With the recent introduction of the Beretta ARX160, it is easy to forget that Beretta has been in the black gun business for quite some time. The Italian military was no less interested in an improved assault rifle, especially for its special forces. Around the same time that the U.S. military was beginning to implement the M16, Beretta was starting to develop its own assault rifle—the AR70.
The AR70 began its development in the late 1960s and was adopted by the Italian Special Forces in the early 1970s. It was also quite popular among several foreign militaries. Aside from the original configuration of the AR70/223 as an assault rifle, there were two Special Forces carbine variants: the SC70/223, which came equipped with a folding buttstock and a standard-length barrel, and the similar SCP70/223, which featured a shorter barrel.
The AR70/223 was a gas piston-oper-ated rifle with a stamped-steel receiver. The long-stroke gas piston was located above
the barrel. The gas block could be adjusted for general use or firing in adverse conditions, and there was also a gas cutoff, allowing for the use of a grenade launcher. A select-fire weapon, its right-side-only selector provided for both semi- and full-auto fire. This original design presented some issues, mostly surrounding the strength of the receiver. It also used a proprietary magazine system with a release between the magazine and triggerguard.
As the move to NATO progressed, many countries decided to replace their 7.62mm rifles with the 5.56mm cartridge. Italy decided it was time to replace its BM59 rifle with a NATO-compatible rifle in the smaller caliber. Beretta entered its upgraded version of the AR-70. Designated the AR70/90, it was adopted as the general assault rifle in 1990. This rifle included the three previous variations. A squad automatic weapon version designated the AS70/90 was also fully adopted.
There were several changes to the system to improve upon the original AR70. The overall design of the receiver was changed for greater strength. The square receiver was replaced with a trapezoidal upper receiver. The weaker stamped-steel bolt guides were replaced with welded versions. The standard M16-type magazine was adopted, and an ambidextrous magazine release was placed on the sides of the magazine housing. An ambidextrous safety selector was also added, along with a three-round burst capability. As with the AR70, a semi-auto-only version was also created for the police and civilian markets.
The AR70/90 used plastic furniture, and the only real differences in models were the barrel lengths and stock, as some were fixed or could fold. Sighting consisted of a flip-up aperture rear and bladed front sight. The top surface provided a NATO-standard rail for optics. A detachable carry handle that allowed you to see through to the sights was also available. Standard rifles accommodated grenade launching as before, and the short-barrel version required a special detachable grenade launcher that could be mounted to the muzzle.
Most modern militaries are moving to systems that can be altered in the field to meet mission requirements. Instead of adopting several versions of a system, the idea is to simply change parts around as needed on a single system. One gun can switch between barrels of different lengths and calibers. A modular battle rifle generally incorporates fewer internal parts, easing maintenance in the field. Systems are designed to accommodate a wider variety of shooters, as stocks are adjustable for length of pull and cheek placement, and controls tend to be completely ambidextrous for both left- and right-handed operation. The idea is to create one platform that can be altered by the operator in the field as necessary to suit the mission.
Modular Beretta ARX160
The Beretta ARX160 may be the epitome of the modern assault rifle system. Developed in the last few years, it is a complete departure from the AR70/90 system. Designed from the ground up to be an advanced, lightweight and modular weapon system, it takes into account all the needs of the modern warrior. When I was given the chance to test a Beretta ARX160 early on, I confirmed its ease of operation, light weight and versatility firsthand.
The Beretta ARX160 can be broken down into the lower receiver, trigger mechanism, internals, and barrel in a matter of seconds with no tools. It’s possible to switch barrels in a matter of seconds. Changing calibers is possible without tools, and there are no pins to lose in the process. Simply change out the lower, insert the new bolt, swap barrels and you are good to go. This system is already working in both the 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm NATO calibers.
The rifle is also truly easy to use. The magazine can be released from the right, left, or the bottom of the triggerguard. The bolt hold-open is in the triggerguard and can also be released by pulling the bolt to the rear. The cocking lever can be locked in either the right or left position, making magazine changes fast and simple. This facilitates easier malfunction clearing and reloading drills for anyone. Users can even change which side spent cartridges eject from with the simple press of a button, making it easy for different shooters to operate. If for some reason an ejector is broken, you simply press a button and it ejects out the other side on a fresh ejector—a good backup in the heat of battle. The selector switch is also ambidextrous. Transitioning to this system is really very simple, and the Beretta ARX160 accommodates all of the latest tactics and techniques for operation, reloads, and malfunction drills for greater versatility in the field.
The Beretta ARX160 will accommodate most modern sighting systems and is fully compatible with night-vision or thermal sighting systems thanks to its Picatinny rails. My original test used an Aimpoint CompM4. With longer barrels, a low-power optic could be used to get the best possible accuracy. The supplied flip-up sights work well and the top Picatinny rail allows you to use pretty much anything you would like based on the mission at hand. For those in need of a grenade launcher, the GLX160 can be attached and removed without the use if any tools. It is a simple matter of pushing out a couple pins. The Beretta ARX160 is simply one of the most user-friendly rifles you can get.
Beretta has a long history of building superb firearms. Their military rifles are no exception, and the Beretta ARX160 is proving to be one of the best designs on the market. Beretta has a history of excellence in design and attention to detail while recognizing the needs of the operator. The Beretta ARX160 is only the latest in a long line of excellent rifles.