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Beretta Rifles Are Now Standard Issue In The Turkmen Military

November 2, 2017

Not Turkmen. NATO special forces in Afghanistan. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One Central Asian country is making steady progress divorcing its armed forces from leftover war material. The natural gas giant Turkmenistan, squeezed between the edge of the Caspian Sea and a vast desert, has spent untold millions rebuilding its armed forces. This could have begun in earnest at the beginning of the decade.

Turkmenistan’s military has been switching to imported firearms in recent years but during a parade to mark its independence day last week soldiers were carrying the ARX-160. The rifle from Beretta Defense Technologies is an ambidextrous firearm chambered for NATO standard ammunition.

The adoption of imported assault rifles seems to have taken place from 2011 until 2015. Before that the Turkmen armed forces, like its neighbors, was equipped with Kalashnikovs. One reason Turkmenistan could have chosen a new standard rifle for its military, whose total strength is below 30,000 personnel, is the absence of local small arms production.

Faced with an aging stock of AK-47’s and 74’s, and the diminishing returns of just importing Chinese AK clones, a newer contemporary firearm was a more sensible investment for Turkmenistan. Besides, an assault rifle like the ARX-160 does have its merits.

The ARX and its variants are already standardized with the Italian armed forces, whose soldiers have used it in Afghanistan. Since the 2010s the rifle has gone on to enjoy strong demand from elite military and police units in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Turkmen infantry marching in Ashgabat for the 26th Independence Day.

The ARX-160 in particular is best described as a modular assault rifle chambered for the ubiquitous 5.56x45mm round. This allows it to be fed from the familiar steel magazines used on the American M16 and M4. The ARX’ best feature, however, are its ergonomic touches. Its pistol grip, charging handle, and breech are ambidextrous. The operator can even select which directions its shell casings eject, whether to the right or left.

For better ease of use, the magazine well is designed with a slanted hand rest the operator can clutch while firing the ARX. There’s also a length of rail beneath the elongated handguard that houses the barrel assembly. This can support different accessories such as a foregrip or a bipod or a foregrip with a collapsible bipod. A single-shot 40mm grenade launcher can be attached as well.

Another length of rail on the polymer upper receiver stretches from the back sight until the front sight, leaving ample space for optics. The ARX-160’s stock is a marvel to behold. Not only can it be folded sideways but it’s collapsible as well, allowing the operator to adjust its length.

The ARX-160 is superior to the AK-47, AKM, and even the AK-74 when it comes to weight and accuracy. The ARX is almost as easy to maintain as a Kalashnikov too, since it can be taken apart by just unlocking the receiver. Of course, it doesn’t fire the powerful 1943 round–Kazakhstan actually imported ARX rifles that use AK-47 magazines–but 5.56 NATO is good enough for firefights within 200 meters. But should a client ask, the ARX-200 chambered for a battle rifle’s 7.62x51mm ammunition is available.

Turkmen special forces in the same event.

The ultimate advantage of the ARX-160, however, is being modular. This means the rifle’s parts can be maintained and replaced with ease. Based on the infantry squares marching at Ashgabat on this year’s independence day, Turkmen regulars carry the ARX-160 A3 while other “CQB” units use the version with an 11-inch barrel and a red dot sight. Units equipped for counter-terrorism, on the other hand, are assigned the Tavor bullpup.

It’s unclear if Turkmenistan plans on licensing Berettas for a state-owned arms factory. This is a better option in the long run as it could use a foreign design as the basis for a new rifle. The same as other gun making countries.

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