The French have a long history of creative small arms designs and entire books have been written about the subject. The FAMAS, the current French service rifle, is on the way out, but it is still serving with the French armed forces and has even graduated into meme-hood.
The FAMAS is a 5.56 caliber assault rifle that has served with the French military since 1978.
History of the FAMAS
During the late 1960s and early 70s, NATO countries were quickly moving away from their battle rifles. The United States had adopted the 5.56 caliber M16, and the rest of the world followed with their own design. These intermediate caliber, select-fire rifles proved to be lighter, handier, and easier to use at both close and moderate ranges.
The French wanted to replace their full-powered, semi-auto rifles and their pistol caliber submachine guns with a single rifle. They experimented with German designs as a stopgap, but the engineers at Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne were eventually tasked with designing a domestic 5.56 rifle.
The FAMAS, which stands for Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne, is the platform they landed on. Military evaluations began in 1972 and ended in 1978. While six years seems plenty, the FAMAS adoption was slightly rushed after the Battle of Kolwezi.
In late 1978 the FAMAS F1 was adopted by the French military.
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The FAMAS is living color
Obviously, the FAMAS has a rather interesting appearance, almost as if it belongs more in Star Trek than the French army. This layout is what’s known as a bullpup platform. The action is located behind the trigger. This creates a weapon that is much more compact than your traditional rifle.
For comparison, the M16A1, with its 20-inch barrel, is 38.81 inches long. The FAMAS, with its 19.2-inch barrel, is 29.8 inches. Shorter weapons are easier to use in close quarters and in and out of vehicles. A bullpup layout allows the weapon to be short without trimming the barrel, which can decrease its effectiveness.
The FAMAS is a 5.56 caliber rifle that has three fire settings. The positions are safe, semi-auto, and automatic fire. A separate selector switch behind the magazine controls the auto setting, and it can fire either fully automatic or three-round bursts. One of the stand-out features of this rifle is its extremely high rate of fire of 1,100 rounds per minute.
The rifle uses a lever-delayed blowback system, which is an unusual but functional operating system. The rifle contains many polymer parts which keep its weight light and at 7.98 pounds, which was standard for the time.
The rifle has a built-in bipod, as well as a carry handle sighting system. The controls are mostly ambidextrous, and their ejection can be swapped to accommodate left or right-handed shooters. Most bullpups are not lefty-friendly, but the FAMAS breaks that mold.
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Variants of the FAMAS
The slightly rushed adoption of the FAMAS resulted in the F1 having some slight problems. This includes some of the polymer components being brittle and easily broken. There was also a magazine issue. The French initially designed the weapon to use disposable magazines but then pressed those magazines into a non-disposable role. However, these issues were later fixed.
A G2 model would be produced and adopted by the French Navy but not by the French Army. The G2 utilizes NATO STANAG magazines and brass-cased ammunition. The French used primarily steel-cased ammunition, and brass cased could damage the F1. The G2 could use either standard French ammo or NATO brass-cased ammunition.
The G2 also featured fiberglass hand guards, an enlarged trigger guard, and a 1:9 rifling to accommodate the heavier 62-grain NATO 5.56 rounds.
The FAMAS Infantry would be an improved F1 model that featured an accessory rail for mounting optics and accessories.
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Enhancing the Rifle
The French have adopted various optics for their rifles. The most common appears to be the Eotech Holographic reflex sights. These optics are designed for engagements within 200 meters or so. They provide an instant aim option for close and moderate-range targets and are perfect for urban warfare, CQB, and similar tasks.
Additionally, the Scrome J4 F1 rifle scope has also been adopted. These are 4X fixed-powered scopes and provide some extra range and capability over a traditional reflex sight. They allow for more precise engagements at extended ranges.
A variety of lights and IR lasers have also been seen attached to FAMAS rifles in military service.
There is a lack of attached launchers, though. While they exist, the French seemingly prefer the rifle grenade. This is a grenade launched from the barrel of the gun, and it uses a live round to propel the grenade. These are much more powerful than standard 40mm grenades and can piece thicker plates of armor and offer a much further maximum range. They do feature a fairly stiff recoil on top of a fairly heavy weight per grenade.
The Future of the FAMAS
In 2017 the French announced the FAMAS would be replaced by the HK 416 rifle. The HK 416 is similar to the M27 IAR adopted by the Marine Corps. This piston-driven AR-type rifle has become quite popular across Europe and within the United States. The French plan is to purchase approximately 100,000 rifles at a rate of 16,000 per year, so it’s likely the FAMAS will continue to serve for a few more years.
Beyond that, the rifles will be issued to police units and the French National guard for quite some time. The FAMAS might be nearing the end of its lifespan, but it has a few more years of good use in it.
Feature Image: French soldier from th 2e Régiment étranger d’infanterie aiming a FAMAS. (Photo by Davric/Wikimedia Commons)
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