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