This piece is adapted from an article appearing in Volume 5, Number 1 of the Small Arms Defence Journal.
In September 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Lithgow (New South Wales, Australia) at the invitation of Thales Australia in order to conduct a Test and Evaluation (T&E) of their Enhanced F88 Assault Rifle. This weapon is being developed for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) under the Land 125 Phase 3C program. Pending the results of Department of Defence testing, this rifle will be in the early stages of manufacturing in 2014. A version of the EF88, with several minor differences, is being marketed globally by Thales as the F90, drawing directly on the Australian small arms experience. The EF88 is the latest iteration of the long-serving F88 Austeyr; this updated weapon has been designed and produced more than 20 years after the first F88 rifles entered service in Australia, and over 35 years since the Steyr AUG on which it is based was first designed in Austria. Fundamentally, the EF88 remains much the same as its predecessors: a bullpup-configuration selective fire weapon, chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge, short-stroke piston operated and firing from a closed bolt.
Despite core similarities, the EF88 features a number of improvements designed to make the weapon more user-friendly and more combat effective. Many of these changes were inspired by a combination of operational user input and Defence specifications, whilst others were entirely Thales Australia’s own concepts. In fact, Thales Australia made a corporate decision to exceed the specifications laid out by Defence in Land 125, and have upgraded their operations at Lithgow from ‘build-to-print’ manufacturing to encompass a true Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) capability.