The French Army’s Next Standard Assault Rifle: The Contenders
The question in June 2016 was “Who will supply the French Army’s next assault rifle?”
The French Army’s standard assault rifle, the bullpup 5.56 mm caliber FAMAS, was adopted in 1977. The FAMAS is generally inferior to competing frontline types, essentially meaning that it does not represent a long-term solution for the French Army. The replacement, will be in 5.56 mm NATO caliber. The Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) launched in May 2014 launched the program known in France as the Arme Individuelle Future (Future Individual Weapon).
The manufacturers invited for comparative trials were:
– HS Produkt, Croatia (VHS/VHS-2 bullpup assault rifle)
– Beretta, Italy (ARX160 A3 assault rifle)
– Swiss Arms/SIG SAUER, Switzerland (SIG MCX SBR)
– FN Herstal, Belgium (FN SCAR 16)
– Heckler & Koch, Germany (HK416F).
This article will mainly discuss the final choice of Heckler & Koch’s winning weapon, its variants, and some key features of the competitive rifles. The French specification demands for the new standard assault rifle have not been disclosed.
The iconic Eugene Stoner constructed AR-15 System is by far the most widely used system and a model for many modern Western assault rifles today. The fascination of the AR15 style and the “Black Rifle” M16 is difficult to describe. The AR-15/M16/M4 pattern is highly ergonomic and precise. Therefore, the M4 is like a benchmark for all the producers who wish to present an offer and participate with their best firearms. A section of the industry has designed a kind of an AR-15/M4 carbine style on the market, but they have favored a piston gas system instead of the direct gas impingement system found on the M4/M16A4. The piston design suppresses and prevents propellant gases and carbon fouling coming in contact with the bolt and secondly reduces heat transfer to the bolt and bolt carrier. The legendary “Extreme Dust Test”, showed that after firing 6,000 rounds through ten M4s in a dust chamber at the Army’s Aberdeen test center in Maryland in late 2007, the weapons experienced a total of 863 minor stoppages and 19 that would have required an armorer to fix the problem. Stacked up against the M4 during the side-by-side tests were two other weapons popular with Special Operations Forces, including the Heckler and Koch HK416 and the FN USA Special Operations Combat Assault Rifle, or Mk16. Another carbine involved in the tests that had been rejected by the Army two years before, the H&K XM8 (a G36-System in a modular composite housing), came out as the winner, with a total of 116 minor stoppages and 11 major ones. The Mk16 experienced a total of 226 stoppages, the HK416 had 233.
A Modern Assault Rifle has Ambidextrous Controls
Just 12% to 15% of the world’s population are left-handed–and twice as many men as women. The shooter of its weapon is the key, and the modern assault rifle is a system. Modularity is a definite selling point to military and police units of the world. Sometimes the smallest details matter the most, for example, ambidextrous controls and other things like accessories, grenade launchers, ammunition, spares and support services.
The Final Choice of the New Rifle for French Army
The choice is based on MEDO (Meilleure Et Dernière Offre–Best and Last offer). On September 22, 2016, DGA awarded Heckler & Koch a large contract to supply its HK416F as the new standard French assault rifle. The chosen assault rifle is a modified version of the HK416 A5 which is described as an evolution in assault rifle technology compared to the previous HK416. Heckler & Koch developed its HK416 between 2002 and 2005 for mass production. The weapon combines the M4/M16 architecture with the reliable short–stroke gas piston system of the G36, making it the most reliable of any M4/M16 type weapon. The HK 416 is a true “Over the Beach” weapon. The HK416 A5 is very similar to the prior HK416 weapon system, but it’s a further development of the HK416 assault rifle also in 5.56×45 mm NATO caliber. The significant changes are:
Right up on the front is a flip-up sight that falls into the front rail system. Also it has a two stage tooless gas regulator with marking N (Normal) and S (Suppressor) for suppressor use. Previous versions were not outfitted with a regulator, so H&K redesigned the weapon, and the A5 is better and less gas is blown out from the side when shooting. It’s 100% ambidextrous, and there is a selector switch, a magazine release and a bolt release on both sides for left- and right-handed shooters as well as an M4-type (ambidextrous) charging handle.
Safety/Fire selector lever can be set to safe when the hammer is in the cocked or un-cocked position. Another thing is when the operator wants to use gloves, the A5 has an enlarged trigger guard so there is no problem using gloves when wearing cold weather clothing.
It has an enlarged bolt catch lever and protective barrier against accidental discharge, which is very nice, since on the former HK416-weapon system the rail was connected with the upper receiver. Now, there is a flat cut on so various mechanical and optical sights (incl. night vision/thermal) can be moved anywhere to be mounted along the non-stop NATO-STANAG 4694 top rail.
The receiver is given an optimized geometry, modified assembly interfaces and improved receiver connections and receiver extension to stabilize and accomplish drop test criteria under real conditions.
It has a new polymer 30-round magazine that works on any of H&K’s systems. Earlier models could not use all types of magazines, now the receiver’s magazine well is redesigned for increased magazine compatibility in accordance with NATO-STANAG-DRAFT 4179 (M4/M16 Magazines). The pistol grip has a redesigned ergonomic fit with storage compartment for a field stripping tool. The telescopic buttstock has a “slim line.” It’s a true over the beach (OTB) capability weapon as well as it has numerous technical improvements to maximize the operator safety, reliability, ammunition compatibility and durability under real operating conditions. It’s compatible with the HK 40×46 mm low velocity GLM/M320.
After being in service with the French Army for over 30 years, the old “FAMAS” assault rifle is to be succeeded by Heckler & Koch’s modern HK416F as the AIF’s standard assault rifle. The decision in favor of the HK416F followed a Europe-wide tendering procedure in which earlier mentioned companies participated with their weapon systems. Following over a year of intensive, extensive trials by the French of all the weapons competing, the HK416F stood out as the best weapon system in the competition. The HK416F fulfilled all of the French Armed Forces’ requirements for their future assault rifle, without exception, and led the field. From 2017 onwards, members of the Army, Air Force and Navy will be equipped with their new service weapon. The contract calls for the supply total of 102,000 HK416F 5.56 mm x 45 NATO assault rifles, 10,767 HK269F 40×46 mm grenade launchers, accessories, ammunition, spares and support services over a period of 15 years. The HK416 versions HK416F-C with an 11” barrel and HK416F-S with a 14.5” barrel will serve France in the future. Weight–depending on barrel-length–is about 3.5 to 3.8 kg (without a magazine). Four Picatinny rails provide space for add-on accessories (i.e., day-, IR-, thermal optics, rangefinders and grenade launcher). The telescopic butt stock allows for adaption to soldiers’ size or for use in close areas. The large “winter trigger” enables handling with gloves. Maintenance accessories may be stored in a storage space in the butt. The HK416F differs little from the HK416 A5. The iron sights are different and the French had no requirement for a sound suppressor and the F has therefore no gas regulator. According to DGA H&K will 93,080 pieces of HK416 F be delivered between 2017 and 2028. 54 575 units will be of the HK416F Short version, with the same performance as the standard version up to 200 meters. 38 505 units will be the HK416F Standard version. France will also acquire 10,767 pieces of the HK269F (40×46 mm) grenade launchers.
Heckler & Koch’s HK 416/417 Family Chosen by Other Users
Various configurations of the HK416 are in service around the world for military, Special Forces and law enforcement agencies.
The HK416 is now among the most widely used military M4-style weapons. The HK416 is combat-proven in Afghanistan by Norwegians who replaced the AG-3 (also known as the G3) with the HK416 from 2007 onward. The Norwegian Army uses the 7.62 mm HK417 as a Designated Marksman Rifle. A variant of Heckler & Koch’s HK416, the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) was selected by the U.S. Marine Corps in August 2011 in an innovative program to develop a highly accurate, lightweight and more reliable alternative to the venerable belt-fed M249 Squad Automatic Weapon—a fully loaded M27 IAR weighs less than half that of an M249 SAW. The Corps fielded 458 M27s to five battalions as they prepared for upcoming deployment to Afghanistan (2011). Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, has approved a plan to field the M27 IAR to all Marine infantry battalions. The Marines like it so much that the service is considering making it the next service rifle for infantry battalions in the Corps.
A modified, product-improved and light weight version of the combat proven Heckler & Koch G28 rifle designated M110A1 was chosen by the U.S. Army as the winner of the Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS) competition in April 2016. The contract award to Heckler & Koch Defense Inc. allows the Army to purchase a maximum total of 3,643 CSASS units, according to an announcement on FedBizOpps.gov. The M110A1/HK CSASS is a substantial upgrade over the Army’s current rifles, enhancing accuracy, ergonomics and reliability while providing for a handier, more compact arm. As the HK416/417-family, the M110A uses a short stroke gas piston to actuate and an operating rod which allows the weapon to run cooler and with less fouling of the bolt carrier group and chamber–markedly improving reliability. The controls and interface of the M110A1 are similar to M4/M16-type weapons, ensuring operator familiarity and simplifying training. The CSASS is also designed to have reduced felt recoil and better suppressor performance.
Heckler & Koch’s competence as a world-leader and principal manufacturer of small arms and infantry weapons systems is underlined again with deliveries to France (HK416F [French Special Forces also use the HK417]), Norway (HK416N and HK417N), Germany (G36), Great Britain (SA80), Spain (G36) and Lithuania (G36).