Monday, May 16, 2011

History and Development of the Assault Rifle - IX

A couple of posts ago, we saw how the US adoption of the M-16 and its 5.56x45 mm. cartridge led to the various member countries of NATO also standardizing the same caliber cartridge in their forces. Some NATO members adopted the M-16 as their standard rifle as well, whereas some others designed their own rifles to use the new NATO cartridge. One of those countries was Austria. At that time (late 1960s), the Austrians were using a variant of the FN-FAL, which used the previous NATO standard cartridge of 7.62x51 mm. The Austrian military decided to make an all new rifle design to replace their old rifles.

Design and development duties of the new rifle was handed to the Steyr-Daimler-Puch company, in collaboration with the Austrian military.The Steyr-Daimler-Puch company has a long history in Austria as a manufacturer of vehicles and firearms. In fact, when Steyr was first founded in 1864, its primary business was manufacture of rifles and they only branched out into making bicycles in 1894 and automobiles in 1915. It later merged with the well known Daimler-Puch automobile manufacturer in 1934 to become Steyr-Daimler-Puch. After World War II, the company gained some bad reputation, as it later emerged that its managing director was the first to suggest using concentration camp slave labor in their factories. However, its reputation did not suffer much after the war and it still remained a manufacturer of heavy vehicles, offroad vehicles, bicycles, small mopeds and scooters. In the US, their mopeds and scooters were sold by Sears Roebuck under the Allstate brand in the 1950s and 60s. In India, their Puch Maxi Plus moped model (made in India in collaboration with Hero Motors and sold as the Hero Puch) was in production until 2003!

During the development process of the new rifle, the Austrian military placed the Office of Military Technology under one Colonel Walter Stoll in charge of development from the military side, while three men, Horst Wesp, Karl Wagner and Karl Moser handled things from Steyr-Daimler-Puch's end. The result was the Steyr AUG rifle.

Steyr AUG Assault rifle. Click on image to enlarge.
Image licensed from Steyr Mannlicher GmbH & Co. under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

The letters AUG stand for Armee Universal Gewehr (i.e.) Universal Army Rifle. From the beginning, the AUG was designed as a family of firearms (i.e.) a carbine, an assault rifle and a Light Machine Gun (LMG). This means that many parts between these three are interchangeable. It also was one of the first successful bullpup designs. Design of the rifle was completed in 1977 and it was accepted by the Austrian military in the same year as the StG 77 (Sturmgewehr 77). Since then, it has been adopted by various countries around the world.

While many people think that the Steyr AUG was a very revolutionary design when it first came out, a lot of the features on it existed long before the rifle was conceived. For example, the idea of a family of rifles (i.e. carbine, assault rifle and LMG) sharing many parts in common is not new. The same modular concept was already used successfully by the Soviet designer Fedorov during World War I. In fact, we studied about Fedorov's design earlier in our first installment of assault rifle development. Another misconception is that the AUG is the first bullpup design. The truth is that while it was one of the first commercially successful bullpup designs, it was not the first bullpup design and not even the first military bullpup design. The original bullpup rifle was the British Thorneycroft carbine from 1901. Additionally, the French FAMAS (also a bullpup) was also being developed at around the same time as the AUG. The use of plastics in the weapon was also not a new idea, as the Soviet-made TKB-408, which was designed by German Korobov also had plastics, as did the French FAMAS rifle. Finally, the built in telescopic sight was also not a new innovation, as it was already a feature of the British Enfield EM-2 rifle (also a bullpup design) from the 1940s and a Canadian FN FAL variant in the 1950s.

The real technical merit of the AUG is taking a group of very good ideas and combining them all into a successful design.

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