The KM17s Follows the Leader

Australia, which now prides itself on being semi-auto-rifle and homicide-free, once not only designed and manufactured such rifles, but exported them. The Australian Leader rifle in 5.56 never won any contracts we’re aware of. But a quantity of them sold here, and they have won some converts. It shares some mechanical features with the Armalite AR-18 series, and seems like it could work well.

Ian did a very good video on the Leader rifle at Forgotten Weapons.

Various versions including 7.62mm and bullpup versions were tried, and a version of the bullpup went into production by Bushmaster, ending when Cerberus yanked Bushmaster’s chain. A review in a recent American Rifleman brought to our attention the re-launch of a much improved version of the bullpup as the KM17S556. Like Charles St. George of Leader nearly 40 years ago, the head of K&M Arms, Ken McAllister, envisions a whole line of these rifles; success of the 5.56 model that has been making the review circuit will enable all that.

Bullpups have been in the news a lot, thanks largely to the Israeli adoption of the modern Tavor, which has also been an export success for Israel Weapons Industries, with about 20,000 Tavors a year finding new homes in America, despite a boycott maintained by dozens of smelly campus hippies as part of the Boycott, Divestment, Stink movement. Perhaps due to rapid modification of the issue gun and the slower pace of ATF approvals, the design of the civil and military Tavors has diverged, but the rifle remains popular despite a high price. (Almost $2k before optics). Other bullpups come and go, including AUGs, MSARs (an American AUG knock-off), and two models from Kel-Tec; the compactness of the bullpup system always intrigues buyers. The original AUG and a Croatian design, as well as FN’s 5.56 and PDW bullpups, continue in military service here and there, even though Steyr seems to have thrown in the towel on bullpup designs, and is returning to a conventional layout.

The Leader of 1978 is unrecognizable in the KM17S, apart from its internals. It has a three-lug bolt, a gas tappet design (like Tokarev, Simonov, and Saive FN designs) and is designed to quickly field-strip without tools into three large assemblies.

(NRA photo)

The Leader and all its successors are designed for easy manufacture. On the Leader, the upper receiver was pressed steel. On its bullpup derivations, it’s a machined aluminum extrusion — very fast and inexpensive to produce, in quantity.

Its path from Australia to Maine to Arizona has been long and has seen many minds and hands work on it; if McAllister can produce and distribute them to the legions of bullpup fans out there, the Leader may have a new lease on life. If so, it will be an overnight success — a generation in the making.

The original inventor of the Leader was an Aussie named Charles St. George. He developed the Leader T2 in the 1970s and modified it many times with the hopes of selling it to the Australian defence (as they spell it!) forces. Many improvements were developed for the military M18, such as ambidextrous dual non-reciprocating charging handles, and persist in its descendants today. The military bought the AUG instead — Australia still manufactures a version locally —  and St. George’s bullpup version, which he called the T18, never was produced as such in quantity. Instead, he licensed it to Bushmaster, which produced it in small quantity from about 1992 to 2005. At some point in time, Leader went paws up and a small quantity of continuation T2s were made by a firm called Australian Automatic Arms; at least some of these had wood stocks in a “postban configuration” per the US 1994 gun ban law, as seen here on Forgotten Weapons. Per Ian, importation to the USA of the Leader was only about 2,000 units.

Meanwhile, McAllister had a machine shop in Chandler, Arizona, called K&M Aerospace. Apart from the custom aerospace and automotive manufacturing he did, he began to make parts to customize and improve bullpup rifles after getting hooked on the platform by a Bushmaster M17S that he picked up. His upgrades included trigger improvements, weight reductions, rails systems, even cheekpieces, and he began to manufacture replacement parts for the M17 community. From there, it seemed a short step to manufacture, although the KM17S’s path from decision to market — if it is, really, indeed on the market now that reviews are showing up — was over five years long.

The bullpup design appeals to owners who would like to have a modern rifle with a different style or flare. It has proven to be a very hard sell to armies, but there’s certainly demand for bullpup rifles out there, and K&M’s design is unique in the market in not being largely polymer. (It’s mostly steel and aluminum). The NRA found it shot 2-inch groups.

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23 thoughts on “The KM17s Follows the Leader

  1. SemperFido

    I never liked bullpups. Course, I never liked the M16 either. We trained with M14s. Heavy, but I like them.

  2. James F..

    Use the Internet Archive link on my name to link to a version with photographs. Here’s one with modern scope and flashlight, but there’s also one with the designer and his rifle, looking retro.

    1. Y.

      Come on Haxo, the typical female activist doesn’t look like that.

      There’s some pretty girls in the anti-Jewish camp, but I’d wager they are more common among the WN or nazi crowd.

  3. guy

    I never did like C or E clips, but I love the idea of a triangular, 3-lug bolt face.

    I’m also unreasonably fond of the bent sheet metal style of garage firearm fabrication this reminds me of. Though of course I also wish I had a garage with a power hammer forge and a 20 ton press.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I don’t think that there are any e- or c-clips left in the current design.

      20 ton press is always for sale at Harbor Freight. If you’re doing anything precise with it you’ll wind up rebuilding it.

  4. Bert

    We have got a Sterling AR180, and an M17. Another Armalite design and variant that didn’t get the attention or production numbers it might have deserved.

    Pity the cold war flood of subsidized AR and AK types buried a lot of potential for improvements in auto rifles and stifled many new designs. Even the “beta” level specimens we ever got have some nice attributes, who knows where a thorough wringing out of these designs might have gone.

  5. Nadnerbus

    The Masterpiece Arms MPAR also seems to be a standard layout T2 on the inside. The bolt and carrier are identical.

  6. Squid

    Lefties (not the campus hippie kind but the ones looking for port side holsters) are troubled by bullpup rifles. Know of any ambidextrous models?

    1. Sommerbiwak

      AUG has a left ejecting buttstock as option.

      The FN F2000 ejects forward through a tube.

      The P90 ejects downwards

      soviet Tkb-022 ejects forward as does the Keltec RFB.

      The FAMAS can eject either left or right

      enough for a start? :-)

      1. Squid

        Thanks.

        Now I know more about rifles I can’t afford. Time to go admire the ARs in the safe that I put left handed selector switches on….

    1. staghounds

      I’ve shot one offhand- recoil no worse than a 12 gauge or M1. Truly a lot of power from a very portable package.

  7. bloke_from_ohio

    I would really like to use Israeli weapons parts in an AR build as a counter to both the boycott crowd and 2A averse. I figure I could nail two sacred cows of modern progressivism in one go. However with the exception of a polymer dust cover, I can’t find any furniture made over there that is not (to my mind) really silly looking. I could get some Mako Group mags or something, but PMags and USGIs are still cheaper and get better reviews.

    I similarly would love to “Buycot” the Iraqi Kurds, but they don’t make much that is not oil. I looked.

  8. RT

    Hognose,

    Just FYI the K&M M17 in 5.56 has been out and selling well enough that most of the time there’s a 90 day backlog and wait to get one.

    Also, he’s doing well enough that the 308 version has been out for nearly a year and both are selling so fast he can’t get the time to start working up other chambering options etc.

    It’s also got a PHENOMENAL trigger said by many to be every bit as good or better than most of the drop in trigger packs available for the AR15!

    I’m very happy for st. George that he finally got to see one of his designs done right and thus having well deserved success!

    Especially since Masterpiece Arms royally stepped on their own dicks with their modernized T2 design!

    Also, the man is exactly the guy you should call if you need to bootstrap a firearms industry out of nothing in your country! He built a hammer forging machine to make barrels with out of scrap tools and etc… And along with being extraordinarily strong and simple to manufacture, the other thing you should know about the T2 & M17 bolts is that they are in fact machined from grade 8 bolts!

    The man’s a genius.

    1. John M.

      Weerd Beard, who is a frequent guest on Handgun Radio, tried a KM17 at a recent show (NRA?) and said the trigger is very good for any rifle, never mind a bullpup. He put one on order, but last I knew, it was stuck in limbo as Weerd Beard lives in Healystan.

      -John M.

        1. John M.

          Interesting. He was on Handgun Radio a week or so ago and didn’t mention a move. He’s also a biologist, so that’d be an interesting career move for him.

          You should pitch Handgun Radio on a Czech guns show, either in conjunction with your book or before it. Ryan, the host, isn’t afraid of deep-dives into history and such.

          -John M.

  9. John M.

    “Bullpups have been in the news a lot, thanks largely to the Israeli adoption of the modern Tavor, which has also been an export success for Israel Weapons Industries, with about 20,000 Tavors a year finding new homes in America, despite a boycott maintained by dozens of smelly campus hippies as part of the Boycott, Divestment, Stink movement.”

    “I like the Tavor, but can’t stand the occupation of the West Bank and the apartheid/Palestinian genocide policies of the Israelis, so I’ve narrowed my search to an AUG or a Daniel Defense AR,” said no one, ever.

    -John M.

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