Malta’s Service Rifle: The AK

A comment in my recent video about the Royal Bermuda Regiment’s use of the Mini-14 sparked my interest. It noted that Malta, another small island military, uses the AK. I wasn’t aware of this so I decided to do some research.  

Malta’s military, known as the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) is roughly the size of a brigade. In recent years the Armed Forces of Malta have had a strength of between 1,600 and 1,800 personnel. It has three battalions a maritime squadron and an air wing. Malta is a neutral nation and as such the AFM’s role is territorial defence, internal security and border control.

Malta gained independence from the UK in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, this is when the AFM was founded. With the former link to the UK much of the AFM’s initial equipment was of British origin and the 7.62×51mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle was used as the AFM’s service rifle for many years this appears to have changed in the late 1970s early 1980s. The FN FAL-derrived L1A1 is still used as the AFM’s standard drill and parade rifle.

AFM personnel with Type 56/II AK-pattern rifles (AFM)

The AFM celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020 and shared this time line of their uniform and equipment in their service magazine On Parade which gives us some idea of how their small arms changed over time. We can see that the AK-pattern rifles have been in service since at least the 1980s. 

The AFM’s website lists their small arms with personnel being armed with Beretta 92s, a variety of HK MP5s, and what they describe as the ‘AK 47 Variant’. The site lists the rifles as being manufactured by Russia, Romania, China and East Germany. These rifles are all chambered in the 7.62×39mm cartridge.

Where the first AK-pattern rifles came from is unclear, although one source suggests the German and Romanian rifles were bought second hand in the 1990s. From a survey of images and video shared by the AFM in recent years it appears that East German MPiKMS, Romanian PM md.63 and Chinese Type 56/II are in service.

AFM recruits training with Chinese Type 56/II AKs (AFM)

The origins of the Chinese rifles is easy to trace back to a 2003 donation of small arms and light weapons made by the People’s Republic of China. An agreement was signed with China in June 2001 and as part of this a donation of 150,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. By 2003, however, it was reported by the Time of Malta that this had increased to 500,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. This included Type 56/II rifles, Type 80 general purpose machine guns and RPG-7 clones. The AFM’s acting commander Colonel Carmel Vassallo described the donation as a “dream come true” at the time. It reportedly allowed the entire AFM to be armed with a single type of service rifle.

The reasoning behind the adoption no doubt comes down to financing, Malta being a small island nation does not have an extensive defence budget, reported at 54 million Euros in 2020, and perhaps have chosen to prioritise personnel and procurement of naval and aviation assets over small arms. It is easy to see how the donation of service rifles and other small arms would be welcomed when balancing a modest budget.

AFM personnel with modified AKs (AFM)

Over the last 10 years there have been a number of photos and videos released showing AKs which have been upgraded with some aftermarket modifications. The mods appear to predominantly be sourced from FAB Defense – with their CAA Polymer buttstock and VFR-AK railed forend with a top rail which extends over the top of the receiver cover. This provides the bare bones AKs with some modularity. It’s unclear how widely issued the modified AKs are but from officially release imagery it seems that the basic AK-pattern rifles are more prevalent. In recent years Malta has stood up quick reaction forces and it appears from videos and images shared of the company that they have been equipped with SIG Sauer MCX rifles. 


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Bibliography:

‘AK Variant’, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘AFM sees its dream come true’, Times of Malta, (source)

‘The Historical Timeline of Our Uniform’, On Parade 2020, (source)

“The Budget Speech 2020”, Malta Government, (source)

‘Personnel reveal shortcomings inside Maltese armed forces’, Malta Today, (source)

‘China donates 50 sub-machine guns to Malta, including 10 low-light scopes’, Malta Independent, (source)

Footage:

Various released videos, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘Armed Forces of Malta: Recruit Intakes Nos. 131’, Michael Formosa, (source)

The Galil ARM & its Inventor

Galil Development

The Galil rifle adopted by the Israeli Defence Force in 1972 was designed by Yisrael Galili and Ephraim Yaari of IMI following the disappointing performance of the FAL in service with the IDF since the early 1950’s. These failings of the FAL in service were mainly due to the poor reliability of the FAL with some of the mainly conscript troops in the field mainly down to poor maintenance and cleaning by the users in the field. The Israeli military found that captured AK47 rifles functioned more reliably without the routine maintenance that the FAL required, this was down to the finer tolerances and mechanism that the FAL employed whereas the AK47 could function reliably without the same level of cleaning and maintenance.

Yisrael Galil with Galil & Ephraim Yaari with Mini UZI
Yisrael Galili, ever the showman, demonstrating the his rifle (Vic Tuff)

In the late 1960’s the IDF carried out a series of trials to select a replacement for the FAL. As part of those trials the following small arms were tested:

  • M16A1
  • Stoner 63
  • Heckler & Koch HK33
  • AKM
  • Armalite AR18
  • and a pre-production rifle from Beretta that ultimately led to the AR70 series rifle.

The result was that the AKM rifle came out as the winner of the trials but with some reservations. The Israelis didn’t like the stamped receiver of the AKM and as part of the trials they tested the Finnish M62 AKM variant rifle which had a machined receiver built from a steel billet which made it much more robust but heavy. This became the basis of what was to become the Galil.

Galil Brochure b
Double page spread from a 1980s IMI Galil brochure (IMI)

A cold hammer forged barrel was selected together with a unitised front sight/gas block with a front sight base adjustable for elevation and drift adjustable for zeroing. The rear sight was positioned at the rear of the dust cover, which itself was strengthened to be more rigid than a standard AKM and allow the rear sight to maintain zero. The rear sight was an ‘L’ shaped flip type with positions for 300 & 500 meters. Flip up night sights were also fitted, they came with Tritium inserts. The folding stock was a virtual copy of the FN FAL Para type.

Galil Sporters

I won’t cover the Galil in any more detail as it has been covered by several others in great detail, what I will detail in future videos and articles is my own experiences of the semi-automatic ‘Sporter’ Galil rifles as well as the other IMI products that I have extensive knowledge of.

Yisrael Galil with UZI
Yisrael Galili demonstrating the UZI (Vic Tuff)

Meeting Yisreal Galili

Back in the early 1980’s IMI had been courted by several US companies to develop semiautomatic ‘clones’ of their military small arms. Action Arms worked with IMI and the UZI Carbine was developed primarily for US civilian sales by them from 1980. Following on from the UZI Carbine, semiautomatic versions of the Mini UZI and then the UZI Pistol were developed and sold.

Magnum Research Inc. as part of their partnership with IMI in developing the Desert Eagle pistol also marketed the semiautomatic versions of the Galil rifle in the USA.

Desert Eagle Pistol.png
An IMI promo photo for the Desert Eagle (IMI/Magnum Research)

In the UK at that time I was working part time as the armourer and technical advisor for the UK & Commonwealth distributor of IMI products Pat Walker Guns. I had worked with Pat since 1980 refurbishing and converting select fire and fully automatic ‘surplus’ small arms to semi-automatic only ‘civilian’ legal configuration for sale on the UK & Commonwealth collector/shooter market. This was a wonderful job as I got to travel a lot to see caches of surplus small arms and work on them… halcyon days!

Yisrael Galil & Ephraim Yaari with UZIs
Ephraim Yaari & Yisrael Galil with UZIs (Vic Tuff)

In or around 1983, Pat acquired the IMI agency for the UK, and as part of that agreement we had to be trained on IMI products so we could service and support them as the distributor. In October 1984, we flew to Tel Aviv in Israel to attend the first (and possibly only) armourers course on the entire family of IMI small arms! The UK team consisted of myself, as the technical part of the team, Pat Walker as the UK agent/distributor, and Colin Greenwood who was the editor of the very popular UK shooting magazine GUNS REVIEW who was attending the course so as to write an article for said magazine.

Once we arrived in Israel we were accommodated in the Plaza Hotel on the beachfront in Tel Aviv. That evening we were introduced to the other attendees on the course who came from the USA, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, and a South American country… We were introduced to some of the IMI personnel, which included Yisrael Galili, and given a rundown of the schedule for the next week.

Sniper Galil
Promo image for the Galil Sniper, note the different position of the bipod (IMI)

During our time on the course we were given several ‘live fire’ demonstrations by none other than Yisrael Galili himself as well as Efrahiem Yaari (who would later go on to head up the special operations and weapons division of IMI as director in later years). We also got to handle and shoot all of the small arms IMI manufactured at that time including select fire versions and some prototype Desert Eagle pistols. In the evenings we were shown and also had to demonstrate how to strip, assemble, and troubleshoot all the IMI guns we had shot earlier that day… it became a source of entertainment that myself and the armourer of the Dutch distributor would see who could strip and reassemble each gun type the quickest… I won many a beer in those contests!

During one of the sessions where we were taught to strip the Galil, Yisrael Galili handed out some photocopies of a now infamous photo of the specially adapted Galil. He told us it was a special Galil for ‘mature’ IDF girls. Our friend Miles has a good article about the ‘Female Galil’ here.

Female IDF Soldier with Galil c
The infamous ‘Female Galil’, with specially adapted ergonomics to suit female members of the IDF. Note the added front pistol grip, specially profiled barrel and the short magazine (Yisrael Galili)

We were given guided tours of the IMI manufacturing facilities seeing how each model and each family of small arms were machined and assembled. We also got to visit the IMI ammunition plant and saw manufacture there as well as test firing the civilian brand of SAMSON ammunition they manufactured.

Samson loading
An 80s promo photo from the Samson factory (IMI)

It was with great pride that on the last evening we were in Israel we were each presented our armourers certificates and a commemorative book on the history of Israel by the Director of Sales Yehuda Amon at a presentation dinner in a restaurant in the ancient town of Caesarea. I also got to thank personally Mr Galili and Mr Yaarifor their excellent tuition and fantastic displays of weapons handling.

IMI Armourers Course
Myself, Pat Walker, Colin Greenwood Galili and the other participants and IMI staff from the 1984 IMI armourer’s course (Vic Tuff)

It was a fantastic opportunity for a then young man of 23 to get to work with such an influential smallarms company as IMI and get to meet such notable designers as Ysrael Galili and Ephraim Yaari. Sadly, the passage of time has robbed us of many of the people I shared that experience with Pat, Colin, and Mr Galili are sadly no longer with us. Luckily a few of those I met on the course are, and I still corresponded with them to this day.

Watch out for future articles and videos on my personal experiences with small arms.


Specifications for ARM (from 1983 factory brochure):

Overall Length (with stock extended): 38.5in / 98cm
Barrel Length: 18in / 46cm
Weight: 9.5lbs / 4.35kg
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt
Capacity: 35 or 50-round box magazine
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


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