Steyr / Rheinmetall Enters the G36 Replacement Competition

At least three manufacturers are competing in the evolving process of selecting the Bundeswehr’s replacement for the unsatisfactory G36 individual rifle. The participants include H&K, SIG-Sauer, and Steyr, which is partnering with Rheinmetall. (Gun history buffs, Rheinmetall is huge now, but evolved from an ancient gunmaking firm… Dreyse, of Prussian needle-gun fame). Dreyse was based in Sommerda, but Rheimetall calls Düsseldorf home today.

G36: Los! (Out with it. Here a G36E clone).

The story is told at the indispensable German defense blog, Thomas Wiegold’s Augen Geradeaus! (“Eyes front!”). Our meatball translation:

On the standing theme of the G36 and future assault-rifle of the Bundeswehr, at year’s end we’ve got a new data point: Three German enterprises will compete for the provision of the new standard weapon for German armed forces. Along with Heckler & Koch, which already supplies the G36 and has had success with the HK416 in France, and the Eckernforde-based business SIG-Sauer, the German defense concern Rheinetall is stepping in — with a weapon from the Austrian manufacturer Steyr Mannlicher. The Austrians were defeated by Heckler & Koch in the competition for the new Bundeswehr rifle in the early 1990s.

(Thomas, if you read this, you’re welcome to use any part of our translation on your site, should you want to put up an English post. We know your English is good but your time is limited, and there’s great interest in the non-German-speaking world in the Bundeswehr’s decision process).

In any event, he goes on from there to quote from a story in the Vienna newspaper Kurier, which says that Steyr is developing an AUG successor called the Gewehr bei Fuß or Foot-Soldier’s Rifle. The model being offered to the Germans is called the RS556.

The Austrian journos think that Steyr lost back in 1994 because of politics — EU Brüderschaft be damned, German officials wanted German soldiers carrying German guns. With 60% of the value added in the manufacture of the proposed Bundeswehr RS556 version being Made In Germany, they think the away team has a better shot. Our translation of part of the Kurier report:

The Austrian weapons manufacturer already had a shot in Germany in 1994, when its legendary Steyr Universal Rifle AUG (Sturmgewehr 77) had the best result in tests, according to reporting at that time. Yet the German manufacturer, Heckler & Koch in Oberndorf, received the contract for 176,544 military rifles for its Sturmgewehr G36.

So what is the RS556? Essentially, it’s a reformation of the AUG’s technology into an AR-15 form factor. Indeed, at a distance, it’s hard to tell it from a SIG or a 416. So however this shakes out, the AR is going to notch up another win. From the same Kurier report:

The new RS556 indeed looks like an American weapon, but it is the further development of the Steyr Sturmgewehr 77. With just a handgrip and no tools the barrel can be changed. Ther eare three barrel lengths available, and the rifle can be employed as assault rifle, submachine gun or light machine gun according to length.

You may recall this was a selling feature of the AUG, although not one that seemed to be prized by end users. It looks like the Steyr RS556 is also fully ambidextrous.

Due to a special surface coating, the rifle also works without gun oil, which is an especially large advantage in desert operations. The gas system and the rotary-locking bolt are inherited from the earlier StG 77 (AUG).

The AUG had some success, arming Austria, Australia (in a local version; bad news for ill-educated Yanks who always confuse those entirely different countries), some of the UAE forces and (briefly, because nobody paid to maintain them) the US Immigrations & Customs Enforcement agency. (ICE now uses M4s in either semi or surplus configuration, which have mostly replaced the late lamented AUGs and the not-as-lamented MP5s).

25 thoughts on “Steyr / Rheinmetall Enters the G36 Replacement Competition

  1. Ken S.

    Why do the Germans bother? To insure that the future islamic republic “al Bard” (or some other similar name in Germany’s place) will have high-quality but over-priced weapons? I don’t get it. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns…

  2. DSM

    The Irish use the AUG as well if memory serves.

    Back to the topic, as an outsider with a free opinion methinks the 416 has a better than good head start but it would seem you’re correct that it’s another AR win.

  3. Greg

    I had the good fortune over the years to sample the Irish AUG (LMG version), NZ AUG (Austrian production, not the early Lithgow jobs), and almost every Australian version (F88, F88C, F88SA1, F88SA2, EF88-508, EF88-40). Belgian, Israeli, US, and Australian service ammunition. Truth be told, there wasn’t much between them – the variable gas was my least favourite feature. Shame to see it continue!

    20,000-round barrel life – the Australians never shot one out as the barrel-to-receiver locking lugs wore out before the rifling due to unique local drills (manual of arms to our USian hosts/friends).

      1. Greg

        The drills were largely implemented due to a rash of negligent/unauthorised discharges (UD/ND) early in the life of the rifle. Lack of visibility into the chamber to determine whether it was empty or not was pegged as the cause, so removal of the barrel every time the rifle was cleared was put in place.

        So, you’ve got a barrel, the walls of which are thicker than a LMG (M249), designed to be removed once a day for cleaning, being taken off (unlocked) and replaced (locked) several times a day. Guess what? The lugs went out of spec faster than the barrels wore out!

        The drill has reverted to the original for the legacy rifles – for the EF88, the barre is bolted into what remains of the receiver.


        1. Kirk

          Huh. I was wondering why Thales did that.

          Just goes to prove my point about weapons design being downstream of culture, though.

    1. Hognose Post author

      May not have the resources. Armies are happiest dealing with really big firms. Armalite never got anyone to take the AR seriously, until it got Colt and Artillerie Inrichitingen involved.

      1. Kirk

        Even Artillerie Inrichitingen wasn’t big enough, in the end. Didn’t help that there were a lot of behind-the-scenes politics involved in that whole situation, as well…

  4. RT

    This is a shame in so many ways…

    I am a huge fan of the AUG

    What Steyr should’ve done is actually make an AUG 2.0 with deep upgrades modernization and etc … So deep and extensive in fact that there would be little or even no parts commonality between new and old versions.

    Honestly though Steyr hasn’t done jack in all this time to do Any significant upgrading to the AUG… Which is actually extraordinarily frustrating considering that a teenager from Germany using Airsoft and demilled guns managed to figure out how to radically alter the ejection path such that ambi shooting was easy and safe with nothing but replacement of the ejection port hardware…

    After garnering a HUGE amount of attention on YouTube he got the chance to test his design on an actual Austrian Army AUG which even with it being the oldest worst functioning gun they could possibly find him his mod worked!

    (He’s since tested and refined the mod on both semi and full auto AUG and AUG clones very much successfully)

    Same kid from YT also worked out ejection direction (left or right port) change that requires no expensive left hand eject specific bolt, no swapping port cover blank, AND adds a second fold down charging handle!

    You swap direction by pulling charging handle on the side you want it to eject from next.

    These two basic upgrades alone should have been done and on the AUG long ago, and would still see the AUG selling strong. Or at the very least it should have seen enough AUG sales to have started to give the AUG that economies of scale pricing we see in the AR market.

      1. Sommerbiwak

        Couldn’t find them videos on yootoob either. Where are they? :-(

        an AUG that can change ejection sides easily at the pull of the charging handle? I will take three! That finally sounds like a useable bullpup. (okay there is still the length of pull, but that is not so bad on the AUG imho). Steyr Mannlicher should send this into the competition instead of the frankenstein’s hybrid gun that is the RS556. I know they will not, but still

          1. Wes Dee

            Steyr would have hired the guy but when he way making his ambi aug Steyr was busy making .50 cal sniper rifles for Iraqi insurgents

  5. Raoul Duke

    So, let me get this straight… Styer wants to sell a rifle that has all the esoteric and questionable material and functional features of the AUG, but none of the good ones like a bull pup layout, compact size or instinctive ergonomics?

    This thing is like the New Coke of assault rifles.

  6. robroysimmons

    Maybe send Aesop over to straighten them out, if they won’t listen threaten to parachute Kirk in after him, show them no mercy.

    1. Kirk

      You might be surprised at how well that might work. When I was still on active duty, I once nearly walked in on one of my guys using me as a threat on one of the more recalcitrant agencies on post; hearing her make her play, I stayed in the background, and just listened: “You know who I work for, right? You do? Good… Now, I want you to understand that if you don’t give what I am asking for (which was quite reasonable, and what they were supposd to be doing in the first place…), I’m gonna have to go tell that asshole you said “No”, and then he’s gonna get in his truck, come over here, make your lives miserable until you say “Yes”, and if that doesn’t work, he’s probably going to bring in our Sergeant Major, who you also know… “. She paused for effect, let them think about things for a minute, and then sweetly suggested “Wouldn’t it be a lot easier on all of us, if you just did (your f*****g jobs)?”.

      They did, and when she came out into the foyer, saw me waiting and listening, grinned at me, stuck out her tongue, said “Got what we needed…”. Apparently, she had observed me using our notoriously ill-tempered Sergeant Major’s reputation in a similar manner, and learned well.

      Me? I walked away wondering when, precisely, I’d turned into an asshole with a reputation for difficulty and an intolerance for people not doing their jobs or being stupid. Decided it must have been about the time I pinned on Corporal, and it might explain why I was about to retire as a SFC with 25 years in…

      Point noted, however, and I’ll attempt to rein myself in a bit, around here.

      1. robroysimmons

        It was an interesting conversation, but maybe the two of you got yourselves wrapped about your own axles a bit.

        1. Kirk

          Well, in our defense, we argue because we care

          Me, I’d be perfectly happy if, by some miracle, the variegated idiots running our small arms programs managed to finally pull their heads out of their asses and get their programs in synch with reality.

          Do note, however, that the roots of the German G36 debacle stem from poorly conceived and written design goals for the G36; HK gave them precisely what they asked for. Whose fault is it, if those specifications were not in accordance with reality? HK? Or, more accurately, the Bundeswehr?

          German officer I knew once made a very astute comment to me, along the lines of which he went that the problem with the German Army in NATO wasn’t that they didn’t belong there, but that they’d picked up so many bad habits from the rest of Europe and the US. He was discussing “staff bloat”, but the unreality surrounding the G36 would have been another example. Most of the West has lost the small arms bubble; getting it back is likely going to require a hard collision with reality. A really hard and unpleasant one, likely including a level of casualties that will rival the Somme on a bad day…

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