Service Rifles Around the World

M4 Carbine

Since the end of the Second World War, service rifles have changed drastically. The world’s most powerful militaries issue impressive firearms from a wide variety of manufacturers. If everyone showed up today to pick a fight, what would they bring to the arena? Some of the answers might surprise you. I should emphasize, that every major military issues a variety of weapons, these are just some of the common models.

United States

M4 Carbine
M4 Carbine

There is no shortage of firepower in the U.S. military. The guns are also comparatively modern and well maintained. While they issue a wide variety of battle rifles, including M14 and HK416, the standard issue weapons of the Marine Corps and the Army are the M16 and the M4 carbine. Many mission specific variants exist for both, however, this basic platform has served the United States since the Vietnam War.



That’s right; it isn’t the AK-47. Russia’s main battle rifle is a modernized variant of the AK-74, called the AK-74M. This rifle uses the 5.45x39mm cartridge, which looks similar to the standard 5.56x45mm NATO. The round has a reputation for being very deadly since it tends to tumble when it hits flesh, causing massive wounds. The Afghans who came up against the AK-74 in the Afghan-Soviet war dubbed the 5.45×39 round the poison bullet due to its wound-causing capability. The AK-74 won’t be top dog for long. Reports indicate that the AK-12 is just around the corner.

People’s Republic of China


China’s military is jostling with Russia for second place in military dominance. They may already have, and the QBZ-95 is their main tool. This weapon uses a newly developed ammunition type of Chinese origin, the 5.8x42mm DBP87. The QBZ-95 family consists of a system of firearms using a common design. This group includes a carbine variant, a standard rifle, and a light support weapon. This bullpup has a lot to prove, but early reports are generally positive.



The Indian military decided to create their own rifle for their main weapon. The INSAS is a 5.56x45mm NATO rifle with an AK like gas operation system. The INSAS saw combat during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan. The rifle encountered some reliability problems in the very cold climate in which the conflict took place. There were reports that the rifle malfunctioned in a gunbattle with Maoist insurgents, leading to many casualties. India refuted these claims since trials conducted before the Nepalese Army showed that the rifle was satisfactory. Furthermore, they claimed the malfunctions were due to poor handling and improper cleaning of the rifle by Nepalese soldiers. The soldiers were still not satisfied as the rifle malfunctioned when used extensively for prolonged periods at war or during trainings. India claimed to have fixed these issues after the conflict in 1999.

United Kingdom

SA80 Variant

Our allies across the pond go to battle with the bullpup L85A2 variant of the SA80. This 5.56x45mm rifle had a rocky start. After getting feedback from users, the manufacturer updated the design, and now the rifle holds up well in service all over the world. The SA80 family is a bullpup carbine, where the action is behind the trigger group. The weapon also features a forward-mounted pistol grip for better handling. The main advantage of this type of arrangement is the overall compactness of the weapon. The overall length of the L85 rifle is shorter than a carbine, but the barrel length is that of an assault rifle. However, the adoption of this layout also means the rifle is exclusively right-handed since the ejection port and reciprocating cocking handle are on the right side of the receiver, making aimed fire from the left shoulder impossible. This can also give rise to a tactical disadvantage when firing around the left of cover, where the shooter must expose the majority of their body.


H&K G3

The G3 is a 7.62x51mm battle rifle developed in the 1950s by the German armament manufacturer Heckler & Koch in collaboration with the Spanish state-owned design and development agency CETME. The G3s that Turkey uses are license built by MKEK. The G3 is a selective-fire automatic weapon that employs a roller-delayed blowback operating system. The two-piece bolt assembly consists of a bolt head and bolt carrier. The bolt holds in battery by two sliding cylindrical rollers that engage locking recesses in the barrel extension. This is popularly called a trunnion, BATFE calls this a mounting block. Mechanically it is an excellent rifle, but some soldiers find it too long and too heavy. Interestingly, you can’t load a G3 quietly. If you attempt to ride the bolt forward gently as opposed to slapping the bolt and letting it slam a round into the chamber, the gun will often stay out of battery.

South Korea

K2 Rifle
K2 Rifle

One would think a country, which has been at war for over 60 years would have a great battle rifle, and you would be correct. The K2 uses a tough polymer for the forearm, pistol grip, and side-foldable buttstock. Externally similar in appearance to the AR-18, its bolt carrier group is similar to the American M16 rifle. However, only some of the parts are interchangeable. The gas operating system resembles that of an AK-47, and is consequently different from that of the M16. The K2 uses the same magazines as the M16 but the bolt and bolt carrier group is not interchangeable. The fire control system is similar to an M16 but few parts interchange without heavy modification.



The French FAMAS has been in service since the 1970s. It has seen action in several theaters with great success. The French troops refer to it affectionately as le Clarion (“the Bugle”) because of its shape. Originally, the French military began to manufacture under license the H&K G3 and 33. However, the idea to develop and use German weapons was out of question for many members of the French high command. The military soon adopted the FAMAS and have used it ever since. The FAMAS is a bullpup-style 5.56x45mm NATO weapon with an excellent service record and good ergonomics.


Howa Type 89
Howa Type 89

In accordance with NATO’s adoption of the 5.56x45mm cartridge, the Japanese Defense Agency began development on their next generation assault rifle to replace the 7.62x51mm Type 64 assault rifle after their 25-year span of service. Primarily, Howa handled development since it already obtained a license to produce the AR-180 version of the ArmaLite AR-18 rifle for commercial purposes. In order to determine suitability of the rifle, Japan issued it in limited numbers to their Self-Defense Forces for field-testing. After Japan collected data from the field-testing stage of the AR-18, formal development of the next-generation assault rifle began with its designation as the HR-16. The HR-15 was the first version of the experimental rifle that would eventually become the Type 89.


Tavor Rifle
Tavor Rifle

The standard issue weapon of the Israeli infantry is the TAR-21, or simply Tavor. The weapon uses a bullpup design, as seen with the French FAMAS, the British SA80, Austrian Steyr AUG, and the Chinese Norinco QBZ-95. Bullpup rifles feature a layout in which the bolt carrier group sits behind the pistol grip; this shortens the overall length but does not sacrifice barrel length. The TAR-21 provides carbine length, but rifle muzzle velocity. The bullpup design also minimizes the silhouette of soldiers. This maximizes effectiveness in turning corners in urban warfare.

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Comments (8)

  1. I am making all my AR’s to chamber the 6.5 Grendel round these days, they are 10x’s the round of a 5.56, if you haven’t played with this round, I suggest you do so, you will come to the same conclusion I have, and if you don’t reload it is good to know you can get cheap ammo from wolf to play with. And my rifle’s are very forgiving too, they seem to jam less, and more reliable under adverse conditions then any other rifle I have ran.

  2. The NATO countries need to update their weapons and get a more powerful round that can take down an enemy like a 6.5 Grendel instead of the 5.56×45 round that sometimes take several shots to bring down an enemy. Russia has a much better round even though it is a smaller diameter.

  3. @Tommy: It’s 5.45×39, not 5.56×34 or 5.56×45. I’m sure Ivan wouldn’t be caught dead sticking NATO calibers in his service rifle. 5.45×39 has been around for a while–obviously at least 1974. It’s a long, (relatively) heavy bullet with a higher ballistic coefficient than 5.56×45, so, theoretically, it maintains lethality downrange better.

    @CTDRob: I’d say Germany and Brazil could easily be here if Japan qualifies. They both field rifles not on this list, as well, so no redundancy.

  4. Nope, they mean 5.45 X 39. Russians use their own round in their service rifle. Developed it after reports of American use of the 5.56 X 45 in Vietnam. Rifle went into service around 1974, hence AK-74.

  5. In the Russian section you wrote 5.56 x 34??? You meant 5.56 x 45 right? Or is there a new kid on the block that I haven’t heard of before?

  6. I love my CETME!!! I’ve put 1000 rounds of DAG corroded ammo through it with no issues in reliability and great accuracy!!!

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