By: Warren Gray

Copyright © 2023

“SIG Sauer let the SG 553 out of the barn back in 2009…the SG 553’s main upgrade

is the infusion of sound elements featured in SG 550/551 models into the compact,

mid-range, assault rifle. Chief among these is wrapping the recoil spring around the piston rod…Compact yet hearty, this is a gun designed for basic concealment, quick aiming, and fast movement. It has been tested in all conditions from desert, to jungle,

to Arctic, and passed each with flying colors.”

 —  Aaron Samsel, for, March 15, 2011.

The SIG Sauer SG 552 Commando assault carbine was created in July 1998, as the shortest and most-compact version of the venerable, Swiss-manufactured, SG 550 assault rifle family, in 5.56x45mm NATO, with an 8.9-inch barrel and three-pronged, Vortex-style, B&T Rotex flash hider. It was a superb close-combat weapon, adopted by military and police special operations units in Egypt, Finland, Indonesia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, the United Kingdom (police), the Vatican, and Venezuela.

The short, handy SG 552 was so popular and effective that it was featured in at least 28 films, including The Transporter (2002), The Bourne Identity (2002), Miami Vice, Live Free or Die Hard, and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and appeared in at least eight television series, including The Unit (2006 to 2009).

Due to some reliability concerns, however, the special carbine was modified and updated in 2009, and was renamed as the SG 553 SOW (“Special Operations Weapon”), featuring a separate gas piston, and a captured recoil spring located in front of the bolt, within the gas tube, as on the earlier SG 550 and SG 551. Upgrade kits are available for converting the SG 552 into an SG 553.

The product-improved SG 553 SOW has been officially adopted by elite military and police forces in Argentina, Canada, France (GIGN counterterrorist unit), Germany (GSG 9 counterterrorist unit), Malaysia, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States (Drug Enforcement Administration). It’s also rumored to be used in very small numbers by U.S. Navy SEALs and U.S. Air Force Special Tactics teams.

In addition, the SG 552 or SG 553 has been featured in at least 35 films since 2010, including Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011), White House Down (2013), The Expendables 3 (2014), Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), and Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning-Part One (SG 552-2 in 2023).

Within the Swiss Special Forces, their primary firearm is the Sturmgewehr 07 (the SG 553-1 LB [Long-Barrel, 13.7 inches] SOW assault carbine in 5.56mm, in OD green, with quick-change, conversion kits to employ either a 10.7-inch or 8.9-inch barrel on the SG553-1 SB [Short-Barrel] model). Various types of optics may be attached, and B&T Rotex-V suppressors (Swiss-made) are often employed.

SIG SG 553 SOW, long-barrel (LB) and short-barrel (SB) versions. Photo credit: SIG Sauer

GunSite South Africa reviewed the carbine on October 9, 2011, writing that, “Overall quality and finish is Swiss-perfect in all areas and aspects. The bolt carrier is perfectly finished…and the bolt shaft is polished to a very high sheen for perfect movement within the carrier. The bolt carrier and bolt are overall extremely well-made and finished…Trigger pull is smooth in take-up, with a crisp break and short reset.”

Aaron Samsel noted for on March 15, 2011, that, “This feat becomes truly impressive when you consider the receiver (isn’t) made of steel. In an effort to trim weight, they made it out of aluminum…Developed primarily for Special Forces teams…the SG 553 looks like a good candidate for ambushes, interventions, and even room clearing, protective details, (and) counterterrorism.”

The SG 553 SOW is remarkably compact and versatile due to its side-folding, high-strength, polymer stock and B&T Picatinny rails, with translucent, polymer magazines available in five, 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30 rounds, and a selector lever to fire either semiautomatic, three-round bursts, or fully-automatic, at 700 rounds per minute, or 11.7 rounds per second. It is produced in either black or green, military finish, with the gas system components made of stainless steel. Semiautomatic-only versions are also produced for police and civilians. The SG 553 measures only 28.7 inches overall with the stock extended, or 19.7 inches with the stock folded.

SIG SG 553 SOW with stock folded. Photo credit:

The standard European model is now called the SG 553 AL CH, meaning aluminum (AL) receiver, Swiss (CH) model, and there is an SG 553 AL US model for the U.S. market, which accepts AR-15-style, metal magazines. The SG 553 R (“Russian”) is chambered for the 7.62x39mm Russian cartridge, fed from AK-47 magazines, and since 2016, there is a new, SG 553 BK model in .300 AAC Blackout.

Swiss Special Forces soldier with SG 553 LB SOW. Photo credit: Pinterest

In conclusion, the SIG Sauer SG 553 SOW is a top-quality, high-precision, very compact, assault carbine, at the very high end of pricing ($3,800) for a 5.56mm weapon, but legendary, Swiss quality and utter reliability are its hallmarks. If I could select any 5.56mm carbine in the world to take into combat, the absolutely superb SG 553 SOW would be my top choice!

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Warren Gray is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism and is an NRA member. He served in Europe and the Middle East, graduated from the USAF Combat Survival School, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author, historian, and hunter.