The slight hint of irony in the release of the Haenel CR-223 can not be ignored: the company that, at a time, manufactured the first German assault rifle − the one that all its successors from all around the world would take as an example for quite some time − is, in 2014, paying a tribute to the American designer Eugene Stoner and his AR-10/AR-15 design development, dating back to the 1950s.
So to say: history of firearms is a circle.
Critical observers and insiders might indeed feel prompted to claim (maybe heretically?) that the market for AR-type semi-automatic modern sporting rifles, or "Black Rifles", has grown to such a level − particularly in the home country of the original design, the United States − that it is now long-time saturated, and that a less generic development might have been desirable to "revive" it. The number of manufacturers/providers of AR-type rifles from Germany alone and from Europe at large has experienced such spanking levels of growth that hardly any wiggling space remains in this sector; the list now includes Heckler & Koch, SIG Sauer, Steyr-Mannlicher, Oberland Arms, Schmeisser Germany, HERA Arms, DAR - Dynamic Arms Research, PROARMS Armory, ASTRA Arms and QS Penna S.r.l., to name just a few.
Official blessing: approval of the Haenel CR-223 in its homeland!
The Haenel CR-223 semi-atuomatic competition rifle (that's what CR stands for) has recently been approved by the Weisbaden office of the German Federal Criminal Police office (BKA) in its 16,5“/420mm barrel variant; this makes the rifle now officially legal for civilian distribution in Germany.
Other variant of the design include 10-inch, 12.5-inch or 14.5-inch barrel versions, which have been available for civilian ownership in other European Countries for some time now.
The overall design is based on the CAR-816 select-fire/full-automatic assault rifle, manufactured in the United Arab Emirates by Caracal International LLC. for military and Police customers.
By manufacturing and selling the sporting-purpose semi-automatic version exclusively as the "Haenel CR-223", a clear distinction line has been drawn between the civilian and government markets; of course, the design has been deprived of all the features that would otherwise qualify it as a military firearm.
Unlike the most AR-15 derivatives of modern times, whose upper and lower receivers are machined from a solid billet of lightweight aluminum alloy, the components of the Haenel CR-223 semi-automatic rifle are mostly forged.
The forging process ensures a denser material structure and hence achieves greater stability and structural strenght. The surfaces of the two-part receiver box were clean as a whistle and in premium quality. Unfortunately, though, the clearance between the lower receiver and the upper receiver on the cross bolt connection points was slightly too large, measuring 0.15 to 0.20 millimetres.
The most direct competitors offer tolerance ranges not higher than 0.05 millimetres.
AR-15 enthusiasts, however, are perfectly aware that the incredibly variegated tuning industry can come to the rescue here, providing special retrofit parts such as the "Accu Wedge" – a simple, inexpensive plastic wedge.
And this was, to tell the truth, the only thing we had to complain about the Haenel CR-223 sample we came to test.
Furthermore, the Haenel CR-223 comes with a variety of interesting features, including a quick-change system for the railed handguard, that will allow it to gain its own niche in the crowded hotly disputed AR market while still offering one hundred percent AR-15 compatibility. Additionally, in most markets, its suggested retail price lies just below the magic €2000 threshold that applies to most, if not all, the AR-15 variants manufactured in Germany.
Haenel CR-223 "at a glance"
About one year ago − and for a different purpose altogether − we had the opportunity to shoot roughly 2500 rounds from the first prototype of the Haenel CR-223 rifle, serial number CR00001.
It did not require any cleaning at all within the shooting session. The only functional complaint that occurred at the time related to the ammunition and was due to a copper particle that had become stuck beneath the safety mechanism in the lower receiver.
The Suhl-made AR-15 bases its operation mechanism on an indirect gas impingement through a short-stroke piston.
In the original direct gas impingement system, the gases generated by the detonation of the cartridge propellant and traveling down the bore with the bullet are redirected from the barrel to a chamber in the bolt carrier by a gas pipe running over the barrel itself. In this, the rotary bolt head with its multiple lugs acts as a piston, sealed by suitable small piston rings, that will push the bolt rearward under the gas pressure. The main disadvantage of the classic AR-15 working system is that the gases contain metal particles, and come in direct contact with the bolt; as fouling collects and hardens in such a sensitive area of the gun, it increases friction during continued operation and thus enhances the risks of malfunctions.
The indirect gas operation system employs a short-stroke piston housed behind the gas impingment valve; it will be put in motion by gas pressure, and will move independently from the breech, transmitting a mechanical impulse to a connected op-rod that will drive the bolt, and will immediately return to its position as the kinetic energy generated by its brief movement is enough for the bolt to start opening to cycle the gun. This system addresses two of the main problems of the AR-15 platform: heat (the gun remains cooler) and fouling (as gases don't enter in direct contact with the bolt, the gun remains cleaner).
But all advantages come at a price: unlike the original system, which is pretty straightforward, the gas piston system increases the weight and mass of moving parts; another drawback is that the frequently heavy gas blocks and the barrels of piston-driven firearms may be cause of accuracy issues when they get too hot.
Additionally, the piston rod impulse may cause the bolt carrier to jerk somewhat in the upper receiver, causing friction, structural consumption, and thus accuracy issues.
The Haenel CR-223 is built to be simpler than most other piston-driven AR variants; the handguard is easily removed for cleaning, thanks to its ambidextrous quick-release bracket.
The gas piston situated in the gas block, which triggers the impulse for the op-rod, appears to be perfectly sealed, as we discovered barely any deposits even after long shooting sessions.
The op-rod is easy to remove for cleaning and maintenance: just push it back a couple of centimetres and then pull it out. Once it's done, the removal of the gas piston completes the disassembly of the indirect gas impingement system of the Haenel CR-223 rifle.
The Haenel CR-223 semi-automatic "competition rifle" comes with a cold-hammer forged barrel; the version we tried in Germany had a 420mm/16.5" long barrel, the one we handled in Italy had a 14.5" barrel due to less strict gun laws over there. All CR-223 barrels come with a Birdcage-style flash hider screwed on a threaded muzzle.
The Caracal CAR-816 assault rifle sports a 1:7" barrel rifling pitch, while the Haenel CR-223 comes instead with six right-handed grooves and a more civilian-oriented 1:9" pitch.
The quick change system allows a rapid removal of the handguard from the upper receiver without any tools.
First of all, a small catch positioned in front of the large rotary lever has to be pressed down; then, the level itself is turned to 180-degrees.
Once these two elements have been released, the handguard can immediately be removed by pulling it off the barrel. As "small" and insignificant this feature may seem, it speeds up standard cleaning and maintenance operations to a great extent.
The lightweight aluminum handguard comes with four large ventilation holes both over and under the side MIL-STD-1913 "Picatinny" rails, in order to keep the barrel temperature under control during rapid fire sessions and maintain the weight of the handguard itself under acceptable levels. The rails itself allow quick and easy interface for any commercial- or military-off-the-shelf (COTS/MOTS) tactical accessory.
An almost unique feature of the Haenel CR-223 rifle is that the ambidextrous safety can be operated even when the rifle is not cocked.
The Haenel CR-223 semi-automatic rifle comes issued with a 10-rounds polymer magazine, manufactured in southern Germany by Oberland Arms; the magazine well is STANAG 4179 compliant, so it will fit any AR-15 compatible magazine, of any capacity. Oberland Arms also issues the telescoping buttstock issued with the gun, and provided the A.R.M.S. folding sights installed on the sample we tested.
The street price of the Haenel CR-223 semi-automatic rifle may vary from Country to Country: in Germany, it goes at about 1800€; in Poland, it is sold at around 7400zł − more or less the same price ot goes for in Germany − and basically maintains the same price in Czech Republic (47320Kč), while in Italy it breaks the 2300€ threshold due to higher local VAT (22% on firearms), and tops 2450€ in France.
Shooting performance with the HAENEL CR-223 5.56x45mm/.223 Remington caliber semi-automatic competition rifle
Bullet weight-manufacturer-type-dia. ||
Factory cartridge: |
|OAL in mm ||V2 in m/s||V2-Diff. ||
Precision 100 m in mm |
|40 grs Hornady V-Max .224||
factory cartridge ||56,6||1.026,5||13,2||27|
|40 grs Sierra Blitzking .224 ||28.0 grs Hodgdon BLC-2||56,0||970,0|
|50 grs Fiocchi FMJHP.224||
factory cartridge ||56,0||921,1||9,7||23|
|52 grs Hornady BTHP .224||
Match factory cartridge ||55,6||925,2||17,6||42|
|52 grs Sierra HPBT .224||
Match factory cartridge ||56,3||954,9||19,8||20|
|52 grs Sierra HPBT .224||27,0grs Hodgdon BLC-2||56,5||925,6||18,3||52|
|62 grs Sierra HP .224 ||
Premier Match ||56,7||844,8||19,8||67|
|69 grs Lapua HPBT .224||
Match factory cartridge ||55,8||772,9||10,8||19|
|69 grs RWS HPBT .224||
Target Elite Plus ||57,6||786,2||13,5||37|
(Test assembly: Seated, supported, using a rear sandbag rest and a Leapers/UTG bipod. 5 shot at 100 metres. Sights: NIKON Monarch 7 4-16x50.)