The Rock Island Armory 5.0 Radically Revolutionary


The Rock Island Armory 5.0 is like the yeti, your daughter’s imaginary unicorn, or the elusive fiscally responsible congressman.

It is the sort of mystical thing you overhear folks speaking of in veiled whispers at the range while they glance furtively about, but you’re not convinced it’s actually real. Amidst a lamentable sea of sameness at your local gun emporium, the RIA 5.0 is something legitimately radical, new, fresh and different.

Paradigm Shifting

John Moses Browning is a legend amongst geeks like us for good reason. The guy held 128 patents when he finally keeled over from heart failure at age 71, toiling away at the FN plant in Liege, Belgium. He designed every rifle-caliber automatic weapon used by U.S. forces in World War II. John Browning is the Beyonce of the gun world. He’s what would happen if Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, John Wayne and Elvis all had a baby, and that baby started designing firearms.

Though the great man died before it was completed, the GP35 Browning Hi-Power was his crowning achievement. His colleague Dieudonné Saive, an extraordinary firearms engineer on his own merit (he designed the FN FAL rifle), completed the gun after he passed. The basic recoil-operated, tilting-lock action has since come to drive almost every combat handgun on the planet. Just like the mousetrap, the paperclip, the movie Aliens, Count Chocula cereal and my wife, the Hi-Power was rightfully considered by those in the know to be perfect. It was thought to represent the ultimate pinnacle of firearms evolution. And then this thing happened. I feel kind of tingly all over just thinking about it.

The RIA 5.0 is the sort of gun you might stumble upon amidst the wreckage of an alien spacecraft. Where design influences in most modern combat handguns track back a century or more, the RIA 5.0 is legitimately groundbreaking. It feeds from a box magazine, but that’s about the only thing with this gun that is familiar or conventional.


As you first heft the RIA 5.0, you notice immediately this is unlike your typical combat pistol. For starters, the barrel is square … on the outside. The inside is round and rifled, just like you might expect. The external contour, however, is essentially a box. This square shape interfaces seamlessly with a corresponding square cutout on the inside of the slide. That’s kind of weird, but it’s a good kind of weird. The slide rides on these glassy-smooth flats for an inimitably seamless cycling experience. This is tough to put into words, but you feel it right off when you cycle the slide by hand. Imagine warm snot across glass.

The barrel doesn’t tilt. Unlike conventional Browning-style autoloaders, the barrel on the RIA 5.0 remains stationary as the slide cycles. Everything remains directly in the line of recoil. More on that later.

The frame wraps around the slide in the manner of the Czech CZ75. This minimizes the slide gripping surface, but it drops the bore axis as low as physics will allow. It’s not really possible to drop the bore axis of a handgun any lower. This nifty bit of unconventional architecture also contributes to minimizing recoil and excising muzzle flip.

The gun is unnaturally nose-heavy. The forward portion of the pistol is a massive aluminum frame cut into a Picatinny rail. The front-heavy architecture combines with the rest of this radically innovative stuff to do some of the most delightful things to the gun’s recoil characteristics.

In keeping with the thoroughly unconventional nature of this beast, the frame itself is a composite of sorts. The structure is aluminum, while the grip is formed from a rugged polymer insert. The polymer bit is nicely stippled, easy on the mitts, and impervious to sweat and corrosion. The demarcation between steel and polymer is essentially seamless.

The hybrid nature of this design is just cool. The components that manage pressures and reciprocating components are all metal. The bits that interface with your soft sensitive flesh are polymer. It’s the best of both worlds.

There are but two controls. The magazine release is left-side-only and in the expected spot. The slide stop is likewise on the left side of the frame. Aside from a simply extraordinary trigger, there’s just nothing else to wiggle.

My particular test gun didn’t have any iron sights. In their place was a top-flight C-More red dot. As I said, this is a different sort of handgun. Rock Island is launching this pistol with a limited run of such optics-only configurations to be followed by conventional iron-sighted models, as shown in the pictures here.

The finish is a deep, rugged black that looks like that inky spot between the stars on a clear summer night. Fit and finish are both superb, as we might expect. Additionally, stamped discreetly on the right side of the frame, it reads “MADE IN USA-Cedar City, UT.”
Armscor, the international umbrella that owns the American company Rock Island Armory, is the largest manufacturer of small arms in SE Asia. They are the largest producer of 1911 pistols on the planet. Armscor is based in the Philippines and has been churning out quality firearms since right after World War II. It seems they are now going to try their hand at building guns on this side of the pond. I’m just giddy at the prospects.

The Trigger

Ah, the trigger. In keeping with the overall mantra of radical differentness, the RIA 5.0 ignites via an internal hammer system. There’s nothing on the outside to snag and very little to see. However, the hammer-fired ignition system offers an inimitably rapturous trigger experience. There is the obligatory safety tab built into the trigger face, but it is all beautifully smooth. The wide, flat-faced trigger draws through a modestly long yet ethereally light take-up to break predictably and brilliantly. The reset is as short as a toddler’s attention span. The overall ambiance is like that of a superbly tuned target gun. If your groups wander, it isn’t due to the trigger.


Fred Craig is the brains behind the RIA 5.0. That guy is my hero. He is the Leonardo da Vinci of firearms. He contrived the .22 TCM. The .22 TCM is my hands-down favorite firearms cartridge.

If you’ve not yet partaken of the .22 TCM, then you have my pity. TCM stands for Tuason Craig Micromagnum. I don’t wish to oversell, but the .22 TCM is the coolest round in the world.

Fred started with a 5.56mm cartridge and then cut it down. If my math is correct, the technical appellation would be 5.56x26mm. This charming little cartridge pushes a 40-grain JHP bullet to around 2,000 fps out of my high-capacity RIA 1911. The end result is all but recoilless and shoots like a laser. It also produces the most adorable softball-sized muzzle flash each time you squeeze the trigger. If I had an unlimited amount of ammunition, I could shoot this thing until I starved to death.

Back in 2003, Fred came out with a radically advanced gun he called the M11 Merc. My friend and mentor Roy Huntington reviewed it for American Handgunner back in the day. Roy described the M11 Merc as “The Gas Gun Meets the Terminator.” That’s quite the accurate statement.

The M11 Merc employed a novel gas-delayed action. That mechanism tapped a bit of gas from the barrel and used it against a piston to slow down and buffer the reciprocating slide. The new RIA 5.0 is something else entirely.

Mechanical Magic

I’m seldom the smartest guy in the room, but I’m not stupid. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and have been immersed in guns ever since I was weaned. Despite all that, it still took a humble email requesting advice before I could get the RIA 5.0 disassembled. Once I had actually pawed over everything, it took yet another humble email to figure out just what it was I was looking at. I had never seen anything like this before.

Fred calls it the RVS or Ram Valve System. When first I saw the term “valve,” I went searching for a gas port. However, this valve manages raw mechanical energy rather than gas.

The RVS is a patented linear locking system that secures the action at the moment of firing but allows the weapon to cycle without upsetting the bore axis. In Browning-inspired recoil-operated handguns, the barrel has to tilt to unlock and affect operation. In the case of the 5.0, this mechanical valve unlocks and allows the gun’s recoil forces to cycle the slide. All of this conspires to just gobble up felt recoil.

The Firing System

Fred calls the internal hammer system the Micro Hammer Assembly. Up close, this looks more like a flapper of some sort than a conventional hammer. Fred first contrived this thing in 2008 while working for Smith & Wesson.

The Micro Hammer Assembly is spunky enough to ensure reliable ignition while offering a trigger personality in keeping with a finely tuned 1911. The overall effect, just like everything else about the 5.0, is just so refreshingly different. It’s not really a 1911, and it’s definitely not a striker-fired GLOCK. The 5.0 is indeed an entirely new experience on the range.

Trigger Time

The RIA 5.0 is not the gun you toss into the tacklebox for use against water moccasins while you’re out drowning crickets. In addition to some simply mad mechanical skills, Fred was, for years, a truly world-class competitive handgun shooter. That guy knows precision handguns. The 5.0 is designed to be competitive with the 5″ target and combat match guns. The 5.0 is intended for match use right out of the box. It is rumored to be affordable in that stratum as well.

The combination of the nigh heavenly trigger, the radically innovative recoil system, and an unnaturally low bore axis synergistically produce a shooting experience that borders upon the surreal. Recoil is more a shove than a snap, and the trigger is simply to die for. Follow-up shots are fast, straight and fun. The minimalist combat controls still allow you to run your 5.0 like a machine gun in competition if that’s your bag.

This is the smoothest handgun action I have ever encountered. I’ve been squeezing triggers for fun and money since 1989, and this thing is different. The gun cycles more like a sewing machine than a firearm.

I’m honestly not God’s gift to combat pistol shooting. I certainly do it a lot, but you’ll never mistake my groups for those of Mas Ayoob. However, running the RIA 5.0 off of a simple rest, I could kill the heck out of a tennis ball at 20 meters. By my standards, that is flirting with perfection. We naturally had no failures during our range time together.


The RIA 5.0 is a genuinely beautiful handgun. It is completely unlike anything else in the gun shop. It’s a bit on the heavy side for concealed carry underneath shorts and a T-shirt, but I’d be completely comfortable tucking this high-tech rascal into the bedside table for those times when the dog just won’t shut up at night. Slap a Streamlight TLR-8G on the rail and you have a combat tool par excellence.

Most things that warrant shooting warrant shooting twice. I could bang out double taps while on the move behind the RIA 5.0 without breaking a sweat. If your rounds start to wander with the 5.0, I’m afraid it’s not the gun.

So ask yourself what you’re in this for. If you want some indestructible beater to lose underneath the seat of your truck. (A very bad thing to do. Never, ever do this.) then hit your local gun emporium and ask for something ugly. However, if you are a connoisseur who appreciates the finer attributes of a truly inspired mechanism, then heft an RIA 5.0 and just cycle the slide by hand. You’ll feel the difference as you stand there at the counter.

See Roy Huntington’s video review HERE.

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