Galil's New Sniper Rifle

by Peter G. Kokalis

Throughout history snipers and their equipment have held the military's interest only during periods of armed conflict. Between wars they languish in a limbo buried under higher priorities. But Israel's state of siege never ends, so it stands to reason that sniping would occupy no small role in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tactics. Yet until recently their snipers have made do with little more than exhausted M14s - junkyard remnants of American military hopes left rotting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Working in close support with the army, an Israel Military Industries (IMI) weapons division team commenced development of an indigenous sniping system in 1980. Taking note of Russia's success at mass producing the Dragunov, large-scale series production without serious compromise of the accuracy potential was a key objective. The resulting rifle, while not totally satisfactory in my opinion, is, nonetheless, a sincere effort to comply with the user's requirements.

Starting with the Galil rifle, itself an extensive modification of the Kalashnikov system (early prototypes were in fact assembled with Finnish Valmet M62 receivers), IMI's response to the infantry's need to strike at multiple targets both quickly and accurately checks in at 18.3 pounds, complete with scope, bipod and loaded magazine. While Israeli soldiers are well-known for their ability to hump with awesome loads, this is still far too heavy. Overall length with the stock unfolded and the muzzle brake installed is approximately 43 inches.

Built around the Galil's heavy forged receiver, chambering is for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. Since snipers will employ match-grade ammunition, adding in essence a different cartridge to the pipeline, the belted .300 Winchester Magnum would have been a superior choice, as it provides less variation in point of impact at long ranges.

Firing from the closed-bolt position, the Galil is gas-operated without an adjustable regulator. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer drives the firing pin forward to strike the primer. The bolt has been fitted with a strong firing pin spring to prevent premature ignition of more sensitive commercial primers - an especially important feature as the auto safety sear has been eliminated from this semiautomatic rifle.

After ignition of the primer, a portion of the propellent gases passes through the barrel vent into the gas block pinned to the barrel. Gas enters the cylinder (to which a small spring has been attached to secure its retention during reassembly) and drives the piston rearward. The piston is hard-chrome plated for ease of maintenance. A notched ring in back of the piston head provides a reduced bearing surface and permits excess gas blow-by, which is vented into the atmosphere out six ports in the gas cylinder. The bolt carrier is permanently attached to the piston. After a short amount of free travel, during which time the gas pressure drops to a safe level, the carrier's cam slot engages the bolt's cam pin and the bolt is rotated and unlocked as the carrier moves rearward.

Primary extraction occurs as the bolt is rotated. Empty-case ejection is typically violent. Cases are severely dented by the ejector (milled into the left receiver rail) and thrown to the right and front as much as 40 feet (an undesirable characteristic with regard to position disclosure). At this time, the recoil spring is compressed and its return energy drives the carrier forward to strip another round from the magazine and chamber it.

The Galil's hammer spring is made of multi-strand cable. Both the trigger and sear springs are fabricated from conventional single-strand wire. The two-stage trigger on SOF's test specimen breaks cleanly at 3.25 pounds. But the right-side selector lever is the same stamped sheet-metal bar common to all Kalashnikovs and every bit as noisy. Something should be done about this.

The top position, marked "S," is safe and blocks upward rotation of the trigger bar. In this position, the bolt can be retracted only far enough to inspect for a chambered round. There is also a thumb-operated selector switch on the left side. By means of a two-piece hinged bar inside the receiver, the rearmost position of this selector is safe, and pushing forward with the thumb will place the weapon in the firing mode, marked "F."

Taken from the Hungarian AKM/AMD-65 series, the Galil's gray-plastic pistol grip exhibits excellent human engineering. Of more than adequate length, with a sharp bottom flare to prevent the hand from slipping, the grip has been attached to the receiver at precisely the correct grip-to-frame angle.

Protected by the front of the trigger guard, the spring-loaded, flapper-type magazine latch [requires that the magazine] be inserted from the front and rolled back to engage the latch. Two tough, all-steel, ribbed 25-round magazines are issued with each rifle. Both the magazines and the receiver are finished with black baked enamel over phosphate. All other steel components (except the piston) are phosphate finished.

Carrying handle and bayonet stud on the ARM have been deleted. The retracting handle remains attached to the bolt carrier and bent upright to permit cocking with either hand - a useful feature.

No small portion of this rifle's horrendous weight is consumed by the 20-inch, heavy, stepped barrel. Its four grooves twist to the right with a turn of 1: 12 inches. A faster 1: 10 inch twist would have offered greater bullet stabilization at ranges approaching 1,000 meters.

A large 4-inch muzzle brake has been threaded to the barrel. It has three rows of exhaust ports of five holes each positioned to the rear of four transverse compensator cuts arranged two abreast. It can be rotated offset to the right or left to accommodate right- or left-handed shooters (unfortunately, to no avail). It's quite effective but retained by an allen-head set screw which will surely loosen and disappear in the field.

Two-piece wooden handguards, without the ARM's longitudinal grooves, are attached to the barrel and receiver by screws through a hole at the rear of the gas block and into the bottom, front portion of the receiver. The bipod, attached to the gas block on the ARM, has been moved 9.5 inches to the rear and mounted to the end of the forearm assembly to avoid interference with the barrel's vibration pattern. While this location enhances the operator's ability to quickly engage targets on the flanks without lifting the rifle off the ground, it has an unfavorable effect on accuracy. Stored under the handguards, this sturdy, supposedly adjustable bipod, unlike that of the ARM, cannot be used to cut wire or open beer bottles. That's of small consequence, but one of the legs on our test specimen refused to retract. Command height can be varied from approximately eight up to 10 inches, with two intermediate positions.

The buttstock can be folded to the right for transport, reducing the rifle's length of 33.6 inches. Although this feature would usually be undesirable when accuracy potential must be maximized, the Galil's rugged stock latch is every bit as rigid as a fixed stock. The clumsy-looking wooden buttstock has an adjustable spring-loaded cheekpiece. Locked by a slotted screw on the right side which slowly backs off during firing sequences, the operator soon finds his eye well above the scope's ocular. The rubber recoil pad can also be adjusted for height.

The rear end of the Galil's recoil-spring guide rod, which serves as a retainer for the sheet-metal receiver cover, is extended to ease disassembly and lock the cover more securely to the receiver body. This is especially important as the rear sight has been mounted on the receiver cover. While this does not provide the rigidity offered by the receiver-mounted rear sight of the Kalashnikov series, the trade-off is a longer sight radius of 19 inches.

The rear sight is a flip-up peep style with 300- and 500-meter apertures. The hooded front-sight post is adjustable for windage and elevation zero. Elevation adjustments are by means of the UZI front-sight tool. Windage adjustments are made by loosening and tightening the two opposing screws which move the entire front-sight assembly in its dovetail on the gas block. The front sight hood forms an additional aiming circle just within the rear-sight aperture to further assist sight alignment and speed target acquisition.

Galil's tritium (betalight) night sights set for 100 meters have also been retained. To use, at dusk or night, the front betalight is flipped up to expose a luminous vertical bar which is aligned between the two rear luminous dots. When the rear tritium sight is flipped up for use, the rear peep sights must be placed in an offset position, midway between the two apertures. But all of these are, at best, for emergency use only, since the heart of any sniper system is its optical unit.

Knowing full well that mounting a scope on a Galil (or Kalashnikov or FN FAL) sheet-metal receiver will result in unacceptable vertical dispersion, IMI has wisely welded a dovetail base to the receiver's left wall. Interface with the optical sight is by means of a sturdy, all-steel, quick-release mount. While its heavy construction and latchwork seem to ensure maintenance of zero through repeated removal, it offsets the scope to the left, which prevents left-handed shooting. One advantage of this setup is that the iron sights remain unobstructed.

The milspec Nimrod scope mounted on the Galil sniper rifle is manufactured in Japan by a subsidiary of KOOR Industries, an Israeli firm. It has a fixed magnification of six power, an ideal compromise and more reliable than any variable-power scope. Objective and ocular diameters are 40mm and 32mm, respectively. The field of view is 19.6 meters at 300 meters (3 degrees 45 feet). The eye relief is about 3 inches. Heavy bars are superimposed over the crosshairs on the right, left and bottom. There are two auxiliary crosses, one for aiming at 900 and 1,000 meters, the other for high-trajectory ammunition.

Range estimation with the reticle pattern duplicates that of the Dragunov/RPG-7 optical sights. At the bottom of the field of view is a baseline below five short steps. The step closest to the baseline is marked "10" for 1,000 meters, while the farthest is marked "2" for 200 meters. The three steps in between correspond to 800, 600 and 400 meters in ascending order. Just align the target's groin with the baseline and match the top of his head with the appropriate step. Dial the correct distance into the range drum on top of the scope (calibrated in 50-meter clicks from 200 to 800 meters for 7.62x51mm M118 match ammunition) and fire away. The windage drum, located on the scope's left side, provides five mils of adjustment to the right or left in 1/2-mil increments. This method is simple, quick, reliable, adequately accurate and requires a minimum of instruction.

A constantly centered reticle pattem has been achieved by inversion of the lenses. Each scope is equipped with protective caps, a rubber eyecup and two ocular filters: amber for overcast light and neutral density for extreme brightness. Night vision equipment can also be incorporated. The scope tube is black anodized aluminum. This is an excellent military optical system which meets the user's requirements at all levels.

Each rifle is also equipped with a fitted, foam-filled drop case with nylon carrying handles and sling, four-piece cleaning rod with brass tip and the standard IDF cleaning kit consisting of a tan, plastic container with plastic oil bottle, cotton-rope pull-through and nylon bristle brush. A wide, black nylon sling of sufficient length for carry at waist height, in the IDF fashion, is attached to the buttstock sling stud with a sturdy steel spring-hook that rotates 360 degrees and to a hole in the front end of the gas block by black nylon cord.

Our test specimen was equipped with a sound suppressor manufactured by Jonathan Arthur Ciener. User maintainable, this suppressor is 17 inches in overall length, with a 1.5-inch diameter phosphate-finished outer tube and a weight of approximately 2.5 pounds. Thus, complete with the suppressor and a loaded magazine, the Galil sniper rifle checks in at 20.8 pounds.

Maximum performance with this rifle is supposedly achieved with Lake City's M118 match ammunition (so-called "Special Ball") and its 173-grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) projectile. This is an unfortunate choice, as Lake City Arsenal has failed to produce consistent M118 match-grade ammo in more than a decade. Instead we selected Federal's match ammunition (M308) with its fine 168-gr. Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) bullet for our test. It departed from the Galil's heavy barrel with an average velocity of 2,622 fps. Ciener's suppressor dropped this by only 68 fps with no change in the point of impact or loss in accuracy. Our best group at 100 yards was 1.6 inches. However, most groups hovered around 2 inches under minimal wind conditions. Although no semiautomatic rifle can ever reach the accuracy potential of a turn-bolt, this is mediocre performance at best, as M14 rifles, at half the weight, can be tuned to achieve 1 MOA groups (although this will not last for more than 800 to 1,000 rounds). Since the Galil's forged receiver is quite rigid, the optics of high quality, the scope-to-rifle interface apparently secure and the buttstock adequately stable, the problem almost certainly lies with the barrel.

It seems to be of no better quality than IMI's .30-caliber Browning machine gun barrels. Substitute a Douglas Number 1 Contour Premium barrel and this rifle would turn 1 MOA all day long. Douglas uses 4140 chrome moly steel barrel blanks which are carefully heat-treated before they are bored, reamed and button-rifled. Equally important, in caliber 7.62x51mm NATO the bores are cut to .309-inch, as subsequent stress relieving not only collapses all radial stress but will spring-back the bore to the correct groove dimension. No doubt about it, the very best match-grade barrels hail from either the U.S., Austria or West Germany.

Over the course of our test, more than 300 rounds were fired and we experienced two stove-pipes and several failures to feed when the bolt was retracted by hand. There were no other stoppages of any kind. As expected, felt recoil was almost imperceptible, but firing from any position other than the prone is not practical with this beast.

Although it's as quiet as any modern .30-caliber rifle sound suppressor (since the . 30-caliber projectile leaves the muzzle at a velocity above the speed of sound, the downrange "crack" is not eliminated). Ciener's unit, when fitted to a Galil, is badly in need of a gas-relief valve similar to that fitted to the original Sionics suppressor fielded during the Vietnam War. When you contain propellent gases in a suppressor tube, they will eventually migrate either forward or rearward. Most will be exhausted into the atmosphere from the muzzle end of the suppressor. Back pressure will, however, drive some rearward. In a Kalashnikov-type rifle they will invariably exit out the square cut at the end of the sheet-metal receiver cover, directly into the shooter's face. This would prove more than just irritating to snipers in a combat environment.

Militaiy snipers require both high first-round hit probability and the ability to fire rapid succeeding shots. Bolt-action rifles cannot meet this latter criterion. The Galil sniper rifle is based upon a reliable, battle-proven system. It shows great promise, but we need to shave off at least five pounds, screw in a more accurate barrel and effect some other minor modifications. This can be accomplished without sacrificing the potential for mass production. It has just recently been accepted for service by the IDF.

first published in the April 1987 edition of Soldier of Fortune Magazine

Operation Gas operated, rotating bolt
Safety system Fire selector in "S" position
Caliber .308 Win. (7.62mm NATO)
Front sight Post type, adjustable elevation;
Base adjustable for windage;
Flip-up tritium sight for night firing
Rear sight "L" flip type, adjustable elevation;
Standard 300m and 500m settings;
Flip-up tritium sight for night firing
Optics Demountable 6x40mm Nimrod scope
Stocks Rear: folding adjustable hardwood
Front: hardwood with bipod accomodations
Finish Matte black
Barrel length 20.0 in
Overall length Stock extended: 43.9 in
Stock folded: 33.0 in
Weight loaded 18.3 lbs.