The G36 could easily be pictured in the hands of a police commando resembling a stormtrooper who’s escorting Snake Pliskin to some wall of a prison island that was once a chunk of the United States.
Instead, it’s finding its way into the hands of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers on the front lines of a war where it’s muzzle thumping the Islamic State every chance it gets. Despite the German government insisting the weapon is catastrophically flawed, they keep sending them and the Kurds are putting them to use.
Personally I have found the G36 to be a reliable and accurate platform; it’s possibly one of the most versatile assault rifles in the world. With the capability to customize virtually any part of it with relative ease, the end user can cater to mission-specific demands on the fly so long as the parts are available. I also find it to be ergonomically pleasant in all areas of use with little to no difficulty attaining stability even in full battle rattle.
The G36 is nearly fully ambidextrous, sporting an easy-to-use safety lever on both sides of the trigger group/lower receiver. It has sling mounts at the end of the handguard and rear of the buttstock, and also has one on the rear left side of the receiver. A particularly rare feature, especially for its time, is the bolt-catch mechanism, which lies on the underside of the receiver in front of the trigger. Functioning a lot like the Magpul BAD lever, it enables the bolt to be locked to the rear with the lift of a finger, making clearing double feeds a breeze.
Another unique feature is its charging handle, which can be operated from either side of the weapon and locked into place on either the left or right side if so desired. This enables the user to operate the weapon with relative ease during malfunctions or a simple reload. Simply pull back on the charging handle to send the bolt forward from the rearward locked position.
The receiver is constructed of a thick polymer that carries the block of a bolt carrier group (similar to the SCAR’s BCG) on tracks. It’s hard to imagine integrity being truly compromised unless subjected to intensely hot temperatures, the kind achieved by hundreds of rounds being fired at a cyclic rate—not the way this firearm is intended to be employed. That being said, replacing it with a MIL-SPEC aluminum alloy receiver would be a huge improvement at the cost of a marginal increase in weight, in this author’s opinion.
Triggers are one of the most important features of a rifle, and H&K must have had this in mind. Sporting a two-stage combat trigger, the G36 has a smooth take-up and crisp break with minimal creep at around five lbs. (guesstimate). The reset is not terribly long and gives a satisfying audible click upon reaching its reset point. I personally find it similar to that of the SCAR yet again. Maybe FNH got their inspiration from somewhere?
The buttstock is a folding, skeletonized piece that offers a decent cheek weld. Its push-button folding mechanism is abrasive and smooth to operate. The stock can be locked into a folded-over position and fired in that configuration. With a stout pull, it is easy to snap it into a fixed position on the fly and promptly shoulder it. For added comfort, it has a rubber buttpad on the rear of the stock.
The barrel, while not quite as slim as the oh so popular “pencil” barrel profile we see on many modern sporter AR15s now, or on the original M16A1, is slightly slimmer than that of the M16A4. It’s a free-floating design, made of 4150 cold hammer-forged steel, and has a six-groove 1:7 twist rate, making it ideal for hard use with the M855 NATO 5.56mm bullet. It’s tipped with 1/2×28 threading and ratcheting-style flash hider. One MOA groups are relatively easy to attain when maintaining proper shooting fundamentals at the 100-meter range. Despite German complaints over accuracy deficiency, any weapon having been through a cyclic 400 rounds is going to throw a loose group.
Field stripping is a breeze with a small amount of practice, and little to no cleaning is required, given the G36 is a short-stroke gas piston-driven weapon. Everything comes apart through the removal of three takedown pins, which can be handily retained in the buttstock as you go, making them harder to misplace. That would be bad. Components are robust and even on the old German Army-issue rifle I have now, show few signs of wear.
The magazine well can be configured with the pop of a pin and the necessary parts to use NATO GI mags. This is a worthwhile combination, but not easy to do here. With its standard setup, a Kalashnikov-style magazine release is the name of the game. The magazines themselves, although they drop free, leave a good deal to be desired. The anti-tilt followers ensure reliable cycling of the bolt, but the box is fat—making it difficult to find pouches that are suitable for carrying the mags.
The material is a cheap, clear polymer that feels brittle and apparently is, since I’ve seen more than one shattered after a fight. Thankfully none of mine. Being proprietary, they are extremely hard to come by in Kurdistan and even more expensive. A positive feature is the integral mag coupler system, which makes consolidation simple and speed reloads faster.
The bread and butter of this rifle is its dual optic system on a removable carry handle. Despite its bulkiness overall, a two MOA red dot on top of a 4x BDC-style reticle makes for a nasty combination when changing environments on a battlefield. The red dot itself is powered by a fiber optic sliding window on top of the optic itself, or with the flip of a switch, a AA lithium battery for use at night and in dim environments.
The ACOG-style scope has a stadiometric chart in the bottom left corner similar to the SVD, and a simple crosshair-type BDC that has markers for 200, 400, 600, and 800 meters (rolls eyes). While this is a handy tool, there is no way this rifle can hit a man at 800m. I don’t care what H&K claims. Okay, maybe with a little luck, but not in this war.
My chief complaints with the optic are the mechanics and methods behind zeroing it. To achieve a proper zero requires turning an Allen wrench along increments etched into the side of the optic. On top of this, there are no audible clicks—just a smooth twisting sensation. While this does not make zeroing the weapon impossible, it does create a hassle and it may take a few groups to get a satisfactory zero depending on the user.
Overall, the rifle is an exceptional piece of engineering by the Germans. I have had no issues with overheating or degradation in accuracy after sustained use. It performs cleanly and reliably even after being caked in moon dust or getting banged around a little in a Humvee or truck. Zero is maintained exceptionally well, to the point where we shoot cigarette boxes at 100m regularly. I don’t really have many complaints or bad things to say about the G36. It works exceptionally well for its role here with the Peshmerga. As far as I’m concerned, the Germans can keep sending their de-issued ones here, because the Kurds need all the logistical support they can get.
Kurt is a four-year Marine Corps veteran who served in multiple billets to include positions in training, logistics, and command operations center roles. He is currently serving as a military advisor and volunteer soldier with Kurdish Peshmerga forces. When not taking the fight to the Islamic State, he enjoys drinking chai and chain smoking with Kurdish friends alongside other volunteers.
This article previously published on SOFREP 10.15.2015
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