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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Steyr AUG: The Assault Rifle Made Famous in Die Hard

Steyr AUG
Steyr AUG

Meet the Steyr AUG: Fans of the original Die Hard will recognize the Steyr AUG assault rifle as the weapon wielded by Karl (Alexander Godunov), the crazed terrorist with the long flowing blond locks, in his ultimately unsuccessful attempts to kill NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis). 

But while Hollywood audiences might associate the AUG with villainy, in the real world, this weapon has been used by far more good guys than bad guys. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the AUG’s history off the screen. 

Steyr AUG: Early History and Specifications

The 5.56x45mm Steyr AUG was designed in 1977 and went into production the following year, manufactured by the Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch, now known as Steyr Arms GmbH & Co KG. Among other well-known guns made by this conglomerate was the underappreciated Steyr GB 9mm semiautomatic pistol, which had an 18-round magazine. (That’s right, one more round than Austria’s far more famous Glock 17.) 

As Peter Suciu points out, the AUG was the first truly successful bullpup design, meaning a firearm with action and magazine fixed behind the trigger. (Yes, the British SA80/L85A1 is also a bullpup, but has a decidedly more spotty performance history.) As Peter also notes, “The select-fire weapon, which utilizes a conventional gas-piston-operated action and fires from a closed bolt, was based around a Modular Weapon System that allowed it to be quickly configured as a rifle, a carbine, a sniper rifle, a submachine gun or even as an open-bolt squad automatic weapon.”

The standard-sized edition of the AUG has a barrel length of 20 inches, an overall length of 31.1 inches, and a weight of 7.9 pounds. Its cyclic rate of fire is 680 to 750 rounds per minute, with a muzzle velocity of 3,182 feet per second, an effective firing range of 980 feet, and a maximum range of 8,900 feet. Magazine capacity is either 30 or 42 rounds

Battlefield Performance

In addition to winning the hearts and minds of the Austrian Army — and most importantly their wallets — the AUG has been adopted by Australia’s defense forces, as well as the militaries of 30 other nations. Among the more elite units on the list of users are the Irish Army Ranger Wing, the Philippine Army Scout Ranger Regiment, Croatian Special Forces, and Romanian Special Operations Forces

The gun has proven itself reliable in at least eight different conflicts, including the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, the Papua Conflict, and the Militias-Comando Vermelho Conflict

Shooting Impressions From Friends

Since I still haven’t had the opportunity to fire an AUG, I instead had to turn to friends of mine who are Australian Army veterans and do have hands-on experience with the weapon. First there’s Miles Holmes, who served with the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, and mustered out as a private, since “I deliberately refused promotion so I could stay a sniper.” Here’s what Miles has to say about the rifle:

“Yes, I carried a Steyr F88 for a few years. A very accurate rifle out to 600 meters with no wind. I found it finicky if you didn’t keep the trigger mech immaculately clean and lubed with graphite powder. Otherwise quite reliable. Like most troops who carried the SLR prior to its adoption I preferred the penetration and knockdown of the SLR. For in the J or CQB, though, the Steyr was superb due to the short length.”

Next there’s my friend who chooses to remain anonymous, a retired Warrant Officer who served in the Royal Australian Regiment, NORFORCE (North-West Mobile Force), and Royal Victoria Regiment. This Anonymous Aussie is a self-described “long-suffering user in an abusive relationship, who has come to live with it after 35 years of use.” Here’s his 2 cents’ worth on the AUG: 

“I first fired one in 1988 off the back of the landing ship HMAS Tobruk and last fired one last week. I have carried 4 different versions: The original F88 as the short carbine version when I was in the paratroop battalion, the F88SA1, the SA2, and currently the EF88. 

“The original F88 carbine was actually ok in its role with the paratroops. Nice and short when jumping. But it always had a terrible 1.5X optical scope that had a round circle as an aiming point….dumb. Cheap 1970s conscript’s rifle in my opinion though. The external bluing would wear off and you had a partially silver rifle. Never a fan. In addition to the terrible sight it also had a terrible trigger, like a sponge, you pressed it and at some random point later it fired, the EF88 still has that abortion  of a trigger. Hate it. Wrecks the rifle totally.”

Okay, not exactly on ringing endorsement so far, eh. But then he goes on to add: “It is relatively reliable, though, with an action based on Stoner’s original AR 18 system. The minute it was fitted with ancillaries like night sight, grenade launcher, or even just a bayonet, it became cumbersome and unbalanced. The current EF88, which you will see called the F90, is an improvement, I guess. Has a fixed barrel, it’s been lightened and fitted with a decent F2 ELCAN Specter sight. Still got a crap trigger and cumbersome original push in slow mag release. Much preferred the M16A1s we used into the early 1990s and the M4, which I also used.”

Want Your Own?

Semiauto-only AUGs are currently listed on the Omaha Outdoors website at a price range of $1,971 to $1,999, while Atlantic Firearms currently lists one at $1,629.

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).