I’m old enough to remember when there were pistols, and there were rifles, and you could tell the difference at a glance. But I’ll admit, I’m also old enough to remember rotary dial telephones and rabbit-ear antennas. But even most of the youngsters among us can remember the advent of the AR pistol form factor. Initially designed, I’m convinced, as a way to thumb one’s nose at the inherent lunacy of legal and regulatory restrictions and classifications – it took off as a legitimate and fairly lucrative operating space in the firearms market.
I’ll confess that I have personally struggled to fall in love with the “AR Pistol” form factor because I have found it generally difficult to wield as a pistol. All that weight out at the end of your arm can be hard to manage for more than a few seconds at a time, and most arm brace designs force the gun into a configuration where it is nearly impossible to see open sights properly. However, that struggle is over – and I have fallen in love with the pistol configuration available from Robinson Armament Co.
This review is based on the Model XCR-L chambered in 7.62×39, but other than a very few caliber-specific characteristics, it would apply universally to the XCR-L in general. Additionally, with the exception of the arm brace and the use of the word ‘pistol’, everything in this review would also relate directly to the Robinson XCR-L rifle platform.
I didn’t know much about Robinson Armament until just a few years ago, and it is likely that many folks know little or nothing about their products – so let’s start there. The Robinson Arms design, XCR was an initial hopeful for government contracts and competed in the SCAR trials. Well, I say “competed” lightly – because it was essentially disqualified at the starting gate for what many (this author included) consider to be a very superficial reason. “XCR” is and abbreviation for eXchangable Caliber Rifle – and the “-L” suffix is for “light” calibers. I would describe the gun as a hybrid of AR-15, AK-47, SCAR, and Innovation. It is the most ergonomic design I’ve personally used.
Exchangeable calibers for the XCR-L include: 5.56, .300 BLK, 7.62×39, 6.8 SPC, 6.5 GREN, .224 VALK, and it is available in several barrel lengths as a rifle and as seen here, as a pistol. Our copy of the gun is configured as a pistol, which includes the tailhook arm brace – the difference between a highly functioning rifle-caliber pistol and a clumsy oddity.
HOW IT’S MADE
The Robinson design successfully borrows the best elements of several different types of guns, and then adds its own innovative elements. The result is the most user-friendly gun of its kind that I have used. For starters, it is fully ambidextrous. All the operating controls function left or right side – with equal efficiency and feel. That is, except for the charging handle, which is on the left side of the gun. The handle is nicely covered in a round hard rubber material that makes it friendly to operate. It is non-reciprocating, so no danger to hand placement while shooting.
My favorite control on the gun is the ambidextrous bolt catch/release. It is located at the front end of the bottom of the trigger guard – with mirror controls on each side. A simple swipe down with the trigger finger releases the bolt home to chamber a round. Also as easy, just putting some upward pressure on the control while running the bolt back will engage the catch. This is about a thousand times easier than finding the tiny handle of a miniature ping-pong paddle.
The magazine release and safety switches are both nicely located with good reach for the average finger or thumb – and completely intuitive to shooters.
The arm brace controls are both simple and sophisticated. The brace is of high-quality materials and well finished. It is adjustable for length via a simple “squeeze release” located on either side of the unit, with a locking wheel just below, to keep it set in the sweet spot. And if you don’t want to collapse it and have to find that sweet spot again but want to make it small for storage or transport – it folds. The spring-loaded folding hinge will take the brace a full 180 degrees and lock it in place. When deployed, it is a precision part with no perceivable wiggling or jiggling while shooting or handling. The tail hook portion of the brace deploys downward to the right with the push of a button to unlock it. To re-collapse it, simply snap it back into place and the latch engages automatically.
The use of the tailhook is simple. You grip the pistol with your strong hand while allowing the lower “hook” to fall under your forearm. When you extend the gun, the weight and leverage will bring the hook into contact with your arm and provide balance and stability. The gun as shown weighs in at 7 lbs., but it feels much lighter with the brace. Best of all, you do not have to try to contort your arm in an unnatural way as most strap-on braces demand, and you can easily acquire and maintain a perfect sight picture. For me, this takes the gun from novelty to practical.
Perhaps most interesting about the design of the gun is the ease of field strip. The upper and lower receivers are attached in two points. Out front is a removable pin on which the parts can pivot for most cleaning and maintenance needs, or be removed for separation. The big difference is the one-button release of the upper receiver that does not require you to pop a pin through.
Simply depress the takedown button fully forward (it is held in place via the recoil spring) and tilt the upper forward. You will then see that this button is a permanent attachment to the operating rod assembly. From that assembly, the bolt carrier is suspended and easily removed for maintenance. The bolt is a hefty 3-lug design and incorporates a fixed key that is a milled-in part. One less small part to deal with or lose.
For simple cleaning, the bolt is easily stripped and re-assembled, with few parts to work with. The only small part is the keeper pin that retains the firing pin in the bolt. Full detail stripping requires a bit more disassembly – which I have not yet done.
SHOOTING THE XCR-L
Two words: muzzle blast. But I mean that in the bestest, funnest, most ‘Merica way! 7.62×39 ammunition is generally formulated for a minimum of 16 inches of barrel. Shorten it to nearly half that length, and then stick a triple-port muzzle break on for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a boom stick! This gun makes sure that all your senses are awake and enjoying range day. Now, if that sounds ominous or negative in any way, it’s not. The only real precaution I will share is to make sure you have extra-good earpro, because it is loud. I wear expensive custom-made in-the-ear protectors, and I thought I might like more. Between the volume, the concussion, and the muzzle flash – you can be sure that you’ll be grinning from ear to ear – and drawing a crowd.
I did all my shooting at 25 yards, at which distance the gun was accurate with even the cheap steel cased stuff, but loved the Herter’s 122-grain load, that put a five-shot group in 5/8” and made the best three of those nearly impossible to measure. That was strictly open sights that had not even been adjusted, as can be seen by the location of the groups. I have little doubt of its capabilities out to 100 yards as being reliable, especially when paired with ammo it likes.
Recoil is extremely manageable, and I found that shooter fatigue with this much weight on the extended arm was not much of a factor. Again, I credit the tailhook brace for providing a natural stance with excellent support. In the full course of testing, I had two rounds of TulAmmo with hard primers that had to be struck twice to light – but no other issues of any kind. Feeding and ejection are flawless, far better than other similarly chambered guns I’ve tested.
Above all, the XCR-L is just plain fun to shoot. And make no mistake, this is far from a range toy. The practical and tactical uses for this gun are immediately clear, and it is undoubtedly up to the task. I found that a two-hand grip (exactly as you would grip any pistol) was comfortable, offered excellent control, and helped avoid fatigue. This would make quite a formidable defensive weapon but is tame enough for about every authorized family member to effectively use.
JUST MY OPINION
I went pretty quickly from near-total ignorance of Robinson Arms products to full-fledged fanboy in the space of shooting a few magazines of .300 Blackout in an XCR-L in SBR configuration some time back. I was interested to see how it would perform with the iconic Russian round, and it met every expectation.
Robinson Armament Co. is still a boutique-sized company with a product that is not yet in the general awareness of shooters. Even many hardcore shooters I know heard about Robinson for the first time when I mentioned it to them. The better mousetrap does not always take over the marketplace. In my opinion, this is a far better mousetrap, and you’ll do yourself a favor to check one out. That said, they are not for the budget-minded shooter. Not too many guns go out the door for under $2,000. The MSRP on this gun as tested is $2,330.00. For that, you get outstanding quality and performance in a unique and innovative package – available in a wide variety of chamberings. For this price, I would like to see better sights on the gun. The plastic flip-up sights do the job okay, but they stand out as very sub-par in quality to the rest of the gun. My only other gripe is the stock A2-style pistol grip. Here again, I would like to see upscale OEM parts, or a choice when the order is placed. These are easy to upgrade, but for a premium gun at a premium price – you shouldn’t have to.
The gun does come in a very nice range-ready ballistic nylon, padded carrying case, and the user’s manual is detailed and easy to follow. One magazine ships with the gun – capacity determined by your local limitations.
Robinson Arms is a company that is pushing the envelope and should have had an opportunity for military contracts. If you’re serious about what you buy and what you shoot – this is one you need to look at.
This “gun” seems to me to be an answer to a non existence problem! Grumpy
U.S. Air Force Airman Megan Konsmo, from Tacoma, Wash., checks pallets of equipment ultimately bound for Ukraine in the Super Port of the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, Friday, April 29, 2022, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
WASHINGTON — The planes take off almost daily from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware — hulking C-17s loaded up with Javelins, Stingers, howitzers and other material being hustled to Eastern Europe to resupply Ukraine’s military in its fight against Russia.
The game-changing impact of those arms is exactly what President Joe Biden hopes to spotlight as he visits a Lockheed Martin plant in Alabama on Tuesday that builds the portable Javelin anti-tank weapons that have played a crucial role in Ukraine.
But Biden’s visit is also drawing attention to a growing concern as the war drags on: Can the U.S. sustain the cadence of shipping vast amounts of arms to Ukraine while maintaining the healthy stockpile it may need if a new conflict erupts with North Korea, Iran or elsewhere?
The U.S. already has provided about 7,000 Javelins, including some that were delivered during the Trump administration, about one-third of its stockpile, to Ukraine, according to an analysis by Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies international security program. The Biden administration says it has given about 5,500 to Ukraine since the Russian invasion more than two months ago.
Analysts also estimate that the United States has sent about one-quarter of its stockpile of shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to Ukraine. Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes told investors last week during a quarterly call that his company, which makes the weapons system, wouldn’t be able to ramp up production until next year due to parts shortages.
“Could this be a problem? The short answer is, ‘Probably, yes,’” said Cancian, a retired Marine colonel and former government specialist on Pentagon budget strategy, war funding and procurement.
He said that Stingers and Javelins were where “we’re seeing the most significant inventory issues,” and production of both weapons systems has been limited in recent years.
The Russian invasion offers the U.S. and European defense industry a big opportunity to bolster profits as lawmakers from Washington to Warsaw are primed to increase defense spending in response to Russian aggression. Defense contractors, however, face the same supply chain and labor shortage challenges that other manufacturers are facing, along with some others that are specific to the industry.
Military spending by the U.S. and around the world was rising even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Biden’s proposed 2023 budget sought $773 billion for the Pentagon, an annual increase of about 4%.
Globally, total military spending rose 0.7% to more than $2 trillion for the first time in 2021, according to an April report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Russia ranked fifth, as its spending on weapons increased ahead of its invasion of Ukraine.
The war will mean increased sales for some defense contractors, including Raytheon, which makes the Stinger missiles Ukrainian troops have used to knock out Russian aircraft. The company is also part of a joint venture with Lockheed Martin that makes the Javelins.
Biden will visit Lockheed Martin’s facility in Troy, Ala., which has the capacity to manufacture about 2,100 Javelins per year. The trip comes as he presses Congress to quickly approve his request for an additional $33 billion in security and economic assistance for Kyiv.
The president is expected to use his remarks to highlight the importance of the Javelins and other U.S. weaponry in helping Ukraine’s military put up a vigorous fight as he makes the case to keep security and economic assistance flowing.
A White House official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said the Pentagon is working with defense contractors “to evaluate the health of weapons systems’ production lines and examine bottlenecks in every component and step of the manufacturing process.” The administration is also considering a range of options, if needed, to boost production of both Javelin and Stingers, the official said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that defense officials have determined that the weapons transfers have not impacted military readiness. Still, the administration has included funding in the Ukraine supplemental bill Biden introduced last week to replenish U.S. inventories of depleted weapon stockpiles.
Psaki added that Biden would also use the visit to the Javelin plant to press Congress to pass an innovation and competition bill to boost the semiconductor industry.
“Each Javelin missile requires more than 200 semiconductors to make, and boosting domestic chip manufacturing isn’t just critical to making more in America or lowering prices, it’s also a vital component of our national security,” Psaki said.
Cancian, the former government specialist on defense budget strategy, said the fact that Stingers and Javelins were not included in the most recent tranche of weapons the Biden administration announced it was sending to Ukraine could be a sign that Pentagon officials are mindful about inventory as they conduct contingency planning for other possible conflicts.
“There’s no question that whatever war plan they’re looking at there is risk associated with the depleting levels of Stingers and Javelins, and I’m sure that they’re having that discussion at the Pentagon,” he said.
The U.S. military effort to move weaponry to Eastern Europe for Ukraine’s fight has been Herculean. From Dover Air Base in Delaware, U.S. airmen have carried out nearly 70 missions to deliver some 7 million pounds of Javelins, Stingers, 155mm howitzers, helmets and other essentials to Eastern Europe since February. Col. Matt Husemann, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, described the mission as a “whole of government approach that’s delivering hope.”
“It is awesome,” said Husemann, after providing AP with a recent tour of the airlift operation.
The lightweight but lethal Javelin has helped the Ukrainians inflict major damage on Russia’s larger and better-equipped military. As a result, the weapon has gained almost mythic regard, celebrated with a Javelin song and images of Mary Magdalene carrying a Javelin becoming a meme in Ukraine.
Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet said in a recent CNBC interview that demand for the Javelin and other weapon systems would increase broadly over time because of the Russian invasion. He said the company was working “to get our supply chain ramped up.”
“We have the ability to meet current production demands, are investing in increased capacity and are exploring ways to further increase production as needed,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
Pentagon officials recently sat down with some of the leading defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman to discuss efforts to ramp up production.
The big defense contractors face some serious challenges.
Raytheon, for example, can’t simply crank out Stingers to replace the 1,400 that the U.S. sent to Ukraine. Hayes, the Raytheon CEO, said in a recent conference call with analysts that the company has only limited supplies of components to make the missile. Only one undisclosed country has been buying them in recent years, and the Pentagon hasn’t bought any new ones in nearly 20 years.
Sanctions further complicate the picture. Companies must find new sources of important raw materials such as titanium, a crucial component in aerospace manufacturing that is produced in Russia.
Concerns about the Stinger stockpile have been raised by House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. The two in March wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, describing the stockpile issue as one of “urgency.”
Rogers said he remains concerned that the matter hasn’t been properly addressed.
“I’ve been asking the DoD for almost two months for a plan to replenish our Stinger stockpile as well as our Javelin launch units,” Rogers said. “I worry that without a readily available replacement or fully active production lines, we could leave Ukraine and our NATO allies in a vulnerable position.”
With about 600 employees and contract workers, the nearly 30-year-old Alabama plant Biden will visit is one of the largest employers in Pike County, home to Troy University and the birthplace of the late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
The factory began attracting attention soon after Russia’s invasion because of images shared on social media that showed Javelin missile tubes emblazoned with “TROY, AL” stockpiled for use by Ukrainian forces.
“We want the last thing Putin ever reads to be ‘Made in Alabama,’” Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said in a message shared on social media.