Many people were surprised by the announcement earlier this week that the Bundeswehr has chosen the Haenel MK556 as its new assault rifle system – snubbing both the HK416 and the HK433 in the process. The stated reasoning was that the Haenel rifle, which is essentially a German rebrand of a UAE clone of a German version of the US M4, is the lowest-cost, technically-acceptable solution.

Given the MK556’s pedigree, and the fact that its made in what was once part of East Germany, there can be no doubt that it is less expensive than the HK competitors. But where does that leave Heckler & Koch?

The company won the lawsuit that was brought against it by the German government over alleged issues with the G36, but it won on a technicality – so not quite total vindication. HK was also apparently told before the Bundeswehr’s assault rifle system competition even began that the 416 was too expensive for serious consideration – so HK worked on ways to lower the cost of the rifle, and also developed the cheaper-to-make 433 especially in order to compete in the trials. The 433 must represent a pretty significant investment, which HK must now seek to recoup from somewhere else.

But who’s going to buy an unproven rifle that failed to get adopted in its home country, and when similar rifles like the FN SCAR, the Remington ACR, and the Czech BREN 2 are already available? This is not to say that the HK433 is anything less than a fantastic rifle, just that it no doubt faces an uphill battle. The FN SCAR has already been fairly widely adopted, the Czechs and Hungarians have adopted the BREN 2, the Poles and Italians have their own new homegrown rifles entering service, the Brits and Swedes appear to be sticking with what they already have, and so on… And on the wider market, low-cost AR clones are readily available, and no doubt represent a safe and familiar choice for many countries (as per the recent examples of Estonia and New Zealand). So does the HK433 have that special “x-factor” that will help it win elsewhere?

Heckler & Koch nonetheless appear confident that the company will continue to perform to expectations, and the frequent rumours of the company’s pending demise are most certainly over-exaggerated. CEO Jens Bodo Koch is reported to have recently said; “We are absolutely convinced of the quality of both the HK416 and the HK433. What’s more, the number of orders from all over the world is higher than we can currently process and the demand remains high. Heckler & Koch is and will remain a profitable company.” Certainly on the back of the excellent HK 416 the company seems to be doing well. France, Norway, the US Marine Corps, the German Special Forces (KSK and MSK), and numerous other special operations units have all adopted versions of the HK416.

As it stands now, we’re left asking the question of what will become of the HK433? Will it, like its numerical cousin the HK33, find itself in service further afield? Or will we see it featured in a future episode of Forgotten Weapons? Only time will tell…

An early version of the HK433 being rung out on a test range at the Special Forces Workshop in Güstrow in 2017. Photo credit: JP Weisswange / S&T Blog