5.45mm AK-74


Origin: Soviet Union.

Type: Assault rifle.

Weight: (With loaded magazine) 7·94lb (3·6kg).

Length: (AK-74) 36·6in (930mm); (AKS-74 folded) 27·2in (690mm).

Ammunition: 5·45mm.

Muzzle velocity: 2,854ft/sec (870m/sec).

Effective range: About 547yd (500m).


Development: The success of the United States Armalite AR-15 (M-16) rifle firing the 5·56mm round in the 1960s led most armies to review their rifle designs. In the West some very curious weapons have appeared together with sound design a such as the British 4·85mm individual Weapon, and there was intense competition to win the other for the next NATO standard rifle. The USSR appeared, however, to be satisfied with the AK series, which gave excellent service both in the Warsaw Pact armies and with many revolutionary forces.

       In the mid-1970s there was considerable curiosity in the West as to whether Soviet small arms designers would follow the tendency towards a smaller caliber, but for a long time there was no evidence of any activity. Then suddenly, in the usual Russian way, Soviet parachute troops appeared on a Moscow parade carrying a totally new weapon which had passed through design, tests, troop trials and into production without a word leaking to the West.

       The basic rifle is the AK-74, and is of 5·45mm caliber. It is a Kalashnikov design and is an evolutionary, smaller caliber version of the famous AK-47. One of the most interesting features is the muzzle brake, which is extremely effective, reducing recoil, even when firing a long burst, to negligible proportions. This leads to great accuracy, although the muzzle flash is some three times that of other rifles.

       The basic AK-74 has a wooden butt and furniture, but a special version (AKS-74) is made for the parachute forces.

Above: Soviet paratroops on parade in Red Square, Moscow, with AKS-74 folding-butt versions of the assault rifle.


Below: Motorised infantry on an exercise with AK-74s, whose accurate burst capability is well suited to such tactics.





Origin: Federal Republic of Germany.

Type: 5·56mm assault rifle.

Dimensions: Length (fixed butt) 36·2in (920mm); retracted butt) 29in (735mm); barrel 15·3in (390mm).

Weights: (Fixed butt) 8·olb (3·65kg); retracting butt) 8·7lb (3·98kg).

Rate of fire: 750 rounds per minute.

Muzzle velocity: 3,018ft/sec (920m/s).

Range, effective: 437yd (400m).

(Specifications apply to rifle; carbine is lighter, shorter).


Development: One of the most successful of current small arms manufactures, Heckler and Koch have produced a number of rifles which have sold all over the world. One of these is the HK 33E, which is in production in West Germany and Thailand, and is in service with a number of armies in Southeast Asia.

       The rifle is a scaled-down version of the standard G3 7·62mm rifle.

       The HK 33E has a long and rather involved history. Its origins lie with a World War II German rifle which was redesigned in the 1950s in Spain to become the CETME rifle. That weapon was taken as the starting point for the West German Army’s first post War rifle – the Heckler and Koch G3. The G3 did not use gas for its operation, as does virtually every other rifle, but relies on delayed blowback. In this the breech is not fully locked, but is held closed until the pressure drops to a safe level, when rollers are forced out of the recesses they have been forced into during the breech block’s forward travel. The residual gas pressure then forces the breech back taking the spent case with it.

       The HK 33 was a logical development of the G3, using a 5·56mm x 45 rounds. Another rifle based on the G3 is the G41, but this was developed to fire the new standard NATO 5·56mm x 45 round. Heckler and Koch, long one of the more innovative small firms, are also working on the 4·7mm G11 rifle, a “space-age” weapon in appearance, which is designed to fire a 4·7mm caseless round.


Below: HK 33A2 assault rifle; other versions are the shortened A1, A3 with telescoping butt and ZF with telescopic sight.





Origin: France.

Type: Rifle.

Calibre: 5·56mm.

Length overall: 29·8in (757mm).

Length of barrel: 19·2in (488mm).

Weight: (including 25-round loaded magazine) 9·32lb (4·23kg).

Range: (effective) 328yd (300m).

Rate of fire: (cyclic) 900-1,000rpm.

Muzzle velocity: 3,249ft/sec (960m/s).


Development: The 5·56mm FA MAS is in full-scale production at the St Etienne arsenal and will have re-equipped the entire French Army by 1990. With the usual French flair, it is of very unusual appearance, but is a compact, reliable and effective weapon. Particular thought has been given to making the weapon equally easy to use for left-handed or right-handed firers with relatively simple changes from one to the other.

       The rifle is of “bullpup” design, and one of the most striking visual features is the large plastic carrying handle, which also provides protection for the rear and foresights. The cocking handle is placed centrally under the cerrying handle, and thus is easy to use with either hand. A bipod is permanently fitted, but is normally folded back out of the way; it weights only in the LMG role and also when the weapon is being used for grenade-launching.


Above: FA MAS rifle with grenade attached and forward sight erected for indirect fire; the rifle needs to be braced against a solid surface in this mode.


Below: The distinctive handle holds the bipod and detachable sight for grenade fire, as well as protecting the rifle sights and return spring cylinder.

Below: Light and compact, the FA MAS is a versatile weapon able to deliver single shots, three round bursts and full automatic fire as required.





Origin: Federal Republic of Germany.

Type: Rifle.

Calibre: 7·62mm.

Length overall: (fixed butt) 40·35in (1025mm).

Length of barrel: 17·7in (450mm).

Weight: (including 20-round loaded magazine) 11·35lb (5·15kg).

Range: (effective) 437yd (400m).

Rate of fire: (cyclic) 500 to 600rpm.

Muzzle velocity: 2,560 to 2,625ftf/s (780 to 800m/s).


Development: The Heckler and Koch 7·62mm G3 rifle is based on a weapon produced by some expatriate German designers in Spain in the early 1950s. Design rights were transferred first to a Dutch firm and then to Heckler and Koch, who started to produce the rifle as a replacement for the FN FAL in Bundeswehr service. Since then the G3 has been produced under licence in some 14 countries and equips the armed forces of at least 50 countries.

       The G3 is of somewhat unusual design in that it works on delayed blowback, a method in which the breech is never fully locked in the strict sense of the word. Other designers had attempted this but had always hit insoluble problems, especially with the extraction; the ingenious German designers found the answers, however, and the G3 is a reliable and effective weapon.

       Major variants of the standard G3A3 are a sniping rifle with a telescopic sight (G3A3ZF) and paratroop rifle with a retracting butt (G3A4).


Below: G3 A3ZF sniper’s rifle with telescopic sight. Like the standard G3 A3, this has a plastic butt stock and handguard; a paratroop version is also produced with a retractable butt. Along with the MG3 machine gun, they use the 7·62mm x 51 cartridge.



Galil ARM


Origin: Israel.

Type: Rifle.

Calibre: 5·56mm.

Length overall: 38·54in (979mm).

Length of barrel: 18·54in (471mm).

Weight: (including 35-round loaded magazine): 10·82lb (4·91kg).

Range: (effective) 547yd (500m).

Rate of fire: (cyclic): 650rpm.

Muzzle velocity: 3,215ft/s (980m/s).


Development: The Israeli Army probably has more combat experience than any other army in the post-World War II period, and this, coupled with a skilled and imaginative arms industry, has led to some interesting weapons systems. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Israelis re-equipped with the 7·62mm FN FAL, but their experiences in the 9167 Six-Day War led to a decision to change to 5·56mm caliber. A number of designs were subjected to an intensive series of tests, but the Israeli designed Galil proved the eventual winner.

       The Galil has a more than passing similarity to the Soviet AK-47 (of which the Israelis have captured large numbers), but with many Israeli refinements, and it is in every way a superior weapon. There are three versions. The ARM is an assault rifle and light machine-gun, with a folding metal stock, bipod and carrying handle. The AR is similar but without the bipod. Finally, the SAR has a short barrel.

       The Israeli Army uses the 5·56mm Galil in some numbers, although other rifles are also in service. A 7·62mm version of the Galil is made for export.


Above: The Galil weapon system includes rifle, bipod, grenades and accessories; the 12-round  mag is for grenade cartridges.





Origin: UK.

Type: Individual weapon system.

Calibre: 5·56mm.

Length overall: 30·3in (770mm).

Length of barrel: 20·4in (518mm).

Weight: (including 30-round loaded magazine): 11·11lb (5·04kg).

Rate of fire: (yclic) 650-800rpm.

Muzzle velocity: 2,952ft/s (900m/s).


Development: After centuries of using its own design of rifle, the British Army found itself equipped from the 1950s to the 1980s with a foreign weapon: the Belgian 7·62mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle. With the move from 7·62mm caliber to something smaller came the opportunity to move back into the design field, and a new rifle was entered in the NATO competition based on the ‘bullpup’ principle tested in the 0·28mm (7·11mm) EM2 rifle of the 1950s. The lesson of that earlier NATO competition was well learnt, however, and the new rifle was designed from the start to be barreled for either the British preferred 4·85mm, or for the US backed 5·56mm caliber. Thus, even though the Belgian SS109 5·56mm cartridge was the winner, the British were able to adopt their own weapon.

       The new weapon weights 11·11lb (5·04kg) with a magazine of 30 rounds, compared with 11lb (5kg) for an L1A1 with a magazine of 20 rounds. Rather more significant is the reduction in length from 45in (1,143mm) to 30·3 (770mm), which makes a lot different to a modern soldier who spends much of his time traveling in an APC, truck or helicopter most important, however, is that the ‘bullpup’ design makes the weapon much easier to handle, and therefore reduces training problems and increases battle accuracy.

       The Individual Weapon (IW) will replace the rifle and sub-machine gun, and the Light Support Weapon (LSW) (basically the IW with a bipod) will replace the GPMG. The overall programme is designated Small Arms for the 1980s (SA80).


Below: Alternative firing modes using the L70E3 Individual Weapon; with a bipod the rifle becomes a light machine gun .



Above: The x4 optical sight enables the weapon to be used in poor light conditions, and is also useful for surveillance.





Origin: USA.

Type: Rifle.

Calibre: 5·56mm.

Length of overall: (with flash suppressor) 38·9in (99cm).

Length of barrel: 19·9in (50·8cm).     

Weight: (including 30-round loaded magazine) 8·2lb (3·72kg).

Range: (accurate lethal) 874yd (800m).

Rate of fire: 700-950rpm (cyclic); 150-200rpm (automatic); 45-65rpm (semi-automatic).

Muzzle velocity: 3,280ft/s (1,000m/s).


Development: The M16 (previously the AR-15) was designed by Eugene Stone and was a development of the earlier 7·62mm AR-10 assault rifle. It was first adopted by the US Army adopted the weapon for use in Vietnam. When first used in combat, numerous faults became apparent and most of these were traced to a lack of training and poor maintenance. Since then the M16 has replaced the 7·62mm M14 as the standard rifle of the United States forces. To date over 5,000,000 have been manufactured, most by Colt Firearms, and the weapon is also made under licence in Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines. Twenty-one armies use the M16.

       The weapon is gas-operated and the user can select either full automatic or semi-automatic. Both 20 and 30 round magazines can be fitted, as can a bipod, bayonet, telescope and night sight. The weapon can also be fitted with the M203 40mm grenade launcher, and this fires a variety of 40mm grenades to a maximum range of 382yd (350m). The M203 has now replaced the M79 grenade launcher on a one-for-one basis. The M23 is a special model which can be fired from within the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

Above: Externally almost identical to the original model, the M16A2 incorporates a number of improvements whose overall effect is to nearly double the weapon’s effective range while greatly improving reliability.


       There has been consistent dissatisfaction with the M16A1 in the US Army, and even more so in the other main user – the US Marine Corps. One of the major complaints is its lack of effectiveness at ranges above 340yd (300m), which has come to a head with the increased emphasis on desert warfare with the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). This, combined with the high average age of current stocks, led to a major review in 1981.

       As a result “product improved” weapon (M16A2) is now in production. A major feature is a stiffer and heavier barrel, utilizing one-turn in 7in (17·8cm) rifling – as opposed to one turn in 12in (30·5cm) – to enable the new standard NATO 5·56mm (0·218in) round to be fired. Other features are a three-round burst capability to replace the current full-automatic, an a modified flash eliminator. The opportunity has also been taken to introduce tougher grip, and handguard.

       A programme is in hand to examine new technologies for incorporation in a possible future weapon. These include controlled burst fire and multiple projectiles (eg, flechettes). This is designated the Advanced Combat Rifle programme.


Above: An M16 fitted with the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement (MILE) system in use during a training exercise.


Below: M16 with M203 pump-action grenade launcher; this can fire 40mm HE, buck shot, smoke and illuminating grenades.


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