The Australian Defense Forces use the Steyr AUG rifle instead of the M4 because Australia has obtained a license from Steyr to manufacture the AUG to their specifications (known as the F88 Austeyr and now the F90). Colt did not allow Australia to obtain a license to produce the M16A2, M4, or any other AR-15/M16 derivative. A thorough evaluation of the rifle also influenced the decision to adopt the Steyr AUG compared to the M16A2 in 1985. The F88 Austeyr assault rifle is the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) standard individual weapon.
When the Australian military sought to replace its 7.62mm L1A1 self-loading rifle with a more modern combat rifle, it decided to follow the lead of other allied nations and choose a rifle chambered for 5.56 mm. During the selection process, many within the Australian military favored the M16A2 rifle. However, at that time, Colt had recently lost a contract to FN of Belgium to produce and supply M16A2 rifles to the US military.
In response, Colt stated that if Australia wanted the M16A2, it would have to be purchased directly from Colt. The Australian government, however, valued self-sufficiency in small arms production and decided to select another manufacturer that would allow local production. As a result, the M16A2 was not adopted.
Extensive evaluation of the Steyr AUG vs. M16A2
In 1985, the Australian Army thoroughly evaluated the Steyr AUG A1 and the M16A2, with the Steyr AUG emerging as the clear winner. The evaluation concluded that the Steyr AUG A1 was superior in terms of endurance and performance in adverse conditions and recommended it as the best option for satisfying the requirements of ASR 48.8. As a result, the Steyr AUG A1 was adopted and replaced the L1A1 and M16A1 in service.
Other assault rifles in Australian Defence Forces
Despite the Steyr AUG A1 adoption, the Australian military uses the M4 and various AR variants, such as the HK416. In 2006, some Australian units deployed to Iraq were equipped with M4s and Steyr AUGs. The Australian SASR and special forces specifically choose to use the M4 over the Steyr AUG, citing difficulty using the gun while wearing body armor, longer reload times under stress, and fragility in intense combat situations.
In my experience as a member of the Australian Army Reserve, I have used various rifles, including the SLR, M16A1, M16A2, F88, M14, L85A1, and L2A1 AR. Each of these weapons has its strengths and weaknesses. Of these rifles, the only one I would not recommend at the time was the A1 version of the L85 due to unresolved issues. However, I have no such concerns with the L85A2. I had no issues with the F88 Austeyr and was satisfied with it. However, I have a particular fondness for the SLR and would have been happy to continue using it.