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German Court Rules Heckler & Koch Not Liable for Faulty Rifles

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(Photo: DW.com)

(Photo: DW.com)

A German court ruled last week that gun manufacturer Heckler & Koch will not be required to compensate Berlin for what the German military claimed were faulty G36 infantry rifles.

German soldiers in the Middle East have been reporting since 2010 that the rifles fail to shoot straight in hot weather or when the barrels become hot after extended periods of rapid firing, according to a report from Reuters.

Anecdotal evidence of the weapon’s inaccuracy was confirmed in a 2015 study by the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, according to German media outlet DW. The study revealed that the G36’s observed hit rate at a distance of 100 meters drops to just 7 percent in temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Despite this evidence, the court ruled in Heckler & Koch’s favor because the company’s firearms still complied with the specifications the government originally requested in its original order—20 years ago. Germany has been using the G36 since 1996, at which time the military was performing few if any operations in the Middle East. Now, as the sites of engagement have changed, the rifle’s performance has suffered under the much hotter conditions.

“The fact that the requirements for a weapon change over the course of 20 years is normal,” said Sebastian Schulte, a defense analyst and Germany correspondent for a military magazine Jane’s Defense Weekly. “A weapon is just a tool, like a hammer or a drill, and if the conditions on the construction site change, then you have to review the tool.”

The G36 was designed in the late 80s when its likeliest use appeared to be in Central Europe, fending off a Soviet invasion. “In other words, for a specific scenario under the climatic conditions you have in Europe,” said Schulte. “If you then take the rifle to Afghanistan, as the [German military] did, starting in 2002, then, of course, you have different operational and climatic conditions.”

The court found that Heckler & Koch met the specifications set out in the original purchase contracts and passed the quality and acceptance specifications. So even though the rifles failed in combat, the court ruled, the company did not violate the terms of its agreement.

Understandably, the German government remains unconvinced. The German defense ministry told Reuters it plans to appeal the ruling.

“If the court bases today’s decision on the same dubious arguments as it gave before the summer, then the relevant government office will appeal,” a ministry spokesman said.

Heckler & Koch, meanwhile, said it still plans to participate in the competition for Germany’s next rifle contract, which should be awarded in the next two years.

“We make the world’s best assault rifle. Many armies in the western world use our weapons. We are already looking forward to the German army’s assault rifle tender, in which we will again prove our performance,” the company said in a statement.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Damon September 12, 2016, 2:12 pm

    What the hell happens to a rifle that at 86 degrees the accuracy deteriorates to 7% at 100 yards? Is the barrel made of aluminum?

  • Joe McHugh September 10, 2016, 11:28 am

    The German defense ministry was caught with its pants down. It approved and adopted a military rifle that Heckler & Koch designed to meet the ministry’s specification. To expect the manufacturer to foresee all of the possible uses of such a weapon was unrealistic. Heckler & Koch had to stay withing cost boundaries also set by the German ministry. The court was correct in its ruling. The German defense ministry can hardly expect a defense contractor to design for contingencies that the ministry itself didn’t envision.

    This is all about money. The German Government is trying to stick Heckler & Koch for the costs of its own derelict behavior.
    The German defense ministry is desperately trying to avoid telling the people why it has to spend tens of millions of their tax Euros to replace military rifles that can’t hit the broad side of an Afghan barn.

    The entire German industrial base should be watching very closely to the outcome of this fiasco. If the German Government gets court approval to saddle Heckler & Koch with a huge cost to rearm the German military, any German product made today might have to meet the requirements of the year 2036. I’m thinking of the word precedence.

  • Steve September 10, 2016, 10:38 am

    First, the heading for the article is FALSE and untrue. The Court did not rule on the utility of the weapon. They ruled on whether or not H & K met the specifications and quality parameters stipulated by the Buyer. Which H & K does. Otherwise the German Military would not have gone forward with the contract in the first place.
    Now the theater of combat has changed and so have the conditions the rifle will be utilized in. As we all know, heat impacts a rifle’s performance. Auto fire impacts barrels and the accuracy of ANY rifle. That’s why rifles that are designed to be used on continuous auto fire (ie. SAW rifles) have barrels that can be changed rapidly in combat.
    If the German Military wants a weapon that will be utilized in those environs, they need to change the specs and submit them for requisition.
    No rifle manufacture can “guess” every condition a weapon will be utilized in. That does not make the rifle “faulty”, or the manufacturer “liable”. It means the specifications need to be changed for the environment.

  • K September 9, 2016, 7:52 pm

    The court is in the pocket of HK. Rifles get hot when used, even in cold weather.

    Why don’t they just own up and replace the barrels rather than drag their name through the mud?

  • Kel September 9, 2016, 6:29 pm

    “The fact that the requirements for a weapon change over the course of 20 years is normal…” But…. its faulty, to a measurable if not fatal degree; a “change” would mean literally redesigning the rifle or substitution. Not like adding a new feature. HK is a major UN defense contractor entity, they would have obviously known that conflict may take place in really hot and/or cold environments… Something fishy with this one; likely R&D already knew but perhaps red tape and money took precedent to integrity, as with the courts ruling.

    • Steve September 10, 2016, 11:03 am

      How would H & K have known that the German military would conduct operations in the Middle East 20 plus years later, in the 80’s, when the specifications were compiled?
      “As part of Operation Enduring Freedom as a response to those attacks, Germany deployed approximately 2,250 troops including KSK special forces, naval vessels and NBC cleanup teams to Afghanistan. German forces have contributed to ISAF, the NATO force in Afghanistan, and a Provincial Reconstruction Team.[50] German army CH-53 helicopters have deployed to Afghanistan, one crashed in December 2002 in Kabul, killing seven German soldiers. Eleven other German soldiers have been killed: four in two different ordnance-defusing accidents, one in a vehicle accident, five in two separate suicide bombings, and one in landmine explosion. German forces were in the more secure north of the country and Germany, along with some other larger European countries (with the exception of the UK, Estonia, the Netherlands and Norway), and were criticised for not taking part in the more intensive combat operations in southern Afghanistan in 2006.[51]”
      It is obvious that because Germany is not participating in open combat in Afghanistan, the impact of the rifle barrel loss of utility in warmer climates is not as critical as one would believe. 17 German soldiers killed, and not one of them in open combat in a firefight with this rifle.
      So a little context is in order. 2,250 approximate troops in Afghanistan, 17 deaths. None in combat from rifle fire. Should the German government take a look at their specifications, absolutely. Is it a huge deal right now, yes and no. Because there is more of a threat the Germany may become more involved in the middle east in years to come, specifications should be changed, which they are doing, by the way. Has it been a huge impact on the soldier in the field? It doesn’t appear so.

  • Bob September 9, 2016, 1:09 pm

    What a crock, or should I say Heckler and Koch, of crap. They made a bad rifle, fix or replace. They would be better off with an old Garand, it shoots straight and won a war against THEM.

    • bison1913 September 9, 2016, 7:45 pm

      They made a perfectly good rifle… read the court statements,,, If you have them specifically build/make/produce a rifle to shoot in 115 degrees Fahrenheit at a constant rate and You… being as smart as you are use it to shoot in 40 below Zero what do you think will happen?? That’s right the barrel will most likely warp.

      • JJ357 September 11, 2016, 1:53 am

        86 degrees, and the Rifle hits at a rate of less than 7% from 100 meters. Sorry that’s a piece of crap, 86 degrees is a normal summer day in Europe too, it certainly isn’t extreme heat. Go shoot your Colt, Smith, Sig, Daniel Defense from 100 yards and see if you would accept 7 hits out of every 100 shots. I have a Sig Sauer 516, I can group them in the size of a softball from 100 yards. H&K usually is excellent for accuracy.

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