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Iran Has A New Battle Rifle For Its Soldiers

December 25, 2020
Via Iranian media.

Thanks to images published by a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) the extent of small arms mass-production in Iran is now better understood. Apparently, the Islamic Republic’s state-owned factories can now boast making the greatest variety of infantry weapons in the Middle East. This isn’t limited to just rifles and pistols either. When a high-ranking member of the Iranian navy visited an armaments factory in late September he was shown an enviable catalog that included every conceivable small arm, from miniguns to portable anti-tank rocket launchers. A specific standout was an AR-pattern carbine that, upon closer inspection, is a new firearm that’s never been seen before.

So far the carbine known as the “Masaf” has two public appearances to its credit: at a factory exhibition in September and then at another exhibition in early December. Photos published by Iranian media on both occasions revealed its similarity to the Heckler & Koch 417 or HK417, a not too surprising development given Iran’s long history of manufacturing German firearms, but to be clear the new carbine is an unlicensed copy with just external similarities. Still, the choice of copying the HK417 is an interesting one. Iran’s state-owned military industries began reproducing AR-pattern rifles in the 1990s based on the Chinese “CQ”–itself a poor imitation of the M16A2–and later improved them to meet the requirements of the IRGC’s special forces.

This illustration is supposed to serve as a reference for the firearm’s external appearance, which shares some commonalities with the HK417.

The HK417 is chambered for 7.62x51mm ammunition making it a battle rifle with possible conversions to a marksman or sharpshooter variant. Its unlicensed Iranian analog the Masaf is also a battle rifle given its enlarged magazine well and 20-round box magazine. Judging by the exhibitions where this Iranian HK417 clone appeared there’s already an AR-pattern marksman rifle chambered for the same heavy ammunition. The Iranian HK417 clone does have some external differences from the original; its foregrip concealing the barrel assembly only has top and bottom rails for attaching accessories (such as a detachable vertical grip) rather than quad rails. The barrel assembly itself is shaped different and looks to be 17 inches long with a three-pronged muzzle brake.

The position of the front and back iron sights are dissimilar to the HK417 as well. On this Iranian battle rifle the front sight is attached above the rectangular gas block while the back sight is fitted on the rails above the charging handle. Remarkably, handling the HK417 and this Iranian analog won’t pose any challenge as their ergonomics are identical, from the monolithic collapsible stock and the curved ergonomic pistol grip. This Iranian battle rifle even kept the forward assist–the protruding button on the upper receiver–in the same location. What isn’t known is whether the Masaf will see continuous improvement (much like Iranian copies of Chinese Kalashnikovs) or is set to replace the regular army’s aging G3 rifles that date to the 1960s. Another possible role for these are the IRGC’s special forces who have switched to their own choice of small arms.

For additional variants of this Iranian battle rifle to appear seems inevitable. The same manufacturers who churn out Iranian anti-material rifles and Kalashnikovs are able to reproduce 40mm underbarrel grenade launchers and sophisticated accessories like thermal sights with rangefinders. When converted to a marksman rifle this Iranian model represents a very lethal enhancement of the country’s impressive catalog of precision firearms. Of course, as with all Iranian military products, illicit transfers to a regional armed group is a likelihood. During the long war against ISIS that swept Iraq from 2014 until the liberation of Mosul in 2018 the arms and munitions Iran delivered to the PMFs reached immense quantities that were never accounted for.

For Iran’s military industries to reproduce an AR-pattern battle rifle (that isn’t impractical) makes it the third such country in the Middle East after Turkey and the UAE. Turkey’s own effort, the MKEK MPT-76, has proven successful and is now standard issue for the army. The UAE, on the other hand, have a licensed copy of the SIG716 as part of the Caracal infantry weapons catalog. It’s worth pointing out how all these small arms were developed by state-owned manufacturers and the battle rifles are complemented by 5.56x45m carbines tailored for special forces. Iran’s other neighbor Pakistan has also allowed its national ordnance factory to experiment with an AR-pattern battle rifle although results are still intangible.

As Iran’s militaries–the Artesh and the IRGC–are introducing newer equipment at a rapid pace its regional foes must begin to envision a far more capable geopolitical opponent as the 2020s get underway. Besides, it was in the 2010s when Iran’s military institutions had so many opportunities to test their doctrine and equipment in grueling localized conflicts.

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