The Austrian Steyr AUG was really the world's first successfull military bullpup rifle. Many bullpup prototypes came before, but very few ever even made it out of the design phase. The French FAMAS was another early bullpup; however, the AUG beat it to release by less than a year. The AUG was also the first military bullpup to be imported into the USA as a civilian legal firearm. So therefore, for most Americans, it was the first of its type they ever handled and/or fired. Today the Steyr AUG is back as a legal semi-auto.
Lets just take a moment to look back at this very interesting weapons system, which spawned an entirely new class of standard issue military smallarms, especially in Europe.
Development & Service History:
The AUG was a rather radical new design for its time, so not surprisingly, it had a protracted development and testing process. In 1958, the Austrian Bundesheer (Federal Army) adopted a slightly modified version of the FN FAL battle rifle, specifically one based on the West German G1. It was designated as the Sturmgewehr.58 or just STG.58 (for Assault/Storm Rifle Model of 1958). It fired the standard 7.62mm NATO cartridge, which had range and power, but was also rather uncontrollable in fully automatic fire and ammo was heavy to carry.
The STG.58 served well in Austria, but in the late 1960s, the Bundesheer expressed an interest in adopting a lighter, more compact rifle; firing the then new .223 small caliber bullet. Some Austrian officers were impressed with Colt's M16 performance as used in the Vietnam War by America. A program was started to develop something new, to fire the small round.
Click for Pic
From around 1968 through 1974, a design team lead by Horst Wesp, Karl Wagner, and Karl Möser was hard at work at Steyr Mannlicher. The program was supervised by Colonel Walter Stoll, who was instrumental over a decade earlier, with the adoption of the STG.58.
The earliest completed drawings and prototypes of what would become the AUG, first appeared in 1971, with a nearly refined prototype released in 1974. The Bullpup layout was chosen to allow for a very compact weapon, which retained a full length rifle barrel. Lightweight alloyes and polymers were used in its construction to both save on weight and prevent corrosion in wet climates. The Austrian military wanted a weapon with quick change barrels, so it could easily be customized to fit whatever role it might be required to fulfill. The early prototypes featured traditional iron sights, but later a 1.5x magnified optic would be included, which greatly enhanced the weapon's flexibility.
In 1975-1976, Steyr's new bullpup rifle was tested against other military rifles of the day, including Steyr's own STG.58, Colt's M16A1, FN's CAL, and even for some reason; the Czechoslovakian SA Vz.58.
Steyr's prototype Bullpup passed the Austrian trials, and it was shown to be at least as reliable as the other entries. It was also more ergonomic and easy to handle, lighter, more compact, and more controllable in automatic fire. After a few minor product improvements, the Armee-Universal-Gewehr was officially adopted by the Bundesheer as the STG.77. It began to be issued in large numbers as early as 1979. It was well received in Austria and is still the standard issue rifle in that nation today.
Click for Pic
Austria's was not the only military to adopt the AUG. Those of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Saudi Arabia all took it as their standard issue rifle. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also selected it as its standard patrol carbine. As many as 35 nations officially use the Steyr AUG in one capacity or another. Furthermore, it has influenced an entire new generation of bullpups, such as the FN F2000 and IMI Tavor.
Features of the AUG:
The AUG is a highly modular weapons platform, especially considering when it was developed. It field strips in seconds, without tools, into 6 main components: receiver casting with optic/rail, barrel with gas system, one piece stock, trigger group pack, bolt group with guide rods, and the magazine.
Click for Pic
The barrel group is quick removable and in fact requires only one hand to pull out. From the beginning, Steyr has offered several barrel profiles for the AUG, including a standard length 20.0" medium heavy 'rifle,' a carbine length 16.0" for police and other uses, a 13.8" "Submachinegun" unit, and a 24.4" heavy barrel intended to transform the weapon into a light machinegun. The 20", 24", and 16" barrels all feature a folding vertical grip. The Short SMG barrel however, has a fixed vertical grip, for obvious safety reasons. The 24" barrel also features a folding light bipod on the end. All but the 24" barrel are fitted with what is called a tulip flash hider, which can launch grenades and mounta blank fire adapter. The LMG barrel on the other hand has a larger compensator type device, which can also mount a blank fire adapter. All barrels are cold hammer forged and have chrome plated chambers, bores, and gas systems. The standard issue AUG in Austria has a 1in9 twist rate. Steyr feels this compromise is the best for firing both the NATO standard M855 and the older M193 projectiles. The AUG is offered with a 1in7 twist rate for overseas customers though. The Austrian military does not use bayonets, so its rifles do not have lugs for them. Steyr will install a standard NATO lug for the American M7 bayonet if requested to do so.
Click for Pic
The AUG uses a short-stroke gas piston operating system. The gas regulator has 3 positions: normal, adverse, and grenade (fully restricted). The piston itself is spring loaded to allow barrel changes to be faster and easier.
The bolt rotates as on an M16, and has a total of 8 lugs. It has dual guide rods. The one on the left is pushed by the charging handle and the one on the right is tapped by the gas piston.
Military versions of the AUG are of course, select fire with both single shot and fully automatic modes. Unlike most other rifles though, the AUG lacks a selector switch. Instead, the trigger itself is what determines how the weapon fires. If pulled part way to the first setting, the rifle fires a single shot. If pulled all the way back, it will go into automatic mode. Some users such as Ireland and Australia had an Automatic Lock Out (ALO) included on their models. This is a small toggle under the trigger which does not allow it to be pressed into the automatic setting, unless first disengaged.
The original production AUG came standard with a 1.5x magnified optic, manufactured by Swarovski of Austria. It was part of the receiver casting and non-removable. It was adjustable for elevation and windage for zeroing, but had a fixed range at 300 meters. It featured the famous "donut of death" in which a standard sized man would just fill it if at 300 meters. Later versions could be purchased with either cross hairs or a dot in the center of the ring. The optic housing itself had backup iron sights on its top, so if the scope were damaged, the operator would retain basic sighting abilities. It was intended that the optic could double as a carry handle, though it is doubtful that this feature was taken advantage of frequently. The later A2 version featured a removable housing, and the current production a3 comes standard with a rail rather than a sight. However, Steyr still does offer a 1.5x optic, which can bolt directly onto the A3's rail. This optic has a secondary rail on its top, for the mounting of lasers, lights, or backup iron sights. Early scopes had removable lense covers and current production models have fixed, flip-up springloaded covers. The M1 variant of the A3 can now be had with an A2 style optic which bolts directly to the receiver. It comes in both 1.5x and 3.0x powers too.
The AUG's stock is made from two shell halves, molded together to form a single unit. It comes standard in OD Green or Black, and Steyr will also produce it in Tan and white for special contracts. It is made nearly entirely of durable polymers and has a compartment in the buttstock to store a cleaning kit, consisting of a pull-through rope, two bore brushes, cleaning jag, oil bottle, and bore patches. The buttplate is made of synthetic rubberand can be easily removed to access both the trigger pack and cleaning kit. Two sling swivels which can rotate 360 degrees are located on the stock.
The AUG is quite ambidextrous with a charging handle located on the top-left side of the receiver and a cross-bolt type safety toggle. With the early A1 versions, there was a button located on the charging handle which could be used as a forward assist. With newer versions, the charging handle folds inwards and then can be used as an assist. The mag catch is located behind the magwell on the bottum of the stock. The stock has an ejection port on either side, so with the right bolt, the weapon can eject from the right or the left.
Click for Pic
Steyr developed translucent polymer waffle pattern mags for the AUG. Everything is polymer, except for the spring. These mags have prooven very tough and dependable over the years. Standard capacities are 30 and 42 rounds. All AUGs have an automatic last-round bolt hold open, however only the latest A3 generation also has an external bolt release button.
All in all, the AUG was a very innovative weapon for the late 1970s, and even still today it looks very modern. To me, one of its best features is its quick change barrels. This gives it considerable flexibility.
Click for Pic
The basic design has changed very little since its introduction, which is a testiment to the foresight of its developers. Nevertheless, several small but important upgrades have appeared over the years and Steyr offers the AUG in many configurations to best meet the needs of the customer.
The original, base AUG, as adopted by Austria as the STG.77, had a 20.0" long barrel, fixed 1.5x optic, Green furniture, and squarish charging handle with forward assist button. The early flash hider had 3 slots and was open on the end. Around 1982, Steyr went to a closed end pattern, for added strength and so the hider would not catch on vegetation. Also in the 1980s, a roller was added to the top-back of the bolt carrier, to make its travel smoother and help the weapon perform better when dirty. This addition is really mostly noticeable in full-automatic fire.
The AUG Para came next in 1988, and was essentially a submachinegun version firing the standard 9mm NATO round. It had a 16.5" barrel and used simple blowback operation, rather than a gas piston system. It fed from the same 32 round magazines as Steyr's then current submachine pistol. A conversion kit was offered to transform any AUG A1 into a Para, with a new barrel assembly, bolt, and magwell insert.
Click for Pic
In 1997, Steyr officially introduced the AUG A2, which featured a removable optic, that could easily be replaced with a standard receiver rail. This also meant that damaged scopes could more easily be repaired or replaced. The A2 came with a redesigned charging handle, which had a more triangular shape and could be folded inward so as to not get in the way. The firing pin was redesigned to make it more durable and reliable.
Click for Pic
Most recently, the AUG A3 was announced in 2004. This current version of the AUG comes standard with a long top rail and anywhere from 1 to 3 shorter additional rails. A new flash hider has been designed for the A3. It has a closed end and is cut with 5 slots, rather than 3 as on earlier models. It also has an external bolt release lever on the left side; a feature strangely absent on the original models. It is most often found with the shorter 16.0" carbine length barrel and black stock, though Steyr still offers the full line of options.
The AUG NATO is an A3 fitted with a stock capable of accepting and feeding from standard M16/AR15 magazines. The trade off is that it lacks the left side ejection port and external bolt release. Most NATO stocks are black, however Steyr does do small production runs in green from time to time.
Steyr has also released the A3 Para SF, which is a 9mm (sixth generation) updated with the A3's features. It has a shortened 12.5" barrel too.
The Light Support Weapon (LSW) is a family of AUG variants based around the 24" long barrel. The AUG BAR is the base model, with the longer heavier barrel, bipod, and standard 1.5x optic. The AUG LMG uses the same 24" barrel assembly and fires from an open bolt, to allow the weapon to better bleed off heat. It is also fitted with an enhanced 3x optic. Both the BAR and LMG have also been built with a railed receiver, rather than any specific optical device. When assembled with this receiver, the BAR is often called the AUG DMR.
Click for Pic
There is a whole other family of AUG variants manufactured 'Down Under' by Australian Defense Industries (Lithgow). The original Austeyr was adopted as Australia's standard issue infantry weapon under the designation of F88, in 1989. The F88 was a slightly modified AUG A1, with the addition of a bayonet lug and the ALo feature. It has been manufactured standard with a 1in7 twist rate barrel, to fire the M855 round.
The F88C is the carbine version of the Austeyr and has a 16.0" barrel assembly. It has been mostly issued as a PDW type weapon or to special forces. The F88S-A1 is Lithgow's railed version, similar to Steyr's AUG A3. The F88S-A1C is the carbine version.
The F88S-A2 is the most recent Austeyr. It has an improved gas system for better reliability in harsh environments, an extended ejection port, and additional side rail space. The top rail has been lengthened as well. Most of these improvements were implemented using feedback from Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan and other overseas postings.
Semi-Auto AUG Types In The USA:
The AUG has been around for civilian purchase in the USA in one form or another for over 30 years now. More than once it has disappeared from the market, and everytime customer demand has found away to bring it back. These versions are often very similar to their military counter parts, but limited to semi-auto fire only.
Over in Austria, the AUG P was released as a semi-auto carbine for police use, and the AUG Z as well. A slightly different version was required to pass ATF scrutiny, which became the AUG SA. This model first appeared on the US commercial market around 1982, and was essentially an AUG A1. It had a 20.0" barrel, 1.5 fixed optic, and OD Green furniture. Late import versions came with the closed end tulip flash hider and roller bolt. A few "police carbines" were imported in the late 1980s, with 16.0" barrels and black furniture. Some 24.4" BAR models also made it in and a few 9mm Paras also squeaked over right before the ban. There was a 'Special Receiver' AUG SA, which had a railed upper, rather than the standard 1.5x optic.
Click for Pic
Click for Pic
Click for Pic
(My AUG SA Standard Rifle)
Then in 1989, the Steyr AUG SA was banned by name from further import by the Bush Assault Weapons Import Ban. Exact numbers of how many AUGs were imported during the 1980s are difficult to find, but serial ranges seem to indicate between 5,000 and 6,000 made it in. During the early 1990s, no new AUGs were allowed and prices on original prebans began to rise.
In 1997, the USR or Universal Sporting Rifle was briefly imported. It was an AUG A2 made compliant with the 1989 Ban by the use of a Thumbhole stock and the deletion of the flash hider from the barrel. The barrel itself was 20" long and had a heavier target profile. Actually, it was manufactured for Steyr by ADI of Australia. The USR lacked the quick change barrel feature, so original military assemblies could not easily be installed. However, it did still feed from high capacity magazines, which is what ultimately doomed it. The USR was quickly added to the list of banned rifles via Executive Order, signed by President Clinton. Only about 3,000 USRs made it into the country. So yet again, American shooters were denied new AUG type rifles.
For a decade not much happened, except when the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban sunset in 2004, Steyr began importing high capacity mags into the USA. Then in 2007, two American companies announced plans to market domestically manufactured AUG clones. This approach would avoid the annoying and pesky 1989 ban altogether. MSAR would come out with the STG556, and TPD would produce the AXR. Both were rather high quality rifles, and both were destined to ultimate failure.
MSAR was a division of Microtech Knives, and the STG556 was its very first firearm. It was an AUG A2 clone, complete with the removable 1.5x optic and triangular charging handle. Initially MSAR added both an AR15 forward assist and external bolt release lever. The FA would disappear but the bolt release prooved to be a welcome feature. The STG556 had all of the same basic features as the AUG, but was dimentionally different, so most Steyr parts would not work with it, including magazines (though MSAR mags would work in an original AUG). It even had the quick change barrel feature and was offered in 14", 16", 18", 20", and 24" lengths. Most barrels came with a copy of the Austrian tulip flash hider, though with 5 slots rather than 3. It could be purchased with either a Swarovski clone scope or as a railed model. Later on, the E4 variant was released which could feed from standard M16/AR15 magazines.
Roughly 15,000 STG556 rifles were produced before MSAR filed for bankruptsy in 2011. Unfortunately, the company has never managed to get back on its feet. TPD with its AXR was even less successfull than MSAR. Unvailed the same year as the STG556, the AXR was based on the AUG but was not as close of a copy. It was offered as a railed model only and fed from M16/AR15 magazines exclusively. Several other smaller changes were also made to the design, including different flash hiders and grips. Not very many AXRs were produced before the line was officially discontinued in 2010. We're talking only a few hundred; a thousand at most.
A short time after TPD and MSAR went to market with their AUG clones, Steyr again decided to take a chance on the American market. in 2008, the new AUG A3 SA US was announced, with manufacturing beginning late in the year. 3,000 serial matching parts kits were sent from Austria; less receiver and barrel. Sabre Defense, a British owned company with a factory in the USA, was contracted with to build the receivers and barrels for the A3 SA. Sabre made receivers were made with rails similar to those Steyr was doing for the A3 in Europe. Its barrels were button rifled; not cold hammer forged and capped with a current generation A3 flash hider. Sabre was known for putting out high quality barrels and the ones it did for the AUG were no exception. Final assembly was also performed by Sabre as at that time, Steyr did not have a manufacturing license in the USA. The rifles however, were marketed under the Steyr Arms brand, as they were built under contract for that company, using many Austrian parts.
2010, was just a bad year for anything looking like an AUG in the USA. Like the STG556 and AXR, production of the Sabre AUG A3 SA came to an abrupt hault. In October, Sabre was forced to close down, after a big ATF raid and scandle, relating to some fine print on some of the company's military contracts. After less than two years, the A3 SA was already out of production. About 1,860 of the imported Austrian kits had been built up into complete rifles, before the demise of Sabre. The rest were seized by the government.
2011, continued to be a very dark time for American AUG fans, as all 3 makers had fallen on hard times. In May of 2012, there was a tiny ray of hope when the ATF sold Steyr Arms 33 of the seized AUG A3 kits. Those kits were built up into complete working rifles, using leftover Sabre parts. They were sold as limited editions, complete with certificates of authenticity. Then in August, some good news again finally; the AUG A3 SA would go back into production once more.
This new generation of rifles would be assembled by Steyr Arms inhouse, rather than relying on a contractor. By this time, Steyr had obtained a manufacturing license from the American government, so it could now legally rollmark its own firearms. Two new business partners were announced. Vltor would machine receivers for Steyr, while FN would deliver barrels created using the cold hammer forging process. First though, the initial 650 or so of the new A3 SAs would be built up using leftover Sabre barrels and receivers. Then the next 250 would have receiver castings made by Sabre, but finished out by Vltor. These later guns could have either type of barrel.
After these first batches were sold off around the end of 2012, all A3 SAs would have Vltor receivers and FN barrels. Earlier production FN barrels used the original A1 style closed end, 3 slot tulip flash hider, but recently ones with the modern A3 5 slot hider have started to appear. The Steyr Arms AUG A3 SA, built on a Vltor receiver, is in production today, with over 6,000 built thus far. It is a good solid rifle, every bit the equal of the original AUG SA in my opinion. However, given the AUG's unfortunate history in the USA, I do have to wonder how long it will remain so? I hope a long time since the only other quality bullpups on the civilian market today are the IWI Tavor and FN FS2000. Still, its production seems a delicate thing; relying on 3 independent manufacturers to come together to make it happen. Here's hoping that history does not repeat itself again and the AUG A3 SA US has a long run.
Click for Pic
Click for Pic
(My AUG A3 SA with the current generation Steyr 1.5x optic)
At ShotShow this year (2015), Steyr showed off a new variant of the AUG designated as the AUG A3 M1. The M1 is the same as the original A3, except for two changes. First it has a QD sling swivel socket in the front and comes with a quality swivel. This makes disassembly easier and perhaps storage. More importantly, Steyr has returned to what is basically an A2 style receiver setup. The M1 can be had from the factory with either a 1.5x optic, 3.0 optic, 11 slot short/low rail, or 16 slot long/high rail. Switching between the options can be done by the owner too by just removing three bolts and a securing pin.
Click for Pic
Click for Pic
(An AUG A3 M1 with the long/high rail and limited white furniture set)
3.6 kg (7.9 lb) (Standard)
3.3 kg (7.3 lb) (Carbine)
3.2 kg (7.1 lb) (Subcarbine)
3.9 kg (8.6 lb) (HBAR)
3.3 kg (7.3 lb) (Para)
790 mm (31.1 in) (Standard)
690 mm (27.2 in) (Carbine)
630 mm (24.8 in) (Subcarbine)
900 mm (35.4 in) (HBAR)
665 mm (26.2 in) (Para)
508 mm (20.0 in) (Standard)
407 mm (16.0 in) (Carbine)
350 mm (13.8 in) (Subcarbine)
621 mm (24.4 in) (HBAR)
420 mm (16.5 in) (Para)
My Thoughts On The AUG:
For whatever reason, of the various bullpup designs, its the Steyr AUG that does it for me. To date, i've owned 2 original AUGs and 2 MSAR STG556 clones. I like both my A1 and A3. The A1 is longer but actually lighter due to not having rails and a slimmer optic housing. It is the classic Austrian military rifle clad in Green and with that tall scope ontop. The A3 on the otherhand just looks like it means business, with its short/blunt front end, rails, and all black appearance. It of course has the various product improvements, such as the new style firing pin, roller bolt, closed end flash hider, and triangle charging handle. Also, its factory detachable optic is one damn solid piece of hardware and i can't see it breaking during normal use ever. Both of course feed from the same mags so thats nice.
My prior experience with MSAR's STG556 was mixed. My first Gen II wasn't so hot. It really liked to jam and the forward assist just got in the way and did nothing for me. I sold it and never looked back. At least not until RATWorks put the Gen IVs on sale in early 2010 and i gave the design another go. This time my rifle ran much better and resembled more closely an original AUG. Still, it wasn't an AUG and when the Sabres came to my attention, i was sorely tempted to sell it and get one of those instead. Actually, i am glad i didn't. Instead, i sold the MSAR to buy a Valmet M76, but that is another story. Not much to say on my preban AUG SA. Its a 100% Austrian weapon. It runs perfectly and is just a modern classic. Its funny how even though the AUG was designed 40 years ago, it still today looks very modern and current.
As for the new AUG A3 SA with FN barrel and Vltor receiver? I am more impressed than i thought I would be. FN did a great job with the barrel and no surprise there. What did surprise me was that the Vltor receiver looks as nice as the one on my preban A1. The other parts are Austrian made, so of top quality. The receiver is rollmarked Steyr Arms, Trusville AL....etc. No "built under license by" or "made for steyr by..." subtext. Just neat and though this little carbine is a definite shooter, i can actually see it being collectable in 20 years. They really did pull out all the stops to make it right.
So how do I think the MSARs stacked up to original AUGs? Honestly, there just is no substitute for an original. MSAR's quality was really hit or miss. They would make a perfectly great rifle one day, then produce a lemon the next. This is a common problem with small factories, where a lot of things are either done by hand or on a singular basis. They just weren't terribly consistant. I have also noticed that the moving parts are smoother and cleaner on my Steyr AUG A3 SA.
Where most people claimed the MSAR had victory over the AUG was with pricing. They remember later pricing when you could get an STG556 for under $1,100, and Steyr AUG A3s were nearly $2,000. However, that period was a bit misleading. When the MSAR came out, it was $2,100 and even after a few months, it was still priced at $1,700. Really it wasn't until MSAR was moving and then hit financial troubles, that they dropped their prices so far down. I think if they had remained in production, we would have seen STG556 prices at least in the $1,300-$1,500 range. The E4 variant itself never got so cheap, being at least $1,400+. The AUG A3 on the otherhand, has come down in pricing since the release of the IWI Tavor. Now one can be had for $1,800 or less. Not cheap, but still nearly half of what preban AUG SAs were going for just a few years ago, and its for a factory new weapon with warranty. My point is just this; the price difference wasn't great enough to warrant going with an MSAR clone, over an original Steyr Arms AUG A3. Just my $0.02 of course.
Well, thats really all I have for now. Just thought I'd share my impressions and thoughts on the Steyr AUG, along with a little bit of its history and specifications.