SOF's Kokalis Evaluates Galili's AK
by Peter G. Kokalis

The Galil rifle is a phoenix, risen from the ashes; a result of lessons learned by Israeli desert fighters in the 1967 Six-Day War. Very much the progeny of my friend, Israel Galili, chief weapons designer for IMI (Israeli Military Industries), and Yaacov Lior, the Galil is a somewhat successful attempt at Candide's "best of all possible worlds."

Dissatisfied with the 7.62mm NATO FN FAL with which the Israeli Army was largely equipped, as it has always been a poor performer in high sand and dust environments, Galili went directly into the field to investigate the problem (see "Weapons Wizard Israel Galili," SOF, March '82). He was told by everyone that the Kalashnikov was the "tiger of the desert."

Taking what he needed from the AK-47, Galili placed his rifle in competition with the M16A1, the Stoner 63, the AK-47, the HK 33 and a design by Uziel Gal. The test's greatest emphasis revolved around performance under arid-region conditions. The Galil emerged as the clear winner and won the Israeli Defense Award. It was officially adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1972. More than a decade later, it is now finally available through Magnum Research, Inc. (Dept. SOF, 2825 Anthony Lane South, Minneapolis, MN 55418), its exclusive importer, in BATF-approved semiautomatic versions. The selective-fire versions are available to law-enforcement agencies and qualified Class 3 dealers. Although also produced in caliber 7.62mm NATO to increase its sales on the world market, the Galil rifle as issued to the IDF is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO M193 ball ammunition.

The Galil's Kalashnikov heritage is apparent, even at first glance. Not so evident are its differences. It fires from the closed-bolt position and is gas-operated without an adjustable regulator. The change in caliber, from 7.62x39mm ComBloc to 5.56mm NATO, required numerous alterations. The AK-47's 4.2mm gas hole was reduced in diameter to 1.8mm. The Galil's most immediate predecessor was the Finnish Valmet M62 rifle and, in fact, early Galil prototypes were fabricated using M62 receivers made in Helsinki. However, as the 52,000 cup SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute) pressure limit specified for the 5.56mm NATO round is far greater than that developed by the 7.62x39mm ComBloc cartridge, Galili abandoned the pinned and riveted, stamped sheet-metal receiver of the Valmet M62/M76 series and went to a heavy milled forging.

In addition, the Galil does not utilize the usual Kalashnikov barrel-extension unit for lock-up of the bolt. The bolt lugs lock into recesses milled into the receiver body itself. Thus, heat dispersion occurs more rapidly, the cartridge remains cooler and the possibility of a cook-off, even under the most intensive full-auto conditions, is minimized.

While the method of operation is identical to the Kalashnikov, Soviet AK-47 parts most certainly cannot be used in the Galil, contrary to the statements of others. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer drives the firing pin forward to ignite the primer. Kalashnikovs have inertia firing pins without a spring. The initial lot of Galils brought into this country also had no firing pin springs. Military primers have hard cups, not easily touched off. American commercial ammunition, Winchester in particular, has relatively soft primer cups. The Winchester ammo caused several slam-fires and all Galils offered for sale in the United States have now been fitted with strong firing pin springs. If yours does not, have it retrofitted before firing commercial ammunition.

After ignition of the primer, a portion of the propellent gases migrate into the 1.8mm vent, drilled at a 30-degree angle into the gas block which is pinned to the barrel. The 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. It is also notched to provide a reduced bearing surface and permit excess gas blow-by. The bolt carrier is attached to the piston. After a short amount of free travel, during which time the gas pressure drops to a safe level, the cam slot engages the boit's cam pin and the bolt is rotated and unlocked as the carrier moves rearward.

Primary extraction occurs as the bolt is rotated and thus the massive Kalashnikov-type extractor claw is not required. Empty-case ejection is typically violent. The cases are severely dented by the ejector and thrown to the right and front by as much as 40 feet (a defect with regard to position disclosure). At this time, the recoil spring is compressed and its return energy drives the carrier forward to strip a round from the magazine and chamber it.

The Galil's hammer spring is made of multi-strand cable. The trigger and sear springs are conventional coil types. Like other Kalashnikov-system rifles, the trigger mechanism is that first used in the U.S. M1 Garand rifle.

The Galil's right-side selector lever is the same stamped, sheet-metal bar common to all Kalashnikovs. South African troops often wrap nylon line around this selector bar to quiet the sound of its manipulation. It can also be slightly bent to draw it away from the receiver notches. The top position, marked "S," is safe, where the trigger is locked and the bolt can be retracted only far enough to inspect for a chambered round in this position.

The Galil also features a selector switch on the receiver's left side, intended to be manipulated by the thumb of the trigger hand. On the semiauto version, through use 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." This is as it should be. However, on the selective-fire model the rearmost position is "R" (British terminology for Repetition, or semiauto), the middle position is "A" (full auto) and the forward position is safe. Thus, to come off safe, using the left-side selector, one must pull rearward with the thumb, a most unnatural and awkward maneuver, especially under stress.

On the selective-fire Galil, two sears control the firing mechanism, the trigger sear and a safety sear. In full-auto fire the trigger sear is held back and only the first round of the burst is fired off this rear sear. Subsequently, the bolt carrier moves rearward and rolls the hammer over. The safety sear continues to hold the hammer back until the bolt carrier is fully forward again, at which time it trips the safety sear and the hammer rotates to fire another round. Thus, after the first round the trigger sear is deactivated entirely from control on the hammer. Releasing the trigger will catch the hammer on the trigger sear once more. In semiautomatic fire, no pressure is placed on the trigger sear, which is free to catch the hammer each time it is rolled back by the bolt carrier.

The entire safety sear assembly (sear, spring, cross pin and trip lever) is absent from the semiautomatic-only version of the Galil. In addition, certain receiver mill cuts have not been made, the hammer spring pin protrudes from the right side of the receiver to stop further downward travel of the selector lever and the bolt carrier has been altered to prevent full-auto fire. Unauthorized attempts to convert this rifle to selective fire would be most difficult and quite dangerous.

There are three basic configurations of the Galil, all available in calibers 5.56mm NATO or 7.62mm NATO: The ARM is equipped with a bipod, wooden handguard and carrying handle. It is intended for use as an assault rifle and squad automatic weapon. The AR is equipped with a high-impact-plastic handguard without a bipod or carrying handle. The barrel length of both, in caliber 5.56mm NATO, is 18.5 inches with the flash suppressor (and 21.0 inches for the 7.62mm NATO models). Both are available in semiauto-only and selective-fire versions. The SAR is a short-barreled version of the AR model. It has a barrel length of only 13.5 inches in 5.56mm (15.8 inches in the 7.62mm version) and, as a consequence, is available in the United States as a selective-fire weapon only. Its gas tube and piston are 1 1/8 inches shorter than the other models. The 5.56mm NATO Galils all have six-groove barrels with a right-hand 1:12-inch twist for the M193 ball projectile. All three are normally issued with a folding stock, although a wooden buttstock is an available option.

At first glance, the folding stock appears to be that of the FN FAL. It is not. The FAL stock is constructed of tubular aluminum. The Galil folding stock is fabricated from tubular steel - stronger, but heavier. More important, the Galil stock has no button latch to confound the operator in opening or closing, no small consideration during high-stress situations.

The ARM's carrying handle is almost identical to the Belgian FAL'S. Located to the rear of the wooden handguard, it is not positioned over the rifle's center of mass. The wooden handguard remains somewhat cooler during sustained full-auto fire than the black plastic handguard. The squared-away shape of the wooden handguard is not entirely comfortable, but necessary to store the bipod. Both the plastic and wooden handguards are attached permanently to the barrel and cannot be removed.

The Galil bipod is a sturdy, rigid affair, certified so by my memory of Israel Galili jumping wildly and theatrically on top of the rifle with its two steel legs extended. When stored in the handguard, the bipod serves as a feed chute to speed insertion of the magazines. The bipod can be used as a wire cutter and to open beer bottles also.

The Galil's gray-plastic pistol grip is one of the very best ever put on an assault rifle and seems to be taken from the Hungarian AKM/AMD-65 series. Of more than adequate length, with a sharp bottom flare to prevent the hand from slipping, the grip has been mounted to the receiver at precisely the correct grip-to-frame angle. Somehow, it just feels right.

Gaili offers tough, all-steel magazines in three capacities: The 12-round magazine, color-coded with whith stripes, is blocked to accept only ballistite (blank) cartridges for launching rifle grenades. The standard magazine has a capacity of 35 rounds. A large capacity 50-round is also available. Difficult to load by hand, it is intended for use primarily in the squad automatic role. However, like all bottom-fed magazines of this length, it will "monopod" the weapon when fired with the bipod in the prone position.

An optional magazine adapter allows the use of 20- and 30-round M16 magazines. Unfortunately, the magazine wells of the semiautomatic and selective-fire Galils are of different dimensions and the adapter supplied by IMI can be fitted only to the semiautomatic version. Why this is so I do not know. However, the adapter is well-designed and the magazines can be inserted and released with no greater difficulty than in the M16. Valmet 5.56mm NATO magazines will likewise fit into the semiautomatic Galil, but cannot be used in the selective-fire rifle. South African R4 magazines are identical to their Israeli counterparts and can be inserted into all versions of the Galil. The magazine-release latch is of the flapper type, similar to the Kalashnikov.

The retracting handle is attached to the bolt carrier and bent upright to allow cocking with either hand, providing a useful feature.

The flash suppressor has six ports and is almost identical to the M16 "birdcage" muzzle device. Those who still dream of charging up San Juan Hill will be pleased to note that the Galil accepts the readily available M7 bayonet issued for the M16.

The rear end of the Galil's recoil-spring guide rod, which serves as a retainer for the sheet-metal receiver cover, has been 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 no less secure than its attachment to the gas cylinder on the Valmet M71, it does not provide the rigidity offered by the receiver-mounted rear sight of ComBloc Kalashnikovs. The trade-off is a longer sight radius.

Reassembly of the receiver cover on all Kalashnikov-type weapons is simplified if you first place the recoil-spring guide rod slightly below its notch in the receiver onto the rear interior wall of the receiver. Then set the receiver cover in place. Jack the retracting handle smartly to the rear and the guide rod will pop into its notch and the square-cut hole in the receiver cover.

Standard Kalashnikov disassembly and reassembly procedures apply to the Galil. But, a small, though important, correction to the preventive maintenance instructions given in the IMI operator's manual is required. After cleaning, we are instructed to lubricate the gas cylinder and piston. I say no to that. Keep lubricants of all types away from the piston and the interior of the gas system. The intense heat generated in this area of a gas-operated weapon will cause lubricants to bake and varnish these parts.

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

Taking another cue from the Valmet, the Galil is equipped with tritium (betalight) night sights set for 100 meters. To use, at dusk or night, the front betalight is folded up to expose a 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.

The left side of the receiver is dovetailed for a scope side-mount. Mounting a scope on the receiver body usually results in maximum stability. But the IMI side-mount has exhibited a decided tendency to lose zero after take-down and remounting. As a consequence, Magnum Research, Inc. plans to market a Weaver-type base attached to the sheet-metal receiver cover (usually the worst place to mount a scope). The initial units will be equipped with the excellent Leatherwood ART II scope (see "State-of-the-ART Scope," SOF, May '82).

The Galil issue sling is admirable. Constructed of heavy, wide, black webbing with sturdy steel hooks at each end that rotate 360 degrees, it is easily the best assault rifle sling I have ever seen. Designers in the past have often neglected this piece of equipment, yet it is important to those in the field. After phosphating (Parkerizing), all exterior metal surfaces on the rifle (except for the barrel, gas block and front sight) are finished with semi-gloss black enamel.

An interesting after-market accessory has already surfaced for the Galil. Produced by J.F.S., Inc, (Dept. SOF, 515 Gordon, P.O. Box 1892, Klamath Falls, OR 97601), the Redi-Mag fast-action speed loader attaches in minutes to the left side of the receiver next to the magazine well. The Redi.-Mag holds one spare magazine. By means of a connecting catch bar, its operation is synchronized with the rifle's magazine-release latch. To manipulate the Redi-Mag, drop the muzzle about 10 to 15 degrees and, with the left thumb, press the catch bar forward while grasping the spare magazine with the left hand. While rocking the loaded magazine out of the Redi-Mag, the empty magazine will fall to the ground. Insert the new magazine and you're back in business.

I have fired several thousand rounds through both the ARM and SAR in the off-hand, kneeling, hip-assault and prone positions, and can report no stoppages of any kind. Of course, I neither threw them in the mud nor rolled over them with a truck, as such tests have already been completed under controlled and repeatable laboratory conditions by IMI. And properly so, as such tawdry, unscientific displays demonstrate nothing but the vaudevillian inclinations of the popular gun press.

The five-inch differential in barrel lengths between the ARM and SAR did provide an excuse to chronograph their respective muzzle velocities. PMC (Pusan Arsenal, Korea) M193 ball ammunition was used throughout this portion of the test and evaluation. The 18.5-inch barrel of the ARM generated an average of 3,087 fps. The stubby 13.5-inch barrel of the SAR dropped the average velocity by only 183 fps. to 2,904 fps. The extreme spread and standard deviation were significantly lower for the SAR. But, the accuracy potential of both rifles was quite high, even with trigger pulls no better than the average Kalashnikov.

In addition to high marks for hit probability and target acquisition, the SAR exhibited phenomenal controllability in the full-auto mode. The cyclic rate is 650 rpm. Muzzle rise is barely perceptible with two- and three-round bursts. In fact, firing in the off-hand position, at 30 meters an entire and continuous 50-round burst can be contained within a standard military silhouette target! Felt recoil was virtually nonexistent with both rifles. But, a heavy price must be paid for all these attributes.

All of the above operating characteristics are a function of the weapon's weight. At almost 9.5 pounds, empty, with bipod and carrying handle, the ARM is quite heavy in comparison with other state-of-the-art assault rifles. The M16 and AKM weigh only 7.0 pounds apiece. The Galil is only a quarter-pound shy of the U.S. M14. So what, you say? The South African troops who must constantly drag this beast through the bush have real cause for complaint. And reports to me indicate that their moaning and groaning have reached a discordant crescendo.

The Galil's weight is principally a consequence of the designer's attempt to create a weapon system which could serve the roles of submachine gun, infantry rifle and light machine gun. To date no other short-barreled assault rifle comes closer to stealing the submachine gun's final fading thunder than the SAR. With its stock folded, it measures only 24.5 inches in length. Most modern submachine guns fall somewhere between the 16.4-inch Beretta M12S and the 19.3-inch HK MP5A3. Presenting a package in size close to the SMG, the SAR chambers a cartridge far more potent at much greater ranges than the 9mm Parabellum.

As an assault rifle, the sturdy and reliable Galil is one of the very best. With a U.S. retail price of $1,499, whether or not it is worth the cost of almost three AR15s is a question only you can answer.

It is in the role of a squad automatic weapon that it falls short of the mark. By definition of its requirement for intensive sustained fire at the squad level, the ideal SAW should incorporate a quick-change barrel, adjustable gas regulator and belt-feed potential. The Galil has none of these features; the U.S. M249 has all of them. And, as I mentioned previously, the tendency of the 50-round magazine to "monopod" the weapon when fired off the bipod in the prone position seriously compromises the Galil's ability to effectively engage targets at any small degree of elevation above the operator.

In general, the Galil system is well-executed, and a fine example of the qualities one should look for in a modern assault rifle. It stands as testimony to the brilliance of Israel Galili as a military small-arms designer and is, without doubt, his crowning achievement to date. That it is not perfect is simply an axiom which has held since the invention of gunpowder and will lead to the continued evolution of military small arms. The Galil's important position in the history of such matters is secure.

- First published in the July 1983 edition of Soldier of Fortune magazine