Steyr, Austria’s premier firearms manufacturer, can trace its origins to 1864 when the original company, Austrian Arms Manufacturing Company (Osterreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft) was formed by Josef Werndl, though arms had been manufactured around the city of Steyr since the Middle Ages. Having earlier established itself as a reliable maker of breech-loading rifles for the Austro-Hungarian government, the Steyr Mannlicher division received a substantial contract from the Austrian government to produce their M1885 straight-pull, en-bloc-magazine military rifle, which was also exported to other nations in Europe and overseas, and used in various calibers and conversions through WW II.
Shortly before the turn of the century, Ferdinand von Mannlicher teamed with Otto Schoenauer (then director of the Austrian Arms Works) to design the famous Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifle featuring a rotary-spool
magazine. As a military arm, this rifle was adopted only by Greece (and Austria), but has earned its niche in elegant and classical sporting arms, in production until 1973. Steyr also produced the Mannlicher M1905 pistol, largely for export to South America, the Czech-designed “Roth”-Steyr M1907 pistol adopted by the Austro-Hungarian cavalry (whose DAO, striker-fired concept lives on in the Glock designs of today), and the M1912 Steyr “Hahn” 9mm pistol adopted by the Austro-Hungarian army, and exported to South America as well. During World War II, after Austria was occupied by the Greater Reich, Steyr produced military rifles (code “bnz”), ammunition, vehicles, aircraft engines, tank parts, etc. After the war when Austria regained its independence and declared itself as a neutral country, Steyr began manufacturing military rifles again as they produced the STG 58, a version of the FN FAL.
Old Talent, New Designs
In 1987, Steyr-Mannlicher AG was established and soon began production of a new series of firearms, most notably the STG77 (AUG). The famous Steyr SSG sniping rifle had already been in service in the Austrian Army for almost two decades and continues to be produced by Steyr-Mannlicher today. The tradition of Steyr pistols continues with the Steyr M series introduced in 1999. The Steyr Scout Rifle introduced in late 1997 has achieved success with law enforcement agencies and some military units.
In response to the military trend towards AMRs (Anti-Materiel Rifles), Steyr introduced the 15.2MM IWS2000, which fires an APFSDS (Armor-Piercing, Fin-Stabilized, Discarding Sabot) munition using a tungsten penetrator. As a more conventional AMR, Steyr offers the .50 HS Sniper Rifle. Steyr continues to upgrade its classic designs as well as introducing new designs to fit contemporary military needs.
The other very-well-known Austrian firearms manufacturer is Glock GmbH. The Glock firm was established in 1963 to manufacture high-strength synthetic and steel components. In 1980, the Austrian armed forces announced bid specs incorporating 17 criteria for a new service pistol. In 1982, after consultation with a number of firearms experts, Glock began development of a pistol to meet the specs. Using its expertise in synthetics and high-tech production methods, Glock developed a prototype that was reliable, dependable, durable, and inexpensive to produce. After the Glock 17 was adopted by the Austrian armed forces, it spurred interest in other European countries including Norway and Sweden, which adopted it. The Glock became very popular among U.S. law enforcement agencies and by 1992, 350,000 Glocks had been sold worldwide, with 250,000 of them going to the USA.
Glocks are now offered in various sizes and calibers and have become one of the most popular law-enforcement and military pistols around the world.
Another important element in the Austrian military industry is Hirtinberger AG. The company can trace its origins to 1860 when it was established to manufacture metal products, especially artillery components. For much of its history Hirtinberger has been known for producing very high quality ammunition for small arms, mortars, and heavier weapons such as artillery. Today, Hirtinberger produces mortars and various other military products.
There are other small companies that produce military products and/or act as subcontractors for the major arms manufacturers already discussed. Overall, the Austrian arms industry reflects a long tradition of quality and innovation in weapons and supports Austrian neutrality by producing most of the Bundesheer’s (Austrian Army’s) weapons as well as weapons for export.
Austrian Military Optics
Austria has a long and rich tradition of producing high-quality glass. Swarovski, for example, has been producing high quality lead crystal since 1895. Swarovski has also produced an array of military optics as well. In fact, my Steyr SSG 69 sniping rifle that I have been using for many years came with a Swarovski ZFM 6×42 scope. Currently, Swarovski Optik produces an array of sniping scopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, and NVDs (Night Vision Devices).
Swarovski Z series military rifle scopes offer an array of features including illuminated reticles and ballistic turrets that adjust for bullet drop of the caliber for which the rifle is chambered. Military binoculars from Swarovski have a well-established reputation for quality. In addition to standard military binoculars, Swarovski offers compact binoculars which have proven very popular with special ops personnel since they can carry them easily tucked into a pocket on their vest. Swarovski’s combo 8×30 binocular/laser range finder offers various military applications as well.
The Vienna-based Kahles Optics was established shortly after Swarovski in 1898. While Swarovski has become known for an array of glass products, Kahles has remained “focused” on the production of extremely high quality riflescopes. In fact, many credit Kahles with inventing the modern riflescope. Among the innovations that can be attributed to Kahles is the first use of adjustable ballistic drop compensation, in 1904. In 1960, Khales produced the first scope using waterproof O-rings and in 1972 the first widely produced riflescope with multicoated lenses.
As with Swarovski, Kahles is probably best known for its fixed-power scopes that were supplied with the Steyr SSG Sniping Rifle. The 6×42 ZF 95 has been used for decades in military and law enforcement applications and has proven soldier-proof, simple, and reliable. There is also a 10×42 ZF 95 that has been widely used on the Steyr SSG. I actually purchased a 10x ZF 95 for my SSG, but have been shooting well with he 6X one for so many years I’ve never gotten around to installing it. Despite the long military use of Kahles fixed-power scopes, the company now offers an array of variable power scopes. The Helias line is used by Austrian snipers. The most commonly encountered Kahles military scopes remain the fixed power ZF 95s.
Hooked On Photonic
Photonic was formed as an offshoot of Swarovski in 1986. Although Photonic specializes in a wide variety of industrial optics, the company also makes an array of innovative rifle scopes as well as laser range-finding and night vision devices. Photonic developed some optics including night vision devices specifically for use with the Steyr AUG. Fire-control systems for heavier weapons systems are also produced by Photonic.
Austria’s sophisticated military optics industry allows Steyr to equip its rifles with domestic optics but also creates an extensive export industry for military, law enforcement, and sport optics.