Beretta is the oldest, continuously operating arms maker in the world. They began life in 1526 and have continued to produce various weapons. They are known for their exquisite shotguns, the Beretta M9 service pistol, and the ARX 160 rifle. Today we are looking at the standard service rifle of the Italian military, the ARX 160.
The Italian Military and Beretta worked together to produce the ARX 160 to modernize the Italian military as part of the Soldato Futuro (Soldier of the Future) concept. The Italians wanted a modern rifle to replace the older, Cold War-era Beretta AR70/90 series of rifles. While the AR series worked well, it lacked the modern modularity that the Italian military wanted.
The ARX 160 was designed in 2008 and fielded in small numbers in Afghanistan. Following success overseas, the Italians placed several larger orders for the Italian Army, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations groups. Since then, the rifle has become the mainstay of the Italian military.
Breaking Down the ARX 160
The ARX 160 uses a modern short-stroke gas piston design that’s incredibly popular with modern rifles. Burning gun powder creates gas and that gas cycles the action. This gas drives a small piston which strikes the bolt and sends it rearward. This completes the cycle of extraction, ejection, and chamber loading.
The ARX 160 sticks to NATO standards by chambering the 5.56 cartridge and using STANAG magazines. Although not all magazines designed for the AR 15/M4 series will reportedly function in the ARX 160.
Beretta outfitted the weapon to be ambidextrous. The magazine release, safety, bolt release, and charging handle offer equal access to right- or left-handed shooters. Flipping a tab with a cartridge tip changes the side rounds eject. Lefties often get the short end of the stick, but the ARX 160 treats them right.
A quick change barrel allows soldiers to swap barrels for different mission sets. The standard 16-inch barrel is the most common, but there is also a 12-inch barrel for close combat. I’d imagine if the Italians wished they could also quickly change calibers within a certain realm for different missions.
The outside matters too
The ARX 160 certainly has an interesting appearance.
Beretta used a hefty amount of polymer in the weapon’s construction to help save weight, so the rifle weighs a pleasant 6.8 pounds which lines up with the M4 series of rifles.
Beretta included a series of rails on the weapon for accessory mounting. Across the top, we have a long, monolithic optics rail with plenty of room for accessories. As a monolithic rail, it’s stable and holds a zero for optics and laser aiming devices. A setup of flip-up backup iron sights is installed on each ARX 160.
Soldiers can adjust the stock for length of pull and also collapse it. This allows them to fit the rifle to their bodies with and without armor and makes transporting rifles in and out of vehicles very easy.
Enter the A2 model
The Italian Special Forces utilize the A2 model of the ARX 160. The A2 model features a shorter stock and an extended bottom Picatinny rail. The Italian Special Forces prefer the 12-inch barrel on their A2 models.
The A3 model
The Italian military also fields the A3. The A3 features a handguard redesign that Beretta altered to allow for better barrel ventilation. This model of the ARX 160 offers a new pistol grip that’s very similar to an M4 grip. The A3 model also introduced an 11-inch barrel into the mix.
Finally, the A3 features a more standardized bayonet lug under the barrel. This lug now wields the FKMD Oplita Bayonet.
The ARX 200
The ARX 200 keeps the same design as the ARX 160 but up the caliber to 7.62 NATO. Shooters will use this battle rifle for long-range engagements and will arm designated marksmen at the squad level. Several notable differences make the ARX 200 unique outside of just the caliber.
Two variants exist, one featuring the standard folding stock and a DMR variant featuring a fixed stock. The ARX 200 has an adjustable gas system to allow smooth operation with a suppressor or under adverse conditions. The rifle cannot swap which side it ejects but maintains the ambidextrous controls.
The ARX 200 can use Beretta’s magazines, and with the removal of a magazine well adapter, the rifle can use SR-25 magazines.
The Italian military uses various accessories on the ARX 160. Optically, they are all over the place. Photos from exercises and Afghanistan show Italians using ACOGs, Aimpoint M2 and M4 sights, and the Elcan Spectre OS. The Elcan Spectre OS seems the most consistent and common, although it’s not the only option.
Italian soldiers have also been seen with PEQ-15s. These laser aiming devices are designed to provide a visual aid in firing. They are most commonly used in conjunction with night-vision devices due to the challenge of using optics and NVGs simultaneously.
Alongside the ARX 160, Beretta designed the GLX 160. The GLX 160 mounts under the ARX 160’s barrel and launches grenades. Like the M203, this offers the grenadier an all-in-one weapon to launch 40mm grenades.
Beyond the Italians
The ARX 160 has seen some success outside of Italy. Algerian’s Special Operations adopted the weapon, as did the Kazakhstan Special Forces and the Albanian Special Operations Battalion. The ARX 160 also arms the Romanian Armed Forces and the Federal Police in Mexico.
The ARX 160 is, by all accounts, a functional and modern rifle. While it does look awkward, it handles well and provides a modern modular option to the Italian military.