Since 1989, the Australian Army has used a domestically produced version of Steyr Arms’ Armee-Universal-Gewehr (Universal Army Rifle, or AUG), officially known as the F88 Austeyr, as its standard-issue service weapon.

A joint partnership between Thales Australia and the Kalyani Group now plans on offering the Indian military an export version of the F88 for the country’s new carbine requirement.

India is currently in the midst of a massive rearmament program that will see its army phase out older weaponry in favor of a combination of newer westernized hardware, popular with NATO member states, as well as Indian-designed and produced guns and kit.

Gear Scout earlier reported that India would be buying 72,400 SIG716 battle rifles and an unknown number of Caracal CAR816 carbines as part of a $503 million contract. Later on, The Firearms Blog reported that the expected tally of CAR816s was just around 95,000.

The F88 export variant, dubbed the F90, was originally offered as a competitor to the CAR816, but will now be entered into a separated competition geared towards supplying the Indian Army with a new closer quarters battle (CQB) carbine.

The F90 with an optional SL40 40mm grenade launcher (Photo Lithgow Arms)
The F90 with an optional SL40 40mm grenade launcher (Photo Lithgow Arms)

According to the solicitation posted by the Indian Ministry of Defence, the CQB carbine needs to be chambered in 5.56x45 mm NATO, must possess a minimum effective range of 200 meters (218 yards), and has a 5 Minute Of Angle accuracy or better, out of the box.

Thales Australia and the Kalyani Group hope that the F90 will be exactly what the Indian military is looking for. Built under license from Steyr by Lithgow Arms, the F90 is designed to be highly modular and can field a 40 mm SL40 under-barrel grenade launcher as well as a slew of other accessories and optics on its Picatinny rails.

The F90 comes with three barrel lengths -- 360 mm, 407 mm and 508 mm. Thanks to its bullpup layout, the maximum length of the gun with its longest barrel is 802 mm. For a comparison, the M4 carbine comes in at 840 mm with its standard 370 mm barrel. A two-stage trigger gives the operator the ability to fire in either a semi-automatic mode with the first stage of the pull, or a 3-round burst with the second stage.

The F90 can fit a number of optics on its upper rail, including holographic and magnified sights (Photo Lithgow Arms)
The F90 can fit a number of optics on its upper rail, including holographic and magnified sights (Photo Lithgow Arms)

A considerable part of the Australian decision to buy and field the original Steyr AUG as the F88 was the fact that it’s a bullpup rifle, meaning that the receiver, firing mechanism and magazine were located behind the pistol grip and trigger. This allows for a longer barrel to be used on a more compact frame, making the gun far more maneuverable and accurate.

As revolutionary as the F88 may have been at the time of its adoption by the Australian Army, it hasn’t exactly gone without criticism, especially from Australian special operations units.

In fact, the rifle was so poorly received by the country’s elite Special Air Service Regiment, modeled after the UK’s top-tier SAS, that the unit opted to buy more M4 carbines and limit their usage of the F88.

Special operators found themselves tangling with a rifle that wasn’t ergonomically suited towards being comfortably wielded by an end user kitted out with body armor, thanks to the F88′s oversized butt stock.

Additionally, magazine changes often pried away the user’s eyes from the fight due to the awkward positioning of the mag well.

These issues could potentially pose a threat to the F90′s candidacy. However, should the F90 be successful, the Indian government plans to buy over 360,000 rifles, all of which would hypothetically be produced in Indian factories.