I first reported rumors that the French would be replacing the FAMAS rifle back in 2009. During a recent meeting with the Commission of Defense, the French CEMAT (Chef d’Etat Major de l’Armée de Terre / Chief of Staff of the Army), General Ract Madoux, confirmed that the French Army would issue a RFP (Request For Proposals) in 2013 for a replacement service rifle for the French Army.
The French FAMAS rifle has been a disaster. Its delayed blowback action is powerful enough to rip apart regular NATO brass-cased 5.56x45mm cases and its rifling does not stabilize the modern 5.56mm NATO bullets. The French Army is forced to use steel cased 5.56mm ammunition, thus eliminating the advantages of using the same cartridge as their NATO and EU allies. It that was not bad enough, the ammunition is no longer made in France and has ben to imported. A French journalist told me that China manufactures steel-cased 5.56mm for French military (I will say that another French journalist I spoke to disputes that ammunition is imported from China).
The manufacturer of the FAMAS, the state-owned Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Etienne (MAS), has been developing firearms since 1777 and is well known for developing the first smokeless power military rifle, the Lebel Model 1886. Sadly this organization no longer has the technical capability to develop a new rifle, which is why France is looking beyond her borders for a new rifle.
I have compiled a list of potential contenders for a new French service rifle, along with their pros and cons.
Rifles from Neighboring Countries
H&K 416 (Germany)
+ The H&K416 has good reputation, the AR-15 is well known system, Used by Norway, Turkey, USMC and French Army Special Forces. Also available in 7.62x51mm (H&K417).
FN SCAR Mk.16 (Belgium)
+ Modern rifle. Used by French Special Forces and Special Police Teams (including those responsible for protection of the President). Available in a PDW configuration and a 7.62mx51mm configuration (Mk. 17).
- New unproven rifle. Dropped by USSOCOM.
+ Bullpup (like the FAMAS).
- Adoption has not been widespread. Used by Libya (really bad PR).
SIG 550 (Switzerland)
+ Long service history and has aged well. Many variants. Used by Switzerland, German GSG and French Special Forces.
- Non-standard polymer magazine (although there are variants that use AR-15 magazines).
SIG 516 (Switzerland)
+ Proven AR-15 design. PDW and 7.62mm variants available.
- Not (yet) adopted by a military or paramilitary organization. Not an HK416.
Beretta ARX (Italy)
+ Modern modular design. Has been adopted by the Italian Army.
- A new and not yet proven weapon.
Rifles From Other European Countries
CZ 805 BREN A2 (Czech Republic)
+ Modern design. To become the next service rifle of the Czech Army.
- Unproven. Proprietary magazine.
HS VHS (Croatia)
- Unproven. Not a lot of space for mounting FÉLIN (French Future Solider) accessories. Looks to similar to the ill-fated FAMAS.
Steyr AUG A3
+ Bullpup. Seen combat. Adopted by a number of countries and police forces.
- The Australians seem to be spending more time developing this gun than Steyr are. Propriety magazine (although a NATO model with an AR-15 magazine is available, although I do not know if anyone has adopted it).
Rifle From Non European Countries
Remington ACR (USA)
+ The latest magnesium-alloy model is an excellent modern rifle.
- Unproven. Not adopted by any military or para-military organizations. Non-European design (So is the AR-15, but that is now made and used all over the world).
Colt Canada C7 (Canada)
+ A proven battle tested design. Used by Royal Netherlands Army, British SAS and New Zealand SAS.
- Not a very exciting rifle compared to the above models. Not European.
+ Bullpup (like FAMAS). Limited use in combat.
- Not a lot of space for mounting FÉLIN accessories. France is unlikely buy rifles from Israel for political reasons.
UPDATE: I have posted a followup here.
[ Many thanks to Clairon for information. ]