System Sturmgewehr: A New Standard Assault Rifle for The German Forces

[This article is an update to Walter Haland’s previous article titled “What Will Be the G36 Assault Rifle’s Replacement?” in SADJ Vol. 9, No. 4.]

For 20 years, as of 2016, the German Armed Forces’ (Bundeswehr) standard assault rifle Heckler & Koch G36, caliber 5.56x45mm NATO, has been used. Germany decided to search for a new assault rifle in two different projects:

(1) Program Sturmgewehr Spezialkräfte (Special Operators Forces)
(2) Program System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr (Sturmgewehr = assault rifle).

Introduction of a new assault rifle [Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr] is anticipated to begin in 2020, and about 167,000 G36 used by the Bundeswehr will be discarded. Special operations forces and police use the G36 worldwide, however, and it’ll remain the standard assault rifle by NATO members Spain and Lithuania.

Bundeswehr Six Dismounted Close Combat soldiers are equipped to fight with the state-of-art-system IdZ-ES (Infanterist der Zukunft–Erweitertes System, Infantry Soldier of the Future-Expanded System). The cannon gunner and driver remain in the vehicle for fire support. (Bundeswehr)

Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr

The German Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (Bundesamt für Ausrüstung, Informationstechnik und Nutzung der Bundeswehr—BAAINBw) issued a tender document throughout Europe —written in German and dated April 4, 2017—describing specifications and delivery terms for a new standard rifle as a successor to the G36. At first glance, the document contains some interesting information:

The caliber of the new weapon is not fixed; both 5.56mm NATO and 7.62mm NATO are mentioned.

A total of 120,000 of the new standard rifles are expected to be procured during a framework agreement of seven years. The estimated value is 245 million Euros plus VAT, a little more than 2,000 Euros per weapon.

The prospect of a larger international participation depends on how many other bidders there are. What is interesting is that Bundeswehr officials issued, in early January 2017, a tender for 1,750 rifles as replacement for the G36 used by the Germany’s SOF. The deadline for submitting offers was February 9, 2017, with deliveries to start in September 2017 and be completed by June 28, 2019. The technical requirements for the SOF differ somewhat from the description for the Bundeswehr new standard assault rifle with various applications. October 10, 2017, the BAAINBw announced in a press release that the new Sturmgewehr for Spezialkräfte and Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine will be acquired from Heckler & Koch. The new SOF assault rifle is the HK-416 A7 (designated G95) in caliber 5.56mm x 45 NATO. The rifle’s weight is 3,690 grams. The barrel length is 14.5 inches. 1.745 assault rifles with accessories will be acquired. Technical tests will start November 2017, and deliveries to the troops are anticipated to be in January 2019.

HK416 A5, 14.5-inch barrel, STANAG 4694 profile on 12 o’clock, handguard Picatinny rail profile on 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, with GLM 40mm add-on grenade launcher, HK269 grenade launcher caliber 40x46mm (low velocity), range up to 350m. Suitable for both lethal and nonlethal. The launcher barrel can be unlocked either towards the left or right. Interfaces with assault rifles, with an option to use it as a stand-alone weapon.

As it appears, the tenders of the weapon for the SOF and the Bundeswehr will be one of the most competitive European procurement programs in the assault rifle sector for many years.

Sturmgewehr, Long-Barrel and Short-Barrel Versions
Source: Auftragsbekanntmachung, Lieferauftrag: Gewehre Deutschland-Koblenz, 2017/S 078-15142 (BAAINBw).

The listed BAAINBw’s specifications for the System Sturmgewehr (assault rifles system) with accessories:

  • Version Sturmgewehr long barrel and Sturmgewehr short barrel (conversion must be possible by barrel change)
    Length of Sturmgewehr short barrel without signature damper (sound suppressor) max. 900mm
    Length of Sturmgewehr long barrel without signature damper max. 1000mm
    Caliber 5.56 x 45mm NATO or 7.62 x 51mm NATO
    Ambidextrous controls for right- and left-handed users
    STANAG 4694 rails on bottom of hand guard and on the top of the receiver
    Use in areas with climatic categories A1-3, B1-3, C0-3 and M1-3 according to STANAG 4370 without restriction of functionality (except electrical components)
    Receiver life should last 30,000 rounds. The barrel life is to last at least 15,000 rounds (soft core ammunition/double core) / 7,500 rounds (hard core ammunition)
    Maximum weight 3.6kg (without magazine and optics)
    Accessories in different quantity: Bayonet with sheath and carrying device, signature damper with transport pouch, exercise cartridge device, blank firing bolt mechanism, drum magazine, gun cleaning device, shell casings catch bag, STANAG 4694 rail for side mounting, cover for STANAG rails, flash suppressor caps, magazines, bipod, loading aid, carrying straps, emergency sights, transport bags, angled for grip
    Spare parts kit. Optional accessories: shot counter, magazine pouches for two magazines

Interpretation of the Stated Specifications

Conversion of barrel length means easy change in the field by the operator.

Short barrel: A total length without sound suppressor means that the barrel length cannot be longer than 14.5 inches. A carbine, for example the HK 416 A5 with a barrel length of 14.5 inches (368.3mm), has a total length of 893mm. The Bullpup TAVOR X95 5.56 x 45mm has a fixed length of 670mm with a 16.5-inch barrel, which means that the X95 also can be used as a CQB rifle.

Long barrel: Means that the barrel length can be 16.5 inches.

5.56mm vs 7.62mm, the HK417 caliber 7.62 x 51mm NATO has been used worldwide for the past 10 years by several nations, especially in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2011, the 7.62x51mm HK417 designated G27 has been used by German infantry squads as a multipurpose support weapon with precise single shots or fire burst. HK417 A2, with a short barrel (13-inch/330mm) designated G27k (k = kurz =short), has been in use for some time by GSG 9 (German Special Forces), and some other special forces, due to a bigger kinetic energy (KE) effect on the target.

Easy operation for both right- and left-handed users. Almost all assault rifle manufacturers today present the popular AR-15 architecture with some modifications and ambidextrous controls.

NATO Standardization Agreement, STANAG 4694: Standard for mounting auxiliary equipment such as telescopic sights, tactical lights, laser-aiming modules, night-vision devices, reflex sights, fore grips, bipods and bayonets. STANAG 2324 describes a standard mounting platform consisting of tactical bracket rails with multiple transverse slots, for accessories. The MIL-STD-1913 rail is also known as a NATO Picatinny rail. In order to balance the center of gravity of the weapon when it is filled with accessories and ready for fire, it is important that the upper receiver has a full-length and flat-top rail space for various optics and side and bottom Picatinny rail positions on the handguard. The modular locking accessory mounting system must be light but strong enough to mount a grenade launcher or vertical combat grip. Those rails allow the operator to add only accessories required for the mission, thus reducing the weight burden and increasing the weapon’s maneuverability.

The HK433 is a fully ambidextrous operation weapon for both right-handed and left-handed shooters. Non-reciprocating charging handle; convertible from left to right without tools. H & K is offering two variants of the HK433: one with a G36-type magazine release lever and one with an HK416/AR-15 magazine release push button. (Heckler & Koch)

Operation in climatic categories A1-3, B1-3, C0-3 and M1-3 according to STANAG 4370 means function in hot-dry, hot- humid, cold and maritime environments without restricting functionality.

A receiver life of 30,000 rounds and a barrel life of at least 15,000 rounds demand a solid weapon. Cold-hammer forged barrels have proven to be the longest-lasting rifle barrels. The most accurate and durable are finished with either a Mil-Spec heavy phosphate or another high quality coating outer finish and inner chrome lining.

Maximum weight 3.6 kg (without magazine and optics) is a realistic demand for a modern 5.56mm NATO caliber rifle. The venerable Colt M16 carbine with adjustable buttstock has an empty weight of only 2,676 grams (5.9 pounds) and 3,130 grams (6.9 pounds) loaded with 30 rounds. US Colt M4’s cousin Colt C8A2 with a 14.5-inch barrel, unloaded weight, is 2,810 grams (7.53 pounds). Compared to the G36K’s empty weight of 3,370 grams and add magazine with 30 rounds weighs approximately 620 grams.

Today’s normal accessories. For example, an optical sight with superimposed reflex sight, laser light module and, eventually, clip-on night vision device/thermal weapon sight and vertical combat grip or, eventually, mounted 40mm grenade launcher. These increase the weight—very light receiver groups and rails are therefore an advantage and give an assault rifle system the ability to be tailored for special needs. Signature dampening is an important performance for designated marksmen, SOF operators and snipers—i.e. effective reduction of sound attenuation, flash and dust signature with a sound suppressor.

The F90MBR 5.56x45 NATO converted to a CQB rifle with a 14-inch barrel. Its overall length is only 653mm and its weight is 3.15 kg.

On average, suppressors reduce the noise by 20 to 35 decibels. To eliminate the noise with a suppressor is only obtainable with sub-sonic ammunition.

A shot counter can be defined as a firearm’s life memory, as it acts as an electronic logbook of the maintenance history of the firearm and other user-defined information; this includes the number of shots. It’s embedded inside the lower receiver and generates its own power.

One can deduce that the above given specifications are not tailored especially for a specific rifle, for example, to the HK416F (le nouveau fusil d’assault de l’armée de terre), a choice of the French for the “future individual weapon”.

The AR-15 architecture is not listed above as a technical requirement (although that is the SOF’s new weapon’s style). Other technical solutions may also be relevant but there are several suitable COTS rifles on the market to choose from that fulfill the stated specifications.


The first acquisition will be the 390 Sturmgewehr (160 of long-barrel version, 230 short-barrel version) as a reference model for qualification and operation tests as well as realization of the system compatibility weapon/optics. The actual acquisition of the first series weapons from the framework agreement is expected in third-quarter of 2020 after completion of successful operational testing (13,929 Sturmgewehr (long barrel) including muzzle flash dampers; 3,104 Sturmgewehr (short barrel) including muzzle flash dampers; and 1,514 weapons for integration into training simulators). Planned total acquisition of the series: 120,000 Sturmgewehr. Competitors for the new Sturmgewehr acquisition are Germany’s Heckler & Koch, the Austrian company Steyr Mannlicher, in cooperation with Rheinmetall, the German company SIG SAUER and Thales Australia, with their new generation F90 MBR (Modular Bullpup Rifle). Offers from other countries are not excluded.

RS556 has adjustable light-weight stock with seven different positions, allowing optimal adjustment to individual equipment like a ballistic vest/harness. (Rheinmetall/Steyr Mannlicher)

Not Only Firearms “Made in Germany”

It’s not publicly known which candidates are participating—such information is not shared. Conditions for participation are that companies around the world can take part and offer their weapon model as long as they are ISO 9000 certified and have sales of more than $1,000,000 USD. Other bidders probably include FN Herstal with an FN SCAR and the Italian manufacturer Beretta.

The Heckler & Koch 433 and the RS556 Assault Rifles

It was assumed in the beginning that Heckler & Koch would offer the HK 416 A5 caliber 5.56x45mm. Combat proven in Iraq and Afghanistan, and used by Tier 1-Special forces around the world. (Known from media reports as used by Seal Team 6-Operation “Neptune Spear” [Osama bin Laden]). The HK 416 is standard assault rifle for the Norwegian Armed Forces, and chosen, as mention before, as the new standard assault rifle for the French Armed Forces (HK416 FRAÇAIS).

The RS556 with a 16-inch barrel, 30-round magazine, ready to fire, weighs around 4.2 kg—just over 9 pounds. (Rheinmetall/Steyr Mannlicher)

HK433 and RS556

The HK433 fourth generation rifle family of assault rifles and the new RS556 assault rifle based on the tried-and-tested Steyr Mannlicher Universal Army Rifle (AUG) were in details described by this author in Small Arms Defense Journal, Vol 9, No 4. Here is a recap of some of the main specifications given by the two competitors and how they can meet the specifications demanded by BAAINB (highlighted):

Version Sturmgewehr long barrel and Sturmgewehr short barrel (conversion must be possible by barrel change)

HK433: The barrels are exchangeable by the user.
RS556: The barrels can be easily and rapidly exchanged without tools.

Length of Sturmgewehr short barrel without signature damper (sound suppressor) max. 900mm

HK433: [Length min/max, buttstock folded/extended]
634mm/931mm (14.5-inch barrel).
RS556: [Length min/max, buttstock collapsed/extended]
824mm/924mm (14.5-inch barrel).

Length of Sturmgewehr long barrel without signature damper max. 1000mm

HK433: [Length min/max, buttstock folded/extended]
705mm/989mm (16.5-inch barrel).
RS556: [Length min/max, buttstock collapsed/extended]
860mm/960mm (16-inch barrel).

Caliber 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x51mm NATO

HK433: The 5.56mm HK433 assault rifle is the backbone of a new weapon family, although other calibers such as 7.62x51mm (HK231), Special Operator’s .300 Blackout/Wisper (HK437), and 7.62x39mm (HK123) may also be offered.
RS556: Chambered in 5.56x45mm (A future option will be barrel change between calibers for example .300 Whisper or .300BLK).

Ambidextrous controls for right- and left-handed users

HK433: The charging handle is flat, fully ambidextrous with integrated forward assist function Option: one with a G36-type magazine release lever and one with an HK416/AR-15 magazine release pushbutton. In both cases the bolt hold open/release lever is integrated with the front part of the trigger guard.
RS556: AR-15 style architecture with ambidextrous controls for right- and left-handed users.

STANAG 4694 Rails on bottom of hand guard and on the top of the receiver

HK433: The monolithic upper receiver is made of strong aluminum and features a long STANAG 4694 NAR. The handguard is a slim-line type with Picatinny/NAR rail in the six o’clock position and HKey at 3 and 9 o’clock positions (optional MIL-STD-1913) to fit various optics, night sight devices, and laser light modules.
A 40mm grenade launcher can also be mounted.
RS556: Fixed accessory rails and optional NARs according to MIL-STD-1913, STANAG 2324 and STANAG 4694 to fit various optics, night sight devices, and laser light modules.
A 40mm grenade launcher can also be mounted.

Use in areas with climatic categories A1-3, B1-3, C0-3 and M1-3 according to STANAG 4370 without restriction of functionality (except electrical components)

HK433: According to the quality requirements of the manufacturer, the rifle is suitably and functionally to cover the temperature range defined by NATO—from extremely hot temperatures to extreme cold.
RS556: A special breech system with an emergency operation feature ensures that the weapon always functions reliably even under extreme operating conditions, e.g., in severely hot and cold environments.

Receiver life should last 30,000 rounds. The barrel life is to last at least 15,000 rounds (soft core ammunition/double core)/7,500 rounds (hard core ammunition)

HK433: Receiver life time is not mentioned, but sliding elements are self-lubricating. The cold-hammered barrel with hard chromium plating should last the demanded amount of rounds. A positive feature is that the lower receiver group has a maintenance-free and a non-manipulate able shot counter from which the weapon data can be transmitted wirelessly. The shot counter is an electronic system which records the shots fired in order to reduce the life cycle cost of the weapon and optimize the operational availability of the weapon.
RS556: Receiver life time is not mentioned, but it has steel guide bolt carrier with permanent dry lubrication. The cold hammer forged and chrome lined barrel should count for outstanding accuracy and long service life time.

Maximum weight 3.6 kg (without magazine and optics)

HK433: 3.5 kg (16.5 inches)
RS556: ~3.6 kg (16 inches).

Thales Australia’s new generation F90MBR (Modular Bullpup Rifle) 5.56 x 45mm NATO. With a 20-inch barrel, it’s compact and has an overall length of only 802mm. Weight: 3.39 kg. It’s easy to convert it to a CQB rifle.


The SIG MCX SB, available in 5.56 x 45mm and 300BLK, is built for optimum performance with the .300BLK cartridge and a sound suppressor with both supersonic and subsonic loads. The user can easily move between .300BLK and 5.56mm with the changeable barrels. The Netherlands Maritime Special Operations Force (NLMARSOF)—the Netherlands Marine Corps’ elite unit—was the first publicly known to purchase the .300BLK chambered rifle by any military .
FN Herstal (FNH)

In 2003, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) issued a tender for an assault rifle designated as SCAR (SOF Combat Assault Rifle). USSOCOM was looking for a weapon in two versions: the SCAR-L caliber 5.56x45mm assault rifle and the SCAR-H caliber 7.62x51mm, with the latter being possible to convert to other calibers. Both SCAR systems should also be available in a number of other variants. In 2010, the SOCOM waived the procurement of the SCAR-L in favor of the SCAR-H and had the existing SCAR-L assault rifles reconfigured to the SCAR-H version . The SCAR has been introduced, to a large extent, to Special Forces, anti-terror units and ordinances. The marines in Chile bought 1,800 weapons. The Belgian army initially ordered 4,500 SCAR-L assault rifles to replace its previous FNC.

U.S. soldiers fire their SCAR-H and SCAR-L. SOCOM waived the procurement of the SCAR-L in favor of the SCAR-H and had the existing assault rifles SCAR-L reconfigured to the SCAR-H version. (FN Herstal)

Ballistic Body Armor Protects Against 5.56 X 45mm Bullets

A majority of armies have invested deeply in 5.56 x 45mm NATO. The U.S. Army uses the 5.56 x 45mm M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round (EPR). This round offers better performance than the M855 against all targets likely to be engaged with small arms, but it’s not up to the task at penetrating ceramic plate armor; neither are M855 bullets.

SIG SAUER SIG MCX AR-15-style assault rifle is a fully modular design and mission configurable system capable of quick barrel change with user level tools. The MCX can be used with three different stocks, a telescoping/side-folding stock, a collapsible stock and a thin, folding aluminum stock. (SIG SAUER)
“Ratnik” (Warrior) second-generation Russian Warrior equipment: The new-generation body armor, in particular, would provide exceptional protection against small arms. It will be able to deflect NATO’s basic 5.56mm rifle round. It presents a big challenge to rifle and munition makers. The new bulletproof armor body has ceramic plates (modules made up of composites on the basis of corundum ceramics) and Aramid fiber, so it can effectively resist even numerous sniper rifle bullets. Here the insert plate is shot at from a range of 10 meters with a sniper rifle caliber 7.62mm.
Examples of 7.62 x 51mm COTS rifles (Upper) Präzisionsgewehr HK241 (G28) 7.62x51mm semi-automatic sharpshooter rifle. Used by Bundeswehr in Afghanistan and Mali. Firepower: (Muzzle velocity - energy) ca. 780 m/s – 3000 J (16.5-inch) barrel, NATO standard rounds AB22 (FMJ)/AB24 (Tracer)/Selected accuracy rounds with bullet weights up to 12.3g (190g). (Middle) HK417A2 7.62 x 51mm (G27) – Firepower: approx. 775 m/s – 2855 J [16.5-inch barrel, NATO standard rounds]. Rifle weight unloaded: approx. 4.40 kg (9 pounds, 11.2 ounces). (Lower) HK417A2 7.62 x 51mm (G27k) with the 40mm grenade launcher HK269. The G27k with 2,500J gives muzzle energy around 25 percent more than the Kalashnikov AK47 and the G36. (Aud Håland)
The Turkish Armed Forces sticks to the 7.62 x 51mm caliber with its new MPT-76 National Infantry rifle, with gas-operated, short-stroke piston system with rotary bolt.
HK-416 A7 (designated G95) will be the new standard assault rifle for the German Special Operation Forces. (Heckler & Koch)