From Israel with Love: The Gestation of the Galil Rifle and the Century Arms Golani Sporter

By David Tong (With all due respect to the late Ian Fleming for butchering his title)


Golani Sporter.
Golani Sporter. Photo by David Tong.

By the late 1960s, the two military rifles in the West that had made the most significant impact were the Belgian FN-FAL and the American Colt M16. It has been said that the FN was “The Free World’s Right Arm,” and it was used by over 60 countries. The M16 was considerably younger, being designed in the early 1960s, and had a troubled early history in Vietnam. This was due (largely) to Robert McNamara’s Defense Department meddling with the original Stoner design by eliminating chrome lining of the barrel and chamber, as well as changing the powder used in the cartridge. Together, these economies frequently caused the weapon to jam in the tropical humidity of Vietnam.

The FN was and is generally a reliable rifle. However, the Israelis used it extensively in both 1967 and 1973, and to an extent, the tight tolerances between its bolt carrier and receiver caused it to malfunction in the desert sands. The M16 has a similar issue, in that the small multi-lugged bolt head, which engages the barrel extension to lock the breech, is also susceptible to sand. This is endemic to almost all 5.56mm weapons, which usually have dust covers over their ejection ports to reduce sand ingress.

On the other hand, the Russians and their Arab allies used the Kalashnikov (AK-47), which the Israelis dubbed, “The Queen of the Desert,” because its looser tolerances between its larger operating parts nearly always worked, despite poor maintenance. To this day, its adherents believe that the AK-47's utter reliability and medium range (300m or less), albeit with mediocre accuracy, is enough to win the day.

The Galil Service Rifle

We in the West think, “what if” a lot. What if we could retain the reliability of the AK and improve upon stuff like ergonomics, ammunition, barrel quality and sighting equipment?

Israel Military Industries (IMI) took this approach and the resulting service carbine (assault rifle) designed by Yisrael Galili and Yaacov Lior in the late ‘60s was called the Galil. While versions were made in 7.62X51 (.308), the rifle adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces was chambered in 5.56mm to simplify logistics and make the weapon lighter and more controllable in fully-automatic fire.

The Galil is thus a product improved AK. Reverting to a milled from forged receiver like the original AK's made the rifle about ½ pound heavier than a stamped steel receiver and this stiffer receiver flexed less and provided a more stable mount for a higher quality barrel. In addition, the Israelis changed the way the bolt locked; the rotating, two lug bolt locks into recesses in the receiver rather than into a barrel extension. It can be argued that this provided an easier maintenance regimen for the trooper, as well as possibly providing even more room for grit in the action before the rifle malfunctioned.

The AK-47 features a late 19th century sight system. It uses a tangent rear sight with elevation slide calibrated in 100 meter increments, mounted ahead of the action, with no windage adjustment. The front sight is barrel mounted on a triagonal pedestal, screw adjustable for fine elevation similar to the later FAL and M16, while windage was accomplished by pushing a press fitted cylinder left or right through the sight pedestal.

Sights of this type do not work nearly as well as an aperture, or “peep” sight, as anyone who has ventured into dimly lit woods with a Winchester 94 can attest. The peep is faster, allows for two eyes open sighting and it is more natural to center the top of the front sight post in the open circle than any barrel mounted sights.

IMI knew this, so they relocated the rear sight to the rear of the sheet steel action cover and provided a simple L shaped flip type sight for 300m battle zero and a longer range aperture for 300-500m, although achieving incapacitating hits with a 5.56mm carbine at that range with iron sights would be problematic at best. They also modified the front sight in that windage is now accomplished by a click adjustable, opposing screw arrangement. This moves the entire front sight base on a dovetail cut into the gas block, while retaining the height adjustment of the AK. In addition, the Galil was probably the first service rifle issued with tritium night sights, which had spring detents and were flipped into position as needed and just as easily folded out of the way during the day.

The Russians took the approach with the AK that it was better to fit their rifle with a shorter butt stock, as it would fit more people adequately than a longer one. IMI decided to use a variation of the FAL’s tube style, right side folder. By manufacturing the tubes from steel rather than aluminum and eliminating a secondary lock catch to allow the stock to be folded quickly by merely striking the extended stock briskly against one’s upper arm, it allowed for both a superior cheek weld and length of pull to fit Western soldiers. It also made the rifle more compact to better facilitate remounting into vehicles or APC's. However, it does lack the length adjustment of the M16 carbine family that facilitates the use of body armor.

Ergonomics were further enhanced by providing a right angled charging handle that extended over the top of the action cover, making it easier to reload the rifle by using one’s left hand and racking it to the rear, instead of having to remove one’s right hand from the pistol grip to rack it. The pistol grip is longer and wider than the original AK part, making it more comfortable to use for larger Western mitts.

Additionally, the usual AK dust cover/safety selector on the right receiver was augmented with a left side thumb lever, again to make it faster to bring into action, though it works “backwards,” in that one must flick the lever to the rear for fire and forward to render the piece safe.

The Galil was made in two major variants; the “AR” has a polymer forend, while the “ARM” has two grooved wooden panels, one mounted on each side, with a folding steel bipod with integrated barbed wire cutter, which stows between the panels when not in use. Additional variants include the “Micro Galil,” with a 13.1” barrel and a sniper version.

The IDF also specified a 35 round 5.56 magazine and the all steel magazine added to the weight of the arm. I’d guess that a fully loaded ARM exceeds 11 pounds, which is heavy for a general issue weapon in this caliber and more than a 7.62mm M-14 rifle.

The Galil rifle is still substitute standard with the IDF and serves as the official rifle in Columbia, Djibouti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines and Portugal. A license built version is used in South Africa.

Magnum Research last offered a semi-automatic civilian version of these rifles for sale in the early 1990's. The price at that time was roughly double that of a Colt AR15 or H&K 93, and only a bit less than an FN 50.00 “Match” FAL, in the $800-900 range. Those with the pocketbook and foresight to buy one then are now the proud owner of a $3,000+ arm.

The Golani Sporter

Century Arms Inc. of Georgia, Vermont is well known as an importer of surplus military bolt action rifles and service pistols. They are always studying the American collector, trying to determine what will sell in niche marketing. Century decided to build a Galil replica using a U.S. manufactured and outsourced receiver, surplus IMI parts and, where necessary, U.S. made parts to allow it to become ATF 922r compliant.

The result is the Golani Sporter, probably a reference to the original’s use in the Golan Heights. While the molded plastic fore end resembles in outline the original “AR” version, it differs in minor detail and offers cooling vents below the barrel. The butt stock appears to be IMI original, as is the top action cover and probably the bolt, carrier, bolt internals, gas tube and sights. The trigger group is manufactured by the American firm TAPCO, known for its huge variety of AR15 components, and offers a smooth travel of over 1/3” before firing, with some notable backlash felt in your finger on recoil. The pull weight is a very heavy 6.5 pounds. Century specified a 1:9” twist barrel, to better allow their rifle to accurately shoot either the older 55 grain or the newer 62 grain bullets used by the U.S. military, while not really being optimal for either.

Here are some specifications for Galil AR/Golani Sporter:

  • Length, stock extended: 38.25”
  • Length, stock folded: 29.25”
  • Barrel: 1-in-12” twist, 6 groove right hand twist, 18.1”, hard-chrome lined (Golani 1-in-9” twist, non-chrome lined)
  • Trigger: Single-stage, 6 ½ lbs.
  • Weight, empty: 8 lbs., 10 oz.
  • Muzzle velocity: 3,118fps with 55gr M193 Ball

The Golani Sporter worked without malfunction. There were no failures to feed, extract or eject with the supplied, American made, “Orlite” nylon magazine. A used IMI surplus mag with minor dents was also supplied, but not tested.

Shooting Results

I was able to keep hits within a 12" circle at 225 yards with Federal American Eagle 55 grain FMJ ammo, but was unable to lower the elevation on the front sight, as the rifle did not come with the tool required to thread it upward and the rather rudimentary owner’s manual lacked any description of zeroing the sights.

The rifle shot about one foot over the point of aim at that 225 yards, which indicates that I was probably using the long range aperture, and it threw its empty cases roughly 10 feet ahead and to the right at about a 30 degree angle, making policing one’s cases simple. This would also keeping hot brass away from a fellow shooter’s neck, no small matter if sharing a foxhole. I would guess that, given more extensive accuracy testing, it would prove to be a 2” rifle at 100 yards.

In a direct comparison with a friend’s gas piston AR15 carbine, the Golani had notably more felt recoil, most probably due to the heavier weight of the bolt carrier and its attached, hard-chromed gas piston. The AR15 carbine also wore an Eotech Holosight, which is a reticle image projected on an optical glass field without magnification. This particular rifle also had a near match quality trigger and a bipod, all contributing to superior shooting results in our informal session at the range.

Conclusion

There are some reports about Century’s quality control being sub-standard and I noticed two things. First, the action cover could not be re-seated on the receiver without resorting to the use of a rubber mallet. Second, the rifle’s front sight had to be moved fully to the right on its dovetailed track to allow it to shoot to center, thus indicating that perhaps the thread timing on the barrel needs to be looked at. Hopefully, their warranty department can resolve both issues.

Due to American shipments of both M16A2's and M4 Carbines to the IDF, Israel has largely ceased using their homegrown assault rifle. While robust in the extreme and offering a unique blend of reliability and accuracy, probably what sank the Galil in Israeli service (besides American foreign aid) is the overall weight of the weapon system. In addition, it is an earlier-generation design that makes the modular attachment of optics, as well as infrared and white lights, problematic.

While it has lacked the continuous development and ability to morph its capabilities to match the exigencies of the modern battlefield, the Golani is quite fun and reasonably accurate to shoot. In this day of $1,000 AR15 clones, it is a relative bargain to boot.




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