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10 Best “Assault Rifles” In Real Life

You've heard the term assault rifles before, so what are the best ones out there? We give you our top recommendations.

If there is one loaded term used far too often is the term assault rifle.

It gets tossed around quite a bit, with plenty of people using it in an entirely incorrect manner.

Daniel Defense MK18
Daniel Defense MK18 full auto.

But I have good news!

Today we are going to define what an assault rifle is, talk about the origin of the term, and then we’ll even toss in the top 10 assault rifles from around the world.

So keep reading!

Summary of Our Top Picks

  1. Best M16 Derivative

    Sig Sauer M400 Tread

    Sig offers a smooth AR experience that doesn't disappoint.

  2. Best AK

    PSAK-47 GF3

    A decent AK platform that won't break the bank

  3. Best Bullpup

    Steyr AUG A3 M1

    A classic bullpup that boasts modularity

  4. Runner-Up Bullpup

    IWI Tavor X95

    Another good bullpup option with lots of options

  5. Best Israeli Rifle

    IWI Galil ACE Gen 2

    The Galil is fun to shoot and combines some AK like controls with the accuracy of the M16

  6. Best Czech Rifle

    CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine

    Modern rifle with enough modularity to keep things interesting

  7. Best M4 Variant

    Sig Sauer MCX Spear-LT

    Lightweight, easy to use carbine that is a blast to shoot

Table of Contents


The History Of Assault Rifles

To really understand assault rifles and how the term evolved, we have to go back to World War I.

A British Vickers machine gun crew during the Battle of Somme, 1916. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The war was a meat grinder and showed what happens when the last century meets the new century. Horses charged into machine guns, swords were fielded against shotguns, and if it flew or drove, we weaponized it.

Warfare was no longer men standing in lines shooting muskets at each other. It devolved into trench warfare, and the birth of small-unit maneuver warfare began.

In response, Imperial Germany developed a specialized soldier known as the Stormtrooper. These troopers would be armed with rapid-firing weapons, often pistols, and near the end of the war, they carried MP18 SMGs.

The Bergmann MP-18 was the first true combat-tested submachine gun. (Photo: National Interest)

They stormed or infiltrated trenches and were commanded by NCOs who could act autonomously. Stormtroopers were placed in Assault Detachments or Assault Companies.

This proved to be somewhat successful, although it was too little too late for the German empire. Still, lessons were learned.

By the time WWII came around, SMGs and full-powered battle rifles were common in infantry units, and small-unit maneuver warfare was common.

The M1 Garand was an amazing full-powered service rifle. But it was heavy, and its capacity was limited by today’s standards. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

While the two complimented each other well, the idea of mixing the lightweight, handy nature of SMGs with the power of a full-sized rifle was forming.

The Germans were the first to truly implement this with the introduction of the StG 44, the world’s first assault rifle.

StG stood for Sturmgewehr 44, which translates to assault rifle 44. The gun was not a full-sized battle rifle and was not an SMG. It offered something in between the two with moderate range and a lighter, handier weapon.

By the middle of the Cold War, the assault rifle concept caught on like wildfire. Since then, the world’s military forces have relied on the assault rifle as a do-it-all weapon.

What’s an Assault Rifle?

An assault rifle, by definition, is a selective-fire rifle chambered in an intermediate caliber cartridge that’s fed from a box magazine with an effective range of at least 300 meters.

5.56 vs 7.62x39mm
5.56x45mm (left) and 7.62x39mm (right) are both prolific worldwide thanks to the popularity of the assault rifles they were developed for.

These are lightweight and handy rifles, rarely weighing more than 8 pounds.

Their ammunition is also lightweight, allowing soldiers to carry more. Assault rifles are typically light recoiling and relatively controllable.

Grunt AR-15 with Romeo5 Red Dot
Grunt AR-15 with Romeo5 Red Dot

How Do You Pick the Best?

How does one declare an assault rifle the best? Well, that’s a tricky question to answer…

When I sat down and thought about it, I figured the best way was to look at their service records.

The AN-94 has some amazing features, but its complexity, rarity, and its limited service history keep it off the list. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

How long has a platform served? Is it well-liked by its users? Does it have a history of being successful in combat, and would it be easy to outfit an entire army with?

This means that the best might not be the most accurate, most ergonomic, or even the most modular.

Ease of maintenance and availability are huge factors when it comes to outfitting large forces. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Aaron Montoya/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Having a rifle for a military force is a bit like buying a fleet of vehicles for a company. Sure, a Lamborgini is a great car, but a Honda is probably more practical.

Top 10 Assault Rifles

1. M4/M16

The undisputed champ of the assault rifle world is the M16 family of firearms.

Starting with the full-sized M16 and later developing into the carbine-sized M4, these rifles have armed American service members since the Vietnam War.

Although it had a rough start, the M16 proved to be one of the best combat platforms as time went on. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Not only has it been a massively successful rifle in the United States, but it has also been a favorite worldwide.

It is also favored by many special operations components of military forces abroad. For example, the British military uses the SA80 family of rifles, but their elite SAS operators prefer the M4-derived L129A1.

Daniel Defense MK18
Daniel Defense MK18 during a night shoot.

Admittedly a good part of this rifle’s form factor is its modularity. Not only is it reliable, accurate, and ergonomic, but it can be easily converted to fit different roles. Derivatives of the rifle include the CQB-oriented Mk18 and the long-range ready Mk12.

It’s a do-anything platform that has been battlefield proven for over 60 years.

Best M16 Derivative
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

2. HK416

There is a good argument that the HK416 is mainly just a Stoner design, and you’re partially correct. It does look and handle much like an M4. However, it’s what’s under the hood that matters.

An Hk416F shown in the hands of a French Legionnaire, 2018. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

HK ditched the direct impingement system for a short-stroke gas piston design. This gas system keeps the gun cleaner and running cooler and helps improve reliability with ultra-short barrels.

Additionally, the short-stroke gas piston system makes running a suppressor a more pleasant experience.

The HK416 is an incredibly reliable platform picked up by numerous military forces and several special operations forces.

A student assigned to the U. S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School who is in the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course fires a German HK 416. (Photo: K. Kassens)

The Marine Corps field the HK416 as the M27, and both Delta Force and SEAL Team Six have used the weapon. Special Operations in Australia, France, Germany, and others can also be seen carrying these rifles.

While we can’t offer you the real deal, HK does make a .22 LR version that makes for a fun range toy.

at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

3. AK Series

The Russian AK-47 and AKM series started life as one of the earliest successful assault rifles. It was wisely designed to function in austere environments and is well known for its immense reliability.

AKM, Wikipedia
The AK-47 and its derivates take the number one spot as the most-produced gun in the world. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This long-stroke gas piston platform has evolved to include numerous variants. Modern rifles in 5.45 are still being fielded, as well as light support weapons and shotguns based on the AK.

It’s a weapon that’s easy to adapt to different calibers and roles. The platform proves that a weapon doesn’t need to be a prize racehorse in the accuracy and ergonomic departments to succeed.

Despite its age, the AK’s simplicity has proven to be the key factor in its popularity. More civilian variants are being made now, more than ever.

The AK is simple to use. It’s lightweight and reliable, and the commonly chambered cartridges are easy to handle.

The AK series is likely not going anywhere anytime soon, and as we’ve seen during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s one of the few pieces of equipment they have that works.

Best AK
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

4. Steyr AUG

In the 1970s, when the AUG was unveiled, it must have looked like something out of Star Wars.

The AUG wasn’t the first bullpup, but it did make use of a lot of polymers and an integral optic. It was a design ahead of its time.

AUG taking a nap on a tree
The original integrated optic is still available, but flat-top options for more modern optics are also available.

As far as assault rifles go, it’s also arguably been the most successful bullpup platform on the market. It’s a gas-piston-operated rifle that is modular by its nature.

Removing the barrel and swapping for another can be done in seconds. Users can turn it from a rifle to a light support weapon, a DMR rifle, and even into a pistol-caliber SMG.

Best Bullpup
at Gunprime

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

The Steyr AUG saw a lot of initial success and was adopted by Ireland, Australia, Austria, and New Zealand.

Heck, The United States adopted the Steyr AUG for the Department of Homeland security, making it one of the few bullpup rifles to see service in the United States.

Want to learn more? We have an entire review dedicated to the AUG!

5. Tavor

Here’s a fun fact, the look and shape of the Tavor were drawn on a napkin and decided before any development ever took place.

Tavor Side view
The Israelis designed the Tavor in hopes of replacing some of their aging inventory with a more modern, compact rifle.

This Israeli design would go on to arm the Israeli Army in the X95 configuration.

The Tavor family includes a rifle variant, a carbine variant, a grenade launcher-compatible option, and even a DMR option. On top of rifle variants, there is also the Tavor 7 in 7.62 NATO and a 9mm variant.

These rifles use a long-stroke gas piston system, and the design was meant to work in dirty, dusty, and miserable conditions.

Runner-Up Bullpup
at Gunprime

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

It was also adopted by the Ukrainian military in the form of a licensed, domestically produced model in 5.45. This version has seen some action in the current war in Ukraine.

Tavor Shouldered and shooting

In addition to Israel and Ukraine, the rifle has been adopted by about two dozen other military forces in various numbers. The Tavor family of rifles has proven to be other popular and capable.

Again, we have a review on this platform, so head there to learn more!

6. Galil

Sticking with the Israeli theme a little longer, we have the Galil.

Yes, the coolest feature of the ARM is that the bipod doubles as a wire cutter and bottle-opener. (Photo: Arfcom, user Seattle206)

In the 1950s, the IDF was using the FN FAL rifle, and while that’s a great rifle, it was big, heavy, and not well suited for desert environments.

They wanted a domestically produced assault rifle, and while they liked the AK series, they also wanted the accuracy of the M16.

This led them to build the long-stroke gas piston-powered Galil. It’s AK-like but has inspiration from the M1 Garand, FN FAL, and the M16. The rifle is primarily chambered in 5.56, but 7.62x39mm, .308, and even 30 Carbine variants were produced.

A South Africa soldier firing the issue Vektor R4, a licensed, domestically produced Galil ARM.

Notable, the Galil features a mix of AK controls and proprietary options. This includes an AK safety and a sliding thumb safety, a last-round bolt hold open, and easier optics mounting solutions.

The Galil was used extensively by Israel and has been adapted and adopted by dozens of other countries and police forces.

Best Israeli Rifle
at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

What do you think of the Galil? Rate it below!

Readers' Ratings

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Your Rating?

7. Sig SG 550

Do you ever wonder how the Swiss put all those holes in their cheese? It’s clearly with the SG 550 series of rifles.

Design of the SG 550 began in the late 70s, and production started in 1986. It was adopted into service 4 years later, in 1990. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The SG 550 series has served the famously neutral Swiss since 1990 and continues to do so. SG actually stands for sturmgewehr.

Designed to match the conditions of the Swedish homeland, the 550 is built to function without issue in snowy, cold conditions that would make the Florida man in me cry.

It utilizes a long-stroke gas piston and is natively chambered 5.56. Variants were made in 7.62×39 and .300 Blackout.

One of the primary design requirements of the SG 550 was modularity. The DMR variant is proof of the gun’s role flexibility

Modularity for the SG 550 has led to optics-ready carbines, DMRs, and many other versions.

The design has proven popular enough to be purchased by more than a dozen different police and military forces, including the purchase of SG 551 rifles by the FBI and DEA.

8. CZ Bren Series

The Czechs were always willing to do something different. When they decided to replace their aging armory of vz. 58 rifles, they developed their own modular platform.

CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine
The CZ Bren 2 carbine is the latest refinement of the Bren platform. (Photo: Calguns, user falconman515)

These are modern assault rifles that utilize a short-stroke gas piston system and feature some AR-like controls with ambidextrous features.

Modularity makes it easy to add accessories and barrels easily swapped to change configurations.

Despite serving the Czech army well, the original 805 Bren had some minor shortcomings. CZ introduced the improved Bren 2, which is now being adopted slowly into the Czech military.

Best Czech Rifle
at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Like many other rifles on this list, the Bren series comes chambered in the popular options —5.56, .300 Blackout, and 7.62x39mm.

Other countries adopted the rifle, including Egypt, France, and Hungary. Some examples have even been spotted in the foreign volunteer forces during the Ukraine Conflict.

9. Sig MCX

Sig’s MCX rifle hit the U.S. market in 2015 but failed to make a huge impression upon release.

The MCX is arguably the most modernized and refined weapon on this list, Keymod withstanding. (Photo: Gun Digest, Jeff Jones)

However, it saw a steady rise in success, eventually leading to numerous contracts for different variants. This includes adoption by the US Army in the Spear configuration, a.k.a the NGSW or XM5.

SOCOM also adopted the MCX as the LVAW or Low Visibility Assault Weapon, and even more recently, they adopted the Rattler variant as their next PDW in both 5.56 and .300 Blackout.

Like the other MCX variants, the Rattler is able to fire when folded. As a PDW, it makes for a very tiny and maneuverable package.

Alongside the U.S. Army, numerous European forces have turned to the MCX to fill certain roles, especially in their special operations communities.

Surprise…the Sig MCX is another short-stroke gas piston gun that takes a lot of inspiration from the M4 series.

The gun features controls identical to the M16/M4, and Sig MCX uppers can even be used on standard M4 lower receivers.

Best M4 Variant
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

This seems to be the rifle to watch as it is sweeping across the United States military and foreign special operations forces alike.

10. StG 44

We can’t do a top 10 without mentioning the very first assault rifle, the StG 44.

As with many German military inventions of WWII, the StG 44 was ahead of its time. (Photo: Reddit u/Senkori24)

Germany took their 8mm Mauser round and trimmed the case significantly, creating the 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge. The result was an intermediate cartridge that offered troops effective firepower out to 300 meters or so.

The rifle used a long-stroke gas piston and fired from a closed bolt. A removable box magazine made reloads fast, and the rifle offered an excellent balance of range, power, and handling.

Left to right: 8mm Mauser, 7.92x33mm Kurz, 9mm Parabellum. (Photo: Historical Firearms)

It was treading new territory and was a solid starting point for a new genre of guns, but admittedly, it is not a great assault rifle by today’s standards.

A few years of peacetime R&D and testing might have made a better rifle, but luckily for American troops, it never happened.

An StG 44 with a ZF4 4x telescopic sight. This is a similar setup to the M16A4 and 4x ACOG that would see military use 50 years later. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The STG 44 rifle didn’t get much time to shine and wouldn’t change the outcome of the war, but it did kick off an entirely new genre of weapon that has become the military standard today.

Palmetto State Armory announced it’s bringing the STG 44 back with a retro reproduction! You can learn more in our video below!

Final Thoughts

These days the assault rifle is the choice of every modern and even some not-so-modern forces. Assault rifles simply offer the best compromise of power, range, accuracy, and ergonomics to make them ideal for modern warfare.

Iraqi Airmen AK-47
AK-47s in use by Iraqi airmen during live-fire training drills. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

Even though the concept dates back to World War II, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Are there any guns you feel should have made the list? Let us know in the comments below! If you enjoyed reading this, be sure to check out our article on the 14 Best Service Pistols Of The World!

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17 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    I would love if y'all did something like this focusing on reliability and availability. This and the best non-AR 5.56 rifles article comes close but a little more info on how easy it is to find parts and if there is military surplus available. Any time I bring up an intermediate cartridge rifle, someone points out ARs are impossible to beat in terms of parts being ubiquitous and there is lots of info on fixing issues with them.

    I think anyone with an interest in guns beyond pistols should have at least one AR-15 because they are so dang practical, but I would love to hear about other intermediate platforms that have a huge base of support. I wanna check out all of these cool firearms but also want to know if I am jumping into a rifle platform that no one will have parts for in stock

    February 14, 2023 10:58 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    kwong bam

    Section 2 describing HK416 has a photo of "a student assigned to the U. S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School who is in the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course" firing a German HK 416, in full auto mode.

    The rifle being fired in this photo has neither iron sights, nor optics, unless the small structure attached to its top rail is some sort of an aiming device. Does the rifle on this photo has some unobvious sights or optics? If not, why is it being fired?

    February 13, 2023 5:04 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jacki Billings

      That would be a question fro the U.S. Army, lol. We didn't take this photo, so I can't answer that.

      February 13, 2023 8:10 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        kwong bam

        Understood. But the guy on the photo looks like he is trying to aim the rifle, so maybe there is something on it that allows him to aim? Also, can it be an exercise in some improvised aiming technique, the last resort when the optics and the irons failed? Or maybe the US Army is up to something that will revolutionize the firearm shooting methods soon!

        February 13, 2023 3:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    martin coffey

    The scar and most of all the FAL come on,

    February 12, 2023 11:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Travis L Pike

      They FAL isnt an assault rifle

      February 13, 2023 5:36 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Sean F Romero

        Yes but its a hell of alot more reliable and more powerfull and heavier.Like Boston T party says "if its too heavy Exercise!" I have most of those rifles,give me an MBR anyday!!!

        March 22, 2023 4:38 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    Now, all I have to do is convert my AR's to gas piston systems. Though I've never had a stoppage with DI system, it is "dirtier," and does require following a cleaning schedule to avoid its shortcomings.
    Seeing all these new guns with pistons will be the future before too long.

    Now to figure out which manufacturers system is the best to go with [Big Sigh].

    February 12, 2023 10:27 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Alan Britton

    They are rifles. Full stop. The thing which makes them an “ assault rifle” is the action in which it is used. Because a group of people who were called/labeled “storm troopers” doesn’t make the rifle they used an assault weapon.
    Look at the M1 carbine. It is a 30cal with a removable magazine. The cartridge is a mid range as well. It has automatic fire selection as well. And fire your definition. But it is a rifle and that is all it is. A tool to assault another person with.
    It is the action of the person holding the tool, not the tool.
    Any thing used against another person is an “assault weapon”. Anything. It is the actions of the person and their intent which defines “assault” not the tool.
    Please stop helping the left take rights. Your order disingenuous and blatantly wrong.
    Law is action, of a person, and definition of something defined in English and history.
    Here you will find that anything in a hand when wheeled (sorry for the spelling ) against another is assault with a deadly weapon.

    February 12, 2023 10:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I completely agree. I was wondering why when I was reading the article.

      February 13, 2023 7:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    FN SCAR? I'm not a big fan, just saying...

    February 12, 2023 7:39 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kim Burris

    Your list is pretty good! One rifle that is the darling of operators that never gets any traction due to almost no use in the military over a trials technicality is the Robinson Arms XCR-L. Modular. Accurate. Easy to field strip. Reliable. And one of the most controllable rifles in full auto I've ever handled. I own 8 of the civilian versions. The only way they've been used in that I know of is the war in Ukraine. Still..... It's an awesome rifle.

    February 12, 2023 7:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Sturmtruppe - Stormtrooper
    Sturmgewehr - Storm rifle

    February 12, 2023 7:12 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Not sure how wise it is to paste "assault rifle" on an article title without a more full explanation of what an "assault weapon" is, especially when they can be purchased online or at a store. This could be easily misused by the Left. Just sayin".

    February 12, 2023 7:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Blurring the lines isn’t wise. Exhibit A isn’t where you want clicks.

      February 12, 2023 7:54 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I completely agree. Why use the same terminology the anti's use. Now those peckerheads can cut and paste the headline to use against POTG. Poor choice.

      February 13, 2023 11:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Marc Johnson

    Thankfully, I have a "counter-assault rifle", so it won't be banned.

    February 12, 2023 5:53 pm
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