Murphy's Law: Another Bullpup Goes Straight


October 18, 2019: During the recent 70th anniversary (of communist rule) parade in China there appeared the first public display of the Chinese QBZ-191 assault rifle. Unofficial pictures of this rifle, which looks like the German HK416, have been around since 2017. By now it was known that the QBZ-191 is replacing the 25 year old QBZ-95 in many combat units. Because the older QBZ-95 is a more compact bullpup (the magazine is behind the trigger) design it will continue to be used by vehicle crews and other troops who do not use their assault rifle a lot.

The QBZ-191 is a traditional design and it also uses the unique Chinese 5.8x42mm round, but with a new variant of that round that has better medium and long-range performance. Like the HK416, the QBZ-191 looks like the original AR-15/M-16, including a buffer tube with a fixed telescopic adjustable buttstock. Most importantly the 191 uses short-stroke gas piston operating system that distinguishes HK416 from the M-16. The 191 appeared two years before the similar Israeli ARAD, which also complements a similar bullpup design.

The ARAD has a civilian version (no full-automatic fire) and another Chinese arms firm recently offered for sale what appeared to be a copy of the HK416. Actually Chinese firms have, for years, been producing their own versions of most Western, and Russian assault rifles. These are usually for the civilian markets which means no automatic fire option. Military versions with auto-fire are also made available if enough military customers ask for it.

The 191 includes a full-length Picatinny rail on top so the rifle can use a wide array of sights and other accessories so popular with Western assault rifles. There are also flip-up iron sights. The 191 has a traditional polymer handguards but variants with MLOK handguards have also been seen. The rifle uses polymer magazines similar to these used by the QBZ-95.

The QBZ-191 is available in three barrel lengths. The shortest is a carbine version with a 267mm (10.5 inch) barrel and this one can also replace QBZ-95B for vehicle crews. The infantry variants have a barrel length of 368mm (14.5 inch), and also a longer barreled marksman/sniper version that appears to be about 510mm (20 inches).

The 191 addresses many complaints from users, especially special operations troops about the limitations of the QBZ-95. In fact, the most elite special operations troops, who can buy whatever weapons they like, have often selected Western weapons like HK416. The main design limitations of the QBZ-95 are the lack of ambidextrous controls and no integral carry handle and charging handle. This causes problems with mounting sights or handguards. In general, the QBZ-95 did not easily accommodate many accessories that have become essential for modern infantry troops. The QBZ-95 did use a 30-round magazine similar to that of the M-16 and fired single shots or bursts.

When the QBZ-95 (or Type 95) first appeared in the late 1990s, its bullpup design was complemented by the use of China’s proprietary 5.8x42mm cartridge. The round is a little wider than the 5.56 NATO, but shorter in overall length. The QBZ-95 as described as revolutionary. Since Chinese forces were not seeing any combat it was not until some QBZ-95s were exported to Burma in 2009 that the new rifle got a lot of combat experience and the flaws became apparent. The Burmese were fighting, and still are, a large number of tribal militias along their Indian, Chinese and Thai borders. Some of those rebels had M-16s and other Western weapons so the Burmese troops were familiar with those as well as the AK-47. Over the last decade, the QBZ-95 was exported to other customers who had troops in combat and the user reports were the same. There have also been reports from Chinese troop on peacekeeping missions in Africa and these confirmed what foreign users of the QBZ-95 were saying.

The QBZ-95 replaced the Type 81 (improved AK-47) rifles. The QBZ-95 was about ten percent lighter than the AK-47 clone and was well received by the troops until they had to use it in combat. The QBZ-95 was first seen in public in 1997 as Chinese troops replaced the British garrison as the British lease on Hong Kong expired and China got the city back. The QBZ- 95 also came in a variety of styles (a compact version, an automatic rifle, and a sniper rifle). There was an export version (the Type 97), which used the standard 5.56mm NATO round and this is what Burma received. Some of the Chinese versions showed up in Burma as well, smuggled across the border for rebels, and the deficiencies of the Chinese 5.8x42mm cartridge compared to the NATO 5.56mm were noted. --- Przemyslaw Juraszek




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