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In a news release issued on 14 December 2022, the German Ministry of Defence stated that the Budget Committee of the Bundestag had released funding for a number of defence programmes. Amongst these was the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr, a programme to acquire a new assault rifle for the German Army to replace the existing G36.

The new assault rifle is the HK416A8 from Heckler & Koch (H&K) and will be procured in two variants: the G95A1 with a 16.5 inch barrel and a carbine variant, the G95KA1, with a 14 inch barrel. German Special Forces already use the HK416A7 which was given the G95 designator. According to the German Ministry of Defence statement, budgetary approval means that: “The Bundeswehr can now procure 118,718 new assault rifles for around EUR 209 M. The troops will receive their first weapons in 2024.” The G95A1 and the G95KA1 will be equipped with the HKV main military combat sight, supplied by Leonardo Germany and Raytheon ELCAN based on the SPECTER DR 1-4x optic.

In December 2022 funding was released to allow the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr acquisition to proceed, under which 118,718 Heckler and Koch HK416A8 rifles could be procured in two variants: the G95A1 with a 16.5 inch barrel and a carbine variant, the G95KA1, with a 14 inch barrel. (Credit: BMVg)

Then at the end of their statement, the German Ministry of Defence noted that: “The selection decision had already been made in spring 2021, but a review procedure against the decision by an unsuccessful bidder had delayed the conclusion of the contract.” That all sounds pretty normal, unsuccessful bidder mounts protest against selection decision is nothing unusual. However, there is far more controversy and complexity involved in the path to selecting the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr than might be expected.

The H&K G36 5.56×45 mm assault rifle entered service with the Bundeswehr from 1997 onwards, replacing the G3 battle rifle in 7.62×51mm as the standard service weapon. The G36 was also widely adopted by Special Forces and Police around the world, within NATO it became the standard rifle of Spain, Latvia and Lithuania. Then matters became complicated, in 2012 a controversy emerged regarding G36 performance with the Bundeswehr. This centred on allegations that the G36 was unable to maintain zero in hot weather conditions. The end result being lots of media coverage, leading to the G36 becoming a political issue. In an effort to avoid further embarrassment on the rifle issue, the decision was taken to open up a competition for a new rifle, the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr, to replace the G36, with the competition officially getting underway in 2017. It was hoped that a winning system could be announced in 2018, with initial deliveries from 2019 onwards.

Bundeswehr soldiers equipped with G36 rifles taking part in the Schneller Adler exercise in May 2022. Although the G36 is to be replaced by the G95A1 and the G95KA1 (HK416A8), it will still remain in German service for many years to come. (Credit: Bundeswehr/ Markus Oesteritz)

A number of contenders emerged for the German requirement, amongst which were H&K with the HK433, Rheinmetall and Steyr Mannlicher (now Steyr Arms) with the RS556, Haenel with the MK556, FN with the SCAR and SIG Sauer with the MCX. All weapons were in 5.56×45 mm calibre. By late 2017 SIG Sauer had exited the competition citing ITAR concerns, then in April 2018 it became clear that the competition was a two horse race between H&K and Haenel. Haenel, was owned by the EDGE Group of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a state-owned defence and technology company, meaning that Haenel had the resources to meet the German requirement if selected.

The testing process of the remaining bidders commenced, but failed to yield a result and by this point the programme was running late. By the end of 2018, progress on the assault rifle programme had come to a halt. For many this was yet another indication of the disfunction within the German procurement system. Despite this, in 2020 the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr came back to life, technical evaluations had been completed and the two contenders were invited to submit a Best and Final Offer (BAFO) by mid-year. Then on 15 September 2020 the German Ministry of Defence announced that Haenel had won the programme, would supply 120,000 rifles and that budgetary approval would be forthcoming by the end of the year.

Then on 9 October 2020, the German Ministry of Defence announced that on 30 September H&K had submitted a protest on the contract decision and that after investigation patent infringements and other concerns had been identified, consequently the rifle order with Haenel was cancelled. Haenel launched a protest against this decision and this led to the German court system becoming involved in deciding on the issue of patent infringement and whether there was just cause for cancellation.

Into 2021 it became clear that there could be no progress on the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr until the court reached a verdict, but by this point the HK416A8 had emerged as the favoured candidate for the programme. Then on 22 June, the court in Düsseldorf issued a verdict rejecting the complaint by Haenel and confirming patent infringement. With this matter settled the path to awarding H&K the System Sturmgewehr Bundeswehr was finally clear.

David Saw