G36 Replacement: Not so Schnell, Sparky

The Firearm Blog is reporting that Germany has moved to purchase a limited quantity of HK417s and machine guns to replace 1200 G36s for troops rotating into combat zones, in light of the G36’s problematic performance when hot (either through firing or in ambient conditions of high heat). They provide what appears to be a machine translation of a German newspaper article. A number of people with weak reading comprehension have posted on places like HKPro that “Germany adoped the 417 to replace the G36.” Not so schnell, Sparky; what Germany did (and what TFB seems to have reported) is buy a small quantity of 417s (and a similar quantity of 5.56 light machine guns) to give its deployed troops some improved small arms capabilities. That’s all.

The 416 and 417 are already in service with the KSK special operations element, and the 417 has been tested as the G27; a variant based on the as-similar-as-it-can-be-under-German-laws US civilian HK MR762 is more generally issued as the G28, as a designated marksman’s rifle. That article doesn’t mention that half of the small buy (1200 weapons total) are for the 5.56mm MG4 light machine gun, already accepted by the Bund also.

We decided to check the German news magazines. Der Spiegel was a case of “Im Westen nichts neues1,”, as a search revealed that the last report they had on the G3 was on Lithuania throwing it over in early July.

Competitor Stern was all over this story, but all of its stories are variations on the same thing (we translate the most detailed below). And the official spin is not that the 417 (which is the 7.62 NATO version of the 416, really nothing magic — just a decent piston AR) is replacing the G36 but that it’s supplementing them to provide “optimization of the weapons mix.” Indeed, the 417s that are being acquired are 600 examples of the already-enroute-to-acceptance G27P designated marksman rifle; in addition, 600 MG4 light machine guns are on order from H&K.

27 August 2015: Bundeswehr Chooses Other Rifles After G36 Failures.

(Our translation follows) (Link to original German-language story).

After the failure of the G6 assault rifle, the Bundeswehr sent 1200 rifles of another type into action overseas. The G36 is back in the headlines again.

After all the trouble over the assault rifle G36 the Bundeswehr is sending 1200 rifles of other types into operations overseas. This comprises 600 each rifles of types G 27P and MG4, said a spokesman for the Defense Ministry to the news agency AFP.

The HK MG4 closely resembles the FN Minimi and its derivatives, but has some novel features, like downward ejection.

The HK MG4 closely resembles the FN Minimi and its derivatives, but has some novel features, like downward ejection.

The spokesman made these comments in a report in the Süddeutschen Zeitung. He said it was not about a replacement for the G36, rather much more an “optimization of the weapons mix.”

The Bundeswehr has approximately 170,000 examples of the G 36. After years of criticism and assorted,sometimes contradictory, reports, Federal Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (of the CDU party) revealed at the end of March (2015) massive problems with the accuracy of the G36 in high ambient temperatures or with many shots fired rapidly.

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

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

The manufacturer, Heckler & Koch, disputes the deficiency. And, despite the dispute over the G36, the firm got the nod for the additional rifles for deployed forces. According to a press release from the Ministry, the purchase decision was made by State Secretary for Armament Katrin Suder.

The G27P and MG4 are already used in the Bundeswehr. According to a Ministry statement, the G27P is still still awaiting some precision tests, but it’s expected that the rifle will be able to be deployed by the second half of 2016.

The Ministry also has ordered 600 machine guns of type MG4. Acquisition of all these small arms should cost about €18 million. They’ll be paid for in “a regular annual financial authorization.”

Our conclusion: if the Bundeswehr was replacing the G36, they’d be buying a ton of weapons. Instead they bought 600 DMRs and 600 light machine guns — we think they’re doing just what they said, giving their guys some improved support weapons, since they’re over there mixing it up in Afghanistan.

In addition, more LMGs on hand mean less temptation to blaze away full-auto with service rifles. If they begin to overheat an MG4 barrel, it takes only a second to pop in a spare.

This doesn’t mean that the HK416 and 417 aren’t potential choices for the Bundeswehr; but so is some kind of rebuild to make the G36 more effective in internally or externally overheated conditions. All three of these are plausible, possible, defensible choices for the MOD. We’d bet a large quantity of the Deutschmarks that the Germans regret ever giving up, that replacing the G36 with the 417 alone is not going to happen. 416, maybe. (If they were giving up on 5.56 they wouldn’t be buying new light MGs in that caliber, nicht wahr?)

HK MR762

HK MR762, kissing cousin to the G27P rifles mentioned in the story.

In addition to the recent “replacement” kerfuffle, the G36 also appeared in a small way in a parliamentarians-hit-the-press squabble about armament exports. All German parties pay lip service to reducing armament exports for the same sort of emotional, rhetorical reasons that are often used for domestic gun control; but despite that, the Euro value of German arms exports has gone up, thanks to sales of refueling tanker aircraft to Great Britain and sales of components that went into French transport vehicles for Saudi Arabia. Challenged by the far-left opposition parties, the Greens and the Left (the former East German Communists, who dream of a return to the Stasi state and Russian slavery), the Socialist Party minister with the defense-export portfolio indignantly replied that, hey, they were serious about export controls too, they refused to sell the Saudis “tanks, G36s or other small arms!”

Sounds like the Saudis dodged a bullet, or rather, some dozens of them all traveling in random directions from G36s in the broiling desert. The Saudis are some very cagey desert Bedouins, however, and they try to spread their weapons purchases around the Free World so that they don’t get caught out by a single-nation embargo at some future date — not that they predict that might happen, but they like to manage their risks.

Meanwhile, embattled H&K has taken to posting anonymous testimonials to the G36 on its website, in a PR counteroffensive against its key customer, the Bundeswehr and the MOD. For example. We’ll follow up with a translation of some of these in the next day or so.

Bottom line, then: The Bundeswehr has bought a few HK designated-marksman rifles and MGs for delivery next year, for overseas-deployed forces. This does not telegraph anything about a general replacement of the G36 — yet.

Update

Nathaniel F at the Firearm Blog has an update linking back to this post. We note that he always goes the extra mile to put out good information! The initial article he had was confusing even in German, and did give the impression that this supplemental buy was the replacement for the G36. We’d comment over there, but TFB requires Discus or Facebook, etc., and those are verboten to us for work reasons. So it may sometimes look like we and they are yelling across the Internet at each other, when we’re actually on the same sheet of music (even if not always on the same measure).

Update II

We note that in the translated text both the 600 DMR rifles (G27P) and the 600 light MGs (MG4) are lumped together as “rifles.” That is because in German, they are both called rifles (as strange as that sounds), because both are a type of Gewehr, therefore the word Gewehr can mean both rifles and machine guns. Because German customarily forms neologisms by compounding, MGs have always been called Maschinengewehre (literally “machine rifles.”) This also serves to distinguish them from submachine guns, which auf Deutsch are “machine pistols.” Even though the term “machine rifle” long preceded the invention of the SMG, the two terms have a solid Teutonic logic, as the MG fires rifle rounds and the SMG pistol cartridges. We could have cleaned up the English by using a more generic term like “arms” or “small arms” but (1) that would have diverged more than we usually like from the original, and (2) this isn’t the kind of translation we take money for, it’s the kind we do in five minutes, dictating into the computer (usually with a few autodictation howlers).

Notes

  1. “In the West nothing new,” a German war-diary equivalent of the American “NSTR” (Nothing Significant to Report”), was the German title of Erich Marie Remarque’s World War I novel which is known in English as All Quiet on the Western Front. 

19 thoughts on “G36 Replacement: Not so Schnell, Sparky

  1. Boat Guy

    Hmmm…MG4? I’m outta date. Is the MG3 still the GPMG for the Bundeswehr? I LIKE that gun!

    1. Hognose Post author

      MG3 is the MG42, converted to 7.62 x 51, and with some other small improvements to sights etc. It also has a slightly slower rate of fire (still faster than US or UK MGs or the FN MAG) than its WWII forebear. The MG4 is a 5.56mm light machine gun meant to be employed by the rifle squad or section, and so can’t really replace the MG3 which is used as a company and battalion level gun.

      1. Boat Guy

        So they’re still using the MG3 as their GPMG. I “qualified” on it at least once and shot it a couple more times and really came to like it (especially as compared to the Pig). I don’t recall if the links “disintegrate” like our ammo or not

  2. Nathaniel F

    I’m going to take responsibility for what was a somewhat misleading title. I didn’t write it like that deliberately to mislead people, but a lot of folks took it to mean that the 417 was the new Bundeswehr issue rifle – it appears to be a DMR similar to the British L129 (if you’ve ever held a G28, you’ll understand why the Bundeswehr is issuing the much more reasonable G27 instead).

    Having done that, it should be pointed out that one of my initial sources swung the narrative that way, too, that the G27/417 was a limited replacement for the defective G36s – which in retrospect does not appear to be what they’re doing.

    My comments section exploded, we had over 50 comments within an hour on a Saturday morning, so by that point I felt it was too late to change the title.

    Mea culpa on that one.

  3. 10x25mm

    Bundeswehr is being starved financially, so it would be surprising for them to field another small arm. Good story on the Bundeswehr’s recent trial and travails at The National Interest:

    http://nationalinterest.org/feature/germanys-military-dying-13748

    G36 fiasco gets an honorable mention, but the real eye opener is the tale of Panzergrenadier Battalion 371’s equipment shortages in a NATO exercise: “Panzergrenadier Battalion 371 had to borrow 14,371 pieces of equipment from a total of 56 other Bundeswehr units… and it was still short on equipment.” This for a unit under 1,000 men!

    Think the Germans are going back to their WW II Gruppe tactics: 9 men lugging ammunition for two men with LMG’s.

    1. Hognose Post author

      That also underscores how insufficient the BW is as a customer for German arms firms. Yet the whole left side of German politics (including the SPD who are part of the current government) is dedicated to the idea of zero arms exports. This is part of the subtext to many of the German firms seeking alliances and branches in the USA, Canada and Eastern Europe.

    2. Kirk

      Think the Germans are going back to their WW II Gruppe tactics: 9 men lugging ammunition for two men with LMG’s.

      Not sure what the Germans are really doing, here, but I don’t think its a return to WWII tactics. The other indicators that would be there for that are not present, and from the way they specified an American-style rate of fire on the new HK 7.62 MG, I think they have forgotten everything they did, back then. And, more importantly, why they did it that way.

      The design features of the MG42 were what they were, intentionally. That “too high” rate of fire, and “excessive accuracy” were designed into those guns in delibrate support of German intent for use of machineguns during that era. It’s an entirely different school of thought from typical US/UK usage, and since the new HK gun seems to be designed in accordance with that, I think the Bundeswehr has probably decided to emulate mainstream Western small unit tactics, as opposed to the old MG-centric Wehrmacht ones.

    3. Brad

      Not that the Germans will ever do this, but I think an infantry squad equipped with a mix of HK417 rifles (with modern sights) and MG4 LMG would be superior to an infantry squad with all 5.56mm weapons or a squad with a 7.62mm GPMG.

      1. Kirk

        Depends entirely on how they use it.

        I keep telling people this shit, but nobody wants to listen: First, tactics. Then, operational planning for how to use those tactics, and finally, only after figuring those two fundamental issues out, do you start designing and purchasing weapons. Do it ass-backwards, by buying your toys first, and then figuring out how the fuck you’re going to use them? That’s pretty much the way we’ve been going about it for several generations, and it flatly does not work.

        You could design a set of tactics to optimize the weapons mix the Germans are purchasing. Is that what you want to do, though? Do you want to be answering those questions, during the fight and after, for why you let something so trivial as the weapons you bought drive how you did business? Would it not be far smarter to figure out what the hell you’re going to do, first, and then buy the weapons that support that set of tactics and operational plans?

        Here’s a damn hint, to procurement officials everywhere: The fucking cart goes in front of the damn cart. Not behind it, not beside it, in front of it. You don’t buy crap and then try to figure out how to use it; you figure out what the hell you want to do, and then buy the tools to support that. What we’re doing now is akin to a carpenter going out and buying a really nice set of Snap-On tools, and then trying to figure out how to frame a house using the damn ratchet set as hammers…

        1. Kirk

          Wow… What a typo. The horse goes in front of the cart…

          Gotta take more time editing after rant mode… Sorry, Hognose.

          1. Hognose Post author

            Kirk, if you want to rant at length and edit your rants before committing, I’d be glad to let you do guest posts under your own login. Let me know.

        2. Hognose Post author

          I have a half-baked post on the HMMWV successor, the JLTV, waiting for me to finish. I thought a $33,000 Jeep was nucking futs back in the 1980s, now we got a $400k Jeep — before the overruns. In which the users are, by default, “buttoned down.” Did anybody talk to a tanker about that? Ah, but it’s mine-resistant and smaller than an MRAP (ergo, a reason for Hadji or any other future enemy to Goldilocks his mine size).

          1. Kirk

            Hognose, I gotta tell you… I feel honored that you’d let me do guest posts. I’ll need to think about doing that, and I’ll get back to you on it. I don’t know if you’ve got my email from the system here, or not, but drop me a line and we can go “off-blog” to discuss it.

            I really don’t know about the JLTV thing, to be honest. I think they fundamentally screwed the pooch, back in the 1980s, with the HMMWV, just like we did with the whole LMTV fiasco. When you look at it, neither design was optimized for survivability, and the inherent features are, indeed, nucking futs. Seriously–What idiot specified a water-cooled diesel, with the radiator hanging out in front of everything, with no protection? Why the hell not use an air-cooled diesel, like the Deutz line? They make ’em in vehicle power-pack appropriate sizes, so why the hell aren’t they in a combat vehicle that doesn’t have its cooling system behind armor? I mean, seriously, guys… I can disable a HMMWV with a frikkin’ .22 LR by the simple expedient of shooting up the radiator.

            The other problem is the philosophical one, of why the hell do we feel the need to have all these little non-combat vehicles running around the battle zone in the first place?

            Seriously… The damn Colonel wants to do battlefield circulation? Fine–Give him a damn tank, or something. We’ve been running these guys around the battle areas for generations with admin vehicles, and the current state of the art of war is such that that idea is simply ludicrous on the face of it. I’ve got no problem with them moving around and checking up on stuff, but when they do it, they need to be cognizant that doing so in little bitty convoys with half-ass combat vehicles is gonna attract some negative attention.

            I think we need to do some serious re-thinking of how we do business, in regards to all this. In my opinion, it’s fairly damn obvious that the old assumptions about linear battlefields with clearly demarked zones of combat and rear echelons is a creature of the past. The FEBA extends damn near back to the docks at your point of entry, these days. As such, the idiotic idea that our support vehicles can get away with being unarmored is, frankly, ludicrous.

            If you present a flank to the enemy, expect it to be engaged, even if it is only metaphorical. We did that in Iraq, with the whole “let’s drive around in unarmored vehicles for logistics missions” thing, and we paid for it. Logistics are just like recon intelligence–In most cases, if it’s worth having, you’re gonna have to fight for it. The battlespace is so diffuse these days that it’s not even funny. I believe that if we’d ever had the “big one” in Western Europe, the Soviets would have handed us our asses on that account–Our thinking was and is still locked into this WWI-WWII era fantasy of “rear echelons equate to safety”, when in fact, they aren’t. The Soviets treated the Germans to full-spectrum operations throughout their battle areas, and the mentality is still there–That’s what the Spetsnatz were for, along with the fifth column terrorist groups like the Rot Armee Faction. If anyone expected they were going to be able to get up to the GDP positions they were assigned without having to deal with at least some of those forces, they were nuts.

            I think we really missed a bunch of stuff when they interviewed the German generals–I’ve seen mentions made of the depth of difficulties the Soviet partisans and stay-behind forces created for them, but our guys seem to have done little in the way of analysis and just did not comprehend the implications. The Soviets taught that stuff as doctrine, and we never really cottoned on to the similarities between what they were doing in Vietnam, South Africa, or anywhere else, for that matter. Deep battle isn’t just about having your tanks roam around behind the front lines, it also includes efforts to massively increase the friction of operations in the rear areas. If you can cause enough havoc back there, and the people in that echelon aren’t prepared, you can force your opponent to siphon off vast quantities of front-line combat forces just to provide security for simple stuff like movement security. All it takes is one or two ambushes, and the loggies will panic into immobility.

            So… Yeah. The JLTV. Probably not the way we need to be going. If I were the guy doing planning, I’d take a long, hard look at the South African work on their systems for fighting the bush wars in Angola. Virtually all their logistics vehicles were armored, and at the least had armored crew capsules towing unarmored trailers. I think that’s the way of the future–Something a bit bigger than the JLTV as prime mover, and a bunch of modular PLS-like packages for it to tow, with a quick-disconnect for the trailer. Get ambushed? Drop the trailer, turn into the ambush, and don’t stop until the ambushers are a thin red paste on your tires. Every attack on your movements needs to be turned into a full-scale engagement, especially in the low-intensity realm. You’re not going to get another, better, opportunity to engage the bastards, so take advantage of the times when they come out into the open to try to shoot you up.

            That’s probably the biggest failing of our operations over the last 15 years, is that we’ve let them take the initiative, time and time again, while our combat forces are flailing around on search-and-destroy missions. For the life of me, I’ll never understand this stuff–Even simple countermeasures like using “Q-ships” on the logistics convoys, and blasting the ever-living hell out of anybody daring to ambush them was incomprehensible to the people running shit in Iraq. I made the suggestion, pointed to the use of these things in Rhodesia and South Africa, and all I got in return was stares of incredulity, as in “We can’t do that…”. I’d ask why, and never get a reasonable answer.

            A couple of things that need to happen in the US military would be a greatly heightened appreciation for history, and a hell of a lot more imagination. I’m not kidding–The staff officers on the 101st Division HQ were not stupid people, but you’d talk to them about historical analogies to what we were dealing with, and they just couldn’t get the damn point. I’d suggest Q-Ships, and they’d be like “What’s that…?”, I’d give them the historical run-down, and they just could not make the connection between that and what we were doing in Iraq. Same-same when I suggested we have the Iraqis recapitulate the Rhodesian experience of up-armoring their commercial vehicles the same way the Rhodesians did. It’s not like we were operating under sanctions the way the Rhodesians were, so getting the materials to the various and sundry Iraqi shops that could have been building their cops their own armor was probably more than doable. The thing was, nobody on the staff could see past their noses–“We’ve got armored cars on order for the Iraqi police… They’ll be here in six months to a year…”. Meanwhile, we could have been employing Iraqis building their own shit, and keeping some of those troublemakers employed instead of at loose ends. Win-win, I thought. Didn’t happen, though–Despite me ordering in a copy of Peter Stief’s “Taming the Land Mine”, and passing it off to the people running that program. Talk about being given a roadmap out of hell, and then not taking it…

        3. Brad

          Since you asked.

          I suppose I could have been more precise in saying rifle squad rather than infantry squad.

          A rifle squad should not be overly burdened so as to preserve foot mobility. To reduce that weight burden, economy of fire should be emphasized while still presenting a reasonable level of mass fire.

          In my opinion a rifle squad with a mix of scope sighted HK417 armed rifleman along with a MG4 LMG team and a 40mm GL team could deliver a good balance of the requirements of economy and mass in most combat environments.

          For a fun contrast, there is the rifle squad organization of the late 1960’s Japanese GSDF which emphasized firepower over mobility. A squad of 11 men armed with eight selective fire bipod equipped Type 64 7.62mm rifles, each capable of firing rifle grenades, and three belt fed Type 62 7.62mm GPMG – two on bipod mounts and one on a tripod mount.

          1. Kirk

            When I say what I’m saying about tactics coming first, along with operational intent, what I mean is that you have to decide how the hell you’re meaning to actually use the weapons; it’s a lot more involved than simply parceling out the toys across your MTOE structure, and calling it good, allowing the users to puzzle it all out for themselves. Likely, they lack the background, experience, and knowledge of the overall intent to successfully do that. It ain’t their job, anyway–In any sensibly-run army, the guys running the “big picture” stuff figure this out, and procure accordingly.

            Using your Japanese MTOE as an example: I could run things a bunch different ways, depending on what tactics I chose to train and practice. Let’s say that we take those three MGs they have, and create a heavy fire support element under the direct control of the squad leader, meaning that he’s got himself and six men immediately under him. This means that he’s got to control the fires of all three guns, and probably implies that he’s not going to have a lot of attention or time to spare for the other element of pure riflemen. That’s likely going to be an independent scout/assault element, run by the squad leader’s assistant. Under this concept, the flippin’ 7.62mm individual weapons are a bit of a stupidity, since they’re almost never going to be used to their full effect–Nobody is going to have the damn time or bother with sitting down and doing bipod-supported fires, since the recon/assault team is going to be moving, and the guys with the MG teams are going to be doing MG stuff. So… Mismatch between weapons and tactics.

            Or, you could take the same MTOE, and do something totally different–Three more-or-less independent fire teams, with one specializing in MG support, while the other two serve as recon/assault/support elements.

            The permutations are endless, but the weapons mix isn’t. The concept of a full-size 7.62mm individual weapon almost militates for a totally different approach to things than someone who decides to buy smaller and lighter intermediate cartridge systems like the 5.56mm or 7.62X39. You can look back to the old Roman system, where they had distinct types of soldiers, all equipped differently and using different tactics. Velites were lightly equipped and armored skirmishers who threw javelins; Hastati had swords and basic armor, and fought in the front lines of the formation; Principes had better armor, fought further back in the formation, and were more experienced; the final line of Triarii were the oldest, wealthiest, and best-equipped men in the unit, and were pretty much the “this far, and no further…” line. They also didn’t do a lot of pursuits, burdened by age and the heavier armor they could afford. All four types of infantry used different tactics, based on what weapons they could carry and what armor they could afford.

            You don’t equip your Velites with heavy armor and swords; they won’t know how to use them, and their usual tactics of skirmish hit-and-run won’t work with them carrying all that extra weight. Likewise, you force your modern light forces that are trained and equipped to “fight light” and fast with heavy 7.62mm NATO systems, they’re going to be at a disadvantage because they won’t be able to carry the number of rounds they can with lighter systems and still be light enough to move fast. So, you have to decide what the hell you mean to do–Equip and train your infantry to wear heavy body armor, and plod their way through the attack, methodically blasting their way through the enemy ranks, you’d better give them the small arms to do that with. And, those won’t be the same ones that you’d want to give your “light and fast” guys, either–Those gentlemen need lightness and lethality, to maintain their “lightning on their feet” mobility.

            The other aspect is what supporting arms you intend to deploy. None? Better put a shitload of MGs down in the squads. Going to have something like a Bradley backing up every fire team, with copious fire support and aviation? Well, hey-now… Maybe we don’t need too many heavy-ass MG systems with tripods.

            Tell me how you intend to fight, and then we’ll work out what you need to do it. Without the first step in the process, which is entirely in the realm of training and doctrine, we cannot make informed and accurate decisions about procurement of weapons. Hell, to be honest, cartridge design really can’t be done without knowing at least the basics of how you intend to fight. And, there are clear and express differences between what you need to support specific tactics and operational plans.

  4. MJ Mahoney

    Re: the TFB comments section, you don’t actually have to sign in with Disqus or Facebook. Just check the little box marked: “I’d rather post as guest”, then fill in your name and email address. That’s what I do.

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