The government of Germany has taken a significant step toward providing the Bundeswehr with a new standard service rifle.
In 2024, the German military hopes to start replacing its current G36 rifles with the new HK416 A8s made by Heckler & Koch and set to fire the NATO-standard 5.56x45mm ammunition.
This decision comes two years after legal troubles forced the surprise cancellation of the initial contract award to arms manufacturer CG Haenel.
The German Federal Ministry of Defense announced on December 16 that the country’s Parliamentary Budget Committee, or Bundestag, had approved initial funding for what is formally known as the Bundeswehr Assault Rifle System, or Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr System.
The German government has announced plans to spend roughly €209 million on the purchase of 118,718 HK416 A8 rifles. It has yet to be determined whether or not this sum also includes things like spare parts, accessories, and support services.
According to another report published in March by the German outlet Soldat Und Technik, Heckler & Koch was expected to receive a contract worth around 273.3 million euros.
The HK416 series is derived from the US-designed AR-15/M16 model but differs substantially from the original design in its use of a physical gas piston instead of a so-called direct impact to actuate the action.
The direct impingement system uses propellant gas drawn from the barrel during firing and pours it directly into the internal action of the weapon.
A gas piston system offers reliability advantages in that it does not expel that gas, and the particles it usually carries, directly into the main action, where it can accumulate on various surfaces. Instead, it uses propellant gas and turns the bolt using a mechanical piston system.
The HK416 series has exploded in popularity since the first variant was released in the early 2000s. It is now widely used by special operations units and the United States Marine Corps.
The weapon received a major boost in popularity and mainstream recognition, including among the general public, after members of SEAL Team Six used it in the raid that led to the death of al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
The exact configuration of the future Bundeswehr HK416 A8 rifles is also unclear. Previously surfaced images of A8 variants, including one the German Defense Ministry released alongside the announcement, show rifles with a forend that is markedly different from that offered as standard on the current generation of Heckler & HK416 rifles.
Koch has both standard US Picatinny accessory rails and attachment points using Heckler & Koch’s patented HKey attachment system.
The fore-end seen in the image released by the Ministry of Defense is similar to that seen on the earlier HK416 A7 rifle in service with German special operations units.
The HK416 A7 is known as the G95 in the German military, while the A8 and its successor, the A8, will reportedly be known as the G95A1.
The article published in March by Soldat Und Techniks stated that the Bundeswehr’s complete assault rifle system would include 16.5-inch and 14-inch barrels, the latter being designated the G95KA1.
An image showing the left side of the 16.5-inch sub-variant shows a latch on the outside of the rear of the forend, suggesting that it might be possible to quickly detach the forend and quickly swap different barrels between weapons.
Included in the original tender published in 2017 was the requirement for interchangeable extended and short-barrel versions of the selected weapon.
Earlier German Army A7 rifles also had iron sights consisting of a quick-detach rear sight and a barrel-mounted flip-up front sight.
The latter component appears to have been removed on the A8. The Bundeswehr separately announced in October 2021 that the ELCAN SpecterDR, a 1-4x adjustable optical sight, would be standard on all its new service rifles.
On top of all this, the new A8 variant carries a bayonet grip on the barrel, has a different style of pistol grip compared to previous variants, and has an adjustable cheek piece fitted to its sliding stock. It is also shown with the new style of HK416 polymer magazines, already used in the German Army alongside the G95.
Interestingly, the A8 has an ambidextrous fire selector lever configuration that is more like those found on many of Heckler & Koch’s other rifles like the G36 and the new HK433, as well as other offerings from the company like the iconic MP5 submarine rifle, than those usually found in variants and derivatives of the AR-15/M16. This feature was first introduced on the A7.
Regardless of how the German Army’s new HK416 A8s are configured, the approval of the financing to purchase them and the plan to start using them in 2024 represents a significant advance in the effort to replace the G36 permanently.
First adopted by the German military in the mid-1990s, the G36 has been dogged for years by criticism and reports of low user satisfaction.
The most notable reported issues have centered around decreased accuracy during prolonged use in hot environments or in cases where there is a rapid change in ambient temperature. German authorities have acknowledged the problem but insisted that no soldier has ever been in danger.