On September 14, 2020, the German Armed Forces selected the Haenel MK 556 to replace the Heckler & Koch G36 as its standard-issue rifle. Over 100,000 rifles will be delivered by 2026. The Haenel is the first service rifle used by the Bundeswehr to be produced by a company other than Heckler & Koch. It is a fully-automatic version of the civilian Haenel CR 223 rifle which has been in use with German law enforcement agencies since 2017. In January 2021, the Swiss firearm company B&T announced that it will import the CR 223 for sale in the United States as the B&T-15.
Haenel is no stranger to the firearm industry. In fact, the company produced what is widely considered to be the first modern assault rifle, the StG 44. Also known as the MP 43 and MP 44, the late-WWII rifle featured the first widespread use of an intermediate cartridge. In January 2019, Haenel’s MK 556 was shortlisted alongside the H&K HK416 and HK433 as a candidate to replace the Bundeswehr’s G36 service rifle.
The G36 replaced the H&K G3 service rifle in 1997. Since then, it has also seen use with elite units like the German GSG9, the French GIGN, and the British SAS. Chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, the G36 uses a short-stroke piston gas system and has been adapted into both carbine and squad automatic weapon variants. While the MK 556 retains the short-stroke gas system of the G36, it is currently only offered in a standard rifle configuration.
With the AR-15 market expanding rapidly in the United States, B&T made the decision to import the Haenel CR 223 and market it to American shooters. The weapon’s high-precision German engineering and selection by the military make it a highly desirable product to the discerning customer. Named the B&T-15, it features a short barrel and will be imported and sold in the United States as a pistol. Customers will need to equip it with a pistol brace or file a Form 1 with the ATF and classify it as a short-barrelled rifle.
Though it is marked 223, the rifle is chambered in 5.56mm and can accept both cartridges. It features a chromed bolt carrier group and ambidextrous controls like its European counterparts. The quick-detach handguard is M-LOK compatible rather than the KeyMod or picatinny configurations that are sold in Europe. This is likely due to the fact that M-LOK is regulated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and is restricted for sale outside of the United States. Another European feature is that the rifle can be placed on safe even after the hammer has been dropped.
The B&T-15 is 100% German-made and is as close to the new German Army rifle as the American market will get. Coupled with the fact that it’s a European import, the B&T-15 will have an MSRP of $3,000. This is consistent with the prices of other German military-grade firearms like the H&K MR556, the civilian version of the HK416. B&T says the new weapon will be available in the United States by mid-2021.