Heckler & Koch German Gunmaker Dodges a Bullet

A German court on Friday rejected a compensation claim brought by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen against weapons company Heckler & Koch for alleged accuracy problems with the G36 assault rifle.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen suffered a setback with the court's ruling on the G36 rifle, shown in the background.

A German court on Friday dealt a blow to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s effort to get compensation for an assault weapon, the G36, that she said wasn't accurate enough when hot.

A court in Koblenz, western Germany, ruled that a batch of 3,845 G36 rifles met all the contractual obligations between privately-owned weapons maker Heckler & Koch and the ministry.

The company had filed the suit after the defense ministry filed for damages. Citing several tests, the ministry said the rifle has a precision problem when it warms up, reducing target accuracy to as low as 7 percent. The German military, the Bundeswehr, demands 90 percent accuracy.

Ms. von der Leyen’s ministry had already decided to replace all of its 167,000 G36 weapons with new rifles, a process which will continue despite the ruling, the ministry said in a statement. The German army has been using the G36 since 1996.

The defense ministry said it will appeal the court ruling, saying the court had not addressed the lack of accuracy. A ministry spokesman said: "The court could also have gathered evidence on whether the rifle actually meets the requirements. An assault rifle must be accurate."

Heckler & Koch, based in Oberndorf in south-western Germany, supplies arms to numerous armies and police forces around the world, including the U.S. army and the military in Britain and Norway, as well as other NATO-member countries and allies.

For Heckler & Koch, the lawsuit was about averting damage to its image after the ministry's widely-reported criticism of the gun last year.  The government was claiming compensation for 3,845 short-barrel rifles for which guarantee claims had not expired yet. They are priced at around €1,000, or $1,120, so compensation would have amounted to €4 million.


Gilbert Kreijger is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin, covering companies and markets. To contact the author:  [email protected]