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IWI Galil ACE Unique AK-Style Defensive Rifle: Tested

The Russians may get credit for creating the AK rifle, but the IWI Galil ACE is slimmer, sleeker Israeli offering that brings new designs to the classic AK platform.

IWI Galil ACE Unique AK-Style Defensive Rifle: Tested

IWI Galil ACE Unique AK-Style Defensive Rifle: Tested (Firearms News photo)

Some like to repeat a mantra that goes "The Soviets created the AK rifle, the Finns refined it, but it was the Israelis who ultimately perfected it." While these are tall words, the Galil ACE is indeed a Goliath slayer. Here is an unknown son of little Israel mighty in valor and well able to stand toe to toe with the best a giant like Izhmash has to offer. Like many, I have not been a fan of the traditional Galil rifles. Good rifles, yes, but heavy and a bit cluttered in my humble opinion. However, IWI US, Inc.'s Galil ACE takes the design to a different level and really impressed me. I was very lucky to have been given a first look at IWI US Inc.'s Galil ACE at the Big 3 East Media event in October 2014. Immediately after the event IWI US, Inc. was kind enough to send the first review Galil ACE out to Firearms News. Before I jump into this interesting piece, though, let's take a quick look at the background of this design.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
The optics rail makes it easy to mount a red dot or scope like this Hi-Lux 1-4x24mm CMR 762AK. It features a BDC calibrated for 7.62x39mm out to 1,000 meters.(Firearms News photo)

Keep in mind, the Galil ACE was not developed for recreational shooting. It was designed in a country where failure is not an option. In Israel, the only two possibilities are victory or extermination. During the fight for, and following, Israel's May 1948 independence, Israeli Defense Forces were armed with whatever was available. These were desperate times and soldiers were issued whatever could be purchased and smuggled into the country. Old and obsolete weapons including Lee-Enfields, Mauser Kar 98ks, Sten guns and other aging relics from the most recent bloodletting were the norm. While those were wielded to good effect, the IDF realized it needed modern small arms, and more importantly, an industry to develop and manufacture them to survive. In 1955, the country took an important first step by fielding the indigenously designed Uzi submachine gun. This provided the IDF with an effective weapon for close-quarter fighting that was designed and produced in Israel.

That same year, the Israelis also fielded a new combat rifle in the form of the Belgian FN-FAL. Many do not realize the Israelis were one of the many countries to field FAL rifles. In Israeli service, they were dubbed the Rov've Mittan. While the FAL was a foreign design, it was an important step forward allowing obsolete bolt-action rifles to be replaced with a modern design. Small numbers of FALs first saw action during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Put to the test, they proved their superiority over the old manually operated Kar 98k bolt guns. The FAL was standard issue when the Six-Day war broke out in June of 1967 (though you will still see Israeli troops armed with Mausers in photos of the conflict). Both a standard infantry rifle and a heavy-barrel squad automatic (Makle'a Kal) in 7.62x51mm NATO were adopted. These featured the ability to fire fully automatic and were easily distinguished by their unique sheet metal and wood handguard.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
While the heart of the ACE remains Kalashnikov, it has been put on a diet, including a hybrid receiver assembly, to reduce weight to less than 8 pounds.The Galil ACE features a 16.1-inch cold hammer-forged and chrome lined barrel with a 1:9.5 twist. Fitted to the muzzle is a bird cage style flash suppressor. (Firearms News photo)

The FAL soldiered on during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. But by this time, it was falling out of favor with Israeli soldiers. The IDF had become heavily mechanized and the long and heavy FAL was considered poorly suited for their needs. Issues of reliability in the sand and dust of the Middle East also began to be voiced. During the latter stages of the Yom Kippur War, dissatisfaction with the FAL led some Israeli soldiers to cast them aside for captured AK47s and AKMs. These Soviet pattern weapons were shorter, lighter, quicker to the shoulder, more reliable and controllable on full automatic. While the FAL is considered a classic battle rifle and one of the very best in 7.62x51mm NATO, it was dissatisfaction with it which led to the development of the Galil. Based upon feedback from combat troops, Yisrael Galili and Yaacov Lior set out in the late 1960s to develop a modern replacement.

IDF troops who had faced the Kalashnikov in combat referred to it as "The tiger of the desert." So their goal was to develop a fighting rifle superior to the Soviet design. However, rather than designing something entirely new, Galili and Lior simply based their work around Kalashnikov's proven system. Adopted by the IDF in 1972, the 5.56x45mm Galil assault rifle was, as to be expected, an incredibly durable and reliable design. It was, after all, a Kalashnikov at heart. Galili and Lior based the design around a heavy Finnish-pattern milled steel receiver. It featured a beefy folding stock, improved sights along with a folding carry handle and bipod.

While its list of features was impressive for 1972, including a bottle opener, it tipped the scales at a portly 11 pounds loaded. So despite being a 5.56x45mm caliber assault rifle, it actually weighed more than the 7.62x51mm FAL it replaced. This was its downside, and IDF troopers who actually had to carry it were less than enamored. During the Yom Kippur War, the USA shipped large quantities of M16A1 and CAR15s to the IDF. With these readily available, it wasn't long before the American M16 began to see use with Israeli special operations, paratroopers and infantry units. U.S. military aid to Israel increased in the 1990s, and eventually, the M16 series replaced the Galil in infantry units. While not perfect, the M16 series proved popular with Israeli soldiers.

At the end of the 1982 Israel-Lebanon War, the IDF began to once again re-evaluate what it needed in a combat rifle. This would lead to the development and adoption of an entirely new Israeli combat rifle: the Tavor Assault Rifle-21st Century (TAR-21). Yet while the Galil was superseded in Israeli service, it did not simply fade away. Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) realized the potential of the design and proceeded to refine it. Combat experience and input from actual end-users allowed the company to improve and update the system. What was great about the original Galil, such as its reliability, was enhanced. Shortcomings, such as its weight, were addressed. The end result was a new series of rifles called the Galil ACE.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
The 7.62x39mm cartridge remains a world favorite due to penetration and performance (L to R) 5.56x45mm brass and steel case, 6.5x38mm Grendel, 7.62x39mm.(Firearms News photo)

IWI has had some success with foreign military sales since the Galil ACE was introduced. The Colombian army has adopted and fielded the Galil ACE as standard issue. When you consider the Colombian Army is larger than French and German armies combined, you can put this adoption into perspective. The Chilean army has also recently adopted the Galil ACE, and Peru plans to license the design. The biggest news is the adoption of the Galil ACE by the People's Army of Vietnam. With an army of approximately 450,000, this is a very large sale. IWI has invested $100 million in a factory in Vietnam to produce Galil ACE rifles for the Vietnamese Army.

As for the future, the Galil ACE is one of the final contenders in India's service rifle trials intended to replace the 5.56x45mm INSAS. India has the fourth largest army in the world, so its adoption of the Galil ACE would be a huge success for IWI. The big story for Americans, though, is IWI US, Inc. bringing the Galil ACE into the U.S. commercial market. IWI US, Inc. first shook up the AR-dominated U.S. market when it offered the innovative 5.56x45mm Tavor bullpup. Now it's introducing a semi-automatic commercial rifle and pistol version of the Galil ACE. With ARs flooding the market, it's nice to see new and interesting alternatives being offered.

So how has the Galil evolved in the past 43 years? While many things have changed for the better, the heart of the Galil ACE remains tried and true Kalashnikov. The carrier controlled rotating bolt, long-stroke gas-piston system and trigger mechanism are all borrowed from the AK, and that makes the Galil ACE incredibly tough and reliable, just like the original Galil. Like the original Galil the ACE also brings a very high level of quality to the Kalashnikov. This includes the materials selected, machining, heat treatment, finishing and quality control. So the new Galil ACE is a good choice for anyone requiring a very proven and reliable design.

Moving beyond the basic operating system you quickly notice the rest of the rifle has been significantly updated. The chief complaint against the original Galil was simply weight. She was a hefty girl. The new Galil ACE partially addresses this by using a modern hybrid receiver. This consists of a machined upper mated to a polymer lower sub-assembly which houses the pistol grip, magazine well and magazine release. The change to a hybrid receiver is one of the ways IWI reduced the weight to less than 8 pounds. So the good news is yes, the new Galil ACE is lighter and handier. This will make it quicker to the shoulder, faster on target and less fatiguing to carry and use. There also has been a caliber change. Initially, the Galil ACE will be offered in the classic Soviet 7.62x39mm. Developed specifically for use in automatic firearms, this cartridge features a short, aggressively tapered rimless bottleneck cartridge case. This is 1.524 inches long with a base diameter of .447 inches. To aid reliability, it has a relatively thick .059-inch rim.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
The ACE's stock can be folded neatly to the side to reduce overall length for travel and storage. Just press down to disengage and swivel it to the right.(Firearms News photo)

The case tapers down to a shoulder diameter of .396 inches and has a capacity of 35.6 grains of water. Neck diameter is .339 inches and .311-inch diameter projectiles weighing approximately 123 grains are standard. Overall length is 2.205 inches. Developed to bridge the gap between pistol cartridges used in submachine guns and traditional rifle cartridges, the 7.62x39mm took the world by storm. The 7.62x39mm has long been popular with American shooters, chiefly due to cost. Widely available at affordable prices when loaded using steel cartridge cases, it is a caliber your average blue collar worker can actually afford to shoot in quantity. But there is more to this cartridge than just inexpensive ball ammunition imported from Eastern Europe and Russia. Performance of this classic Soviet cartridge has been significantly improved in recent years through the use of modern projectiles. Winchester offers a 120-grain bonded PDX1 Defender and 123-grain monolithic Razor Back XT, plus Barnes offers the 123-grain monolithic hollow-point TAC-X.


While these loads are expensive, their ability to penetrate intermediate barriers and still provide reliable expansion combined with a low flash signature make them excellent options for personal protection and hunting. If overpenetration is a concern, consider Hornady's 123-grain VMAX. Plus Wolf offers an affordable 125-grain soft-point load that performs very well. It provides a nice balance of penetration and expansion but at an affordable price. The logical choice for a feed device was to use standard Com Bloc 7.62x39mm magazines, and that is exactly what IWI did. A well proven feed system, the AK magazine is tough, reliable and readily available.

I tried a variety of types in the Galil ACE, including steel European and Chinese pattern, Bulgarian waffle pattern, Polish polymer, Russian Bakelite and Magpul polymers. All inserted easily, locked properly into place and feed without issue. The only negative is RPK pattern drums do not fit. The review rifle I received for testing was fitted with a 16.1-inch chrome-lined cold hammer-forged barrel. This features a 1:9.5 twist and is fitted with a birdcage style flash suppressor. Good news is it features standard 5/8x24 inch muzzle threads. So aftermarket muzzle devices and sound suppressors are easily mounted.

Sights consist of a protected front post and a simple protected rear aperture mounted at the back of the top-cover. The front sight is adjustable for elevation and shaped similar to an M16A1 post. The L-shaped rear sight is adjustable for windage and features a battle sight setting of 300 meters and long range setting of 500 meters. The sight picture is quite good and the irons work very well for their intended purpose. They are a significant step up from Soviet pattern sights. Perhaps more important, though, is the optics rail IWI added to the Galil ACE. This runs the length of the top of the rifle. While at first glance this appears to be a standard 1913 rail, it is not. The center section has been machined out to further reduce weight.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
Stripping the ACE reveals it is very much a Kalashnikov at heart. The piece is very easy to strip. Also note the optics rails on the gas tube and top cover.(Firearms News photo)

Reducing weight is good, but this also means not all mounts designed to interface with a 1913 rail will lock into place. Mounts with crossbars only in the center section will not lock into place, so keep this in mind. The optics rail allows a red dot, magnified optic, night vision or any combination to be easily mounted. IR laser/illuminators can also be easily mounted thanks to the length of this rail. If you need to mount a white light or other accessory, the fore-end has an aluminum tri-rail system. This is cleverly hidden beneath comfortable rail covers. The rail covers can be easily removed to allow accessories to be mounted. A useful feature is the ability to plumb a small pressure switch and cable into the rail system, and then slide the cover back into place. This allows for a very neat and secure installation. The pressure switch may then be accessed through the rail cover.

The controls on the Ace have also been improved. Gone is the Galil's upturned charging handle, which is difficult to operate when optics are mounted. The reciprocating charging handle has been moved to the left side of the Galil ACE receiver. Placing it here makes it both easy to reach and manipulate for a right-handed shooter. It's interesting to note the charging handle was on the left side of the receiver on Kalashnikov's original prototype. IWI's redesign incorporates a spring-loaded cover that seals the slot the charging handle runs in. With the elimination of the traditional AK safety lever on the right side, the system is basically sealed from foreign debris and dirt. This should enhance reliability in dirty conditions.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
The rear sight is dovetailed and bolted into the sight rail, so is not easily removable for scope mounting. The L-shaped aperture flips for 300 or 500 meters.(Firearms News photo)

An easy to operate safety lever is located on the left side of the receiver by the pistol grip. This places the safety lever in a position where it is easy to reach and manipulate. Simply thumb it forward to fire. It works very well. In addition, a short safety lever is still located on the right side of the receiver. The magazine release remains the well-proven ambidextrous paddle design. While not as fast as a pushbutton release, it is very secure and easy to operate with either hand, even when wearing gloves. The carbine features a robust collapsible stock, allowing quick changes of length of pull. So you can easily adjust the length of pull if you're wearing heavy clothing or for different shooting positions.

Better still, it also folds to the side. This further reduces its overall length, allowing compact storage. The folding mechanism is very robust and easy to operate. A clip-on cheek riser is also included with the rifle. This can be attached to enhance the cheek weld when using magnified optics. Stripping the Galil ACE is simple and straightforward. It is very easy to do and similar to taking apart a Kalashnikov or Galil. To check functioning after I first received the Galil ACE, I ran 100 rounds of Wolf 122-grain steel case ball through it. I did this while engaging LaRue "Chain Banger" steel targets at 100 yards offhand and kneeling. The Galil ACE ran like a champ with zero issues and hit to point of aim with the factory iron sights.

Next I checked the accuracy of the Galil ACE from the bench. This was done at 100 yards using Hornady's 123-grain VMAX, Wolf Performance Ammunition's 125-grain soft-point and Century Arms' Red Army 123-grain FMJ. Testing was performed using the factory iron sights with four five-shot groups fired with each load. Velocity readings were recorded 12 feet from the muzzle at an ambient temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit 100 feet above sea level.

Shooting from the bench was fairly pleasant. The trigger on this example is very good, being smooth and fairly light with a clean break and no perceptible trigger slap. The iron sights are easy to see and the mild recoil made shooting groups fairly easy. Best accuracy was obtained using Hornady's 123-grain VMAX load, which averaged 2.7 inches. Wolf Performance Ammunition's 125-grain Soft-point load averaged 3.5 inches. Red Army's 123-grain FMJ load though was simply not to the Galil ACE's liking. This shot poorly, averaging 5 inches. So while certainly not a match gun, with loads it liked accuracy is quite acceptable. Moving from the bench, I put copious amounts of inexpensive Wolf ball through the Galil ACE running various drills. Interested to see if any problems would crop up I proceeded to engage multiple targets from 7 to 200 yards. Firing prone I had no problem putting a 10-shot group into the head of a B-27 silhouette at 100 yards.

I also put a 10-shot group into the chest of a B-27 at 200 yards. During all this, the Galil ACE simply plugged away, eating the steel case Russian ammo like a teenager munches popcorn at a movie. Rounds fed smoothly, chambered easily and were ejected with enough gusto to make Mikhail Kalashnikov weep with pride. As to be expected, no functioning problems of any kind were encountered. During testing, I found the left-side charging handle to be well placed and easy to operate. Some will not like the fact that it reciprocates. It didn't bother me. Cartridges, FMJ, SP and polymer tipped, chambered smoothly without issue.

The Galil ACE is comfortable in the hands, balances well and shoulders easily. I found the fore-end very comfortable in the hands with the rail covers installed. The iron sights are easy to pick up and index nicely on a man-sized target. Trigger pull is smooth and fairly light with a clean break. Recoil is easy to control and shot to shot recovery typical of 7.62x39mm Kalashnikovs. All in all, the Galil ACE performed extremely well. If I were to have one reservation, it would concern the optics rail. When I first saw the Galil ACE, I was with a good friend who also happens to be a Soviet-era Russian engineer quite familiar with the Kalashnikov. He looked at it, grabbed the top-cover rail with his large bear paw and wiggled it back and forth. "Such a beautiful and well executed design, except for this," was his comment.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
The bolt handle is large and easy to operate even while wearing gloves. Also note the spring-loaded cover which seals the slot the bolt handle rides in. The ACE's magazine well is large and well contoured, but it precludes use of 75- and 100-round drum magazines, not a big consideration given today's ammo prices. (Firearms News photo)

The optics rail on the Galil ACE is a two-piece affair. The front part is mounted to the top of the gas tube. The rear is mounted onto the top cover. After the gas tube is inserted, the top cover's rail seats into the front rail. Due to the basic modular and removable nature of the pieces, it is not as stable a rail system as is machined directly into an AR's receiver. The higher an optic is mounted, the more leverage it will have on the mounting system, especially if it is large and heavy. I did not have the Galil ACE for a long, so will reserve opinion on how well this system will retain zero over the long haul. But that is my only gripe.

Initially IWI US, Inc. is going to offer two different models of the Galil ACE. The ACE 32 is the traditional 16-inch carbine seen and reviewed here. IWI US, Inc. will also offer an 8.3-inch pistol fitted with an arm brace. I've had the chance to handle and fire the Short Barrel Rifle variant the pistol is based on. It was a lot of fun to shoot and very compact. I would expect the pistol version to be just as much fun, especially with the arm brace fitted, and it will not require any pesky paperwork or tax stamp. I would not be surprised if it outsells the carbine. Without a doubt, the arm brace has changed the US firearms market, and right now, pistols fitted with them are the hot ticket. It is very smart for IWI US, Inc. to capitalize on this.

IWI Gali ACE Pistol
Practical accuracy of the ACE was quite acceptable by AK standards with loads it liked, and it performed flawlessly throughout his testing, Fortier says.(Firearms News photo)

The future? If I were to peer into my crystal ball, I would see smoke on the horizon. There will be some additions to the Galil ACE line, all in 7.62x51mm NATO. These will consist of an 11.8-inch barreled pistol along with 16-, 18- and 20-inch rifles. Now the big question: pricing. The 7.62x39mm pistol without arm brace retails for $1,749 and adding an arm brace will add $100. The 16-inch carbine retails for $1,899. My thoughts? The Galil ACE will be a factory gun with all the bells and whistles custom smiths have been adding to high-end AK builds, and then some. That's pretty exciting. I highly recommend keeping an eye on IWI US, Inc. The company shook things up with its Tavor and now the Galil ACE. The company is hardly through though and has some very interesting plans for the future.

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