The German Ministry of Defense officially announced Tuesday that it has selected the weapon that will replace the aging Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifle. The Thuringian manufacturer C.G. Haenel won the contract worth over $290 million for the delivery of 120,000 MK556 assault rifles to the German army. The exact configuration of the weapons and the accessories they will be equipped with have not been confirmed. At the time of writing neither the German military nor Haenel had issued official statements regarding the contract.
The ministry's announcement explicitly stated that the decision is conditional on parliamentary approval and that the intention is that the final approval will be given at the end of 2020. The Firearms Blog reported that the tender process has been a long saga, with ups and downs due to budgetary, political, judicial and technical reasons, and the award is still subject to a possible complaint or judicial review proceedings.
According to the Soldat & Technik website, the MK556 will be procured in a total of four shipments. The submission for the procurement of the first shipment should therefore be negotiated in the last week of October in the budget committee of the Bundestag. The other three shipments as well as the separately advertised laser light modules and weapon optics are planned for mid-December.
After almost six decades with Heckler & Koch, the result of the bidding process is undoubtedly both surprising and disappointing for Heckler & Koch that competed with its HK416 and HK433. In the bidding process initiated in 2017, Haenel presented a weapon that, in extensive tests, was somewhat better tailored to the requirements of the military and also proved to be economically advantageous. A third bidder – Sig Sauer – had withdrawn from the current tender. Haenel’s rifle also beat out the RS556, an entry from Rheinmetall and Steyr Mannlicher.
The MK556 is a fully automatic weapon with a caliber of 5.56 x 45 mm. The MK stands for "machine carabiner". The weapon first presented by the manufacturer in 2017 follows the AR15 architecture, works with a short-stroke gas piston system and has an adjustable gas tap. Barrels with 10.5 ″, 12.5 ″, 14.5 ″ and 16 ″ are available as standard.
Haenel is already supplying the German Army with its RS9 sniper rifle, designated the G29 in German service. The company belongs to the Merkel Group, which is part of the Tawazun Holding of the United Arab Emirates that also owns Caracal.