Heckler & Koch HK81: Rifle designed for special police forces

Heckler & Koch HK81 assault rifle Heckler & Koch HK81 assault rifle
Heckler & Koch HK81 assault rifle was available in two calibers: 7.62 mm NATO and 5.56 mm NATO (Photo: XY)

The Heckler & Koch HK81 was a German assault rifle designed and produced specially for Special Forces (both military and law enforcement). The rifle was designed in the late 1970s and introduced into the service in 1981. It was a highly customizable and reliable assault rifle available in two calibers.


Since the late 1980s, European police forces now regularly confront armed criminals, so it is not surprising that the public’s attitudes towards armed police are gradually changed over the years. The Heckler & Koch HK81 is an interesting example of how gunmakers are tailoring their products to suit the special requirements of military and police special forces, and it is also a lesson in how to acquire firepower without upsetting the populace at large.

Heckler & Koch HK81 was designed specially for the police forces
Heckler & Koch HK81 was designed especially for the special police forces (Photo: Illustration/Greek Police)


On the face of it, the Heckler & Koch HK81 is little more than the basic Heckler & Koch G3 military rifle with a few small changes. It uses the same two-part, roller-locked bolt which every Heckler & Koch weapon shares, but the barrel is somewhat heavier than the military standard and is carefully fitted so that the rifle is capable of extremely high accuracy.

There is also light but strong bipod attached to the fore-end so that the rifle can be rested during long periods of surveillance. While iron sights (front hooded post and rear apertured) are fitted, the rifle is always supplied with a variable-power telescope sight. The trigger mechanism can be either a standard military two-stage trigger or an adjustable set trigger for increased accuracy. So the basic weapon is a robust and highly accurate sniping or general-purpose rifle.

Heckler & Koch HK81 has a military-style trigger system
Heckler & Koch HK81 has a military-style trigger system (Photo: XY)

Above the trigger, however, there is a change lever that allows automatic fire; and on the right side of the rifle, there is a release for the quick-change barrel. So the Heckler & Koch HK81 can also function as a light machine gun, using the 30-round magazine. Thus while the police force has ostensibly bought rifles, it has in fact equipped itself with machine guns.

The only thing why the police officers didn’t like this gun was its dimensions. It was a big and robust gun that wasn’t concealable and therefore it could not be used for everyday operations in the urban environment. It had solid stock and a long overall length that made this rifle hard manuevarable in a close enviroment.

Multiple calibers

Further, by changing the barrel and bolt the gun can be rapidly converted to fire either the 7.62×39 mm cartridge or the 5.56×45 mm cartridge should the need arise. And by removing the magazine housing and replacing it with a belt adapter, it can be turned into a belt-fed machine gun in any of the three calibers.

Additional equipment

As if this were not enough, a laser projector can be fitted, placing a spot of light on the target to permit accurate aiming at night; image-intensifying sights can be fitted to the telescope mount; tear gas grenades can be projected from the flash hider (which doubles as a grenade-launching spigot), and there is even a tripod mount for heavy-duty.

The Heckler & Koch HK81 is a remarkable example of versatility; it is also a depressing example of the lengths to which European police forces are being driven by political extremists.

Technical specifications

Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch GmbH, Oberndorf Am Neckar, Germany
Designed: the late 1970s
Service: 1981–1990
Type: delayed blowback, selective fire
Caliber:  7.62×51mm NATO
5.56×45mm NATO
Barrel: 17.7 in (450 mm)
Weight (empty): 19.05 lbs (8.65 kg) – with bipod and telescope sight
Effective firing range: 400 m
Rate of fire: 800 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity: 5, 20, or 30 rounds
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