Bundeswehr Using Haenel MK556s to Train Ukrainian SOF

Matthew Moss
by Matthew Moss
Ukrainian troops training with MK556 Haenels (Bundeswehr)

The Haenel MK556, despite having been rejected by the Bundeswehr following a patent infringement, has recently been seen put to use training Ukrainian special forces operators. The 5.56x45mm short-stroke piston carbines were once poised to replace the German Army’s G36s, now they’re helping Ukraine’s operators prepare for operations on the frontline.

Last week the Bundeswehr shared a series of interesting photographs featuring members of the KSK (German special forces) training Ukrainian personnel. In two of the photos Ukrainian operators were seen equipped with Haenel MK556 carbines.

Ukrainian soldier being handed an MK556, note the fencing around the bolt release (Bundeswehr)

In a major upset, the MK556 initially won the Bundeswehr’s rifle trials to replace the HK G36. Heckler & Koch, however, lodged objections alleging that the MK556 infringed on patented features of the HK416 (namely drainage holes in the buffer tube). The case was heard in German patent courts with the ruling falling in favour of HK and the Bundeswehr’s order with Haenel was cancelled. The HK416 was subsequently selected as the G36’s replacement. A variant of the HK416 will enter service in 2027 as the G95A1.

Another result of the patent ruling was that Haenel was ordered to recall many of the CR223, the civilian version of the rifle. However, they received permission for those sold to the German government to remain in inventory. As a result, German police forces including Saxony and Hamburg have been able to retain their rifles. It appears that the Bundeswehr have also retained the rifles procured for testing prior to the MK556’s disqualification, with the recently published photographs confirming that they have found a new training role.

MK556 (Haenel)

The carbines in the photographs are easily identified as Haenels by the high fencing around the bolt release catch and receiver profile. Interestingly, the carbines are also seen to be equipped with Steiner MPS optics.

Another photograph shared by the Bundeswehr showed the Ukrainian personnel training on various German machine guns including the MG3 and the HK MG5. 100 HK MG5s have recently been transferred to Ukraine and are already in use with Ukrainian special forces teams.

Ukrainian troops training with MG3 & MG5 machine guns (Bundeswehr)

While the MK556s will likely remain in Germany for future training use, another Haenel weapon, the HLR338, has been promised to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The first 15 of 435 HLR338 precision rifles have been delivered to Ukraine with further deliveries planned for the first half of 2024. It’s unclear how many MK556s are in Bundeswehr inventory but it seems they’re now playing an important role in training Ukrainian operators.

Matthew Moss
Matthew Moss

Managing Editor: TheFirearmBlog.com & Overt Defense.com. Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written several books and for a variety of publications in both the US and UK. Matt is also runs The Armourer's Bench, a video series on historically significant small arms. Here on TFB he covers product and current military small arms news. Reach Matt at: matt@thefirearmblog.com

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10 of 31 comments
  • Ondej Tma Ondej Tma on Dec 18, 2023

    Good use for the Haenels. And if HK tries their outrageous* patent trolling* in there as well, maybe at least ukrainian court will find the guts to strike it down.
    *Hey, we took STANAG buffer tube and drilled some drainage holes to it. No noone else can ever take STANAG tube and drill holes into it, it's secret HK R&D worth millions!

    • See 5 previous
    • Harald Mustafah Harald Mustafah on Dec 20, 2023

      @Ondřej Tůma I'm pretty sure LMT was doing that prior to HK's patent too

  • TDog TDog on Dec 18, 2023

    I often wonder what standard other militaries use for their "special operations forces." In Ukraine, are these just guys who spent an extra fifty minutes at the range or did they go through years of training? Yes, I am exaggerating for effect, but it's a little like how so many units around the world in the 1980's were "airborne" even though their host nation barely had a building tall enough for them to jump off of.

    • See 1 previous
    • TDog TDog on Dec 19, 2023

      @Uncle Yar Awesome response! Thank you for providing some insight into the situation and answering my question!