Caliber - 5.56mm NATO (.223 Rem.)
Capacity - 20 or 30rd polymer magazines
Action - Gas-operated semi-automatic
Barrel - 16 inches
Weight - ~7 lbs.
The SLR-106 is essentially the commercial version of Arsenal Bulgaria's AKS-74M1A1, a stamped-receiver, folding-stock 5.56 AK variant that that was produced during the mid-1990s (a similar rifle utilizing a milled receiver, the AR-M7F, is still in production). The SLR-106 is available in two models - the "FR" with the standard ComBloc scope rail on the left side, and the "F" without it. Both types feature a Bulgarian barreled action with chrome-lined 1x7 twist barrel, 24mm threaded front sight base with removable compensator, US-made two-stage trigger and US-made AK-100 style polymer handguards and side-folding stock.
Having recently purchased a converted .223 Saiga, I decided I wanted a second AK in that caliber. Given Arsenal's reputation for quality and my positive experience with their SLR-105, choosing the SLR-106 was a no-brainer. I opted for the "F" model, as it was slightly less expensive and I've never been a real fan of side-mounted optics anyway. I bought my rifle brand-new shortly after they were released; it came with a 10-round magazine, oiler, sling, cleaning kit and instruction manual.
Fit and finish
On disassembling the rifle for inspection, I found it to be extremely tight. The top cover and gas tube had to be "coerced" off and on the first few times, there was no noticeable play in any of the components or furniture, and the folding stock mechanism was very difficult to unlock from the open (unfolded) position. All this was in stark contrast to some of the cheaper AK variants I have handled in the past; the workmanship on Arsenal's AKs is head and shoulders above just about everyone else's - but then, it had better be, for what these rifles cost! Finish is Arsenal's standard black paint over parkerizing; some have reported that the paint literally runs off when exposed to acetone or harsh cleaning solvents. I have not found this to be the case, although the paint does wear off the moving parts and mating surfaces (bolt head/carrier, receiver rails, stock latch) rather quickly.
Upgrades & Accessories
I decided to make over my SLR-106 in much the same way I had done my -105. In my opinion, a "modernized" AK shooting an effective small-caliber cartridge like the 5.56 is the pinnacle of the Kalashnikov design (although Mikhail himself would probably take exception to that), and gives the AR platform a run for its money in the tactical arena. To that end, I equipped my -106 with the following mods: Blackjack SWIFT extended safety lever with bolt hold-open notch; Ultimak Scout Mount with co-witnessed SPOT MKIII red dot sight, ACE Galil-style pistol grip, TDI railed lower handguard w/ vertical grip, and a Gear Sector single-point sling. Reviews of these products can be found on the AK Gear Page. I also replaced the AK-74 style compensator with a US-made copy of the birdcage flash hider found on the AR-M7F.
An early batch of SLR-106s left the factory with badly misaligned sights as a result of Arsenal's laser calibration tool being incorrectly adjusted; this issue has been widely circulated and discussed on the various Internet gun forums, and has caused many to dismiss the -106 out of hand. Fortunately, the problem seems to have been an isolated incident, and my rifle was not one of those affected. The gun sighted in very easily, although I had to raise the front and rear sights considerably in order to be able to clearly see them through the SPOT's window. This is because the SLR-106 uses AK-47 pattern sights, which sit slightly lower than those of an AKM or AK-74 (on which rifles like the SLR-105 and Saiga are based).
Once the sights and red-dot were dialed in, the -106 really surprised me with its accuracy potential. I was able to put together ~2" groups at 50 yards with Georgia Arms "Canned Heat" 55gr FMJ, firing off the bench while using the magazine as an improvised monopod. Putting a magnified optic on the gun and/or shooting a heavier bullet better suited to the gun's 1x7 twist rate would probably produce even better results, but I was happy; this was one of the most accurate AKs I had ever fired! Initial range session was 180 rounds. Reliability was good, save for a handful of failures to feed (all linked to one particular magazine, which I subsequently marked and put aside for further review).
A good two-stage trigger can be a real asset when shooting at long distances or for precision. The idea is to pull through the light first stage and pause to confirm sight picture, wind conditions, etc, before applying the final bit of pressure (the second stage) necessary to fire the shot. I have two-stage ("match") triggers in my M4 and Recon Carbine, and they work as advertised while still being light and smooth enough for rapid fire. The Arsenal SLR-106 trigger is a good idea poorly executed, IMO. The first stage is like any other AK trigger pull, but the second stage is very heavy. This makes it difficult to apply that "final bit of pressure" without disturbing the alignment of the sights, and does not facilitate rapid followup shots. Given that AKs are not designed for precision fire (not to be confused with accuracy), and that I wanted to maintain a common trigger feel among my various AK rifles, I replaced the Arsenal trigger group with the proven G2 unit from TAPCO.
The AK-74M/AK-100 Series polymer folding stock, in both its US-made and original Russian incarnations, is by far the most comfortable and useful of all the standard AK folders. It locks up solid, affords a good cheek weld, does not loosen with time/use, and has a huge CDI ("Chicks Dig It") factor. That said, I find the length and profile of the standard polymer fixed stock to be even more stable and comfortable (especially with gear on), and the folding feature useful only for storage and transportation (a minor consideration). Further, the fixed-stock trunnion can accommodate a variety of aftermarket adjustable/ergonomic stock options, such as the ACE folder or the outstanding VLTOR collapsible. For these reasons, I would've liked to see Arsenal offer a fixed-stock variant of the -106 at a lower price point.
The Bottom Line
The SLR-106F combines the simplicity, ruggedness and reliability of the AK platform with the accuracy, effectiveness, low recoil and wide availability of the 5.56 (.223 Rem) cartridge. Arsenal's AKs are some of the best on the market, and with the addition of some practical enhancements, the SLR-106F becomes a viable alternative to the AR/M4 series as a compact, fast-handling and reasonably accurate defensive or tactical rifle.