For those who have not been following my articles on the Thales Australia EF88 rifle, you can start here. There is also some additional video of the EF88 and ML40AUS being fired, as well as some high-speed footage of the ML40AUS being fired. In the latest image of the EF88 above, note that the bolt catch release, as requested by Defence in late 2012, is now present on the EF88 as well as the F90.
I have received some further information from the Australian Department of Defence on the status of the new EF88 rifle under Defence’s LAND 125 Phase 3C program, including updated project milestones. I am also including some information on recent testing conducted by Defence personnel, as well as a confirmation that Thales is now testing the rifle with two different grenade launchers, rather than just the Madritsch ML40AUS as was previously offered to Defence. The EF88 under project LAND 125 Phase 3C is currently progressing towards second pass approval. Whilst the data collected during testing remains commercial-in-confidence and not available for release, Defence told me that the completion of the design qualification for the EF88 is expected to occur in December this year. A decision on whether the rifle obtains second pass approval is expected in 2015. A Defence spokesperson noted: “contingent upon LAND 125 Phase 3C achieving Second Pass approval in 2015, introduction of the rifle to service is expected to commence from 2016”.
As mentioned in my last update, the ML40AUS has been the subject of some engineering concerns. A confidential source familiar with the technical side of the project did not specify what the concerns were, but referred to them as “significant”. It appears that Thales have wisely decided to test a second grenade launcher assembly (GLA) with the system. The second grenade launcher that is undergoing testing is a variant of the Steyr Mannlicher GL40, seen below attached to an F90 rifle. The GL40 was released at Eurosatory 2012 (incidentally, the same trade show Thales debuted the F90 at), and is a lightweight grenade launcher with a side-opening breech. It features a 180mm barrel, is 270mm in overall length, and weighs just over one kilogram. It appears that the GL40 variant pictured has been designed specifically for the unique geometry of the EF88/F90, mounting to the lower STANAG 4694 rail and allowing the trigger to protrude through the rifle’s trigger guard in much the same way as the ML40AUS. The typical GL40 can be adapted to a standalone configuration, although it is unclear if this will be the case with the variant designed for the EF88/F90. More information on the GL40 can be found here, and the GL40 is also seen in this Steyr-sponsored video.
A Defence spokesperson confirmed that two GLAs were being tested, stating: “Two Grenade Launcher Attachments [sic] are currently under consideration by the Original Equipment Manufacturer who will recommend to the Commonwealth their preferred technical solution”. We’ll just have to wait and see which GLA Thales chooses to put forward.
The EF88 recently underwent 11 days of ‘measure of performance’ trials in Townsville, Queensland. From April 8th to 19th, twenty soldiers from C Company, 1 RAR put both the rifle and the two different GLAs through their paces. These were compared against the current-issue F88SA2 rifle and RM Equipment M203PI GLA during both day and night firing testing sessions. Over 50,000 rounds were put through the weapons. According to the Army Times “computers correlated the results of each man shooting with the two weapons while soldiers filled out surveys and chatted with researchers to give feedback”. It appears that the soldiers testing the weapons responded very positively to the inclusion of a bolt catch release – no surprise there, as many consider the specification for this inclusion a long overdue decision from Defence.
My thanks to Jonathan Ferguson for his assistance with this piece. Images courtesy of Thales Australia.
Update 21/01/2014: Thales selects Steyr SL40 grenade launcher for EF88.