Soldier Of Fortune/Spring 1977

SWAT Evaluation Test Of The American 180 System

By Nicholas Ludwig Ladas, II and Robert D. Allman

With visibility abated, as illumination diminishes from dusk into darkness, the circumspect criminal makes his move! Well-prepared and well-armed for his night's work, this clandestine felon has just completed mischief and is about to make his exit. But suddenly, unexpectantly, out of nowhere, he notices a small disc if red light upon his upper torso. Astonished and unnerved, he hears a bull horn: "This is S.W.A.T. You are locked-in with a laser. Surrender or we'll open fire." Having heard of the laser equipped American 180, he quickly throws his hands up and surrenders.

A very wise move, indeed; for had this criminal been foolish enough to fire and attempt escape, he would have been perforated with as many as 177 rounds in less that eight seconds. That's firepower! For S.W.A.T. Team encounters, the efficacy of this deterrent cannot be denied. And this response is not atypical among those law-enforcement departments and government agencies, who regularly employ the American 180 system. Its psychological effect is akin to that of the drum-loaded Thompson SMG in earlier times.

Exactly what is the American 180 system? What can it do? How does it do it? And where is it available? To answer these and other questions, we, as S.W.A.T. instructors, decided to examine and test this unique weapon system. We wish to thank the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Police Department, and especially Officers George M. Long and Walter Powell of that department's Tactical Impact Unit for supplying the neccessary weapons, facilities, and personnel. Technical information was supplied by Charles Goff of American International Corp.

A totally new design, the 180 is a modern, select-fire, blow-back operated, assualt-type weapon for law-enforcement and government agencies. It is unique in the fact that it is chambered for the inexpensive, readily-available, .22 Long Rifle cartridge fed from a top-mounted, flat, drum magazine, containing 177 rounds; is easily converted from assault rifle to submachine-gun configuration by removing the buttstock and replacing the standard 16.5-inch barrel with a shorted, 9-inch version. It is unique in that its over-all design and low recoil impulse give it superb night-fire capability when combined with the Laser-Lok sighting system.

Manufactured in Austria and imported and distributed by American International Corp., the American 180 is basically a relatively lightweight weapon, weighing only 5-3/4 pounds empty. But, adding the drum magazine, containing 177 rounds boosts it to approximately 10 pounds. The Laser-Lok pack adds another 6 pounds, making the loaded night-fire package a hefty 16 pounds. That's a bit cumbersome for many activities requiring high maneuverability (running, jumping, rappelling, etc.). However, for special-purpose work as a counter-sniper weapon, for road blocks, stake-outs, especially when fired from a rest, the American 180 with full magazine and Laser-Lok is a joy to use.

The American 180 is a relatively basic design, as are most blow-back operated weapons, with steel barrel, alluminum-alloy receiver and magazine, and fiberglass-plastic stock, forend, and pistol grip. The metal parts are black oxide and anodized, and the stock is impervious to corrosion, water, oil, and most other compounds. It has been tested successfully under a variety of conditions-- from arctic cold to tropical heat and humidity. Neither ice, mud, snow, nor rain are said to bother this little workhorse, but we experienced some difficulties with sand, a prevalent hazard in Florida and other tropical and desert climes.

Chambered for the .22 LR cartridge, control is easy in the full-automatic mode, As a result, accuracy is quite high. Muzzle climb is barely noticeable and recoil is negligible. The S.W.A.T. Team member will find the American 180 an easily-controlled weapon that will put numerous bullets precisely where it is aimed. With a maximum effective range of 200 yards (due to the ballistics of the .22 caliber round), the 180 would have no difficulty proving its worth in most S.W.A.T. applications. It is only in the relatively rare long-range, anti-sniper missions, and those requiring extensive, rapid maneuverability that the AM180's bulk and weight constitue any serious disadvantage. However, the short-barreled version, sans buttstock and Laser-Lok, with only a partial magazine, is very practical where maneuverability and concealability are of top priority.

With no provision for a scope sight-- which is unnecessary, to say the least-- the 180's iron sights are ample. Using a blade, front sight and fully-adjustable, peep, rear sight with a sight radius of 23 1/2 inches, the AM180 is easily kept on target. The rear sight contains one MOA (windage adjustments) and elevation is adjustable for ranges of 50, 90, 140, and 175 meters. However, in twilight or night-fire situations, use of the Laser-Lok renders the iron sights unnecessary, as the S.W.A.T. man merely turns of the Laser-Lok, and the red dot indicates point of impact at the range for which the unit is targeted. Targeting at 50 (or even 25) meters will handle any night situation.

In keeping with its design criteria of ruggedness, simplicity, and safety, the 180 has basically one moving part, the breech bolt and two manually operated controls, the safety disc and selective-fire pin. The safety mechanism consists of a serrated button on a safety disc, which when rotated to the rear 'S' (SAFE) position blocks the action of the sear, preventing the weapon from firing. Rotating this button 180 degrees forward to the 'F' position places the weapon of FIRE. A protruding pin immediately behind the safety disc determines the mode of fire-- semi- or full-automatic. The weapon cannot be placed on fully automatic until it is cocked by pulling the cicking handle, located on the left of the receiver, fully rearward. After cocking, the selective-fire pin may be pushed to the right for full-automatic fire.

Fired cases are ejected downward, facilitating ambidextrous use. However, if one is wearing short sleeves, or an open-cuffed, long sleeve shirt, care must be excercised to place the supporting arm slightly to the side to prevent hot cases from burning the arm. At 20 per second, that's a lot of hot metal, which can give a nice burn. The moderately stiff, five-pound trigger pull precludes accidental firing-- that much effort to pull the trigger dictates a conscious, determined decision. There is no question as to whether a round is chambered, because the AM180 fires from an open bolt; when cocked, the bolt is to the rear, and when it runs forward it fires.

Putting out a lot of bullets accurately is the main virtue of this American 180 system. With a magazine holding 177 rounds, and a cyclic rate if 1200 per minute, accurate, short bursts are easy to achieve and control. And 177 rounds allow quite a number of bursts without reloading. This large capacity fired semi-automatically will permit one round every three seconds for nine minutes. And if this isn't enough firepower to do the job, extra magazines are replaceable in seconds. Being somewhat large and heavy, these drum magazines are securely locked top the top of the receiver. In fact, the weapon may be fired sideways or upside down without magazine trouble. This is an important feature when one finds himself in an awkward, precarious position. Loading the magazines is a breeze and can be accomplished by hand or with the assitance of an optional loader. However, care is necessary to avoid skipping a space or a malfunction will result.

Of all its features, one most valuable to S.W.A.T. Teams is the American 180's Laser-Lok attachment. Night fire control is difficult, if not impossible with most weapons. Not so with the Laser-Lok. After it is properly installed and adjusted to point of impact, a bullet will hit wherever the red dot displays itself. This is essentially a helium-neon gas laser, powered by a portable battery pack attached to the barrel. When actuated, it emits a straight bean of invisible light, which causes a red dot to appear on the target. At maximum effective range of 200 yards, this dot is approximately three inches in diameter. Although the Laser-Lok itself has a much greater range, it is limited in this respect by the trajectory of the .22 caliber projectile. Some expect individuals can hit targets at 300 yards under ideal conditions, but this is not the norm.

The Laser-Lok's light beam and source can be shielded to prevent its being traced back to its course; however, under very dusty or smokey conditions, the beam is sometimes visible as it is reflected of solid particles in the air.

The American 180 with Laser-Lok need not be reserved for nocturnal employment. With special glasses, it can be used for daytime missions on hazy, overcast days when light level is moderately low. These glasses do not impede normal vision except at great distances and in bright sunlight.

One might think that the Laser-Lok must be difficult to attach and calibrate. Not so, the package may be readily installed with simple tools, using two rings attached to the barrel. It can be adjusted to point of impact by zeroing the American 180 in, at whatever distance is desired, and then adjusting the Laser-Lok's red dot to coincide with the bullet strike. It may also be adjusted so that the red dot appears to top the front sight blade.

As with any piece of optical or electronic equipment, care must be excercised when handling the Laser-Lok equipped 180. Even though it can withstand some jostling, it should not be dropped or otherwise mistreated, which might cause damage. The only manufacturing problem experienced with the Laser-Lok is a very rare occurence of small pin-hole leaks in the gas tubes, a defect correctable by the distributor. American International does guarentee the Laser-Lok for one year, excluding battery pack, and a three year guarentee accompanies the American 180.

The Laser-Lok is available in three versions, differing only in the batteries used. The SC100, weighing 5 3/4 pounds, utilizes lead-acid batteries, which may be recharged from household AC currentor a vehicular electrical system. It comes with two recharging cords, and offers two full hours of continuous operation. It must then be recharged for eight hours. If used only intermittently, as is most often the case, four hour's recharging is required for each one hour of use. It is not possible to overcharge, and the unit may be operated while on charge. It is recommended that the Laser-Lok be given a running charge every couple of weeks if used infrequently, especially in humid climates.

We spoke at length with George Long and Walter Powell of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department's Tactical Impact Unit. Their organization provides for one officaer to be armed with the Laser-Lok equipped American 180, and the other with the back-up, 12-gauge riot gun. As they must be operational within 20 seconds of arrival on the scene, their 180's are carried either on the rear seat, uncased and ready for use, or, with buttstock removed, in the front seat. The magazines are always attached to the weapon when on patrol. Carrying it cased would necessitate removal of the magazine which might cause an unacceptable delay in getting into action. As a weapon for police use, the American 180 is unsurpassed when the local populace balks at the idea of larger-caliber, automatic weapons. Somehow one doesn't associate devastating firepower with the .22 LR cartridge.

Typically employed for hostage retrieval, sniper suppression, and armed robbery situations, the 180 has proven its worth many time over. As a deterrent, the 180 with Laser-Lok has an impeccable record. For example, one night recently, members of the Fort Lauderdale PD's Tactical Impact Unit were called to an armed robbery in progress, and upon arrival, found themselves fired upon. After dismounting under fire, the officer with the Laser-Lok equipped 180 turned his unit on the subject, who upon seeing that red dot appear on his torso threw away his weapons and hit the ground, spread-eagled, screaming his surrender.

Walt recommends the walking assault-type, firing position, supporting the 180, sans buttstock, from the shoulder by its sling, firing from just above the hip. Response to the right or left is easy and short bursts provide the most consistent, accurate firepower. The grip should not be unduly tight. Both George and Walt recommend loading only the first tier of 59 rounds in the magazine as they have experienced jams when all three tiers of the magazine are loaded. Jams in these instances occurred after the first 40 rounds or so were fired. They have found that cartridges in full magazines of 177 rounds are too easily jostled out of alignment, even when transported in a patrol vehicle. To remedy this, they load only the first tier, which they have found to be ample firepower. We have experienced a number of jams due to sand in the action, bent projectiles resulting from inferior ammo, and a feed rampt which was too wide on the 180's older style feed block (the newer M2 version is said to have corrected this with a new feed block). Accumulated lead deposits from extensive firing also producean occasional jam, and in one instance, we forced a double feed, with two .22s back to back. On one occasion, the projectile became lodged in the bore, requiring that it be pushed out with a cleaning rod, but this was an ammunition problem. While some jams may be remedied merely by pulling back on the cocking lever, allowing the troublesome round to drop from the buttom, a numberrequired partial disassembly of the weapon, a relatively simple task, but one needlessly exposing the officer to fire.

While the distributor states that the American 180 will accomodate any .22 LR ammo-- solid, hollow-point, and regular or high velocity-- the Tactical Impact Unit strongly recommnends Remington High-Velocity ammo only. They found that hollow-points jammed too often, and experienced some jamming with other brands. Remington High-Velocity ammo is pictured in the promotional brochure for the American 180, and the distributor's durabilty test involved firing thousands of consecutive rounds of Remington .22s without a single malfunction.

As a tactical weapon for law-enforcement employment, especially for municipal use where the appearance of low profile must be maintained for public relations, the American 180 with Laser-Lok would surely prove its worth. For special purpose S.W.A.T. application, the American 180 system would be a welcome addition to any team's arsenal. As a criminal deterrent, the 180 has logged an impresive list of surrenders to back up its claims; but this is based upon criminal knowledge of the weapon, and that may not always exist.

Departments desiring further information may contact American International Corp., 103 Social Hall Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111.