American 180 – The Rimfire Support Weapon

How many times has a .22LR submachine gun ever been adopted by a state law enforcement agency? I’ll give you two guesses, but you’ll only need one. Literally one, only one agency ever adopted a 22LR SMG, and that seems reasonable. 

Who needs a .22LR SMG? Well, apparently, the Utah Department of Corrections did. They adopted the American 180 SMG back in the days before cell phones. It’s also worth noting a Florida cop (Of course, Florida) once used an American 180 when pursuing a felon. The felon was quickly dissuaded by a burst from the American 180. The American 180 is a fascinating little weapon, and I’d guess most folks recognize it as that weird SMG from Fallout New Vegas. 

Inside the American 180 

This angry hive of wasps was a very odd gun all around. The American 180 is a .22LR (limited models made in .22 Short Magnum), select fire, open bolt only submachine gun. It fires from a top-mounted pan magazine that holds anywhere from 165 to 275 rounds, depending on its tiers. While only one American agency adopted the weapon they apparently saw use in South Africa, and the GIPN in France purchased two of them for whatever reason. 

The weapon fired at a rate of 1,200 to 1,500 rounds per minute. It’s absurdly fast for a handheld weapon. A full-auto AKM fires at about 600 rounds per minute for comparison. The main selling point was that you had a lightweight, man-portable weapon that could fire very quickly without much recoil. The little .22LR round was less likely to over-penetrate barriers, so it was thought to be safer. At the same time, the user could fire a handful of rounds into a threat quickly and effectively. 

It’s almost like a shotgun firing number four buckshot with a much longer effective range than any shotgun. A .22LR round certainly isn’t the best fighting round, but it’s capable of penetrating deep enough to shut a threat down. A handful of .22LR will shut someone down quite efficiently. 

The Weird World of the American 180 

The American 180 actually came from Austria. Weird, right? The original guns were imported from Austria and assembled in the United States. However, later on, they were built in the United States. The original company that marketed the gun was the American Arms International Corporation. 

The 180 name came from the original capacity. The original three-tiered pan magazine held 180 rounds. Later on, the metal production models only held 177 rounds. The American 177 didn’t roll off the tongue in the same way. 

Speaking of those magazines. The pan magazines held a lot of rounds and were powered by a spring-loaded wind-up design. The magazines took about 15 minutes to load. The standard three-tier 177-round magazine is the most common. There was also a five-tiered 275-round magazine. 

After loading the magazine, the user had to load the spring motor, which, if done incorrectly, would spring out of the gun and unwind itself. When this happens, your spring motor will jam, which is not user-repairable. Removing the magazine with a loaded spring motor, the user had to move the spring motto’s brake lever to a specific position. 

As you can see, this was not a simple system by any means. 

The Numerous Variants 

The standard model of the American 180 had an 18.5-inch barrel, but several barrel variants were produced. This includes a 16 and 14-inch model as well as the uber-short 9.5-inch model. The American 180’s stock could be easily removed, and with a 9.5-inch barrel, you had a very small and controllable SMG. 

It bears mentioning that AAI sold the design to Ilarco, and then it was sold to Feather Industries, and finally to E&L Manufacturing. There are subtle changes between each gun, but most parts will work with each variant. 

There was an Uncover Briefcase produced for the American 180. This allowed a stockless American 180 to be mounted and even fired from inside a briefcase. The weapon used an early laser sight. 

There were also several experiments in which multiple American 180 SMGs were mounted together in dual and quad mounts. The quad mount model fit to an M122 tripod and offered about 7,000 RPM. A salesman once mounted two quad-mount American 180 SMGs to a prop plane with the intent of selling the idea to 3rd world countries. 

There were also a number of closed-bolt, semi-auto-only variants produced for civilian sales, but they were never highly popular. The American 180 is certainly a fascinating SMG, and while it was never highly successful, it was certainly creative. I really want to shoot one and feel the power of an angry hive of bees. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.