g3 are made in Iran), thus they would get at least something from their design, not needing to wait forver for somebody to actually tries to buy it from them in greater numbers for their armed forces (from the beginning of the story, I even suspect figures in charge of Cro. and Slo. arms obtaining maybe approached singaporeans with story that they would like to import some number of their products for arms evaluation and testing, before putting a bigger, whole army contract, which would be, of course, impossible event) Very similar story happened with mr. StGeorge Leader t2 rifle, which was cheap and had some potential in worldwide selling, but ended up as a forgotten weapons curiosity, just like SAR/Ultimax line of weapons, since Leader was probably too cheap for developed countries, but still too far away to obtain success in “AK infested” third world countries.

    • Storm, thank you for the insightful information in your post. It really helped to fill out a missing chapter in the story of the Ultimax 100 and SAR-80, and adds to the known military history of Slovenia and Croatia.

  5. Another fantastic video – and as always, I come for the article and stay for the comments. Looks to be a neat design – especially the ease of cleaning the gas system. However I can’t say I’d be a fan of the location of the selector.

    The sight looks like the AUG’s – is it the same ‘crosshair and doughnut’ x1.5 magnification scope? If it is, I’ll beat ADI/Thales Defence in Lithgow, Australia had a hand in the manufacture of it – especially considering the strong links between our militaries.

  6. Following up with Storm’s comments, the Australian Leader family of weapons designed by Charles St. George would be another great topic for discussion. As I understand it, a small number ( up to 2000 of the T2 rifles ) made it into the United States before the 1994 assault weapons ban.

  7. There was an article about Leader t2 here year or more ago, so check it out, although always more info. is needed.

    Up to this day, there are no publicly official numbers of how much of these singaporean firearms in total were imported, because of the whole arms import effort of the first half of 90s was, understandingly, a shady business due to the UN arms embargo, that made a lot of damage(paying for weapons significantly higher prices than they are on free market).
    But by some accounts I’ve heard at least a few hundreds of Ultimaxs are still in the army service.
    I personally think they ought to import new ones, since this is a great weapon, or even better, license the technology and copy it and produce it here, even somewhat improved and modernized to 21th century standards.

    Speaking of CIS marketing efforts, check these 2 vintage ads, first one I recall from one, lets say for that time, domestic military magazine from the beginning of the 90s, when they first discussed these singaporean weapons (altough their import was supposed to be a somewhat secret) ;

    Even in ad, they’ve said it very precisely that this is an ideal weapon for special military and police units, that operate at high intensity, short time battles, than it is for regular frontline holding army conscripts, for that role something like PKM is much better choice…

    • Yes, Ian published an interview with Charles St. George at the time. Thanks for the links to the ads — very interesting, indeed.

  8. Actually this rifle is widely used by Singapore Army. It is used for training infantry and commandos in their Basic Military Training(BMT) which is required for all National Servicemen Full-Time(NSF) who are posted in the Singapore Armed Forces. However, the Republic of Singapore Air Force(RSAF) and the Republic of Singapore Navy(RSN) used the M-16 and the M-16 is used in the Naval Diving Unit’s BMT. I am from the Republic’s National Cadet Corps and have yet to enlist in the nation’s defence force and will do so when i get to the required age.

    • If you re-read Ian’s full original post and the comments section carefully, I think it would be quite clear that weapons such as the SAR-21, Ultimax 100 and CIS-50 are known to have been in general service with the Singapore Armed Forces for some time.

      The rarity referred to is relative to scale, i.e., more widespread use and availability across the globe and/or adoption by large-volume users.

      Also, even though the United States has generally liberal gun laws and private ownership is much less restrictive than in most places, not all models of guns are readily available for sale over here, the SAR-21 being a case in point (it is only now that the SAR-21 has started to enjoy limited availability through a single importer). The laws of supply and demand as well as marketing dictate what is imported and what is not.

  9. I’m amazed to see one of these in the US. It can only have been imported for police or military use (or a dealer sample for one of the above). I’ve had a lot of close views of these in Changi airport. The airport is patrolled by teams of two, one policeman with an MP5 and one soldier with an SAR21.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.