Bullpup rifles are nothing new, having been around since World War I when France fielded the earliest conceptual self-loading rifle of this ilk, the “Faucoun.” Great Britain designed the EM1 and EM2 bullpup rifles after World War II, and during the late 1960’s experimented with both AR-18 and Stoner 63 bullpup conversions prior to finally adopting what is today known as the L85A2 Improved.” Then there is the French FAMAS, the Israeli Tavor 21, the CIS 21 and many others… but nothing has ever compared with the bullpup rifle Austria’s Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now Steyr-Mannlicher) had up its sleeve.
With development beginning in the early 1970s, the 5.56x45mm NATO Universal Infantrie Waffen (Universal Infantry Weapon, or UIW) soon came to be known as the Armee Universal Gewehr (Army Universal Rifle, or AUG). With a 20-inch barrel, the AUG’s 31.1-inch overall length was complimented by a totally modular system that remains one of the most ergonomic rifles in the world. Using a receiver cast from lightweight aircraft alloy and a bolt group not unlike that of the AR-18, the AUG also uses a dual recoil spring system reminiscent of the AR-18. The AUG’s recoil springs, however, are captive inside hollow operating rods. The short-stroke (tappet) gas piston impinges on the front end of the right operating rod and the end of the left rod is in contact with the rifle’s non-reciprocating cocking handle (it is also used to clean the gas cylinder). Two long steel pins in the back of the stock provide compression against the recoil spring plugs to return the bolt group forward. On the tip of the original cocking handle was a button that allowed the handle to be used as a forward assist.
Rotating just 22.5 degrees to lock and unlock, the bolt of the AUG operates by a cam pin connecting it to the bolt carrier. To prevent the bolt from prematurely rotating during the feeding cycle is a special spring-loaded collar with splines that ride forward between the locking lugs of the bolt. As the bolt enters the barrel extension, the opposing lugs of the extension force back the splines, freeing the bolt to rotate into battery at the last instant.
When the last shot has been fired, the bolt will remain held open by a conventional hold-open device, but the bolt can also be kept in the open position by pulling back the cocking handle and rotating up out of its track into a recess in the receiver. In either case, to close the bolt it is necessary to use the cocking handle by pulling it slightly to the rear and releasing it, or pushing it back down into its track to allow it to run forward.
Being extremely ergonomic, the AUG’s stock is molded of fiber-reinforced Polymide 66 with its two halves permanently friction-welded together. The first such stock to incorporate a full hand triggerguard, the AUG’s stock accommodates mittens in cold weather. A contoured foregrip can be used folded, or deployed to the vertical position where it locks via a central spring-loaded pin. Pulling the grip down unlocks it and allows it to fold forward, where it is held by a détente.
Although most main firing components of the AUG are made of steel or lightweight alloy, as many parts as possible are made of extremely strong synthetic —including the fire control group. Not only is the body of this modular unit made of plastic, but also the sear, hammer, disconnector—everything except pins and springs.
Housing all main elements of the rifle, the stock has two ejection ports to accommodate right- or left-handed users. To convert the rifle for a left-handed shooter, the port cover is moved to the right port and a left ejecting bolt is installed with the entire procedure taking only a few minutes in the field. A stock with only a right port has also been offered as well as stocks in olive green, tan, white and black. The newest addition is a stock in desert digital matching current U.S. Army ACU camouflage. A compartment in the butt houses a cleaning kit.
Located behind the pistol grip, themagazine well uses a rear-mounted ambidextrous magazine release to hold the AUG’s proprietary 30-round or 42-round magazines. Made of tan translucent plastic, these magazines allow remaining ammunition to be seen at a glance if ambient light permits.
As unique as anything about the AUG is its quick-change barrel system, which allows the rifle to be converted from a short 14-inch barrel “Commando” weapon to a heavy 24.5-inch barrel sniper rifle or light machinegun (LMG). Made by cold hammer-forging, the bore is also hard chrome-lined for long life. Each barrel contains a gas block with a 3-position gas plug. Two positions are for operating under various conditions while the third is the “off” position for launching rifle bullet-trap grenades. With the gas cylinder being part of the barrel, a fresh, clean cylinder and piston come with a fresh barrel.
Standard AUG barrels use a combination flash suppressor/grenade launcher and a bayonet mount can also be attached. The heavy LMG barrel has a special muzzle brake on which an adjustable bipod is mounted. Although all standard AUG rifles operate from a closed bolt, LMG variants are available firing from an open bolt to prevent cook-off.
Integral with the original standard AUG receiver is an integral combination carrying handle with a 1.5x22mm optic with a circle-dot reticle, and atop the scope housing is a set of fixed emergency open back-up open sights. However, by submitting Steyr’s Special Receiver for the standard one, other optical sights can be mounted. Yet another AUG receiver is offered with only a rear sight mounted on the carrying handle with a front sight mounted on the barrel.
After exhaustive testing, the AUG was adopted by the Austrian Army in 1977 as the Sturm Gewehr 77 (Assault rifle 77, or StGw 77). Not long after the AUG was first fielded, a roller was added to the top rear of the bolt carrier to eliminate to eliminate friction from the top of the carrier being pushed up against the inside of the receiver by the hammer. With this improvement, the designation of the rifle was changed to AUG/A1.
No exterior selector is found on the AUG except for a crossbolt type safety/fire control. The selector is found on the fire control group and can only be switched from semi- to full automatic or 3-shot burst by first removing the group from the rifles buttstock. At about the same time, a semi-automatic only version of the AUG/A1 was designed for civilian consumption. Called the AUG-SA, this rifle differed from the assault rifle version by not being able to accept any of the selective fire components.
In the mid-1980’s Steyr began marketing a new version of the AUG-SA in the U.S. Designed especially with law enforcement in mind, this rifle was called the AUG-P (Police), and came with a 16-inch barrel making the overall length of the AUG-P just 27 inches. A selective-fire assault rifle version of the AUG-P was also offered to law enforcement and government agencies only. This version could be had with two fire control groups specific to the selective fire AUG. One group allowed the standard selective fire settings while the other provided semi-automatic only operation.
After offering 9mm conversions and dedicated selective fire submachine guns and SA carbine versions of the AUG, Steyr-Mannlicher introduced a new version of the 5.56x45mm NATO version in 1996. Called the AUG/A2, this rifle came with the standard style 1.5x optical sight, but this sight was mounted on a sliding rail-mount on the receiver and could be quickly removed. In its place could be mounted a rail of the Mil-Std-M1913 type that would accept virtually any optical sight system.
In addition to its new rail system, the AUG/A2 differed from its A1 counterpart in its cocking handle, which pivoted forward to activate a forward assist feature. The AUG/A2 replaced the AUG-A1 and included a version designed to accept the NATO STANAG M16 magazine, but few were imported to America. In addition to Austria, the AUG is used by a number of other countries—including Ireland and Malaysia. In 1988 it was adopted by Australia as the AUSTEYR F88 where it is produced and also sold to New Zealand.
In 2008 Steyr-Mannlicher introduced two new variations of the AUG, the AUG/A3 and the AUG/A3 SF. The AUGA3/SF version differs in having a raised Mil-Std-1913 type rail, and is not offered in the SA version or imported to the U.S. The AUG/A3 has a full-length top rail based on the Mil-Std-M1913 rail, and is not only offered in the SA version, but since it too cannot be imported, the AUG/A3SA is now made right here in America. Produced on Steyr-Mannlicher tooling for Steyr USA by Sabre Defence Industries LLC, the AUG/ A3 is made by the same maker of some of the highest quality AR-15/M16 variants in the world. The rifling of the Sabre barrel is cold-formed using the button process prior to being hard-chrome plated, and this U.S. AUG/A3SA is every bit as high quality as any AUG ever made.
The US AUG/A3SA has a 10-inch uninterrupted Mil-Std-1913 rail monolithic with the main receiver with 25 numbered cross notch mounting positions. Evidence that this rail is the real thing is that ARMS #17 ThrowLevers lock to perfection on the AUG/A3’s rail.
Similar to earlier AUG’s, a sling swivel is mounted low on the top/front of the receiver, and a 2-inch accessory rail is rigidly mounted on the angled right portion of the receiver above the triggerguard. On the left side of the magazine well above the magazine release is a manual bolt release, which can be pushed in to release the bolt when it is held to the rear by the automatic hold open device when the last round is fired. The lock-back notch for the charging handle is superior to that on previous AUG rifles. The other notable difference in the AUG/A3 is an improved muzzle brake/flash hider that also serves as a suppressor mount.
Although the AUG/A3-SA comes without sights, flip-up open sights can be mounted on its top rail, as can any variety of optics. After mounting a set of A.R.M.S. new #71L polymer sights, I also tried the Aimpoint Comp M4 Red Dot Sight, The new EOTech XPS3 and a Leupold Mark 4 1.5-5x20mm MR/T M2 Illuminated Reticle Scope on the AUG/A3-SA top rail using ARMS #17 ThrowLever 30mm Rings. The Leupold was used for all accuracy tests.
Steyr added the AUG/A3-SA’s side rail in order to mount other accessories, such as a tactical light or laser. For a sling I tried both a Vickers Sling from Blue Force Gear, and a Giles Sling from Wilderness Tactical, and found both to be excellent choices for the AUG.
New Rail System
Not long after I received my sample AUG/A3-SA, I was notified by Steyr USA that a brand new rail system had been developed for it and all AUG’s. This rail system replaces the AUG’s folding vertical foregrip with a bottom 5-inch long bottom rail and a left side rail of about the same length. Like the top rail, these are based on the U.S. Mil-Std-1913 rail. After removing the AUG/A3’s folding foregrip, I attached the new dual rail to the grip mount, and it was ready to use an endless variety of accessories.
While the new AUG rail mount was conceived to use any vertical foregrip, the one that makes the most sense to me is the GripPod, which is standard issue with the U.S. Army, USMC, Delta Force, FBI, DEA, Great Britain, Israel and is approved for individual purchase by the LAPD. The GripPod not only instantly becomes a robust bipod, but also accepts a single or double rail system of its own that can mount almost any tactical weapon light.
The light system I have found to be safest, lightest and best for the price is the SureFire G2 LED mounted on the GripPod rail in a Vltor Ring Mount. The G2 is operated with only the support thumb and NOT the index finger. I mounted this system on my AUG/A3-SA along with SureFire’s L72 Weapon Laser, which I attached to the AUG’s side-rail. I used a SureFire plug-in remote pressure switch attached to the right side of the GripPod with the brand new GripPod Sleeve from Manta Rails.
In cooperation with Steyr Arms, SureFire has designed a suppressor mount for its FA5.56K and Mini models with a left-hand thread for all versions of the AUG. With help from Jim Carroll, of Carroll Targets, the new SureFire AUG/A3-SA mount replaced the factory AUG/A3-SA flash hider, allowing the rifle to accept the K or Mini SureFire suppressor. With the suppressor mounted (in about 3 seconds), the AUG/A3-SA had less muzzle report than a .22 LR cartridge, and was quite comfortable to use out in the open.
The latest and even bigger news from Steyr is a brand new NATO stock that takes standard M16 NATO magazines. Made especially the AUG/A3, this stock will not fit previous AUG models. Steyr USA sent us the first sample of the new NATO stock, to be imported along with its NATO trigger group, with its slightly longer hold-open lever in order to lock the bolt group back with an empty magazine in place. The new NATO stock replaced the standard one in seconds.
In addition to its NATO-sized magazine well, the new AUG/A3 NATO stock has a side-locking system compatible with the M16 magazine with a magazine release button-lever protruding from the stock when a magazine is in place. A righthanded shooter can use this side release, but the standard type back release is also retained, and this one acts to cam the sidelock out of engagement. Left-handed shooters will likely use the rear magazine release when the rifle is converted for them.
The excellent accuracy and reliability of the Steyr AUG is renowned and there were no surprises with this new “Made in USA” sample. In testing every M16 type magazine with the AUG/A3-SA NATO conversion, every one worked smoothly and reliably—including the new IK-520 40-round magazine with its molded-insteel lips from Mounting Solutions Plus. Of course there was no difference in the AUG/A3-SA’s overall superb performance using the NATO stock, and 100-yard groups averaging 2-inches was standard with a couple of even smaller groups achieved from the bench.
As this reaches newsstands, both the AUG/A3 and AUG/A3 NATO stocks will be offered in US Army type ACU Camouflage. The improvements to the AUG platform found in the AUG/A3 have given an already great, proven rifle a quantum leap in 21st Century technology—but the new AUG/A3 NATO Stock is truly “icing on the cake!” The AUG/A3-SA remains the finest bullpup rifle I have ever used and is once again a rifle for the future.