When the name Beretta is heard, most immediately think of the company's successful pistol lines such as the 92FS. However, the oldest firearms maker in the world has also been producing rifles for the Italian military for centuries. This article will take a look at 3 such firearms from the last five decades.
Oh yeah and, all 3 are damn cool designs....
(my Springfield assembled on P.Beretta receiver BM59 rifle with standard magazine and issue sling)
After the end of World War II, the Italian military adopted the American M1 Garand rifle, chambered for the 7.62x63mm (.30-06) cartridge. It replaced the old Carcano bolt action rifle and served Italy well during the early Cold War era. In 1949, the Italian government purchased the production rights for the Garand from the USA. It was sold the wartime Winchester production line, complete with tooling and blueprints. By 1953, Beretta had setup Garand production and had turned out its first rifles. Later, it would be joined by Breda and the two factories would manufacture M1s for the Italian military and for export throughout the decade.
The Garand was an advanced rifle when it was introduced in 1936. It was one of the best rifles during WWII, and continued to serve well during the Korean War. However, by the mid 1950s it was beginning to look dated and lacking in modern features. The USA ended up developing the M14, while many other NATO allies went with the FN FAL and later the HK G3. Italy however decided to simply update and modernize the Garand. It was a battle prooven design and this route would save the nation considerable time and money too. By 1957, efferts were underway and the program moved at a rapid pace.
(standard Italian military BM59 MK I rifle, with select fire capability)
The new rifle was released in 1959, and was adopted that same year by the Italian Army and Navy as the BM59. Essentially, it was a Garand rechambered for the then new 7.62mm NATO cartridge, the receiver was altered to accept detachable box magazines, and the weapon was given select fire capabilities. It used a Garand type gas system, bolt, and iron sights. Various muzzle brakes were used on the BM59 over the years. The original version took a modified Garand bayonet, while later variants took the standard M16 M7 type. Early rifles had the same 22" long barrel as the Garand, and later ones were fitted with a 19" one, which both saved on length and weight. The standard BM59 magazine was made of heavy stamped steel and held 20 rounds. The receiver also allowed for the use of stripper clips to "top off" the magazine.
Other features that would eventually be integrated into the design included a grenade launcher sight with gas cut off, folding lightweight bipod, rubber recoil pad, flip-up shoulder rest, 90 degrees rotating rear sling swivel, and a fold-down winter trigger. In the end, Beretta was able to rather radically update and improve the M1 Garand, while not sacrificing reliability, durability, or accuracy.
(the BM59 MK III Paratrooper's carbine)
The BM59 was offered in several variants and configurations. The basic model with semi-pistol grip stock was designated as the MK I. The MK II was the same firearm, but with a wooden stock which featured a full pistol grip (not unlike the M14E2's stock). The MK III Truppe Alpine was designed for mountain troops, and featured a wooden pistol grip and metal folding buttstock. There was also a Paratrooper version of the MK III, which had a short 17" barrel and quick detachable flash hider to further save on length. The MK IV was the LMG or SAW variant with a heavier barrel and bipod, and is sometimes known as the Nigerian model (though this name is rather misleading). There was also the BM59sl, which was the so-called "economy" model and was offered as an upgrade package to militaries with M1 Garands. Basically Beretta would convert the Garand to 7.62mm NATO and modify it to feed from detachable magazines. It would also usually add a compensator to the barrel, but most all BM59sl's were left as semi-automatic only firearms. It is also worth pointing out that many early BM59s were built with leftover Garand parts, including receivers.
The BM59 would remain the standard issue rifle for all branches of the Italian military for over three decades. It was also used by several other nations, including; Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Morocco, and Somalia. Argentina would use it along side the FN FAL during the Falklands War too. It was manufactured under license in Indonesia by the Bandung Weapons Factory as the SP-1, and in Nigeria by the Defense Industries Corporation. The rifle saw combat throughout the Cold War period, especially in Africa and East Asia.
(a preban import Italian BM62, lacking grenade launcher)
Several semi-automatic only, civilian legal versions were produced over the years. The first was the BM62 by Beretta, which was a sporterized version. It used the same receiver, barrel, and detachable magazines, but lacked a flash hider, bayonet lug, grenade sight, bipod, and had a sporter style buttplate. Also, it was most often shipped with short 5 or 10 round magazines, even though standard 20 rd BM59 mags would work in it. Later, Beretta released the BM69, which was a much closer copy of the original military rifle that restored most of its features such as the bipod and bayonet lug. In the 1980s, Springfield Armory Inc. began offering the BM59 (Sporter), which was assembled in the USA from surplus Italian parts. Early SA BM59s were assembled on P.Beretta marked receivers, while later ones were simply marked Springfield. These rifles will have all of the features of the military model, except of course the selector switch. Most were of the MK I configuration, but some MK III and IVs were produced as well. SA just built whatever they had parts for. Finally, many American companies have created BM59 clones, most of them based on rewelded and modified Garand receivers. These are found with wildly ranging quality levels (as would be expected).
Italian Service: 1959-1990 (as standard issue, and until 1998 in reserves)
Weight: 4.4 kg (9.70 lb)
Length: 1,095 mm (43.1 in)
Barrel length: 491 mm (19.3 in)
AR70/223 & AR70/90 Assault Rifles:
(my Italian Beretta AR70/223s, upgraded with bayonet lug and grenade sights, with standard magazine and correct sling)
The AR70 family is not all that widely known or seen outside of Italy. It is however a very interesting firearm, with roots stretching back nearly as far as those of the American M16. In 1963, Beretta partnered with SiG of Switzerland to develop an assault rifle to fire the then very new .223 Rem cartridge. The two companies worked on what would become known as the SG530, which used both a roller delayed bolt group and long-stroke gas piston. Beretta felt the roller system was unneccessary, where as SiG was very committed to it. This dispute became so problematic, that the partnership was dissolved after five years.
SiG kept working on the SG530 and Beretta went its own way in 1968. What it eventually came up with was the AR70. First unvailed in 1972, the AR70 combined the long-stroke gas piston system, with a dual lugged rotating bolt. You might recognize this as the same system that the Russians came up with for the AK47 and you would be right. However, the AR70 is not at all an AK clone. It has two receiver halves, with two push pins; just as with the AR15. It also borrowed many design elements from the Armalite AR18 such as being made of stamped and welded steel, spring loaded dustcover behind the bolt, and a very similar sight arrangement. The front was a post type sight located on the gasblock, and the rear had an L type flip aperture with two range settings and windage knob. The AR70 had front and rear fold up grenade sights, a long 4 slotted flash hider, folding light bipod (very similar to the one found on the BM59), and took a standard M16 M7 type bayonet. It fed from heavy stamped steel magazines, which were based on the AK pattern. All in all, it was very modern for its day, lightweight, and had a very reliable operating system which was also very easy to field strip for cleaning/maintenance.
(the original Italian AR70/223 assault rifle)
The original AR70 was released in 3 main variants. The AR70/223 had a 18" long barrel and polymer fixed buttstock. The SC70/223 was the same firearm, but fitted with a polymer coated metal folding stock. Finally, the SCS70/223 was a carbine version with a 14.5" barrel and folding stock. All variants had a chromelined bore with a 1 in 12 twist rate to fire the standard 55g bullet then in common use.
The AR70/223 was the standard issue firearm for the Italian Special Forces during the 1970s and 1980s. It was also purchased by the Security Forces branch of the Italian Air Force, and used by some in the Italian Navy. Beretta found some overseas customers for the AR70/223 such as the militaries of Jordan, Indonesia, Egypt, and Malaysia. In all, 14 countries purchased the AR70/223 in some quantity. Its modest success on the globel market can be attributed to the fact that when it was released, there were very few fully developed .223 caliber assault rifles available. It also helped that the AR70/223 was relatively inexpensive and was easy to train standard soldiers how to use and maintain. All that said, the bulk of the Italian military did not adopt the rifle, and instead continued to use the venerable BM59.
(the product improved AR70/90 pictured with optional folding stock assembly)
Then in 1985, the Italian Army decided it was time to retire its battlerifle and select a modern assault rifle which fired the standard 5.56mm NATO cartridge. Trials were held in the late 1980s, and Beretta submitted an upgraded version of the AR70. The new model fed from standard M16/NATO magazines, had a reshaped and strengthened upper receiver, 3 position gas regulator, ambidextrous selector and mag release, fold down trigger guard for use with gloves, and a weaver rail with detachable carry handle as standard features. The selector had an additional option for 3 round burst, as well as fully automatic. Also, the bore's twist rate was changed to 1 in 7 to better work with modern 62g projectiles. This new model eventually won the military trials in 1990, and was adopted as the AR70/90. It became standard issue for the Italian Army, Navy, and Air Force. In 1992, the military ordered 52,400 rifles from Beretta, with an additional 40,000 in 1996. It took until the end of the decade to fully phase out the BM59 and replace it with the new rifle. As with the AR70/223, the new model had 3 main variants: the fixed stock AR70/90, folding stock SC70/90, and the 14.5" barreled carbine as the SCP70/90. The Italian military would eventually acquire 105,000 AR70/90 rifles and 15,000 SCP70/90 carbines. It received its most recent and final shipment in 2008, which consisted of 500 carbines.
(the SCP70/90 "Special Forces" carbine)
The AR70/90 is still in widespread use today. There are even some old AR70/223s around, which are mostly used for training and for display in parades. Also, the Air Force Security Force retains many SC70/223 folders, which are issued to airbase guards and support crews. The series has prooven durable and reliable, in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq. On the otherhand, while the AR70/223 was modern for the 1970s, by the time the AR70/90 was adopted in the 1990s, the design was already looking conservative (if not exactly obsolete). It was made of steel, with polymer only found in the furniture at a time when other manufacturers were going to bulllpups and/or designs with entire polymer receivers. The AR70/90 was both heavier and longer than most of its competition too. All this meant that in the end, the Italian military was the only user to adopt it for general issue. So ironically, the AR70/223 could be said to have actually been more successful than the AR70/90.
Going back to the beginning for a moment, it is interesting to revisit what SiG ultimately did. The SG530 was abandoned in the early 1970s in favour of the SG540. SiG finally discovered that Beretta had been right all along regarding the roller system, and it too dropped it, and like Beretta it used an AK style two lug rotating bolt in the SG540. The SG540 was evolved into the SG550, which became the new standard issue rifle in the Swiss military under the designation STGW.90 in 1990. Which was the same year that Beretta's own design finally went into general issue as well. In otherwords, both the AR70/90 and STGW.90 can be said to have had a development process which lasted nearly 30 years.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Beretta started to offer the AR70/223s, a semi-automatic only, civilian legal version of the original design. It was very close to its military counter part, though most examples lacked a bayonet lug and grenade sights. It shipped with a short 8 round range mag, but standard military ones would fit without issue. Later, the AR70/90s was released which again was very close to the military version, but lacked the bayonet lug as well as the flash hider due to changing gun ownership laws during the 1990s.
Somewhere between 500 and 2,000 AR70/223 Sporters were imported into the USA between 1985 and 1989. Others have been assembled after the ban using Numrich parts kits and USA made 80% receiver blanks.
Italian Service: AR70/223, 1972-1992 (limited issue), AR70/90, 1990-present day (standard issue)
Weight: 3.99 kg (8.80 lb) (varies slightly)
Length: 998 mm (39.3 in)
908 mm (35.8 in) (SCS & SCP carbines with stock deployed)
Barrel length: 450 mm (18.0 in) (standard rifle)
360mm (14.5 in) (SCS & SCP carbines)
ARX160 Modular Assault Rifle:
my Beretta ARX100 with standard magazine and QD sling)
The ARX160 is a spin off from the Soldato Futuro program of the early 21th Century. It is part of an initiative to modernize the Italian military. It is an advanced modular assault rifle, constructed mostly from high-impact polymer. It is primarily chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge, however versions in 7.62x39mm have been produced for certain customers. There are plans for additional calibers such as .300 Blackout, 6.8mm SPC, and 5.45x39mm. The ARX160 has a quick change barrel, which is cold hammer forged and chromelined, with a 1 in 7 twist rate. The standard barrel is 16" long with a lightweight profile. Beretta also offers a compact 12" barrel, extended 20", and heavier 16" for use as a DMR. It has an A2 type flash hider, on 1/2x28 threading. The weapon uses a short-stroke gas piston system, with AR15 style rotating bolt. The system is designed in such a way that felt recoil is more spread out and therefore minimized. The gas valve is adjustable with 2 settings.
The ARX160 is fully ambidextrous, including the mag release, safety selector, bolt release, and sling swivels. The charging handle can be easily flipped to either side without tools, and without disassembling the weapon. Most uniquely though, the weapon can be configured to eject from either side by using a bullet tip to activate an internal switch. The weapon feeds from standard AR15/M16 type magazines, and ships with 30 rounders made of stamped steel.
It features a long top rail, two shorter side rails, and a short bottom section. behind this section is a separate mount for the GLX160 single shot 40mm grenade launcher. The stock is adjustable with 4 positions and folds to the right side. The pistol grip is A2 style, with a storage compartment for a cleaning kit inside. All ARX firearms come standard with polymer backup sights that are adjustable from 100 to 600 meters, and that are quickdetachable with the press of a bullet tip.
Beretta released the ARX160 commercially in 2008, and shortly there after shipped 800 examples to the Italian military for testing and for use by Special Forces. In 2010, a slightly updated and improved version of the rifle began to see widespread use, with an order for 12,000 units placed by the Italian government. Then in 2012, it was announced that the ARX160 was officially to replace the AR70/90 as the military's standard issue rifle. Today, the Italian Army, Navy, and Air Force have a combined total of 30,000 ARX160s in their inventories, with plans to acquire more. Thus the AR70/90 is being phased out of frontline service.
The ARX160 has been adopted by the Egyptian Navy and Special Forces. Special Forces units of Kazakhstan issue a version chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge, and the Albanian Army has purchased several thousand rifles. The Mexican Federal Police have ordered 6,000 units from Italy. In addition, India, France, Argentina, and the USA have all tested Beretta's new design. It is a new comer to the market, and it is extremely difficult to overcome the M16/M4's popularity, but the ARX160 is at least receiving a lot of attention and more than a few favourable reviews. Only time will tell how successful it will become.
Beretta offers a semi-automatic only, civilian version designated as the ARX100. It mirrors its select-fire military counterpart in most every way. It is manufactured in the Beretta-USA factory to avoid the 1989 ban on the importation of "non-sporting "assault rifles," and to insure it has enough American parts to satisfy 922(r) requirements. It ships with 1 high-cap magazine, military QD sling, and in a factory nylon soft case.
Italian Service: 2012-present (standard issue)
Weight: 3.1 kg (6.8 lb) (with standard barrel)
3.0 kg (6.6 lb) (with short SF barrel)
Length: 755 mm (29.72 in) (stock exteneded w. 302 mm barrel)
680 mm (26.77 in) (stock collapsed w. 302 mm barrel)
580 mm (22.83 in) (stock folded w. 302 mm barrel)
920 mm (36.22 in) (stock exteneded w. 406 mm barrel)
820 mm (32.28 in) (stock collapsed w. 406 mm barrel)
755 mm (29.72 in) (stock folded w. 406 mm barrel)
Barrel length: 302 mm (11.89 in)
406 mm (15.98 in)
My thoughts on each of the rifles:
BM59; It is an interesting and well manufactured Garand variant. It is a bit lighter and shorter than the original, and thus handier to drag around. Mine has a nice trigger and is just a solid feeling gun. It is also very pleasant to fire. If i had to say anything against it, it might be that the magazines fit rather tight and have to be tilted into the magwell at a more or less exact angle. Also, the bipod does make the handguard a bit wide and bulky when folded up. These are minor issues, and all in all the BM59 has the positive attributes of the Garand, plus the switch from the en-bloc clip system to detachable magazines is a very welcome one.
I like the Springfield model, at least the ones built on Beretta marked receivers. I know they are assembled in the USA, but I like that they have all of the military features unlike the BM62. It is interesting to compare the BM59 to the M14/M1A too. The Beretta does feel sturdier, but also this means additional weight. I have taken this BM59 to the range twice now, and I can say it was a lot of fun, probably more so than my Springfield M1A honestly. It had less felt recoil and just seemed more like my M1 Garand.
AR70/223s; This is a very unique design that harkens back to the early days of the assault rifle and the .223 cartridge. I really like how it shares so much with the SiG SG550 and Armalite AR180; two of my all-time favorite .223 cal rifles (though for very different reasons). Mine has a very nice trigger and smooth bolt. It is easy to field strip and load mags into. It is not too long and is of average/medium weight. It has something of the Colt M16A1/SP1 in its spirite too. I do wish it took standard AR15/M16 magazines so I could use the piles I already have. Its mags are very solid feeling, but also very pricy and difficult to find. As with the BM59, I do find that the bipod does detract slightly from the feel of the handguard but at least it does not add much weight.
Some have said that as many as 2,000 AR70/223s were imported backin the 1980s. Based on how rarely they come up for sale and serial numbers, this number seems high to me. Others put the number at 500, which on the other hand, seems a bit low. Either way, it is a nifty piece of firearms history and fits perfectly in my Italian collection. Today, I will be taking this rifle out for its first range session. It will be interesting to see if it handles as nicely as a SIG SG55x.
ARX100; There is a lot I could say regarding this firearm. I will begin by saying how surprised I was when i discovered I absolutely loved it. I picked up my example last Christmas, and did so mostly because I found one NIB for under $1,400. Plus I was bored and wanted something new to play around with. Beretta has always made good products, and i planned to test it out a bit, get to know it, and then sell it down the line. What happened instead was that the ARX has become one of my top-favorite .223 rifles to take to the range. Please remember I also own or have owned many quality .223s such as the HK MR556A1, Bushmaster ACR, SIG SIG551-A1, FN SCAR, and several Colt AR15s. Also the Radom Archer, which is another top-favorite but that is a story for another day.
Alright, so what is it about the ARX I like so much? I know on paper that while it doesn't look bad, it also doesn't really stand out from the crowd. First off, it is a couple hundred bucks cheaper than the ACR, and nearly $1k less than either the MR556A1 or SCAR 16s. Since it is Beretta, it is well constructed from quality parts, including a great barrel. Second, it comes from the factory with a few freebees such as a decent set of BUIS, a really good sling, and a good soft case. Next, i liked the ergonomics. The controls are well laid out, the pistol grip comfortable, stock solid, and the trigger (on mine at least) is actually quite good (better than the one in my old SCAR or Tavor for sure). One ergonomic issue I did have was when charging the weapon, I would bang my knuckle against the brass deflector when the handle was rotated to the left side. The problem went away though when i swapped the handle to the right side. Finally, I found the quick change barrel system really handy for cleaning the bore out, and also just plain nifty. If Beretta offers different barrels or a caliber conversion kit, I will purchase them.
So already liking the rifle, I took it to the range right after Christmas; and it was there that i began to love it. Beretta's claims that the ARX's gas system reduces felt recoil are accurate. Sure a fully loaded AR15 that weighs 11 lbs has no real recoil, but the ARX is only 7 lbs and mostly polymer. So for it to have no real recoil is pretty impressive. When your heaviest metal piece is your bolt group, usually its bouncing back and forth ends up producing a see-saw effect. Sorry, its hard to explain. A good example of this can be found with the HK G36/SL8 or UMP/USC. Both firearms have more felt recoil than they really ought to, all due to a massive steel bolt bouncing around in a polymer receiver shell. So to me, the ARX feels nice when it is fired.
If i had to criticize anything with the ARX, it would be its buttstock. I wish it had a rubber coated buttplate and a different style of curve to it. For some it might also be a bit short, but since I am 5'6" it is just fine for me personally. Likewise, it would be nice if the charging handle were a bit larger, however I understand why it is the size it is so that it can be swapped from side to side without disassembling the weapon. Anyway, it is still better than that of the AR15. The factory BUIS do look a bit comically large, but are totally usable. Besides, most people put their own sights on when they customize their rifles. In the end, it is difficult to explain why the ARX is so fun. A person just has to experience it for themselves to understand what Beretta has done here, and done it for less money than most of the competition. I sincerely hope this rifle catches on and the manufacturer begins to offer parts and kits for it.
I will be taking mine to the range again this afternoon. It reminds me a lot of the ACR Enhanced and SCAR 16s, but for various reasons I just like it better. Oh yeah, and so far it has been 100% reliable, even with Tulammo steel cased 55g and 62g, which is about the weakest and cheapest .223 ammo on the market. The only other rifles of mine that eat that stuff reliably are the Radom Archer and HK MR556A1. It jammed up the Tavor, AUG A3, Colt 6920, S&W M&P-15, and ACR. It really is bad ammo and not the fault of those firearms that they wouldn't cycle it.