Three years ago, American shooters welcomed the IWI Tavor SAR-21
semi-auto bullpup onto the market and into their lives. Since then, it
has received considerable
attention, earning both praise and complaint. One thing is for sure though, not since the Steyr AUG SA back in the 1980s has a bullpup made such a splash in the civilian market. Love it or hate it, most likely you've heard of and even fired a Tavor. Here in April of 2016, IWI has released a next-generation Tavor as the X95 (XB16). With that in mind, I felt it was time to do a little article covering the weapon's development, use, and features.
Development of the Tavor:
In 1982, the Israel-Lebanon War illistrated to the Israeli Defense
Forces (IDF) that the modern battlefield was changing and evolving.
Less fighting was occurring on open terrain, and more and more combat was located inside urban and other CQB environments. Also, night time operations were becoming very
common. At that time, the IDF was equipped with a mix of weapons, including the Colt M16A1, FN FAL, IMI Uzi, and IMI Galil (both ARM and SAR variants). Each firearm
had its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the FAL had range and power; but was long,
heavy, and uncontrollable on automatic. Also it was succeptable to
sand and dirt. The M16 was controllable on automatic, accurate, and lightweight; but it too did not hold up to well against the harsh desert. The Uzi performed better
in the desert, was very compact, and was inexpensive; but it lacked range and power. The Galil was its opposite. It had reasonable firepower and range; but was
expensive to manufacture and was quite heavy for an assault rifle.
In 1993, Israeli Military Industries (IMI) began looking into
developing a next generation weapons system for issue throughout the
IDF. It was hoped the new weapon could perform equally well in the countryside, desert, and within a city. It was hoped that it could serve as an infantry rifle and
carbine, as well as submachinegun and marksman rifle. The following year, the Tavor design team was established, being lead by Mr. Zalman Shebs (aka the father of the
Tavor), Doron Erez (the team's chief engineer), Amnon Shiloni, and Erez Boyarski. The team was named after Mount Tabor, the location of an ancient Jewish battlefield. It
was quickly decided that the new system should utilize the increasingly popular bullpup layout. This meant the action and magazine would be located behind the trigger
and grip. This setup allows a weapon to be very compact, while retaining a full length barrel. So small size, with good range and power. Of course nothing comes without
a cost, and bullpups have drawbacks too. Most notably less than stellar feeling triggers and often times some awkwardly placed controls. Also, R&D and construction
are often more expensive and time consuming compared with more conventional designs. Nevertheless, IMI and the Tavor team went forward. The goals were simple. To deliver
a weapon that was smaller, more reliable, more durable, and easier to maintain than the Colt M4 Carbine. It needed to be easier and less expensive to mass produce
than IMI's Galil series too. In 1995, the IDF took note and got involved with the program. From this point, development began in earnest and the pace increased. By
1997, a few soldiers were given early prototypes so they could test and supply feedback on the weapon's ergonomics. Then in 2000, the Israeli NCO School was given
several more prototypes for riggerous field testing and outright abuse. The Tavor team listened and continued to refine its design.
Around the same time, IMI was privatized and became IWI (Israeli
Weapon Industries), but this change did not effect the bullpup program
much. In late 2001, the IDF's Givati brigade was issued several advanced prototypes to test them in real-world situations. Accuracy, reliability, durability, maintenance,
and ergonomics (comfort) during long marches were all evaluated. The bullpups performed
reasonably well, but there was still room for improvement. Most
notably, an issue with fine sand entering the ejection port and jamming the bolt was discovered. So again, the Tavor team tinkered with the design.
Then in September of 2003, after several rounds of product
improvements, the IDF declared its intention to issue the new bullpup
throughout the entire Infantry corps.
It was designated as the TAR-21, short for Tavor Assault Rifle-21st
Century. It was to replace several firearms then in IDF service,
including several variants of the AR15, some older Galils, and even a few Uzis still in the field. In 2006, infantry units began receiving the new TAR-21 and it was
slated to replace most all other rifles in IDF service on or before
2018. The new bullpup had its first major combat debu in late 2008 during Operation Cast Lead by the Givati and Golani Brigades. During this episode of the Gaza War,
soldiers reported the Tavor performed satisfactorally and was definitely more reliable than the Colt M16/M4.
The Tavor is a modern bullpup rifle. It operates using a long stroke
gas piston and heavy bolt carrier. Both features were inspired by the
IMI Galil, and thus the Russian AK47. The gas port is self-regulating and is not adjustable. The bolt rotates and locks with 3 lugs into a barrel extension. The
weapon can be configured for either right or left handed shooters, but this must be done by a unit armorer and does require a different bolt. There is a short side rail
and a longer top one, which features folding backup sights. The body is made of impact resistant polymer and is basically one massive shell. The barrel comes in
several lengths, has a 1 in 7 twist rate, is cold hammer forged, and is chromelined. The IDF issues both 55g M193 and 62g M855 cartridges, and has reported both stabilize
well out of the Tavor's barrel. It seems that the regular infantry uses M193, with sharp
shooters and other specialists going for M855. The Tavor series feeds
from standard M16 GI magazines and is compatable with most other AR15 type mags too.
The charging handle is located towards the front, right above the
handguard. It is tilted upward, not unlike the handle found on the
Steyr AUG bullpup. It does not reciprocate with the bolt carrier. The trigger guard is large and allows for a full hand to fit inside; again very much what is found on
the AUG. The safety-selector is M16/M4 style and can be relocated to the right side for left handed shooters. The magazine release is shaped like a trigger and located
immediately in front of the magazine well. The bolt release is located immediately behind the well and is very large. At the end of the buttstock is a thick rubber
The Tavor comes in 3 main versions. The TAR-21 has an 18" long barrel
and is intended for standard infantry use. It is most commonly issued
with the Meprolight M21 day/night self powered sight. The CTAR-21 is the carbine with a 15" barrel, and it was designed with commando type units in mind. The
STAR-21 is a DMR platform with a 18" barrel, bipod, and is typically issued with a magnified optic such as the 4x Acog.
The Micro Tavor X95:
In 2009, the Tavor story took an interesting turn. In November of that
year, the IDF announced that the TAR-21 would not afterall become its
standard issue frontline rifle. Instead the X95 or Micro Tavor would fulfill that role. The original fullsized TAR-21 would hence forth be relegated to secondline
and reserve units. The decision was taken after years of soldier feedback and combat
analysis. The X95's smaller size, lighter weight, and more modular
construction better suit the needs of the average Israeli soldier. At least that is what High command thinks. The X95 is to fully replace the TAR-21 and remaining older rifles by
2020. Beginning in 2013, reserve units began receiving their fullsized
bullpups, which they will continue to use for at least a decade. Just as an aside, many Colt M16s and M4s do still remain within the IDF too.
The X95 is similar to the original TAR-21, but differs from it in
several important ways. It has a very compact 13" long barrel,
shortened forend, and redesigned stock which is both shorter and slimmer. The polymer the stock is made from is a different chemical mix, which is supposed to be more resistant to
UV light and less likely to crack from sharp impacts. It is noticibly lighter than the original as well. The safety selector is the same, but the mag release has been
moved up forward near the trigger and is located on either side. The charging handle has been made horizontal and moved back to just above the trigger as well. The
bolt release is in the same location, but it is smaller and more out of the way. The X95 has a long top rail and redesigned forend. There is a quadrail setup and
when the rails are not needed, they can be covered up by flush fitting ergonomic panels. Finally, the grip assembly is now modular. The grip and trigger guard unit can
easily be removed and replaced with a different style when required.
The MTAR-21 was initially designed to meet the needs of Special Forces, of which the IDF has a large number. It was also thought it would be ideal for vehicll drivers, helicopter crews, and others needing something like a PDW. In the end, it seems like the variant actually exceeded its original objectives and requirements.
After it was announced that the X95 would become standard issue
throughout all of the IDF, IWI dedicated more time to tweeking the
design. In 2014, a new version was introduced as the X95-L or 'Tavor-2.' Really what this is is a CTAR-21, with all of the updates of the X95. The X95-L has a 15" long
barrel, and 2" longer handguard.
The longer barrel allows for better range, and the handguard gives
more room for attachments (or just to lay a hand horizontally). Also,
this new version has an improved trigger pack with a lighter and crisper feel. The original X95 is a specialty weapon designed for size and close range combat.
The X95-L is more like a general issue weapon capable of fulfilling multiple rolls. It is still several inches shorter than a Colt M4, but manages to have a slightly
longer barrel. Today it is in widespread use and has seen extensive frontline combat.
The TAR-21 series has been purchased by many militaries, police
agencies, and governments outside of Israel as well. It is mostly used
by elite and special forces units, but has been adopted into standard service by some.
Furthermore, it is built under license in Ukraine as the Fort-221,
Fort-222, Fort-223, and Fort-224. The RPC Fort manufactures all versions, and even has some models chambered for the 5.45x39mm M74 (Russian) round. Ukrainian Special Forces commonly issue the Tavor. Georgia fields several Tavor variants, having purchased over 7,000 units from IWI back in 2005-2006. In fact, at one time it had plans to
produce the line domestically until Russia stepped in and forced the program's cancellation. In India, the Ordnance Factories Board has a license to produce the
Tavor line for both domestic use and foreign customers. Known as the
Zittara, it is in use by several special units such as the Para-Commandos, Marines, and many others. Over 6,000 are in service, and in 2011, 12,000 more MTAR-21
X95s were ordered from IWI. Taurus builds the Tavor family for use by the Brazilian military and other South American customers. It is used by the Brazilian Frontier
Brigade. The Columbian Army and Marine special Forces both issue the TAR-21.
The military of Thailand has nearly 58,000 Tavors in service today.
Beginning in 2012, the Navy and Marines of Vietnam issue the bullpup.
It is standard issue for the army of Chad. Portugal, Honduras, the Philippines, Poland, Mexico, Angola, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Turkey, Peru, and Ethiopia have all
purchased small numbers as well.
Civilian Legal Tavors:
First Production Civilian Tavor X95
In 2008, IWI released the first official semi automatic only, civilian
legal version of the Tavor bullpup. It was named the TC-21 and was
designed to meet the requirements of the Canadian market. It comes with a 18.5" barrel and
either a Meprolight M21 sight or long Picatinny top rail. For over
half a decade, the TC-21 made many American shooters AUG green with invy.
This continued until 2013, when IWI established a USA subsidiary,
which soon started offering both select fire Tavors for military/law
enforcement buyers and semi- autos for civilians (and police departments not willing to issue NFA weapons). As a side note, IWI-USA manufactures rifles intended for
purchase by the IDF. This has to do with spending requirements attached to US military aid money. It is quite an interesting story but lets not go into it right now.
The American Tavor was named the SAR-21, and has been offered in
several configurations. The TSB16 has a 16.5" barrel, black stock, and
long top rail. The TSB18 is configured the same, but with a longer 18" barrel, and also it
features a NATO spec. bayonet lug. Both variants can also be ordered
in FDE or OD Green. The TSIDF16 comes in only one style, with 16.5" barrel, black stock, and a Meprolight sight in place of the top rail. Also, it uses a different
rear backup sight and can not be had with a bayonet lug. A year or so later, a 9x19mm version with a 17" barrel joined the lineup. It was offered as either a complete
firearm or as a conversion kit.
Originally, IWI said it would release a Tavor chambered for 5.45x39mm
Russian, however when 7n6 ammunition was banned from import in 2014,
this variant was canceled due to lack of interest.
Most recently in April of 2016, IWI has begun offering a civilian
legal, semi-automatic version of the Micro Tavor X95. It has all of
the latest upgrades from the IDF rifle program, including the lightened trigger pack and quadrail forearm. Since the original X95 has an overall length of just 23", IWI
based its semi on the X95-L, with its OAL of a bit over 25". The barrel was extended to 16.5" and the recoil pad made slightly thicker. These changes give the firearm
an OAL of 26.1", with its birdcage flash hider removed. This is the shortest possible length allowed by the NFA and BATF, without crossing over into SBR Title II
territory that is. The first semi X95s are coming with black furniture, but soon the FDE and OD Green variants will be released. Also, a 9x19mm version should be
appearing later this year. There is talk of a factory SBR with 13" barrel, and even an X95 in .300 Blackout to come. Hopefully, these versions won't meet the fate of the
one in 5.45mm. Sadly, a Canadian legal version has not yet been announced. Americans had to wait for years on a fullsized while Canadians enjoyed theirs, so now
the tables have turned.
Fullsized Tavor Variants:
> TAR-21: standard assault rifle, 18" barrel, rail or fixed M21 optic, bayonet lug,
> CTAR-21: assault carbine, 15" barrel, rail most common,
> STAR-21: Dedicated Marksman Rifle, 18" barrel, rail, magnified optic, folding bipod (Harris),
> TC-21: Canadian civilian version, semi-auto, 18.5" barrel, M21 sight or rail,
> SAR-21: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 16.5" or 18" barrel, M21 sight or rail,
> SAR-9: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 9x19mm NATO, 17" barrel, rail, Colt AR15 9mm magazines,
Micro Tavor Variants:
> MTAR-21 X95: subcompact assault rifle, 13" barrel, shortened forearm, rail,
> X95-L: compact assault rifle, 15" barrel, intermediate length forearm, rail,
> X95-SMG: 9x19mm SMG, 13" barrel, rail, feeds from uzi Pro type magazines,
> X95-R: subcompact assault rifle, 13" barrel, chambered for 5.45x39mm M74 Russian, rail,
> X95-S: 9x19mm SMG, intragle supressor, 11" barrel, rail, Uzi Pro magazines,
> X95 (XB16): USA civilian version, semi-auto, 16.5" barrel, X95-L forearm & trigger pack, rail,
> X95-SBR: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 13" barrel & SBR, short forearm, rail,
> X95-9: USA civilian version, semi-auto, 9x19mm NATO, 17" barrel, rail, Uzi Pro mags,
3.27 kg (7.21 lb)(TAR-21)
3.18 kg (7.0 lb)(CTAR-21)
3.67 kg (8.1 lb)(STAR-21)
2.95 kg (6.5 lb)(MTAR-21)
3.05 kg (6.7 lb)(X95-L)
3.19 kg (7.0 lb)(TC-21)
720 mm (28.3 in)(TAR-21, STAR-21)
640 mm (25.2 in)(CTAR-21, X95-L)
590 mm (23.2 in)(X-95/MTAR-21)
670 mm (26.4 in)(TC-21)
460 mm (18.1 in)(TAR-21, STAR-21)
380 mm (15.0 in)(CTAR-21, X95-L)
330 mm (13.0 in)(X-95/MTAR-21)
419 mm (16.5 in) (SAR-21, XB16)
Rate of fire;
910 m/s (2,986 ft/s)(TAR-21, STAR-21)
890 m/s (2,919.9 ft/s)(CTAR-21)
870 m/s (2,854.3 ft/s)(MTAR-21)
Austrian Steyr AUG vs. Israeli IWI Tavor:
(Taken from a comparison I wrote 2 years ago)
I have been playing with side by side, both a current Steyr Arms
AUG/A3 and IWI-USA Tavor IDF model all week. The long and the short of
it is the two weapons are remarkably similar. Both are about the same size and weight. Both are black with 16" barrels (ok 16.5" for the TAvor and 16.25" for the AUG
but close enough), and of course both fire the standard 5.56mm NATO (and .223 Rem) round. The AUG has a 1-9 twist and the Tavor a 1-7. So the AUG can handle both
55g and 62g stuff well enough, while the Tavor prefers 62g and heavier loads. Both come standard with a long top rail and a removable shorter side rail. Both operate using
a multi-lug rotating bolt and piston driven gas system. Both have huge trigger guards and
one-piece polymer stock shells. So in otherwords, the two are very similar. Even their construction follows a similar path. Since both are foreign designs which are
banned from importation as-is by current federal law, each is assembled from parts imported from their home nation. These parts are built onto a USA made receiver, using a
USA made contracted barrel.
In the case of the AUG, the receiver is made by Vltor but thanks to an
ATF varience is only marked Steyr Arms. The barrel blank is brought in
from Austria and finished out by FN-USA. The other parts are imported from Austria as a kit. The final assembly is done by Steyr Arms in-house in America.
As for the Tavor, it has a similar story. Parts are brought over from
Israel and assembled by IWI-USA, using their own domestically made
barrel and receiver. IWI setup a plant in America not only to sell semi-auto Tavors to civilians, but also to build select fire TAR21s for the IDF. Israel receives a lot of
military aid from the USA, and one of the strings attached is that a large fraction has to
be spent with American companies. So to get around this, IWI just
opened an American factory. So the IDF is using American aid money to purchase American made rifles, which just so happen to be licensed copies of an Israeli design.
Selling to the American civilian public (and some law enforcement agencies too) is just the icing on the cake for them.
AUG/A3 & Tavor SAR Similarities:
> Roughly equal weight
> Similar triggers (though my own AUG/A3 has a slightly better one than the Tavor)
> Removable slotted flash hider
> Ambidextrous magazine release
> Dual rails as standard
> Corrosion resistant surfaces and parts
> Reversable ejection port (combined with appropriate handed bolt)
AUG A3 Benefits:
> Quick change barrel
> Two position adjustable gas system
> Folding charging handle with built in forward assist
> Cleaning kit storage compartment in buttstock
> Absolutely no tools required for complete field stripping/disassembly
Tavor SAR Benefits:
> 1" shorter than AUG with same length barrel
> Reversable controls to make friendly for either left or right hand shooter
> Better placed and easier to use magazine release
> Better placed and ambidextrous bolt release latch
> Brass deflector (reversable)
> Flip-up backup sights
> When disassembled, no small parts to loose (buttplate is henged and all pins are captured)
The Tavor is marketed as a 100% ambidextrous bullpup. This is strictly
speaking not true. While the magazine release and bolt release are
truely ambidextrous; the charging handle, safety, brass deflector, and ejection port must be configured for either right or left handed shooters. In addition,
different bolts are used for each. This means the TAvor isn't really ambidextrous, but rather has reversable controls. The switch does require a bit of time and tools
too. The AUG/A3 is not fully ambidextrous either. The safety and magazine
release are, and the charging handle and bolt release are not. Like
the Tavor, the AUG has a reversable ejection port, which must be used in conjunction with the appropriate bolt. The AUG is slightly more friendly to use left
handed, while in the right hand configuration due to its ambidextrous safety. On the otherhand, there is no way to reverse the charging handle. Also, the AUG does not have
a brass deflector like the Tavor. Both bullpups feature ambidextrous sling swivals too.
The Magazine Issue:
Most people consider the fact that the Tavor takes standard AR15
magazines to be a large plus, and indeed it is for those who already
own an AR15 and like mag commonality. However, objectively speaking, the proprietary Steyr AUG magazine is of excellent quality, feeds reliably, is lightweight, and
is easily checked to determine ammunition count. It is drop-free, despite what some might
think. It is also very easy to drop any AUG into a NATO stock, which
allows for the use of standard AR15 magazines.
Cost & Pricing:
Nearly exactly the same. Both bullpups come to market at just under
$1,700 (adjusted for 2016 pricing) for the flat-top railed model. The
Tavor is offered witha fixed Meprolight M21 sight, where as a 1.5x Steyr optic can be added to any AUG/A3 as it clamps onto the main rail.
So that was my comparison review from awhile back. In 2015, Steyr
released the AUG A3 M1, and in 2016; IWI released the X95 XB16. So how
do these newer versions stack up against both their older ones and each other?
Changes from AUG A3 to AUG A3 M1:
> Ability to switch from different top rails, as well as easily adding a traditional Austrian style optic.
> QD socket instead of fixed front sling swivel
HOnestly, that is about it, not a big difference. The M1 can be
purchased with either: short low rail, long high rail, 1.5x A2 style
optic, or 3.0x A2 style optic. Not
much difference and both are equally as good as the other.
Changes from Tavor SAR to Tavor X95:
> Overall slimmer and more compact body
> One pound lighter
> Quadrail handguard, with removable panels
> Removable trigger guard
> Additional QD swivel spot for a total of 3 per side
> Relocated mag release
> Relocated charging handle
> Lower profile bolt release
> Lighter and crisper trigger
The X95 is a clear upgrade and improvement on the original SAR. In my
opinion, it is in every way a better firearm.
AUG A3 M1 vs. Tavor X95:
Alright so now, how do the two latest models compare to each other?
Equal> Both are priced right in the $1,750 range for factory new.
Equal> Trigger - Difficult to call. X95 is lighter, AUG has a somewhat
crisper feel, with a more noticible reset.
X95> Rail Options - X95 has both more rail space, as well as very well
done covers, so is probably better.
X95> Weight - X95 is at least a pound lighter than AUG.
X95> Length - very close due to the 26" minimum, but X95 is a hair shorter.
X95> Reliability - Both very reliable, however my AUG requires I use
the adverse setting to run lighter loads and some steel cased. X95
does not and seems to eat it all without issue.
AUG> Removable Barrel - Both barrels come out, but hands down the AUG
does so faster and more easily. Also steyr offers 16", 18", 20", and
X95> Magazine release - Hands down, the X95 has a superior design and
is the best bullpup release I've used so far.
Equal> Bolt release - Both are good and useful but work differently.
AUG> Safety - Both well done, but personally I prefer the AUG style.
Plus it is truely ambidextrous and doesn't require reversing.
X95> Charging handle - I prefer the X95, finding it easier to use and
less in the way of optics.
AUG> Takedown/Disassembly - While the X95 comes apart easily, the AUG
is even better. Both good but AUG allows faster and more access to its
interior. That said, at least the X95 has no small/loose parts.
X95> BUIS - Since the AUG has none, the X95 wins by default.
AUG> Recoil and muzzle climb - Due to its greater weight and gas
system style, the AUG has a bit less felt recoil.
Equal> Magazines - Personal choice, X95 takes nearly all AR15/M16; but
AUG takes the very excellent Steyr magazines which are extremely
reliable and lightweight.
X95> Muzzle Threading - X95 has 1/2x28, AUG has 13x1mm, so most all
will prefer the X95.
AUG> Gas valve - X95 is non-adjustable, AUG is adjustable. Also AUG's
is easier to get to for cleaning.
X95> Foregrip - AUG has folding VFG only, X95 has rail with cover, so
more options, including VFG if desired.
AUG> Storage - AUG has compartment in the stock for cleaning kit, X95
basically has no storage for parts/batteries/cleaning kit.
So I have to say, tallying up everything, the X95 appears to be a bit
ahead of the good old Steyr AUG. However, that doesn't account for the
AUG being a true classic and the most combat tested bullpup in the world. The X95 is a very recent development, so is loaded with modern features; but the AUG has
stuck around for a long time and prooven itself over and over again.
Which would I pick?
Both! This is America and I am allowed to love both!