H&K’s evolutionary G36 rifle

H&K’s evolutionary G36 rifle

Cutshaw, Charlie

ECKLER & KOCH’S new G36 originated in 1990 as “Project 50” for the Bundeswehr (German Army), which desired a lightweight, affordable rifle of conventional design that could be used as the basis for a firearms family ranging from a 9 mm Luger (9xl9 mm) submachine gun (SMG) to a 5.56 mm NATO carbine to a 7.62×51 nun belt-fed general purpose machine gun (GPMG). An evolutionary, not revolutionary, design was the goal. In that, Heckler & Koch has succeeded while at the same time producing a rifle that makes optimal use of current technology. H&K is now producing three versions of the G36: the G36 rifle; the G36K carbine and the MG36 light machine gun.

Although there is no official acknowledgment by H&K, it is clear that the G36 has roots in the Armalite AR-18. The AR-18 operating system is superior to that of the M16 (AR-15) because it eliminates gas and powder fouling being blown back into the receiver, a problem which has plagued the Ml 6 since its introduction. The G36 bolt carrier, bolt and gas system are very similar to those of the AR-18, but have been modified and refined.

The G36 rifle is the basic component of the G36 system. It is gas-operated and locks via a Stoner-type rotating bolt and carrier. This is a complete departure for Heckler & Koch, which has used roller locking and delayed blowback operation for all its previous military long guns. Virtually all of the G36, save for the barrel, the bolt and bolt carrier, springs, and small components, is made of carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer. This results in strength combined with light weight, ease of maintenance and high reliability. The reciprocating parts move on steel rails molded into the receiver. There is no ejection port cover, as the bolt carrier closes the ejection port to foreign matter when it is forward. The barrel is optimized for the 5.56×45 mm SS 109 (M855) round with a twist rate of 1:7″.

Export versions of the G36 are designated G36E, G36KE and MG36E. The difference between Bundeswehr and export versions of the G36 lies in the sighting systems. The Bundeswehr version of the G36 has a 1.5X-magnification optical sight and a red-dot reflex sight. The red-dot sight is activated by ambient light and requires no batteries. The export version has only the 1.SX optic with backup front blade and rear notch in the detachable carrying handle. The optical sight of the G36 is provided with range marks from 200 to 800 meters. The outer edge of the circular reticle provides a lead for targets moving at 15 kilometers per hour from either left or right at a range of 200 meters, the rifle’s battlesight zero. The intersection of the vertical and horizontal crosshairs is used as point:of aim from zero to 200 meters. The diameter of the circular reticle also corresponds to the height of a 1.75 meter target at a range of 400 meters. The intersection of the vertical cross hair and the bottom of the circular reticle is the 400 meter point of aim. The two small crosshairs below the circular reticle are 600 and 800 meter points of aim respectively. The extended horizontal crosshair gives the rifleman an indication of canting, which degrades accuracy. We found the optical sight easy to use, with quick target acquisition at all ranges at which we fired the G36, from close quarters battle (CQB) distances of 15 to 25 meters out to 100 meters.

Optical accessories for the G36 include a Hensoldtmanufactured, third-generation 1X night sight. Although we did not use this sight, we did install and remove it. The sight clamps into the G36 adapter with no difficulty and retains its zero when removed and reattached, according to H&K.

The design is such that a small prism mates with the rifle’s standard optical sight. The rifleman can thus continue to aim through his standard sight with the night vision optic in place.

Controls of the G36 are completely ambidextrous. The cocking handle is particularly noteworthy. It normally lies forward on the top of the receiver and in line with the barrel of the rifles requiring only that the operator grasp it and pull it to the rear. The user can swing the cocking handle to the left or right, depending on preference and/or hand dominance. To use the handle as a forward assist. or to kick it rearward to extract a stuck cartridge case, the operator simply pulls the handle back and presses it downward, thus locking it into position. This also allows the bolt carrier to be “eased” home when silent bolt closing is necessary. The positioning of the controls allow the user to maintain a firing grip on the rifle while changing magazines and operating the charging handle. The G36 bolt catch is conveniently located at the forward end of the trigger guard. The bolt is automatically locked to the rear when the last round is expended, but the bolt stop can be deactivated without tools in seconds for those who wish to do so.

The G36 feeds from translucent, polymer, 30-round magazines. which can be quickly and easily linked together using builtin studs. H&iE engineers used a proprietary magazine because they believed it to be superior to the M 6 magazines commonly used by other NATO countries. For those who prefer the M16 magazine, however, a magazine well made to accept it may soon be an option, thanks to the flexible design of the G36. The 100round Beta Company double-drum magazine for the MG36 squad automatic weapon can be used in any version of the G36. and those used by the author in evaluating the G36 functioned flawlessly.

The modular design of the G36 is one aspect of the rifle that makes it unique. The G36 can be reconfigured into any of its variants by armorers with only two special tools. The first is a mandrel, one end of which is inserted into the breech of the rifle and the other clamped in a vise. The other special tool is a barrel wrench to remove and tighten the barrel retaining nut. When the barrel is replaced, a standard torque wrench is used to tighten the barrel nut. As the barrel nut is torqued to specification, headspace is automatically set. No tools are required for complete disassembly of the G36 into its major groups. This allows the rifle to be easily converted in the field into any of its configurations. Trigger options include select-fire versions in semi-automatic, two-round burst and full-automatic; semi-automatic and two-round burst; and semi- and full-automatic.

For law-enforcement, a semi-automatic-only trigger group is under development, although the carbine can be converted quickly to full automatic or burst if the tactical situation dictates. All G36 retaining pins are of identical size, and small holes are provided in the buttstock for retaining them while the rifle is disassembled. The carrying handle is removable with acrosstip screwdriver.

Functioning of the three G36s that we fired was flawless. We fired every available type of ammunition through all three versions of the rifle without a single malfunction or stoppage of any kind. The ammunition was representative of almost every type that might commonly be encountered by worldwide users of the G36. We mixed frangible, ball FMJ and match FMJ in a single magazine and ran it through the rifle on full automatic without incident. The G36 is eminently contro]kable on full automatic: maintaining centerof-mass hits at CQB ranges was absolutely no problem from the first burst, although we were given only a brief orientation before shooting the rifle. Full automatic control of the G36 is the best I have ever experienced in a rifle of this class. The 750-round-per-minute cyclic rate made three- and four-round bursts easy to achieve, and the design of the rifle made it easy to hold each burst in the center of mass of the target.

The reasons for such controllability in a rifle weighing less than 7 lbs. are threefold. First. the barrel’s long axis actually lies below the point where the shooter places the rifle to his shoulder. This helps ki to greatly reduce muzzle rise. Second, the small mass of the reciprocating components of the rifle help keep it on target under fullautomatic fire. And finally. the efficient compensator/flash suppressor tends to reduce muzzle climb.

After testing the G36 on full automatic at 15- to 25-meter CQB distances, we moved back to 100 meters to briefly check it for accuracy at longer ranges. We were not able to test beyond 100 meters, but under rapid fire from the prone, unsupported position, we consistently achieved 2″ to 2.5″ groups using ball ammunition. This is not match accuracy, but is acceptable in a combat rifle and would have improved if we had used a sling, rest or bip od. and match-grade ammunition. Moreover, accuracy would improve with more practice.

The G36 is intentionally manufactured with a trigger that will pass a twometer drop test with the hammer cocked and the safety “off.” The result is a relatively heavy trigger pull. It must be noted the rifle is not intended for long-range precision shooting. Most infantry engagements are at ranges of less than 500 meters, with the vast majority at ranges of 200 meters or less. For police use, most engagements will be at even closer ranges-most likely distances of 25 meters out to a maximum of 100 meters. The comment on the G36 trigger pull is thus not so much a complaint as an observation. The sole fault of the G36 is the fact that the fore-end heats up quickly under rapid and sustained fire and soon becomes too hot to grasp. This situation is caused by the lack of a heat shield inside the foreend, which is under development by H&K as of this writing.

Although it was developed as a military rifle, the H&K G36K carbine would make a superb police arm for special units using automatic versions and also for carry in patrol cars as a semi-automatic. Some departments may even wish to purchase G36 carbines with different trigger modules to allow tactical flexibility. And finally, the cost of the G36 is competitive with any similar carbine purchased new in typical police quantities. It would be an excellent addition to the armory of any police department desiring a 5.56 mm NATO carbine. There is, unfortunately, no semi-automaticonly version of the G36 available for civilian sale at this time.

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 1999

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