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The Steyr AUG: Still Futuristic After 44 Years

By: Warren Gray

Copyright © 2021

“Oh, man, this gun is fun to shoot! It points so quickly, getting on target is lightning-fast. There is nothing to it...as fast as snapping your fingers. In defensive situations…The Steyr AUG is an outstanding, little bullpup, and an excellent rifle overall.” — Travis Pike, SOFREP, Feb. 24, 2018

The revolutionary, Steyr AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr, in German, or “Army Universal Rifle,” in English) assault rifle, produced at Sankt Peter in der Au, Austria, was literally decades ahead of its time when it was designed in 1977, and first entered military service with the Austrian Army in 1978 as the StG 77 (Sturmgewehr 77, meaning “Storm Rifle 1977,” or “Assault Rifle 1977.”) Now, 44 long years after its creation, this unusual, futuristic weapon still resembles something that an Imperial Storm Trooper from the “Star Wars” movie series (also coincidentally released in 1977) should be carrying, especially the white-stocked, snow-camo version.

The AUG is a selective-fire, bullpup-configured, modular weapon system with a highly-reliable, short-stroke, gas-piston action, firing from a closed bolt, and initially chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, with a 1:9-inch rifling twist to stabilize most bullet weights in that caliber, although some military export customers have opted for a faster, 1:7-inch twist, optimized for the SS109 NATO round.

The eye-catching, bullpup stock is made of fiberglas-reinforced polyamide 66, with a folding, vertical grip at the forend, and it can be configured by the operator for either left-handed or right-handed use by simply changing to a left-hand or right-hand (seven-lug, rotating) bolt, and moving a blanking plate to cover the unused, ejection port. It’s available in black, green, mud-brown, or white, although many are later camouflaged-painted in Austrian service.

This bullpup configuration means that the entire, full-sized rifle is only 31.1 inches long, or 27.2 inches for the carbine variant. By comparison, the U.S. Army’s Colt M4A1 carbine with short, 14.5-inch barrel is 33 inches long with the stock extended into firing position. In 1978, the Steyr AUG replaced the Austrian StG 58 (FN FAL) rifle, which was 43 inches long.

The AUG’s versatile modularity allows quick-detachable, cold-hammer-forged barrels to be used: 20 inches in the standard length, 16 inches for the carbine version, 13.8 inches for the commando version, or 24.4 inches for the light-machine-gun variant. The AUG’s firing mechanism may also be changed at will, to include semi-auto and full-auto (standard military) capability, semi-auto-only (police and civilians) firing, semi-auto and three-round burst (like the basic, U.S. Air Force, M4 carbine), or any other combination that may be desired, including an open-bolt, machine-gun capability. And the receiver housing is produced from steel-reinforced, aluminum extrusion, with a baked-enamel coating.

Firing the AUG is accomplished by pulling the Spz-kr-style (a crude, Wimmersperg assault rifle of Nazi Germany, 1944-’45) progressive trigger halfway back for semi-automatic fire, or all the way back for full-auto bursts, and the weapon is fed by standard, translucent, 30-round magazines, or optional, 42-round magazines designed for the light-machine-gun model, but available with all variants. Steyr AUG factory models include the AUG A1, an improved version introduced in 1982, with a built-in, Swarovski Optik 1.5X optical sight in the carrying handle, with backup, iron sights cast into the aluminum housing atop the scope. The AUG A2 was introduced in 1997, featuring a Picatinny rail and a detachable scope, while the later AUG A3, from 2004 onward, has an external bolt release. A standard, optical sight used on later models is the very small, Zeiss Z-Point Sauer 303 illuminated, red-dot version.

The latest Steyr model, since 2007, is the AUG A3 SF (Special Forces), with a 16-inch barrel, and standard, 1.5Xor 3X telescopic sight, designated the StG 77 A2 in Austrian military service. Each military rifle is supplied from the factory with four 30-round magazines, a spare bolt for left-handed shooters, a cleaning kit (which fits inside the stock in a cavity under the buttplate), muzzle cap for rainy days, a sling, and either a German KCB-77 M1 bayonet or American M7 bayonet. A quick-detachable, factory suppressor is available, and is frequently used by Austrian Special Forces.

There is also an AUG HBAR (Heavy-Barrel, Automatic Rifle) with a 24.4-inch barrel, 4X scope, and 42-round magazine, for use as a light machine gun, and the AUG Para, a 9x19mm submachine-gun version with 16.5-inch barrel, utilizing the 25-round magazines from the Steyr MPi 69 and TMP submachine guns. The newer, AUG Para XS features a 12.8-inch barrel, Picatinny rails, and 9mm magazines, and the AUG 40 is a submachine gun produced in .40 S&W-caliber.

Civilian variants include the AUG P (“P” for “Police”) semi-automatic model with 16-inch barrel, primarily for the U.S. market, the very-similar AUG Z for the European market, with numerus subvariants, the AUG A3 SA USA and AUG A3 SA NATO with 16-inch barrels since 2009, and the AUG A3 M1 since 2014, with detachable, optical sight, manufactured in the USA.

The Steyr AUG and its military variants have been adopted as the standard, service rifles of Austria (as the Stg 77), Australia (now called the EF88 Austeyr), Ireland (AUG Mod. 14), Luxembourg, New Zealand (until 2019), and Tunisia, and it has been used by other military units in Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Croatia, Djibouti, Ecuador, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Italy (Special Forces), Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan (Special Forces), Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland (Grom [“Thunder’] Special Forces), Saudi Arabia, Serbia (Special Forces), Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey (Maroon Berets Special Forces), Ukraine (Special Forces), United Kingdom (Falkland Islands Defence Force), and Uruguay.

It’s also serving with police forces in many of these same countries, plus Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Venezuela, and formerly by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency (recently replaced by the Colt M4 carbine.)

The Steyr AUG has seen combat action in the First Gulf War of 1991, the Somali Civil War of 1993, the Balkan Wars of 1994 to 2001, the 1999 and 2006 East Timorese crises, the War in Afghanistan since 2001, the Iraq War since 2003, the Syrian Civil War since 2014, the Yemeni Civil War since 2015, and selected other crisis actions worldwide.

It’s worthwhile to briefly describe two of the very first, special operations units to adopt the new Steyr AUG in 1978, Austria’s Jagdkommando(“Hunting Command”) military force, and the Einsatzkommando Kobra (“Special Operations Command Cobra,” or “EKO Cobra”) police counterterrorist unit of the Ministry of the Interior, both having their headquarters at Wiener Neustadt in eastern Austria, 26 miles south of Wien (Vienna), and only 14 miles from the Hungarian (formerly a communist nation, until 1991) border.

The Jagdkommando, nicknamed JaKdo, in German, founded in 1962 by Austrian graduates of the U.S. Army Ranger School, is the Austrian Armed Forces’ elite, special operations group, tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, direct action, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, and hostage rescue, similar in roles to the U.S. Special Forces and U.S. Army’s Delta Force.

Only 20 to 25 percent of all candidates pass the arduous, six-month selection process, and only about 10 to 15 percent of all applicants make it through the entire, training process, earning their prized, olive-green (they call it “mud-green”) beret. Their year-long, training courses include: Basic Demolitions, Parachuting, Amphibious Insertion/Extraction, Field Survival, Close-Quarters Battle, Combat Diver, Field Training Exercise, and Combat Survival (usually in the Alps near Salzburg.) Their primary, parachute-training aircraft are the Austrian Air Force’s PC-6/B2-H4 Turbo Porter light turboprops based at Wiener Neustadt.

Once selected as a Jagdkommando soldier (their motto is “Never retreat”), they’ll begin specialized training in high-speed driving, advanced weapon systems, alpine parachuting, mountaineering, winter warfare, and ski training. This is followed by additional training in special operations forces close-quarter battle, hostage rescue, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, and direct action.

Jagdkommando teams consist of six operators: the team leader, team sergeant, weapons sergeant/sniper, engineer sergeant, medical sergeant, and communications/radio sergeant, with an overall total of about 400 men, and they currently wear MultiCam, camouflaged, field uniforms. Their primary weapons include the Steyr AUG A3 SF (although they call it the AUG A2 Kommando), the HK416 carbine in 5.56mm, HK417 rifle and carbine in 7.62mm NATO, Glock-17, -18 (selective-fire, machine pistol), -21 (.45 ACP) and -26 service handguns, usually with flat dark earth frames, and equally-futuristic, FN P90 personal-defense weapon in 5.7mm. Their unit sniper rifles include the Steyr SSG 69 in 7.62mm, SSG 04 in 7.62mm or .300 Win. Mag., SSG 08, and SSG 08 M1 in .338 Lapua Magnum, plus the Barrett M82A1 and M95 in .50-caliber BMG.

Jagdkommando special operations troops have served in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Chad, Mali (alongside French Special Forces), and Syria, among other foreign deployments. Their current commander, since April 2020, is Colonel Philipp Ségur-Cabanac, age 45, the son of a lieutenant general.

EKO Cobra, the Austrian police counterterrorist (CT) unit, was ironically named by the local media for the original, U.S. “Mission: Impossible” TV series (1966 to 1973), which was called “Kobra, übernehmen Sie” in Austria and Germany (“Cobra, Take Over.”) It’s original name, until 2002, was Gendarmerieeinsatzkommando, the “Police Special Operations Command,” or GEK.) Like Germany’s famous, police CT unit, GSG 9, EKO Cobra, founded in 1978 as GEK, was primarily a national response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre of Israeli athletes by Islamic terrorists. The special unit is tasked with law enforcement, counterterrorism, and hostage rescue.

Any member of the Federal Police many apply for EKO Cobra, and there’s an initial battery of physical, psychological, and medical testing, followed by six months of specialized training for those who make the grade. They will learn advanced marksmanship skills, hand-to-hand combat, high-speed driving techniques, rappelling, scuba diving, foreign languages, parachuting, explosives, and some will have sniper training. There are normally 450 members, dispersed among eight different locations within Austria, with four teams in each location, so they may be deployed literally anywhere in the nation within just 70 minutes, making them one of the most rapidly-responding, special operations units in the world.

EKO Cobra police commandos normally wear a black, tactical uniform, with a maroon beret to denote their elite, paratrooper status, but they’ve also been seen in green assault uniforms, various camouflage patterns, and most-recently, wearing the popular, new, MultiCam pattern favored by special operations units worldwide. Their weapons include the Steyr AUG A3 SF assault carbine, Glock-17, -18 (machine pistol, specifically designed for EKO Cobra in 1986), and -19, and the Manurhin (French) MR73 revolver in .357 Magnum. Their submachine guns include the H&K MP5A3, H&K MP7A1, Steyr TMP, and B&T (Swiss) APC9, with sniper rifles including the Steyr SSG 69 (some suppressed) in 7.62mm NATO, and the French PGM Hécate II in .50 BMG.

On April 15, 2017, Cody Carmichael of Gazette Reviewranked “The Top 10 Special Forces Units in the World,” with Austria’s EKO Cobra rated in ninth place. It’s a very rare honor, indeed, to be ranked just below America’s SEAL Team Six (#1) and Delta Force (#3), Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS, #2), France’s GIGN (#6), Germany’s GSG 9 (#5), Iran’s Qods Force (#8), Israel’s Sayeret Matkal (#4), and Russia’s FSB Spetsgruppa Alfa (#7), when there are fully 195 recognized countries in the world.

EKO Cobra also has the unique distinction of being the world’s only CT unit to terminate a hijacking while the aircraft was still in the air. On October 17, 1996, four undercover, Cobra officers were transporting deported, Nigerian prisoners back home to Lagos, aboard a Russian, Aeroflot Tu-154 airliner, when a Nigerian passenger threatened the flight crew with a knife, demanding that the plane be diverted to either Germany or South Africa. The EKO Cobra team quickly overpowered the hijacker, and turned him over to the Nigerian authorities upon landing.

More recently, Cobra officers were involved in evacuating Austrian and other European citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon War, and were instrumental in tracking down suspects from various shooting and rioting incidents in Austria and Germany between 2013 and 2020.

EKO Cobra is supported by the Flugpolizei (“Air Police”) unit of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), which flies Airbus H125 (AS350B3e) Ecureuil (“Squirrel”) and H135 (EC135-P3) helicopters, using the callsign of Libelle (“Dragonfly.”)

So, the still-futuristic, Steyr AUG bullpup, assault rifle continues to serve with elite, special operations forces around the globe, but especially in its native Austria, a land of exceptional, firearms innovation (from noted companies such as Glock and Steyr), with the top, military and police counterterrorist units in the small nation, and certainly among the very best in the world.

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.

 
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