The A is for 'Accurate'

The A is for 'Accurate'

The new FNAR provides bolt-action precision in a compact semiauto platform.

For decades now, the standard law enforcement precision rifle has been some form of bolt action. Usually it's a Remington 700, but departments also fielded quantities of Winchester Model 70s, Savages and various other models. Semiauto designs such as the M1A and AR-10 have always been rare exceptions.


Most people think a bolt action design is required simply because it's more accurate. However, recent combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to renewed interest in the potential of semiautomatic sniper systems.

One company that has recognized this interest is FNH USA. It recently announced a new self-loading rifle, the FNAR, developed expressly for the law enforcement market but also available to civilians who enjoy precision, tactical-style rifles. A step away from the mainstream in concept, if not design, the FNAR is yet another demonstration of FNH USA's forward thinking.


Although semiautomatic sniper rifles are hardly new in the United States, they fell out of favor in the 1980s with the demise of the U.S. Army's M14 National Match-based M21. Although the M21 had many strong points, it was plagued by both a low quality optic and a substandard optic mount. These problems left a bad taste in the mouths of the tight-knit American sniper community.


For years afterward, "gas guns" were the red headed stepchildren among snipers. The Remington Model 700 bolt-action rifle went on to reign supreme as the precision rifle of choice for both the U.S. military and law enforcement.

However, recent combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has once again brought to light the usefulness of a quality self-loading sniper rifle. Although a magazine-fed semiauto lacks the intrinsic accuracy of a well-tuned bolt gun, it has other virtues--namely the ability to rapidly engage multiple targets, quicker follow-up shots, the ability to suppress enemy fire, and rapid reloading. The U.S. military has responded by fielding both M14-based systems as well as the Knights Armament M110.

When it came to developing a precision semiauto, FNH USA decided to base the design on Browning's BAR sporting rifle action. Browning is part of the FNH family, so it was a logical choice.

The Browning Automatic Rifle (no relation to the famous military squad auto designed by John Moses Browning) was first introduced to hunters and sportsmen in 1967. An upper crust self-loading hunting rifle, over the years the BAR has been chambered for not only short and standard-length cartridges but also magnum rounds as well. Available in different grades, the BAR quickly became the autoloader of the more affluent.

Although a BAR-based sniper rifle may seem a bit out of place considering its sporting rifle heritage, the concept is not new. Years ago the U.S. special operations community saw the need for a self-loading sniper rifle chambered for the long-reaching .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge. In response, Arms Tech Limited of Phoenix, Arizona developed a .300 based upon the Browning BAR that it dubbed the Super Match Interdiction Rifle or SMIR. As good as it was, though, the SMIR never gained much of a following and remains largely unknown.

The new FNAR is quite different from the SMIR, and the company will be offering two different models, a Heavy and a Light. The Heavy model is fitted with a heavy-profile fluted match barrel while the Light model sports a lighter weight fluted match barrel.

At the heart of the FNAR is Browning's BAR sporting rifle action, which has been redesigned to meet the needs of precision tactical shooters.

Barrel length on both models is 20 inches, and they share the same .308 Winchester chambering and 1:12 inch twist. The FNAR's hammer-forged barrel is also chrome lined for long life, corrosion resistance and easy maintenance, and it's finished with a recessed target crown.

Initially FNARs will be built using aluminum alloy receivers, but the company plans on offering models with steel receivers down the road. To allow easy mounting of optics the receiver is topped with a MIL STD 1913 rail. No iron sights are offered, but the barrel is drilled and tapped for an additional MIL STD 1913 rail to be mounted near the muzzle if iron sights are desired.

Although the outside of the rifle looks quite different, the BAR's basic operation remains unchanged. The bolt features seven locking lugs that rotate 60 degrees to engage recesses in the barrel. The bolt rides in a compact steel carrier and is rotated by a cam pin after the carrier moves approximately 3/16 inch rearward.

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Specifications:

FNH USA FNAR

Type:short-stroke, gas-operated autoloading centerfire
Caliber: .308 Winchester
Capacity: 10- or 20- round detachable box magazine
Barrel:20-in., chrome-lined fluted match; two profiles available
Overall length: 41.5 in.
Weight: 9lb. (light), 10lb. (heavy)
Stock:synthetic buttstock, adjustable for length of pull and cheek-rest height via spacers; synthetic for-end with integral accessory rails.
Sights: None; optics mounting rail on reciever
Price: $1,735
Manufacturer FNH, USA
703.288.1292

The spent cartridge case is withdrawn by a hook extractor on the right side of the bolt head and ejected by a plunger on the left. Operation is via a short-stroke piston system similar to that of the M1 carbine.

Upon firing, propellant gasses pass through a port in the barrel and drive a captive piston rearward. This in turn impinges against a heavy inertia piece that connects to the bolt carrier via dual action bars. Gas pressure is regulated by a screw passing diagonally into the right side of the cylinder.

While the rifle operates the same as its sporting cousin, its feed device is completely different. Cross-pinned to the bottom of the receiver is an aluminum magazine well assembly. This has magazine release buttons mounted on both sides for easy ambidextrous operation.

The FNAR feeds from steel 10- and 20-round detachable box magazines. These insert straight up into the magazine well; no rocking motion is required to lock them into place.

Like the feed mechanism, the FNAR's furniture has been radically changed to make it suitable as a tactical rifle. The synthetic fore-end is equipped with short MIL STD 1913 rails at three, six and nine o'clock. In addition a sling/bipod stud is mounted in the six o'clock rail. The rails allow easy mounting of accessories such as a sling, bipod, white light or IR laser/illuminator

The synthetic stock sports a full pistol grip and is adjustable for length of pull via spacers. It also accepts bolt-on cheekpieces of varying height to ensure a proper cheek weld. Three cheekpieces are included with each rifle.

The bolt-release lever is mounted at the right front of the receiver. After the last round of a magazine is fired, the magazine follower presses the lever up into engagement with the right action bar, locking the bolt assembly open. Pressing the lever down disengages it, allowing the bolt to slam home. Unfortunately, due to its sporting rifle heritage, this piece is a bit on the flimsy side.

One important piece of any precision rifle is the trigger pull. Here FNH USA did a good job. The trigger pull on the FNAR has been reworked to be both light and smooth. The trigger assembly, riding in a polymer housing, is removed by driving out a pair of crosspins.

Accuracy of the production FNAR Heavy proved excellent. This five-shot 100-yard group measures a tight .45 inch.

The safety is a simple trigger-blocking crossbolt at the rear of the trigger guard. Although a bit stiff to operate, it is well-placed for a right-handed shooter.

With relatively short 20-inch tubes, both models are fairly compact with an overall length of 41.5 inches. As law-enforcement shots are typically well under 100 yards, there's no need for longer barrels--at least for this application and especially in a .308 Winchester.

Mobility is far more important, and both rifles are fairly handy. The Heavy model tips the scales at 10 pounds while the Light model is one pound lighter at nine pounds. As to be expected, the Light model is the better balanced of the two. The Heavy model is fairly muzzle heavy, but it's quite stable on a bipod or off bags. The Light version proved much handier, yet still sufficiently heavy to be stable enough for best accuracy.

The pistol grip feels good in the hand, even while wearing gloves, and indexes the trigger finger properly in relation to the trigger. This is a shortcoming of rifles using standard M16A2 pistol grips, which tend to index too close to the trigger for shooters with average or large hands.

With a low-mounted scope, the cheek rest provides a solid repeatable cheek weld. Unlike an M21 or M24 you don't need to improvise a cheek rest obtain a good cheek weld with this rifle.

Magazines load easily into the rifle with a simple push, and the controls are simple to operate.

I had a chance to test the original prototypes of both models a number of months ago. During my initial testing I noted rounds loaded easily into the handmade prototype magazines, which fed smoothly.

Recoil, firing prone off a bipod, was mild, and reliability was flawless. Four different loads fed, fired and ejected without fail in 20- to 30-degree temperatures.

Accessory rails are located on the fore-end at the three, six and nine o'clock position and permit the mounting of lights, bipods and other tools.

Ejection was between two and three o'clock, with empty cases landing approximately three feet away when fired from the prone position. Both rifles produced very fast follow-up shots when engaging multiple targets from both supported prone and kneeling positions.

On a recent trip to FN Manufacturing in Columbia, South Carolina, I had a chance to examine a production FNAR. As to be expected, this looked a bit more refined and polished than the prototypes. The rifle itself is sleek looking and quite different in aesthetics than say an AR-10.

Looks though mean little, though, when it comes to sniper rifles. Accuracy is everything, and a quick follow-up shot is useless if you can't hit your target. So my big question was just how well the FNAR shoots.

FNH USA's accuracy requirement for this design is to group into one m.o.a. maximum--the same req

uirement as for a U.S. Army M24. Requirements are one thing, reality is often another, but I'm happy to report though that FNH USA seems to have done its homework.

Topped with a Leupold 3.5-10 x40mm LR/T tactical scope and fed Federal 168-grain Gold Medal Match, the FNAR Heavy barrel model proved to be capable of superb accuracy. Limited testing showed this particular rifle capable of shooting well inside the one m.o.a. requirement, averaging just .45 inch at 100 yards.

The gas assembly on a prototype FNAR shows the short-stroke design, similar to that found on the M1 carbine.

My thoughts on the FNAR? It's an interesting concept that will offer accuracy fans--law enforcement officer and civilian alike--a viable alternative to the traditional bolt action tactical rifle. It's compact, reliable and has a high magazine capacity. It provides fast follow-up shots and is comfortable to shoot and easy to operate.

Best of all, the production Heavy model proved capable of bolt gun-like accuracy. Is it perfect? No. Due to its sporting rifle heritage it is not as robust as a military arm along, and it's much more difficult to field strip. Also, I think the bolt release is on the flimsy side for a tactical rifle.

It will be interesting to see if law enforcement units embrace the FNAR. It carries a relatively steep price tag of $1,735, but it's still less expensive than a custom-built bolt action. And it's a well-thought-out design, combining excellent accuracy and .308 performance in a compact semiauto platform--another example of FNH USA carving its own path rather than beating the same old drum.

Like the BAR (the sporting gun, not the military weapon), the FNAR utilizes a rotating bolt with multiple locking lugs that rides in a carrier.

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