ABOVE: Rochester Police Department Emergency Task Force sniper Fabian Rivera putting the SA58SPR through its paces during sniper training.
With the creation of NATO, several programs were put into place for militaries of these nations to have some sort of compatibility. One part of that would be standardization of small arms ammunition. Throughout the NATO countries numerous calibers and different types of weapons were being used. The United States had great influence in the NATO ammunition trials, or it could be better said, they drove it. Even after World War II and the success of the StG44 Sturmgewehr or assault rifle, NATO countries would pursue full powered military cartridges while the Warsaw Pact would grasp the idea of the assault rifle and develop the AK-47 and its intermediate 7.62x39mm cartridge. The U.S. would introduce the 7.62x51mm cartridge into the NATO mix, which was basically a cut down .30-06 (7.62x63mm). The British had their own idea with the .280 British cartridge which they submitted. The U.S. forced the 7.62x51mm cartridge down the throats of NATO on December 15, 1953. The British did not go quietly into that good night. They felt the U.S. was wrong and actually began production of the EM-2 Enfield bullpup rifle and its .280 cartridge. Churchill himself stepped in, ordering his forces to comply with the new NATO standard. But what rifle? In December of 1953 the British ordered 5,000 FAL rifles (X8E1) rifles from FN for testing. In January of 1954 the Canadians procured 2,000 FAL rifles for testing.
FN in Belgium had began development of a new rifle in 1947 based on the German 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge, believing they would follow the breakthrough in small arms technology the Third Reich had developed. In 1948, the British requested FN to develop two new rifles, both chambered in the .280 British caliber. One they requested be in the new bullpup design.
Designed by Dieudonné Saive and Ernest Vervier in 1951, and produced two years later, the FN FAL would be destined to be the main battle rifle for more than 90 countries. However, similar to the past, the United States would favor a home grown rifle over a superior foreign design. The U.S. would adopt the M14 to fire this new 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. Basically a magazine fed M1 Garand, the rifle was difficult to control on automatic fire so it was issued for its years of service mostly with the selector removed making it a semiautomatic only rifle- in the American-Vietnam War, only the “Automatic Rifleman” was issued his M14 with selector, taking the place of the “BAR Man.” The FAL was easier to control on automatic fire, more reliable under adverse conditions and used more advanced materials including aluminum and plastic. The M14 would go down in small arms history as the shortest serving rifle in U.S. military history with it only being in production for 6 years, until it was replaced by the AR-15/M16 series even though it was still in use in combat. The FAL would go on to be the most mass produced and used 7.62x51mm caliber rifle in history throughout the Free World. FAL rifles would be produced under license from FN in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, South Africa and Venezuela.
The FAL is a 7.62x51mm caliber, selective-fire magazine-fed and air-cooled battle rifle. The magazine holds 20 rounds of ammunition. The rifle utilizes a short stroke tappet piston operating mechanism. The bolt is different from many used previously as the bolt design is similar to that of the Soviet SKS-45 and German StG44 rifle. When the bolt carrier moves to the rear, the bolt lifts out of engagement via locking shoulder to extract and eject the fired cartridge case. The bolt is very hefty and exceptionally robust. Also, the rifle uses a gas regulator valve to restrict the gas flow to only that which is needed to operate the rifle. The principle is to open the port just enough to reliably cycle the rifle. This lowers the cyclic rate and prevents excessive wear on the rifle by over gassing it. If the rifle was to get extremely dirty, the operator could open the port up to get more power until he could clean his rifle. The soldier would set the regulator by firing a single shot and waiting for the rifle to cycle and lock open on the magazine.
The British FAL was the first to use modern materials such as plastic on the stock, pistol grip and handguards: this material was called “Maranyl.” There were handguards made out of wood but this was not common. It was found during destruction testing that the wood on an M14 would catch on fire where the polymer would melt at extreme temperatures and not catch fire. The polymer would of course not splinter nor swell due to wet conditions.
For many years, FAL rifles have come into the U.S. for commercial sales. Springfield Armory produced them in the 1980s to early 1990s and over these intervening years rifles have been assembled from parts kits imported to the U.S. built on American made receivers. These kits could come from any of the countries throughout the world that produced them. By today’s standards, the FAL would be considered obsolete. The rifle does not have fancy rails all over to place any of the new hi-tech optics, lasers, vertical grips, and so on. Though the mechanism is sound and proven, the rifles employed today are shorter, lighter and more accurate. However, the FAL is a force to be reckoned with throughout the world and it will be for some time.
In 1987, a Federal Firearms License was granted to a start up gun company named DS Arms. When David Selvaggio started up the company he looked at every automatic and semiautomatic only rifle available in the world. He shot and evaluated and came to the conclusion he wanted to work with the FAL rifle system. He was particularly impressed by the workmanship of the weapon, the handling features and the streamlined contour as well as the developmental history of the weapon. He picked a winner: the most mass produced 7.62x51mm rifle in the world that had proven its mettle in every corner of the globe. In April of 1993, DS Arms sold 1,000 stripped Imbel Springfield Armory marked receivers. In May of 1993, DS Arms sold 1,000 stripped DGFM Argentine receivers, which Fowler had to stamp the serial numbers on a punch press himself. In May of 1994, DS Arms began to sell 3,000 DGFM Argentine receivers. Then DS Arms began to produce their own receivers, parts and eventually all the parts to make a 100% American made FAL. For a brief time a hybrid rifle using both American and foreign made parts was made but it was quickly discontinued in favor an all American made parts. The American made rifles were called the SA58 series.
There were two rifles provided for test and evaluation for this article. The first would be a stock and traditional FAL rifle that would be seen anywhere around the globe, the SA5821S-A and the second would be the DS Arms world class SA58SPR sniper rifle. This shows an evolution of the standard 1950s combat rifle to the 2012 modern version of a 60-year-old combat proven weapon system.
The SA5821S-A rifle is in many ways identical to the rifle put into service in the 1950s. The rifle has a 21-inch chrome lined barrel with a Belgium made flash suppressor. There are 12 holes drilled at an angle to allow gas to escape forward of the muzzle rather than to the sides. The barrel is cut for a bipod as well. On the barrel is the standard gas regulator, which has enabled the FAL rifle to function with the ammunition provided without over gassing the rifle, extending the service life of the rifle and reducing the recoil to the shooter. This rifle was provided with black synthetic handguards. This is definitely an improvement over the wood for many reasons including that these handguards do not catch fire, swell from rain nor crack and splinter. The front sight is a post type common on many rifles.
The receiver is Parkerized grey and machined well. No cosmetic flaws can be noted. The traditional carrying handle is on this rifle as well. The bolt carrier has the sand cuts and is also well made. The charging handle is the round lever type located on the left side of the receiver. The bolt carrier has the standard recoil slide rod hinge that links up with the recoil spring and plunger located in the fixed stock assembly.
The lower receiver is manufactured from aluminum and is lightweight and anodized black. The safety lever is located on the left side of the receiver. The magazine catch and bolt catch are located in their traditional places in front of the trigger guard. The stock and pistol grip are manufactured from high impact polymer and made in the USA. The rifle is quite comfortable to anyone including a Sasquatch size man like this author.
This rifle weighs 8 3/4 pounds with an overall length of 43 inches with a impressive 22 inch sight radius, which is very beneficial on a 7.62x51mm caliber rifle as it enables the user to take advantage of the long range capabilities of the cartridge. Fit and finish was superb and there were no rattling parts common on many field grade rifles. The rifle was shipped with a 20-round FAL magazine with a DS Arms floorplate on the bottom. The only major issue discovered with this rifle is one that is inherent to the family of weapons and not this particular rifle: difficulty in replacing magazines. It is difficult to insert the magazine not even under stress as well to remove it. It does not have the speed of many other comparable designs. But the magazine is very reliable and robust. I would expect anyone who is to use this family of rifles would be able to get used to the magazine release and become proficient with it. The Maglula LuLa loading tool was found to be a plus in loading the magazine easier.
The SA58SPR is totally in a class of its own. Looking at this design it is clear to see how you can make a 60 year old design new again. Similar to the AR-platform of rifles, the key to their success is modernization and keeping up with the changing needs of the operator. Originally this rifle was designed to compete in the XM110 competition where it would compete with the likes of Knight’s Armament Company and ArmaLite, Inc. to name a few. The DS Arms was a worthy competitor with all the features that the requirements asked for.
Starting from the front and working back, the SPR has a 19-inch fluted medium weight tactical barrel with a M16A2-style compensator on the end. The rifle has the gas regulator enabling easy use of a sound suppressor as well as a Mil-Std 1913 rail segment on top of the gas block. Full length quad Mil-Std 1913 rails are on the handguard also giving a continuous top rail from the gas block to the rear of the upper receiver. Unlike the original FAL, easy and reliable form of attachment for optics and all the new high speed lasers, flashlights, IR pointing devices, night vision/thermal optics as well as much more not seen on the early rifles that were designed for iron sight use only. Both front and rear back up iron sights were provided on the SPR. There was a Harris Bipod provided for the rifle.
The lower receiver was manufactured from aluminum and matched the color of the steel upper receiver perfectly. The safety lever is ambidextrous. The pistol grip chosen was of that found on a FN Minimi SAW rifle as opposed to the standard FN-type. The stock itself is very unique in that the stock folds to the right side of the rifle and is adjustable for cheek weld and length. The rifle was provided with a monopod attached to the bottom of the stock.
The rifle was provided with a heavy duty carrying case, brass catcher, sling, detachable rail mounted swivel, three 10-round magazines & an instruction manual. For test firing the optic chosen was the same optic that was adopted on the M110 rifle, the Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 3.5-10x40mm scope with the M3 illuminated reticle. The scope was mounted on A.R.M.S., Inc. throw lever mounts. The ammunition tested for this rifle was both Silver State Armory & Black Hills ammunition in 168 grain & 175 grain OTM loads. The best group obtained with the rifle was with Silver State Armory 175gr OTM with 3 bullets within .55 inches at 100m.
The SA5821S-A was test fired with 200 rounds of Silver State Armory 147gr ball ammunition. No malfunctions were noted. This rifle felt like the robust war horse it is. Offhand there were no problems engaging a steel plate at 200 yards. It was evident what the reputation of the military grade rifle was based.
The FAL is a pivotal design in the transformation from general issue of autoloading firearms throughout the world. In many cases it was a interim rifle in use until it was eventually replaced with a mid-range assault rifle. However, this family of weapons still sees action in every part of the globe. In that case, it is hard to say the rifle is obsolete. It is a true battle rifle for the traditional soldier – heavy caliber, selective fire and iron sights. DS Arms has taken the rifle to the U.S., made it here and taken into the new millennium. The SA58SPR is clearly an old design with a modern flare by taking a design from the 1950s and competing with many new designs for the next U.S. sniper rifle. Wait, most of the guns that competed were also 1950s designs, but by Gene Stoner in the AR-10. Classics never die, they just get updated and better.