I have fired quite a few AR-15 rifles, including both direct impingement and piston driven. Performance has varied, but all piston guns were more expensive than the standard direct-impingement AR-15.
At present, my half-dozen AR-15 rifles all feature the original gas-impingement system. Among those who favor the AK-type rifle, a point often stressed is the gas-piston design of the AK. Similar to the M1 Rifle (Garand), the system is designed with enough play to allow excellent reliability in all climatic conditions and with a broad range of ammunition.
While my Colt, Ruger, and Spikes Tactical rifles are reliable, shooters who favor the reliability, durability, and simplicity of the AK system have a valid point. For those who prefer the 7.62x39mm cartridge, a number of good rifles are available in the AK format. The rifle has desirable primary and secondary features that will appeal to American shooters.
However, some choose the 5.56mm cartridge. Accuracy, wound ballistics, and availability favor the 5.56mm in my personal scenario. I particularly like the frangibility of the caliber in close-range scenarios. AR-15 magazines are at present readily available at fair prices.
If we could couple the 5.56mm cartridge and AR-15 magazines with the simplicity of operation and handling of the AK, we might have a desirable rifle. There have been 5.56mm AK offerings in the past, but I have experienced less than stellar performance, and the proprietary magazines were difficult to obtain in quantity.
CIA PAP M80 MP
Century International Arms (CIA) offers a rifle chambered in 5.56mm and, by means of a special adapter attached to the receiver, the rifle accepts AR-15 magazines. The CIA PAP M80 MP features hard plastic furniture and a fixed stock. Fit and finish are above average for the AK type, and overall the rifle seems well made. Sights are the usual AK open-type rear with a hooded-post front sight. The rear sight is set for 100 yards in the lowest elevation setting.
Trigger compression is typical AK at a relatively clean 6.75 pounds with modest take-up. The AK-type safety isn’t the most ergonomic design but it works. This rifle’s safety lever was stiff as delivered. It eased up after a few dozen manipulations but remained heavier than most I have tested. Considerable effort was needed to place it into the on position from low ready.
Initial examination was followed by an extensive dry-fire period. The CIA PAP M80 was well lubricated and taken to the firing range. I’ve learned from testing new firearms for over 20 years that takedown and field stripping are easier after the initial firing and break-in period, so the rifle was not disassembled prior to the firing test.
I gathered a supply of 5.56mm and .223 ammunition in a variety of bullet weights from 40 to 69 grains. The magazines used were primarily Brownells aluminum magazines, with a number of Magpul PMAGs. All fit and locked in the magazine well as designed.
I admit that on the first range trip, I was simply turning cartridges into casings, and I made a small hill of them, firing 240 rounds of mixed Winchester, Hornady, and Fiocchi loads. This was a side trip as we were sighting in other rifles.
My brother and I confirmed the CIA PAP M80 was reliable. I fired a few groups from the bench at 100 yards and found the results encouraging. For a proper S.W.A.T. review, the rifle was cleaned after this action and put to a more difficult test a week later. Two hundred forty trouble-free rounds were encouraging, but not the end of the trail.
I have an eight magazine carrier from Brownells, and this went along to the range. Eight magazines, 25 cartridges each, for a total of 200 rounds. This included 50 rounds each of Black Hills Ammunition 55-grain FMJ remanufactured loads, Hornady Steel Match 55-grain FMJ, Fiocchi 62-grain FMJ, and Winchester USA 55-grain FMJ.
I set a number of targets from Tactical Target Systems in place at 15, 20, and 25 yards. A properly designed instructional target is an aid in training and practice. The company also offers excellent sighting-in targets. The rifle is fast on target and well balanced. Results were good when firing while moving and addressing the targets as quickly as possible.
Target acquisition follows a different sequence than with the aperture sights of the AR-15. With the AR, I first look through the rear sight and find the front sight naturally centered. With the AK, the front sight is acquired and then “pushed” into the rear sight notch. The AK demands a different technique, but using only the front sight at close range works well.
This is subjective, but I felt the Century rifle was more ergonomic than the average AK. Everyone who test fired the rifle found it fit their hand well.
The magazine release proved fast to use well. Move the trigger finger forward and hit the release, and the magazine falls from the well most of the time with aluminum magazines. Some needed a little help to fall free. The polymer magazines seldom fell free. All fed well and there were no malfunctions.
I moved to 50 yards and an Innovative Targets steel reaction target. I elected to access the rifle’s reliability with different bullet weights.
I am unlikely to deploy a 36- to 40-grain bullet in the AR or the AK. I feel that penetration is limited for personal defense with such a light bullet. Effect on varmints of a 36-grain Varmint Grenade is impressive, but some AR rifles exhibit sluggish function with light bullets. I loaded ten rounds each of Black Hills Ammunition 36-grain Varmint Grenade and Fiocchi 40-grain V-Max. I sighted for the center of the steel target and ran all 20 rounds off with 20 hits. Function was normal.
Next I loaded a magazine with ten rounds of Hornady 75-grain TAP and ten rounds of Black Hills 77-grain tipped Match King (A waste of superb target-grade ammunition other than as a reliability check).
Function was good and the target resounded with a noticeably deeper timbre. I had fired a number of loads at 100 yards, primarily at dirt clods and soda bottles, and found the rifle useful.
Now I decided to settle down and fire for accuracy from a solid benchrest. Firing an iron-sighted rifle demands concentration on both the sights and the trigger, as well as good muscle control. With iron sights, you must also pay attention to the rifle’s position. An optical sight would help, but I do not see this rifle as suited for good optics and accuracy work, although a red dot would be appropriate.
I fired three-shot groups with proven loads that have provided good accuracy in the past, and with steel-cased loads that were simply cheap to obtain. The results are outlined in the accompanying table. The PAP M80 isn’t the most accurate 5.56mm I have fired, but as I approach 750 trouble-free rounds, I can vouch for the fact that it is reliable.
The CIA PAP M80 is reliable, well suited to personal defense, and accurate enough for most chores to 100 yards. Speed magazine changes are quicker than the original AK, but due to the magazines sticking and the lack of a hold open on the last shot, the AK is not in the same class with the AR-15 for rapid ammunition replenishment.
A bigger problem was the sticking safety. Rather than becoming more easily manipulated, the safety became so stiff toward the end of the test that we had to stop shooting and carefully push the safety to the fire position with a range tool. Not an ideal situation!
I discovered not poor fitting but a manufacturing error. I field stripped the rifle and rotated the safety lever to the rear, removing it from the receiver. The section in the lever that rides on the receiver is too small. I used a combination of a small file and sanding to open up the metal area until it was larger, and then reinstalled the safety lever. The lever retained a positive detent but was much easier to manipulate.
The PAP M80 performs well and is comparable to inexpensive AR-15s. Its strong point is reliability, while the handling will appeal to some. Poor speed in magazine changes, relatively poor accuracy, and a safety lever that is too tight from the factory are not attractive in comparison to almost any AR-15. The CIA PAP M80 is available for around $650.
Robert Campbell is a writer in the firearms, personal defense, and outdoors fields, with several thousand published articles, columns and reviews, and ten books. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice and has more than 30 years police and security experience. He has trained hundreds of shooters, including police and military.
CENTURY INTERNATIONAL ARMS, INC.
BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION
HORNADY MFG. CO.
MAGPUL INDUSTRIES CORP.
TACTICAL TARGET SYSTEMS