American Tactical Imports Recreates the IDF’s Classic Galil
If you asked AK enthusiasts to rate the many and varied models of this iconic and venerable weapon by their quality of manufacture and shootability, the Israeli 5.56mm Galil, and perhaps its older cousin the Finnish RK 62, would top the list. ATI (American Tactical Imports) now makes a semi-automatic version of the Galil you can own, built combining genuine military IMI parts with new American receivers, barrels and assorted parts.
The Galeo rifles are built in-house at ATI’s South Carolina facility in small runs using the best of the original Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Galil parts kits they imported from Israel in 2018. These parts are combined with five American-made components needed to meet the compliance requirements of USC 922r. Those compliance parts are as follows: receiver, barrel, magazine body, magazine follower and magazine floorplate. The single, nigh-invulnerable, TAPCO Intrafuse 30-round magazine the rifle ships with accounts for three of those parts. If you want to use original steel 35-round magazines, ATI has them for $24.99, but you will have to substitute three more American parts on the rifle to stay compliant with USC 922r. More on the subject later.
To make their new receivers, ATI starts with solid billets of 4140 CDA (cold-drawn annealed) steel and mills them to final form on their own CNC-machining centers before sending them out for expert heat treating. After heat treating and before a Galeo build begins, each receiver is inspected and tested for proper hardness. From a cosmetic standpoint, the receiver appears to differ from the original only in terms of markings and the lack of the lightening cut on the right side below the ejection port and the unsightly shallow milled cut and screw hole on the left side intended for an optics mount rarely used by the IDF (and pretty hard to find anyway).
The Galeo’s new American-built barrels come from the respected barrel makers at Bear Creek Arsenal. ATI reverse-engineered them from the original IDF barrels with the same size gas port, but improved them by adding nitrite treatment to increase wear-and-corrosion-resistance. Rather than the original 1:12″ rifling twist, ATI chose a 1:7″ twist barrel to better stabilize popular 62-gr. and heavier bullets.
The Galil’s origin story begins in the 1967 Six Day War when Israel responded to threats of invasion from Egypt by boldly attacking their belligerent neighbor. Syria and Jordan joined the fray against Israel, but in only six astonishing days, the tiny Jewish state basically handed all of them their butts. The IDF fought with distinction, but their new 7.62x51mm FN FAL rifles? Not so much.
In the hands of recruits and reservists who may not have fully appreciated the need for disciplined preventive maintenance and cleaning, the FAL proved prone to malfunction on the desert battlefield. It was also hard to control in full-auto fire as well as a bit too long and awkward for easy handling when troops were in vehicles. By contrast, the enemy’s AK-47 and AKM were easier to keep on target and worked much more reliably, seemingly defying sand and dust despite minimal, if any, maintenance.
Unsatisfied with the FAL, the IDF wanted a new rifle, made in Israel, and chambered in 5.56x45mm, which American troops in Vietnam had already discovered to be exceptionally lethal. Two teams were formed to submit designs. One was led by the Uziel Gal of Uzi submachine gun fame, and the other by Yisrael Galili.
Gal created a brilliant, adaptable, rifle system. It used quick-change barrels of various lengths and weights, a stamped sheet metal upper and lower receiver that pivoted open for field cleaning like an M16, an adjustable gas system using a short stroke system like the American M14 rifle and a smoothly reciprocating, roller mounted, charging handle. It was a fine piece of design work with original features ahead of their time, but it wasn’t selected.
Instead, Galili’s gun got the nod to become the IDF’s first domestically made assault rifle. It was the conservative choice. The Galil was perceived as the more reliable, simple and robust weapon, which it certainly was. It’s a derivative design that took the best characteristics of the battle-proven Kalashnikov as embodied in the Finnish RK 62 built by Sako and Valmet, and combined them with desirable elements drawn from other successful free-world designs.
A Born Warrior
Officially named the Galil after its designer, the weapon was formally adopted in 1972, and large-scale issues started in 1973. The weapons were so heavily and precisely built they must have conveyed both a sense of pride in shared national achievement and of comforting permanence to the IDF’s conscript troops to whom it was issued. It weighed about the same as the old FAL, but required much less maintenance and was shorter and handier. It was heavier than the AK-47 and AKM, but more accurate, had less recoil and was easier to shoot well and control in automatic fire.
The new Galil was built in three configurations for military needs. Intended for issue to all ground combat troops, the Galil ARM (automatic rifle machinegun) had an 18″ barrel, a combination bipod/wirecutter and carry handle. The AR (automatic rifle) version was the same but lacked the bipod and carry handle. It was intended for support troops. The SAR (short automatic rifle) had a 13″ barrel and was meant for mounted and special troops.
The Galil and RK 62 copied the long-stroke gas-piston operating system found on the standard AK, right down to the gross over-gassing facilitating the legendary reliability of this platform despite extreme environments, climates or ammo variations.
The Galil stands out in the AK family because of the features Galili selected to improve the Finnish improvement of the AK. There’s less difference between a Galil and an RK 62 than there is between either and a standard AK. From butt to muzzle, the Galil differed from standard AK-47 and AKM rifles in the following ways. It had an extremely solid paratrooper FAL style, right-side-folding, tubular, aluminum buttstock. Its rigid milled steel receiver was more streamlined and lighter than a milled AK-47’s. The bolt carrier charging handle was vertical, rather than horizontal, for left-handed cocking. The top cover was reinforced at the heel where it engages the receiver and a two-position aperture rear sight (with an integral flip-up tritium night sight) mounted at the rear for a 3.5″ longer sight radius than the standard AK. The return spring retainer had an extended thumb piece. Standard steel magazines had a 35-round capacity. The pistol grip was longer with a thumb operated safety/selector on the left side. It used a straighter trigger with a shorter pull. There was a shield in front of the magazine release lever, the latter having an extension on the right side for fingertip operation.
It was chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO. The barrel was longer at 18″ and threaded into the receiver. The gas tube was made of machined-steel and slotted into the front of the receiver. The gas piston had a star-shaped guide just behind the piston to retard excess gas flow into the receiver and keep the piston centered in the round gas tube. To promote barrel cooling it used an airy handguard open at the bottom, the rear endcap was designed to both retain the legs of a folded bipod and remove a bottle cap. The gas block included an integral bipod mount on the bottom and was topped with a front sight adjustable for windage with a screwdriver instead of a hammer and punch. Finally, the muzzle was topped with a 22mm slotted flash hider with a spring retainer wire for launching rifle grenades.
On the negative side, the Galil was unusually heavy for a 5.56mm assault rifle, weighing 9.5 lbs. in the ARM configuration. The weight helped reduce recoil, improve accuracy in full-auto fire and increase the general durability of the weapon; but all soldiers sooner or later curse every extra ounce in their combat load.
Some speculate the Galil’s weight and expense were the main reasons the IDF eventually phased it out in favor of the American M16/M4 platforms. There is some truth to this, but it shouldn’t reflect negatively on Galil. Israel was America’s principal Cold War ally in the Middle East in the late 1970s. With the exception of Jordan, Israel’s enemies were getting military support from the Soviets. Israel needed all the help they could get. The American rifles, though not as reliable or as tough as the Galil, were offered as military assistance at a giveaway price the Israelis would have been insane to refuse in light of the expensive, long-term proposition of maintaining a constant state of military readiness. By the end of the 1990s the American platform displaced the Galil among IDF infantry units. IDF armor and vehicle crews continued to use the Galil in its short SAR version until 2005.
Expensive though it was, the Galil was a very successful export item. It was purchased by police agencies in some first-world nations but by far the heaviest foreign buyers were the military in second and third world countries in Africa, Central and South America and Asia. Over 30 nations used it in one form or another.
The ATI Galeo I tested was set as an AR version and lacked the carry handle and bipod of the Israeli ARM version. It still weighed 8.6 lbs., without a magazine. It also had the early wooden forend. Both wood and plastic are available. ATI doesn’t offer a bipod or carry handle options, but those parts are out there on the surplus market for those who want to set the rifle up like an ARM. You can find early- and late-style bipods, 40 and 50 bucks respectively at Sarco (e-sarcoinc.com).
ATI guarantees the Galeo will run with the modern TAPCO magazine only. There’s no reason their Galeo shouldn’t run with the good surplus steel magazines, but ATI can’t account for your $20 gun-show-find being out-of-spec, damaged, dirty, etc., etc. Also, putting those in will throw off your 922r parts count. The IDF also issued a 50-round magazine intended for the SAR when used in a light machinegun role but these are a bit harder to come by lately. They were not particularly popular with troops because their excessive length made it difficult to engage elevated targets when firing prone.
The spacious facilities at the Knob Creek Shooting Range in West Point, Ky., allowed me to test the Galeo at targets out to 300 yards. The rifle’s ambidextrous controls, especially the right-hand thumb-operated safety, relieve it of the traditional AK’s awkwardness of operation. The side-folding buttstock locks up solidly and doesn’t compromise accuracy for more compact stowage. I found it comfortable. It allowed me a solid cheek weld where the old AK under-folders permitted only an unsteady “jaw-weld” at best. The fully adjustable front sight uses opposing screws to adjust windage and lock it in place using just an ordinary screwdriver. The Galeo includes the original Galil’s integral, tritium, flip-up night sights, too. Now exhausted, they show how full-featured the IDF Galil was. ATI has plans to import new replacements for them.
Standing off-hand it was a snap to hit gallon milk jugs out to 150 yards thanks to the aperture rear sight and the rifle’s nice, 4.75-lb. trigger pull. From the inside, the fire control group looks like a normal double-hook AK type with the exception of a separate trigger return spring. However, the travel before let-off is noticeably shorter than a standard AK trigger pull, which means less time between squeeze and bang and better accuracy overall.
For accuracy evaluation, I fired five shot groups at 100 yards with iron sights from a prone, rested position. I tested six different loads with 55-gr. and 62-gr. bullet weights and found the rifle favored the heavier projectile. Accuracy was impressive; my tightest group being only 1.25″. The best and fastest velocity load was Black Hills Ammunition 62-gr. Barnes TSX JHP which averaged 1.81″ and 2,932 fps. Federal’s Fusion MSR 62-gr. JSP hunting loads averaged 2.25″. Hornady Black 62-gr. FMJ averaged 2.79″.
Recoil in this heavy rifle was mild, but the action in all Galils is noticeably, and typically, violent. The few cases I was able to recover were deeply dented on the side. Most of the cases simply went up and were never seen again, presumably caught in low-Earth orbit. If you want to shoot the Galeo suppressed as anything other than a single-shot rifle, you need to replace the stock fixed gas piston with an adjustable one from KNS Precision (www.knsprecisioninc.com). This upgrade allows you to easily fine tune the gas flow in the field with no tools. Even if you don’t want a suppressor, the KNS adjustable piston lets you tame down the action speed and reduce wear and tear on the gun. To install it in the Galeo, just push out the roll pin with a punch, screw the old piston out, screw the new KNS piston in and tap the roll pin back. KNS actually developed their piston for the Galil Ace pistol and then adapted the design for the full range of AK variants. MSRP is $149 and you can buy them through www.brownells.com.
ATI did a great job of recreating the classic Galil. The Galeo is a fitting homage to one of the great assault rifles of the Cold War. Company VP and COO Robert Bartl described the Galeo project as a “labor of love” and explained they were building up the rifles in small batches to maintain quality control. Quality was evident in the tight fit of the rifle, its impressive range performance and naturally reflected in the $1,299 MSRP.
If you aren’t carrying it all day, every day on the battlefield, I doubt its shooting qualities will ever lose their charm. From my point of view, beautiful workmanship and extreme durability in an AK variant are worth the extra ounces and dollars.
For more info: www.americantactical.us, (800) 290-0065