Why the Galil failed

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The Galil is generally considered to be one of the best AK variants ever created, standing right up there with the Finnish Rk95. It was adopted by a number of Central/South American militaries, and South Africa. It even came rather close to becoming Sweden’s service rifle instead of the FNC. Yet, with regards to Israeli military service, it’s the equivalent of the US experience with the M14: phased in, and then phased out in rapid succession.

What happened? I’ve been shooting the Galil for a couple years now, and I have some thoughts on the subject…

First, I don’t want to ignore the political realities of Operation Nickel Grass during the Yom Kippur War and subsequent American materiel support of Israel. The Israelis were flooded with M16s and Colt 653 carbines, and American military aid after the war made M16s rather cheap to buy. As any government contractor can tell you, there’s nothing a government loves more than “cheap” (except “free”).

On the other hand, I sometimes feel like this argument gets played a little too far. The Israelis have shown a lot of willingness to develop their own weapons systems even when it’s on their own dime. The Tavor, X95, Uzi Pro, Jericho, Negev, etc. are all Israeli-produced small arms. You could make the argument that some of these have real export potential, but so did the Galil.

Thus, cost alone probably didn’t doom the Galil. Maybe it played some role, but it wasn’t the only consideration.

Weight is another problem frequently cited. And, in truth, it’s a real problem. The Galil ARM, which I understand was the standardized service rifle, was a whopping 9.6lbs. For a rifle in 5.56×45, that’s unacceptably heavy.

IMI-Galil
9lbs of rifle

But… the Israelis had options there, too. The Galil AR was a much more manageable 8.7lbs, and the Galil SAR was 8.2lbs (and much more comfortably balanced). Both of these could have been further lightened through a series of lightening cuts (which were eventually implemented) and changing the stock to a polymer version. The Galil Micro was only 6.5lbs – albeit a longer barrel would have added more weight to that, but not a deal-breaker.

Therefore, I would propose that weight was not really why the Galil failed. Weight is a solvable problem, and, indeed, the Israelis did eventually solve it.

What I believe really killed the Galil was that it was a failure as an integrated weapons system, and that this caused its flaws to take on much more significance. Remember, we are talking about a gun that was designed in the 60’s, as designers were taking yet another stab at the “do-it-all” gun, much like the Stoner 63 (which Balashnikov was familiar with). Consider the various Galil models that were introduced:

  • SAR: short-barreled assault carbine
  • AR: assault rifle
  • ARM: squad automatic weapon / light machine gun
  • Sniper: designated marksman rifle

As it turns out, the Galil wasn’t a very good squad automatic weapon. The 50rd magazines monopoded the weapon, and the 35rd magazines weren’t large enough to sustain fire like a belt-fed could. There was also no quick-change barrel, which was much the same problem the RPK-74 would have later on.

It also wasn’t a very good sniping weapon. The charging handle gets in the way of optics. The iron sights don’t fold. The AK-derived action is not particularly known for accuracy. The kiss of death was that the Galil sniper weighed 14lbs – that’s like 50% more than a comparable M16 would weigh.

But… the  AR variant was an OK assault rifle. It weighed a bit too much, but was in the ballpark of an AK-47 (but not AKM). It had good sights, with a so-so ability to retain zero after field stripping. The ergos were decent – not as good as the M16, but better than the AKM.

Let’s even go a step further: the SAR was actually a pretty good assault carbine for its day. Well-balanced, a nice-sized mag, and none of the reliability issues that plagued early attempts at the Colt Commando. Remember that the HK53 only popped up in 1975, so this period of time wasn’t filled with a bunch of competitors…

Given that the AR and SAR were reasonable guns for their time, no surprise how the situation evolves over time:

  • The Galil SAR stays in service as a small, low-maintenance tanker weapon, at least until the Tavor displaces it.
  • The well-regarded Galil Micro evolves from the Galil SAR
  • The well-regarded Galil ACE line evolves from the Galil AR

I think there’s an argument to be made that if the Israelis had adopted a lightened SAR variant with a 14.5″ barrel as their standard service rifle, instead of the ARM, they would not have tossed the Galil out the door as fast as they did. But it’s also not clear that the Israelis would have had time for an extra year of refinements anyways – the Galil went into service in 1972, barely a year before the Yom Kippur War. An extra year would have meant the Galil never entered service at all before the flood of M16s hit the Israelis in 1973.

It would be fascinating if there was IDF documentation on why the M16 was chosen over the Galil, but it looks to me like the decision to phase out the M14 in US service: quietly made, on a stop-gap emergency basis. I would assume domestic politics would have made it less than popular for the IDF brass to announce that they were taking the hot new Israeli assault rifle out of service.

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