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Preview – Lithgow Arms Atrax Bullpup

Photos by Straight 8 and Josh Whi

Lithgow Arms USA’s ATRAX is Like the AUG, Only Better

In the late ’60s the guys at Steyr gazed upon the firearms landscape and said, “You know what? Star Wars isn’t even going to be thought of for another decade, but let’s build a space gun anyway.” And they did. And it was good.

One of the first successful bullpups to be fielded by a modern army, the AUG or Armee Universal Gewehr to give it its full title, is surprisingly conventional beneath its attention-grabbing plastic exterior. Unlike the HK G11, there are no telescoped, caseless wunderpatrone fed by a Swiss-watch-like hyperburst mechanism.

Instead, a detachable box mag offers plain vanilla 5.56 NATO into a hammer-forged barrel, where they’re locked into place by a multi-lugged bolt popularized by Stoner’s system. A short-stroke gas system dating to the 1920s acts on a milled bolt carrier, which runs on twin guide rods vaguely reminiscent of an AR-18.

Placing the magazine well behind the trigger did confer a number of advantages, however, chief of which being a truncated OAL — useful if your main strategic threat lay on the other side of the Fulda gap and your infantry was destined for a short, active life, jumping in and out of armored fighting vehicles.

Thales_Atrax lithgow-arms-atrax

The AUG was also one of the first general-issue rifles pushed across an arms room counter complete with an optic, though if you really want to get nerdy, the British EM2 predated it by 27 years and was chambered in a far superior cartridge. But let’s not get too far into the weeds. Following its adoption by the Austrian armed forces in 1978, other countries were quick to jump on the bandwagon, with Ireland, New Zealand, Malaysia, and all three members of Luxembourg’s army adopting it.

The biggest contract, however, went to Australia. The government there negotiated local production by Lithgow Arms at their Lithgow plant as part of the deal, with an official in-service date of January 1989. Known as the F88 Austeyr, it replaced both the long-serving L1A1 SLR and the M16A2.

After 20 years of service, the F88 was due for a facelift based on two decades’ worth of user feedback and improvements in available materials and manufacturing technology. In addition, design improvements were made possible by Lithgow Arms’ evolution into a true R&D facility, rather than just slavishly following Austrian blueprints. Their upgrades are both significant and worthwhile,with the new rifle dubbed F90 on the world military market. A semi-auto model to be manufactured by Lithgow Arms USA as the  ATRAX in the U.S. is headed to these shores. We got to play with a couple of samples, and here’s what we found.

Product Improvements
Let’s start with the most significant change first. One of the most distinctive features of the original AUG was its ability to switch barrels by simply pressing a button and pushing forward on the folding foregrip, whereupon it, the gas system, and barrel would pop free from the receiver. This is conspicuously absent from the new version.

Instead, the barrel assembly and receiver are unitized, and in order to swap barrels, the whole shebang must be pulled. While this might sound like a retrograde step, it means that any optic mounted on the full-length upper Picatinny rail retains zero, and a significant weight saving is achieved. Not only is the new version about a pound lighter than the one it supersedes, its center of balance is shifted toward the user’s shoulder, making the rifle feel much livelier in the hands.

Further mass is shed from the hammer-forged barrel by means of fluting, which perhaps more importantly also increases surface area available for cooling. The folding foregrip of the original is gone, replaced by a 6 o’clock Picatinny rail that accepts other accessories in addition to any VFG, and infrared lasers or white lights can be accommodated on the supplementary rail located on the receiver’s right side. The bottom rail is particularity significant to Australian troops, as it gives a convenient mounting location for a new 40mm grenade launcher, which is an important force multiplier. Add one to your birthday list.

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