Paratus: DRD Tactical & the Covert Arms of the Free World

Paratus: DRD Tactical & the Covert Arms of the Free World

Paratus: DRD Tactical & the Covert Arms of the Free World
Dan Shea
Features, Reviews, Volume 9, V9N1

ABOVE: With the Paratus, VCOG, Harris Bipod, Gemtech Quicksand, three magazines and 60 rounds, the weight of this floating discreet pack is only 22 lbs! There are, however, numerous other things you might choose to add to the pack.

On Arrival into harm’s way, the prudent person has prepared for the eventualities of a bad day.

This can mean anything from quietly surviving through a rough spell or suddenly interdicting armed enemies after having appeared to not be a threat to them. That means keeping a covert appearance. This author was fond of pointing out through the 1970s and 1980s that “Camouflage isn’t painting everything green, it’s appearing to be other than what you are.” From hobby shooting to hunting, from US Army to contracting and from training thousands of military armorers to writing and MILspec testing—first with my beloved M16A1 rifle and the thousands of AKs, FALs, HKs and machine guns I’ve worked on, in almost every imaginable circumstance on five continents—I have some opinions on weapons. There are other much more combat experienced or trained people, and they have their opinions. What you are about to read comes from my thoughts, and there are certainly others with different opinions, and I urge you to consider their input. I hope you find these opinions and this covert system to be suitable for inclusion in your unit’s TO&E, or just as a real “Go-Bag.” DRD Tactical has outdone themselves.

Left side views of Trijicon’s VCOG optic on the Paratus rifle.

The Concept

Skip Patel has been making outstanding military firearms for many, many years. His first company, Cobb Manufacturing, Inc., was sold in 2007. After that, he enjoyed the luxury of being able to focus on his true passion: building high quality rifles that have unique and desirable attributes for the end user. Skip listened to his government customers and looked for the things they wanted, but weren’t being offered COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf). One of those things was a truly concealable takedown rifle system, which was not only accurate but returned to accurate after assembly.

SADJ has presented the Kivaari, DRD Tactical’s .338 Lapua Magnum takedown rifle, in the past (the article is online at www.sadefensejournal.com). Our take was that it was perhaps the most innovative long range rifle we’ve seen in recent years. The Paratus honestly outdoes that rifle at shorter range, clearly in a different category; as a true Designated Marksman Rifle. While it is classed as a sniper rifle and can certainly perform in that longer range capacity, SADJ much preferred it as very discreet DMR.

During the Clandestine Break-Down Sniper Rifle (CSR) project under the Joint & Special Operations Program, DRD Tactical had a working project rifle that was the most compact semi-automatic rifle ever seen in this type of competition.

While the envelope of the rifle is clearly AR-15 family, there are some notable changes. Aside from the takedown capability, the operating group is unique to DRD Tactical. More about that later. Attention to detail has not been forgotten.

While talking with Skip, the idea gelled to take the Paratus and make it into a backpack gun—a truly discreet rifle. DRD does offer a backpack with the Paratus, but we wanted to go further. Most serious shooters know that a marksman or sniper has to be prepared to take a long, long hike to get where he’s in position for the shot.

Recently, a lot of that job has been to Humvee into an area, scout a building and climb to a perch. I suppose that carrying a small hard case is good for that, but for the 10-15 kilometer hike to get deep into a territory and quickly prepare for a long, accurate shot, a backpack is much better. The choice is whether you want to try to be camouflaged military style or simply pass as a backpacker out in the wilderness. We chose the “blend in” method and used the 5.11 Covrt18 backpack for this. Again, more about that later. Sound suppression is key, as well as extremely accurate shooting out to about 6-800 meters. Thus, the Trijicon VCOG and the Gemtech Quicksand have been chosen for this project. And, of course, the DRD Tactical Paratus is a starting point.

Magpul’s MBUS low profile, light weight front and real folding back up sights were the choice for the Paratus/VCOG sighting system. The back sight tucks in way out of the way, and the front sight is unobtrusive as well. Both are robust and easy to use.

The Rifle

DRD Tactical has worked long and hard to make an accurate Designated Marksman’s Rifle that fits in a small case. Part two of that “Ready” is how fast can you put it together, and part three is does it return to accurate? The quick answers? First, it fits in a very small case, 18x12x8 inches; second, with a bit of practice, it goes together in less than 60 seconds; and third this is one minute of angle rifle, and every time we tested it, it returned to point of aim. Basically, this rifle shoots better than I can, and it’s all done with a 16-inch barrel.

While the spec sheet gives some idea of the basic rifle, the details require a bit more information. We chose the “Battle Worn” finish for the project rifle, because it tends to blend into backgrounds for urban areas or in shadow and because that finish looks pretty cool. Face it, we like our weapons to perform but we like to have a nice appearance as well. More importantly of course, is “How does it work?”

The answer is that it works very, very well. Every part is carefully thought out, from the unique operating system described in the takedown sequence of this article, to the ambidextrous controls and the bolt release system—the blending of many technologies simply works. The controls are easy to operate, and I have to commend DRD on the charging system. It’s almost an OCD thing for this author—removing the right hand from the pistol grip and trigger position (the fire control) and especially removing the eyes from line of sight to target are big disadvantages. Eugene Stoner once said that his original design of the AR series had an ambidextrous charging handle inside the carry handle for that very reason, but Big Army had him change it (partially due to the heating of the gas tube entering in that area). With DRD’s design, eyes can stay on the sights, fingers on the controls, and the weak hand can perform mag changes etc as well as charging. It shortens response time in those critical seconds of combat engagement.

The barrel support system is excellent—very solid, connecting the barrel base to the receiver assembly, not allowing for any looseness at all—it’s a smooth fit.

“The Trijicon VCOG (Variable Combat Optical Gunsight) is a rugged variable powered riflescope with an LED illuminated first focal plane BDC reticle. The VCOG is designed for extreme durability and features superior glass quality. The magnification range accommodates CQB and long distance marksmanship. The VCOG is a MIL-spec grade optic, robust enough for any application.”

The Discreet Pack: 5.11′s COVRT18

During the test period of the rifle, when we would have government groups in for training at Phoenix Defence, I would walk into the room with the backpack, set it on a table, take a bottle of water out of it and drink some while discussing the course with the attendees. Then, I would take a notepad from the pack, and make notes. Finally, I’d ask if anyone had a stopwatch on him— usually a volunteer with a phone would pipe in. I’d ask him to start it, then drop the pack on its back, open it, remove the first tray and the receiver system. Flip the stock open, then assemble the barrel and forend. Next, the bipod, the suppressor, and the magazine snapped into place, placed neatly in front of the class and then say “Stop.” It is almost invariably under 60 seconds from the innocuous looking backpack, to a deadly accurate suppressed sniper rifle, and it always starts the conversations going. Many of these people are not fully aware of the COTS solutions they could encounter, especially from DRD Tactical.

The hard case is a small one, enough to not raise eyebrows, but the backpacks they offered were basic off-the-shelf variants. The test gun was ordered with the 5.11 Covrt 18 discreet backpack in Asphalt/Black. There were 7 colors to choose from—Ice, Storm, black, and foliage among them—there was a maroon offered as well. With the idea being to “Fit in” with backpackers, the COVRT 18 is an excellent choice—no moly on the outside, nothing that looks military showing other than the small 5.11 tag. I’ve used these backpacks for years, all over the planet, with no one noticing other than another contractor seeing the 5.11 tag and mentioning it while going through screening at an airport in the Middle East. (Tag + scissors = no more comments). There are other companies making discreet backpacks, but I like this one.

5.11 COVRT18 Pack

It was necessary to stiffen up the support for the optics and to reshape the backpack so that the barrel assembly didn’t stick out too high or low. A 2-lb density closed-cell polyethylene sheet was chosen and layers were cut out to fit, using an electric carving knife and a heat knife to seal weak areas. The closed-cell foam cradles the firearm and system in two layers, and is also buoyant—drop the pack in water, it floats. There are two layers, and each layer has a ½-inch layer under it to secure it. Gluing these into place was done with 3M Hi-Strength 90 Contact Adhesive— it’s specific to Polyethylene like this, and properly used, will last through a lot of abuse. (Read the instructions.) So the upper cutout layer is locked to the ½-inch back layer. ½-inch Velcro strips were inserted to secure the items in the layers. It’s fast and efficient.

Why did I want it for the Paratus? Because it’s tried and true, and I’ve used these packs for 4-5 years. The accessibility of the various pockets is excellent, and inside I’ve got the moly I need to position important items like an Otis cleaning kit, Gerber tool (The mine probe tool they make is my choice), med kits, range finder, the small tools you need, extra magazines and even a small computer will fit. There are flop outs to display a unit or organization badge that can be pulled out if needed. There is an inner pocket almost the size of the pack that opens from either side, has a Velcro base, and is very convenient for placing a holster in either direction for quick access to a handgun. I fit an MP5K in mine for a while, and at other times a SIG P227 with Gemtech suppressor. Basically, the Covrt 18 was an excellent choice for the Paratus project.

VCOG’s brightness control for the LED lit reticle is on the left side, and the notches between numbers are “Off” making for a very quick choice in light level, or none.

Armor

There is room in the back section to carry a Level III or Level IV hard plate. I played with the idea of adding that, but the weight and the fact that the discreet nature of the pack and the idea of potential missions a user might be on, precluded adding this. Instead, I opted for Level IIIa soft armor cut to match the stiffener that is inside the water compartment—the Covrt 18 allows for a hydration system. I prefer to put a couple of water bottles in the side pouches, it looks better anyway. So, the backpack system will stop a .44 Magnum handgun round, and the pack can be swung around in front of you to wear as an improvised vest. I had the custom cut Kevlar sealed in a waterproof cover for added longevity.

The Suppressor: GemTech’s Quicksand

Having known Dr. Philip H. Dater for 30 years or so, and being very familiar with the Gemtech products, I chose the Quicksand for this project. The Bi-Lock mount Gemtech uses is very fast, secure, and returns point of impact every time—it can only be installed in one position, so if there is a bit of point of impact shift when suppressed, it will be repeatable. Suppression is a key point in this backpack DMR system, so the operator should assume firing will be suppressed but be aware of any shift when unsuppressed.

The specifications are the party line from Gemtech (all manufacturers try to give a reduction number but there are a lot of variables), and we wanted to know how the Quicksand would perform on the rifle. Suppression of a bolt action is different from a semi-auto which is different from a machine gun, and variations in models and barrel lengths are common. Our first test was not successful due to a mechanical issue with the initial test rifle and suppressor mount (quickly solved but we needed to mention it). Suppressor testing after this was done on an equivalent length rifle barrel on a semiauto using two types of ammunition: Black Hills 175 grain Match and military M80 Ball from Lake City/ATK.


Due to the current understanding of the need to know suppression levels at various locations, especially due to the massive damage to hearing suffered by veterans and the current focus on this, we are using two locations of recording—the old school, i.e., 1 meter left of the muzzle at 90° to the bore axis, and at the Shooter’s Left Ear (SLE).

On a bolt action, the sound reduction would be better. Longer barrel, again, probably better. When one of SADJ’s readers is looking at this chart, they usually understand. So, what does this mean? NATO and other standards point out that 140 db or over is going to cause more hearing damage, and if you can get underneath that magic number at the shooter’s left ear, it’s considered hearing safe. That damage can be cumulative of course, and it’s a major problem, with billions of dollars spent every year for treatment. Suppression is an important part of today’s health issues for shooters. On the Paratus, a semi-automatic rifle, these are very good numbers indeed.

Testing was performed with a Larson-Davis 880B meter, Atmospheric conditions at the time of testing were 77° F, 22% humidity, and station pressure of 683 mmHg. Wind gusts were under 2 mph.

There are tonal differences in suppressors as well, and many hard to define characteristics. Will the Quicksand mask the location of the shooter? Yes. Is it interfering with accuracy? No.

Regarding accuracy, this testing was done later with the Quicksand and without. There was virtually no discernable shift in point of impact, and the groups stayed just as tight with the Quicksand installed, as without. The Quicksand performed as expected—very quiet, and very accurate. At 17.5 ounces, with a very durable finish, the Quicksand matched our needs.


The Optic: Trijicon’s VCOG

It’s not for 1500 meter shooting. Neither is the rifle/system we’re putting together. There are a lot of other criteria much more important in this package. If we start listing a few of the features we require, the choice will become clear: compact, robust, easy to use, clear optics, good reticle choices, uses one AA battery, and will stay dead on at 600+ meters after being in a backpack on a long recon or hike. Check mark on all of these. I had a different choice (Nightforce Beast) on the Kivaari, but we’re not trying to go there. Trijicon also offers several longer range options, the AccuPoint and the AccuPower, but in this situation, the VCOG was my choice.

But what are we really asking the optic to do? We’re looking for something that can survive rigorous and sometimes abusive events. The VCOG does this while many others don’t. One look at the heavy duty aircraft aluminum tube and the low mount, the adjustment knob covers, and the magnification control, and you’ll understand this is built to last. It is also crispy-clear for viewing and the field of view while not the greatest, it is very acceptable at the ranges we’re talking about. The magnification dial is large, long, ribbed and has a very tactile ridge to make adjustment easy with either hand or even light gloves.

A couple of notes about the reticle: First, I chose the red Segmented Circle .308 Crosshair for 175 grain projectiles. That’s basically what most people would feed this rifle. Second the brightness settings are a dream. Every half turn shuts down the LED. Once you decide what the best illumination is for the reticle, you can easily choose between two numbers such as 3-4, and quickly get rid of illumination if needed by clicking between them. Then, back to illumination of the chosen power with one notch turn.

Profile 1

Trijicon lists the Tenebraex Killflash anti-reflection device with flip up covers—this is a really good addition without adding much weight.

Regarding adding a reflex sight, or setting one up on the quarter side right or left, or offset back up sights, the idea was to simplify and save weight where possible. While it’s being taught tactically to rotate the rifle quickly to use the RMR or offsets, the Trijicon fast sighting system works with the VCOG just as well as any occluded eye system would. I opted to engage targets at 300-600 meters, then quickly to about 15 meters just to acclimate and it worked perfectly. This is simulating the real job of the rifle at longer ranges, and suddenly a threat appears at close range. At this point, both eyes open, looking at the target and the red LED illumination centered and it was very fast and accurate. I chose not to add anything extra to the sighting, just some personal training in close target acquisition.

On the other hand, a backup iron sight is a must whenever using a scope. If you’re scope goes down, it needs to come off and give you some options. The simple, low-profile and very light weight Magpul MBUS front and rear sights were my choice in this case. No extra protrusions to the side and just pull the damaged optic and move to iron sights.

Everyone has to fall down somewhere, and my failing in this sighting system was the choice of a moun—I should have chosen the VCOG with quick release mount system that Trijicon offers, but I stuck with the standard Thumb Screw mount out of old habit. It’s a good mount, but in this situation it wouldn’t add any weight to the package and if the optic is damaged would have perhaps been quicker to remove.

the ammo choice:

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The Ammo Choice: Black Hills

There are a lot of options on ammunition today, and Black Hills Ammunition stands at the head of the pack on many levels.

For this system, I’ve chosen what many of today’s marksman and snipers use: .308 175 grain Match Hollow Point. Jeff Hoffman ensures that the quality of his ammunition is top notch. Every aspect of production is closely watched, and I’ve supplied many hundreds of thousands of rounds to satisfied end users over the years. At 2600 FPS, in a 16-inch barrel there’s little velocity loss and a lot of energy left on target. The accuracy was a known factor, so if the groups were “Off” I would know it wasn’t the ammo. In this case, the groups were up to expectations- which are always high with Black Hills.

Filling Out The Pack:

Bipod: The Harris Bipod 6-9 inch adjustable is a no-brainer for a lightweight, reliable bipod. Combined with their quick detach mount for Picatinny rails, and the adjustable cant and lock, it’s one of the most versatile on the market.

Magazines: Magpul P-Mags were our choice—the 20 rounders, but you could choose the 25 rounders. I did not use magazine holders, opting to keep them loose in the front pack.

Cleaning Kit: We used the Otis sniper type cleaning kit. Small, well thought out, a good thorough system.

Male, female, old, young, it doesn’t matter, you should always have at least one sharp knife in your pocket and kit. It’s not so much of a “Fighting Thing,” it’s an everyday survival thing. Today’s airport flying rules and security checks mess with this and many of the old school feel naked when they arrive un-bladed. In this case, due to the weapon involved at the core, let’s assume you can arrive with blades intact.

Knife One: This one’s for fighting, my choice was the Spyderco Salt. Knife Two: This one’s for immediate attachment on a pants pocket edge and its job is cutting, paring, anything from trimming a ripped fingernail to cutting paracord—this would be a small locking knife. Knife Three: This one’s for work. OR, get a tomahawk.

Gemtech Quicksand

SECURIS™ Tomahawk: DRD Tactical has a very well-thought-out Tomahawk. It looks fearsome, and while that’s a “Cool” factor, it really is a versatile tool. The handgrip ribs in the upper handle allow for use as a hammer, as a whittling tool, a can opener macho style, and many other actions. You can cut wood, take a door down, and of course, fight with it if needed. At $350, it’s pricey, but one heck of a well-made piece. I stick it in the hydration part of the pack. The plan would be when at location, strap it on the belt. The quick release sheath then becomes an asset. It’s machined from 3/8” solid piece of 4140 Chrome-Moly Steel.

Knife sharpener: I’ve been using the DMT Diamond folding flat sharpener for some time. It’s lightweight and slides into the moly inside. Add a Firestarter as well.

Medical: You know what you need. Betadine, sutures, clotting bandages, etc., add in alcohol swipes—cleaning blades as well as sterilizing.

Water: You can put a hydration system in the backpack if you want, I tend to put two bottles in the side pouches. It looks more natural.

Food: A couple of MRE pouches should last a while, I tend to split them up into different pouches and toss what I don’t want to save weight. Not what the Army intended but, hey, I get to choose.

Gemtech Quicksand

In Closing

DRD Tactical and Skip Patel have built several amazing rifle designs and this one tops our list. While it might not be the answer to 1500-meter targeting, it wasn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be covert, discreet, and do a job out to perhaps 1000 meters depending on the optic. We’re suitably impressed with this rifle—it’s one of the best and most innovative rifles we have tested recently. When combined with some of the systems above, the versatility really shines. SADJ highly recommends the Paratus for those who have the interest or need. There are many ways you can make a discreet system out of this, personalized for your needs; this was just one exercise in what one man thought would accessorize the Paratus properly.

Contacts: DRD Tactical
Tel: +1-678-398-9059
Email: drd@drdtactical.com
Website: www.drdtactical.com
Trijicon: www.trijicon.com
Gemtech: www.gemtech.com
5.11 Tactical: www.511tactical.com
Magpul: www.magpul.com
Black Hills: www.black-hills.com
Harris: www.harrisbipods.com
Spyderco: www.spyderco.com
DMT Sharpeners: www.dmtsharp.com

Trijicon’s VCOG is a 1-6x24mm optic that has been covered numerous times in SADJ.

It’s not for 1500 meter shooting. Neither is the rifle/system we’re putting together. There are a lot of other criteria much more important in this package. If we start listing a few of the features we require, the choice will become clear: compact, robust, easy to use, clear optics, good reticle choices, uses one AA battery, and will stay dead on at 600+ meters after being in a backpack on a long recon or hike. Check mark on all of these. I had a different choice (Nightforce Beast) on the Kivaari, but we’re not trying to go there. Trijicon also offers several longer range options, the AccuPoint and the AccuPower, but in this situation, the VCOG was my choice.

trijicon says:

“The Trijicon VCOG (Variable Combat Optical Gunsight) is a rugged variable powered riflescope with an LED illuminated first focal plane BDC reticle. The VCOG is designed for extreme durability and features superior glass quality. The magnification range accommodates CQB and long distance marksmanship. The VCOG is a MIL-spec grade optic, robust enough for any application.”

Paratus Takedown, Step 1. One of the keys to DRD’s forward rail/takedown system, is the combination crosspin (to the front) and locking lever.

Paratus Takedown, Step 2. First, after removing the magazine and clearing the weapon, the takedown lever is opened to the right.

Paratus Takedown, Step 3. Next, the crosspin, which locates and centers the forend, is pushed to the right.

Paratus Takedown, Step 4. This allows the forward movement of the forend.

Paratus Takedown, Step 5. The long barrel nut secures the barrel to the upper receiver and provides excellent support helping with accuracy.

Paratus Takedown, Step 6. DRD provides a spanner wrench for loosening or tightening the barrel nut, shown here it is being loosened for takedown.

Paratus Takedown, Step 7. When the bolt carrier is forward, the bolt lugs are in the barrel extension and the barrel can’t be properly removed.

Paratus Takedown, Step 8. The charging handle is retracted (on the left side) enough to disengage the bolt lugs.

Paratus Takedown, Step 9. The barrel assembly with gas tube can then be removed forward.

Paratus Takedown, Step 10. This photo shows the barrel, gas tube and barrel nut after removal.

Paratus Takedown, Step 11. DRD supplies a special cap to protect the threads, and to keep the gas tube end from being pushed out of position or damaged.

Paratus Takedown, Step 12. The cap is screwed into place just as if the barrel assembly went onto the receiver.

Paratus Takedown, Step 13. Basic disassembly for packing the DRD Tactical Paratus. The only step further here is to lock the forend onto the barrel.

Paratus Takedown, Step 14. Right side of the receiver preparing for disassembly. Above the ambidextrous selector is the takedown pin.

Paratus Takedown, Step 15. The takedown pin is pushed out to the right.

Paratus Takedown, Step 16. Before rotating the upper receiver open, the operating rod and spring must be captured and held in to the front. There is quite a bit of spring tension, and the operating system must be controlled on takedown.

Paratus Takedown, Step 17. The DRD Tactical Paratus operating system above the stock, as removed.

Paratus Takedown, Step 18. The bolt carrier group, shown right, left and oblique left, is a carefully designed system based on the Stoner direct-gas impingement design. The bolt lugs and cam pin operate along with the gas key with a highly evolved adaptation of the system. The smooth internal expansion of gases provides a non-tilting motion to both extraction of the bolt, as well as movement of the bolt carrier. The cam pin path provides perfect timing for relaxation of the brass and extraction.

Paratus Takedown, Step 19. Skip Patel’s signature touch—the single operating rod and spring, centered above the line of fire of the bolt carrier/bore, defeats most of the internal recoil forces that can push a rifle off its centerline. It is very smooth to shoot, and having the operating system captured in the upper receiver allows for the side-folding stock.

Paratus Takedown, Step 20. Inside the lower receiver is the fire control system, a simply dynamic approach with a two stage trigger system allowing for a crisp break on firing.

Paratus Takedown, Step 21. The rear of the receiver has a buffer system for any bottoming out the bolt carrier may experience, depending on ammunition.

Paratus Takedown, Step 22. Inside the lower receiver is the fire control system, a simply, dynamic approach with a twostage trigger system allowing for a crisp break on firing. The rear of the receiver.

Paratus Takedown, Step 23. Right side of the Magpul retractable stock that DRD chooses for the Paratus model.