German Soldiers Don’t Trust Their Battle Rifle
G36 has a reputation for unreliability
Everyone has heard of the formidable German assault rifle, the G36—the successor to the reliable G3. Both are Heckler & Koch products.
You can find the G3 all around the world, as the rifle is in the top five for small arms sales.
The G36 is different. It’s actually quite rare outside of Europe. And for good reason. It’s got a bad reputation.
The G36 originated in the early ’90s. It’s renowned as a light and versatile advanced combat rifle. Many European armies and security forces adopted it. Two nations bought a production license—Spain and, interestingly enough, Saudi Arabia.
Germany has also begun sending G36s to Kurdish Peshmerga forces to help them battle Islamic State in Iraq.
There are some minor differences between versions for export and those for domestic use. The main difference between the two versions is the sights added to the integrated scope. The domestic version has an inbuilt reflex sight. The export version has iron sights.
In theory, you could break off the reflex sight to restore the iron sights. However, in practice this doesn’t work. German soldiers have tried it.
Ever since its introduction as the standard German assault rifle in December 1997, German soldiers have struggled with the G36. After all, it had to fill in for the G3, which had served well for nearly 40 years.
The introduction occurred in a time of foreign policy changes. For the first time in its contemporary history, Germany took part in international operations on the Balkan. All in all, exciting times for the Bundeswehr.
But then in 2001 the United States invaded Afghanistan and Germany joined the NATO occupying force. Meanwhile, there were rumors about inaccuracy resulting from suspected frailty in the G36’s construction.
In 2009, the Bundeswehr boosted its operations in Afghanistan. Soldiers talked about their G36s overheating in Afghanistan’s hot summers. But there was no hard evidence of that happening.
This changed on Good Friday in 2010, during the most intensive skirmish involving German troops since World War II—a firefight that left three paratroopers dead. For 10 hours, the paratroopers fought off a Taliban ambush in the Char Darrah district, together firing 28,000 rounds.
Subsequent investigations suggest no Taliban were critically injured that day—although to be fair, the report claiming so isn’t publicly available.
Helmet-camera footage and eyewitness accounts of the fight prove that the G36s overheated. Soldiers had to let them cool down before they would operate properly again.
However, by this time the German government had introduced an updated version of the G36, replacing the integrated reflex sight with a modular reflex sight.
Fast forward to the present day. Investigations have proved time and time again the rifle’s unreliability. The Ministry of Defense downplayed, disputed or interfered with the reports in order to avoid a larger scandal.
There were new reports this fall, blaming faulty ammunition and overheating for the inaccuracy. The civil servant in charge at the ministry disliked this result and asked for a second and third revision until the reporting fit the ministry’s official narrative.
But in protest, the examiner who conducted and wrote the report handed it over to the military ombudsman.
And where do we go from here? This summer the Bundeswehr halted additional purchases of G36s, due to the ongoing investigations. The political implications aren’t clear yet.
For the soldiers who must go to war with a potentially unreliable weapon, the controversy is business as usual. Few believe the official reports and fall back on firsthand experience. German soldiers tend to be suspicious of their G36s and try to keep them cool, especially their barrels.
Some hope to become a designated marksman, equipped with a scoped G3—a version of the weapon the G36 was supposed to replace.