The FN FAL is often referred to as “The Right Arm of the Free World.” If one examines the NATO table of organization and equipment from the 1950s through the 1990s, this title seems difficult to dispute on the surface. However, the Heckler and Koch G3, and its more ubiquitous little brother, the MP5, can be found everywhere the FAL is and was and, frankly, beyond. The simple fact is, the roller-delayed system was the foundation for a more robust, more reliable firearm that functioned from Norway to Germany to Turkey to the Middle East, to the Belgian Congo and to Central and South America, without requiring modifications to accommodate for harsh climates. The G3 is so robust that it is still being produced for active service in some of the most demanding and unforgiving environments on the planet. The G3 is the West’s AK: It is iconic because it works. As such, HK has issued many licenses over the years. Here is a brief rundown of some of the places HK designs have been produced under license.
TURKEY: MKE (Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation) of Turkey is one of HK’s oldest contractors, and that should come as no surprise, since Turkey and Germany have a long history. Germany helped set up Turkey’s first modern ammunition factory in 1909, when Turkey was still the Ottoman Empire and not yet a modern secular republic. After West Germany and Turkey both joined NATO in the 1950s, their relationship continued to flourish. By the 1960s, MKE of Turkey produced HK products under license. The original housing for the German staff can still be found a short distance away from MKE’s small arms factory, which to this day cranks out perfect products on some of the original HK-marked machines. And MKE still bountifully exports the same models they have been making since they first partnered with HK.
GREECE: Hellenic Arms Industry produced HK licensed products for Turkey’s NATO ally, neighbor, and sometimes rival. Sadly, Hellenic Arms is now mostly defunct due to Greece’s economic trauma, but its G3s are still found in active service all over Greece. The company has also exported G3s, although not to the extent of the other contractors.
PORTUGAL: FMP (Fabrica Militar de Portugal) is another longtime producer of the G3 under license from HK. Like MKE of Turkey, many of FMP’s HK products were exported over the years, especially to Africa. Additionally, Portugal’s active involvement in Africa led to its FMP-produced G3s being selected for active service in Africa’s variety of harsh climates, where its ubiquity rivaled, if it didn’t exceed, the FN FAL. FMP G3s were found in service with practically everyone in Africa at one time or another, from Rhodesia’s legendary Selous Scouts and Grey’s Scouts to virtually every guerrilla movement south of the Sahara.
MEXICO: Surprising to some, Mexico is a longtime HK licensee as well. Scandals aside, a variety of HK products have been and are still produced in Mexico by SEDENA (Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional). Like Turkey, Mexico has a long history of relations with Germany and German arms manufacturers, which continued to flourish after World War II. The Mexican military and police use HK products extensively in their brave and ceaseless struggle against crime. Unfortunately, many of those products, including some directly from Germany, have illicitly found their way into the hands of the cartels.
SAUDI ARABIA: The Al Kharj Arsenal in Saudi Arabia is another longtime HK licensee. Outside the relative luxury of the large cities, Saudi offers some of the harshest conditions on earth, combining scorching heat with talcum-fine sand, which finds its way into every crack and crevice on man, beast, and firearm. There is a simple reason why HK-design firearms, as opposed to other platforms, are produced there: they work in unforgiving environments.
NORWAY: On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Saudi Arabia, the Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk of Norway produced the G3 for the Norwegian military. What Saudi is to sand and heat, Norway is to ice and cold. Much of Norway’s territory is north of the arctic circle. The most effective testimony to the robustness and reliability of the G3, and roller-delayed designs in general, has to be that countries in the two harshest environments on the planet (arctic and desert) regularly operate them, and produced them without modifications to the original design. If you can take a rifle from Norway to Saudi Arabia and not have to do anything special to get it to function, you have reliability by design.