Germany Selects New Assault Rifle

C G Haenel MK556 Rifle Beats H&K Candidates

The German MoD announced on 15 September that the tender process for the ‘System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr’ (SSB) requirement had been completed and that C G Haenel and its MK556 rifle had been selected as the winning bidder. The next step towards a binding acquisition contract is parliamentary approval, which process should commence before year-end. The announcement noted that the result of the tender process is not yet legally binding and that losing bidders may protest the decision.

The final stage of the tender process began on 14 May – technical evaluations having already been completed – when remaining bidders remining in the System Sturmgewehr Basiswaffe (standard assault rifle) competition were invited to submit a ‘best and final offer’ (BAFO), with a submission deadline of 22 June. The other bidder for the programme was Heckler & Koch (HK), which submitted two proposals; one featuring its HK433 design; the other being an improved version of the HK416. Since 2018, only Haenel and HK had been under consideration for the programme.

It had been assumed by most people that this assault rifle programme would inevitably be awarded to HK, despite the fact that the new programme was the result of controversy surrounding the current in-service HK G36 rifle. In the 1990s, the German Army replaced its G3 7.62x51mm battle rifles with the HK G36 in 5.56x45mm NATO calibre. However, from 2012 onwards the G36 became embroiled in a wave of negative publicity after it was alleged that the weapon lost zero in the hot conditions experienced in Afghanistan. Negative publicity generated a political crisis, parliamentary committees were formed, lots of verbiage was generated and eventually, in 2015, it was decided that the G36 would be retired from German service, with the replacement SSB programme getting underway in 2017.

Haenel winning the German army programme was certainly a defeat for conventional wisdom, but even a cursory examination reveals the fact that the Haenel name is fundamental to the genesis of the assault rifle. Haenel is based in Suhl in eastern Germany, a town that has been a major site for weapons production as far back as the sixteenth century, when they were manufacturing cannon in the town.

In 1840, C G Haenel was established at Suhl to make firearms, later still the famous small arms designer Hugo Schmeisser was at Haenel where, in 1938, he started working on an automatic carbine using the 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate cartridge. This later became the MKb.42 (H), of which 10,000 were manufactured. This led to the improved MP 43 design, which eventually became the Sturmgewehr StG-44 – the first true assault rifle to enter service. More than 450,000 MP 43 and StG-44 were built. More recently, in 2016, Haenel was selected to supply its RS9 .338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle to the German military, which designates it the G29.

Haenel is currently part of the Merkel Group, a major manufacturer of rifles and shotguns for the hunting and sports shooting markets. In 2007 Merkel was acquired by Caracal International, at that time part of UAE-based Tawazun Holding. Caracal was established to meet the small arms needs of the UAE armed forces and the Merkel acquisition provided design and manufacturing capability. Today Caracal, Merkel and Haenel are part of the Missiles and Weapons cluster of the EDGE Group, the UAE defence industrial holding company. All of which indicates that Haenel will have the resources necessary to provide the Bundeswehr with its new assault rifle.

David Saw in Paris for MON

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