The G36 is a 5.56×45mm assault rifle, designed in the early 1990s by German company Heckler & Koch as a replacement for the heavier 7.62mm G3 battle rifle. It was accepted into service with the Bundeswehr in 1997, replacing the G3. Since then, it has also been a popular export, and the G36 has seen active service in military and police units in several countries, including Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The G36 is gas-operated and feeds from a 30-round detachable box magazine or 100-round C-Mag drum magazine.
Increasing interest in Germany for a modern service rifle chambered for the NATO-standard 5.56 mm cartridge led H&K to offer the German armed forces the G41 rifle, which, too, was rejected. Design work was then initiated from the ground up on a modern 5.56 mm assault rifle designated “Project 50” or HK50. The prototype was then trialed, where it was rated higher than the rival Austrian Steyr AUG system. The final version of the G36 was completed in 1995. Production of the G36 began in 1996.
In 2010, Bundeswehr forces equipped with G36 rifles came into a combat encounter with members of the Taliban, in which the barrels overheated, and three German soldiers were killed. This prompted an investigation, which found that two magazines (60 rounds) were enough to overheat the G36’s barrel to a severe enough extent to cause accuracy degradation, The G36 is made largely of polymer to keep it lightweight, and it has been suggested that the polymer barrel housing may be the cause of this issue. After the incident, the German Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen, claimed that “The Heckler & Koch G36 has no future in the German army in its current state of construction.” Heckler & Koch rejected these claims, asserting that the faults of the rifles came from faulty ammunition, or the tin barrel covering applied by the Bundeswehr, and also cited its widespread usage as proof of the weapon’s effectiveness. The Ministry of Defence attempted to sue H&K, saying they were legally obligated to repair their rifles. The court ruled in H&K’s favor, saying that since the G36 was designed according to the Ministry’s own specifications, H&K was not responsible for any faults in the weapon. The H&K would eventually make their own replacement for the G36 in the early 2000’s, the HK416, which was adopted by several countries, including Germany and the United States.
Starting in 2017, the German Ministry of Defence had conceived a replacement for the G36. Several companies attempted to provide a replacement, including H&K, who had submitted both the HK416 and HK433, but lost to the MK 556, by C. G. Haenel, with the decision being finalised on the 14 September 2020. H&K complained about “unrealistic demands”, and claimed that there was a lack of fairness in the proceedings, a notion shared by another participant, SIG Sauer. The first MK 556 rifles are expected to begin production by the end of October 2020, where it will eventually phase out the G36.
- G36V (V—Variante “variant”): Previously known as the G36E (E—Export), it is the export version of the standard G36. The G36V has all of the characteristics of the standard rifle with the exception of the sight setup and bayonet mount. It is fitted with a x1.5 or x3 sight and lacks the integrated reflector sight; the bayonet mount is a standard NATO type. This version was first produced for Spain and Latvia.
- MG36 (MG—Maschinengewehr “machine gun”): Squad automatic weapon version of the G36 equipped with a heavier barrel for increased heat and cook-off resistance. The MG36 and MG36E are no longer offered by H&K.
- G36K (K—kurz “short”): carbine variant with a shorter barrel (fitted with an open-type flash suppressor) and a shorter forend, which includes a bottom rail that can be used to attach tactical accessories, such as a UTL flashlight from the USP pistol. The carbine’s barrel lacks the ability to launch rifle grenades and it will not support a bayonet. The weapon retained the ability to be used with the AG36 grenade launcher. G36Ks in service with German special forces are issued with a 100-round C-Mag drum. There are two variants of the G36K. The first and most commonly known has x3 scope/carry handle attached to the top, while the second is equipped with iron sights and a rail (no scope included).
- G36KV (formerly G36KE): export version of carbine variant G36K, with sights like G36V.
- G36C (C=”Compact”): This subcarbine model is a further development of the G36K. It has a shorter barrel than the G36K, and a four-prong open-type flash hider or a birdcage type flash hider. The extremely short barrel forced designers to move the gas block closer to the muzzle end and reduce the length of the gas piston operating rod. The handguard and stock were also shortened and the fixed carry handle (with optics) was replaced with a carrying handle with an integrated MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail. The dual optical sight found on the standard G36 and G36K models was replaced with a set of rail-mounted detachable iron sights that consist of a semi-shrouded front post and a flip-up rear sight with two apertures of different diameter. The short handguard has four accessory attachment points, one of which could be used for a vertical grip. The G36C was developed and produced in January 2001.
- G36A2: This is an ordnance designation allocated to an upgraded variant of the G36 used by the German Army. The G36A2 is equipped with a quick-detachable Zeiss RSA reflex red dot sight mounted on a Picatinny rail that replaces the original red dot sight of the dual combat sighting system. The G36A2 upgrade kit also consists of the shorter G36C stock (Designed for better handling with use of body armor and load bearing equipment), new handguard made of aluminium (provides better heat resistance during long periods of firing) with an optional 4 Picatinny rails and a vertical foregrip with an integrated switch for operating an Oerlikon Contraves LLM01 laser light module