Thales/Steyr F90 and EF-88 AUG Rifle Review

Lusaka, our man in Paris, had the opportunity to closely examine and review the brand new Thales/Steyr F90 rifle.

[ Just to avoid confusion: the EF-88 is an experimental designation for the next-gen rifle being developed by Thales Australia for the Australian Army. The F90 is the export version of the EF-88 and includes some features which have not yet been merged into the EF88. The F88 is the current Australian service rifle. ]

F90 with Flash Hider

Lusaka says …

I got around to the Thales stand and had a demonstration of the Enhanced F88SA2 and the F90.

In essence the F90 took the benefits of the EF88SA2 and added a few builds including a bolt release button (rather than manually releasing the bolt action which seems rather cumbersome. The company thinks that the Aussies may wish to adopt this feature too into EF88), a 3 stage safety which basically adds a single shot semi-auto function as well as the pre-existing safety stage where it transition from single shot to full auto through the trigger pull. Thales is also offering an option of adding a three round burst selector on the stock if requested.

F90 improvements over F88A2 (Australian Army’s Current Service Rifle)
EF-88 with Grenade Launcher Open
EF-88 with Grenade Launcher Closed

The sight they mention is what they supplied to the Australian’s for what the Aussies’ term Tier 3 troops i.e. non-front line (Tier 1 being special ops types, Tier 2 infantry). It is a low magnification Trijicon as you can see.

The EF-88 seemed to be a substantial improvement in functionality and, critically, weight over the F88 for any poor infantry man. The integration of the grenade launcher was a simple case of sliding it on until the catches engage and with the trigger position and ease of opening and closing it was simplicity itself. The F90 enjoys all those benefits too.

F90 Stripped with Blank Firing Adapter

They did have a F90 with a open prong flash hider (rather than the bird cage in most photos) on to which you could screw a moderator/silencer. They were proud of their blank firing attachment which has a mechanism to release the gases should a real round by accident be inserted and fired but this is Intellectual Property they did not want to discuss. It is the red tubular attachment to the side in one of the photos.

The EF88 is currently undergoing qualification process with the Australians. All the barrels keep the same 1:7 twist to maintain compatibility with NATO ammo.

The Thales company that has designed the EF88 and F90 is Lithgow arms who was acquired by Thales and this is their first modern major design activity as they have a history primarily of manufacturer according the spokesman – this year is Lithgow’s 100 year anniversary.

Another unusually feature was the thread along the length of the barrel of the original F88. Apparently it is for locating the bayonet lug along the length of the barrel depending on the length of the blade!

From a personal perspective of just picking it up, its handling, weight, functionality, I preferred it over the SA80 or Tavor. Shame there is not a range here to try them all!

Tan EF88 and black F88

[ Many thanks to Lusaka for the great photos and review. ]





Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Ben

    It’s great to see a platform other than the AR-15 or AK being worked on, this looks promising too.

  • myernkir

    The current F88A2 1.5x sight basically a big chunk of metal. Trijicon 1.5x probably save a fair bit of weight.

    • taran

      Yeah but the stock sight is really really cheap.

  • Colin

    Question: Can you remove/change barrels as easily as the orginal AUG?

    • Tinkerer

      That is a very good question: one of the things I admired the most about the original AUG engineering was how they managed to include a perfectly usable quick-detachable barrel -I know of full-fledged machine guns that can’t switch barrels as easily as the AUG-, even if I admit that the tactical utility of such feature is kind of limited -not many riflemen will be carrying spare barrels.

      Now, I suspect that this new F90 can’t switch barrels like the original AUG did: I look at an original AUG barrel, and I see that is almost perfectly cylindrical from muzzle to chamber -the chamber isn’t flared-, so it can be slid out from the forged alloy upper receiver. But lookng at the second-to-last picture -the one with the stripped F90-, I see that the chamber is flared on this design, so I don’t see how can one slide the barrel out from the receiver.

      • Lusaka

        Hi,

        If my memory serves me correctly, the barrel could not be swapped out in the field and is very much part of the redesigned receiver.

        I never pressed the Thales representative on this factor but I would expect that as a service weapon they are maintained and refurbished as part of a support solution with the weapons being circulated as necessary pre and post deployment. Likewise depending in what role or operation you serve in, will depend which version of the range they give you as listed in the original post by Steve.

        Obviously if you were a civilian shooter, then it is another matter.

        It will be interesting to see how it does in the French competition that Thales are pitching it for, albeit this Thales Australia not the French-dominated European home company.

      • Alex-mac

        The barrel is attached to the top rail assembly and that’s it. So although not as a compact or light as a changeable barrel by itself, you can still change the barrel without much trouble.

    • Andrew

      Negative. Barrel is fixed. Permanently

  • 15yroldgunman

    Think it could use more rails but then again so could everything else

    • taran

      That side rail looks removable, which would allow quick attachment/detachment of groups of accessories. It would also allow more rail space to be easily added in the future.

    • John Doe

      Only a 15-year-old would say this…

      Guns need LESS rails. When was the last time anyone on this blog used all the space on all four rails of their rifle?

      • 15yroldgunman

        Just thought the left side looked a little empty

      • Colin

        The left side is empty because the charging handle is there.

      • W

        in response to your comment, that is why there are free float tubes that can attach rails for a flashlight, laser, grip, etc.

  • Lance

    I like the improvements especially the Trijicon sights over the older Steyr sights. It looks so much like a US made Steyr A3 AUG wonder if the Aussies got some ideas from the US makers??

    Looks nice just wish they take NATO STAGMAGS though.

    • Tinkerer

      Why choose a magazine that isn’t as resistant and reliable as the AUG mag?

      • charles222

        Why choose a magazine you’re only likely to find in 10 out of 192 countries on Earth?

      • Tinkerer

        @charles222
        Because I choose my magazines for their technological merits, not for political pleasantries.

      • Canthros

        Quantity, as the man says, has a quality all its own. Being able to use STANAG-compatible magazines would probably be a plus for logistical reasons: they’re cheap, widely available, and present in the logistical chains of most NATO countries. And I’d be surprised if there weren’t one or two STANAG-compatible magazines that were as durable as the AUG’s magazines. Lancers and PMAGs, say.

    • 15yroldgunman

      Well I was thinking it could kinda be like an monolithic with at long top rail all the way to the flash hider along with a left and right side rail and longer lower rail so it could mount other gl’s

      • 6677

        Doesn’t need a longer top rail, would be added weight for the infantryman carrying it. Already long enough for an ACOG and LAM although it might have to a low profile lam or put the acog on a riser, not really sure.

        As for mounting other launchers, I don’t think it needs that ability, nothing wrong with the launcher they’ve provided, seeming as its a swing out chamber I’d say its better than the M203 anyway because it would be easier to load the longer ammo types

        It has side rails already in one of those pictures. And it probably doesn’t need them.

      • 15yroldgunman

        Well it may be a burden to a customer it there is only one optional gl

      • John Doe

        Why would you need other grenade launchers when Steyr provides you with one very good one? These guys aren’t even considering the M203, which is trash compared to this.

      • 15yroldgunman

        Perhaps the customer preferred some other design that’s all I mean

    • W

      dont fix what is not broken. AUG mags are well-made and reliable, if not superior in many aspects to US GI M4 mags. The AUG is in service with over ten different nations (probably more), so magazines are plentiful.

    • Andrew

      It is able to take m-16 mags too

      • Andrew

        The F90 I mean, not the F88 Austeyr

  • charles222

    Correction to myself: The AUG was/is issued to about 30 countries. Still, if easy magazine replacement is the goal, the AR or AK mags have it vastly overshadowed.

  • John Doe

    I’d really like to see a 7.62 NATO AUG.

    I hope this still has swappable barrels. I don’t feel comfortable hearing ‘reduced barrel mass’.

    • Ben

      Agreed, a bullpup 7.62 that’s reliable and accurate like the AUG would be a perfect military rifle, especially if it used L1A1 magazines since they would have a lot in storage. Would make a great hunting rifle too, .308 knockdown power from a compact firearm which still has the 20″ barrel’s velocity 😀

    • DW

      The kel-tec RFB may just be it 😀

      • Ben

        Indeed it may, haha for got about Kel-Tec 😀 Still, there wouldn’t be much better than an AUG A3 in .308 for a fun gun, the rail system and that iconic look makes the gun for me 🙂

    • charles222

      There’s a “SAW” version of the AUG, isn’t there? Does it still get made in an “A3” variant?

      • Ben

        I don’t know about the A3, but there was a definite HBAR variant of the A2. I’m sure a lenghtened barrel could be fitted with the bipod on the A3 though, and all variants can take the 42 round mags.

    • Andrew

      Or far more preferably … a 6.8 Rem SPC Steyr AUG. assault rifles are finally improving, in major areas, except calibre. 5.56 mm had been wrong for over 40 years, it’s time to correct that with a move to 6.8 Rem !

  • Charles222

    Rofl, right, political pleasantries like availability. Have fun being stuck in some third world country when you need mags.

    • Tinkerer

      I’ll let you in a couple of secrets: the “STANAG NATO compatible magazine”, isn’t. There was never an agreement to standarize magazines in NATO countries. For example, the FN FNC uses a different version of the aluminum magazine that is not compatible with USGI rifles. And some of the largest NATO countries -like Germany, France, Canada, etc- don’t use the USGI aluminum magazine on their issue rifles,

      Now, why do you assume that I’d be “stuck in a third world country”? Not every military force in the world is bent on roaming the “third world”. For example, in my own country -a “third world country”, as you so lightly say- we have our own logistics chain, with our licensed-built SIG 540 rifles being fed with their own propietary, translucent polymer, rugged and reliable magazines. We don’t rely on “US military aid”, so we don’t need those mags.

      • charles222

        I’ll let you in on a little secret, too: AR-pattern magazines are a lot more available than your AUG magazines. Let me know when that changes and maybe I’ll care.

      • Mike Knox

        @charles222
        And here’s another secret: Similar patters doesn’t mean completely identical. AR patterned magazines have minute but critical incongruencies that affect performance. Try fitting an L85, FAMAS, F2000 or HK33 mag in an AR-15, you’l get a lot of feed issues.

        More often than not AR magazines on the market only work best on an AR because they’re built primarily for an AR, not an L85, FAMAS or any weapon that feeds from that MAG. Just ask magpul why they sell E-Mags.

        Steyr and AuSteyr are a bit better off, they’re made from the same mould and preforms better than a USGI Mag.

        Another thing too: You won’t believe how easy it is to switch an AUG stock to feed of a USGI mag..

      • snmp

        The FAMAS G2 (French Navy) have SANTAG Mag & compatible with USGI/SA80/HK416 Mag. The FAMAS F1 (Infantry – Army) have it own Mag more reliable than of the AR15/M16 mag in 1978.

    • John Doe

      So Germany doesn’t have STANAGs available for their military. Does that make them a third world country? How about Spain? Wow, there are a lot of third-world countries, if the usage of STANAG magazines is a deciding factor.

      • snmp

        Sapin have HK G36E (with G36 mag) who replace CETME L /LC with SANTAG Mag with many problem

    • Jeremy

      Magazines are not disposable items in our army. Most digs have a dump pouch or drop them in a pocket behind the chest rig pouches.

  • Ben

    To the ones arguing about magazine availability, you do realize the AUG can be converted to use STANAGs, right? The only real thing that matters for military magazines is that they feed reliably and will continue to do so after some use.

    • charles222

      Now there’s a much better option than proprietary magazines. 😀

  • To all of those saying that they should make the rifle compatible with AR-15 (more appropriately called STANAG in this context) magazines, all it takes is a stock swap with one caveat.

    I have a Steyr Mfg’d NATO stock for my rifle. And it does not work well at all with GI mags.

    In fact, there are a whole three magazine models that it works reliably with: MagPul 30-rd PMAG’s and Lancer 30-rd & 20-rd AWM mags.

    Even the straight-bodied 20-rd PMAG’s cause it to choke.

    So I do not believe that equipping it with a STANAG stock is a good idea. AUG mags are very reliable and also very similar to PMAG’s, and it’s not difficult to see where MagPul got some of their ideas.

    With regard to the quick-detach barrel, the original AUG has a button on the left side of the receiver that when rotated (and with the bolt to the rear) allows the barrel to be rotated and removed from the front of the rifle. The locking interface for the barrel to receiver is two-fold, at the front the gas block locks into the receiver, and at the rear the barrel is machined to lock into the steel trunnion which is pressed into the rear of the receiver.

    In the photos, it appears that the trunnion on the F90/EF-88 (what would be called a barrel extension on an AR-15) is now part of the barrel assembly. I would venture that the barrel is indeed no longer quick-detach, and that it is now inserted from the rear of the receiver with the flash hider and bayonet lug removed. The gas block appears to be attached directly to the receiver instead of just to the barrel.

    • Andrew

      Correct. Barrel is now fixed. Non removable.

  • myernkir

    Read the press release.

    I assume the magazine issue is mostly a civilian ownership concern. Militaries don’t seem to care about magazine compatibility – hasn’t been a problem in recent wars.

    http://www.thalesgroup.com/Press_Releases/Markets/Defence/2012/Thales_debuts_new_assault_rifle_%E2%80%93_the_F90/

    “The weapon’s open architecture incorporates a NATO tri-rail system and optional NATO magazines …”

  • Dale

    To those complaining about STANAG compatibility…

    The Australian army issues and resupplies their own magazines. They do not expect soldiers to be scrounging their magazines locally. There is no reason availability should ever be an issue. If resupply is a hostile country is completely unavailable then they’re pretty boned anyway.

  • Mike Knox

    I like the nifty grenade launcher. Crossbolt lock and handguard trigger, if it had a longer tube for utility rounds, then I’m really impressed..

  • Likvid

    STANAG 4179 was never ratified anyway, so there is basically no such thing as “STANAG magazine”, it was just a proposed standard. I don’t get why people still keep calling M16 magazines like that. It’s misleading.

  • Chase

    I’m glad to see a bayonet lug. Bayonets are awesome.

    • Andrew

      I was pleasantly surprised to see it, still …

    • We are Australians, we expect to keep moving forward even when the ammo is dry, so a bayonet is a must!!

      All “big noting” aside, I think the current dictates of conflict in a variety of shorter distance conflicts in surprise attack or building to building clearances, even a secondary is not as fast as the barrel of your gun with a bayonet and certainly more effective to regular forces not specifically training day in and out in knife fighting techniques.

      Knives are easily lost in a one on one engagement and so a bayonet still makes sense to me even if it means carrying the bayonet as a second knife on you until it requires deployment.

  • Kristine Hayes

    The only thing I don’t like is that the barrel can not be removed like the F88 A1 and A2’s.
    As a retired Australian Army Instructor (last posting was RMC Duntroon) I can see a lot of problems with individual safety precautions.

  • J

    I think it is a good idea to have the barrel in a fixed position as it will be inherently more accurate than the old F88’s because instead of three major movable parts, with loss of tolerances, there will only be two, Bolt and Receiver.
    As for instruction in training, it is the only man portable weapon system in the ADF arsenal that requires the barrel out to “show clear”. Every other weapon requires a visual inspection with the feed cover up or the action locked back to facilitate this drill. Time to standardize the drills and K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid)

    Duty First.