1970s bullpup compared to modern life
The modern Austrian Army, the Bundesheer, was in a tough spot in the 1970s. Although Austria was officially neutral, to the East, the country shared a border with the Warsaw Pact countries of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and to the West, it bordered NATO West Germany. In the event of World War III kicking off, the prospect of having to fight either Soviet/Warsaw Pact or US/NATO forces wishing to pass through was very real. As such, the Bundesheer used conscription to have a large force of reservists ready for war. This meant that the tiny 30,000-man force could swell to almost 300,000 in wartime. Heck a young Arnold Schwarzenegger even served his time in the ‘heer back then.
Well the thing is, 18-year old draftees in the Bundesheer prior to 1971 were given a year of initial training before being sent home to the reserves. Then, after that date, draftees were only given six months. The standard rifle of the time was the FN FAL, license built by Steyr as the Sturmgewehr 58. The FAL was a beautiful 7.62x51mm NATO standard battle rifle, but it was long (at 44-inches), heavy (at 9.5-pounds unloaded), and the average soldier needed a good bit of training to keep it running properly. With already short training times cut in half and declining numbers of healthy draftees, the Austrians needed a more efficient, compact, and easy to use rifle.
Steyr, long the supplier of rifles to the Austrian Army, submitted a prototype rifle called the AUG (standing for Armee-Universal-Gewehr—”universal army rifle”) for testing.
From just a glance at the Steyr AUG, you can see that the gun is very different. The entire action including the chamber, slide, bolt, hammer, guide rod, magazine, cocking piece and retaining bolt are all to the rear of the trigger, hidden inside a club-shaped hollow polymer (plastic) buttstock. The only thing above and in front of the trigger is the barrel and barrel grip. Lightweight was a huge factor in the weapon’s design. Polymers were used so much that even the trigger pack except for the springs, steel bearing pins and catch hold-open was synthetic. This allowed the full-sized rifle to be just 31.1-inches long, and weighing in at 7.9-pounds. This is more than a foot shorter– not to mention a pound and a half lighter– than the FN FAL the Austrian Army used at the time. Likewise, the AUG used 30 and optional 42-round lightweight polymer magazines for the more controllable 5.56mm NATO rather than the FAL’s 20-shot 7.62mm steel boxes.
The thing is when compared to a 14.5-inch barreled M4 of today, is it really that much of a difference? The 6.36-pound M4 is just 33-inches long with the stock extended, and goes a couple inches shorter when collapsed.
Observe this shot from a recent outing for Exercise Sea Soldier ‘17 at Rabkut, Oman, with a U.S. Marine with an M4 (or M27) compared to a Royal Omani Army trooper with an AUG.
Now I have shot TAVORs and X95s as well as an L85/SA80, and they are neat, but are they really that much more compact when in use?