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New weapon for German soldiers

September 8, 2015

Germany's military has decided to get rid of its main assault rifle, the G36. A replacement will be sought via Europe-wide tender by 2019. Manufacturer Heckler & Koch has begun court action to save its reputation.

Deutschland Sturmgewehr G36
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Burgi

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday confirmed that the G36, the German army's main rifle of the past 20 years, will be phased out and replaced by a "new generation" weapon from 2019.

"We have decided in consensus with military command to make a clear cut," she said in Berlin, adding that tenders for a modern replacement for the Bundeswehr's 167,000 G36s would be called Europe-wide.

Deutschland Verteidigungsministerin Ursula von der Leyen
Von der Leyen wants the replacement by 2019Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Since last year, the ministry has studied various expert reports amid controversy into claims that the G36 does not shoot precisely when hot or during constant firing.

Last Friday, G36 manufacturer Heckler & Koch (HK) filed for a court ruling in Koblenz that its weapon's "alleged defects do not exist." The Bundeswehr's equipment division is based in Koblenz.

Future requirements

In a letter to the federal parliament's defense committee, Von der Leyen's state secretary Katrin Suder said that soldiers would still use the G36, "when appropriate," with improvements until the replacement emerged.

Katrin Suder Staatssekretärin für Rüstungsfragen im Verteidigungsministerium
G36's lifespan about to expire, says SuderImage: picture-alliance/McKinsey/E. Shambroom

Suder justified the search for a replacement, writing that the G36's intended lifespan expired next year and that Germany's Bundeswehr armed forces had new requirements for an assault rifle that extended far beyond possible G36 improvements.

During this transitory phase, the Bundeswehr planned to acquire 600 G27P assault rifles and 600 MG4 light machine guns, both weapons made by HK, according the German news agency dpa.

Cozy contacts?

Opposition Greens party defense spokeswoman Agnieszka Brugger welcomed the decision, adding that alleged cozy contacts between ministry employees and HK must be further investigated.

"After years of concealment, the consequences are finally being drawn out of failings surrounding the G36, instead of continuing to deny the deficiencies," she said.

Deutschland Bundestag die Grünen Agnieszka Brugger
Brugger says open tendering process is neededImage: S. Kaminski/Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Bundestagsfraktion

"The chumminess between the arms industry and the Defense Ministry should not continue, otherwise the calling of tenders will become a pseudo solution," she added.

Clean up 'nepotism'

Jan van Aken, a Left party defense expert and former UN weapons inspector, demanded that von der Leyen "first clean up the nepotism in her own house" before ordering new assault rifles "worth hundreds of millions."

The ministry currently has three commissions probing the matter, including examination of the ministry's organizational structure. Findings are due next month.

Jan van Aken
Arms expert van Aken claims 'nepotism' behind G36Image: Jan van Aken

The G36 affair coincides with wider debate about Bundeswehr equipment deficiencies.

Storage or sale?

Media speculation Tuesday focused on what would happen to the many G36s, each worth about 1,000 euros (about $1,120), when taken out of service.

German news agency dpa said the mothballed weapons would probably "vanish" into the Bundeswehr's arsenals. Other options were resale and donation.

The Bundeswehr has already given 8,000 G36s to Kurdish fighters being trained in northern Iraq by Bundeswehr specialists to fight the terror militia "Islamic State" (IS).

The G36 has also been standard issue for militaries outside Germany.

Mexico recalls G36s

Last week, Mexican newspaper "Reforma" said authorities had withdrawn G36 from parts of the country following allegations that such weapons were used by Mexican police to commit human rights abuses.

In May, German customs authorities found that HK had sold guns to four Mexican states in breach of an export ban. HK later said it was assisting investigators and had dismissed two of its staff.

Rights activists have alleged that some exported G36s ended up in the southwestern city of Iguala, Guerrero, where 43 trainee teachers were murdered last year.

ipj/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AFP, dpa)

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