In 2003, the Iranian Defense Industries Organization of Islamic Republic of Iran introduced a modern-looking bullpup designated the Khaybar KH2002. This new assault rifle features a polymer exterior and is chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. It was heralded as a major achievement of the Iranian defense industry. However, seven years later the Khaybar is still not in service.
In reality, the Iranian Khaybar is nothing more than a bullpup conversion of a Chinese knock-off of the 1960s-vintage American M16A1. The origin of this Iranian piece is actually the Chinese CQ rifle built by Arsenal 356 and marketed by Norinco for export sales. “CQ” is short for Chang Qing, which means Ever Prosperous, the civilian name for Arsenal 356. This model was aimed at the U.S. commercial market until the early 1990s when new importation bans imposed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton effectively eliminated the major export market for the Chinese CQ rifle.
The Chinese, being pragmatic and somewhat antagonistic to the American import ban, promptly sold the whole CQ production line to Iran. The Iranians in turn began to produce their version of the CQ a few years later as the S-5.56. The production rate was slow, and the rifle was only issued to a few elite Iranian units and some of their guard units. The majority of Iranian military and paramilitary units are still armed with Kalashnikov clones or licensed HK G3s. In 2003, D.I.O. introduced an upgraded variant, the S-5.56 A3, which features a 1:7-twist barrel to stabilize SS109/M855-type ammunition. The original model, with its 1:12 twist, became the S-5.56 A1.
The Khaybar project began as a bullpup conversion kit for the S-5.56 A1. The project began in 2001, and two years later it was decided that the Khaybar should be a dedicated model all its own. Development of the new design was based on the newer S-5.56 A3 model. The lightweight “pencil barrel” profile of the M16A1 was retained. This ensured that the rifle remained light and maneuverable. The early Khaybar has a slim profile with a large wraparound triggerguard as used on the Steyr AUG. Like early Stoner designs, the charging handle is located inside the carry handle. Making this model soldier-friendly, however, was not high on the designer’s list. This is obvious by the placement of the magazine release and selector levers. Both of these are poorly located near the back of the stock. The rear sight was an M16A1 vintage with a simple L-shaped dual aperture. The front part of the receiver is made from polymer, while the rear receiver is aluminum.
The latest Khaybar prototype has the following features:
- A foregrip extension was added to increase comfort of the support hand.
- The carry handle was enlarged in a manner similar to the French FAMAS.
- The shape of the charging handle was changed.
- The rear sight is now in the M16A2 style with elevation and windage adjustment knobs.
- The sight radius was increased by moving the front sight from the gas block onto the barrel.
- The cooling slots on the receiver were changed to small diagonal slots.
- Two Picatinny rails were added to the receiver for mounting accessories.
- The bolt carrier had been redesigned to fit the ejection port better.
Despite the modifications intended to improve the design, the poor placement of the controls has yet to be addressed. While the design itself is, to be blunt, rather unimpressive, the name of the design was given a bit more thought. The name Khaybar was chosen by the Iranians for political motives: It’s anti-Semitic. Khaybar is an Arabian oasis that in the 7th century was a prosperous Jewish town. Jealous of the Jews, the Muslims attacked and overran Khaybar. After the town was sacked and many Jewish women were taken, the conquered Jews were forced into serfdom, with half of their harvest taken annually. Under the crushing poverty and humiliations, Jews of Khaybar rebelled a few years later, but failed to overthrow their Muslim overlords. All the surviving Jews were then driven into exile.
The rifle design itself is little more than a 1960s-vintage M16A1 in a modern-looking shell. The design appears to be not only poorly thought out, but poorly executed. Plus, it appears that Iran’s Khaybar bullpup is nowhere close to actually being ready for production. It even appears that D.I.O. has dropped the KH2002 part from its designation to hide the company’s embarrassment.