For the first time since 1959, the German military is planning to change over their primary infantry rifle to one not made by Heckler & Koch.
The Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, Germany's combined ministry of defense, announced last week that the firm of CG Haenel GmbH in Suhl has won the €25 million ($29.6 million) initial tender for the country's new Sturmgewehr Basiswaffe or Assault Rifle Basic Weapon, replacing the HK-made G36. While the model was not disclosed by the ministry and Haenel has not released a statement, firearms publications on both sides of the pond are confirming the model chosen was the company's MK556, a select-fire 5.56 NATO carbine.
Who is Haenel?
Haenel, originally formed in 1840, has a long firearms history. During World War II, German firearms wonk Hugo Schmeisser pioneered the MKb 42(H) carbine, which was later developed into the Sturmgewehr StG 44. Located in former East Germany during the Cold War, the factory continued operation under state ownership as the Ernst Thälmann Jagdwaffenwerk and manufactured Kalashnikov-pattern MPiK/MPiKM rifles for the DDR. Today, the company, reformed in 2008, is owned along with Suhl-based Merkel by Caracal International of Abu Dhabi.
In February 2016, the Haenel RS9 was selected as the German Army's new medium-range sniper rifle, the G29, chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum.
Further, semi-auto versions of the MK556, the CR223, have been adopted widely in Germany for law enforcement use with the Sachsen police recently ordering 2,300 rifles.
What about HK?
As for HK, formed by three former Mauser engineers in then-West Germany in 1949, its first successful military contract was to provide the newly-formed Bundeswehr with the roller-delayed blowback-action Gewehr 3 or G3 battle rifle in 7.62 NATO-- itself an improved Spanish CETME Modelo 58-- replacing a hodgepodge of WWII surplus and Belgian-made FN FALs after 1959. The G3 proved wildly popular and is still in licensed production overseas as well as in the U.S. as a variety of HK91 style semi-auto clones.
In 1996, after the reunification of East and West Germany, both the G3 and MPKi variants were to be replaced by the HK G36, which has proven controversial in service.
Following up on the Haenel announcement, HK released a statement saying they stood behind their submissions for the G36 replacement-- their HK416 and HK433 rifles-- which have been adopted by the militaries of Norway, France as well as the U.S. Marine Corps (as the M27). Notably, the U.S. Army is fielding a new medium-range sniper rifle and a designated marksman rifle based on the 7.62 NATO-caliber HK241, which is also used by the German Army in a similar role as the G28.
Sig Sauer and Rheinmetall/Steyr also reportedly participated in earlier stages of the G36 replacement tender with their MCX and RS556 carbines, respectively.
The final German army contract, worth as much as €250 million ($296 million) for over 120,000 rifles, is still pending, and even the current award is subject to further review and government finalization after a parliamentary referral at the end of the year.
Worst case scenario, bring on the surplus G36 parts kits.