October 25, 2022
The Avtomat Kalashnikova is the most prolific assault rifle in the world. It has seen combat on nearly every continent of the planet, and the number of them built stretches into the hundreds of millions. And like anything popular, the AK has seen its fair share of knockoffs, and inspired designs.
One of the more unique AK-inspired weapon systems is the Israeli Galil. Like many Israeli weapons, the Galil has its own mystique and allure to it with a history not commonly known. So how did the IDF end up with the Galil, why is it so heavily influenced by the AK, and is it truly a better AK than the original? To better understand the rifle, shooters at least need to know the basics of the politics surrounding Israel at the time.
It’s no secret that the history and politics of Israel are steeped in turmoil. From its origins in the wake of the Second World War, to its no-holds-barred approach to counter-terrorism, the small Jewish nation is no stranger to combat or controversy.
And while Israel’s enemies and detractors are many, few would question the combat effectiveness of its armed forces. This is due in no small part to a combination of strict training, and exceptional small arms. This makes sense; if a country is surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, its military needs equipment that will not fail when needed. This isolation also meant that domestic designs were prioritized over foreign ones. After all, if supplies are cut off and replacement parts need to be shipped in but can’t, it could be disastrous.
For nations with established arms makers, and the associated industries, this tends to work out very well. A great example of this is the United States. With a history of producing military firearms dating back to before the Revolutionary War, America has the materials, knowledge and supply chains in place to mass produce enough firearms for their entire military. On the other hand, countries that lack the expertise and necessary industries can produce arms that are considered objective failures. India is experiencing this right now with their INSAS rifle. Even though that carbine is based on one of the most reliable self-loading designs of all time, the AKM, the INSAS is an unreliable mess. (So much so, that their military is simply buying new AK rifles from Kalashnikov, rather than attempting to fix the design.) And given that Israel is a fairly young country with limited arms-making industries present, it would be understandable if their domestic firearm designs were lacking. But anyone familiar with military weapons knows this is not the case at all.
Despite their lack of existing industry and reliance on home-grown designs, nearly all Israeli military arms are known for their exceptional quality and dependability. From weapons like the ultra-prolific Uzi submachine gun, to the over-built Negev LMG, Israeli firearms are held as gold standards of reliability, but this was not always the case with Israeli weapons. In the 1950s when Israel was looking to arm its soldiers with a powerful automatic weapon, it chose the FN FAL. Upon doing so, Israel became the second country to adopt a rifle that would become so popular among NATO allied nations that it earned the nickname, “Right Arm of the Free World,” and while the FAL is a solid design that functions well in European climates, it struggles with the fine sand found in and around Israel (and the Israeli version is the only FAL with a forward assist).
Though it was not until their FAL saw combat during the 1967 Six-Day War that Israeli military thinkers began to seriously consider replacing the hard-hitting battle rifle with something new. Following reports of weapon malfunctions during both the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, the IDF noticed something about the small arms of their aggressors. Unlike their FAL, the AKM in service with Egyptian forces had almost no issues with the dusty desert environment. This came along with some reports indicating that IDF soldiers in the field were replacing their FALs with long-barreled Uzi submachine guns and captured AK carbines. So, when the IDF began looking for a new infantry weapon, the virtues of the Avtomat Kalashnikov were likely fresh in their minds. And that was likely a big influence on the gun they ultimately selected.
When searching for a replacement for the FAL during the 1960s, the IDF tasked two different groups to design an infantry rifle of intermediate caliber and compared them to some of the leading designs in the world at that time. These competing guns included the AKM, HK33, M16, AR18, the Stoner 63, and a few others - all formidable weapons by any standard.
As for the two IDF-tasked domestic manufacturer groups, the first was led by Uziel Gal, designer of the Uzi SMG. The second, was led by Yisreal Balashnikov on behalf of Israeli Military Industries (IMI). Uziel’s design borrowed a fair amount from his successful sub gun, utilizing a great deal of stamped metal for construction. As for method of operation, the Uziel carbine used a modified M14 gas system and long-stroke piston for reliable operation and weight reduction. It also featured a side-folding stock that is unique for its inclusion of a steel connection between the pistol grip and stock. But one of the more unique aspects of the design was its use of both a quick change barrel and barrel extension like an M16.
The other domestic design originating from Yisrael Balashnikov’s team was ostensibly a re-chambered AK-47 with a few ergonomic improvements. It featured a more ergonomic safety selector, a flash suppressor and a built-in bipod that allowed the gun to serve as a make-shift light support weapon in a pinch. During the course of development, Yisreal would change his last name to something that sounded less Russian: Galil. A name far more synonymous with Israeli weapons than Balashnikov.
In the field, the Galil proved very reliable in the sandy, dusty environments of Israel. Plus, troops praised the gun for being lighter weight, and having less felt recoil than the FAL it replaced. The Galil went on the serve with distinction in the IDF until around 2000, when it was phased out by M4 and M16, and later the Tavor series of bullpups. Despite this, the allure of the Galil’s design persists; with IWI manufacturing a modernized version known as the ACE to this day.
For American shooters who want a Galil carbine that looks like the original ones carried by Israeli soldiers for years, the market has been barren since the 1989 “assault weapons” import ban (signed into law by Republican president George H.W. Bush). That is, until the recent release of the ATI Galeo. Based in Summerville, SC, American Tactical Imports made a name for itself in the past by importing affordable, dependable firearms into the United States. Historically, the small company built AR-15-type firearms almost exclusively, but that changed in January of 2019 when they announced the Galeo rifle at SHOT Show 2019.
The Galeo is a semi-automatic version of the Galil ARM chambered in 5.56mm. The guns being sold by ATI are built using new production receivers and barrels combined with Galil parts kits that purportedly originate from Israel. These guns come in two configurations. The first version features the polymer SAR-style handguard, and the other uses a wooden ARM-type handguard. The model reviewed by Firearms News was the latter one with the iconic wooden forearm.
Like the Galil ARM carbine it emulates, the Galeo features a medium-profile barrel with a 1:7 twist rate. Unlike the original Galils, the Galeo’s barrel lacks chrome lining and measures 18.5i inches as opposed to the 18.1-inch original. Just like the original, this barrel is threaded to M13x1, and ships with a birdcage-style flash suppressor. In testing, the flash hider does a respectable job at reducing visible muzzle flash. In fact, the muzzle blast was only visible in low light.
Just behind this flash hider, the Galeo features a standard Galil gas block. This block incorporates a hooded front sight post that is fully adjustable for windage VIA a pair of opposing windage screws. To adjust, the shooter must loosen one screw before tightening the other. This gradually shifts the front sight assembly left or right. These flat-head screws are designed to be adjusted with either a small screwdriver, or the rim of a 5.56mm cartridge. According to the writer’s contact in the IDF, the screws are spring-loaded so as to maintain zero even under excessive recoil of launching a rifle grenade.
The front sight assembly is dovetailed in place, and features both a witness mark on the assembly, and a series of windage marks on the block housing. This gives the shooter a visible indication of how far they are adjusting the windage with each turn of the screw. The front sight tower itself is also adjustable for elevation, but requires a special tool to do so. While Galil sight tools are all but impossible to track down, the Uzi Model A sight tools will also function with the rifle, and are much easier to find (and afford).
Behind the front sight post is a small, flip-up front sight. This wider sight features a tritium insert and is designed to be used in low, or no-light environments where soldiers couldn’t otherwise see their iron sights. On nearly every Galil rifle imported this tritium insert will be very dead. Seeing as the half-life of the element is only around 12 years, this is really unavoidable. Still, it’s a neat addition that collectors and purists are sure to enjoy.
Behind this sight, the Galeo features a gas tube that incorporates six ports. These are designed to help regulate the back pressure of the siphoned gas and prevent overpressure when using rifle grenades. Although incorporated differently, this features is present on most AKM carbines, and helps contribute to its reputation as an incredibly reliable weapon system. Unlike the AK rifles it was based on, the gas tube on the Galeo (and Galil) is only retained by the dust cover. Under this tube, the rifle incorporates a very AK-influenced method of retaining its handguards.
Where the AK uses both an upper and lower handguard, the Galeo divides its handguards along a vertical axis. Instead of a top and bottom, it uses a left and right half. Both halves features four horizontal cuts to give the shooter’s support hand better traction and control of the carbine. Also, like the AK, the Israeli carbine uses a ferrule that retains the front of the handguards and locks them in place with a camming lever that sits in a small cutout on the barrel.
Unlike the AK, the handguards do not interface directly with the receiver. Instead, a small steel spring-loaded retainer captures the handguard and sets underneath the barrel trunnion and fits into the receiver. This design is deceptively clever. While at first glance it may seem like a needless complication of the original design, it allows for a wider tolerance of handguard sizes. Since it permits undersized forearms that may have been damaged from wear to still function. Furthermore, the rear handguard retainer serves two additional functions. It retains the optional military bipod that can be mounted on the front of the rifle, and it can open bottles. The bottle-opening function is no coincidence either. At the time of its adoption, the IDF issued water rations that were sealed with a standard bottle cap. It was found in the field that soldiers would use the feed lips of magazines to pop open bottles. This eventually warped or bent the lips to the point where they would no longer function. And rather than issue every single soldier a bottle opener that they would undoubtedly loose, the IDF decided to integrate the opener to the handguard themselves.
Behind the handguard, the barrel is threaded directly into the receiver just like on the original milled AK-47. Though unlike the AK, there is no rear sight gas block/rear sight housing. The rear of the gas tube serves as the gas block, and the rear sight is situated further back on the rifle on the dust cover itself.
Speaking of which, the rear sight is welded to the Galil’s dust cover. While this is normally a bad idea on AK-pattern weapons, the Galil (as well as the Galeo) is designed from inception to hold zero with this configuration. This is immediately evident to anyone familiar with the AK, whose dust cover often rattles. The Galil’s dust cover on the other hand, is rock solid. This is partially because of the tight fit among the dust cover, gas tube and receiver itself, and because of the oversized dust cover retention tab. According to IMI design documents, this oversized tab was originally added to the Galil to ensure the dust cover would not fly off the rifle under the excessive recoil of launching rifle grenades.
Atop the cover, the rear sight assembly features a dual aperture rear sight that features three settings. The first setting is for the gun’s battle sight zero at 300 meters. The third setting is enumerated with a number “5” engraved on the peep, and is set for 500 meters. The second setting between the two apertures is designed to allow the shooter to use the flip-up rear notch sight. This oversighted notch incorporates two tridium dot inserts for use in tandem with the flip-up front night sight.
Underneath the dust cover, the Galeo’s AK heritage is unmistakable. The rifle’s bolt carrier group is extremely similar to that of an AKM. The only substantial difference is the piston which incorporates a series of lugs that allow a better gas seal inside the gas tube.
Just like the famous AK, the Galeo’s piston is pinned to the bolt carrier. On mil-spec AK rifles, this pin is welded to the carrier, but on the Galeo it is not. In testing this wasn’t an issue at all, and the pin never showed signs of movement or shifting.
Additionally, the carrier features the iconic Galil upturned charging handle for ease of use for a shooter’s support hand. This also has the downside of precluding the mounting of optics as the handle runs very close to the dust cover. Though that’s not an issue with most Galil clones, the Galeo included. This is because the Galeo, like the overwhelming majority of Galil carbine clones, lacks the appropriate optic dovetail cut. But for shooters who still wish to mount optics, their options are limited to a railed gas tube, a B-Square mount or having a gunsmith drill and tap the receiver. And in the last example, the carrier may still impede a low enough mount to use with a proper cheek weld.
The attached carrier rides inside a pair of rails in the receiver and is held in battery by the force of the recoil spring combined with the locking lugs of the bolt. This spring is held in place by a two-piece guide rod, which is a clear departure from the AK’s interlocking guide loops. The recoil spring is captured by a small end cap. The entire assembly fits into a milled channel inside the bolt carrier group just behind the piston. This piston is retained by a roll pin driven through the carrier.
As for the bolt itself, it utilizes the same rotational camming action employed by AK rifles and carbines. So much so, that 7.62x39mm AK bolts will fit the carrier, and have been used by some builders in the past to make custom AK Galil hybrids.
Underneath the carrier group, the Galeo uses a hammer and trigger assembly that are nearly identical that use by the AK. It also uses a safety selector that is clearly heavily influenced by the AK, but takes into account more Western-style ergonomics. The reciprocating safety allows the shooter to toggle it with the shooting hand using the thumb without shifting the shooting grip. This is an enormous ergonomic improvement, especially compared to the AK safety. Because while the AK’s safety is very positive, it is awkward to use and nearly impossible to flip without removing one hand off the gun. The Galeo’s a thumb safety attaches to the lever that blocks the bolt’s path and allows the shooter to actuate the safety by pushing forward, or disable it by pulling rearward. While this is how 90% of all Galil thumb safeties work, there are some versions floating around that use a mirrored model with push for fire, and pull for safe.
Beneath the receiver, the Galeo uses a surplus black polymer pistol grip that incorporates a small cutout to facilitate the thumb safety. The trigger in front of the grip is protected by a piece of bend sheet metal which is riveted to the receiver. This is exactly how the AK’s guard is built, and like the AK trigger guard, the magazine release lever is built into the guard. But again, the Galeo departs from the AK design, and features an oversized release guard that prevents shooters from accidentally dropping a magazine. The usefulness of this feature is questionable. Plus, it’s telling that the guard is so effective that the gun’s designers had to add an extended release paddle so soldiers could change magazines easier.
Speaking of magazines, the mags used by the Galil are very well designed. Built from stamped steel and welded together, these magazines are obviously very heavily influenced by AK magazines. And while they may be very well built, they are extraordinarily heavy. Tipping the scales at 10.64oz, these all-steel mags hold 35 rounds of 5.56mm. And while incredibly robust, Israeli soldiers paid for this durability with weight. (A 50-round Galil magazine was also manufactured for 5.56.) Its weight, combined with the rising cost of surplus magazines is one of the reasons ATI decided to ship these new Galeo rifles with Tapco Intrafuse magazines. While Tapco doesn’t have the greatest reputation in the industry, these magazines are excellent. Lightweight, affordable and reliable, they make an excellent addition to any Galil carbine.
Heading rearward, the Galeo uses a standard Galil folding steel stock. This is arguably the most influential aspects of the Galil’s design. The folding mechanism in particular is incredibly robust, yet easy to use and simple in design. It consists of two pieces of milled steel that form a set of interlocking L-shaped brackets. The portion attached to the stock itself is spring-loaded to prevent it from unlocking on accident. To use the stock, a shooter simply pulls down on the stock to unlock the hinge, then fold it to the side. The cammed lock doesn’t need to be depressed to redeploy though. Shooters simply pull outward on the buttstock and the stock flips to the locked, deployed position and is ready to be used. It’s very quick to use, yet damn near bombproof. In fact, the folding mechanism is so popular, dozens of firearms around the world utilize it today. Guns like the SIG MCX, and even China’s Type 56-2 used variations of this folding mechanism because it works so well. And even though the folding mechanism of the stock is impressive, the stock itself is no slouch. Featuring two heavy-duty steel tubes welded together and attached to a hard, ribbed rubberized recoil pad, this stock could be used to hammer nails and would still hold up for years.
Given the Galil’s long history of military service, and its reputation for being a rock-solid military rifle that shrugs off abuse, the folks at ATI had a lot to live up to with their Galeo. So, how does it hold up? After testing the rifle with roughly 400 rounds of various types of 5.56mm ammunition, as well as .223 Rem rounds, the gun in question has thus far encountered no malfunctions of any type.
The Galeo in question was tested both with slow fire in a makeshift shooting vice, and rapid fired at steel targets between 35 and 150 yards. During the latter course of fire, the gun was easily capable of hitting head-sized targets with open sights from the standing position with every round tested.
Furthermore, Galeo's recoil impulse is surprisingly light. With hammered pairs easily possible on the author’s human-sized steel targets from ShootSteel.com out to 75 yards. This is due to not just the light recoil impulse of the Galeo, but also of it surprising accuracy. Surprising, because most AK-derived platforms aren’t known for their precision. This isn’t to say they aren’t capable of great feats of accuracy, but the long-stroke piston action doesn’t normally lend itself to good barrel harmonics. Plus, most AK weapon systems are chambered in 7.62x39mm, a round that is rarely loaded for precision work, and has a relatively low velocity and moderate recoil. Though the recoil of an AK has more to do with the large reciprocating mass of the bolt carrier group and piston than the power of the cartridge itself. That said, the most impressive groups of the day measured right around two inches at 100 yards. This may not seem impressive to precision shooters or fans of high-end AR-15s, but to the AK aficionado, these numbers are excellent.
As for build quality, the majority of the Galeo is built to, or beyond mil-spec requirements. The barrel is properly torqued, the finish is appropriately durable and the rivets look professional. On the test rifle, the only thing that seemed lacking was a blob of solder left on the safety selector, but given the fact that the gun reviewed is their test gun they use for internal stress testing, this could very well have been the “loaner” they use for trade shows. Either way, while not the most beautiful thing in the world, everything on the gun worked as intended.
With a suggested retail price of around $1,300, and gun show price of $999.95, these new Galeo rifles aren’t for the shooter who wants the least expensive method of slinging lead down range. Instead, they’re a much more affordable option for shooters who want a Galil, but can’t swing over $2,000 dollars for an original, IMI-manufactured, Action Arms import. If nothing else, these rifles are the most affordable way to get an AK action in 5.56mm that feeds from affordable, plentiful magazines.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
American Tactical Galeo Rifle
- Caliber: 5.56 NATO
- Barrel: 18.5 inches, 1:7 twist rate
- Stock: Folding metal
- Capacity: 30-round Tapco branded polymer magazine included, uses any original 35- or 50-round Galil magazine
- Weight: Approx. 8 lbs.
- MSRP: $1,299.95
- Contact: American Tactical, (800) 290-0065, AmericanTactical.us
About the Author
James Grant is a freelance writer for multiple firearm publications and the host of the YouTube channel Burst Review. Jim loves anything that goes, ‘boom’ but particularly enjoys military firearms from the Cold War and WW2. When he’s not slinging lead he can be found hiking in the mountains with his wife Kim and their vicious attack dog, Peanut.