Weapons: France Seeks To Be Normal


December 2, 2009: The French Army is looking for a new assault rifle. The SCAR, used by SOCOM, and based on the well regarded German G36 design, is one of the leading contenders. The reason for this unexpected search can be attributed to the aftereffects of the Cold War. Namely, a lot of defense companies went out of business, including some that built weapons and munitions for the French armed forces.

Before 1991, France had a large enough arms industry to produce the special ammunition (high grade steel case) needed for its Famas assault rifle. A bullpup (magazine behind the trigger) design that was introduced in the 1970s, it looked like other 5.56mm weapons, but there were some important design differences that made it difficult to use standard NATO ammunition (France pulled out of NATO in the early 1960s but, for planning purposes, stayed in touch as an unofficial member.) This split from NATO did lead to France not participating in the NATO standardization program (so NATO members could better communicate with each other and share ammo and supplies.)

In the 1990s, a version of the Famas was designed, that complied with NATO standards (at least for ammo use.) This G2 version, however, was only manufactured in small quantities (and adopted only by the French Navy), because the manufacturer went out of business. So did the firm that made the special ammo that the original Famas F1 required (although an Israeli manufacturer was found who could make the stuff). The basic problem was that the Famas F1 was too small a market for anyone to produce spare parts, or new versions. The Famas G2 was an OK weapon, but there were so many others that were as good, if not better, and often cheaper. So the French are apparently ready to leave the Famas design behind, and adopt a new, more standard, 5.56mm assault rifle design.

If they wanted to stick with a bullpup design, they could buy the successful Israeli Tavor. Although with the anti-Semitism and pro-Arab attitudes so common in France these days, that would probably not work. China has a new bullpup design, and it would be a diplomatic plus for the French army to adopt the Chinese weapon (although the Chinese are beginning to have second thoughts about it, so maybe not.) In any event, there are lots of options out there, and, in the process, France will cuts its ammo costs by half.



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