IWI X95: A Bullpup For IDF Special Forces

A direct derivation from the TAR-21 Tavor bullpup rifle, adopted in 2003 by the Israel Defence Forces, we are going to introduce to SADJ readers the version designed for the Sayeret (Special Forces) units, a shorter and more modular rifle that, in case of need, can be converted into a SMG.

The TAR-21 project in Ramat Hasharon was started in 1995 when the Israeli company name was still IMI (Israel Military Industries).  In recent times, IMI ownership has been handed over from the State of Israel to a private company, the Samy Katsav Group (the same holding that includes also Meprolight, Selectron International Optronics and Global Shields) and changed its name to Israel Weapon Industries or IWI.

It was the intention of IWI that the new rifle design would have to satisfy the needs of the Israeli infantryman due to the most recent battlefield requirements.  A large majority of the combat actions of the IDF happened in urban areas, where soldiers must fight in harsh CQB conditions: apartments, narrow roads, restricted spaces typical of small villages where the terrorist enemy have their site and hold their positions.

Another tactical consideration comes from the fact that IDF is a highly mechanized army.  Even if the Israeli soldiers, during their GIBUSH (the selection for the combat units), are trained to cover long distances marching by feet, it is an operative reality that most of their movements on the battlefield are done travelling by APCs, IFVs or by helicopters.  This requires to have the equipment, including the assault rifle, as compact as possible.  IDF learned this lesson when they adopted the FN FAL, in the 1960s.  Aside from reliability problems they had with this rifle, the FN FAL was a very long rifle and very uncomfortable to carry inside an armoured vehicle or to be handled inside a helicopter during an airborne infiltration behind enemy lines.

Currently IDF is armed with a very small quantity of IMI Glilon (the Galil short version), and mainly with M16A1s, refitted with round handguards and different sling system, and Colt M16A1 Carbines, with old style polymer collapsible stocks, both with fixed carrying handle on the upper receiver.  Only in recent times has the series 900 Colt M4A1 carbines been issued.  According to battlefield reports, even the M4A1 has been judged by the Israelis as too long to fit the need of the Israel mechanized infantry.

The solution chosen by IWI engineers was to design a bullpup rifle; allowing this way to have a short rifle without limiting the ballistic of the 5.56mm cartridge because of very short barrels.  The result was the TAR-21 rifle (the acronym stands for Tavor Assault Rifle – 21st Century), officially adopted in 2003 by the IDF.

Due to the high number of Elite and Recon units in the IDF, IWI was requested by TSAHA’L to modify the TAR-21 design for its own special forces.  The Micro Tavor was born, and after some intensive field testing, the design was refined and modified into the last version, currently delivered to the Israeli army: the IWI X95 Special Forces carbine.

The X95 is really compact: only 590 mm long with its 13 inch barrel.  To make a fast comparison, an M4A1 with fully extended stock and a 14.5 inch barrel is 880 mm long.

The rifle is built around a backbone made of a “U” shaped steel rail, where its mechanics moves and the polymer receiver is fixed.  It’s hard to say that the X95 is beautiful, but its appearance, in the gray-black polymer livery, is very aggressive and martial and less “toy” looking than the previous green polymer.  The change reflects the fact that the polymer chosen for building the external body of the carbine has been changed from the previous models.

The old greenish polymer was studied to be rigid and impact resistant as much as possible.  But with the frequent use during field testing, the main problem was that even if it was able to absorb hard shocks, the polymer was not able to last: after a while cracks in the body started to appear, compromising structural integrity of the weapon.  The solution was to adopt another polymer, the current black gray looking one that was “softer” but did not show cracks after intensive use, being also more resistant to the strong UV middle-east sun radiations.

The X95 operates with two different mechanics: the 5.56×45 carbine with gas recovery system and 9×19 caliber blowback operated submachine gun, both using the same body.

The 5.56 carbine uses a long stroke gas recovery mechanism.  During the shoot sequence, the bullet in the barrel uncovers a hole, the gas port, which blows high pressure gases into a tube where there is a gas piston that starts to move rearward due the effects of the gases.  The gas piston is permanently locked with the prismatic bolt carrier, that starts, in its turn, to move rearward too, and so doing, due to a cam on the bolt carrier body, causes the bolt head to rotate and unlock the breech only when gas pressures are on safe values.  The group bolt-bolt carrier keeps travelling rearward for about 70 mm, compressing the recoil spring and ejecting the spent brass.  When the kinetic force of the shot ends, the recoil spring pushes forward the bolt-bolt carrier group, feeding a fresh cartridge from the magazine, chambering it and locking again the bolt in the breech locking lugs.

When shooting the 9×19 SMG version instead, it is only the prismatic bolt weight and the force of the recoil springs that define the bolt opening delay to ensure a safe opening of the breech, the rest of the operation sequence being identical to the 5.56 version.

The X95 barrel is produced using a cold hammer forging process, with 6 right-hand grooves, 1:7 twist.  This is quite curious since the IDF uses both M193 and M855 ammunitions.  The explanation is due to the IDF doctrine, since they do not want to renounce to the better terminal effects given by the 55 grs ball, and reserve the heavier 62 grs ball ammunition only for squad sharpshooters.  On the muzzle end of the barrel is mounted a flashider with 5 radial slots located only in the upper portion of it, while the lower part is closed, being this solution identical to the one adopted on the American M16A2 assault rifle.

The gas port is located 187 mm from the end of the barrel extension.  On the breech is mounted the barrel extension, with the locking lugs for the bolt.  The bolt face presents a singular asymmetric locking lug configuration: the three locking lugs, in fact, are located at 12 o’clock, 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock.  This last one, in its turn, is split into two smaller ones.  The bolt face is hollow, to create a belt that completely surrounds the cartridge rim ensuring a level of safety in case of gas leak from a broken primer or shell rupture.

On the bolt face there are also a big extractor claw that engages the cartridge rim for almost one quarter of the diameter, and a spring loaded ejector pin.  To reverse the spent case ejection, the bolt head must be replaced – an operation that must be performed by the unit armourer.

The bolt carrier is a prismatic rectangular shaped block of steel CNC machined to accept the cam and the bolt head.  Protruding from the upper front of the bolt carrier body there is the integral operating rod, ending with the stainless steel terminal of the self adjusting gas valve.  Internally the operating rod is hollow to accommodate the recoil spring and the recoil spring rod.  The bolt, bolt carrier, recoil spring and spring rod are permanently joined and do not need to be separated during field maintenance.  The bolt carrier side walls are straight, sealing the ejection port on the polymer body, avoiding the need of a ejection port lid to keep dust and debris out of the action.

The X95 body is realized in a black-dark gray highly UV and impact resistant polymer plastic.  While the rear portion of the body is identical to the standard TAR-21 rifles, the front and middle portion differ greatly for their shapes and commands collocation.

The front handguard has a round section, with ribs on the lower part to give the shooter a better grip.  The front and upper part has ventilation holes to allow air to circulate and cool the barrel.  At the upper tip of the front handguard there are the backup front sights, realized in polymer and adjustable only for windage.  After the backup front sights there is a short Picatinny rail to allow accessories to be mounted.  Standard configurations foresee for X95s a tactical lamp, with its PTT button strapped with Velcro on the front handguard.