A new Chinese Infantry rifle was revealed at the recent October 1st, 2019 Chinese National Day Parade, which celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. Some Western sources are quick in calling this rifle the Type 19, however, random pictures of it had been showing up as far back as 2014. By tradition, the Chinese military will only parade a weapon that’s in service. While we don’t know what the year numbering in its name is yet, it will likely to continue use the QBZ naming convention, which is the Chinese Pin-Yin alphabet abbreviation for “Qing-Bing-Qi, Bu-Chiang, Zi-Dong” or “Small Arms, Infantry Rifle, Automatic”. No technical details of the new rifle have been released yet other than it is still chambered in 5.8x42mm caliber.
It’s unknown if it’s a replacement for all existing 5.8mm caliber rifles or just another addition. Please remember that the older Type 81 rifle in 7.62x39mm is still in some limited Chinese service as of 2019, so much for the progress of replacing it with 5.8mm rifle that started 22 years ago.
A departure from their QBZ-95’s bullpup layout, this new rifle is using a conventional layout. The main emphasis is on modularization and improved ergonomics, as well as the general issue of optical sights.
While my initial assumption is that this rifle is just a modernized QBZ-03. The QBZ-03 was created as a supplementary rifle to the QBZ-95 bullpup for issuing to low-priority units such as reservists, paramilitary, security garrisons and military schools. The QBZ-03 rifle was designed by Ms. Fan Fong Mei from the Jian She Industrial Corporation in the city of Chong Qing, and part of the China South Group. She’s probably the only woman designer working on modern small arms.
Her QBZ-03 features a conventional layout with an adjustable short-stroke gas system and the trigger pack from the Type 81 rifle, all contained in Western-style upper and lower forged aluminum alloy receiver that are held together by two push-pins. A unique feature on the QBZ-03 is that its bolt carrier group hangs from a T-shaped longitudinal slot inside of the upper receiver. The cost saving is not really in the weapon itself, but rather it eliminates the need for lengthy retraining to transition from a conventional layout Type 81 rifle to the Type 95 bullpup.
Upon a closer look of the new rifle, it dawned on me that there are significant differences in detail to the QBZ-03 rifle. It’s unknown if Ms. Fan is involved or how much of the QBZ-03 rifle design has been left retained. In fact, from leaked CAD renderings of an early prototype, the bolt carrier of the new rifle resembles the tubular bolt carrier of Eugene Stoner’s design, and its short-stroke piston and piston return spring layout is somewhat similar to that of the Heckler & Koch’s HK416. I’m not yet sure if the rotating bolt features the M-16’s Johnson-Stoner style multiple small locking lugs or retains the three-lug bolt of the recent Chinese 5.8mm rifles. Possibly the most fascinating part is the adoption of the M4-style buffer tube system and collapsible butt stock!
There’s a large rectangular rise on the left side of the upper receiver just above the magazine. At first, I thought that it was the solid ejector from the QBZ-03, which is held in place by two rivets for easier replacement. That really originated from the even earlier Type 81 design. However, the location is too far forward to be for a solid ejector. Also, more recent Chinese small arms designs are now embracing the plunger style ejector found in the M-16 and other Western rifles. So, what are the two rivets for and why is the rise so much larger than that of the cam pin rise on the AR receiver? My best guest is that the two rivets are holding a steel reinforced cam pin recess piece inside and the cam pin is quit a bit bigger than that used by the AR bolt.
This new rifle will be coming in at least three major variants: carbine, rifle and designated marksman rifle (DMR). The carbine features a 10- to 12-inch heavy profile barrel. The rifle has a 14- to 16-inch medium contour barrel. Both have non free-floating polymer handguards that mount to a hexagon-shaped bracket attached to the large gas block. The DMR comes with 18- to 20-inch heavy profile barrel and a free-floating M-LOK metal handguard. It will be interesting to see if the designated marksman rifle version will replace the QBU-88 bullpup DMR in the future. The QBU-88 bullpup DMR is based on the Type 85 SVD, but shrunk down for the 5.8mm caliber in a bullpup configuration. It is known for its rather lackluster accuracy and uses a proprietary 10-round steel magazine. Low-resolution photos show the new DMR model being tested with the 4-16x50mm scope from the QBU-14 series of Chinese bolt action sniper rifles. There’s also supposed to be a 6x prism sight in development for it.
So, I’m beginning to suspect that this new rifle family has nothing to do with Ms. Fan Fong Mei’s QBZ-03 design. Instead, it’s been developed by the military’s own 208th Small Arms Research Institute, located just north of Beijing. It’s basically their own version of the HK416 with Chinese characteristics—in 5.8x42mm, with a side charging handle, and it accepts a “rock-n-lock” style magazine.
Stay tuned for the 2ndpart, as we will dive into the design details.