The Daewoo AR-100 South Korean Rifle – Firearms News


Introduced in the late 1980’s as a semi-auto civilian version of the South Korean K2 assault rifle, the Daewoo AR-100 was well ahead of its time. 

Most corn-fed Americans like to believe that we have not had a massive foreign army rampaging across the Continental US for 207 years because we are just so freaking awesome. However, that is lamentably not really the case. The United States of America has been blissfully free from such widespread foreign invasion for so long because of those two magnificent oceans that straddle our Great Republic.

The Daewoo AR-100 is a simply superb Modern Sporting Rifle.

From a military point of view, seizing terrain is fairly straightforward. That’s actually the easy bit. As any Nazi would have told you in early 1945, the real rub is keeping it. Regardless, throughout our collective memory the only time Americans have been seriously affected by war at home was at the hands of our fellow Americans. Lamentably, the rest of the world is not so fortunate.

The war in Korea burned on for three years of active combat. (Public domain) North Korea maintains a military far beyond its national means. (Shutterstock, Astrelok) Famous photo showing a Korean American defending Korean-American-owned businesses with his Daewoo AR-110C rifle (top right).

An Israeli friend I met while in uniform once asked me how far it was from my home to the nearest hostile army bent on my destruction. As this was during the Cold War I guessed maybe five thousand miles. He responded that it was half an hour by T-72 tank from the nearest enemy armored force to the school his kids attended. That reality shaped everything about how the Israelis trained and fought. To a degree, South Korea finds itself in similar straits.

Well into the 1960’s, the South Korean military issued WW2-surplus American small arms.

The Korean War began on 25 June, 1950 when North Korean forces stormed across the 38th Parallel. The war ebbed and flowed for three long years before culminating in a cease fire. While both sides sort-of stopped shooting at each other, a formal state of war still exists between the two nations. Today the demarcation between North and South Korea remains the most militarized international border on the planet. North Korea’s military is the fourth largest in the world, with around 1.3 million troops under arms. Despite being one of the poorest countries on the planet, NoKo spends roughly a quarter of its meager GDP on its military. This investment bought the Hermit Kingdom a seat at the nuclear weapons table along with truly staggering numbers of tanks and 
artillery pieces.


For years the South Koreans produced the M16A1 under license. Eventually they decided to build their own rifle. The Daewoo AR-100 (bottom) took much of its superb ergonomic design from the American M16A1.

Much of North Korea’s military apparatus is antiquated by Western standards. However, 4,000 old tanks is still a whole lot of tanks. Combine this with 550 combat aircraft, 290 helicopters, 400 surface combat vessels, 70 submarines, 2,500 ancillary armored vehicles, and 6,000 artillery systems and you have the recipe for something truly horrible if ever the rotund North Korean lunatic-in-chief should decide to unlimber all that stuff. It was just such a toxic milieu that drove the development of what was arguably the finest military assault rifle of its era. The Daewoo Precision Industries K2 first entered service with the South Korean Army in 1985. Given its truly world-class performance, it is amazing this extraordinary design did not find greater recognition outside the Korean peninsula. The semiauto version that was imported, prior to the infamous import ban enacted by President Bush “The First,” was titled the AR-100.

Origin Story

The operating system of the AR-100 (top) was inspired by that of the Combloc AKM.

Throughout the 1960’s, the South Korean military issued American small arms, specifically the M1 Garand, M1 and M2 carbines, and the M3A1 Grease Gun. Once South Korea became involved in the war in Vietnam, they began to receive American M16A1’s. Beginning in 1974, the South Koreans produced a version of the M16A1 under license for domestic use. License-production of the M16 was expensive and came with political strings attached that South Korea found justifiably onerous. As a result, beginning in 1972 South Korean industry began development of an indigenous rifle design. Original prototypes were chambered for 7.62x51mm as that was the standard Western Bloc cartridge at the time. Designated XB-1 through XB-5, these efforts utilized as many M16 components as was reasonable along with the traditional direct gas impingement method of operation.

The AR-100 was built around aluminum receivers like the M16. The GI version sported a four-position fire selector. The forearm on the AR-100 is formed from the same sort of synthetic stuff that makes up the furniture on the early M16. The AR-100 is an exceptionally well-executed rifle.

Then in 1975 they rolled out the XB-6 that used the same long-stroke method of operation used by the AKM. In 1977 this weapon was rechambered in 5.56x45mm and designated the XB-7. After field testing this gun was formally christened the K2 and released for widespread issue in 1985. Aside from a few tweaks, the K2 then soldiered on for some three decades. The rifle suffered from a lack of handy optics-mounting solutions and accessory rails, but, for its era, the K2 was frankly phenomenal. The lithe little weapon holds its own against more modern fare even today.


Technical Details

The flash suppressor also doubles as a muzzle compensator. The gas system on the AR-100 is readily adjustable with any pointy tool.

Like most modern small arms, components of the K2 were drawn from a variety of previous proven 
designs. The fire control system is adapted from the M16 as is the bolt and firing pin. The GI-issue rifle sports a four-position selector that offers safe, semi, full auto, and three round burst. The upper and lower receivers are also both aluminum components clearly inspired by Gene Stoner’s masterpiece. The furniture on the K2 resembles that of the AR-180. The solid buttstock folds to the right. Tugging the stock down releases it to fold or extend. The flash suppressor and sighting system were inspired by the FN FNC.

The side-folding buttstock of the AR-100 is both rigid and effective. There is a nifty maintenance kit stashed inside the pistol grip of the AR-100.

The AKM has long been recognized as the most reliable assault rifle in the world, so that’s where the South Koreans drew inspiration for the K2’s operating system. The piston on the K2 is more streamlined and elegant than that of the Kalashnikov. However, the mechanism still has plenty of energy for operation in dirty hostile conditions. The barrel sports six grooves and is rifled 1 turn-in-7.3 inches. Curiously, the K2 is advertised to eat both .223 and 5.56 ammo comparably well.

The Daewoo AR-100 strips easily without tools.

The gas system is adjustable up front using the tip of a bullet. The gas plug has four positions for small, medium, large, and off. The off position is for firing rifle grenades. The muzzle accepts the same standard M7 bayonet used on the M16. The K2 is full of cool little tidbits. There is a compact maintenance kit stashed inside the pistol grip. Pressing a spring-loaded pin inward at the front of the trigger guard allows this component to be pivoted down and out of the way for use in heavy gloves. There are two threaded holes on the top of the upper receiver to accept a scope mount.The trigger on the AR-100 is perhaps incrementally nicer than that of a GI-grade M16. The entrails of the rifle look quite similar to those of your favorite AR. However, there is a curious spring-loaded ejector adjacent the bolt release.

The entrails of the AR-100 reflect its hybrid design. From top to bottom having the operating components of the AKM, the AR-100, and the M16. The long-stroke piston-driven action of the AR-100 is both simple and rugged.

The controls are very similar to those of an AR—a left-sided thumb safety and bolt catch with a right-sided pushbutton magazine release. The charging handle is rigid and reciprocates with the bolt. The gun can be easily stripped without tools. The flash suppressor is closed on the bottom but oriented to about the 2 o’clock position when viewed from the back.

The AR-100 accepts a standard M7 bayonet. The trigger guard of the AR-100 pivots down for use with gloves.

The sight adjustments are all done at the rear. The basic layout is similar to that of the M16A1 with a few quirks. The rear aperture is a generous ring that circumscribes the front sight hood for rapid engagement. The front post is fixed. Sight adjustment requires a bullet tip, but these are some of the best sights I have used on a rifle from this era. The front sling swivel mounts around the barrel and swings to either side. The rear sling attachment point is on the left just ahead of the stock folding mechanism. The rear swivel is captive such that it will not rotate all the way around and tangle the sling. The semiauto AR-100 is the same rifle as the K2 only without the burst and full auto function.

Trigger Time

The AR-100 sports this spring-loaded ejector to ensure reliable function. The front sight is fixed. All adjustments are undertaken in the rear. The rigid charging handle can be used to manhandle the action if ever it should get sticky.

The AR-100’s comportment is perhaps a bit sharper than that of its American cousin the M16. However, it’s not like recoil in a 5.56mm rifle is a real thing. The AR-100 is great fun on the range. The trigger is indeed superb for its genre. The thin-profile barrel and piston-driven action render accuracy comparable to that of a period AR-180. Double taps are both natural and intuitive.

The AR-100 is a lightweight and effective sporting rifle.

Magazine changes are just as fast as the same chore on your M4 while remaining slightly different. The bolt locks to the rear on the last round fired of its own accord. Dropping the bolt over a fresh magazine involves either slapping the left-sided bolt release in the manner of an AR or giving the charging handle a little snatch to the rear. The charging handle itself seems a wee bit fragile. So long as it isn’t abused, the gun should last until the sun burns out.Overall, the AR-100 is a fast, reliable, and efficient sporting rifle. The stock is rigid and comfortable when extended, and the firing experience positively recreational. The most striking aspect of the design to me is the weight. The AR-100 only weighs about half a pound more than a stripped M16A1 despite its piston-driven architecture. This makes the AR-100 one of the few modern sporting rifles to offer piston-driven reliability without a significant weight penalty. Maintaining the weapon could not be easier. For the days before electronic sights and copious tactical bling, the argument could be made that the AR-100 was the most efficient sporting rifle on the market.


I found the AR-100 (bottom) to shoot about the same as an ArmaLite AR-180. The design was well ahead of its time.

The AR-100 version of the South Korean K2 is a shockingly nice weapon. When first I hefted an HK416 I was staggered by how heavy the thing was. It gave me yet more respect for those Delta and DevGru studs who spend days on end running around with those heavy tricked-out rifles at the ready. Where most comparable weapons of this era were either bulky or fat, the AR-100 remains slim, trim, and svelte. It is also AK-reliable to boot.

Had the Bush import ban in 1989 not happened, the Daewoo series of semi-auto military-styled rifles would have caught on with survivalists and gun collectors.

On paper at least, the two Koreas still remain at war. Both sides persistently snarl at each other across the DMZ. Kim Jon Un also conducts roughly monthly long-range ballistic missile tests while his longsuffering people train their palates to tolerate sawdust. As a result, South Korea takes is self-defense very, very seriously. One of the most practical manifestations of this refined martial ethos is the Daewoo K2 assault rifle.

The Daewoo AR-100 and AR-110C were listed in the 1989 Guns & Ammo Annual catalog. Pictured was the compact AR-110C version. The Daewoo AR-100 (and AR-110C) fell prey to the 1989 “assault weapons” import ban. Had it not been for some epically poor timing, this rifle could have a been a real player in the American civilian market.

Developed at a time when the world seemed to be hurtling headlong toward nuclear oblivion by a company better known for its consumer electronics, hotels, and automobiles, the Daewoo K2 really was a superlative combat rifle. Lamentably, just as the Daewoo rifle started to raise eyebrows, President G.H.W. Bush stopped these guns from entering the country via executive order in 1989. This sealed the number of available rifles at an artificially small value. Market forces did their thing, and now a cherry The Daewoo AR-100 and the Rooftop Koreans AR-100 is both rare and expensive.

The Faxon Firearms ARAK-21 is a modern melding of the AR-15 and the AKM. The AR-100 did something similar decades earlier.

Regardless, as an historical insight into the state of the American gun culture in the 1980’s, the AR-100 is indeed a classic. In recent years, lots of companies have produced hybrid rifle designs that combined the superlative ergonomics of the AR-15 with the rugged operating system of the Kalashnikov. Folks like Faxon Firearms have in fact done that very well. However, back in the early 1980’s the Daewoo K2 was legit revolutionary. Tough, precise, reliable, and cool, the AR-100 is really what the M16 should have been all along. It represents the best of just about everything. Be sure to watch my video on the Daewoo AR-100 rifle at! Just type in the “AR-100 video” in the search bar at the top of the page.

I found the AR-100 to shoot about the same as an ArmaLite AR-180.

The Daewoo and the Rooftop Koreans 

Early in the morning of March 3, 1991, Rodney King and his friends Freddie Helms and Bryant Allen were cruising along the Foothill Freeway in California’s San Fernando Valley in Rodney’s 1987 Hyundai Excel. They had killed the previous evening drinking with friends. Enroute home, King unwittingly passed Tim and Melanie Singer. The Singers were a husband/wife California Highway Patrol team. Suspecting that King was an impaired driver, the CHiPs officers immediately gave chase. Two-and-a-half years earlier, King had robbed a Korean grocery store, assaulted the store owner with an iron bar, and stole $200 cash. He later admitted that he knew a DUI charge would violate his parole and send him back to prison. With blue lights dancing in his rearview mirror, King punched the gas.

King led the cops through residential neighborhoods at speeds of more than 100 mph. Eight miles later the pursuing officers finally stopped his car. Helms and Allen were roughed up a bit but ended up in custody without undue fuss. King, however, purportedly giggled at the cops, danced around doing a “boxer’s shuffle,” waved gleefully to an orbiting police helicopter, and resisted arrest. The arresting officers subsequently beat him to a bloody pulp. King suffered a right ankle fracture, a crushed facial bone, and a variety of other contusions and lacerations. A subsequent blood alcohol assay showed him to be legally intoxicated. King’s tox screen was also positive for marijuana.

Bizarrely, this was the same evening, James Cameron was filming the opening bar scene from Terminator 2 right down the street. A local plumbing salesman, named George Holliday, had his video camera set up in hopes of catching a shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hearing the commotion, Holliday quickly pivoted his camera and got the Rodney King beating on videotape. That video eventually went public. The four police officers were eventually tried and acquitted in April of 1992. The acquittal catalyzed an orgy of violence. 64 people perished, and a further 2,383 were injured. 1,100 buildings were burned to the ground. The rioting went on for six days and caused $1 billion in damage.

Famous photo showing a Korean American defending Korean-American-owned businesses with his Daewoo AR-110C rifle.

Rooftop Koreans

For a variety of reasons, there was already a fair amount of animosity between the local African American population and Korean shop owners. Overwhelmed cops were powerless to intervene while countless Korean-owned businesses were incinerated. However, a few weathered the riots unscathed. The undamaged businesses were those that were adequately defended. Shop owners who posted themselves atop their businesses with the mandate to shoot rioters came to be known as “Rooftop Koreans.” This was 1992 before California was formally castrated. Although restricted more than most states, Californians could still own proper firearms back then. One particularly compelling image showed a rooftop Korean armed with an unusual weapon. The Daewoo rifle this shop owner wielded was actually made in South Korea. Prior to the import ban under “Bush the First” in 1989, and the subsequent nationwide assault weapons ban of 1994, American shooters had access to a wide variety of foreign weapons that are unobtainable today. Austria, Germany, Israel, Korea, France, and England all produced semiauto versions of their service rifles for the US market. In the vintage gun world, the Korean AR-100 remains an underappreciated gem.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at [email protected].

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