HK433 and the German Competition, Part III

So far, in Part 1 and Part 2, we’ve given you just about everything that Hah und Kah has put out about the new assault rifle family, the HK433. It’s importance for HK is that it’s the company’s entrant in the Bundeswehr competition to replace HK’s own G36. The G36 ran into troubles with shot dispersion in hot conditions, both hot environments and when the gun itself heats up; after a long and unpleasant series of legal maneuvers, German courts ruled that the government was not entitled to recover damages: the G36 met every Bundeswehr requirement, and the hot-conditions test was not anticipated, and so wasn’t a requirement. The rifle’s poor performance in these conditions was a surprise to everybody, including the team that designed it.

And, despite the problem, the German troops that carry the G36 remain generally happy with it; for all the Sturm und Drang in the press (this has been an ongoing Page One story in Germany), troop confidence is not as shaken as you might think. There is no groundswell of German Landsers demanding their G3s back (let alone Opa’s K98k). So the competition has to produce a rifle that’s better than the G36, not only in the view of the theoretically objective testers, but perhaps more importantly in the eyes of the Gefreiter mafia.

While HK’s own HK433 has to be considered the favorite, it’s a big contract (and a German sale increases your odds of selling to fans of German engineering worldwide, including many Third World armies that are larger than the Bundeswehr). So everybody’s going to chase it.

So who else is playing? The German station N TV has a report on the competition, and we’ll translate some passages for you, starting with a shortened version of a paragraph we did in Part I.

Out with the old G36, in with a new standard rifle for the Bundeswehr. …. The firms Sig Sauer s well as Rheimetall in collaboration with Steyr Mannlicher have recently indicated that they want to get the big contract from the Federal Defense Ministry. Now the former top dog and G36 supplier Heckler & Koch chimes in.

After delays the RFP for the major contract should be issued in the first half of 2017, reports the Defense Ministry. Actually a start at the end of 2016 had been envisioned. Due to painstaking preparation of the conract conditions, an “adjustment of the internal timeline” became necessary. The supply of new rifles should begin in 2020 and end 2026; originally 2019 has been named as a possible starting year.

Heckler & Koch and the Defense Ministry? Wasn’t there something about that? Officials and the department head, Ursula von der Leyen, had accused the firm of accuracy problems with the G36 in sustained fire and heat, and demanded damages. But the Koblenz State Court issued von der Leyen a setback in 2016: the judges ruled that, measured by the contract conditions, the rifle had no deficiencies. .

Essentially, the problem they found with the rifle was not a performance measure they specified when they were buying rifles, last time out. The courts ruled that Minister von der Leyen was in the position of someone who bought a car without air conditioning, and then demanded the dealer fix the AC.

But the Minister held to her decision to muster 167,000 G36s out at the end of this decade. In order to find a modern replacement, the Ministry is preparing a request for proposals….  Yet it’s not surprising that the Swabian gunmaker has thrown its hat in the ring. “You have to consider – Heckler & Koch is the official supplier to the Bundeswehr”, Wolf-Christian Paes from the Internationalen Konversionszentrum in Bonn explains. “We want the contract absolutely, for us it is also strategically important,” says Scheuch. His firm is heavily leveraged, but recently has reported better financials.

Does Heckler & Koch start off with a black mark for the big contract, due to the contretemps with the Ministry? “It’s going to be an objective competition,” company head Scheuch says. “The procurement branch of the Bundeswehr is large, versatile, and well organized — any disadvantage from a the person opinion of any individual involved is not a threat.”

Legal experts agree. “That’s not forced optimism from Heckler & Koch”, says contract lawyer Jan Byok from the offices of Bird & Bird. There will be “no whiff of discrimination”. If that were the case, the contract would be legally disputable — something the Government wants to avoid. In a pan-European contest, all participants have equal chances, Byok said.

Weapons expert Paes sees it similarly: from the Bundeswehr he has heard that H&K has considerable understanding there: the firm has provided what was ordered. Had they wanted rifles , that even in continuous fire remained highly accurate, they’d have had to pay more — but that didn’t happen, Paes says.

And then the writer takes a shot at handicapping the field:

Weapons experts see H&K somewhat advantaged, relative to foreign firms: should the US manufacturer Colt join in the competition, the “Bund” would probably prefer the German firm, somewhat, said Paes. “It’s an announced objective of the Government’s industrial policy, to retain manufacturing competence in the country.”

In 2016 H&K got a big contract from the French Army — and defeated the Belgian gunmaker FN. Such successes have consequences for the Bundeswehr contract, lawyer Byok said. … H&K also supplies the armies of Spain, Great Britain, and US special operations forces.

SIG-Sauer also wants the contract. But the Schleswig-Holstein subsidiary of a US business has only 120 employees, H&K on the other hand has 850. Is SIG-Sauer too small? A business has to have a certain minimum size to meet contract terms, says attorney Byok.

They could handle the contract in any case, a SIG-Sauer spokesman reports. “For one, because we have just now already expanded production capacity, for another, because the development of such a contract would take place over a longer period of time.  How the race ends is unclear. One thing is certain, for lawyer Byok: the contract will draw the attention of the entire small arms industry. Along with Colt and FN, the Italian gunsmith Beretta and the Czech firm CZ should throw their hats in the ring: “That would be everybody, who has a name and a rank” [in the industry].

That actually winds up being just about the whole article. Let us know if you spot any translation errors.

Exit thought: since nobody has seen the contract yet, what’s the over-under on it having some provision for limited dispersion of rounds from an overheated gun?

14 thoughts on “HK433 and the German Competition, Part III

  1. Sommerbiwak

    The N-TV article is only guessing I think. So far only Steyr jointly with Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch are known competitors. Sure the other big names could throw their lot in, but nothing confirmed yet. Curious gun persons want to know!

    Too bad that Poland’s FB Radom seems to have stopped MSBS development, because of the russian situation. Polish governement has ordered tens of thousands Beryl rifles. And thus cannot compete with a modern design.

    And this whole pseudo scandal that has been blown out of proportion to make the hair spray helmet look good. This whole affair delayed procurement for several years while they were dancing the political idiot dance instead of getting procurement done. The G36 as designed has a service life of twenty years, so either replacement G36 had to be bought because of aging plastic or a new type of rifle anyway. They found that requirements have obviously changed, so could have kicked off development of a new rifle and until the new rifle is service ready, there are still lots of younger G36 that can can be PIPped (adjustable stocks, rails and optics) to bridge the time gap. All without big headlines, pseudo scandals, futile court trials.

    That the common german soldier likes the G36 is simple to explain. except in extreme temperatures it works and the often referenced battle on Good Friday is similar to the Battle of Wanat and others that painted the M4 carbine in a bad light. Totally surprising that both rifles fail, when used outside the design parameters. Neither is a machine gun nor substitute for a lack of mortar and artillery.

    sheesh I reach Kirk length. ;-D

  2. whomever

    Pardon the digression, but has anyone ever heard a mechanical description of what caused the G36 hot shot dispersion?

    1. DSM

      The trunnion or barrel socket is embedded into plastic I believe. As it got warm the plastic…plasticized, is that correct word? I was trying to find it on here but I recall there being a picture of a sectioned G36 receiver.

      1. Kirk

        Pretty much this…

        I’ve got an acquaintance who was a cop down in Arizona; his department or he managed to snag one of the very first G36 rifles brought into the US, and he made it his primary patrol rifle, securing it in the trunk of his cruiser. Couple of times he went to use it, the zeros were off on the sights. He thought it was the sights, replaced those, and then later came to the conclusion that the constant heat shifts in the back of his patrol car were what were causing the problems. If I remember right, he put a electronic thermometer back there and logged his temperatures, finding that over the course of typical day in the summertime, the temperatures would go as high as 160 degrees, and down to around 50-60 degrees at night, when he parked the vehicle in an underground secure garage.

        What was interesting was that he was finding this out about the same time that the Washington, DC cops were having the same problem, and that he’d had minimal response back from H & K. Given that he was a trainer for his department, and responsible for procurement… Well, you can guess how he reacted. H & K lost a reasonably-sized client, there, and probably anyone who ever talked to this guy about their products.

        Now, I will point out that the ammunition could have been a point failure, as well–Some bright light was telling me that around that same time, many powder formulations used in loading 5.56mm changed here in the US due to some bullshit from the EPA, and they lost a lot of their thermal stability under storage conditions. I have no idea at all about the validity of this–It’s just something I heard in passing from a QASAS guy, when we were talking about ammo storage in Kuwait. Supposedly, the Army had to do some serious waiver bullshit going back up the food chain to the powder suppliers, in order to meet the requirements for storage stability, akin to what they do with pollution controls on military trucks. That, however, is serious inside-baseball stuff, and I don’t know the exact details or the chemistry involved.

        Suffice to say, there’s a bunch of shit to be learned from all this: One, did the ammo chemistry play a role in all the stuff surrounding the US problems with the G36, and two, bedding the trunnion in even high-technology plastic was probably not an advisable solution. Any time you start making big changes to established technology, you need to do an insane amount of testing, and ensure that there aren’t any edge conditions that militate against the success of your innovation.

        Not to mention, the idiot bureaucrats who determined the specs on the G36 should never have been involved. I’m not a procurement genius, an engineer, or really anything other than an end-user with a bit of professional interest in the details of my profession, but… Dear God, who the hell was the overly-optimistic genius that came up with those specs, in the first place? I looked at what the original contract called for, and frankly, at the time I was looking at them, all I could think was “This is not what I’d want from a combat weapon… Range toy, sure… Combat? Nope.”.

        Frankly, what I want in terms of durability/survivability in a weapon is something I can run a couple of basic loads of ammo through in the least amount of time it takes to physically reload the weapon, and if the thing is still functional at that point? It’s good; that’s about the worst-case firefight scenario I can think of, in terms of rate of fire. Anything less than that, you can keep.

        To a degree, I’m still not certain why we haven’t gone to Stellite-lined barrels for the guys. Those things on the M60 were about the only really good thing on that weapon, and I kinda miss the way they stood up to abuse. To my way of thinking, developing that technology for inclusion in individual weapons would have only been good sense; even better would have been if they’d done that, and made the damn barrels as easily changed out as the Steyr AUG.

  3. Scott


    begin in 2020 and end 2026; originally 2-19 has been named as a possibe starting year

    probably prefer the gGerman firm, somewhat


    HK is going to get the nod for the rifle for the Huns. Simple as that. Why so much discussion and virtual ink os wasted on it is just something to pass time for us fans of firearms.

    Does anyone really think for one second there is even a outside chance of some company not named H&K will have their rifle selected ? Lets not kid ourselves. Even if some other rifle is far superior and cheaper, it’s not gonna happen.

    Speaking of time wasting speculation on nation’s service rifles. Am I the only one that thinks about how every single country that was even so much as on pen pal status with the USSR, used and uses an AK variant. Some slight differences in some of those AK, but they are AKs more or less Even some countries close to Russia as the crow flies use/d Ak type rifles, like Finland.
    Then every other stable nation uses something different from their allies if not in service cartridge at least in rifle. The days of the FAL being an exception since so many used it.
    Of course I think some 90 countries use an AR15 pattern rifle in some amount if not as standard service rifle.
    Has any other service rifle not the AK, seen as many years of combat and refinement as the m16? While we should always be striving for firearms advances., I can’t really see any reason for most other friendly nations that can afford them not use an M16/M4 other than national pride and “not invented here” syndrome.

    I don’t even remember what my original point was going to be when I started typing.

  5. Aj from NJ

    I wss at the nra show in Harrisburg this weekend and the hk guys were pushing that gun big time. I thought the cool guy factor was there with the ambi charging handle and the SCAR like butt stock. The hand guards were also well designed and was balanced very well as much as one can tell from manipulating a rifle while30 tactical tommys stare and give their 2cents.

    Admittedlt I’m a kid at a toy store at a mini shot show, so it could have been the vapors I wss feeling from all the Daniels, fn, colt, iwi booths.

  6. Bob Bobson

    Here’s an interesting takeaway:
    [I]SIG-Sauer also wants the contract. But the Schleswig-Holstein subsidiary of a US business [/I]

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