Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

G36 Update: H&K Reacts to Commission Reports

via Thomas Weigold’s Augen Geradeaus blog, here’s H&K’s response to this week’s commission reports. There were several reports; H&K chose, not surprisingly, to focus on the news that any deficiency in the G36 has not caused German casualties, and that troops are still fond of the embattled rifle.


G36 Rifles of BW troops during exercise Noble Jump. Photo by Thomas Wiegold.

The H&K statement was provided in a press release Thursday, per Weigold. Translation ours.

In view of the final report of the Commission to Investigate the Employment of the G36 Assault Rifle in Combat Situations issued on 14 October,  Heckler&Koch ein Anliegen festzuhalten:
We are very pleased that the soldiers questioned for the Report of the Experts’ Commission have stated unanimously, that at no time did the employment of the Assault Rifle G36 indluence the safety or self-defense ability of those soldiers.

Heckler & Koch has been a partner of the Bundeswehr for more than 50 years, and or products are in worldwide service every day. The report determined that all soldiers had and have full confidence in the G36, not least on the basis of its — even in international comparison — high reliability. The safety of the lives and health of our troops has the most supreme priority at Heckler & Koch.

The independent commission established by the Federal Ministry of Defense under the chairmanship of former Member of the Bundestag Winfried Nachtwei investigated the question of whether German soldiers had been injured or exposed to danger because of characteristics of the G36. We welcomed the establishment of an Experts’ Commission from the beginning, and are pleased that the report coming back from the interviews with soldiers tally with the positive reports that have been coming in to Heckler & Koch from service members about our products for years.

Again, this is the link to Thomas’s report in the German language. This is a link that should provide a Google translation, if you want to check ours; at press time Google Translate wasn’t working here at Hog Manor.

What we’re getting from H&K’s report and from everything else they’re saying — noting especially that the G36 passed all tests before adoption — is that they’re pleased (and a little relieved, perhaps) that nobody died because of the heating/accuracy problem — which they say nothing about, naturally. And that they feel they’ve dealt with the 50m target and are ready to take on the 500m target: who pays for remediation? H&K, rather sensibly, believes the answer is “not us” because the heat tests that the G36 fails were not part of initial adoption testing. The G36 passed every test the Bundeswehr thought to throw at it — BW leaders just didn’t ever think German troops would be dealing reams of automatic fire at an enemy in 30º C weather, and so there was no such test in the 1990s when they were shaking down the G36.

G36 temperature-related failure

You might have thought that the overheating problems that plagued the nearly-adopted US version, the H&K-produced XM8 rifle, might have shaken some Teutonic complacency, but apparently they wrote the whole thing off to American cowboy ammo-spraying tendencies.

With the humanitarian question off the table for now — nobody has died from a G36’s degraded accuracy when hot, at least, not yet — the concern for H&K (and for the Bundeswehr) has to be: what’s next? What’s next is either a fix for the G36 or an all-new rifle.

One finding of the various commissions has met with silence from Oberndorf. That is criticism of the cozy relationship between H&K and Bundeswehr ordnance officers charged with defining standards and seeing that small arms met them. The recommendation is that a third-party lab be used to keep test results at arms’ length from ordnance officials’ friendships with H&K executives. The problem with that is immediately obvious: in a middle-sized nation like Germany, with a small arms industry that is increasingly squeezed by export controls, where do you find a lab that isn’t close to one or more of the nation’s few surviving and thriving gunmakers? The probable answer is, find a lab that has no firearms experience. That decision could lead to a painful learning curve.

If you had said at any time during the 19th or 20th Century that the supposedly militaristic German race was going to screw up something as hammer-simple as buying a rifle, because, in part, they they’d driven their arms industry into deep decline, even Californians would have laughed at you, and they’ll believe anything. 

G36 Update: In the Defense Ministry, Chaos Reigns

G36 and G36K, the rifle in the eye of the media storm.

G36 and G36K, the rifle in the eye of the media storm.

Thomas Wiegold, who remains red-hot on the G36 issue, has a new post: ‚Ein Soldat ist kein Schraubstock‘: Im Gefecht war das G36 ok. Und im Ministerium herrscht Chaos. In English that’s:

“A soldier is not a machine rest”; In combat, the G36 was OK. And in the Ministry, Chaos Reigns!

We have not got time this morning to translate the whole article (perhaps this PM) but we’ll hit some of the high points:

  • The various enquiries and commissions are back with their reports.
  • Yep, the rifle really does go wide when it’s heated up, either by ambient air or by rapid fire.
  • Despite the real accuracy problem, it hasn’t done any harm in combat operations. That result came from examining AARs, and from interviewing combat soldiers. This report is (in our view) slightly suspect because it argues do-nothing and it was edited by the anti-defense Greens, but the basic conclusion: that, “in combat, soldier skill and environmental conditions have more impact on accuracy than mechanical precision and accuracy themselves” rings true. (It’s from this that the “Soldier is not a machine rest” comes). Against that, we would argue that soldier skill should be compensating for something other than firearms failure; that such a bad weapon hasn’t held the Bundeswehr’s troops back speaks well of the troops, not the weapon. Still, it has to be a relief to H&K to know there’s no German blood on their hands.
  • The Ministry was in chaos; Wiegold uses the memorable phrase “pulverized accountability” to describe an environment in which no individual person carried the can for any one thing. Moreover, everybody missed the fact that, on adoption of the G36, it was planned to be a 20-year solution; nobody noted a few years ago that the two decades were just about up, now what?
  • Having essentially all of the BW’s small arms produced by a single firm, H&K, has led to a cozy relationship between specifier/producer/evaluator. There was no sign of corruption, just a lack of arm’s length distance. As a result, HK will no longer conduct QA of its Bundeswehr weapons; the Ministry has decided that that will be done by an independent third-party lab or organization.

In closing, Wiegold points out that the G36 is all but certain to be replaced, regardless of these findings, but that, had the Ministry been paying attention, it would have been planning to replace it at about this time, anyway. Just without all the sturm und drang in the press and public.

To that we would add, this sounds like good news for H&K coming after a real annus horribilis in the press.

That’s not all, folks, but it’s all we’ve got time for right now.

For More Information

Thomas’s article:

Google meatball translation:

Report summary conclusions (official, German language):

  1. On Combat Situations
  2. On the Organizational Question
  3. On Relations with Heckler and Koch
  4. An Interim Report on Whistleblower Charges with Respect to Other H&K Weapons

Play nice while we’re at the tax accountants. We may be grumpy on RTB.

Finally, thanks to the reader for the tip to Thomas’s latest. Vielen Dank!


Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Retro Barrel Spreadsheet

retro_barrel_listingWe usually try to have something in here that reaches a wide audience, but this week we’re narrowcasting to our fellow Retro AR enthusiasts. In recent years, the once-rich supply of surplus M16A1 and early CAR-15 variant barrels has evaporated, largely thanks to the ATF’s beyond-the-letter-of-the-law ban on reimported surplus barrels.

There are a number of producers of allegedly retro-style barrels, although most of them have something wrong with them. Sometimes it’s something grossly cosmetic (like a barrel sold as an A1 profile, but with a .750″ diameter at the FSB). Sometimes it’s something that can interfere with function, like a misplaced gas port, or (very common on current barrels) an M4-cut barrel extension, which only looks deformed if you look in the ejection port, but causes a buildup of nasty carbon fouling in non-cut receivers.

So logging the available barrels is an idea whose time has come, even though it’s a work in progress and it shows the rather depressing state of the market.

The site is here at As the URL makes clear, it is a Google doc spreadsheet. This particular document is read-only, so you can’t download it and take it with you, but you can print it out.

The creator of the document updates it based on requests in this thread in Arfcom Retro. The reason so many grossly non-retro barrels are on the list, then, is because retro n00bs and barrel makers have sent them to that thread, and the maintainer rolls them in as he gets them.

retro_muzzle_device_listingHe doesn’t just provide barrel sources, for there is also a second tab on the spreadsheet that has a listing of more or less correct muzzle devices. We never thought we’d ever see a day when M16A1 flash suppressors were hard to find, but that day is closing in on us.

Many builders, especially first-time or one-time A1 builders, don’t want to immerse themselves in learning the minutia of a retro barrel. They just want an expert to tell them what to buy. Never fear… using this chart, an expert can do that.

To cut to the chase, for an accurate retro barrel for a 20″ A1 build, your best choices are:

  1. Brownell’s, if you want a complete assembly with FSB mounted;
  2. Green Mountain GM-M32, if you want your own;
  3. Criterion, if you want to compromise “retro” twist and chamber dimensions for higher accuracy. It is a 1:8 twist barrel with a tight “match” chamber.

You can also choose chrome lined (for retro-correctness and durability) or not lined (may be cheaper and more accurate) at several vendors.

No one catalogs a barrel that’s “correct” for a Vietnam-era XM177 / A1 / A2 or other CAR-15 carbine variant. Sorry for the blanket statement, but it’s true. There are a handful of ways to get close, and that’s as good as it gets.

For many people, the barrel’s details and even its functionality take a back seat to how it looks. Some folks want a 1:7″ or 1:8″ twist instead of the original 1:12″ to provide more projectile options. (You really only need 1:7 if you need to shoot M856 tracer ammo, otherwise 1:8″ if you’re going to shoot 75-77 grain, or 1:9″ is probably OK and even more accurate). So they will find uses for the “less correct” barrels on the list.

German Invader With Russian Defender’s Rifle?

Where this grainy photo appeared in Daily Mail recently, in support of a story on grave-robbery in the East,  the caption was: Arms: The items being gathered by collectors often include rifles similar to these being carried by these German troops running on the Eastern Front in 1941. But have a look at this picture.

Germans -- Eastern Front -- 1941

The picture is a familiar one, it’s one editors seem to always go to for an Operation Barbarossa shot. But look at the rifle in the hands of the lead soldier! It’s a Russian rifle, specifically, a Tokarev SVT-40 (below) or possibly an SVT-38. An SVT-40 is shown below. The SVT-38 has the cleaning rod on the right side of the stock instead of under the barrel, and has a slightly shorter metal hand guard.

SVT-40 tokarev

So… is this a Barbarossa pic, and the German has merely helped himself to a Russian bangstick? Or are these guys, perhaps, Finns? The Finnish Army used both German-style helmets (which was their standard) and Russian rifle, including Tokarevs, which they captured in massive quantities in the Winter War. Indeed, most non-import-marked Tokarev rifles you find in the USA come from about 5,800 pre-’68 imports from Finland, and bear the “SA” cartouche of the Finnish Army.

kennblaetter_fremden_geraetsThen again, every army in the world uses foreign and enemy weapons if necessary. The Nazis, always short of arms for their oversized army, systematized the use of foreign weapons, and actually issued many foreign weapons, from pistols to tanks, and issued them German logistics numbers and printed German-language manuals. The SVT-40 was known to the Wehrmacht as the Gewehr 259 (r.) with the “r” standing for russich, Russian; the SVT-38 was called the G. 258 (r). But these designations were not assigned until December, 1942, according to the official document, the Kennblätter fremden Geräts.

Either way, it’s an interesting picture, possibly staged (In combat photography, how often is the photographer out in front of the infantry?) and possibly not.

Someone’s Flogging His Big Johnson

Of course, you can’t have it if you’re in Libya, North Korea, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts because it’s a big assault Johnson, but what it is, is a rare Johnson LMG kit, restored onto a semi Johnson M1941 rifle receiver, producing a legal semi-auto Johnson LMG. And you can have it — if you win the auction.

big Johnson 13

Manufactured on the original Johnson 1941 semi auto receiver , using original US GI LMG parts , semi auto only . Excellent condition , park. military finish ,mint original barrel , beautiful wood furniture. Test fired only. The gun fires , extracts and reloads 100% , very accurate. The gun comes with bipod and 3 magazines. Shipping to an FFL or C&R holder. The gun will be shipped from FFL in PA.

big Johnson 02

via 1941 Johnson LMG light machine gun semi m1941 : Semi Auto Rifles at

There are a number of these around. By “a number,” though, we’re probably talking about a single digit number. The parts kits are rare, and the rifles are valuable enough to collectors that it’s hard to make the case for sacrificing one.

Johnson guns get their collector cachet from their rarity1 and their use in training and combat by elite elements including the Paramarines, the Marine Raiders, the Canadian-American First Special Service Force (all ephemeral, hostilities-only WWII units), the OSS, and Brigada 2506, the Bay of Pigs invaders. The Marines and Cubanos only used the rifles; the FSSF, only the machine guns. Any surviving Johnson has some part of this history.

Because the Johnsons were not standard arms with standard doctrinal spare parts and maintenance support, they were withdrawn and replaced with US standard rifles and auto rifles/LMGs. Carefully packed away, all of them except for probable OSS/CIA stocks were surplused after the war.

We don’t know what it will go for. The current bid in the $8k neighborhood has not met the reserve (the rifles sell for $4k and up). Some comments, and the rest of the photos, after the jump.


  1. 30,000 Johnson M1941 rifles were made, a large percentage of which survive, but only about 3,000 were machine guns according to ATF Form 2s filed by Johnson Automatics. The Johnson M1944 machine gun appears to have been produced only in prototype quantities.

Continue reading

Rifle Training, Fort Jackson, 1970s

OK, so there’s a new toy at the Unconventional Warfare Operations Research Library, and it’s a book scanner. First thing we tried to scan was a 1970s basic training “yearbook.” Like every student yearbook, it’s 95% stock content with 5% varying with each class, being the pictures of the current teachers and graduates. We did a hasty scan of the document, then edited out all the non-gun stuff.

1970s rifle training.pdf

So this is what M16A1 era basic training looked like on the only base that was, then, experimenting with integrated male/female training units. Check out the funny women’s uniforms — there was a female fatigue uniform which was made from the nylon stuff of late jungle fatigues and survived about two pressings, and female drill instructors wore a hideous knock off of an Australian bush hat. (Pretty sure women now wear the regular Smokey Bear hat).

Most of the troops attending basic at Jackson would go on to Combat Support and Combat Service Support jobs. Other bases trained Combat Arms (Infantry at Benning, Armor at Knox, Artillery at Sill). The Engineers trained at Fort Leonard Wood.

Rifle training was supposedly standardized across all training bases, and had several distinct phases or blocks of instruction:

  1. Mechanical training: operate, strip, clean, reassemble, and function-check the M16A1.
  2. Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM). Hold factors, sight picture, breathing, trigger, etc.
  3. Zero. Achieve a good battle-sight zero on the M16A1 with the Canadian Bull target.
  4. Field Firing. On a Trainfire (pop-up target) range, trainees practice shooting.
  5. Record Fire. On a Trainfire record fire range, engage targets from 50 to 300 meters.

After record fire, the green-fatigued troops could put a camouflage cover on their steel M1 helmets. The cover had a green side and a brown side, the brown side is seldom seen.

There were also familiarization fires such as NBC fire (5 or 10 rounds with a mask on), night fire (shot at day through light-limiting goggles — yes, really!), automatic fire from the bipod, and support weapons including the M60 (a few rounds) and the M72A1 LAW (for all but one or two lucky dogs per cycle, using the subcaliber device). Some of these are shown in the excerpt.

Yeah, the excerpt is rough. We’re still getting the hang of the scanner. Fujitsu SV600.

Saved By the Bell (Contract): Colt? Not So Fast.

colt_bankruptcy_bannerFor once, the Friday night news dump wasn’t bad news. Last night the news broke that everybody’s favorite Chapter 11 case had received a large contract for up to $212 million for new M4A1 carbines. Or did it?

For coverage, here’s TFB. But we also found an interesting detail in the official release. See if you can spot it:

Colt Defense LLC, West Hartford, Connecticut (15QKN-15-D-0102); and FN America LLC, Columbia, South Carolina (W15QKN-15-D-0072), were awarded a $212,000,000 firm-fixed-price multi-year contract for M4 and M4A1 carbines for the Army and others, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 24, 2020. Bids were solicited via the Internet with six received. Funding and work location will be determined with each order. Army Contracting Command, Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, is the contracting activity.

Did you see it? Let’s emphasize it for you, eh?

Colt Defense LLC, West Hartford, Connecticut (15QKN-15-D-0102); and FN America LLC, Columbia, South Carolina (W15QKN-15-D-0072), were awarded a $212,000,000 firm-fixed-price multi-year contract for M4 and M4A1 carbines for the Army and others, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 24, 2020. Bids were solicited via the Internet with six received. Funding and work location will be determined with each order. Army Contracting Command, Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, is the contracting activity.

OK, let’s translate that from Defense Acquisition to English for you:

  1. There’s a new contract for M4 and M4A1 Carbines (is anyone still using the burst-fire M4? USMC?).
  2. Both Colt and FN are approved vendors of these carbines under this contract. (There are many reasons a contract might be split like this, including maintaining second-sources for the sake of the defense industrial base, or ensuring the survivor of a competitor so that future bids aren’t expensively sole-sourced). They will provide carbines at the prices set in their contracts: as many, and as often, as DOD requires, up to $212 million worth between both firms.
  3. This contract runs for five years, and $212M is its max value over both vendors over all five years.

Therefore, if the orders were evenly split between companies and year-to-year, the contract’s worth $21.2 million a year each for five years. However, it’s unlikely that the contract will be evenly split like that.

At a bare minimum, the contract’s good news for FN and for Colt. For one thing, both of them can continue to claim that their carbine is “issue” as they sell their wares into the private market, which is much larger than the military market. (Private gunowners in America buy more AR-15 rifles in a year than the US military would need to completely re-equip its entire inventory).

There are some possible downsides of this contract from the point-of-view of resolving Colt’s bankruptcy and management issues. As Nathaniel at TFB notes, Colt may have bid so low it was reasonably assured of a win, but if so, it could a hard time meeting the bid price economically. More seriously, the company’s desperate financial straits were holding the managers’ feet to the fire in their ongoing conflict with investors (to be specific, bondholders). Removing present management is necessary for real success. The current managers/owners appear to excel at financial machinations, but they are poor at product and marketing. They utterly failed to take advantage of having the most wanted firearm brand, during the greatest run on firearms in American history.

It’s almost as if they’d rather play Wall Street games than win by producing high-demand products at a profit. So having a contract to keep the lights on and doors open may, paradoxically, delay the “creative destruction” needed to fully reform the company and the brand.

Still, the M4/A1 contract may keep Colt workers at work and ensure that American service members will have suitable firearms, while Ordnance goes back to the drawing board in pursuit of the Next Big Thing™.

Germans Issue Pocket Card for G36 Immediate Action

The Bundeswehr has responded to the ongoing clamor over problems with the G36 rifle by attempting to restore troop confidence in the weapon. One way they’re doing this is providing a graphical training aid, a Pocket Card for the G36 that describes lessons learned and immediate action for common problems with the weapon.

End of Life: Always controversial, the G36 is scheduled to be replaced by a new rifle, to be selected in a process that will probably be just as spectacularly controversial.

End of Life: Always controversial, the G36 is scheduled to be replaced by a new rifle, to be selected in a process that will probably be just as spectacularly controversial.

It’s available to German soldiers, sailors and airmen as a download on the German Armed Forces’ intranet. The BW news release is here (hat tip Thomas Wiegold, who outs himself in his post as a fellow fan of the late Douglas Adams) and our translation of the BW release follows:

In view of the demonstrated deficiencies, measures have been developed with a goal of minimizing any impairment of the G36.  These measures have been gathered together in a pocket card by the combat experienced experts of the “Infantry Team.”  It’s to be understood as an extension of the current technical and shooting manuals, and is ready to be downloaded in the intranet of the Bundeswehr.

The pocket card was published by the Infantry Team, under the leadership of Brigadier General Gert-Johannes Hagemann, commander of the Infantry Training Center. He, and his team of soldiers, have been assigned by the General Inspector of the Bundeswehr to advise in all questions of the utilization of the rifle G 36 in combat. In addition to advising soldiers with on-going site-visits, they will also visit units in combat and ongoing deployments..

In April 2015, an independent and thorough examination of the rifle G 36 revealed two problems: “increased dispersion by firing-induced heating of the weaopn,” and “displacement of point of impact due to external heating or changing climate conditions.”

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has decided to acquire a new assault rifle. Its introduction could begin in 2019, depending on market availability. As an interim solution, 600 assault rifles of G27P type and 600 MG4 light machine guns have also been purchased, and will be issued by the end of 2016. With this mix of weapons, the troops have significantly more flexibility in their ongoing and future missions.

The pocket card graphical training aid is something that other NATO armies, especially the Americans, have long used, and that the Bundeswehr has issued for several purposes, such as rules of engagement or, on Luftwaffe bases, fire-fighting procedures,

Unofficial G36 pocket cards have been developed and shared by German troopies before. For example, this one by and for reservists includes the basic manual of arms, specifications, and how to use the G36’s optic’s reticle. This one has similar information organized differently.

We’re hoping to get a copy of the official BW card. Wiegold has seen it and includes some of the text on it in his post; if a copy of the card doesn’t come our way, we’ll translate Thomas’s excerpts in some future post.


It is now our understanding that the card is marked VS-NfD. This stands for Verschlußsache — Nur für Dienstgebrauch which translates roughly as Restricted — Official Use Only and appears from official regulations to require special handling, to wit:

Items classified VS-NUR FÜR DEN DIENSTGEBRAUCH (VS-NfD – RESTRICTED) shall only be made accessible to such persons as must, in connection with the execution or negotiation of the given contract, have access to such information (“need-to-know” principle).

Items that are classified VS-NFD (RESTRICTED) may be disclosed only to government agencies, intergovernmental organisations or contractors which are involved in a programme / project / contract and must have access to the classified information in connection with such programme / project or contract.

Accordingly, our informal request for a copy is withdrawn. We don’t want to get any of our German readers in trouble with the law. According to that document, the card may be declassified at one year of age.

Just How Bad Was Is the SA 80?

Here’s an old HK document bragging up their rebuild of Britain’s buggy SA 80 assault rifle, circa 2007.  Whilst it’s marked “Commercial in Confidence,” a rough equivalent of the US’s proprietary information markings, it was presented at a public NDIA Conference (the 2007 Small Arms Conference) and it’s still available in DTIC’s document repository.1

HK Future Requirements 2007 Bantle_210PM.pdf

The Original L85A1 rifle

The Original L85A1 rifle

Without the audio or video of the presentation, making sense of the slide deck is a challenge, as the document was not made by fluent English users. You learn that after HK was contracted to un-screw the unreliable Enfield in 1996, the processes included “Weapon Measurement 4 Weapons,” “Evaluation with Various Ammunition,” and HK’s personal bugbear, “Firing at Different Temperations. [sic]” By 1997 HK thought it had some answers, and then it took another year to hash out a contract to fix 100 each of the rifle (Individual Weapon) and squad/section automatic (Light Support Weapon) units. The actual modification of the firearms took only six months, or half the time of contract negotiations — who do these guys think they are, with all this bureaucracy, Americans?

Why was the L85A1 so unreliable? This dissassembled view gives a clue. The innards were copied from the AR-18 -- indeed, the prototypes used Sterling-made AR-180 parts. Simply copied, not engineered at all.

Why was the L85A1 so unreliable? This dissassembled view gives a clue. The innards (bolt, gas system, barrel/magazine alignment) were copied from the AR-18 — indeed, the prototypes used Sterling-made AR-180 parts. Simply copied, not engineered at all.

Here are the firing cycles HK used for the 1999 tests:

Individual Weapon Firing Cycle
Sequence Rate (rounds / min) Duration sec Rounds fired Comment
1 30 40 20 40 secs
2 10 360 60 6 minutes
3 30 60 30 1 minute
4 10×4 60 40 10 bursts of 4, 1 min.
totals   520 150 150 rounds in 8:40

And here are the firing schedules used with the support weapon.

Light Support Weapon Firing Cycle  
Sequence Rate (rounds / min) Duration sec Rounds fired Comment
1 60 180 180 3 minutes
2 0 60 0 1m cooling
3 60 180 180 3 minutes
4 0 120 0 2m cooling
5 60 150 150 2:30
6 0 600 0 10m cooling
7 30 600 300 10 m, lower rate
8 0 120 0 2m cooling
9 60 150 150 2:30
totals   2160 960 960 rounds in 36:00

We note that those firing schedules, especially the rifle schedules, are very light compared to what is expected in modern combat and combat training. It’s nothing to burn through 5 magazines during a single practice hit during SFAUC, or any other CQB/MOUT training evolution, and you will burn through them in well under 8:40. And rates of fire in defensive operations, under the pressures of a modern, complex attack, are much higher.

The initial trials results in 1999 showed a very great improvement in both weapons (and exposed just how crappy the originals had been). But they didn’t go far enough. Results in Arctic firing tests, conducted in Alaska, were particularly shabby.


We can all agree that a weapon achieving 5% or even 22% reliability on that mild test cycle is junk, and that HK’s improvement of the firearm was near-miraculous. (We do wonder how much of it was just bringing indifferently-manufactured SA80s up to blueprint spec). But while the numbers speak for themselves, they don’t say this is a good firearm — even post-overhaul.

Now, 96% reliability sounds good, but that means, on average more than one malfunction or failure per magazine! And 86% reliability means, on average, more than four failures per 30-round mag. Of course, that beats the relative inutility of the unmodified guns, but you have to wonder why the MOD didn’t just send the SA80 to the knackers’ yard after these dismal tests.

Results in hot weather trials in Kuwait that summer were better, but not much better and probably within the margin of error of the test design.


You can’t help but think that what HK had at the end of this round of tests was a much better firearm than the British Army had had before — but still a piece of junk.

At this point, the UK considered ditching the SA80 and buying Stoner systems from Colt or Diemaco, but given that HK was then owned by Royal Ordnance (soon itself bought by BAE), it seemed sensible to give the contract to HK, and brag up the 98.5% reliability number — which was, you see, the very best result, in one style weapon, from one test. This produced the SA80A2, which had the following differences from the original (source):

  1. A new cocking handle, made of shaped nylon polyamide, which doubles as a cartridge case deflector;
  2. A new magazine, which is slightly longer, more curved and comes with a smoother spring feed action;
  3. The LSW has a heavier barrel;
  4. A new gas plug and cylinder made from superior materials;
  5. The catch spring has been widened to prevent jamming in the gas feed during re-assembly;
  6. The gas blowback cycle has been improved;
  7. One-and-a-half locking nuts removed from the barrel extension / chamber to accommodate a different extractor shape, which should also guide empty cases away from the ejection port;
  8. An all-new bolt head that has a larger, more robust extractor;
  9. The cartridge ejector has a new rim and a stronger multi-wire spring;
  10. The carrier has been polished to reduce the friction between it and the top-most cartridge in the magazine;
  11. A new sturdier firing pin has been installed, made from high-strength, quenched and tempered steel, with the stop moved from the rear to the front;
  12. The ejection port has been enlarged to improve the round ejection pattern;
  13. The magazine housing has been reinforced with additional welding to prevent it breaking;
  14. The weight of the hammer has been increased by 9g to prevent misfires caused by ‘bouncing’;
  15. The bolt release catch has been strengthened;
  16. A new recoil spring with a higher compression has been installed to even out the rate of fire.

HK received approximately $180 million for the upgrade of these rifles, about $400 each for the weapons that were done. Meanwhile the Army had been downsizing and so barely more than half of the initial buy were upgraded.

These were the weapons with which the British Army went to Afghanistan in 2002. (SAS were deployed earlier, but they were carrying M4s and Minimis). The regulars also used the Minimi in Afghanistan; as the L110A1 it has de facto replaced the unreliable L86 Light Support Weapon.

Since then, a Picatinny rail fore-end (developed for the firearm by Daniel Defense of the USA) has been added and Magpul E-mags have replaced the reliable but expensive HK steel “maritime” magazine.


You’d need more nearly A/B equivalent tests to be sure, but it seems that even after modification the SA80 is not even in the same reliability grid square as more popular weapons like Stoner and Kalashnikov system weapons, or even HK’s own much-maligned G36.

And while the LSW tests appear to have actually loaded up the weapon with heat — almost 1000 rounds in a half hour — the rifle firing tests were much lighter than a troop unit is likely to experience in a position defense.  In other words, as grim as these reliability figures are for the SA80 series weapons, they’re nowhere near the worst case for those weapons.

All this raises the question: how do weapons whose performance goes nonlinear at high sustained rates of fire get adopted in the first place? Our belief is that the initial testing protocols do not test the weapons sufficiently. A routine part of procurement of, for example, aircraft, is the provision of static test airframes or articles that are tested to failure or destruction. It’s clear from the dismal performance of the unmodified SA80 on these extremely mild firing programs that this weapon was not only not tested to failure or destruction, it was not remotely challenged during its original adoption. If it had been, the sorts of fixes the HK engineers used to raise the reliability of the weapon from nonexistent to merely worst-in-class could have been implemented way back in the 1970s when the British Army was shaking the thing down for the first time. Or pretending to.

How do you prevent an oversight like the one that gave some of the world’s most professional soldiers a weapon they couldn’t count on? We see that oversights are more likely to happen on in-house and sole-source projects, rather than on COTS and competitive projects. We think that helps point the way to a broadly useful prophylactic measure: more independent analysis (from varied independent analysts) and independent review of testing protocols and results. Also, weapons must be tested to and beyond the edge of the performance envelope, including testing to failure/destruction.

Is it wasteful to test toolroom prototypes, built for tens of thousands of dollars each, to destruction? Not if you think it’s wasteful to spend tens of millions on redesigning and rebuilding your combat arms after they’re fielded.


  1. NDIA’s document stash has recently been reorganized with a new website, just as amateurish as the last, and a new search function which can’t find much. The good news: trying to find specific documents you used to have links to, DTIC’s incompetent organization instead serves up serendipitous finds like this!

The Wooden AR-15

“Why do witches burn?” If this completed AR receiver works as forecast, it’s because they’re made of the same thing as guns. “Why do witches burn?” If this completed AR receiver works as forecast, it’s because they’re made of the same thing as guns.

Plywood (well, laminated walnut) AR lower.

Plywood (well, laminated walnut) AR lower.

Plywood (well, laminated walnut) AR lower.

Plywood (well, laminated walnut) AR lower.

This blog’s archives tell the whole story, but many of the posts are linked below (we didn’t find them all, we think. He doesn’t seem to use categories or tags). It’s not the first wooden AR lower ever, so it’s got a good chance of working.

There are some interesting technological choices. The laminated lower is made from the strongest possible wood — not home store plywood. It’s also supported with stainless steel cladding epoxied on the outside, and steel bushings supporting the various action pins.

Originally he seemed to be aiming at making an unusual wildcat with a steel tubular upper, but over time it seems his aim has been adjusted from time to time.

There are more, but that ought to get you guys started.