While touring the Beretta factory in northern Italy, I was able to handle a Beretta ARX-160, their newest 5.56mm carbine, and a weapon that could be considered comparable to the FNH SCAR-L. I was impressed with a number of its features, including a toolless quick-change barrel and the ability to switch both the charging handle and the ejection pattern from side to side in seconds, again, without tools – or even breaking the weapon down at all.
It was fairly light (3.2 kilos) and very well balanced. The ambidextrous magazine release was easy to use, but that’s not really a very unique feature in this day and age. What I did find unique was the centrally located (in the bottom of the trigger guard) bolt catch, which also doubled as a magazine release.
This was intended for use with gloves and seems quite easy to use, but I don’t think accidental activation would be a problem, as it required a bit of force to activate the magazine release. I’m not completely sold on pressing down on the center of the trigger guard to release the bolt – this is a bit different than other rifles which feature a bolt release near or on the trigger guard. However, it did seem easy to use after I worked with the weapon for a few minutes.
The charging handle placement was quite good. It wasn’t so far forward that it might interfere with the support hand while reciprocating, but it was forward enough to allow for easy manipulation. The side picatinny rails are removable, but I didn’t really like their location.
Barrel removal is dead simple. Lock the bolt to the rear, then pull small levers on either side of the weapon down – think Glock disassembly – while pulling the barrel forward. Installation requires only that you put the barrel in place and then press down firmly. Whether this is needed at the end user level is a topic for discussion, but the simplicity of this design is very impressive.
Beretta has conducted extensive environmental testing of the ARX-160, and it’s been in use with Italy’s armed forces since 2008. We’ll have more information about the ARX-160 and other Beretta products, including videos and photos of these items being manufactured and assembled, over the next few days.