Sterling Armalite AR-18K

The Armalite AR-18 is arguably one of the most influential guns of the 20th century. Many of its gas, bolt and recoil spring features continue to be appropriated in new gun designs. The rifle was a commercial failure, although some of its direct descendants did well. Armalite never produced many AR-18 themselves but licensed the design to the Sterling Armaments Company and other companies around the world. One of the little known variants produced by Sterling was the compact carbine AR-18K. A reader spotted the Sterling AR-18K in a photo, taken in the 1970s or 1980s, of high ranking Royal Malaysian Air Force officers. This is the first photo I have ever seen of the AR-18K “in the wild”.

Left – Right : Col (Air) Fauzi (with 1970s flak jacket), Brig Gen (Air) Mohd Ngah (RMAF Commander), Lt Col David Herman (Artillery), Lt Col (Air) KC Su (Aviation Branch, RMAF Butterworth), Lt Col (Air) Richard Jaleh).

The AR-18K resembles the Colt CAR-15 Commando and the later Colt M4 Carbine. It featured a shorter barrel, a shorter more rectangular handguard with forward pistol grip and a cone shaped flash suppressor instead of the multi-pronged style flash suppressor.

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.


  • jagersmith

    I obtained an unfired AR18 recently (sterling manufactured). A fine firearm, to be sure. Surprisingly accurate, as well, given it was made in 1975. Also, an extremely easy disassembly.

  • W

    A very underrated design that had every right to enjoy the same popularity as the AR15/M16 platform.

  • Spade

    I always thought the short version was the AR-18S. Is this shorter?

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    The AR-18 ( and its sundry variations ) was a superb weapon — accurate, well-balanced, reliable and sturdily built, easy to manufacture ( with a stamped and welded receiver ), yet simple to disassemble, service and reassemble. Best of all, it utilized a short-stroke gas piston operation that obviated much of the fouling and reliability issues associated with the M-16’s direct impingement system under severe battlefield conditions. It was designed to address the shortcomings of the early M-16’s in the form of a second-generation level of improvements, but while the intent and the concept were spot-on, the timing vis-a-vis the existing situation of the firearms market was not. Sound familiar? History is rife with the sagas of many superb weapons that should have easily made the grade into general service on the basis of merit alone but did not do so due to any number of other factors such as logistics, per unit cost, the sheer inertia of prior commitments to a competing design, ammunition compatibility and sometimes simply the personal prejudices and collective mindset of the selection and evaluation commitees.

    It is also a pity that the AR-18 was generally regarded as a bastard stepchild due to the convolutions of the major service rifle trials of the time, and that the small but significant initial bugs regarding sensitivity to various ammunition types as well as tolerance to mud and sand ingestion were not ironed out in time to fulfill the requirements of those trials. By the time these issues were properly addressed, it was too late as the U.S. Army had lost interest in acquiring an alternative 5.56mm rifle to the M-16.

    The AR-18 was also beset with some relatively minor design glitches that could have been easily rectified, such as the less-than-rigid side-folding stock. Unfortunately, the series of prototypical issues and bad timing came together during the same period to magnify any perceived teething problems with the rifle.

    I will freely admit that I envy Jagersmith for having the distinct privilege of owning what is essentially a brand-new ( as in unused ) AR-18. Congratulations on a great find!

    • Leonard

      Very good comment, DiverEngrSL17K!

      Especially this passage: “History is rife with the sagas of many superb weapons that should have easily made the grade into general service on the basis of merit alone but did not do so due to any number of other factors such as logistics, per unit cost, the sheer inertia of prior commitments to a competing design, ammunition compatibility and sometimes simply the personal prejudices and collective mindset of the selection and evaluation commitees. ”
      First weapon I thought about when reading this was the G11, but there are countless others as well. The entire .280 British calibre is a case in point too (adopting it for all of NATO would have meant that we would never have run into the problems we now have with .223 (5,56×45 mm) at long ranges).

      • Denny

        You presented a very good case for administrations (regardless of time and nationality) being a major hurdle to technical progress. Let’s not forget – the top brass are essentially technically ignorant, self-serving (if it was only for that!) bunch of individuals.

  • Wanderingsmith

    Great guns, and although they were rare, they were used in combat. The IRA had lots of them in the 70’s

  • Esh325

    It was result of bad circumstances that kind of made the original AR-18 die off, even though it was a perfectly viable design. The AR-18 went to live on in rifles that were near identical copies or close copies like the Howa Type 89. And nearly every modern western assault rifle has some influence from the AR-18.

    • hikerguy

      When the Type 64 was deemed to heavy, Howa developed the Type 89 from the AR-18. It was ideal for the smaller statured Japanese, and is an example of what the AR-18 would have been and could have been. Unfortunately, their laws make it impossible to obtain.
      A few years ago the AR-18 was once again in production as the AR-180 with a fixed stock and modern anemities such as a rail, but it did not take off. A shame really.
      There is an interesting AR-18 on youtube if you get a chance to see it.

    • snmp

      * Howa AR18/AR180 licence => Howa Type 89
      * Sterling AR18/AR180 => SA80, Singapore SAR-80 and German HK G36

      • Mike Knox

        Actually, the L85 was based out of the XL64 which is an Enfield EM-2 with an M14 derived gas piston operation.

        H&K’s G36 is completely independent of the AR-18. It’s piston drive is taken from a Simonov SKS and bolt from an AR-10..

      • jeramiah

        snmp, yup that would be correct.

        Im not sure if i agree mike,

        If you disassemble a G36 and SA80 you can see the inspiration from the AR18.

        The AR18 definitely had a influence on most european military guns as far as short stroke pistons go. The G36 and SA80 are no exceptions.

        piston from a SKS?

        No. Those two weapons have more in common with the AR18 as far as the operating rod and bolt carrier group is concerned. The rotating bolt style is from the AR10, though the design of the G36 and SA80 is unmistakenly inspired by the AR18 (and various other designs too).

      • Mike Knox

        Have a look for yourself, if you can. Field stripping an H&K G3, H&K G36 and sterling AR-18 would shot how different the AR-18’s modularity is from both H&K rifles. The G36 keeps the same trigger group as the G3’s, so does it’s return spring and forearm directed charging handle. The only thing AR about the G36 is it’s AR-10 bolt which is in fact based on the M1 Garand. The G36 itself can even come about without the AR-18’s existence

        The SKS and G36 piston are both short stroke, half-inch travel and have a guide plate, while the AR-18’s in reverse and in a cup and nozzle orientation at the barrel port.

        As for the L85, the only thing close an AR-18 is it’s receiver construction..

      • W

        The G36 and L85 have more in common with the AR18 than the SKS. Obviously their outward appearances and ergonomics were derived from other designs, though when it comes to the operating system, those two weapons have a lot in common with the AR18.

        Let see it apart.

        compared to a G36

        and compared to a L85.

        now the SKS,

        Yes, they both use the rotating style, locking lug style bolt, which is different than the M1 garand because the M1 contains two lugs instead of eight (the AK borrows the two locking lug feature from the M1 garand). The SKS uses a tilt-locking mechanism rather than a rotating bolt so it is safe to say both rifles have little in common with the aforementioned.

        The obvious similarity with those two platforms with the AR18 is the operating rod and gas piston (which you can notice by comparing the two pictures), alongside the square shaped bolt carrier. The furniture and ergonomics may have borrowed from other designs, but were talking about the operational mechanics of the firearms. The biggest influence of the AR18 is its bolt carrier and it is apparent in other designs besides those two.

        snmp and jeremiah, youre both correct.

      • Mike Knox

        Here goes a ‘sykes to the side’ then.

        Yap, yap, yap, internet link, internet link, internet link. An important matter is, have you personally operated all of the above? As I know, You can’t put it in definitive and thorough words, their operation and design genesis.

        Like most others here, I’m sure you can’t have tactile study on an H&K G3, H&K MP5, H&K G36, Sterling AR-18, Armalite AR-10, Enfield L85, Enfield XL64 (Sterling reproduction), Simonov SKS, SVD, M1 Garand, and M1 Carbine for a comparative.

        If you’d want to go on, I suggest you avoid ‘radio shack talk’ and try to speak out of experience, preferably not of a made up one..

      • W

        “Yap, yap, yap, internet link, internet link, internet link.”

        yes fucko. its called the internet. you know? that wonderful contraption that gives you immense technology at your fingertips. Btw, how else am i supposed to post pictures without the internet??? LOL. If you want to argue with somebody, argue with the picture.

        “An important matter is, have you personally operated all of the above? As I know, You can’t put it in definitive and thorough words, their operation and design genesis.”

        Just like you do when you bring up the SKS??? it doesnt take definitive and thorough words, the operation and design genesis to figure out that the SKS is a cat of a different meow than the G36 and L85. Anybody with two neurons together can see the similarities with the AR18 but of course, you have to argue for the sake of arguing because your ego knows better.

        “Like most others here, I’m sure you can’t have tactile study on an H&K G3, H&K MP5, H&K G36, Sterling AR-18, Armalite AR-10, Enfield L85, Enfield XL64 (Sterling reproduction), Simonov SKS, SVD, M1 Garand, and M1 Carbine for a comparative.”

        no matter how many ad hominem fallacies you throw out there, it doesnt make your argument any more valid. again, argue with the pictures…or your imaginary technical achievements.

        “If you’d want to go on, I suggest you avoid ‘radio shack talk’ and try to speak out of experience, preferably not of a made up one..”

        …right. How can i forget? without access to a high speed museum with a internal shooting range and team of SAS instructors, i guess ill never be able to speak on the same level of your experience. how foolish of me! *rolls eyes*

        FYI, dont bother replying because i wont. you can be a dumbass somewhere else.

      • Mike Knox

        Heh, that’s just sad. It’s already amusing how easily you lose your top over something you can’t get over the internet. I wonder how many computer monitors you’ve smashed raging over stuff like this. Don’t blame me though, you’re the oik who tried tarting it again.

        I’m really wondering if you’ve really had any hands on experience with firearms involved on topic..

  • Matrix3692

    Ah, finally a piece of history about my country’s military……it’s been hard to find these kind of material even in my own country, or is it just me not looking in the right place?

  • Brian in Seattle

    In 1980 I was a U.S. Army PFC stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. One Saturday, me and a couple of buddies went up to Waco to see a movie (Private Benjamin). We got there early so walked around the mall for a bit. We went into J.C. Penney and eventually found ourselves in the sporting goods dept. Well, there on the rack, was an AR-180, for the princely sum of $480.00! We all slobbered all over it for a few minutes and left for the show. I never saw another one for sale in a gun shop. I really liked Texas. AR-180’s for sale at Penney’s, those were the days.

  • bbmg
    • Denny

      Probably female IRA fighter :- )))))

      • Michael

        IRA terrorist. This picture has appeared in the press many times with her name, which escapes me.. Many IRA weapons were given by Libya, The Soviets or Bought/stolen here in America

      • Denny

        Depends on who’s side you are Michael. If you were Irish, it would be a “patriot”. Remeber, the current Irish republic once started as a rebellion. Terrorist is too loose term….. and can be used invariably.

  • Deryk Walker

    I was in the firearms business in the 1980’s in the UK. I handled Sterling AR18’s a couple of times and I am certain that the Sterling versions never had the front vertical fore grips.

  • Joe Hooker

    Steve, I believe that Armalite did manufacture some rifles before switching to Sterling in the UK and later to Howa in Japan. I have one (a Sterling) and love it — it’s everything the AR-15 should have been. The only real drawback, for me, is that it will not take a standard AR-15 mag, altho they can be modified to fit. The originals are expensive and they are getting hard to find.

    BTW if anyone really wants one PF Custom Guns here in Asheville has one for sale with the original Armalite scope, or did as of 2 weeks ago.

  • Denny

    Looking back at this design (and I having studied it in depth), I always wondered WHY this has not become standard US issue. Myself, I’d prefer to keep away from anythyng which is either aluminum (with exception of trigger housings and small components) and plastics (hanguards only). And this is what AR18 has: just good old-fashioned and predictable steel in lightweight format.

    Also, looking at current Russian designs; they are in dead end street (long stroke piston, vague bolt arrangement, no place to put optical rail… etc). These are features of machinegun, not a rifle. If they adopted direction from AR18 (since US missed it) they might have been much further ahead.

    • lolinski

      Not to sound like a fanboy but AK’s do have sight rails, its just on the side, which compared to mounting it on the handguard or top cover is much more preferable.

      And what is the problem with using aluminium or polymer? From what I understand the ar18 could cut farther down on the weight by using aluminium in some parts.

      PS: I dont have anything against the ar-18.

      • Erwos

        I would love to hear how a side rail mount is so much better than mounting directly to the top of the receiver.

        Please, illuminate me.

      • Nmate

        I’d say the side rail is superior to dust cover systems on the AK, but certainly not other rifles. I think the gas tube mount is a better bet for reflex sights, but it isn’t for magnified optics. If need to mount a low-power magnified optic on an AK, the side rail is really the way to go. That said, for higher magnification (re: larger) optics the side rail is less than ideal. Even the guy that designed the thing says he did so as an afterthought.

      • Denny

        The best answer, when comes to material choice, is to look at elasticity modulus of steel vs. aluminum. Look at ductility and welding characteristics. The AR with aluminum receivers were more-less a default while Fairchild (parent company to Armalite) has this technology appropriated as their baseline. But the aluminum reveiver on AR did not make gun’s weight any lighter.

        The man who designed the AR-18 (and we know the name) was a genius; just look at what Germans were doing even under stress of the war – they bothered with sheet metal on their SG44 and other designs to the utmost. And imagine the amount of dies behind it… it still paid off. Steel has, no doubt its advantages, especialy in sheet form. Besides, try to spot weld aluminum!

        The current fashion of aluminum recevers is in my opinion ill conceved from several points. Look for example at huge amount of machining involved; some 70-80% of material is removed from receiver billet when you use conventional machining. Now, regarding resistance of such long hollow tube unsupported in middle by anything; how well do you thing it will stand when you hit something or someone with it? This is a combat tool first of all. I doubt that all those new rifles ala SCAR will stand a chance in real combat. On top of it, they are useless if you wanted to make LMG version out of them; they just will not stand the heat.

    • Esh325

      The M1 Garand has a long stroke piston, does that make it a machine gun? Every AK out of the Russian factory today has a side mount rail. They are look to retrofit AK74’s with pictianny rails, and the AK-12 has a pictianny rail out of the box. When aluminum and plastic is used appropriately in a firearms design, there shouldn’t be any durability problems.

    • Esh325

      I will agree with you that the aluminum machined receiver is not very economical at all to manufacture. In the near future, I could see polymer receivers becoming the norm for the AR15, which would make it more economical and number of other advantages. I’ve never heard of a sheet metal AR15, but it could be possible.

      The SCAR has been extensively tested over the years has seen combat. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of durability being a problem with the SCAR as of late. They’ve made changes to the SCAR, and the material wasn’t something they changed, so the receiver must hold up fine.

  • Mike Knox

    You’ll be surprised on how many AR-18s made their way into backwoods/jungles everywhere in the world. If you’ll look in person, they’re still there working as good as FALs, AKs, and ARs..

  • Don

    Does anyone know if the Sterling mentioned herein as the manufacturer is the same Sterling known for their cheap almost potmetal pistols of about the mid 1980’s?

    • Michael

      Not the cheap pistols, but the UK manufacture of the Sterling SMG

  • Richard

    I like AR-18 trouble is ever gun maker who has made them had issues make them. Sterling Armaments Company Ar-18 where crap becuase there guns had no quality control. What killed original Ar-18 was magzine between Ar-15 and it where not interchangeable so you had use magzine special made for it. The ArmaLite brand was purchased in 1996 by Eagle Arms, a small U.S. arms manufacturer, who adopted the ArmaLite brand for their company. An updated model of the AR-180 was introduced in 2001 as the AR-180B, with a molded polymer lower receiver replacing the stamped steel original. The new lower receiver is combined with the buttstock, which is fixed on the AR-180B, instead of the side-folding butt on the original AR-18 and AR-180. Other AR-180B changes include the use of standard AR-15 trigger group and rear sight parts, and the deletion of the original AR-18/180 spring-loaded dust cover for the cocking handle slot.[17] The AR-15 magazine release is also used, in contrast to the original AR-18 which had a different magazine release and corresponding slot in the body of the magazine, meaning AR-15 magazines needed a new slot cut to fit properly in the AR-18. As a result the AR-180B uses standard AR-15/M16 magazines. An AR-180B version with a Picatinny rail is planned for production. Armsalie stop make this rife do poor sales.

    • Carlos U.

      How do you know they are planning on making them? I would love to buy one someday.

  • Jeff

    I’ve always seen the AR-18 as an anomaly: a perfectly viable weapons system that no one wants, but whose design everyone takes from

  • Carlos U.

    The gun that should have been. May it yet be someday!

  • Lance

    It was good gun. A flop for sales here and abroad everyone wanted M-16A1s. But it was good and helped into development the L-85 in the UK.

    Hay it worked for The Terminator LOL.

  • Brandon

    My dad bought a Howa Ar-180 back in the day. He still has it, but we never fire it because it’s impossible to find parts if they break and it’s technically worth a fair amount of money (though it’s difficult to find someone actually willing to pay). So all the 5.56 gets fed to an AR-15 instead.

    He said when he bought it he had to decide between it and an HK91. As nifty as the AR-180 is, I sorta wish he went with the HK.

    Also wish he got the Armalite 4x scope for it, since they are impossible to find these days.

  • Matt B

    Over a decade ago I met up with a guy who had a full auto AR-18, and I got to shoot it. I enjoyed it quite a bit, since I was only 20.

  • Michael

    Planting bombs in pubs, resturants, killing freely elected politicians trying to overthrow an elected government means terrorist , Maybe Denny thinks 911 was just a difference of political views, Idiot. Grow up Denny.

    • NI Shooter

      To be fair, they were fighting for what they believed in, and the IRA did have noble roots. They were great fighters in both world wars. The name of the IRA was just used as a scapegoat by terrorists, the same way UVF and UDA are today. During the troubles they did fight and kill British soldiers, but every story has two sides and the British coming in with L1A1s and XL70s, as well as tanks rolling throuh streets being a regular occurance, was understandably seen as hostility and when faced with fighting they chose to fight back. I’m from Northern Ireland and can safely say that the fighting went both ways. It has all been forgotten by everyone but those who are too willing to hold a grudge to this day.

  • Andrew

    When I heard a store had an AR-180 near me, I skipped class for the drive. Best decision I’ve ever made.

  • Steven Hunter

    I bought an AR-180 back in the early ’80s and enjoy shooting it. I tried carrying in on a sling and found a big problem there. The right side has a bolt handle that will dig into your back and the left side has a stud that the stock engages when folded. There is no good way to carry it slung.

  • Thomas

    The Armalite AR-18, and the AR-16, were far superior designs to the AR-10 and AR-15. They were cheaper to manufacture, they were more robust and, throughout their production, they were much more reliable. And, many of their design features are still around in other manufacturer’s designs. What eventually killed them was the fact that the U.S. military adopted the AR-15 as the M16. This meant that there was no real export market for the weapon. Most potential customers would go with the current U.S. issue weapon system in order to take advantage of U.S. government subsidies to defense partners in parts and even entire weapons. Foreign countries that produce their own armaments usually adopt home-made weapon systems, rather than those produced elsewhere. So, just as the YF-17 was relegated to the shelf [until later adopted as the FA-18] by the adoption of the YF-16 by the USAF, so too was the AR-18 lost in time.

  • John

    I own one of those AR 18s’ . It’s not an AR 18k . Those that dis it are armchair blowhards . Mine is the the same one seen held by the Malaysian in the picture . It was purchased new from Sterling .

  • Marzuq

    It’s not a rare sight to see AR-18 rifles in the hands of Malaysian security forces (other than the carbine variant mention above). Among the known user of this AR-18 rifle is the 69th Commando Battalion of the Royal Malaysian Police, which operates this rifle alongside the M16A1 & HK33 during the Second Malaysian Emergency (1968-1989) period.

    • John

      Mine is an Ar 18s (shorty). Just thought I’d clarify that .

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