Bullpup rifles – the Steyr AUG A3 USA / MSAR STG-556-E4 (updated)

UPDATE – Turns out that Sabre Defense, LLC… who was manufacturing the AUG A3 in the USA for Steyr, is being sold.  Steyr had ceased manufacturing the AUG A3 as of October of 2010.  From what I read, only 1860 AUG A3’s were produced in the US.  Anyway, I guess I can safely cross that blaster off my list for now, as there’s no sense in paying for something that I may not be able to get parts for.

As for MSAR, my local dealer mentioned that there are rumors of financial troubles since last year.  I hope not.  I know things have been really slow in the current economy because most folks can’t afford to pull out $2000 for a new blaster, especially since the ‘Obama gun bubble’ of 2008-2009.  I’d really hate to see another manufacturer go under.


Original post from 01Feb2011

I’ve alway been intrigued by bullpup rifles, mainly because they generally have an overall length much shorter than traditional configurations.  This is because the action and magazine have been relocated from the traditional location in front of the trigger assembly, to behind it, in the space where the buttstock would normally be.

The rifle most folks think of when they hear the word ‘bullpup’ is the Steyr AUG.  It was adopted by the Austrian Army in 1977 as the StG 77.  It was the first successful bullpup design fielded, and is still in use today over 30 years later, having been adopted by the several other countries, including Argentina and Australia.  The French Army adopted their own bullpup rifle, the FAMAS a year later.

Back in 1977, the AUG was quite futuristic looking, being made mostly out of polymer (translation: plastic) parts, with the exception of the barrel and bolt assembly.  Even the proprietary magazine was made of a translucent polymer.  It featured an integral 1.5X optic, which was very forward thinking for that time, especially considering that 1977 was the year of Saturday Night Fever.  This was almost 20 years before the US Army started issuing the now ubiquitous red-dot optical sights to troops.

Back in the 1989 George H.W. Bush (the older ass-hole) in his supreme wisdom banned the importation of rifle with ‘no sporting purpose’ unless they were assembled with less than 10 imported parts.  This specifically targeted so-called ‘assault rifles’.

This means if the rifle has 18 parts, then 9 of those parts must be US made parts.  This effectively killed the importation of the Steyr AUG, since until very recently, there were no US made parts for the rifle.  Of course, prices for previously imported AUG’s went way up to about $5000 each.

Original AUG

Enter Microtech Small Arms Research.  In 2007, MSAR introduced a clone of the Steyr AUG A1 for around $1600 street price.  It was domestically made, with all parts made in the USA.  I handled one at a local gun shop a few years ago, and it was quite nice.  A fairly faithful copy of the original.  I never did like the integral optic though.  Later designs replaced the integrated optic with a section of 1913 rail, allowing the user to install the optic of choice.  MSAR’s E4 version uses standard AR-15 magazines instead of the original AUG magazines.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure why Steyr decided to get back into the US market with the AUG in 2009.  It may have been because they didn’t like MSAR stealing their thunder, or it just have been because of the buying frenzy ‘inspired’ by the #1 gun salesman of 2009, President Barack Obama.  Regardless, Steyr contracted with Sabre Defense International to manufacture the barrel and enough USA made parts to be Title 18 U.S.C. (922r) compliant.  The result is the AUG A3 USA, with some design enhancements such as the 1913 rail in place of the integrated optic, and a few other tweaks.  I’m liking it.  Street price is around $1900-$2000.

Latest version for the US market - A3 USA

Steyr recently introduced a ‘NATO Conversion unit’ ($375) for it’s A3 USA model.  Basically, its a replacement stock that allows the use of standard AR-15/M16 magazines instead of the proprietary (and expensive) AUG magazines.  Bummer that it’s currently available only in black.

Steyr AUG NATO Conversion unit

What do I like most about the AUG?  Without a doubt, it’s the compactness of the design.

As a comparison, a AR-15 with a 20 inch barrel and fixed stock has an overall length of 41 inches, whereas a Steyr AUG with a 20-inch barrel has an overall length of only 31 inches, 10 inches shorter.  In fact, a Steyr AUG with a 20-inch barrel is even shorter than my AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel and collapsible stock (approx. 33.5 inches with stock in shortest position).  Now I can have a full-length 20-inch barrel and the accompanying additional 300 feet per second in velocity over the 16-inch barrel, in a shorter, more compact package.  In fact, I can probably jam a suppressor onto a 16-inch barrel and still come out shorter than my AR-15 carbine.  Nice.

So what’s not to like?  Well, a few things.

1- Magazine location: Magazine changes are going to be slower than a ‘standard’ AR-15 platform that most of us are used to.  With an AR-15, you just need to reach forward and press the magazine release button to drop the magazine.  Very ergonomic, very simple.  Not so for the AUG.  The location of the magazine well on the AUG is well to the rear, and IMHO, pretty awkward.  You’d pretty much need to keep the buttstock shouldered when you jam that magazine in there or it may not lock in there properly.  Also, the location of the magazine well so close to your shoulder pretty much forces you to look down when changing magazines, unlike an AR-15 where the magazine well is way out front and in your ‘workspace’.

2- Trigger guard: I hate the trigger guard on the AUG.  Mainly because as far as I’m concerned, it really doesn’t exist.  Sure, there’s this doohicky that extends from in front of the trigger all the way down to the bottom of the grip, but the trigger itself isn’t really protected, as theres a lot of wide open space for something other than your finger to press on the trigger.  I’m not liking that at all.

3- Sight radius: The trade off for a short compact blaster is that your sight radius will be reduced.  I fully realize that most folks will put a red-dot optic of some kind up there, and I would too.  Just realize that any BUIS (backup iron sights) that you put up on that top rail will have a short sight radius.

All in all though, not a bad rifle at all.  The only real downside for me is cost.  At about $2000 each, I’d have to really want one.  Let’s just say that I’m intrigued.

2 thoughts on “Bullpup rifles – the Steyr AUG A3 USA / MSAR STG-556-E4 (updated)

  1. I spent 6 hours last night looking for someone that sold the NATO conversion, but no luck. I you had any info on someone that might sell the conversion, I would be very grateful

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