Bullpup suggests a dog, and the turbulent field of military small arms
certainly doesn't need any more of those. What it does need is an accurate,
lightweight, lethal rifle to put in the hands of well-trained infantrymen.
The Bullpup assault rifle may be part of the answer. Certainly bullpups -
those odd looking, space-age, smoke-poles that seem to have all the
conventional parts in unconventional places - are not the perfect combat
weapons for all occasions, but they have their military applications. And
technical advances in bullpup design are rapidly making the weapons common
sights in world hot-spots.
It's easy to tell when you've got a bullpup in your hands. It may not be so
easy to tell that you're necessarily holding a military rifle. The magazine
is in the buttstock and the trigger is halfway down the barrel. It seems odd,
but there's no denying it's compact. A Steyr AUG bullpup with a 16-inch
barrel is a foot shorter than the standard service M16.
Bullpups are bastard children. Championed by the British throughout the 20th
century, bullpup rifles have never been much of an enticement to the U.S.
military. In August, 1902 British engineer J.B. Thorneycroft presented a
prototype bolt-action rifle to the British War Office for consideration by
the Small Arms Committee. In trials it was not impressive, and all official
interest in the Thorneycroft design ceased by 1903. During the early part
of 1944 work started at Enfield on the design of a new bullpup sniper rifle.
Called the Sniper Rifle Experimental Model I (SREM I), the weapon featured
a radical design. The bolt traveled in a metal housing inclined 12 degrees
below the bore axis. The bolt was operated by a pistol grip which carried an
arm engaging a cammed slot on the right side of the bolt. Rearward movement
of the pistol grip first rotated the bolt to unlock it and then retracted it.
But military weapons technology was firmly dedicated to self-loading rifles,
and the bullpup sniper rifle project was abandoned in 1945 at the war's end.
Despite the slide into post-war obscurity, the early research had sparked
some continuing interest.
Early interest culminated in the controversial, ill-fated British EM-2 rifle
which was effectively torpedoed by the Americans in the 1952 international
trials held at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Refusing to throw in the cleaning
rag, the British have ignored American obstinance on the issue and recently
adopted the Enfield Individual Weapon (IW) and Light Support Weapon (LSW).
Both are Bullpups.
Some Bullpup fervor did manage to cross the channel. In Belgium, FN produced
a prototype carbine (serial No. 3) which was a bullpup design by Deiudonne
Saive. But the project was subverted by the dictatorial Director General of
FN, Rene Laloux. French weapons engineers took a long look at bullpup
technology and produced their own prototypes. One of these - the French
FAMAS - is a general issue weapon in French Army units.
Using the Johnson/Stoner rotary bolt, the Enfield EM-2 layout and a host of
carefully considered innovations, the Austrian firm of Steyr Daimler Puch, AG,
has fielded a bullpup called the AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr [rifle]).
Adopted by the Austrian Army in 1977 - where it is called the Stg 77
(Sturmgewehr [assault rifle] 77) - it has become one of the most familiar
bullpup weapons in the world. The AUG is now available in both military and
semiautomatic-only versions in the U.S.
The bullpup's salient feature is compactness. By definition, a bullpup's
barrel group is moved well back into the stock and action and magazine are
placed behind the trigger assembly. Ejection of spent cartridge casings
occurs close to the shooter's face, and some critics claim bullpups are
inappropriate for left-handers. Other critics - particularly with combat
experiance in confined areas - claim the bullpup design forces a soldier to
expose too much of his body when firing around corners. But bullpup fans have
their own reasoned response to all that.
Only 20 percent of the world's population is left-handed, they argue, and most
of them can be trained to fire effectively from the opposite shoulder. Even
southpaws who can't manage the switch can be equipped with bullpups modified
to accomodate them. Both the Enfield IW and the Steyr AUG feature left-side
ejection options and the FAMAS has two ejectors which work to throw the case
through either a left or right ejection port, depending on which one the
shooter selects. Certain combat types who favor bullpups say shooting around
corners is not healthy, so soldiers armed with shoulder weapons should be
taught not to do it. The argument for and against bullpup designs continues.
Meanwhile, the development process that brought the weapons into active
service is interesting. The Steyr AUG was developed by the Austrian Office
of Military Technology under a project headed by Colonel Walter Stoll. By the
end of the 1960's it was apparent that the international trend in military
small arms was moving toward lighter and more compact rifles. NATO's 5.56x45mm
cartridge was chosen as a proven performer in combat and Britain's EM-2
bullpup configuration was picked for compactness and ease of handling.
Interchangable barrels were specified to provide a submachine gun, carbine,
assault rifle, sniper rifle and light support weapons in a basic bullpup
Austrian military trials then compared the AUG with the FN FAL (Austrian
Stg 58 in 7.62mm NATO), the Czech Vz58 in 7.62x39 ComBloc, and the 5.56mm
NATO FN CAL and Colt M16A1. The AUG proved to be at least as reliable as
any of its competitors. It also proved to be superior in accuracy potential,
target acquisition, handling characteristics, and full-auto fire
controllability. In short, the AUG proved to be a winner.
Now in service with the Austrian Federal Army for more than eight years, the
AUG has also been adopted by Saudi Arabia, Oman, Tunisia, Malaysia, Djibouti,
and Morocco. It is also used by the U.S Navy Seals, the British SAS, and the
Cambridge (England) police. Australia is currently conducting comparison
trials in an attempt to decide on the AUG or the American M16A2 for their
troops. Austria's proven bullpup has also garnered some endorsement from the
guys in black hats. Columbian M-19 Marxist rebels have also obtained a number
of AUGs from Tunisia via Libya.
At first glance, the AUG appears bizarre, startling, and futuristic. A closer
look reveals its sinister efficiency. From the peculiar muzzle brake to the
rubbery butt plate, it is obvious that efficiency and human engineering were
priority perameters in development of this particular bullpup.
Twenty-eight machine operations shape the pressure-die-cast aluminum alloy
receiver, which is finished with baked enamel. Carrying handle and optical
sights are integeral with the receiver casting on all but the HBAR model. The
receiver itself does not carry or guide the bolt assembly. A steel barrel
extension containing recesses for the bolt's and barrel's locking lugs is
fitted to the rear of the receiver. The barrel extension is held in place by
two, thin-walled steel tubes, flanged at each end for retension on the receiver
casting. These tubes also act as bearings for the bolt carrier's guide rods.
The front sling swivel is mounted on the front of the receiver and is held in
place by a roll pin. A spring-loaded, button-operated barrel locking latch
is also mounted to the front of the receiver and retained by a steel plate
held to the casting by two screws.
The plastic retracting handle is located on the receiver's left side and is
non-reciprocating. An unusual foward bolt assist is activated by a spring-
loaded button on the top of the retracting handle. Depressing this button
connects the retracting handle with the left guide rod, so the handle can then
be shoved fully forward to place the bolt into battery. Locked this way, you
can ride the retracting handle slowly forward for silent cocking.
Seven locking lugs are machined into the rotary bolt, and an eighth lug is on
the extractor. The ejector is a spring loaded bump-type. Extractor and
ejector positions are reversed on the left-handed shooter's bolt.
Like nearly every other modern self-loading rifle, the bolt rotates by camming
action. But leave it to the AUG to arrange the machinery in a completely
different way. Retained by a roll pin and held in the up position by
the firing pin, the cam-pin is set into the rear of the bolt.
Since the receiver is an aluminum casting and wouldn't hold up well to the
slamming action of the cam-pin, a steel pressing with a cut-out cam-path sits
on top of the bolt body. That pressing rotates the bolt by guiding the
cam-pin through the bolt carrier's cam-slot. The firing-pin spring hooks
around a nub on the end of the cam-plate, and the plastic guide plug friction
fits inside the spring. A slot in the cocking piece allows the firing pin to
protrude and hold the cocking piece in place at the end of the bolt carrier.
A small roller mounted at the top rear of the bolt carrier eases its movement
back and forth in the stock body.
Two hollow steel guide rods brass-brazed to the bolt carrier contain the two
recoil springs. They are not normally removed for maintenance. During recoil,
the return springs are compressed against two solid steel rods permanently
mounted inside the stock assembly. Guide rod tubes are chrome plated. The
gas piston drives the bolt group backwards by means of the piston furnished
by the right-hand rod. The left-hand rod bears retracting handle pressure
when they are connected by the forward assist button. Should the gas cylinder
become clogged, the tip of the left hand guide rod can be used as a reamer to
remove excess fouling. That may seem overly complicated, but it's not. The
AUG has been carefully engineered to avoid excessive complication. It's also
been engineered to provide the soldier or policeman with several weapons in
AUG is a system. Four different barrels fit any receiver in a matter of
seconds. That makes four different weapons.
All barrels are constructed of high-quality steel by the cold-hammer forging
process developed by GFM of Steyr, Austria, and bores and chambers are chrome
plated to increase barrel life. Each barrel has eight lugs around the chamber
end which engage the receiver's barrel extension. As the bolt engages the
rear of the barrel extension, the cartridge is loaded into the chamber without
stress on the receiver body.
Barrels have six grooves with a right-hand twist of one turn in nine inches.
Steyr believes this is a better compromise for use with both M193 and the new
M855 (SS109) ammunition. Barrels with a 1:7 twist can be obtained on special
An exterior sleeve sweated onto the barrel contains the gas port, piston,
cylinder, gas regulator, and the vertical foregrip hinge assembly. Three
M16 style split rings seal the chromed piston, and the return spring is
attached to the piston. Gaps on the rings (washers) should always be
positioned so they remain separated in use.
There are three gas regulator positions. Position 1 (small dot on the gas
cylinder) is the normal setting and permits the largest amount of gas to
escape into the atmosphere. Position 2 (large dot on the gas cylinder)
diverts more gas into the system for adverse conditions or extreme fouling.
Position GR blocks gas escape for firing blank (ballistite) cartridges to
launch rifle grenades of the non-bullet trap type. In the GR position the
rifle cannot cycle. To adjust the regulator, pull out the top of the gas
plug and rotate it until the ball detent is aligned with the desired position.
The vertical foregrip is also used to rotate the barrel and withdraw it from
the receiver during barrel changes. It provides sufficient leverage to extract
a fouled barrel and prevents the unintentional obliteration of one's
fingerprints by hot barrel steel.
Want an SMG? Crank on your 14-inch barrel and your AUG is a submachine gun
with an unloaded weight of 6.7 pounds and overall length of 25 inches. As a
safety precaution, the vertical foregrip on this barrel will not fold forward.
It would extend beyond the muzzle, and there are any number of dolts who would
blow away their hands, provided the opportunity. The muzzle device on this
barrel is a simple, open, four-pronged affair that offers more than sufficient
muzzle blast and flash to frighten off anyone you may have missed with the
AUG flash suppressors work, but they're machined like watches. Muzzle devices
on the 16-inch and 20-inch barrels have three open prongs. Slots cut on top
and each side control muzzle climb and avoid stirring up dust. However, flash
characteristics are excellent, and the brake mildly affects muzzle climb.
That's all the soldier needs to know. Internal threads cut in the device
probably accept blank firing adaptors. But for all one can deduce from the
Steyr English user's manual - written with the style, grammar, and spelling
of a 1950 Japanese camera manual - they might hold small light bulbs. Closed
bird-cage-type flash suppressors are also available on special order.
The 24-inch barrel's muzzle device is even more bizarre. It looks like
abstract metal sculpture. A closed-type device, Steyr machines its complex
shape out of a single block of metal. Two large ports on each side and three
small holes in front effectively control muzzle climb. But it is the exterior
of the brake that is threaded to accept blank firing devices and grenade
launching equipment. All AUG muzzle devices are threaded to the barrel. They
are also supplied with plastic protective muzzle covers which should be trashed
immediately, since they serve only to trap and retain moisture in the bore.
In combat, they are invariably forgotten and shot off.
The 24-inch barrel and HBAR stock form a multipurpose weapon within the AUG
system. With the strong Steyr bipod, the HBAR is adaptable to either sniping
or LMG deployment. Well-designed, sturdy, and mounted close to the muzzle,
the bipod's legs elevate and lock like the Mk I Bren bipod. When this barrel
is used in the mode of a light support weapon, an open-bolt firing kit can
be fitted to avoid cook-offs during sustained fire. This weapon is designed
to replace a lot of battlefield hardware.
But you can't follow with the bayonet. The Austrian Army thinks bayonets are
archaic and inhumane. Barrels don't even have studs for bayonets. But
multipurpose and lightweight bayonets are available to other users. A stud
clamps on to mount them.
Aside from the absence of a bayonet lug, the "real rifle" fans don't like the
looks of a weapon that is all stock. You don't see much else on an AUG. But
part of the beauty of the AUG is the way the stock encloses and protects all
the weapon's operating parts. And since it's almost all high-impact plastic,
there's no trouble in supplying it in military green, black (U.S. law
enforcement version), and desert tan (Saudi contract).
The stock covers nearly everything that can be damaged on an AUG. Two
plasic halves of the stock are held together by a unique friction process
using pressure and vibration. The stock includes a large - and of course,
unconventional - trigger guard on the pistol grip. It's just like a normal
trigger guard, except it holds the whole hand instead of one finger.
The stock holds two steel operating rods in guides on either side of the
magazine well. They connect the trigger to the firing mechanism. Immediately
above the pistol grip a plastic crossbolt safety holds the trigger rods.
Press to the right for the "safe" position (white dot) and left for fire (red
dot). The crossbolt's disassembly lock pin retains the bolt and receiver
groups. Find that lock pin just forward of the magazine well and press it to
the right to remove these components from the stock housing.
On the bottom of the stock, behind the magazine well, sits the magazine catch
release. It is ambidextrous in the sense that left and right-handed shooters
have equal difficulty reaching it in the firing position. Unfortunately, it's
hard to put the release anywhere but behind the magazine well. Above the
magazine well are two ejection ports (for left and right-handed shooters), one
of which is always covered by a removable plastic plate.
Behind the magazine well, the shoulder butt portion of the stock assembly
contains the hammer mechanism module and the rear end of the bolt group. A
hook on the front of the butt provides a hand rest when firing the heavy
barrel off the bipod in the prone position. At the rear of the butt-section
a compartment holds a cleaning kit which consists of an oil bottle, nylon and
brass brushes, a cleaning rod tip, cleaning paper, and a nylon corded
pull-through. Olive drab in color, the butt plate is made of synthetic rubber
which offers good adhesion to the shoulder. It is held in place by the rear
sling swivel's locking pin.
Contained in an open-topped plastic box, the modular hammer mechanism is
fabricated entirely of plastic, except for pins, springs, the drop safety, and
the lock-bolt latch. Even the hammer is plastic. And yet, according to
Austrian tests, the mechanism will withstand more than 100,000 firing cycles
before failure. And some complained about unconventional plastic furniture
on the M16.
If you really want to see "unconventional", try to find the selector lever on
an AUG. There isn't one. Just pull the trigger a short distance to the first
sear stop for semiauto. Further rearward travel to a second pressure point
operates the sear in the full-auto mode. With the trigger fully depressed,
neither the disconnector or bolt slide can engage the hammer's sear notch.
A plastic automatic fire lever, which operates like an auto safety sear,
prevents firing until the bolt is in complete battery. This component is
missing from the semiauto-only police version. Typical trigger-pull weights
are a crisp, but heavy, 9 lbs.
Permanently fixed combat optical sights are another space-age feature of
Austria's issue rifle. The AUG is equipped with a 1.5x optical sight (made by
Swarovski Optik of Tyrol, Austria) designed for today's typical battle ranges
of zero to 300 meters. The military version has a thick, black ring-reticle.
It can be used as a rangefinder since a standing man will just fill the inner
diameter of the reticle at 300 meters. The law enforcement version has a
small black dot in the center which permits more precision in aiming. Windage
and elevation knobs can be adjusted for initial zero, but after that, no
adjustments are required out to 300 meters. But if the scope fogs or breaks,
the soldier isn't out of luck. Open emergency sights have been cast into the
top of the scope tube. Fixed blade front sight and square notch rear sight
have three illuminated dots (one at the front blade and two at the rear) for
use at low light levels.
But the optical sight should be used first in low light. It's designed for
twilight conditions. Austrian Army trials proved the 1.5x scope was not only
rugged, but as the shooting environment becomes more difficult, its advantages
over iron sights become more obvious. Tested under time, pressure, poor
target/background contrast, dawn and dusk, flare illumination, and long
ranges, AUG optics gave improved hit potential over iron sights. All receiver
castings except the HBAR feature the built-in scope tube.
The HBAR (Heavy-Barrel Assault Rifle) receiver casting has an integral
universal scope base which accepts NATO mounts to accomodate night vision
equipment and telescopic scopes for the sniping role. Mine is fitted with
the high-quality Kahles ZF69 6x42mm scope with a carrying handle attached to
the upper ring halves. The reticle pattern is that used by the German
military since World War I - a single, thick, pointed post at the bottom of
the field of view with horizontal slide bars and stadia lines. Although never
popular in this country, this format excels in subdued light and offers faster
target acquisition than standard cross-hairs. A formidable combination when
mated to the AUG HBAR.
Since everything on the AUG is more or less astounding or different, you
wouldn't expect to slap an Adventure Line M16 magazine into the magazine
well - and you don't. Except the follower spring, the magazine components
are entirely plastic. The waffle-pattern magazine body is the strongest I've
ever seen. Especially noteworthy is the magazine's transparent body. While
not crucial, it's at least comforting to count remaining cartridges. Two
capacities are available: 30 and 42 rounds. As with all bottom-fed light
machine guns using large-capacity magazines, the AUG HBAR will monopol on the
42-rd. box when fired from the low prone position or off the bipod.
The gas-operated AUG fires from the closed-bolt position, except when the
open-bolt kit is installed. Pulling the trigger presses the hammer mechanism
slide rearward by action of the sear lever. This permits the hammer to rotate
upwards, powered by its two springs, striking the firing pin which moves
forward to ignite the primer. Propellant gases flow through the barrel's gas
port into the gas cylinder, driving the piston rearward against the right
guide rod. After a movement of about 7mm, the bolt is rotated by the cam pin
moving in the bolt extension and carrier slots. Extraction and ejection of
the empty case occur during the bolt group's continued rearward movement. The
hammer is rolled back and will stay locked if the trigger has been pulled to
the first stage only.
After the bolt carrier reaches the end of its rearward travel, it is driven
forward by the two recoil springs within the guide rod tubes. A fresh round
is stripped from the magazine and the cam pin rotates the bolt into the locked
piston. In semiautomatic mode, the slide piece presses the automatic fire
lever down, and the hammer becomes locked by the disconnector lever.
Releasing trigger pressure will transfer the hammer lock from disconnector
lever to the slide piece. When the trigger is pulled past the second pressure
point, neither slide piece nor disconnector lever can prevent the hammer from
rotating upward again.
After the last round has been fired, the magazine follower presses up a lock
bolt latch on the front of the hammer mechanism module to hold the bolt group
to the rear. But there is no release button, and the cocking handle must be
retracted to release the bolt group after a fresh magazine has been inserted -
a minor irritation for those accustomed to M16 and Beretta AR70 series
To field strip the AUG, first retract the bolt, remove the magazine, and make
certain no cartridge remains in the chamber. Press the barrel locking latch
downward, rotate the barrel to the right, and withdraw it from the receiver.
Press outward on the gas plug's latch and rotate the plug until the cut on
its lower rim is aligned with the retaining stud on the barrel's sleeve
assembly. Withdraw the gas plug. If badly fouled, the piston and spring
may have to be driven out with a small brass drift punch from the rear end
of the cylinder or driven out using the end of the right guide rod.
Allow the bolt to slide forward smartly. Do not release the trigger, or the
hammer will roll upward preventing removal of the hammer mechanism. Press
the stock's cross-bolt disassembly lock-pin all the way to the right and
remove the receiver and bolt groups from the stock assembly. The receiver
requires no further disassembly.
Then, take the bolt group, grasp the rear of the firing pin, rotate it 90
degrees counterclockwise, and pull it out of the rear of the bolt carrier.
Depress the cam-pin so the bolt, bolt extension, firing-pin spring, and
plastic plug can be removed. The cocking piece will then drop away from the
bolt carrier. Push in on the dimple of the butt plate, and pull out the rear
sling swivel pin. Lift the butt plate, and withdraw the hammer mechanism
After cleaning, lightly lubricate the exterior metal surfaces, the bore, and
bolt group. Do not lubricate the gas plug, piston, or cylinder regardless of
instructions to the contrary in the Steyr manual. Oil in the gas system only
bakes to a varnish finish and accelerates fouling. Most fouling is restricted
to components in the gas cylinder, and they should be cleaned with appropriate
steel brushes and scrapers.
Reassemble in the reverse order. After the hammer mechanism has been placed
back into the stock (with the hammer cocked), depress the plastic retaining
bolt lock, and press in the rear sling swivel pin all the way to its second
notch. Check the weapon for proper functioning after complete reassembly.
More than 1,000 rounds of Lake City '77 M193 ball ammunition were pumped
through my two AUGs- an HBAR (24-inch barrel) and a selective-fire police
model with 14-, 16-, and 20-inch barrels. There were no stoppages of any
kind. The bolt failed to hold open after the last round on three occasions.
The magazine follower propels the lock-bolt latch upward, and this problem is
usually associated with magazine follower springs of marginal strength.
By the way, fresh magazines must be slapped hard when inserted, or they will
not properly engage the magazine catch.
The ejection path is consistently high and to the rear - about 8 to 10 feet
back of the firer. Ejected cases frequently strike and mildly scuff the stock
to the rear of the ejection port with no ill effect.
Ergonomics are superb, and felt recoil is nonexistent. And a magazine or two
will allow you to master the trigger system. At first you want to pull right
past the first pressure point into the full-auto mode. A little practice
gives easy discrimination between semiauto and full-auto fire.
Burst fire, of course, is more effective than hosing with automatic small
arms, and controlled bursts are easy with the AUG. M193 ball produced about
750 rpm, and experienced operators could fire two-shot bursts without effort
(cyclic rate varies from 650 to 850 rpm depending on ammunition). Bursts are
best kept to two shots with the 14- and 16-inch barrels, because the third
round in selective fire will pass above and to the right of a man-sized target
at 75 meters. But effective three-shot bursts are possible at this range with
the 20-inch barrel. The HBAR version can be used for effective burst fire
out to 300 meters.
When sniping with the HBAR, I got better accuracy without holding the foregrip.
The support hand should be placed under the magazine catch above the butt
hook when firing off the bipod in the prone position.
Longer 20- and 24-inch barrels will shoot two MOA at 100 meters every time.
Hit probability is also high with the 16-inch barrel - my personal favorite,
since it combines compactness with undiminished hit potential at normal
But unless you plan to spend most of your life breathing exhaust fumes inside
a Panhard AML 245 Armoured Car, you can forget about the 14-inch barrel, in
my opinion. It's a flame thrower with the report of an elephant rifle.
I detect no major faults in the Steyr AUG system. All who participated in the
SOF test and evaluation praised its balance and handling characteristics.
It's a stunning triumph and complete vindication of the bullpup concept
properly executed. In particular, the AUG 1.5x scope offers a true vision of
the future. Hit probability and the speed of target acquisition are enhanced
signficantly by this sturdy carrying handle. You can expect to see more
optics of this type on assault rifles of the future.
I would not hesitate to carry an AUG into battle.
Selective fire versions of the Steyr AUG and all its accessories are
available in the United States to government and law enforcement agencies
only, through the police distributors of Gun South, Inc., its exclusive
importer. A semiautomatic-only version is available from Interarms. Ltd.
first published in the February 1985 edition of
Soldier of Fortune Magazine