American AUG: Steyr AUG A3 Review
August 16, 2016
It shouldn't go unnoticed that Steyr celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014. Named for the Austrian city in which the parent company was founded and is headquartered, Steyr has had several influential rifle and pistol designs since, perhaps none as famous and widely used as its "Armee Universal Gewehr," or AUG, translated as "Universal Army Rifle." (AUG is pronounced "A-U-G" rather than "ogg.")
Just 12 days shy of Steyr's official 150th birthday, Steyr Arms' CEO Scott O'Brien and Steyr-Mannlicher owner and CEO Dr. Ernst Reichmayr cut the ribbon and opened the doors to unveil a new 33,000-square-foot manufacturing headquarters in Bessemer, Ala.
As a point of record for collectors, Dr. Reichmayr presented the very first Steyr AUG A3 marked "Bessemer, AL" at this event to the city's mayor, Kenneth Gulley. (Surprised by the gift, Gulley seemed somewhat reluctant and uncomfortable accepting and being photographed or filmed with it, quickly handing it over to the city's chief of police. It was a bit comical to watch.)
The facility sports an impressive firearm gallery available to distributors, dealers and their customers who want to compare a wide range of models firsthand without having to maintain the expense of carrying custom-fit inventory. This facility was also designed to accommodate expected growth in domestic firearm manufacturing.
I was in attendance representing Guns & Ammo for this grand opening to learn what new products we could anticipate. It was there that I first learned about the new Steyr AUG/A3 M1, and during this visit, I was afforded the exclusive opportunity to join the assembly line and learn how the inner workings of a Steyr AUG came together. It just so happened that I was building one of the very first American-branded models for myself under the tutelage of Steyr's master gunsmith, Herbert Wohlmuth.
Though I could have opted for the traditional black, OD green or white stock options, I went with a new tan color Steyr calls "Mud." The process to assemble a Steyr AUG A3 M1 is assisted in part by proprietary fixtures and advanced pneumatic machinery. Assembling each and every little part only took me about 20 minutes, but in that time I was able to appreciate the unique procedures and eye for quality control that go into these builds. The experience culminated in a testfire in Steyr's indoor range.
The new Steyr AUG/A3 blends the decades- proven features and classic ergonomics of the original Steyr AUG with functional enhancements and modern manufacturing techniques that weren't available when it was first conceived back in the early '70s.
Considering its modular bullpup configuration and heavy use of polymer and advanced alloys, the Steyr AUG was well ahead of its time when it was first adopted by the Austrian army in 1977. The Austrians refer to their AUG as the StG 77, which replaced the StG 58, a licensed FN FAL. It still carries the responsibilities of serving as the standard-issue rifle of the Austrian Bundesheer and that country's law enforcement.
The U.S. Customs Service — now U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as I.C.E. — used the AUG P from 1987 until 2007. The Steyr AUG even saw limited service in the hands of our FBI. Not long after a few AUGs found their way into the FBI armory at Quantico, a push for standardization of the U.S. military's M16 and M4 effectively swept through federal law enforcement and state agencies.
The Steyr AUG was originally a select-fire rifle that got its full-auto capabilities from a unique trigger pack that slides into the stock. Invented by Austrian Heinrich von Wimmersperg at the end of World War II, the Spz-kr-type progressive trigger is used on select-fire AUG models. The trigger works by pulling it halfway for semiauto fire or drawing it all the way rearward to engage automatic fire. No levers are present to manually select the mode of fire.
A short-stroke gas-piston system featuring two stainless steel guide rods operates the Steyr AUG. Only the right guide rod serves as the action rod, transmitting the rearward motion of the piston to the bolt carrier. The left-hand guide rod can be operated in conjunction with the forward-located charging handle to cycle the action.
During firing, this charging handle is nonreciprocating and can be used as a forward assist and bolt hold-open. The AUG/A3 also features a two-position gas regulator. The first setting is used for normal operation, and the second position is available for unusually fouled conditions.
The Steyr AUG was always designed to fire from the closed bolt. This layout improves reliability by keeping burnt residue and airborne particles out of the chamber. The rotating bolt has seven radial locking lugs and contains a claw extractor that forms the eighth locking lug.
Heat behind the barrel is virtually nonexistent, meaning that parts last longer even if the AUG is subjected to sustained fire. Whereas Eugene Stoner's AR had a reputation for being filthy, the Steyr AUG seems to have been designed for an army that didn't like to spend its spare time cleaning rifles.
Adaptability was on the mind of Steyr engineers early on because the Steyr AUG A1 was designed to be a part of a larger family. In fact, what many AUG collectors find is that parts such as the select-fire trigger pack will actually fit right into one of these newer AUG/A3s. Unlike a number of other firearms importers, Steyr has made a great effort to offer its U.S. customers a rifle that's held to the same spec as the ones produced for the world in Austria.
"There are only a handful of AUG parts to meet U.S. part count requirements," says Mike Nischalke, a U.S. representative for Steyr Arms. "Ninety percent of the AUG/A3 is made in Austria. Of the American-made parts on these rifles, two are the receiver and the barrel. The other parts are small pieces like the magazine floorplate, which has no functional purpose other than holding the magazine spring within."
Sum of Its Parts
The AUG/A3 is the third generation of a bullpup-configured rifle initially developed for the 5.56 NATO cartridge with a 1:9-inch twist. Though the Steyr AUG/A3 is built using mostly Austrian pieces, most would agree that the American model is better than its predecessors.
Mechanically, the Steyr AUG still utilizes a short-stroke gas-piston system with dual gas-adjustment settings. This method of operation was far ahead of its time when it was first adopted for military use in 1977, especially when you compare it with individual carbines developed in the 1960s and '70s.
This model is still able to accept 30-round AUG magazines, but if you're hell bent on using M4 magazines because you managed to hoard a sizeable collection during the 2012/2013 gun-buying panic, Steyr offers another stock that accepts STANAG magazines. Note that AUG magazines are also offered in 10- and 42-round capacities.
It's my opinion, however, that Steyr's translucent 30-round magazines (translucent before anyone thought to make magazines out of see-through polymer) are far better quality. The Steyr AUG mags enjoy a better reputation overseas for being the most reliable detachable mags built for a NATO rifle.
In part, this rep can be credited to the strong, yet elastic qualities of the polymer body and the rear lockup tabs, which help to keep the bullet nose properly oriented with the chamber's feed ramps. Long before space-age polymers were used in making AR-type magazines, the AUG mag's rigid polymer design could withstand more abuse than the aluminum-bodied mags currently fielded by most NATO countries.
With the ergonomics of the AUG/A1, universal fit and ambidexterity were common themes, but now the user can kick away brass by swapping out the bolt and removing and snapping an ejection port cover to the other side. Unfortunately, the aforementioned AUG/A3 stock that accepts AR-type magazines does not carry this ambidextrous highlight.
Operating a Steyr AUG can be a bit awkward for Americans more familiar with AR-type platforms, but practice will reveal just how comfortable and user friendly the Steyr AUG is. The manual of arms is very different than other modern semiautos, but once mastered, the AUG's weight distribution to the rear makes it quick to snap on target and comfortable to shoot from any position. Unlike an AR, much of the weight is in the rear of the stock, so shooters often perceive that the AUG weighs less than it actually does.
Like earlier AUGs, the A3 M1 maintains the design's famous quick-change barrel and foldable forward grip. The 16-inch heavy barrels of earlier versions give the entire rifle an overall length of just 28.15 inches. This makes for a tight and potentially discreet, yet versatile carbine when you consider that the M4 at its shortest collapsed-stock length averages 29¾ inches. This is ideal for military and law enforcement, which are concerned with operating from vehicles and in tight quarters, or civilians who are continuously tweaking personal defense plans.
Though the Steyr AUG presents such a short package, it somehow manages to keep sub-MOA accuracy. I don't quite understand it. When shooting the AUG, AR users are often mystified since the removable barrel isn't free floated. The barrel that accompanies each semiauto AUG/A3 is from FN. These FN barrels are cold-hammer forged on Austrian mandrels from Steyr using the same steel FN utilizes for its legendary machine guns.
At the range, I observed a preference for 62-grain loads. Even with military-grade ammo, the AUG/A3 had no problems printing five-shot groups from 100 yards into 1 inch or less. This has to be the most accurate nonfree-floated carbine in existence.
The AUG/A3 is awesome, but it does have a few flaws. For one, the crossbolt safety has four sharp corners that will eventually eat your finger's flesh if you like to engage and disengage the safety between strings. I contacted Steyr Arms to register my complaint, only to be told that I could take a file and knock off the sharp corners.
Second, the triggers on most bullpups suck when compared with most aftermarket AR triggers these days. In other bullpup rifles, this is usually due to a long transfer-bar system that has to manipulate a sear in a trigger pack that's closer to your shoulder than your trigger finger.
In the AUG, Steyr has told me that the rifle was actually designed with a heavier trigger intended to require more pressure for battlefield situations. Having fired an AUG that had in excess of 20,000 rounds through it, I can attest that these triggers do improve with use, but it seems like aftermarket trigger companies are missing an opportunity to make a lightweight option.
On the AUG/A1 and AUG/A2, the limiting factor in a user's ability to achieve pinpoint accuracy could have been the integral optic. It was formerly manufactured using Swarovski glass. It wasn't terrible, but it did limit the Steyr AUG's versatility.
The AUG/A3 M1 is new in that it offers a multi-configurable variant. The optic attachment platform is available in three different interchangeable options: one with a short rail, one with a high-rail and another with integrated optics, either a fixed 1.5X or 3X. The 1.5X optic incorporates a medium crosshair with an empty, heavy rangefinding circle, whereas the 3X optic carries a medium-crosshair, heavy circle with a thin internal crosshair.
Though the scope now features Picatinny rails running at 12 and 3 o'clock, when attached, the entire setup echoes the slant-back fixed-power profile everyone thinks back to on the original AUGs. The top rail has 15 numbered slots in two sections for adding other accessories, but it also works to protect both sides of the elevation adjustment knob from being knocked around. The same description applies to the windage dial on the right except that the side rails on the optic only have four slots.
The M1's 16-slot High-Rail and 11-slot Short-Rail options afford users the opportunity to use virtually any other type of optic or manage unnecessary rail estate. Either rail length or optic is user interchangeable if one consults the owner's manual for basic disassembly procedures. They are simply attached to the receiver from underneath and secured by three hex-head screws. (Applying removable Loctite is recommended for each set of threads before installing.)
Atop the front of the receiver is a socket cup ready to accept a quick-disconnect sling swivel like the one provided with the AUG/A3 M1. Combined with sockets at the rear on each side of the stock, this bullpup is easily slung for carry.
Zero malfunctions occurred when this rifle was function tested in Steyr's equally impressive indoor range. I'm told that if a Steyr AUG doesn't shoot sub-MOA out of the box, they simply don't ship it. That's a bold accuracy guarantee but one I certainly have experienced for myself. I've worked with a Steyr AUG/A3 for nearly two years and the AUG/A3 M1 Mud example seen here since I built it last April. This experience makes for the fourth time I've tested a Steyr AUG. My conclusion? It won't be my last.