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Two STANAG-compliant magazines: A 20-round Colt-manufactured magazine, and a 30-round Heckler & Koch "High Reliability" magazine.

A STANAG magazine[1][2] or NATO magazine is a type of detachable firearm magazine proposed by NATO in October 1980.[3] Shortly after NATO's acceptance of the 5.56x45mm NATO rifle cartridge, Draft Standardization Agreement (STANAG) 4179 was proposed in order to allow the military services of member nations easily to share rifle ammunition and magazines during operations, at the individual soldier level, in the interest of easing logistical concerns. The magazine proposed for standardization was originally designed for the U.S. M16 rifle. Many NATO member nations, but not all, subsequently developed or purchased rifles with the ability to accept this type of magazine. However the standard was never ratified and remains a 'Draft STANAG'.[4]


The standard capacity of a magazine is 30 rounds. STANAG-compatible magazines can be made to almost any capacity, though those used for military service usually hold 20 or 30 rounds of 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition. 40 and 50-round box magazines as well as 90-round drum magazines and 100-round Beta C-Mag drum magazines designed to comply with STANAG 4179 have also been manufactured.[5] Magpul recently filed a patent for a STANAG-compatible casket magazine[6] and another was released by SureFire in December 2010 as the High Capacity Magazine (HCM) with an ammo capacity of 60 to 100 rounds.[7] A Surefire 60-round magazine has reportedly been used in combat in Afghanistan.[8]

Issues and improvements

The STANAG-compatible box magazine, while relatively compact compared to other types of 5.56x45mm NATO box magazines, has often been criticized for a perceived lack of durability and a tendency to malfunction unless treated with a level of care that often cannot be afforded under combat conditions. Because STANAG 4179 is only a dimensional standard, production quality from manufacturer to manufacturer is not uniform. Magazines have been manufactured with lightweight aluminum or plastic bodies and other inexpensive materials in order to keep costs down, or to meet requirements that treat the magazine more as a disposable piece of equipment than one that is supposed to stand up to repeated combat use.

These problems have been addressed by several manufacturers, most notably[citation needed] Heckler & Koch, who designed a new 30-round STANAG-compatible box magazine during their contract to rebuild and improve the SA80 rifle for the United Kingdom. As a result, several manufacturers now offer improved STANAG-compatible magazines as well as high-grade stainless steel bodies, rust- and set-resistant chrome-silicon springs, and anti-tilt followers as upgrade components for existing STANAG magazines.

In March 2009, Brownells began delivering 60,000 of 1.4 million improved STANAG magazines to the U.S. military.[9] To increase reliability, the improved magazine incorporates a heavier, more corrosion resistant spring and a new tan-colored follower that does not tilt inside the casing.[10]

Polymer magazines

Close-up of SA80 with plastic Magpul EMAG. Note: clear viewing window

In 2007, Magpul Industries released its PMAG, a highly reliable polymer magazine made for use in M16 rifles. The polymer is found by soldiers to be more rugged than the aluminum STANAG-type magazines. In April 2012, TACOM issued a “safety of use message” notifying troops that non-USGI magazines, like the PMAG, had been put on an unauthorized list, and that they were only allowed to use standard-issue aluminum STANAGs. Soldiers were confused by this, as PMAGs had an Army-approved national stock number (NSN) to allow units to order them through the Army supply system. TACOM said that the NSN issued for PMAGs was never authorized or included in technical manuals. The notice was that only Army-authorized magazines listed in the technical manuals could be used, and that just because the PMAG had an NSN, it did not mean the Army was an authorized user. Troops were restricted to using older STANAG magazines with green followers until they could be issued the improved version with the tan follower. The Army reportedly realized in 2007 that the PMAG had better reliability, but did not think Magpul would give up technical data rights. They tried unsuccessfully to develop their own polymer magazine, so they created the improved aluminum STANAG magazine in 2009 with a tan self-leveling/anti-tilt follower with an extended rear leg and modified bullet protrusion for improved round stacking and orientation. The improved magazine reduces the risk of magazine-related stoppages by more than 50 percent, but users still report similar deficiencies that the green follower model had including double feeds, rounds not feeding correctly, getting bent at the opening, and getting crushed in the middle, if only occurring half as much. No information was released about how the improved magazine faired in comparison with the PMAG, which had gained a reputation for reliability, including firing 40 PMAGs through an M4 without a single stoppage, and working after being run over by a heavy armored vehicle.[11][12]

On 6 June 2012, the Army acknowledged that the TACOM message was not an order or directive, and was optional for troops and commanders to consider, which allowed them to keep using their PMAGs. They clarified that TACOM maintenance information messages are permissive, and that the release was poorly written and had soldiers jumping to conclusions. Sources claim the message was released at that time in relation to the $10.7 million contract to Brownells to produce 1.4 million improved STANAG magazines by January 2010. Officials contend that limited side-by-side testing found that no commercial magazine was superior to the improved magazine. The TACOM message was intended to make soldiers aware that not all commercial magazines had gone through the same testing as the improved magazine, but they will not be stopped from using PMAGs.[13][14]

In August 2012, the Israeli Defense Forces adopted the CAA Tactical Mag 17 polymeric magazine to replace their aluminum STANAG magazines. It was chosen over plastic, aluminum, and polymeric designs from other companies, and 10,000 magazines were ordered. The Mag 17 will save money from its longevity, as it can be reloaded several dozen times in comparison with 7 times for an aluminum magazine, and is much harder to break.[15]

On November 26, 2012, the U.S. Marine Corps banned all non-USGI magazines, including the PMAG. The reason was that it was not compatible with the newly issued M27 IAR.[16] In response, Magpul began the process of arranging verification and official testing for its newer PMAG 30 GEN M3 polymer magazine, which is compatible with both the M27 and M16-series rifles.[17]


Firearms compatible with STANAG magazines

AR-15/M16 type rifles

Non-AR-15/M16 type rifles

Some firearms, while not originally manufactured to feed from STANAG magazines, can be converted to use them. An example is the Austrian Steyr AUG assault rifle, for which an alternate stock assembly is available to allow the use of STANAG magazines. Also the German Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle features a "modular magazine well" system. This allows the original magazine well, engineered to feed from the proprietary translucent plastic magazine, to be replaced with one that accepts STANAG magazines. Magnolia States Armory offers an adapter that allows the use of STANAG magazines in .223 Galil rifles as well as one that works in AK47 platform Saiga, WASR3 and Norinco .223 rifles.

Notes and references

  1. The M16, Gordon L. Rottman, © Osprey Publishing, 2011, Page 35-36
  2. Future Weapons, Kevin Dockery, © Penguin, 2007, Page 125-126
  3. Watters, Daniel: "The 5.56 X 45mm Timeline: A Chronology of Development", The Gun Zone, 2000-2007.
  4. "NATO Infantry Weapons Standardization", NDIA Conference 2008
  8. Surefire 60 Round Magazine Spotted In Combat -, January 3, 2013
  9. Brownells shipping M16 magazines with anti-tilt follower to military - The Firearm Blog, June 13, 2009
  10. New US Army M16 “Tan” Magazine - The Firearm Blog, December 16, 2009
  11. Army Bans High-Performance Rifle Mags -, May 25, 2012
  12. Army Stands By Ban on ‘Unauthorized’ PMAGs -, 25 May 2012
  13. Army Now Says No Ban on Rifle Magazines -, June 7, 2012
  14. Big Army: Soldiers Free to Use PMAGs -, 7 June 2012
  15. IDF officially adopts polymer CAA Tactical MAG 17 -, 27 August 2012
  16. Marine Corps bans popular rifle magazines -, November 26, 2012
  17. Magpul speaks out on the Marine Corps polymer magazine ban - Militarytimes, November 30, 2012
  18. "SAR 21 Product Brochure". ST Engineering. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 

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