The SAR-80’s story begins in the early 1970s, when Frank Waters, the Sterling Armaments Company’s chief designer, began developing a 5.56x45mm rifle for sale to foreign militaries. While two initial prototypes were produced the project lapsed when Sterling secured a license to manufacture Eugene Stoner’s AR-18.
In the late 70s the project was resurrected and in February 1977, two prototypes were sent to Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS)[later known as ST Kinetics] who had been seeking a 5.56x45mm rifle design to produce for export to sustain production at their factory. The initial prototypes reportedly suffered issues with obturation with some cartridges and Sterling engineers worked to rectify this with another batch of half a dozen prototypes being sent to CIS in late 1977. CIS produced their first pre-production prototypes in 1978, for testing by the Singapore Army. CIS opted for a plastic buttstock and redesigned the handguards too.
Initially described as the Sterling Light Automatic Rifle and later the Sterling Combat Rifle the rifle, however, as it finally entered production in 1979, it became known as the Singapore Assault Rifle 80 or the SAR-80. Some of the earlier rifles are also marked ‘Sterling Assault Rifle’.
The first SAR-80s were delivered to the Singapore Armed Forces in early 1981 for troop trials. Faults with these early production rifles included poor fit and finish and extractors which bent leading to extraction and ejection issues. Refinements made rectified these faults and subsequent production runs had improved reliability.
The SAR-80 can be described as a clone of the Armalite AR-18 with their internal designs almost identical. The SAR-80 is gas-operated, with a short-stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt. The bolt has 7 locking lugs, the internal mechanics of the rifle are more or less identical to that of the AR-18, using dual recoil springs and a rectangular bolt carrier. The bolt geometries differ slightly to the AR-18’s and the SAR-80 also has an additional weight inside its bolt – which adds mass and helps slow the rate of fire down to around 600rpm. Like the AR-18 its charging handle is attached directly to the bolt carrier and is reciprocating.
The rifle feeds from standard STANAG magazines and is select-fire, with a selector on the left side of the rifle and a magazine release on the right. The selector layout is modelled after the M16’s and the front handguard’s design was also influenced by the M16. The SAR-80 has simple stamped receiver, similar in profile to the AR-18’s, it has a crackle-paint finish, like that seen on the commercial Sterling Mk4 SMGs. It has a two-position folding rear peep sight and is 97cm (38in) long and weighs 3.7 kg (8.2 lb) unloaded.
The SAR-80 had a bayonet lug just beneath its adjustable gas block and mounted an M16-pattern bayonet, other accessories included a scope mount, bipod and a blank-firing adaptor. And of course a folding stock variant was also available.
I didn’t have a chance to strip the rifle but here you can see the hammer inside the receiver – its worth noting that this rifle does not have the sliding dust cover seen on other examples, and the charging handle slot is completely open.
Developed with cost in mind, contemporary literature from CIS state an export price of around $300 per rifle, the equivalent to day of about $930. CIS produced more than 80,000 between 1980 and 1988, it saw limited service with Singapore’s military but did enjoy some export sales, with the SAR-80 used by the Central African Republic’s Gendarmerie, the Croatian Army, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Slovenian Territorial Army. CIS replaced the SAR-80 with the SR-88, a rifle co-developed with Sterling as the SAR-87, but this proved unsuccessful and has since been superseded by the SAR-21 bullpup.
Specifications (from CIS Brochure):
Overall Length: 38.25in
Barrel Length: 18.1in
Weight: 7.5 lbs
Capacity: 20 or 30-round box magazines
Guns of Dagenham, P. Laidler (1995)
The World’s Assault Rifles, Thomas B. Nelson & Gary Paul Johnston (2010)
‘Firearms’, US Patent #4272902, F.E. Waters, 16 Jun. 1981, [source]
SAR 80: Singapore’s Assault Rifle, Defence Attaché, Vol. No.2 1982, I. Cohen
SAR 80 rifles and 5.56 x 45 ammunition in the Central African Republic, ARES, N.R. Jenzen-Jones (2014) [source]
SAR 80 5.56 Assault Rifle, CIS, Factory Brochure c.1982 [source]