So far, in Part 1 and Part 2, we’ve given you just about everything that Hah und Kah has put out about the new assault rifle family, the HK433. It’s importance for HK is that it’s the company’s entrant in the Bundeswehr competition to replace HK’s own G36. The G36 ran into troubles with shot dispersion in hot conditions, both hot environments and when the gun itself heats up; after a long and unpleasant series of legal maneuvers, German courts ruled that the government was not entitled to recover damages: the G36 met every Bundeswehr requirement, and the hot-conditions test was not anticipated, and so wasn’t a requirement. The rifle’s poor performance in these conditions was a surprise to everybody, including the team that designed it.
And, despite the problem, the German troops that carry the G36 remain generally happy with it; for all the Sturm und Drang in the press (this has been an ongoing Page One story in Germany), troop confidence is not as shaken as you might think. There is no groundswell of German Landsers demanding their G3s back (let alone Opa’s K98k). So the competition has to produce a rifle that’s better than the G36, not only in the view of the theoretically objective testers, but perhaps more importantly in the eyes of the Gefreiter mafia.
While HK’s own HK433 has to be considered the favorite, it’s a big contract (and a German sale increases your odds of selling to fans of German engineering worldwide, including many Third World armies that are larger than the Bundeswehr). So everybody’s going to chase it.
So who else is playing? The German station N TV has a report on the competition, and we’ll translate some passages for you, starting with a shortened version of a paragraph we did in Part I.
Out with the old G36, in with a new standard rifle for the Bundeswehr. …. The firms Sig Sauer s well as Rheimetall in collaboration with Steyr Mannlicher have recently indicated that they want to get the big contract from the Federal Defense Ministry. Now the former top dog and G36 supplier Heckler & Koch chimes in.
After delays the RFP for the major contract should be issued in the first half of 2017, reports the Defense Ministry. Actually a start at the end of 2016 had been envisioned. Due to painstaking preparation of the conract conditions, an “adjustment of the internal timeline” became necessary. The supply of new rifles should begin in 2020 and end 2026; originally 2019 has been named as a possible starting year.
Heckler & Koch and the Defense Ministry? Wasn’t there something about that? Officials and the department head, Ursula von der Leyen, had accused the firm of accuracy problems with the G36 in sustained fire and heat, and demanded damages. But the Koblenz State Court issued von der Leyen a setback in 2016: the judges ruled that, measured by the contract conditions, the rifle had no deficiencies. .
Essentially, the problem they found with the rifle was not a performance measure they specified when they were buying rifles, last time out. The courts ruled that Minister von der Leyen was in the position of someone who bought a car without air conditioning, and then demanded the dealer fix the AC.
But the Minister held to her decision to muster 167,000 G36s out at the end of this decade. In order to find a modern replacement, the Ministry is preparing a request for proposals…. Yet it’s not surprising that the Swabian gunmaker has thrown its hat in the ring. “You have to consider – Heckler & Koch is the official supplier to the Bundeswehr”, Wolf-Christian Paes from the Internationalen Konversionszentrum in Bonn explains. “We want the contract absolutely, for us it is also strategically important,” says Scheuch. His firm is heavily leveraged, but recently has reported better financials.
Does Heckler & Koch start off with a black mark for the big contract, due to the contretemps with the Ministry? “It’s going to be an objective competition,” company head Scheuch says. “The procurement branch of the Bundeswehr is large, versatile, and well organized — any disadvantage from a the person opinion of any individual involved is not a threat.”
Legal experts agree. “That’s not forced optimism from Heckler & Koch”, says contract lawyer Jan Byok from the offices of Bird & Bird. There will be “no whiff of discrimination”. If that were the case, the contract would be legally disputable — something the Government wants to avoid. In a pan-European contest, all participants have equal chances, Byok said.
Weapons expert Paes sees it similarly: from the Bundeswehr he has heard that H&K has considerable understanding there: the firm has provided what was ordered. Had they wanted rifles , that even in continuous fire remained highly accurate, they’d have had to pay more — but that didn’t happen, Paes says.
And then the writer takes a shot at handicapping the field:
Weapons experts see H&K somewhat advantaged, relative to foreign firms: should the US manufacturer Colt join in the competition, the “Bund” would probably prefer the German firm, somewhat, said Paes. “It’s an announced objective of the Government’s industrial policy, to retain manufacturing competence in the country.”
In 2016 H&K got a big contract from the French Army — and defeated the Belgian gunmaker FN. Such successes have consequences for the Bundeswehr contract, lawyer Byok said. … H&K also supplies the armies of Spain, Great Britain, and US special operations forces.
SIG-Sauer also wants the contract. But the Schleswig-Holstein subsidiary of a US business has only 120 employees, H&K on the other hand has 850. Is SIG-Sauer too small? A business has to have a certain minimum size to meet contract terms, says attorney Byok.
They could handle the contract in any case, a SIG-Sauer spokesman reports. “For one, because we have just now already expanded production capacity, for another, because the development of such a contract would take place over a longer period of time. How the race ends is unclear. One thing is certain, for lawyer Byok: the contract will draw the attention of the entire small arms industry. Along with Colt and FN, the Italian gunsmith Beretta and the Czech firm CZ should throw their hats in the ring: “That would be everybody, who has a name and a rank” [in the industry].
That actually winds up being just about the whole article. Let us know if you spot any translation errors.
Exit thought: since nobody has seen the contract yet, what’s the over-under on it having some provision for limited dispersion of rounds from an overheated gun?