Having faced a mortal threat for all its four decades' existence, Israel has become a modern-day Sparta, with an extensive military industry unmatched among nations its size.

Israeli military equipment is notable less for its pure innovation than for skillful and informed adaptation of existing designs, with an eye for reliability and economy. One of the most famous examples was the mounting of television cameras on radio-controlled model airplanes that allowed Israel to inflict a humiliating defeat on Syrian air and air-defense forces in 1982.

The Galil rifle is a typical Israeli product that breaks no new ground, but it combines features from many existing arms into an effective whole.

Israel Defense Force (IDF) troops were armed with the FN FAL rifle in the Six-Day War of 1967, and there were calls after that conflict for a lighter and handier individual weapon. A design team led by Israel Galil tested a variety of arms, including the AK-47, M16 and Stoner 63. It reached the conclusion many before and since have - it liked the 5.56 mm cartridge of the M16, but preferred the AK-47's conventional piston to the M16's direct-impingement gas system.

It selected one of the most up-to-date variants of the AK-47 from which to work-the Valmet M62. The Finnish firm provided the first 1,000 receivers for the new rifle, which was officially adopted in 1972. Insufficient quantities of the Galil were available at the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, so Israel was provided large quantities of M16 rifles by the United States. These continue to be used alongside the Galils.

Civilian semi-automatic Galils are imported by Action Arms in two versions. The ARM most closely duplicates the military version. The AR is a lighter-weight gun with a plastic fore-end and with the bipod deleted. Both are available in 7.62x51 mm and 5.56x45 mm.

The first reaction of everyone who handled the Galil ARM tested here was surprise at its considerable weight. At 10 lbs., 2 ozs. unloaded, it is half again as heavy as the original M16. This emphasizes that European and other nations have not necessarily regarded the switch from 7.62 mm to 5.56mm in terms of reducing weapon weight, but rather in terms of reducing ammunition weight and volume. The Galil's heft is about the same as the FAL's but the soldier can carry much more 5.56 mm ammunition.

The next attention-grabbing point is the very long magazine, a descendant of the Stoner 63 box. It is interesting that the Israelis eschewed interoperability between their M16s and Galils, but perhaps they wished to avoid the compound curve required by the M16's 30-round box. Action Arms offers an adapter that allows M16 magazines to fit the Galil, and also brings in the 50-round magazine used in the squad-automatic role by the IDF.

The long magazine requires, in turn, long bipod legs. These are suspended from a large casting that incorporates the gas cylinder, front sight base and front sling attachment staple. To lower the bipod, pinch the feet together and lower the bipod from its recess in the bottom of the fore-end. A strong wrapped-wire coil spring spreads the legs when they are fully downward. The bipod is equipped with a wire cutter that uses the bipod legs for leverage.

The U-shaped bracket that retains the bipod legs is the mounting point for an FAL-type carrying handle. This allows the rifle to be carried briefcase fashion when the buttstock, also of FAL pattern, is folded. This is one of the simplest folding buttstocks; it is pressed down to unlatch, and relatches automatically when returned to the unfolded position.

Another FAL feature the Israelis apparently liked was the "left-handed" operating handle that allows cocking or clearing with the trigger hand on the pistol grip. The AK-47 is a "right-handed" gun whose operating handle extends to the right. The designers apparently grafted an FAL handle to the AK-47 bolt, pointing upward. This allows easy operation with either hand, especially in the hip-level patrolling carry the Israelis favor.

One of the Galil's most interesting features is the safety. The AK-47 safety is a long lever on the right side of the receiver that blocks the operating handle's channel when pressed upward into the "safe" position. The bolt may be partially retracted to allow examination of the chamber.

The system is well-proven, but requires that the firer either operate the safety lever with the left hand or remove the trigger hand from the pistol grip to release the safety. The Galil features a thumb safety lever connected directly to the conventional safety. When pressed forward, it drops the left-hand safety out of the path of the bolt into the "fire" position. (The standard safety lever may be used in the traditional fashion if desired but is inconvenient with the buttstock folded.) The thumb effort required is noticeable, though not excessive.

The sighting system is a combination of Valmet and M16 features. The rear sight is mounted on the receiver cover - in contrast to the usual AK-47 location atop the barrel. It has an M16-type L-shaped aperture with settings for 300 and 500 meters. The front sight is adjustable for windage and elevation, the latter by raising or lowering the sight post. Windage is adjusted by turning a pair of opposing screws to move the sight block left or right. The instruction manual indicates that both windage and elevation are varied about 6" at 100 yds. per turn.

The Galil is also equipped with the most effective night sight system seen here recently. The T-shaped front sight is hinged at the rear of the front sight ring and retracts to a protected position when the regular sights are in use. The husky U-shaped rear sight is mounted at the front of the rear sight base and is flipped forward into position. The L-shaped day sight aperture is flipped into an intermediate position to allow use of the night sights.

The night sights are marked with a minute amount of radioactive tritium. This glows in the dark, allowing alignment of the front sight with a pair of glowing dots in the rear aperture. The dots were very bright, allowing easy viewing in a partially darkened room.

The Galil allows easy installation of a telescope sight. A dovetail milled into the right side of the receiver accommodates a mounting base with a hex-recessed screw and a pair of aligning roll pins. The block is tapped into place with a non-marring mallet, the screw is turned into a recess in the receiver, and the scope mounting base can be secured to the block with a large thumbscrew. While military versions have a scope base that mounts the scope alongside the receiver, MID fashion, for the U.S. market Action Arms provides a curved scope mount that positions the scope above the receiver. The mounting rail is affixed to a rectangular box that allows use of the metallic sights.

Disassembly of the Galil is perfectly conventional, except that the cover latch is unusually long. This, no doubt, contributes to the secure retention of the receiver cover, but requires a bit of extra manipulation when that part is replaced.

To disassemble the Galil, ensure that the gun is unloaded, remove the magazine and place either safety lever in the "fire" position.

Carefully press forward on the cover latch, then pull upward on the rear of the receiver cover. Then draw the cover rearward and off the receiver. Press the latch piece forward out of its dovetail in the receiver, lift up slightly and allow the recoil spring to press it rearward. Then withdraw the latch piece, recoil spring and guide rearward from the bolt and set them aside. The bolt then may be pulled to the rear of the receiver, where it can be lifted slightly and then withdrawn from the rifle.

The bolt head is readily removed by pressing it to its farthest-rearward position and turning a quarter-turn counter-clockwise. It then may be withdrawn forward out of the breechblock. The Galil's operating rod is chrome-plated and shares with the Valmet rifles the star-shaped projection behind the piston head. The gas tube is simply withdrawn directly to the rear. No further disassembly is recommended, nor should it be required under normal circumstances. Reassembly is in reverse order.

The Galil ARM was fired for accuracy, with results shown in the accompanying table, and function-fired with Federal, Hansen, PMC and Samson ammunition. The Galil has a 12" rifling twist for M193 and equivalent ammunition.

As might be suspected from its weight, the Galil is an unusually mild-recoiling rifle. Muzzle climb is virtually non-existent. Flash is well-controlled by the FN-type flash hider. Empty cartridge cases are ejected at a rather high angle forward of the shooter.

The rifle's 6-lb. trigger was excellent by military standards - even by current commercial standards. The sighting system is a vast improvement over the open sights of the AK-47 family, though the adjustment system isn't exactly that of a target gun. The folding stock provides above-average comfort for its type, though purchasers of the 7.62 mm version might want to consider the optional wood "sniper" stock.

In all, the Galil ARM is a fine example of the Israeli talent for selecting and blending features from a variety of arms into a harmonious whole.

This article is one of many that were published in 1988 by the NRA in their book entitled "Semi Auto Rifles". ISBN 0-935998-54-3