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Assault Rifles and Their Technology.

The assault rifle is now established as the standard infantry arm within virtually every national defence force around the world. It has come a long way in design and technology terms since the first hesitant attempts to produce such a weapon were made during and just after the Great War of 1914-1918. Those early attempts usually foundered on two rocks -- over-powerful ammunition and complexity, the latter leading to excessive weight and unreliability.

The modern assault rifle is a highly reliable and accurate selective fire weapon, producing both single-shot and fully automatic fire; some designs can also produce limited burst fire. These assets multiply the potential firepower of the individual soldier by a significant degree, both in the attack and in defence, while imposing no additional weight, bulk or handling burdens on the end user.

Getting to such a stage has not been straightforward. The history of the assault rifle is strewn with wrong turnings, false assumptions and downright bad decisions. Thankfully, the current situation has settled down to the stage where very few new advancements, other than yet more hopefuls and short of the arrival of revolutionary technologies, now seem likely to occur, despite the large number of models currently on offer. The assault rifle is now at the same design refinement stage that the bolt action service rifle displayed just before its demise.

Outlines

Today's assault rifle is gas-operated, with the mechanism locked at the instant of firing by a rotary multi-lug bolt. Some older designs, such as the Heckler & Koch series, employ alternative locking methods, but it is noticeable that the latest H & K G36 family has adopted the universal rotary bolt. Refined to its present standard by the late Eugene Stoner, the rotary locking bolt is unlikely to be replaced by anything better, even though the methods of making that bolt operate are likely to differ in detail.

The ammunition question has also settled down following a prolonged period of argument and trials, pursued by yet more trials. Two ammunition families dominate the current scene, the Western 5.56 x 45 mm and the Eastern Bloc 5.45 x 39 mm. That does not mean that assault rifles utilise only these calibres. Rifles firing what must historically become regarded as one of the biggest selection mistakes in recent small arms history, namely the 7.62 x 51 mm Nato cartridge, are with us still and are likely to remain so for many years to come. The Eastern Bloc equivalent, the less powerful 7.62 x 39 mm M1943 cartridge, probably the most widely produced and utilised small arms cartridge of all time, seems destined to remain in use indefinitely, along with assault rifles to fire it.

The intermediate power cartridge, epitomised by the 7.62 x 39 mm, is what makes the assault rifle concept work. Accepting that overwhelming numbers of infantry encounters take place at ranges of less than 400 metres (according to exhaustive combat analysis) means the need for more powerful rifle ammunition no longer remains. It then becomes possible, using intermediate power cartridges, to deliver automatic fire from the shoulder with reasonable accuracy. This is not really possible with full power cartridges, such as the 7.62 x 51 mm, as the recoil forces and stresses on the rifle and user are simply too great to both for accurate fire control and human comfort.

One factor noticeable in recent years is that bullpups are fashionable -- every recent offering (other than the G36) has been a bullpup. Placing the pistol group ahead of the ammunition feed arrangements makes the bullpup assault rifle compact and handy. Other recent innovations include the widespread use of moulded synthetic materials, such as polymers, in place of wooden furniture and, in some cases, even of items such as receivers. This not only reduces unit costs while retaining strength but the end result can be moulded to all manner of smooth ergonomic outlines.

Models

Two models dominate the assault rifle scene, although that has never prevented other manufacturers from attempting to make inroads into that dominance. Those two models are the American AR-15/M16 series and the Soviet/Russian Kalashnikov series.

Of the two, the Kalashnikov series is by far the most important numerically, with most production estimates starting at around 50 million and increasing all the time. Although no Kalashnikov series rifles have been manufactured within Russia for more than five years, they continue to be manufactured in quantity by many other nations. Starting with the 7.62 mm AK-47 and the AKM, the series expanded into the 5.45 mm AK-74 and the "shorty" AKS-74U, the latter offering so much short range firepower into a small package that many regard it as a form of sub-machine gun. Light machine gun variants of both the 7.62 and 5.45 mm rifles have appeared, emphasising the ability of many current assault rifles to exist in a "family" environment, with one base rifle design being capable of modification into a carbine, light machine gun/squad fire support weapon, and even specialist high accuracy rifle variants. As the 5.45 mm AK-74 was regarded only as an interim model when first introduced during the late 1980s, what became the Abakan programme began in earnest. The programme's main intention was to improve accuracy, and one Gennadiy Nikonov decided to utilise rapid fire techniques that ensured that two (or at one time three) bullets were out of the muzzle before the resultant recoil forces forced the muzzle off the selected target. For this he devised the "blowback shifted pulse" system now incorporated into the 5.45 mm AN-94 (see that entry further). The mechanism that allows all this to happen is complex and even involves a cable and pulley system to assist loading during the rapid fire phase. Extensive trials have demonstrated the reliability of the mechanism. Complexities extend to the muzzle brake design which utilises "double cyclone" chambers to cool the propellant gases before they are directed out and upwards to attenuate muzzle jump and recoil to further enhance overall accuracy. The AN-94 can accommodate a bayonet (mounted horizontally) and a 40 mm grenade launcher. The levels of accuracy produced by the AN-94 compared to other rifles are quite startling with, for instance, a 13-fold increase in hit probability when firing from the shoulder while standing. It is possible to select only the two-round rapid fire mode or the combined rapid fire/standard fire mode.

While the name Mikhail Kalashnikov will always be associated with the AK-47, that of Eugene Stoner is the corresponding name for the AR-15/M16 series. Nevertheless, although manufactured in millions, the M16 series has yet to reach the production quantities attained by the Kalashnikov products, but there is no sign of the M16 series reaching its conclusion, the latest form being the M16A4, with the M16A1 and M16A2 being the most prolific models. M16 series rifles will be with us for many years to come, even after innovations such as the grenade-launching Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) arrive in US Army hands. In addition, many rifles on the market are simply M16 clones or employ the Stoner mechanism in a redesigned package.

The M16 family of weapons is based on the original small calibre 5.56 x 45 mm Nato rifle designed by Stoner in the late 1950s to meet a US Army requirement for a lightweight, yet lethal small calibre assault rifle. The high velocity of the round combined with the low recoil delivered a lethal projectile and helped improve accuracy. The AR-15 is currently a heavy barrel semi-automatic, sporting version of the M16. All of the weapons feature the gas operated, straight line, rotary bolt locking mechanism. Stoner saved on weight by substituting highly durable plastic materials for the traditional wooden furniture. In the early stages of the weapon's development, bureaucratic processes and differences led to prolonged testing and evaluation. Early versions fired in the semi-automatic and fully automatic modes only. A three-round burst was added later with a fully automatic option as a technical solution said to improve accuracy but sure to help save on ammunition, and perhaps improve users' fire discipline. Evolution of various other elements of the system have been designed to improve accuracy and make the weapon more manageable when fired in the automatic mode.

Improvements in 5.56 mm ammunition led to a change from the "1 in 12 inch" twist barrel to a "1 in 7 inch" twist to take advantage of the construction of he SS109 round. The current M16A4 is the latest version that incorporates the most up-to-date modular weapon concepts. The distinctive silhouette of the carrying handle was eliminated for new durable plastic handguards with built-in Picatinny rails that allow the user to attach a variety of accessories, from laser designators and flashlights to telescopic sights and day/night vision devices.

As a design, the weapon reflects the ingenious combination of earlier technologies. It is the father of small arms industries in other countries including South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines. A licensed version of the M16 is also under production in Canada. Although the US Army is pursuing its Objective Individual Combat Weapon programme, military observers recognize the M16 will remain in the US inventory well into the 21st century.

The M4 Carbine is a short version of the M16 rifle, having a telescopic butt to reduce the carry length even further. The M4A1 is a special forces variant with a Picatinny Rail over the receiver for various sighting systems while the M4A1 CQB (close quarter battle) has a mounting rail forestock as well to accommodate combat accessories such as laser pointers. The M4A1 CQB, another special forces model, is issued complete with a kit of combat accessories, including an M203 40 mm grenade launcher.

There is no sign of the older first generation 7.62 x 51 mm rifles fading away either. While the 7.62 mm M14 may have been replaced by the M16 series within the US Army and Air Force, the M14 remains with the US Navy and various other users. Many nations continue to rely on the Heckler & Koch 7.62 mm G3 series, while others continue to favour the many derivatives of the FN Herstal 7.62 mm Fal. Both are still on offer from their original manufacturers and both continue to be the subject of numerous production licences.

One day the development history of the British 5.56 mm SA-80 Individual Weapon (IW), otherwise known as the L85A1, and Light Support Weapon (LSW), the L86A1, will be used as an example of how not to develop small arms. Without going into long and tedious detail, the development history of the rifle, the L85A1 IW, was long, involved and at times difficult to follow. Requirements changed along with executive staff and production premises until the whole process had lasted almost a decade before the troops got their hands on service examples during the mid 1980s.

The L85A1 proved to be a highly accurate bullpup assault rifle, thanks in no small measure to its x1.5 Susat optical sight, but it developed into a constant source of minor troubles. Matters came to a head during the Gulf War when more serious faults, including ammunition feed jams, came to light. Prolonged trials led to the conclusion that the main cause was the variable quality ammunition likely to be encountered once the British Army was on active operations. The L85A1 had been "tuned" around the high quality 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition manufactured at the Radway Green facility. Less well quality-controlled ammunition either failed to feed or the firing pressure curves caused the gas systems to malfunction. The only remedy is an extensive modification programme to be carried out by Heckler & Koch in Germany. Once that programme is completed in about three years from now the L85A1 should be a much more reliable and capable weapon, with a service life expectancy of up to at least the year 2015.

With respect to ergonomics, Israel must be amongst the pioneers. Men and women serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. Because of the variances in stature, the IDF wanted a more compact, portable and lighter individual weapon, not a carbine or personal defence weapon, but a weapon with the range of an assault rifle. The Israeli defence forces already knew they needed a new assault rifle in the early 1990s. The result was Israel Military Industries' (IMI) 5.56 x 45 mm Tavor Assault Rifle 21 (Tar 21) bullpup rifle. The floating barrel retains its accuracy and reduces the effects of fully automatic fire on the optical sights, Kevlar in the composite material in the cheek-piece helps protect the soldier in the event of a catastrophic failure around the chamber, and sticking with the familiar M16 magazine helps minimise training requirements. IMI adapted the bolt mechanism, receiver and housing to make it a quick, easy change from right-handed to a left-handed ejection. It has a composite material housing similar in concept to the Steyr Aug.

With so many long-established assault rifle designs now available, often at relatively low cost due to the economies of scale, new models continue to appear. Some have a purely national prestige or political origin in that the governments concerned do not want to rely on outside sources for their assault rifles. Others attempt to introduce some technical advance or design feature to set them apart from others in the market. The last few years have witnessed several new assault rifle designs arriving on the international scene (the recent ST Kinetics SAR 21 is a case in point) and more can be expected. They, and many other assault rifles now on offer or in service, are outlined in this article. Some seem assured of a bright future -- others may not be so fortunate outside their country of origin.

Attachments

Bayonets continue to appear on many assault rifles, more as a traditional carry-over than as a practical combat weapon. They have been joined by the grenade launcher, usually installed slung under the barrel and in place of the forward hand guard. The grenades launched from devices such as the R/M Equipment M-203PI or the Eastern Bloc GP-25, both 40 mm launchers, extend the high explosive delivery capability of the individual soldier to 400 metres, well beyond that attainable by any hand grenade. Interestingly, R/M Equipment's M-203PI adapts to most American and European rifles, but also caters to the needs of Kalashnikov users.

Grenade launchers often convert the well balanced assault rifle into something of an ergonomic mess but they do extend the firepower capabilities of the individual soldier considerably. Apart from their lethal explosive payloads, the launchers can also deliver non-lethal riot control munitions such as baton rounds, or some form of beanbag or light shot round that will deter and/or disable but not maim or kill. The user also has the assurance that if matters turn really nasty, the ability to fire lethal bullets from the host rifle is always present.

Other attachments relate to sights. Optical sights, from telescopic to reflex and "red dot" systems, continue to be developed and issued, the one almost universal factor being that they are now mounted on special rails. Lengths of MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail (or something similar) have become an almost universal feature of recent assault rifles, either from new or as a retrofit. These rails allow the rapid and accurate installation and removal of optical and night sights (as well as other combat accessories such as tactical lights) without the constant need for zeroing and sight checking every time.

The Future

Although a state of relative stasis seems to have been reached, the next technological path the assault rifle might follow seems bound to involve electronics, bearing in mind that electronics already exist within night sights and the like. An early indication might be found in the electronic operating techniques introduced by the Australian Metal Storm concern -- they could well indicate the paths future assault rifles might follow.

Mention of Metal Storm techniques usually conjures up images of one million rounds a minute fire rates but the techniques applied can just as readily cater for single-shot or short burst fire at viable assault rifle cyclic rates -- a Metal Storm pistol prototype has already appeared. The attractions include total weapon control at all times, no moving parts and numerous integrated fire control possibilities. However, such advanced and seemingly futuristic approaches may well prove to be too alarming for conservative rifle users during the coming years, yet there is at least one further innovation already with us.

The futuristic Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) designed for the US Army Soldier System programme integrates advancements in technologies in laser range finders, computer-assisted fuzes, target tracking devices and lighter day/night sights. To maintain their level of lethality, individual weapons need increased lethality. Unlike the current generation, the next century soldier will be a part of an integrated system -- part of a total lethal, sustainable package including communications, computers, ground position systems (GPS) and energy management systems. His individual weapon will be a sub-system of the whole. As a modular over-under, dual-purpose weapon, the OICW uses computers to deliver a 20 mm air-bursting round and Nato standard 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition. With its fundamental goal to provide "precision strike airburst capability", it incorporates technologies once thought to be exclusive to larger weapon systems. It fires kinetic energy and high explosive (HE) air bursting ammunition. The design team lead by Alliant TechSystems has taken the weapon beyond the traditional concepts by adding a computer-aided fire control system equal to those found on many larger weapon systems. The fire control system combined with the programmable fuze delivers the HE round to the target to ensure the requisite level of incapacitation.

The OICW has gone through troop trials in the United States for fielding in the 2006 to 2007 timeframe. Heckler & Koch, as subcontractor to Alliant TechSystems, designed the OICW as a modular system that can break down into two separate functioning weapons. Alliant Tech Systems developed the high explosive munitions and is the prime contractor and system integrator. Other partners include Octec in Britain, Brashear LP and Dynamit Nobel. The American government now plans to buy between 45 000 and 50 000 units.

Sights

One recent innovation in the assault rifle sphere has been the widespread adoption of optical and electro-optical sights in place of the classic iron rear and foresight combinations. While telescopic sights have for long been utilised to magnify and clarify targets for specialists such as snipers, they have always been prone to damage and/or misalignment after hard knocks, so have not usually been issued to the workaday infantry. That started to change with the introduction of diminutive and rugged systems such as the British United Scientific Instruments Sight Unit Infantry Trilux (Suit) and its current derivative the Susat (SA -- Small Arms) used with SA-80. Not only do Trilux sight units provide a slightly magnified target image but they are useful for target surveillance and acquisition while raising the accuracy potential of the individual considerably. They are also tough.

However, even the Trilux units have been overshadowed by the introduction of projected aiming point sight generation. With these compact sight units, both eyes may be kept open while a small coloured dot (or some other easily detected sighting outline) is simply placed on the target for aiming. As the red, amber or white dot is usually projected into the sight unit in a collimated manner, all the user has to do is place the dot on the target and pull the trigger to ensure a hit. The usual careful eye and sight alignments are no longer necessary, for as long as the user can see the dot on the target all will be well in hit terms. Keeping both eyes open also enhances survival in combat areas by enabling a wider overall visual are to be constantly maintained during combat. The sights also provide for rapid operation.

There are many projected aiming point sight units in service today, most operating on the same general principles. For instance, Aimpoint of Sweden has had considerable success with its CompMXD/MXLD, selling them to the US Army. The US Army also has large numbers of the Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (Acog). One item in the Trijicon Acog family uses reflex sight principles to project the aiming dot. In the United Kingdom, Ring Sights employs the collimated image principle for numerous applications, from assault rifles to add-on grenade launchers.

Another sighting innovation that allows the firer to keep both eyes open during engagements is the laser pointer unit, a small and light add-on unit aligned with the barrel. It emits a thin visible or infrared laser beam, the idea being that once the user sees the beam impinge on a target the rifle muzzle is accurately aimed at that same point, so the trigger can be actuated. Insight Technology of the United States manufactures many such units. Their AN/PEO-5 is issued to US Special Forces as part of the M4A1 CQB close quarter battle kit. Some weapons, the Singapore SAR 21 being one, have provision for an integral laser.

Projected aiming point units are for daylight use only, although laser pointers can be employed under the worst light conditions. Electronics provide accurate sighting pictures at night or under poor lighting conditions and there are now many of these in service with assault rifles, from the little Delft Sensor System Munos units upwards. The little Munos WS4 weighs only 850 g but magnifies available light so that targets can be acquired and engaged. So do many other night sighting systems, including the Seiler Instrument Vision master range that combines optical scope units with add-on night vision modules.

When considering night sights the name of Litton always seems to arise, as the firm's night vision range includes numerous night vision devices, such as goggles, as well as image intensification sights. Typical of the many night weapon sights produced is the Ranger series, a family of small, handy devices that differ from one another in their interchangeable image magnification and intensification levels.

All are little larger than an equivalent optical day sight and can be used as conveniently. Litton has now developed Gen 4 tubes that dispense with virtually all criticisms associated with earlier generations and offer staggering performance. This was mainly achieved through the elimination of the protective coating on the microchannel plate and introducing a gating system. This technology will soon be examined in detail in a forthcoming issue of Armada.

The night sight trend now is towards thermal sights that detect heat radiation to the extent that they can be employed for weapon aiming. Typical of these is the Raytheon AN/PAS-13 Thermal Weapon Sight (TWS), an infrared system compact enough to be installed on US Army M16A2/M16A4 rifles and M4A1 Carbines. As well as providing a clear target image under dark or poor light conditions, the TWS image can also be interfaced into the future "soldier systems", such as that under development for the US Army's Land Warrior programme, providing area or target surveillance images that can be viewed remotely by either the soldier or commanders in a distant command position.

Electronics have now gone one stage further. An indication of assault rifle sight potential is seen with the OICW fire control system. This introduces multi-function fire control capabilities to the foot soldier previously available only to tank commanders and the like. Included are thermal and optical target imaging facilities, laser rangefinding and automatic target tracking for both the 20 mm grenade and 5.56 mm modes. When using the 20 mm grenade mode the user simply places a target marker dot onto the target and actuates the laser. System electronics then calculate superelevation and lateral adjustments and move the aiming point to the required aim-off point for the user. The system also sets the turn-count grenade fuze with extreme accuracy. If required, the user can add or subtract range increments to, for instance, produce grenade bursts inside a structure.

All this can be packed inside a unit small enough to be mounted on the OICW, but already Brashear LP is working on a smaller and lighter OICW sight unit that retains the same fire control capabilities as before. Future assault rifles can expect to be provided with similar sighting systems.

A-91M: Following combat experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya, some Russian authorities criticised capabilities of the 5.45 x 39 mm cartridge and advocated a return to the 7.62 x 39 mm M1943 cartridge (heavier bullet). This may be the clue to the appearance of the A-91M, a compact bullpup layout firing the 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge. It is unusual in several aspects: totally sealed receiver, enclosed within polymer mouldings; cocking handle slot remains sealed during operation, the only other ports being the magazine well, closed off when a clip is in place and the ejection port with a spring-hinged cover opens only for case ejection. Unusual in a Russian weapon, all controls are ambidextrous. A handle over the receiver contains the iron sights and can be used to mount various optical and night sights. A GP-97 40 mm grenade launcher mounts over the barrel.
Calibre [mm]: 7.62 x 39
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.30
Length [mm]: 595
Barrel length [mm]: 400
Rate of fire [rds/min]: 600 to 800
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: ca 900
Max effective range [m]: up to 1000


AK-107/108: The 5.45 mm AK-107 and 5.56 mm -108 look similar to other Kalashnikovs and are derived from them, but feature an unusual gas operating mechanism that virtually eliminates recoil. In standard Kalashnikovs, gas is bled off the barrel to operate a piston that actuates the bolt. On the 107/108 this remains though component travel length is shorter, but part of the propellant gas is also bled forward into a chambered piston which is pressed forward to balance the rearward forces: recoil forces balance out as the two gas piston movements are carefully synchronised by an clever gear and rack mechanism. Firing is smooth and muzzle rise is virtually eliminated. Devised in the early 1970s it was considered too expensive, but was later selected for an overall update to Century series and placed on the open market. Apparently no takers so far.
Calibre [mm]: -107:5.45 x 39;-108:5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.60
Length [mm]: 943
Barrel length [mm]: 415
Rate of fire [rds/min]: 850 to 900
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: AK-107:900
Max effective range [m]: 400


AK-47/AKM: Around since the late 1940s, the ubiquitious Kalashnikov remains the most numerous of all current assault rifles. None have been manufactured in Russia for over five years, but it is manufactured in quantity elsewhere. The only known maker of the original AK-47 (apart from gun dealers on the North-West Frontier of the Indian sub-continent) is Bulgaria. Several production changes were introduced during its production era as a result of the number of facilities involved in what was a mass-production project to hastily re-equip the Soviet armed forces. The AKM followed thereafter, with pressed steed components, spot welds and the widespread use of rivets. Myriad design details were introduced to assist production. The AKM has inspired many copies in Egypt and North Korea. It is probably the weapon most forgiving of hard use and a lack of maintenance.
Calibre [mm]: 7.62 x 39
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.14
Length [mm]: 876
Barrel length [mm]: 414
Rate of fire [rds/min]: 600
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 715
Max effective range [m]: 300 to 400


A K-74: Despite the success of the 7.62 mm Kalashnikovs, Soviet planners felt that more accuracy and reliability were needed, hence the 1974 interim AK-74 firing the new 5.45 x 39 mm cartridge. Weighing slightly more than the AK-47, it is also longer. The operating principle is the same but a high efficiency muzzle brake accommodates an underslung GP-25 40 mm grenade launcher. Early models had wooden furniture, later changed to hard black plastic from the Century models. The latter, starting from the AK101, contains several sub-variants, some chambered for 5.56 x 45 mm Nato ammo while another option is to have night sights; still others are chambered for 7.62 x 39 mm. All display a high standard of finish for the export market but sales were slow due to the low costs of other Kalashnikovs on the market. Licence-produced in Bulgaria and the ex-Yugoslavia.
Calibre [mm]: 5.45 x 39
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.30
Length [mm]: 943
Barrel length [mm]: 415
Rate of fire [rds/min]: 600 to 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 900
Max effective range [m]: 400


AN-94: The design of the AN-94 ensures that two (perhaps three) bullets are out of the muzzle before recoil forces the muzzle off the target, using a "blowback shifted pulse" system. In over-simplified terms, upon firing, the entire receiver and barrel recoil to the rear, taking the bolt carrier with them. Being lighter, the bolt carrier moves much faster than the rest of the mechanism and is thus able to strike a buffer and return to chamber and fire a second cartridge before the barrel/receiver have completed their rearwards travel. At that point the normal trigger and seer operation cuts in to lock the bolt carrier and allow the mechanism to operate at a slower rate. The first two rounds are fired at a rate of 1800 rpm, and the following at 600 rpm. Selected to replace all earlier rifles, production has yet to start due to Russia's economic troubles.
Calibre [mm]: 5.45 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.85
Length [mm]: 943
Barrel length [mm]: 405
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 1st 2 rnds: 1800; then 600
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 900
Max effective range [m]: 700


AR-15/M16: The AR-15/M16's high round velocity combined with low recoil delivers a lethal projectile and improves accuracy. The AR-15 is currently a heavy barrel semi-automatic, sporting version of the M16. All feature the gas operated, straight line, rotary bolt locking mechanism. Early versions fired in the semi-automatic and full automatic modes only. A three-round burst was added later with a full automatic option. Improvements in 5.56 mm ammunition led to a change from the "1 in 12 inch" twist barrel to a "1 in 7 inch" twist to take advantage of the construction of the SS109 round. The current M16A4 is the latest version. The distinctive silhouette of the carrying handle was eliminated for new durable plastic handguards with built-in Picatinny rails accommodating laser designators, flashlights, telescopic sights and day/night vision devices.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 20- or 30-rnd box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.40 (M16A2)
Length [mm]: 990 (w/flash suppressor)
Barrel length [mm]: 533 (w/flash suppressor)
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700 to 950
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 990 to 1100
Max effective range [m]: 400


AR70/90: Started as a joint effort with SIG of Switzerland in the early 1960s to develop a 5.56 mm rifle, collaboration ended after five years and Beretta moved ahead with development of its own 5.56 x 45 mm, first the AR70 and then the AR70/90 (which uses the same gas-operated, rotating bolt mechanism as the M16). A three-round burst feature was added to the firing mode in the AR70/90. Many improvements mean that parts from the two weapons are not interchangeable. The AR70/90 uses a two-position gas valve, has a fold-down trigger guard, different pistol grip, buttstock and folding stock from the AR70. The original version used an AR70-specific magazine, but later the more M16-type magazine. Sights on the AR70/90 are below the top of the see-through removable carrying handle. Sales of the AR70/90 have been limited to the Italian armed forces.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 30 round detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.80
Length, standard [mm]: 805
Barrel length [mm]: 508 (std); 350, 407 & 62 avail
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: ca 965
Max effective range [m]: 400 to 500


AUG: Although the light and handy Steyr 5.56 mm AUG dates back to the mid 1970s it remains in production and retains its "Space Age" image created by its bullpup layout, the use of smooth moulded outlines and the combination of carrying handle and x1.5 optical sight. Designed in a modular fashion, the AUG not only offers a choice of four barrel lengths, but can be configured as a carbine, assault rifle, light support weapon and even as a 9 mm sub-machine gun by a simple change of the components. It can also be arranged for ambidextrous users. The latest AUG A2 has a length of MIL-STD-1913 rail for the rapid interchange of sighting systems, including night sights. Widely used, it has been licence manufactured in Malaysia and Australia (there and in New Zealand as the F88). One drawback: its layout makes it difficult to adapt a grenade launcher.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.80
Length [mm]: standard: 805
Barrel length [mm]: 508 (std); 350, 407 & 621 avail
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: ca 965
Max effective range [m]: 400 to 500


Beryl Mod. 96: The Polish 5.56 mm Beryl Mod.96 is typical of the efforts being made by former Warsaw Pact nations to assist local armaments production by the introduction of products meeting Nato standards. Thus the Beryl Mod.96 is a Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifle similar in many respects to the 5.45 mm Tantal but firing Nato 5.56 x 45 mm rounds. Many features of the Tantal are carried over, including the high standard of manufacture and the high impact black plastic furniture. Overall dimensions are similar, and a three-round burst limiter feature is incorporated. All Tantal options are available and so are barrel rifling for either M193 bullets or the later SS109s. The muzzle attachment can be used to launch 150-metre anti-tank grenades. A small batch is said to have undergone Polish Army trials but no large scale sales have yet been achieved.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 20- or 30-rnd. detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.35
Length [mm]: 943
Barrel length [mm]: 457
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 690
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: M193: 940; SS109:940
Max effective range [m]: 600


C7: Deimaco in Canada makes the 5.56 x 45 mm C7 assault rifle for the Canadian Armed Forces under license from Colt. Canada officially adopted the rifle and C8 carbine of the same calibre in the mid-1980's to replace the 7.62 mm FN C1. Deimaco applied rotary hammer forging technology in its barrel production for the C7. Using a M16A1 barrel design of a "1-in-7" twist for SS109 rounds, it can also accommodate M193s. Manufacturing techniques, design and light weight make it an accurate, effective cousin in the M16 family. Deimaco successfully bid against Colt in the Netherlands with its own rendition of the 5.56 mm rifle and the C8 has also been procured by UK special forces. Difficulties with first Dutch deliveries were attributed to excessive use without proper maintenance, as experienced by the US forces during the early years of the M16.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.30
Length [mm]: 1.02
Barrel length [mm]: 510
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 800
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 920 (SS109)
Max effective range [m]: 400


CGA5: Due to extremely harsh climate, Swedish weapons have to pass through very demanding selection procedures. In the mid 1970s, Sweden selected the 5.56 mm Belgian FN FNC to replace its 7.62 mm G3s. Sweden insisted on a series of modifications before the resultant CGA5 was put in production with FFV (now Carl Gustaf) as the Ak5, with many components strengthened or reshaped for handling with gloved hands. The folding butt stock was revised and the top of the receiver reworked to allow the installation of a wide range of sighting systems. Further reworking permits rapid installation of a 40 mm grenade launcher and optional bipod. The end result was markedly different to the original FN FNC. The CGA5B has an optical sight, the CGA5C2 is shorter, the special forces CGA5D is for special forces with lengths of MIL-STD- 1913 Picatinny sight rail.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.90
Length [mm]: 750
Barrel length [mm]: 450
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650 to 700
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 930
Max effective range [m]: 450


CR21: One of Vektor's most recent innovations is the 5.56 x 45 mm CR 21 bullpup assault rifle, the South African Defence Force's replacement for the R4. As the older rifles are returned to the factory, the rifle is reconfigured to the bullpup design using a majority of the original parts, but reducing length by nearly 100 mm. Based on the gas-operated, rotating bolt mechanism of the R4, the CR21 has a distinctive all-polymer housing for the stock and handguard and an integrated reflex Vektor x1 optical sight. The barrel has a "1 in 9 inches" ("1 in 228 mm") twist to accommodate either the SS109 or M193 Nato rounds. The prong-type muzzle device reduces muzzle flash and is used to launch rifle grenades. Two plastic box magazines for 20 or 35 rounds are available. Currently in production, the CR21 is aggressively marketed in international venues by mother company Denel.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 20- or 35-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.80 (loaded)
Length [mm]: 760
Barrel length [mm]: 460
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 600 to 750
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 980
Max effective range [m]: 500


CZ 2000: Introduced in 1993, the family of weapons now known as the CZ 2000 was originally known as the Lada, chambered for the 5.45 x 39 mm cartridge. Based around the assault rifle are carbine and light machine-gun variants sharing the same base receiver. The original intention was that the smaller calibre would eventually replace the 7.62 mm Type 58, but difficulties due to the break-up of the Soviet Empire have rendered such a programme virtually impossible. A few years later the possibility of the Czech Republic joining Nato seemed imminent so a change to 5.56 x 45 mm was introduced, resulting in the current CZ 2000. A sound and sturdy design with few frills, disassembly for routine maintenance will result in only four parts. The 75-round drum and biped of the light machine gun variant can be carried over, production has yet to commence.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.00
Length [mm]: 850
Barrel length [mm]: 382
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 750 to 800
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 910
Max effective range [m]: 400


Fal: The Fal was one of the first post-1945 "first-generation" assault rifles and has seen service with over 90 nations. Newbuilds are still available, virtually unchanged mechanically from the original dropping block locking system. Chambered for the Nato 7.62 x 51 mm cartridge, it has appeared in many forms, the two main groupings being those with a fully automatic fire mode and those restricted to semi-automatic (single shot). Numerous variants with attenuated barrels and folding butts (Para models), heavy barrels, bipeds etc, are available. Licenced versions proliferated (including the British semi-automatic self-loading rifle L1A1). It also is in production in Argentina and possibly Brazil. Clones manufactured using original drawings are available in the USA from DSA Inc. The Fal may appear cumbersome, but is remarkably strong and durable.
Calibre [mm]: 7.62 x 51
Feed: 20-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 4.45
Length [mm]: 1090
Barrel length [mm]: 533
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 600 to 700
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 840
Max effective range [m]: 600


Famas: France first standardised the 5.56 x 45 mm Famas assault rifle in 1977. Completing deliveries by the mid 1980s, Giat successfully marketed the bullpup rifle primarily in Francophone Africa. It offers the accuracy of a full-length rifle and relics heavily on durable plastic constructions; a complex delayed blowback mechanism reduces perceived recoil while a separate selector controls the three-round burst mode of fire. It is one of the few bullpup rifles available that can be fired from either shoulder by changing the extractor on the bolt carrier and moving the cheek piece on the buttstock. The latest G2 variant, issued to French military units since the mid-1990s, sees the barrel adjusted to a "1 in 9 inch" (1 in 228 mm) twist, but barrels with "1 in 7inches" (1 in 178 mm) or "1 in 12 inches" (1 in 305 mm) twist are available. A 40 mm grenade launcher adapts.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd box, M16-type
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.80 (with empty magazine)
Length [mm]: 760
Barrel length [mm]: 488
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 1100
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 925
Max effective range [m]: 450 (iron sights);
 600 (optical)


FNC: The FNC at first sight looks very like its predecessor, the Fal, but is of a very different design. Although the hinged receiver construction remains the same, it is chambered for 5.56 x 45 mm cartridges (in either M193 or SS109 form) and utilises the universal rotating bolt locking system. Two models are available, the Standard and the Para, the latter having a shorter barrel. Both have side-folding butts and both remain available. Considerable pains were taken to ensure the interior remains free from the ingress of debris, adding to the weapon's high degree of reliability. Maximum use of pressings and mouldings (incl. aluminium alloys and plastic-based materials) except for critical parts reduces precision machining. The result is a very rugged weapon that has been widely adopted (licence production in Sweden -- see CGA5 -- and Indonesia).
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 4.00
Length [mm]: 1000
Barrel length [mm]: 449
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650 to 700
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: M193, 965; SS109, 915
Max effective range [m]: 450


G3: One of only a few remaining 7.62 x 51 mm assault rifles still popular around the world, the G3's owes much to Heckler & Koch's ability to enlist licence production (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Portugal, Pakistan, Iran, Greece, France, Britain, Nyanmar, Mexico and Nigeria) and to the distinctive roller-lock mechanism that became the hallmark of H&K designs. Rollers in the bolt head carrier project outward and engage in the recesses of the barrel extension to delay the rearward movement of the bolt carrier until enough pressure is exerted to push the rollers inward to drive the locking piece back allowing the bolt carrier to complete its movement to the rear. Return springs in the buffer action force the bolt carrier forward. As the bolt carrier group comes to final forward position the rollers are pushed out into the recesses of the barrel extension.
Calibre [mm]: 7.62 x 51
Feed: 20-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: fixed butt, 4.40; retractable,
 4.70
Length [mm]: fixed butt: 1025; retracted: 840
Barrel length [mm] 450
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 500 to 600
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 780 to 800
Max effective range [m]: 400


G36: The 5.56 x 45mm Heckler & Koch G36 appeared in September 1997. Breaking with Heckler & Koch's traditional roller-lock designs, the G36 is gas-operated using a locking rotary bolt head. H&K opted for a barrel sporting a 1 in 7 inch twist. A simple barrel change converts it into a carbine. Both models feature folding buttstock and common parts. Similar in design to the AR-18, gas exits the gas port to push the piston rod against the bolt carrier driving it to the rear. With the piston rod outside the receiver, most gas and carbon residue exits the barrel reducing fouling. The bolt catches to the rear after the last round has been fired, but this feature can be disengaged in the field to meet the demands of harsh environmental conditions. A x 1.5 red dot reflex optical sight operates on AA lithium batteries and is built into the detachable carrying handle.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.30
Length [mm]: butt extended: 990; folded: 760
Barrel length [mm]: 480
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 750
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 920
Max effective range [m]: 400 to 600


Galil: Developed in the 1980s by Israel Military Industries to meet a growing market for 5.56 x 45 mm calibre assault rifles, the Galil is often considered a variant of the Kalashnikov because of the similarity of design and applies technology from the Russian AK-47, M16 rifle and the Valmet (a Finnish adaptation of the Kalashnikov). It features a rotating locking bolt attributed to the M16 and found in many assault rifles today, but with a modified AK-47 gas system: the piston extension on the bolt carrier group locks and unlocks the bolt; vents in the piston guide ring allow some of the gas to blow back to remove dirt from the moving parts. With a "1 in 12 inch" right hand twist, the Galil was designed as a combination assault rifle and light weapon, but also comes in a short barrel assault rifle version. The suppressor serves as a muzzle brake and doubles as a grenade launcher.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 35- or 50-rnd box magazines
Weight, empty [kg]: 3,90
Length [mm]: stock extended: 970; folded: 740
Barrel length [mm]: 460
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 980
Max effective range [m]: 600


HK33: H&K began working on a 5.56 x 45 mm assault rifle based on the company's roller-lock delayed blowback design in the early 1960s. It was the company's first response to a growing market for a smaller calibre, lighter assault rifle. A final scaled down version went into production by the later part of that decade but few countries have adopted the weapon (produced in Britain and Thailand). Latest success is a license agreement with MKEK of Turkey, several hundred thousand units having to replace G3 assault rifles there. Two basic versions of the design exist today, an export model and a shorter carbine model. Two twists are available and firing mode options include either semi-automatic and full automatic; semi-automatic, full-automatic and three-round burst; or semi-automatic and three-round burst. Optical sights are fitted on a standard mount.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 25- or 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: fixed stock: 3.90; retractable:
 4.00
Length [mm]: fixed stock: 925; extended: 940
Barrel length [mm]: 390
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 750
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 885
Max effective range [m]: 400 (iron sights); 600 (optical)


Insas: The 5.56 mm Insas (Indian Small Arms System), one of the several projects intended to make India independent in military production terms, has yet to reach fruition for it has been beset by technical troubles and delays (though some rifles are now in local service) -- despite being an amalgam of

features from several existing designs. Examination will detect features from the locally licence-produced FN Fal (1A1) and other weapons such as the Kalashnikov, the AR-15/M16 (gas system) and the H&K. Under development since the mid-1980s, the family, consisting of the assault rifle, a carbine and a squad fire support weapon, is designed around a locally devised 5.56 x 45 mm cartridge for which no local production facility yet exists. Rounds thus have to be imported although they lack the long range performance the Army deems necessary.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45 Special
Feed: 20-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.85
Length [mm]: 945
Barrel length [mm]: 464
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 915
Max effective range [m]: 400


K2: The 5.56 x 45 mm Nato K2 assault rifle manufactured by Daewoo is a gas-operated, rotary locking bolt assault rifle that combines technologies from the M16, AK-47 and FN Fal rifles. Daewoo already made the M16 rifle for the South Korean Army when it began to develop the K2. The characteristics of the adjustable gas regulator, buttstock and hand guard appear to borrow from FN weapons. The long rod attached to the gas piston appears to derive from Kalashnikov designs, but the rotary bolt with multiple locking lugs are M16 features as are the lower receiver, magazine release and bolt hold-open device. However, the lower receivers of the K2 and the M16 are not interchangeable and unlike the M16, the selector switch on the K2 can rotate in either direction. It has four firing positions: safe, semi-automatic, full automatic and three-round burst.
Calibre [mm] 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.26
Length [mm]: stock extended: 980; folded: 730
Barrel length [mm]: 465 (without compensator)
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700 to 900
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: M193- 960; SS109- 920
Max effective range [m]: 460


K-3: The current status of the 5.45 mm K-3, originally designed by an industrial department of the Armenian Department of Defence, is uncertain as it has not been heard of for the last few years. First shown in 1996, the K-3 is a compact bullpup assault rifle displaying some advanced techniques, including the use of nylon-based plastic furniture, but in its original form the receiver layout meant it could be fired by right-handed users only. Only iron sights are normally employed although it is possible to mount a PSO-1 x4 telescopic sight on a side bracket. The curved box magazine is a standard AK-74 component. Armenia is not a country noted for small arms developments and when first seen it was remarked that the gas-operated design, complete with rotary bolt, was originally introduced in Russia some years previously but not proceeded with.
Calibre [mm]: 5.45 x 39
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 4.00
Length [mm]: 700
Barrel length [mm]: 415
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: ca 600
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 900
Max effective range [m]: 500


M4A1: The M4A1 from Colt is a special forces rifle version of the M4, which is itself a short derivative of the M16, featuring a redesigned "1 in 7-inch" twist barrel. It has a Picatinny rail over the receiver for various sighting systems while the M4A1 CQB (close quarter battle) also incorporates a mounting rail forestock to accommodate combat accessories such as laser pointers. The M4A1 CQB, another special forces model, is issued complete with a kit of combat accessories, including an M203 40 mm grenade launcher that mounts directly on the barrel. It is available with safe, semi-automatic and full automatic firing modes and has a case deflector for the left-handed. A new feed ramp cut design facilitates feeding of both military (the entire range of 5.56 mm and new Nato-standard rounds) and commercial ammunition. The elevation knob is graduated from 300 to 800 metres.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 2.52
Length [mm]: 838
Barrel length [mm]: 370
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700 to 950
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 921 (M193)
Max effective range [m]: 600


Model L: The Santa Barbara Cetme Model L designed for the 5.56 mm market was produced in two versions, a standard fixed buttstock model and a short-barrelled Model LC with telescoped buttstock. The pedigree of the design began with the original 7.62 x 51 mm Nato calibre Cetme, the revised version of an experimental rifle designed in collaboration with German small arms engineers. Heckler & Koch assisted the Spanish government in setting up a production line for the 7.62 mm rifle. Applying skills thus gained, the 5.56 x 45 mm Model L uses the same roller-lock delayed blowback system found in the original Cetme. The trigger mechanism is also similar to H&K. The selector on the left has three settings, safe, semi-automatic and full auto. The rifle uses a simple two-position flip-up sight. Soon to be replaced in the Spanish Army by the H&K G36.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 10-, 20- or 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.40
Length [mm]: 925
Barrel length [mm]: 400
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700 to 800
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 920
Max effective range [m]: 400


OICW: The futuristic Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) designed by a team lead by Alliant TechSystems for the US Army Soldier System programme integrates advancements in technologies in laser range finders, computer-assisted fuzes and target tracking devices and lighter day/night sights. It also uses computers to deliver a 20 mm air-bursting round and Nato's standard 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition, and fires kinetic energy and high explosive (HE) air bursting ammunition. The OICW has gone through troop trials in the United States for fielding in the 2006 to 2007 time frame. Although the US plans to buy between 45 000 and 50 000, not all of the assault rifles in the inventory will be replaced. Heckler & Koch, as subcontractor to Alliant TechSystems, designed this as a modular system that can break down into two separate functioning weapons.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45 k-energy ; 20 x 23 HE
Feed: 30- & 6-rnd box magazines
Weight, empty [kg]: apx. 8.20
Length [mm]: 838
Barrel length [mm]: 20: 457; 5.56: 254
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 750 (kinetic energy)
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: not available
Max effective range [m]: kinetic energy 500, HE 1000


SA-80 IW: The L85A1 (or SA-80 IW) is a very accurate bullpup assault rifle, its accuracy is attributed to its x1.5 Susat optical sight, yet it has proven to be a source of minor troubles, amplified during the Gulf War when emergencies like ammunition feed jams developed. Tests have shown that the cause was a variable in the quality of the ammunition. The rifle had been manufactured and "tuned" around the high quality Radway Green facility 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition. Any less well quality-controlled ammunition either failed to feed or the firing pressure curves caused the gas systems to malfunction. The `fix' is a modification that must be carried out by Heckler & Koch in Germany, which should be completed in about three years. The L85A1 should then prove to be a reliable and capable weapon, with a regular service life expectancy of until at least 2015.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.80
Length [mm]: 785
Barrel length [mm]: 5118
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 610-775
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 940
Max effective range [m]: 400


Sako 95: The Sako 95 was another evolutionary step in the Finnish company's development of a 5.56 mm rifle based on the Kalashnikov gas operated rotary bolt selective fire design (the company had built several assault rifles using Kalashnikov technology). It was being designed in the early 1990s for 5.56 x 45 mm Nato, specifically the SS109 round, and for 7.62 x 39 mm. Internal mechanisms are similar to Kalashnikov designs and include a gas valve that can be closed for launching rifle grenades. The top of the receiver has a universal rail system for accessories like telescopic sights and night vision devises. The trigger guard is wide (Arctic gloves). Originally intended for the Finnish military, political decisions to acquire Kalashnikovs stockpiled in Eastern Europe precipitated the end of the project. Only a small number were actually produced.
Calibre [mm]: 2 x 39 or 5.56 x 45
Feed 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 4.50
Length [mm]: stock extended: 935; folded: 675
Barrel length [mm]: 420
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 600 to 750
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 7.62 mm: 715, 5.56: 920
Max effective range [m]: not available


Sar 21: The latest design from Singapore Technologies Kinetics, the 5.56 x 45 mm bullpup SAR 21 is to replace Singapore's Sar 80 made by the former Chartered Industries of Singapore. It combines several features of the Steyr Aug and RO SA80, is gas-operated, has semi-automatic and automatic modes (450 to 650 rpm) and uses either M193 or SS109. However, the weapon is an indigenous design, with an added layer of Kevlar in the cheek-piece and a special vent hole in the buttstock designed to release high pressure gases from the chamber -- this to give the shooter confidence that he is protected in the event of a catastrophic failure, often a concern when converting traditional assault rifle users to a bullpup. It features an integrated x1.5 optical scope (x3 also available) and a built-in laser aiming device in either visible or infrared versions.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 30-rnd magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.82
Length [mm]: 805
Barrel length [mm]: 508
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 450 to 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 945
Max effective range [m]: M193- 460; SS109- 800


SG540: The Swiss 5.56 x 45 mm SIG Model 540 range is a gas operated, rotary bolt family of three assault rifles designed to appeal to a wide international audience; the SG542 is for customers holding out for the 7.62 x 51 mm individual weapon and the SG543 has a short barrel. All three provide a choice of three firing settings, semi-automatic, full automatic and three-round burst, with a two-stage trigger action for increased accuracy in semi-automatic mode. An external breech catch holds the breech open after the final shot is fired to indicate the weapon is empty and allow for quick reload. The gas regulator of the SG540 has three settings and, when fully closed, after firing the enclosed gases propel a muzzle-launched rifle grenade. The SG540 is now also produced in Chile. It also has an option for a bipod that attaches under the barrel casing.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed: 20- or 30-rnd magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: fixed butt: 3.26; folding: 3.31
Length [mm]: fixed butt: 950; folding: 720
Barrel length [mm]: 460 (without suppressor)
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650 to 800
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 980
Max effective range [m]: 600


SIG550: SIG introduced the Model 550 as the Sturmgewehr 90 in the 1980s, which was designed to be the replacement for the Swiss Army's 7.5 mm StGw57. A gas-operated, rotary bolt action assault rifle (a change from the SG540), it has a hammer-forged barrel and high quality stamped metal, upper and lower receiver. The trigger guard is hinged and can be rotated out of the way for heavy mittens. It has a choice of semi-automatic, automatic and three-round burst modes and features an ambidextrous selector switch. The 20-round opaque plastic magazine (for direct optical confirmation of available rounds) was designed with studs and lugs on the sides to allow the attachment of several magazines together to speed reload. Other accessories include a 30-round magazine, a sling and mounts for telescopic sights or night vision equipment.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 20- or 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 4.10 (w/empty magazine & bipod)
Length [mm]: stock extended: 998; folded: 772
Barrel length [mm]: 528
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 975
Max effective range [m]: not available


SR88A: Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS), which recently became Singapore Technologies Kinetics, developed the SR88A as a lightweight evolution of the 5.56 x 45 mm Nato SAR80, the company's original attempt at indigenous small arms design (CIS made the M16A1 in the late 1960s and 1970s but denied exporting began to aggressively pursue its own research and development programme). The SR88A applies the same gas-operated, rotating bolt mechanism derived from earlier Armalite designs, specifically the AR-18, but has a hammer forged "1 in 7 inch" right-hand twist barrel and a chrome-plated chamber, with optional chrome bore. Although Chartered Industries of Singapore was unsuccessful in marketing the SR88A, it proved a positive step toward the company's goal of indigenous research, development and manufacturing.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.68
Length [mm]: stock extended: 960; retracted:
 810
Barrel length [mm]: 460
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700 to 900
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: M193, 970; SS109, 940
Max effective range [m]: 400


Tantal: Developmental changes introduced by the Zaklady Metalowe Lucznik led to the 5.45 mm Tantal (available as the WZOR 88), the Polish equivalent of the Russian AK-74S. Only one version of the Tantal is manufactured, but to a very high standard. One change to the fire selection mechanism is that a three-round burst limiter to conserve ammunition expenditure is available in addition to the usual single shot, automatic and safe fire modes.

Options over other similar weapons include a muzzle-located anti-tank rifle grenade launcher and the ability to attach a locally-produced Pallad 40 mm grenade launcher. Optical, night sight, laser indicator and red dot sighting systems are available. In limited service in Poland; exports, no doubt hindered by costs involved in the high standard of production, have yet to materialise. The Tantal comes standard with a light clip-on bipod.
Calibre [mm]: 5.45 x 39
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.40
Length [mm]: 943
Barrel length [mm]: 423
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 690
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 880
Max effective range [m]: 600


Tavor: The IMI 5.56 x 45 mm Tavor Assault Rifle 21 (Tar 21), named after a mountain in Galilee, is a gas-operated, rotary bolt action bullpup rifle. IMI engineers added an integrated electro-optical red-dot sight, a bridge extending from the base of the pistol grip to the trigger guard that leaves abundant space for heavy NBC or cold weather gloves. The addiditon of Kevlar to the composite material m the cheek piece helps protect the soldier in the event of a catastrophic failure around the chamber. The familiar M16 magazine helps minimise training requirements. The bolt mechanism, receiver and housing easily change from right- to left-handed ejection. The Tavor comes with an under-barrel rail for the M203 40 mm grenade launcher and uses 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition. There are several variants including the standard assault rifle, Commando and Micro versions.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 30-rnd box magazine
Weight, empty [kg]: 2.50
Length [mm]: 732
Barrel length [mm]: 460
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 750 to 900
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 890
Max effective range [m]: 300 to 400


Type 56: The 7.62 mm Type 56 is basically a Norinco variant of the Soviet AK-47/AKM. Over the years, Chinese production changes paralleling those that produced the AKM were gradually introduced, therefore the most noticeable Type 56 feature being a permanently attached folding bayonet. Despite all the gradual changes introduced over the years (only limited component commonality remains with its Soviet forebears) the Type 56 designation has remained unaltered and it is still marketed. The Type 56-1 and 56-2 have folding butt stocks while the Type 56C may be regarded as a compact model. All fire the Type 56 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge. The Type 56 was widely distributed, especially throughout the Far East, examples were donated to Malta and more have turned up in the Balkans (most from Albania where a production facility was established by the Chinese).
Calibre [mm]: 7.62 x 39 Type 56
Feed 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.80
Length [mm]: 874
Barrel length [mm]: 414
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 600
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 710
Max effective range [m]: 400


Type 81: During the mid 1960s Norinco design staff decided to amalgamate features of the Soviet 7.62 mm AK-47 and SKS to create what they hoped would be an export product, the Type 68 rifle. As far as can be determined it met with little sales success (a few were donated to Albania), but the Norinco designers persisted with the design until the 7.62 mm Type 81 assault rifle appeared in both fixed and side-folding butt stock versions. The Type 81 generally resembles the locally produced Type 56 but is longer and lighter; the manufacturing standards are also much higher than most similar products. Most observers regard it as a modernised Kalashnikov capable of firing rifle grenades. A factor the Type 81 shares with the earlier Type 68 is that, despite being widely marketed, there have been few, if any, customers -- not even the Peoples' Liberation Army.
Calibre [mm]: 7.62 x 39
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.40
Length [mm]: 955
Barrel length [mm]: not available
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: ca 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 720
Max effective range [m]: 400


Type 89: In 1990, the Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces began replacing the 7.62 x 51 mm Type 64 assault rifle with the 5.56 x 45 mm Type 89 rifle made by Howa. Like the Singaporean SR88A, Japan's Type 89 was based on the Armalite AR-18 which Howa manufactured under licence. Recoil mitigation is not dependent on the M16-type buffer assembly which made it possible to design tubular side-folding buttstock in addition to the standard fixed buttstock. It uses the Nato standard, M16 magazine. It is a gas-operated system with rotating-bolt locking system, with a seven-lug bolt head in a rectangular bolt carrier. The bolt head fits into a locking collar at the breech end of the barrel. The fire selector allows for semi-automatic, automatic and three-round burst firing. The barrel has a "1 in 7 inch" right hand twist to accommodate the SS109 round.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45
Feed 30-rnd box (M16-type)
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.50
Length [mm]: stock extended: 916; folded: 670
Barrel length [mm]: 420
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 650 to 850
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 920
Max effective range [m]: not available


Type 95 and Type 97: The Norinco Type 95 and Type 97 differ only in the cartridges they fire. The Type 95 utilises a very odd cartridge, the 5.8 x 42 mm developed by the Chinese as they were apparently dissatisfied with the ballistics of the 5.45 x 39 mm cartridge, yet wanted to adopt a cartridge smaller than their usual Type 56 7.62 x 39 mm. The result has a heavier bullet and a more powerful propellant charge. The Type 97 is intended to be the export version, so is chambered for Western 5.56 x 45 mm. They are very light, bullpup, gas-operated weapons utilising the universal rotating block locking system and with iron sights in a carrying handle housing over the cocking lever. As far as is known, the 5.56 mm Type 97 has yet to attract any export orders while the 5.8 mm Type 95 has apparently been issued only to elite units within the Peoples' Liberation Army.
Calibre [mm]: 5.56 x 45 (Type 95, 5.8 x 42)
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 3.35
Length [mm]: 758
Barrel length [mm]: 490
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: ca 650
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: M193, 980; SS109, 920
Max effective range [m]: 400


Vikhr SR3: The troubled state of Russia and that of its associated states since the break up of the Soviet Union has meant that special security forces have been encountering increasingly well-armed and organised criminal groups. This has led to calls for specialised equipment and weapons to counter such opponents, one of which is the 9 mm Vikhr SR3. Resembling a sub-machine gun at first sight, it fires a powerful 9 x 39 mm armour-piercing round known as the SP-6 (and is thus better described as a short assault rifle) that defeats Kevlar-type body armours, so it could also have close quarter combat applications on the battlefield where body armour is being increasingly worn by the rank and file. To assist penetration, the SP-6 bullet has a tungsten core insert that also punches holes in titanium plate. The Vikhr has been offered for export sales.
Calibre [mm]: 9 x 39 SP-6
Feed: 10- or 20-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 2
Length [mm]: overall: 620
Barrel length [mm]: not available
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: ca 800
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 290
Max effective range [m]: 200


XM15: The XM15 E2 assault rifle from Bushmaster has a chrome-lined barrel and chamber to extend barrel longevity without sacrificing accuracy. It's forged, lightweight 707ST6 aircraft quality aluminium receivers are designed for simplicity of maintenance and reliability of operation and they incorporate all M16A2 design improvements including cartridge case deflector, last round bolt hold-open and raised ridges for magazine release button protection. A Mil. Spec. manganese phosphate outer coating insures complete protection against corrosion or rust on the barrel and all other steel parts of the weapon. It is available in either safe/semi-auto/full-auto or safe/semi-auto/three-shot burst configurations. The dual aperture M16A2 rear sight system offers windage and elevation adjustments (calibrated in meters from 300 to 800).
Calibre [mm]: .223 Remington (5.56)
Feed: 30-rnd detachable box
Weight, empty [kg]: 2.76 kg
Length [mm]: 762
Barrel length [mm]: 292
Rate of fire, cyclic [rds/min]: 700 to 950
Muzzle velocity [m/s]: 877 (M193)
Max effective range [m]: 800
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Author:Gander, Terry J
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:11663
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