The Steyr AUG Family of Assault Rifles

By swapping out barrels and optics, the basic AUG could be
transformed into a Squad Automatic Weapon.

The year was 1977. I was 11 years old. I sat ensconced between two cousins on the front row of a pitiful little movie theater in Brookhaven, Miss. There was a new movie out that had the school playground all abuzz. The bad guy was rumored to be some big black guy in a spacesuit. I imagined Wilt Chamberlain striding forth from the Lunar Module.

One hundred five rapturous minutes later I was an altogether different kid. That young stud had just seen Star Wars for the first time. My little world would never again be the same.

At the same time, on the other side of the planet, Austrian grunts filed into their arms rooms to draw some sparkly new infantry rifles. Just as George Lucas’ ragtag mob of space pirates and Jedi Knights transformed American cinemas, likewise did this remarkable plastic gun transform the way the world made combat weapons. The design was so prescient it remains in service minimally changed even today.

It would be tough to overstate how radical the Armee-Universal-Gewehr was at the time of its introduction. Designated the “StG 77” in Austrian Army parlance, the AUG featured a built-in Swarovski optical sight, a polymer chassis, injection-molded fire controls, a quick-change barrel, bullpup architecture and a translucent polymer magazine. Even the hammer, trigger and sear were molded out of plastic. It took us decades to perfect the Magpul P-Mag, the first domestically produced polymer assault rifle magazine that could give the AUG magazine a run for its money.

The AUG has since been adopted by the militaries of Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia as well as the U.S. Customs and Immigration Agency. The military rifle is built under license in Australia and Malaysia. The Aussies call the weapon the F88 Austeyr. The Australian Diggers I worked with operationally back in the 1990s seemed to revere theirs. Steyr currently manufactures semiauto versions for American civilian consumption in Bessemer, Ala.

Today’s Steyr Männlicher GmbH & Co KG was originally Steyr-Daimler-Puch. The company is built upon a foundation of innovative martial excellence spanning centuries. During World War I, Steyr’s 15,000 workers churned out some 4,000 weapons per day for the Kaiser. Steyr produced MP40 submachine guns and MG42 General Purpose Machineguns by the multiple thousands during World War II. Based in the city of Steyr, Austria, Steyr Mannlicher became an independent entity in 1990 when the previous parent company was reorganized. Steyr’s extraordinary reputation for producing superlative military and hunting arms is well deserved.

Even the fire control unit of the Steyr AUG is molded polymer.

The gas system of the AUG is readily adjustable.

The Steyr AUG integral optic was years ahead of its time.


The AUG’s modular receiver is formed from an aluminum extrusion with steel reinforcements. Barrels are cold-hammer-forged with a 1-in-9 twist. Swapping the barrel entails locking the bolt open, pressing the release button, giving the foregrip a quick twist and withdrawing the tube from the front. Easy peazy.

The stock is formed from polyamide 66. This fiberglass-reinforced material is heat stable and resistant to chemical and UV degradation. That’s de rigueur these days, but the AUG did it first. There is a full-length trigger guard to accommodate gloves. Stocks are available in black, green and MUD brown.

The rotating bolt sports seven locking lugs, while the barrel and gas system are hard-chrome plated. Ejection is readily reversible by exchanging the right-hand bolt for a left-hand version and snapping the plastic ejection port cover to the opposite side. Magazines are available in 10-, 30- and 42-round capacities.

The short-stroke gas-piston operating system is three-position-adjustable via a rotating plug on the far end. The small dot indicates normal operation. The large dot is for excessive fouling. The third position shuts off the gas system completely for use with rifle grenades should life go truly pear-shaped.

This full-auto AUG HBAR is caught in the middle of a 20-round burst. Note the complete lack of muzzle rise.

The AUG is actually a family of weapons all built around a common receiver.


Modularity is the holy gospel among modern warriors today. Back when I wore the uniform, the fact I rigged my rifle sling to the top of my M16A1 with a piece of 550 cord made me seem radical. Meanwhile, over in Austria, by swapping out barrels and entrails, the common Steyr AUG receiver could serve as everything from a pistol-caliber submachinegun to an infantryman’s assault rifle to a light machinegun. It took the rest of the planet a generation to catch up.

Bullpup weapons place the action behind the fire controls and folks either love or hate them. Modern examples include the Israeli Tavor, the Springfield Armory Hellion, the FN2000, The Kel-Tec RDB, the British L85 and most any magazine-fed handgun. Your typical 1911, SIG, Beretta, or GLOCK pistol indeed meets this bullpup criteria if you think about it.

Bullpup weapons are shorter than their more conventional brethren. This allows a longer barrel in a more compact chassis with concomitant increased velocity and enhanced accuracy potential. The downsides include a long, potentially mushy trigger and difficulty shooting from the weak shoulder. With the exception of the FN2000 and the Kel-Tec family of bullpup rifles, most bullpups will eject empties into your face when fired from the weak side.

While the optical sight and polymer construction did indeed pave the way for most combat weapons to come, certain aspects of the AUG’s revolutionary design never quite caught on. A sort-of weird aspect of the AUG’s military design was the way the fire controls were incorporated into the trigger. A basic crossbolt safety located ahead of the trigger on the standard rifle works just like your grandad’s .22. Right is safe and left is fire.

Like the vintage Ingram Model 6 and the German Bergmann MP-35 SMG, a short pull on the trigger produces semiauto fire, while a long pull results in rock and roll. That’s great and all, but when you’re fighting for your life, it is tough to keep track of such arcane stuff. Modern military versions still sport the two-stage fire selector in the trigger but also incorporate a third position in the safety button restricting the rifle to semiauto operation. This system offers a more traditional manual-fire selector as a result.

The Microtech STG-556 was a relatively short-lived American-made copy of the Steyr AUG.

The beating heart of the AUG is its modular aluminum receiver.


The American-made semiauto AUG A3 M1 comes in four distinct flavors. The 11-slot Short Rail version incorporates a minimalist optics mounting low to the receiver. The 16-slot High Rail elevates the optic for an improved cheek weld.

The integral carrying handle optic incorporates either a 1.5 or 3X sight. Reticles are slightly different for the two designs but both include a set of crosshairs radiating out from a central range-finding circle. These integral scopes also include lengths of Picatinny rail machined into their housings. There is a very basic set of fixed sights built into the top as an emergency backup. The optic is easy to adjust with a screwdriver, coin or cartridge case. There is also a last-round bolt hold open, an accessory rail on the receiver and a standard quick-release forward sling attachment point.

The AUG HBAR (Heavy Barreled Automatic Rifle) includes a 24″ heavy barrel and built-in bipod along with a slightly redesigned flash suppressor. This variant can be used as either a designated marksman rifle with a proper optic or a Squad Automatic Weapon. Swapping out the bolt carrier and fire control unit allows the SAW version to fire from the open bolt if desired.

At 15 meters, it is not a chore to keep rounds on target
when firing bursts through the AUG HBAR.

Steyr’s legacy of weapons production spans centuries. The company produced this wartime MP-40 in 1940.

Practical Tactical

Running a bullpup rifle like the AUG is indeed a substantial departure from your favorite M4. Your strong hand is closer to the center of gravity of the weapon, so the extra weight does not seem as onerous as might otherwise be the case. Magazine changes involve reaching back to stroke the centerline magazine release and are incrementally slower than the same chore with your M4 as a result. However, if my life depends upon the extra half second, I guess I’m just done. Trust me, I had a good run.

You expect the trigger on a bullpup rifle to suck, but it really doesn’t. It’s a bit mushier than a tuned AR trigger, but not by much. This is a combat trigger. If you are using this rifle as it is intended, you’ll never notice.

The 1.5X optic is what birthed everything else. Early reticles consisted of a simple circle affectionately known as the “Donut of Death.” This is a great both-eyes-open tactical solution for engagements at intimate ranges. The railed version accommodates your Holosight, ACOG, or any long-range precision glass. The end result feels great and shoots straight.

The bullpup design of the Steyr AUG keeps the rifle compact and maneuverable.


1977 was indeed a big year. Elvis Presley died sitting on the toilet at age 42 and the Atari 2600 video game infiltrated living rooms from sea to shining sea. A telephone was the size of a shoebox and tethered to the wall, while apples came from trees rather than factories in China. 1977 also saw the first test of the now-ubiquitous MRI scanner. We’ve obviously come a long way since then.

While bell bottoms, banana-seat bicycles, luxurious sideburns and airbrushed conversion vans have not aged terribly well, the Steyr AUG didn’t seem to age at all. This same 1977-vintage rifle still holds its own with the most modern offerings today. It is superlative modular Information Age firepower birthed in the days of disco.

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