September 23, 2010
FNH-USA's new gun is a 5.56 carbine for the 21st century.
Fabrique Nationale de Herstal perhaps gained its greatest glory with the introduction of its famous FAL rifle in the 1950s. Adopted around the world, it was arguably the best of the 7.62x51 NATO battle rifles.
Recently FNH began work on an entirely new assault rifle for the 21st century. Developed for the U.S. special operations forces, FNH's SCAR won the SOF Combat Assault Rifle competition for which it is named.
Intended as a replacement for the current issue Colt M4A1 carbine, the SCAR is actually a family of advanced combat rifles in different calibers. The SCAR-L chambers the standard 5.56x45 NATO cartridge. It can easily be fitted with 10-, 14- or 18-inch barrels, which allows it to perform a variety of functions. Its larger brother, the SCAR-H, is chambered for the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge. Barrel lengths for this model are 13, 16 and 20 inches.
Both models are designed to fulfill a variety of roles from close-quarter combat to precision rifle, and the SCARs are just now being fielded by units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment.
FNH-USA--FNH's American company--has also developed a commercial version for the U.S. market. Called the SCAR 16S, it's basically a semiautomatic SCAR-L fitted with a 16.25-inch barrel and a different muzzle device.
A significant departure from the decades-old AR-15 that is flooding today's gun market, FNH-USA's SCAR 16S is an interesting new design built on proven principles. The heart of the rifle is an extruded aluminum upper receiver. This has a full-length 1913 rail for mounting optics, black synthetic case deflector; it is the serialized part. A multi-lug rotating bolt housed inside a bolt carrier rides inside.
It operates via a short-stroke piston with a multi-position gas regulator. The rifle is fitted with an ambidextrous reciprocating charging handle, and accessory rails are mounted at three, six and nine o'clock.
Folding backup iron sights come standard. The front sight features a post adjustable for elevation and folds forward and out of the way when not required. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation and also folds.
The SCAR 16S features a polymer lower receiver that sports ambidextrous safeties and magazine releases. A rather heavy trigger is installed, which FNH-USA lists as having a pull weight of 6.25 pounds. The rifle feeds from standard M16 pattern magazines.
While the standard M16A2 pistol grip is familiar to American shooters, the SCAR 16S's stock certainly is not. A side-folding design, it also collapses. It locks solidly in place with zero movement and can be extended through six positions. In addition, a two-position cheekpiece is incorporated. Lower it when using iron sights or raise it if using optics.
Like the military model, the barrel can be easily swapped out on the SCAR 16S. The standard barrel has a very light "pencil" profile. It's 16.25 inches long, hammer forged and chrome lined. Barrel twist is 1:7, and the muzzle is threaded in the standard 1/2x28 turns per inch.
The muzzle is fitted with a combination flash suppressor/muzzle brake from PWS. Although classified by the BATF as a muzzle brake, this device does diminish visible flash to a degree.
Multiple sling mounting points are fitted on both sides of the rifle. Overall length with the stock extended is 37.5 inches and 28 inches with it folded. Weight is a handy 7.25 pounds, and finish is flat dark earth.
To check the SCAR 16S's accuracy I put it to work from the bench at 100 yards. Test ammunition included both military and commercial loads ranging in weight from 55 to 77 grains. For this initial testing I topped the rifle with a Burris 3-9x40 TAC30 scope.
I quickly noted two things about the SCAR 16S: The trigger is heavy, but the accuracy is excellent. Despite the thin pencil-weight barrel, Black Hills' 77-grain Mk262 Mod 1 sniper load (2,645 fps) averaged one inch. This is excellent accuracy indeed for a lightweight 16-inch carbine.
But it gets better. Stepping out to 500 yards, firing prone off a rest, the SCAR 16S averaged just 4.2 inches with this load. My best 500-yard group was a mere 3.75 inches.
Suitably impressed, I stripped the Burris off the SCAR 16S and replaced it with a 1-4X ELCAN SpecterDR. Then I ran the rifle through a variety of drills from two to 300 yards. This included firing a large amount of steel-case Wolf ball through it.
I quickly noticed the SCAR 16S is very controllable, even when firing at a rapid rate. Although the pencil-weight barrel heats rapidly, it keeps the front of the rifle light. This makes it quick-handling.
The stock is comfortable, and the rubber buttpad keeps it from sliding around. I also liked the cheek riser. Although simple, it provided a good cheek weld, even with optics.
In addition, the short arc of rotation of the safety is also a plus compared to the AR's 90 degrees of rotation. Another nice feature is the ability to lock the bolt back with one hand, something you can't do with an AR. Throughout testing magazines ejected cleanly, and there were no stoppages or malfunctions of any kind.
While the SCAR 16S performed extremely well and exhibited excellent practical accuracy, there are a few negatives. The standard trigger is on the heavy side. I run standard triggers in most of my ARs, but I felt the trigger could be improved.
Also it's easy to whack your knuckles on your optic mount when running the charging handle. This is especially true if the mount has throw-levers that stick out. And not everyone will like the reciprocating nature of the charging handle itself. I will also be interested to see how the polymer stock holds up under hard military use.
Despite this nitpicking I came away impressed by the SCAR 16S's performance. It's an easy rifle to run and to hit with. The stock is comfortable, and accessories are easily mounted. Multiple sling points also allow you carry it pretty much any way you desire.
Reliability was flawless, and the design is very simple to strip and maintain. Plus the quick-change barrel feature would allow swapping to a different caliber, if other bolts and barrels were available. A SCAR 16S in, say, 6.5mm Grendel could be very interesting.
The chief downside to the SCAR 16S is simply its price. At a whopping $2,994 it's simply out of reach of many.
Does it offer a significant advantage over a well-built AR carbine for civilian use? I'd have to say no, not really. While it does indeed have some, I can't say they add up to offering a significant edge.
If you are a fan of the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge, you will be pleased to know that FNH-USA will be offering a semiautomatic version of the SCAR-H in the future.