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.