Let’s admit it. The AR platform is an iconic design. Despite having some very vocal detractors, few would argue that it was not a revolutionary, game-changing weapon platform. But even the radical AR conforms to “traditional” long gun design—namely having its action and magazine forward of the pistol grip and buttstock. For the LE officer wanting to take a step further into non-conformist, advanced weapon design, the “bullpup” is the next logical step.
The bullpup turns long gun design on its head by locating the action in the buttstock portion of the rifle, thereby shortening the overall length of the firearm while still retaining a reasonable barrel length to maintain ballistic performance. But, the bullpup has a complicated history as a military/tactical arm. Despite its numerous advantages, it has always seemed to struggle to catch on in mainstream weapon design. However, there is one very bright success story in the convoluted history of the bullpup—the 5.56x45mm Austrian Steyr AUG.
Adopted by the Austrian military in 1977 as the StG 77, the Armee Universal Gewehr (or AUG) represented the “mainstreaming” of the bullpup design, having been developed and manufactured by the highly respected armsmaker Steyr Mannlicher. In addition to proving that the advantages of the bullpup design were suitable to a military role, the AUG also established a few other benchmarks for modern military weapon design. Most notable of these was the employment of an integrated low-power optic, as well as the extensive use of synthetic and lightweight materials (continuing the trend popularized by the AR beginning in the 1950s). Also of note regarding the design is its modularity—its barrel can be easily swapped out in a matter of seconds. To further burnish the credentials of the AUG, the Australians adopted their own licensed version of the rifle, dubbed the F88 Austeyr series. The Malaysians also adopted there own licensed version of it, and it has been adopted by numerous armed forces around the world ranging from locations such as Ireland to New Zealand.
The AUG even made it to our shores, with semi-automatic variants being offered for civilian sale. This gave shooters from the U.S. a chance to own their own version of this highly influential and capable design. However, import restrictions enacted in the late 1980s (and follow-up “reinterpretations” of importation laws) effectively banned the sale of this classic Austrian-made 5.56mm on our shores. Thankfully, through the efforts of Steyr Arms, Inc. (the U.S. arm of Steyr Mannlicher that is based in Trussville, Alabama), a semi-automatic AUG is now being manufactured here in America for sale to U.S. customers.
The 5.56x45mm AUG/A3 SA from Steyr Arms is a U.S.-manufactured version of the Austrian AUG. At its core, the AUG/A3 SA is a gas-operated, semi-automatic carbine that employs an adjustable, short-stroke gas piston system with a two-position gas regulator. It utilizes a cold-hammer-forged, chrome-lined, 16-inch barrel. The overall length of the AUG/A3 is 28.15 inches, and its weight empty is 8.15 pounds.
The U.S.-made AUG/A3 takes advantage of Steyr Mannlicher’s decades of refinement to the original Austrian design, which have been manufactured in three primary configurations: the A1, the A2 and the A3. The A1 is a classic version of the design, featuring an integrated 1.5X optic built into the carrying handle, “tulip”-style muzzle brake and folding foregrip. The A2 replaced the integrated optic with a short strip of Picatinny rail to allow the use of a variety of optics. The Austrian Steyr A3 continued the trend of swappable optics with a larger strip of Picatinny rail as well as a supplemental short strip on the right side of the receiver. Also changed out was the “tulip” brake, and the foregrip can be replaced with an optional under-barrel Picatinny rail system. A bolt release lever was also added.
The new U.S.-made AUG/A3 from Steyr Arms actually combines elements of the A1, A2 and A3. It features a “tulip” brake and the original-style folding foregrip of the series, but also has the large, 12-inch strip of Picatinny rail on top and the supplemental 3-inch strip of rail offset on the right side of the receiver of the A3. It also employs the A3’s bolt release lever on the left side of the stock. The result is a carbine that combines the most advanced features of the Austrian A3 AUG, but with an overall look that recalls the classic profile of the A1 and A2 variants.