As the Estonian Defence Forces continue a lengthy move away from their Warsaw Pact roots to full parity with NATO standards, the Estonian army has increasingly sought to procure new rifles for its front line combat arms units.
To that end, Estonia’s Ministry of Defence has finally announced that LMT Defense, formerly known as the Lewis Machine & Tool Company, will supply the country’s army with two new service weapons in the form of the LMT MARS platform of AR-15 and AR-10 pattern rifles, as well as 40 mm grenade launchers compatible with these new guns.
The contract was awarded after a two-year testing and evaluation process which saw the Estonian military whittle down the playing field from 12 competitors to the MARS rifles. LMT will produce and deliver the rifles in conjunction with Estonian defense contractors Milrem LCM and Visible Assets.
LMT is no stranger to foreign defense contracts, having been selected in 2015 to reequip the New Zealand Army with the MARS-L (short for Modular Assault Rifle System - Light). In addition, LMT began supplying the British military with the L129A1, a designated marksman rifle chambered for 7.62x51 mm NATO.
The AR-15 MARS rifles selected by the EDF use a gas piston system, similar to H&K’s HK416 currently used by USSOCOM, while the AR-10 rifles will use a direct impingement operating system.
Both the 5.56x45 mm and 7.62 mm NATO rifles procured by Estonia as part of the contract are completely ambidextrous. This includes an ambi bolt release and catch, safety selector, magazine release and the charging handle.
According to LMT’s website, the 5.56 rifle will be the company’s MLCPS rifle with a 16-inch chrome-lined barrel, and over 14.5 inches of upper rail space, as well as MLOK mounts on the gun’s ample hand guard.
The 7.62 rifle will be the company’s MWS Sniper Rifle, using a 20 inch stainless steel barrel and feeding from a 20-round magazine.
Both the MLCPS and the MWS will be replacing the Israeli-built Galil-AR and the Swedish-made Ak 4 (a licensed copy of the H&K G3A3) respectively. The grenade launchers included in the contract will be none other than LMT’s M203 rail-mounted 40 mm GLs.
Estonian soldiers will commence receiving their new MARS rifles this year in 5.56x45 and 7.62 NATO, with a complete fulfillment expected by 2021. Product support will last up till 2039.