By J.M. Ramos
The firm of Armi Jager in Italy is best known for its military rifle clones. It has dominated the rimfire submachine gun market for 25 years with almost a dozen best selling models. Jager entered the arms scene in 1974 with their Model AP-74, a US M16 rifle look-alike with plastic furniture resembling the early Vietnam vintage models. The Italian .22 clone not only faithfully copied the exterior configuration of the US service rifle, but also field stripped and operated in the same manner. The AP-74 takes a standard 15-shot magazine and a 20-shot magazine is offered as an option. A deluxe version with wooden furniture quickly followed and was an instant success. Following the AP-74 is a new compact model with a folding stock designated as the Commando. The standard Commando model differs externally from the AP-74 by having a detachable wooden buttstock and a conventional low profile sight. The compact Commando has a 16-inch barrel; shorter than the full size AP-74’s, but proved to be more accurate and reliable in overall performance. Jager introduced a new generation AP-74 in 1990 in the form of the newly adopted Colt M16A2 with round ribbed plastic hand guard, an A2 style pistol grip, and a bird cage style flash hider. Jager offered the new versions with new model designations namely M16A1-22 (full size) and CAR15-22 (Carbine) featuring a shorter 16 inch barrel complete with alloy telescoping stock. The new receiver configuration was a close copy of the improved Colt design. However, internal components remained the same.
As the popularity of militarized semiautomatic weapons in the civilian market soared to its highest peak in the 1980s, Armi Jager became the undisputed dominant force in the development and marketing of authentic military rimfire look-alikes in the international market. In this decade, the Russian AK-47 assault rifle became the center of attraction among military gun enthusiasts and collectors. The demand for the AK-47 combat rifle among private collectors was soon answered by Jager in caliber .22. In the early part of the 1980s, the Italian firm introduced the AK-22, a spitting image of the famous Soviet battle rifle. The AK-22 is a work of art in both design and workmanship featuring well made and reliable 15 and 30-shot banana-type steel magazines. Like its early predecessors, the AP-74 and Commando, the AK-22 was again an instant success not only in North America but internationally. Its worldwide popularity became an inspiration to other well known manufacturers that also made their own versions of the M16-22 and AK-22: most notably the Arms Corporation of the Philippines (ARMSCOR).
The 1980s was a very turbulent era worldwide, primarily in the Middle East. Israel was constantly challenged by fanatical militants’ incursion into its territory to create chaos. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF), using FAL rifles, soon embarked to modernize its bulky and aging small arms of mixed origins and develop a small and robust assault rifle firing the M16 5.56mm rifle round. The new rifle was the Galil, a native design claimed to be an improved Kalashnikov. Israel’s opposing forces are well equipped with the Russian assault rifles which they recognized as the most reliable small arm for desert fighting. After the adoption of the Galil assault rifle by the Israelis, the US gun media gave the weapon an extensive review and endorsement. The worldwide news media exposure of the Galil in action soon generated enough interest in the civilian market prompting its maker, Israel Military Industries (IMI), to introduce a semi-auto version in both .308 and .223 calibers. The Galil and the Uzi submachine gun soon became the most sought after models by collectors and gun enthusiasts worldwide.
Having recognized the instant market appeal of the Galil assault rifle in the international scene, Jager wasted no time and introduced the Galil-22 barely a year after the AK-22 was introduced. This quick transformation and production was made possible by the similarity and format to the earlier AK-22 allowing very minor cosmetic changes to transform its exterior to the desired new configuration. Jager engineers were very clever in creating their rimfire look-alike marvels. All models, starting from the early AP-74 to their last entry, the MAS-22, a French Famas bullpup assault rifle look-alike, shares the same basic trigger mechanisms. The AP-74s were offered in cal .22 LR and .32 ACP while the AK-22, Galil-22 and MAS-22 were chambered for .22 LR and .22 Magnum. The receiver of the AK-22 and its variants adapt quite nicely to the Magnum caliber allowing longer travel and heavier bolt as required by the more powerful cartridge.
The Galil-22 comes with a beautifully contoured fixed wooden stock, matching pistol grip and a grooved foregrip similar to that of the original Israeli issue rifle. Like the AK-22, the Galil-22 incorporated an internal cast alloy receiver containing the trigger mechanism and bolt group assembly. The barrel and fake gas tube is mounted in the usual manner at the front end of the receiver. To create an authentic look, Jager utilized a stamped sheet metal outer casing for the receiver to match the top cover. Both sheet metal components have a dull parkerized finish that beautifully complemented the overall aesthetics of the gun. The long AK style safety has an added square hook that can be used to manually lock the vertically mounted Galil type cocking handle allowing the bolt to be held open for a quick barrel check and cleaning purposes. When the bolt is closed, the front end of the safety lever blocks both the movement of the bolt and the trigger. The fully protected rear sight is an “L” piece adjustable from 50 to l00 meters. It is adjustable for windage via a side mounted screw from the left side of the protector wing. The matching front sight is a protected post installed on an authentic looking cast alloy base. On the left side of the base is a sling swivel attachment. An authentic looking khaki color canvas military sling was supplied with the gun. The lower front end of the base has a built-in functional M16 rifle bayonet attachment. The 20-inch barrel features an M16 bird cage style flash eliminator that is both attractive and functional.
Internally, the Galil shares the basic trigger mechanism of its early siblings like the AP-74 and AK-22. The trigger mechanism of the Jager look-alikes are simple, robust and proven reliable. The massive hammer and sear are virtually wear free guaranteeing many years of hard use and shooting enjoyment. The trigger pull is light and crisp with hardly any noticeable over-travel contributing much to accuracy. The spacious interior of the receiver where the trigger group is assembled has contributed much to the rifle’s outstanding reliability providing enormous space for dirt built-up. The Galil-22 uses the same bolt as the AK-22 with the exception of the cocking handle being mounted vertically, like the original Israeli design, making it fully ambidextrous. Another excellent feature borrowed by Jager from the AK design is the internal rail system from which the bolt travels inside the receiver. This arrangement assures uniform bolt cycle which in turn also enhances feeding reliability. The Galil-22 features a captive recoil spring system. A large steel cylinder supports the rear end of the spring assembly which acts against the retaining catch for the receiver top cover. This part also acts as a bolt travel limiter. In the .22 Magnum version, the cylinder is cut shorter allowing for increased bolt travel for the longer Magnum round. The bolt on the Magnum is also longer and heavier. One of the unique (though not recommended) features of the Galil and AK-22 is their ability to be fired without their top covers in place.
There were a few interesting accessories offered by Jager for the Galil-22 which will also fit the AK-22. Of particular interest is the metal folding stock which would allow a more compact configuration for the full size model. The metal stock would fit both the AK-22 and Galil-22. This useful accessory only became available in the early part of the 1990s. The folding stock, although well designed, is a bit on the flimsy side. The metal tubing used are not as thick as expected and the flattened portion that connects to the main base that locks up with the frame extension is also somewhat weak. Nevertheless, for a .22 it is acceptable. It is quite likely that the manufacturer opted for this material to keep the weight down. The operation of the folding stock is quite similar to the Israeli design, which is basically copied from the Belgian FAL Para model. To unlatch, push the stock downward under spring tension from the main base to disengage the lock, which is a stamped “U” shape sheet metal. With the stock base on the downward position, the part can then be moved to the desired position as selected by the operator.
A unique folding bipod was also introduced by Jager after the initial entry of their AK-22 in the market. The bipod is primarily made of thick sheet metal stamping that neatly folds in the middle to create a very compact but stable support for prone position shooting. The folding connections are spring loaded. A large bent wire locks the two legs together in the folded position. When the connection is unhooked, the legs spring out automatically into position. The top part of the bipod is made of machined aluminum block. Multi-function tightening screws were strategically positioned in three locations. The top screw tightens the connection of the bipod to the barrel. The center screw controls the angle of rotation of the rifle horizontally, while the bottom screw tightens the vertical position of the aluminum mount. The bipod is very well made and finished. The Jager folding bipod is a perfect mate for the Galil-22 and will further enhance its collector value. Another excellent optional accessory offered by Jager for the AK and Galil .22s is a side mounted scope mount. To install the mount, simply remove two of the left side screws that secure the sheet metal housing to the interior frame. Align the two holes of the mount to the screw holes of the frame and secure the connection with the replacement hand operated screws that came with the mount. Installation is quick and simple with no additional modifications to the gun required.
A military rimfire clone is not complete without a matching hi-capacity magazine. In the subgun era of the 1980s, 30 and 50-round magazines are the norm. Jager first offered their AK-22 with 15-shot and a 30-shot capacity. These were both of the slim-line patterns. A 30-shot wide curved magazine format soon followed thereafter to enhance the aesthetic of the gun to make it look closer to the original rifle. The later .22 Magnum model was only offered with a 10-shot straight box magazine. This was a drawback from a marketing perspective. The limited capacity on the more powerful magnum version is the contributing factor to its lackluster market acceptance. It is very likely that very limited numbers of the Galil .22 Magnum were sold in North America. On the other side, this version may command a higher collector’s price today than the regular .22 LR models. Unfortunately, I was unable to test or find any of the .32 ACP or .22 Magnum versions made by Jager in its look-alike line.
The early slim-line 30-shot steel magazine used in the AK and Galil .22 as produced by Jager were also used in other look-alikes such as the Thompson .22, Bingham PPS-50, 1022 and still used in current .22 conversion kits for full bore assault rifles with special adapters to fit specific models. The Jager rimfire subguns, and their accessories, were available exclusively from Mitchell Arms in California between 1985 and 1995.
Having examined and test fired most of the rimfire clones since their introduction in North America in the mid ’70s, I have come to conclude that the Galil-22 proved to be the all time winner. It is the most authentic looking among its other military styled .22 siblings and competitions. It is extremely accurate, very well balanced, outright pretty and amazingly reliable. Regretfully, the superlative Galil-22, just like its other import counterparts, fell victim to import restriction with the introduction of the Clinton Crime Bill in the 1990s. If we could turn back time and bring these highly crafted Italian made super clones back again, and chamber them with the new hot rimfire cartridges complete with hi-capacity magazines, Jager could easily reclaim its lost status in the paramilitary weapon era. For those who were fortunate enough to acquire any of the company’s hi-tech look-alikes when they were still widely available, they should consider themselves lucky. In my opinion, the Galil-22 will remain as one of the finest rimfire autoloaders of all time.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N7 (April 2006)|