FAMAS Spotted in Papua New Guinea

There is nothing quite like a military coup to bring dusty rifles from the depths of secret armories and into the light of day. The attempted coup in support of one of the pretenders to the Prime Ministership of Papua New Guinea ended just days after is began. The mutineers, about 30 soldiers led by a retired Colonel, symbolically handed in their weapons in surrender (they were subsequently pardoned and their weapons returned). What is interesting is that some of the mutineers appeared to have been armed with French FAMAS rifles.

FAMAS rifles surrendered by rebels.

A reader emailed me with a couple of theories of how they might have acquired these rifles …

There are two possibilities. PNG forces use the M16A2 and FN FAL, so they probably got the FAMAS rifles from Vanuatu a relatively nearby french colony, who got 350 of them in 1994. In 2006 they did peacekeeping missions together and in the 1980′s PNG forces fought against rebels there. So that must of been their illegal weapons connection and source. The FAMAS F1 rifles few in number and not very reliable, could have been put in storage and improperly secured. (Vanuatu military forces 3000 in number would have chosen to continue using their SLR/FN FALs donated to them by Australia.

Another possibility is they got them from the Indonesian special forces, who according to wiki, have bought the FAMAS before but aren’t known to use them. There was suspicion that the coup had Indonesian support not only due to Indonesia having a history of interfering with PNG, but also because the retired colonel who led the coup had just come back from a 6 month embed with the Indonesian military.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Mobious

    Well, with France being a jolly supporter of revolutions and general warfare thanks to the spreading of loads of weapons it’s not much news, especially now when the aging rifle is being phased out…. but this is all the way over in Papa New Guinea…

  • Bill

    Small spelling correction necessary – it’s Papua, not Papa


  • Yves

    FA-MAS not very reliable?
    The FA-MAS can be expensive, iron made, have the highest full auto rate of fire of all assault rifles, a complicated recoil operated system and a very high free recoil compared with other 5.56 rifles but… is very reliable (as the m16 nearly all stoppages are for magazine problems)

    • JMD

      It’s only reliable with special steel-cased ammunition, and can only use a 55 grain bullet. Normal NATO-spec brass cased ammo will wreck a Famas in a heartbeat, according to most sources.

      BTW, malfunctions in M16s/AR15s caused by bad magazines are pretty much a thing of the past . There are a variety of magazine designs available that are lightyears better than what the U.S. Govt. was issuing in years past.

      • Flounder

        I keep hearing it has to use steel cased ammo but only from this website. And only the 55 grain bullet will fit in the FAMAS’s proprietary mag. I personally still do not believe it has to use steel cased ammo since if that were true then the G3 would have to use steel cases as well (similiar system in that both are delayed blowback however I know they are slightly different. Lever delayed vs roller delayed).

        I could be wrong and if I am someone please disprove me with hard evidence.
        I just find it hard to believe that France uses steel cased ammo… I know russia and china do but do the French? We don’t nor does britain (I think) so why would a major NATO player? That is just how I see it.

      • JMD


        The Google Chrome auto-translation feature is a little rough, but this article seems to be about 32 cases where French soldiers were injured because they used brass cased ammo in their Famas rifles instead of the steel cased ammo that rifle is supposed to use.

        From the reading I’ve done, the action of the Famas seems to cycle either so fast or so violently that brass cases often don’t survive the process intact. The reported 900 round per minute cycling rate seems to add further credibility to these statements.

        This all seems to fit with the “French exception”.

      • PCP

        If I remember correct the G2, the one everyone forgets (even the French), solved almost all the problems of reliability the F1 had and compatibility with STANAG magazines. The problem is that this version was never produced in great number, and there is little chances of happening since NEXTER (former GIAT) or the government pretty much stoped caring about small arms after the cold war. With is odd considering the french can make almost anything of top quality themselves (from tanks to ships and fighters, all orders of magnitude more complex and harder to master than small arms).

        By me I would give the system another chance. Revise the architecture, ergos and modularity, and you would be good to go as long as projectile weapons are viable. The operational system is not flawed, it’s picky, but not flawed, the FAMAS right now is like the if the M16 was never revamped and improved. The weapon sucks for modern standards, but can be improved.

        If they pick a new rifle, I would expect the SCAR, the F2000 and the ARX 160. The F2000 is a better weapon that the SCAR but is often overlook because it’s an independent project and it’s a bullpup. The ARX is an awesome piece of engineering and I hope it gets more use (and a damn civil version).

      • Alex-mac

        Wasn’t that the FAMAS G2 FELIN? Or is that just a mockup on wiki? It also says the FAMAS G2 cost $3000 euro!, damn, that is very expensive.

        Chances are the next bullpup rifle will be a highly modified Steyr Aug variant from Australia, possibly called the F90. Steyr Aug’s patents have expired and Thales is a french company who owns ADI, that helped develop this rifle. So it’s going to be cheap and competitive with the bullups they have now, especially with the forward planning design by the Australians. (electronic and power management + torch in the forearm grip) This Stey Aug variant will also technically be part ‘French’, and will also remain distinctive due to Australia’s version very likely being Tan colored. So if France adopts it they can call it their own rifle, and give it their own color too. (probably some green, black combination) Thus keeping their national pride intact.

      • PCP


        As far as I know the felin were real rifles, sexed-up with the fancy optics and control/ergos but real. Felin doesn’t really have much to do with the G2, it’s akin to the USA’s Future Soldier and similar programs (if you want to make a “future” soldier, do something bold that would bring real improvements and would be worth developing and buying even if it’s for special forces only. Not a normal soldier with fancy/cumbersome electronics without addressing any of the current problems).

        The G2 is just an revised and updated FAMAS, the F1 would be the M16A1 and the G2 the M16A2, fixed but pre-modularity. There was also an F2 that was just a F1 jerry-rigged into submission, but that went no where so they did a better and more complete job with the G2. And like I said the G2 was produced, but since was expensive almost no one bought it.

        I forgot the AUG, excellent rifle and really ahead of its time. But I’m no sure, the French really like to mix politics with military hardware import/export and I doubt that they would buy from Germany or Austria unless their products really outclass the competition, which they don’t. The Belgians and Italians have more chance due to cultural and political similarities. The SCAR and F2000 albeit polemic are really solid guns. The Italians beside the awesome rifle they have can also count that they done and are doing a series of joint projects with France.

        But them you need to remember everyone is broken in Europe now.

      • Flounder

        Thanks JMD!
        I guess your right about the steel cases being standard issue.

    • W

      i haven’t heard good things about the FAMAS F1, though have heard the G2 addresses many of the issues with its predecessor, it hasn’t been produced in large numbers yet.

      Apprently the F1 has 1 in 12 rifling, which would necessitate the use of 55 grain ammunition. The 1 in 9 rifling of the G2 should theoretically be able to fire 62 grain SS109 green tip with ease. .

  • Burst

    Under the circumstances, I find the “Indonesian involvement” theory to be very credible. I doubt that they’d expect this to be successful, though.

  • Charlie

    A retired dwarf dogwood tree tried to overthrow the government? Did he hold up his branches when he surrendered?

  • Alex-mac

    The Indonesian military is not under complete civilian control, so really it might have only been a few people who supported this small and rather pathetic coup attempt. Meaning the FAMAS F1 rifles were probably dumped somewhere (cause they are unreliable with brass ammo) and would have been the easiest rifles the Colonel’s friends in Indonesia could get their hands on.

  • Jacinta

    The PNGDF bought the FAMAS F1 and G2 ligitamately in the 1990s so reckon Steve get your facts right before posting conspiracy theories.

  • Hi, the PNGDF has owned and operated FAMAS rifles for a long time. The publicly released 2004 report, sponsored by AUSAID into missing firearms in PNG, included references to the PNDF’s FAMAS rifles.

    In this instance the soldiers with the FAMAS rifles were at Murray Barracks. Murray barracks is the HQ of the PNGDF and does not have major combat troops or armouries there. It has been recorded that the small purchase of FAMAS rifles that were found unsuitable were stored at Murray Barracks. It is therefore completely feasible that rebel soldiers were able to arm themselves with FAMAS rifles at Murray Barracks.

    Here is a link o the AUSAID funded report which lists all the weapons types used (and missing) from PNGDF armouries. This includes all weapons trialed (such as Galil and SA-80) and the FAMAS. http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/C-Special-reports/SAS-SR05-Papua-New-Guinea.pdf

  • Ric B

    I currently work in the PNG Highlands and have seen Army patrols using M16’s as well as local Police and “endorsed” security guards (all M16’s look very worn and weathered, i question serviceability) .

    During Time I spent with the PNG army in Port Moresby in 2006 I spotted guys on barracks carrying, cleaning and conducting ceremonial duties with the FAMAS, but never on any field exercises or range activities.

    PNG certainly is an interesting place to work, but a volatile country to say the least.

  • Seth

    You can shoot brass cased ammo with FAMAS F1 you just need QUALITY brass ammo not the very cheap stuff that was bought. Since then the problem was resolve by NOT BUYING CRAPPY AMMO. But since it was a kick back deal with UAE (you bought our systems we buy ammo from you) it was largely swept under the rug.
    Now the french military use ammo coming from Israel/Germany/Italy and don’t have anymore issues.

    It’s true that most of the them fire only 55g (only some can fire both, not only the G2 it’s depend when they got new barrel as part of their routine maintenance). But since the M193 is both cheap and widely available is not a problem.

    Plus the 62g update was to compensate the poor performance of the M-4 short barrel, the FAMAS having a long barrel doesn’t have the issue 62g ammo is supposed to fix…

  • Shug

    I’ve heard about the F90 from Australia a couple of times now, has anyone seen it yet? I also hear some Aussie infantry folks want the M4 instead! Well they are welcome to any of the ones our president gave me over the years. Pictures please.