Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began nearly four weeks ago, I’ve been following a number of social media pages dedicated to on-the-ground coverage. One of my favorites is Ukraine Weapons Tracker on Twitter. As a gun and gear guy, I’ve found it interesting to see the weapons being wielded by the Ukrainian forces. Recently they posted a photograph of the International Legion wielding the freshly delivered Belgium-made and provided FN FNC rifle.
The Belgium government recently donated 3,000 assault rifles, although what rifles they were donating seemed unclear at the time. Now, it’s apparent that they’ve donated a fair number of FN FNCs. The FN FNC was Belgium’s previous service rifle that was recently replaced by the FN SCAR. Fabrique Nationale, or FN–as many of us know them, is one of the world’s premier arms manufacturers and they provide a number of weapons to the United States as well as to the international market.
History of the FN FNC
FN designed the FNC to be a modern 5.56 rifle that would replace the 7.62 NATO rifles largely being issued throughout Europe during the early years of the Cold War. FN’s own FAL ruled the roost throughout western Europe at the time and even gained the name “The right arm of the free world” as a result. But NATO’s move to standardize the 5.56 round across the alliance prompted a new rifle design.
FN previously tried to produce a 5.56 caliber rifle in the FN CAL. The CAL proved expensive, complicated and not as reliable as FN wanted it to be. So, the design was shelved, and a simpler, easier-to-produce FN FNC became the focus. The first country to adopt the new weapon once it was complete was Indonesia.
Soon Sweden adopted a modified version called the Ak5, and shortly after that, the Belgian military finally adopted the rifle of their homeland. The FNC served until fairly recently with the Belgian military.
The FN FNC: Inside and Out
The FN FNC utilizes a long-stroke gas piston system with a rotating bolt similar to the AK design. In fact, it’s nearly identical, and that’s a good thing. This is a proven design that works well, especially in cold environments. Long-stroke gas piston systems are simple, and as a result, they’re also more affordable designs for mass production. There isn’t a lot to it, and it typically works rather well.
The FNC came in two variants: the standard and Para. The difference between the two really comes down to barrel length. The standard rifle variant features a 17.7-inch barrel, and the carbine features a 14.3-inch barrel. Both rifles feature a folding stock with a tubular design that allows the rifle to be compact and easy to store, as well as less cumbersome inside vehicles.
The 5.56 caliber rifle uses STANAG magazines which are cross-compatible with standard M4/M16 magazines, although reportedly, the FNC magazines will ensure the utmost reliability. The rifle utilizes a selective fire system that allows the user to switch between semi-auto, burst fire, and fully automatic fire.
Why it’s a good choice for Foreign Legion fighters in Ukraine
Why is the FN FNC a good choice for Ukraine and specifically their volunteer Foreign Legion? First and foremost, from the ground up—the rifle is a good design. The FNC is a reliable, accurate, and very capable weapon for a broad variety of situations. It excels in being a good all-around assault rifle.
Second, the long-stroke gas piston system works very well in cold environments. Ukrainian and Russian winters are famously quite cold, and lots of rifles fail in these environments. The M16 series, the SA-80 family, and plenty of others can actually freeze in extreme winter conditions. When a rifle goes from cold to warm environments, condensation tends to occur, and when the rifle’s then exposed to the cold again, the condensation can freeze (and water expands as it freezes). A weapon that requires extremely precise tolerances is more susceptible to damage or failure in these conditions, as the expansion of frozen moisture can wreak havoc in tight spaces.
The FN FNC’s design leaves a fair bit of room to prevent this and allows the weapon and the operating system to work in environmental extremes rather well. As a 5.56 caliber rifle, there is a slight disconnect from the Ukrainian standard forces, however. Ukraine has a large stockpile of Soviet-era AK-47s, but began switching to WAC-47s some years ago. Both weapons are chambered in 7.62x39mm.
This is why it makes sense for Ukraine to arm Foreign Legion fighters with the weapon, especially with an influx of Swedish volunteers who are already quite familiar with the platform. Ukraine’s Foreign Legion can manage logistics for their rifles instead of tossing them into the normal Army’s procurement channels. It just makes sense for fighting forces to use the same rifle and round to simplify logistics.
It’s much simpler to send 5.56 ammo and magazines to the foreign legion instead of mixing up rifles and ammo among different units and then trying to keep them all supplied with a combination of rounds. A majority of the volunteer forces are also likely more familiar with the operation of a western rifle in 5.56 than an AK series platform. The FNC is not as popular as the M4, but does represent a fairly western design.
Downsides to the FN FNC
The FN FNC is a product of its time and design. It’s an older rifle, designed in the mid-1970s, and it shows. The rifles lack a last round bolt hold-open device, so when the weapon fires its last round, the user doesn’t find out until they pull the trigger again and it goes click instead of bang.
Tossing optics on it isn’t easy either, though Ukraine’s Foreign Legion doesn’t seem to have any optics to issue anyway. There is generally a lack of modularity with the rifle series. Attaching accessories like lights, vertical grips, lasers, etc., isn’t easy.
Finally, it’s a heavy rifle, at nearly 10 pounds fully loaded. Weight is the enemy of infantry, and when compared to other modern service weapons, this is a weighty rifle. The FN FNC has a weighty trigger too. It’s one of the least refined and heavier triggers I’ve felt on an infantry rifle, which can effect accuracy—especially at longer ranges.
The FN FNC may have some downsides, but it’s still a well-designed rifle that will serve the Foreign Legion in Ukraine well. I wish them the best, and I hope they succeed.
Keep your rifles and feet clean, sleep and eat when you can, and learn your rifle, gentlemen. You’re going to need it.