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Meet the Heckler and Koch G11: The Super Assault Rifle You Don't Know About

Kyle Mizokami


Was it just ahead of its time?

In the last days of the Cold War, West Germany developed perhaps the most advanced assault rifle of all time. A compact weapon capable of firing a withering 2,100 rounds per minute, the Heckler and Koch G11 utilized technologies not seen even in today’s armies. The advanced nature of the G11 came at a considerable cost however, as the gun was much too complicated to be practical on an increasingly unlikely battlefield.

For decades the armed forces of West Germany, the Bundeswehr, utilized the G3 battle rifle. Adopted in 1959 to replace surplus American-made M1 Garand rifles, the G3 itself had a World War II lineage, being a refinement of the StG 44 assault rifle. The G3 was a delayed blowback weapon chambered in 7.62-millimeter NATO and capable of fully automatic fire. It took a twenty round magazine and was made of metal stampings and plastic. Tough and reliable, the G3 served for more than three decades in the Bundeswehr.

In 1969, the German Army put out a requirement for a new weapon with a very high first round hit probability. German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch determined that a rifle with a very high rate of fire firing short, sharp bursts was best suited for the job. A burst of three rounds, for example, could achieve sufficient dispersion to allow at least one bullet to hit the target.

With that goal in mind, Heckler and Koch engineers went to the drawing board to design a weapon. One of the first conclusions they came to was that traditional gun operating systems—and using brass-cased bullets—was too slow for their purposes. Eliminating the ejection process from a gun would allow faster firing rates, so Heckler and Koch designed one of the first so-called “caseless” rounds.

Instead of a brass casing fitted with a primer and loaded with powder and a bullet, H&K designed a smaller round that was encased in gunpowder propellant. While conventional guns ejected the brass casing through a side port in the weapon after firing, a caseless gun dispensed with that process entirely, and even dispensed with the ejection port itself. This resulted in larger magazine capacities and the elimination of the firing port promised a weapon less likely to be fouled by dirt, dust or other battlefield crud.

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