The love story between the German Bundeswehr and famed gunmaker Heckler & Koch comes to an end: the MK 556 assault rifle, an AR-15 derivative manufactured by Haenel Defence, has been selected to replace the famous yet controversial G36
The news was broken tonight in Europe by German press agency DPA, and was soon relaunched by numerous specialized outlets both in Germany and abroad: the era of the Heckler & Koch G36 as the service rifle for the German Armed Forces seems to have come to an end as the Haenel MK 556 has been selected as the winner of the long-running replacement trials.
The MK 556 is a short-stroke piston-driven AR-15 variant manufactured in the German Land of Thuringia by C.G. Haenel, a company owned by the Tawazun Holding of the United Arab Emirates via the Merkel group. It is available in four barrel lengths, ranging between 10,5“ / 266mm and 16“ / 408mm, and either with a Picatinny quad rail handguard or a free-float handguard with Keymod mounting points, both removable without tools. Featuring fully ambidextrous controls – a 45-degree rather than AR-pattern selector – the MK556 weighs in at 3,6 kilograms (7.9 lbs) in its 16" barrel variant.
As we reported three years ago, trials to replace the G36 were long-running in Germany, and just one year short of our report, the competition had narrowed down to two entries – the Haenel MK 556 and the Heckler & Koch HK433. The adoption of the MK 556 in Germany once again affirms the status of the AR-15 as the quintessential modern service rifle.
Other AR-type rifles that competed to the trials included models manufactured by LMT in the United States; the Steyr-Mannlicher STM556, entered as the Rheinmetall-Steyr RS-556; and the Heckler & Koch HK-416 A7, which was subsequently withdrawn from the competition and adopted by the German Special Forces (KSK) as the G95 rifle. Prominent competitors such as SIG Sauer withdrew before the final phases.
So, is the sixty-plus years old relationship between Heckler & Koch and the Bundeswehr really come to an end? Not according to all observers.
While the original order was for 120.000 rifles – net worth: approximately 250 million Euro, circa 296 million US dollars, not counting an undisclosed amount of accessories – the results of the trial are, as reported by the German website Soldat & Technik, still pending approval by the German Ministry of Defense, and are still subject to possible judicial review as well as to any appeal that the losing competitors may file.
It is thus left to see whether or not players like Heckler & Koch will accept to be left out of a market that they dominated for more than half a century, and more importantly, if there really is a political interest right now in changing the Bundeswehr's service rifle. While reportedly German soldiers are still happy with their G36 after all, the long dragging of the replacement trials – whose final stages were delayed multiple times in the past three years – would seem to indicate otherwise.