Guest Post: The French Army And The Search To Replace the Famas Rifle

[ This guest post was written by Julien, a French TFB reader and gun enthusiast, in order to give us insight into the French Army rifle upgrade program. ]

First of all, forgive my quite miserable english, I’ll try to explain with my own words.
I am a French firearms enthusiast and I spend a lot of time searching for news about it, both in French and English language.

Lately, I’ve read different things about the FAMAS replacement, especially in foreign forums and blogs, and obviously, nobody says the same.

I had the chance to shoot with this weapon when I was in the French army, so I’ll try to explain how is the Famas, from the grunt point of view to the financial considerations.

First of all, to understand what is at stake, we have to understand the context, that’s why there is different kind of informations in this small text. I don’t mention the well known informations about this rifle and the French army, but just the parts of the intel remaining dark for a lot of people.

Concerning the Famas

The rifle design and how it is handled was developed during the Cold War. Despite this fact the handling is quite good, the ergonomics of the selectors are not so handy, and you have to remember what type of burst you selected (There are two selectors, one for safety/fire/burst near the trigger guard, and one on the rear, behind the magazine, to select 3-rouds burst or full auto). I have witnessed this causing confusion two or three times.

However, the field stripping and maintenance of the rifle is idiot proof, but even idiots have their limits and you have to be very careful because of the very small parts in the receiver. For example the “oreilles de mickey” (Mickey Mouse’s ears). These small parts determine the left/right ejecting port and are the size of a small tooth. Famas is ambidextrous, but you have to field strip it in order to change, not like the FN F2000.

The iron ring sights are great, with 3 diameters and with night illumination for night fire.

The carrying handle and the bipod are both useful in the field.

The cheek rest is a pain in the ass. It is a small piece on the side of the ejection port you’re not using. It inserts and holds like a plastic paintball screen on a mask. Why I talk about it? Because it doesn’t stand the test of time and easily unlocks, especially when you are deep in the mud/sand. Many good guys lost it and got into some trouble when they gave back the rifle to the armoury. It is not rare to add a good bottle of whiskey (or any bribe) for the armorer (person responsible of the firearms in the French army), so he can replace the missing cheek rest (wear and tear) without the official disipline.

After that, duct tape becomes your best friend on the field.

Another drawback: The sling: 2nd World War style.

The others drawbacks are well known, such as the cartridge/barrel problem. The delayed blowback design requires the use of stronger cartridge cases, steel instead of brass.

In France the Army is nicknamed the “Grande muette” (Big silent/dumb one), because of the scandal and hush up tradition.

The F3 (Mark III) cartridges were manufactured in France (Le Mans, 220 km south west from Paris), but some dumb-ass politicians decided to relocate cartridge production abroad.

Foreign F3 cartridges have caused several problems. Soldiers have been injured during exercises, some of them in the face.

The F3 cartridges have been forbidden, and now army has to use the older F1 cartridges which are no longer manufactured in France, and not adapted to the rifling of the barrel.

These cartridges are made in the Arab Emirates (ADCOM Military Industries).

Because of the lack of precision after 30 meters (32 yards) and lack of reliability, it is more or less spray and pray.

The Famas F1 and the Famas F2

The old Famas F1 is still used in all the French army. The F2 variant is only used in the French Navy and in some special units. So the main part of the Army has 25 rounds magazines, but they are filled with 20-23 rounds in order to save equipment…

Concerning the French army

Every time I read a foreign article about the French army, I am very proud of my country, because it means that we are geniuses concerning military intelligence. In these foreign articles we are well equipped, like a normal army, but this is far from reality.

The reality is that the French army is always broke.

While we have good gritty soldiers, well trained, we have a lack of equipment.

The basic equipment for the troops is like US Vietnam war GI’s equipment:

Rifles with iron sights ONLY, metal helmets, 4 lbs each rangers shoes, old navy style backpacks, NO combat vests… Vietnam style equipment!

I fact, in the French army you have to buy your own equipment: Pads, gloves, glasses, GPS gear, tactical vests, better combat shoes; because if you use basic equipment, you’re screwed: Both by your senior officers and by the enemy.

I discussed this recently with French soldiers coming back from Afghanistan.

A machine gun operator showing me a picture of himself fully equipped and told me that he was wearing 3000 Euros of extra equipment.

I remember that I learnt to shoot with less than 50 cartridges, and instructor told us that 200 meters was the maximum reliable range with this weapon. This was ten years ago, and the Jeff Cooper / Chuck Taylor training methods were brand new (for us) and named NTTC (“Nouvelles Techniques de Tir au Combat” / “New combat shooting techniques”).

When I was in French National Gendarmerie (law enforcement) I also used the French PAMAS (Pistolet Automatique de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Etienne, auto pistol from Saint-Etienne firearms factory) which was a cheap beretta 92F, made under license. Cheap, because of the use of cheap materials used.

Then law enforcement shifted for the Sig Pro pistol.

I remember when I was in the National Gendarmerie and we have to fill our two 15 rounds magazines with only 9 rounds, because ammo was still provided like it was 30 years ago when the MAC 50 pistol only held 9 rounds. I once noticed that one of my cartridge cases was twisted and my senior officer told me to put it in the bottom of my second clip…

However we were equipped with a large variety of weapons: pistols, shotguns, MP5 submachineguns, Flashbangs, Tikka carbines and Tasers.

I used all the weapons I could, including the Mat 49 (model 1949 submachine gun, a pray and spray weapon) MAC 50 (Model 1950 pistol) and some rifles and machine guns that were used in WWII.

Another scandal is about the unpaid soldiers. Our soldiers remain silent because of the “devoir de réserve” (duty of confidentiality) but their wives and their families don’t. Many soldiers are not paid or only barely paid. It first was a big covered up scandal back in 2009, and the government said that it was a “software problem”, but in 2012 it remains exactly the same. Yes, it is like in Soviet Russia with unpaid troops.

In order to save money, our glorious army only partially pay his soldiers.

A lot of families are financially in the red.

Another great tradition in our glorious army: The “end of Credits” frenzy: Each year, credits are allocated for ammunition, gas etc.

How is it calculated? It is always the same as you use the previous year.

Your unit is in mission abroad, you use 10, so for the next year, you have 10 again.

Next year you are no longer abroad and/or you use less than 10, let’s say 6.

So for the year after you have 6, but unfortunately, you are abroad again and you need 10, but there’s NEVER extra credits, so you’re screwed.

To avoid this type of situation, units/units commanders have developed a sophisticated technique: At the end of the “Credit year”, you have to burn/use for whatever you want, such as the remaining gas and all the remaining ammunition in Rambo style shooting in a desert field, oh yeah!

The rule is “shoot till your rifle is melting!”

Concerning the replacement of the Famas

An important thing to understand the future choice of the successor of Famas is that our Army is broke.

Ten years ago, in the French army, I talked to a helicopter pilot from the ALAT (Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre; Light aircraft of French ground forces). He told me that for one flying helicopter, there were two “ground helicopters” used as spare parts for the flying one.

A Leclerc Tank pilot explained me that it was the same in his unit. Each time I talk with soldiers from different units it is the same.

Monetary considerations

The minimum number of assault rifles to be produced in order to remain affordable is too high, at least 300,000, and the rifle itself would be still expensive. France can’t produce new assault rifle because we can’t afford the high cost of R&D.

The criteria for the new assault rifle, according to Général Bertrand Ract Madoux, chef d’état-major de l’armée de terre (Chief of ground French army Staff): “Concerning the FAMAS replacement, I regret the fact that this weapon could not be French. Small caliber weapons are led by the consistency aspect. Unfortunately, they are the first to be cut down while we have to save money. We know that we keep the .223 (5.56X45) caliber, and we will buy two out of the box types of assault rifles, one standard version with long barrel ( pretty much 50 cm long) used by infantry units, and another one with short barrel (carbine) for the other units. The number of rifles required for this program, for all corps, will be 60 000 for the standard version. The cost of all of this will be 400 millions of Euros, for French Army, navy, and Air force. Call for bids will start in 2013, and the rifle have to be fully compatible with the FELIN system.”

Another thing about the French army is the reduction in the workforce. In 2012 the French army has less than 100,000 people. A lot of units had been dissolved and regrouped since the end of the military service in 1995.

Many of the remaining units are “special units”, because a lot of regular units had been dissolved. They have credits to by their own equipment. I saw HK G36, a lot AR 15 variants, HK MP5, MP5 SD, a large variety of shotguns, even the FN SCAR-L. This replacement only concerns the standard all purpose service rifle.

The candidates for the job

Mannlicher. Reliable, with rails all over the handgard and user friendly. It appears to be new assault rifle in the French Air Forces, but in fact the acquisition process has been “frozen”.

The Sig Sauer 55X assault rifle, but that is just rumors. These rifles are known to be excellent, but a bit expensive to manufacture for our broke army.

The Thales F90 (Steyr Aug). Thales is a French high tech military equipment company. The F90 is produced by the Australian subsidiary company and is similar to the F88 assault rifle, the Australian version of the Stey AUG developed by the Australian program LAND 125 Soldier Combat System (Like US Land Warrior And french FELIN). Thales would work with the Austrian company Steyr Mannlicher in order to produce it.

A French made variant of the AR 15, produced by the “Société France Armes” for 2200 € each. Etienne Faverjon, owner of the France Armes company is also the designer of this rifle. Despite the fact that we no longer have a firearms industry, this dynamic young weapon engineer decided to start a company in France. The rifle has a “clean” gas system to avoid jams, a four positions fire selector, NATO standardised and fully compatible ammunition, very simple maintenance, ambidextrous controls, Picatinny rails and, above all, a competitive and affordable price.

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.


  • bob

    So they are in as bad a shape as the Japanese Army

  • charliedontsurf

    If you believe this is bad you guys should know how fucked the Swedish army is. We basically fight until the last Finnish soldier, then we give up (if the Russians ever come). There is no way we could even defend the capital of Sweden for more than 10 minutes.

    • Dave

      I agree that Swedish Defense Forces are badly underfunded and I think it’s partly because of a shift in doctrine, but mostly because of incompetence on behalf of senior staff and politicians.

      My guess is that modern strategy for a defending Army’s is to ambush and snipe Taliban style. It makes more sense than trying to compete in an arms race with a super power.

      And for that the sturdy old Swedish built AK4B (G3 with aimpoint) will be more than sufficient.
      (Borrowed picture for reference)

    • Sian

      I figure the Russians would know better than to try and take on the Finns again on their home turf. o.O

    • SwissFreek

      “…to the last Finish soldier…”

      I almost spit out my drink.

    • Erwos

      I feel bad for you, man, but that was the funniest comment I’ve read this week.

  • Brendan

    “Because of the lack of precision after 30 meters (32 yards) and lack of reliability, it is more or less spray and pray.”

    “A machine gun operator showing me a picture of himself fully equipped and told me that he was wearing 3000 Euros of extra equipment.”

    “…for one flying helicopter, there were two “ground helicopters” used as spare parts for the flying one.

    A Leclerc Tank pilot explained me that it was the same in his unit. Each time I talk with soldiers from different units it is the same.”

    It’s a wonder that France can still afford a defence force, let alone a service rifle modernisation.

  • Nadnerbus

    Wow. Eye opening.

    There is nothing I can say that doesn’t get pretty political, so I’ll just say I’m sorry to hear that you and your fellow soldiers are getting shafted so bad. In a country that has seen heavy fighting twice in the last hundred years, as well as a foreign occupation, that is pretty sad to hear such short shift is being paid to your armed forces.

  • Joshua

    According to google currency converter thing, 2200 Euros is equivalent to ~$2750. The per-piece cost of m16s for the US government is something like $700, $1000 at most. Does that fancy gas system improve performance by $2000 for a military that is apparently nearly broke?

    • I recently wrote about the high cost of acquisition in Japan compared to the USA. They are paying about the same for assault rifles.

      • Neez

        Yes, but this article suggests that France does not want to manufacture them locally due to such low quantities. Somehow Japan just doesn’t seem to care, they have to be made locally in low volume even at such a high price.

        The U.S. just put in a bulk order for 24,000 rifles for $675 each, add in shipping and local importation tariff’s and i’m sure france would still spend well under $1000 per rifle. I would put the extra money towards an ACOG and you’ll still be under $2000 per rifle.

        It would be dumb to go with another rifle. There aren’t any features worth the extra $1000-$1500 in price. Most left handed shooters only need to add a left handed charging handle and a ambi safety selector which will run less than $100. The U.S. army has trialed several other rifles, and continues to order the AR15 because it’s the lightest at less than 3.2kg, very accurate, easy to service, build, strip, and does everything the other rifles do even when colt was over charging them making them pay about $2000 per rifle.

  • Alex-mac

    A list of rifles and their cost to manufacture would be nice, since the FAMAS replacement will largely be a cost issue. Also this suggests the HK416 as a replacement rumour is false, due to it’s high cost.

    The cheapest rifles would be a made in china AR-15 and the AK-12 made in Russia.

    Or perhaps a licence built Daewoo K2, alot of poor countries have bought it which suggests it’s cheap. It’s by far the best tested piston AR out there.

  • Jim

    Nice article! Your english is very good!

    It is really sad to see the poor state of small arms development in France. Just comes to show that once these industries disappear, it becomes very difficult to start again.

    I have nothing but the utmost respect for the French soldier – it is a shame that they have been so poorly treated by their country and their society.

  • Nater

    Too many countries have depended for too long on the defensive shield provided by the United States.

    • Neez

      Yea, there’s a good documentary on netflix about that called “A world without US”. I didn’t realize how much bigger the U.S. military was compared to every other country COMBINED. We are so huge, and that’s because those countries rely on our presence to protect them.

    • Neez

      So why don’t the french and some of the other militaries around the world looking to update their weapons, come together and do a large group purchase. There are plenty of great off the shelf solutions available.

      The AR15 is still kickin ass, the U.S. military just put in an order for $124 million dollars to remington at $675 per rifle. The french could do the same.

      There is nothing wrong with direct impingement jamming as the french think, just buy the right ammo and lube it, you’re good to go.

      • snmp

        France have a very long experience with direct impingement with the MAS 40, MAS 44, MAS49 & MAS49/56 in many small war : Indochina, Algeria, Suez, Small war in Afrika ….

    • Mike Knox

      Well ,that’s what you say looking from inside the fence..

  • Julien, tu t’oublies de dir que Beretta (ARX-160), Heckler&Koch (G-36, HK-416) et FN (SCAR, F-2000) ont declaré leur intérêt à proposer leurs armes aussi…

    Julien, you forgot to mention that Beretta (ARX-160), Heckler&Koch (G-36, HK-416) and FN (SCAR, F-2000) publicly declared their interest to submit their own designs for the FA-MAS replacement trials…

    • GreenPlease

      Part of me is pulling for the FS2000. It’s a great rifle IMO, and I’d love to see more development work put into a decent bull-pup trigger (my theory is more rifles in circulation the more someone will work on a solution).

      That said, if I were a betting man, I’d bet on the ARX160 from Berretta. French banks own a lot of Italian debt.

      • snmp

        Yep, but they very bad experiance with Beretta 92G (or PAMAS G1) with the Flying slide in face of the servant (Like in US with the Beretta 92F). That’s an Desgin (genetic) flaw of Beretta 92 inherited from it grand fathers the Walther P38.

  • A.g.

    I confirm all on the this post.
    Same for the civilian police. Hard to have the 3 training sessions (90 cartridges/years) to be certified.
    Bullet proof vest outdated since 8 years, no more shotgun training, etc…

    • Calimero

      90 rounds a year ! Lucky you !

      I have lots of French Police officers at my gun range and some of them only get around 30 to 40 rounds a year of training+qualification.

      There’s a tremendous disparity in training across the various levels in the Gendarmerie Nationale and the National Police.

      Elite SWAT teams have extremely high round counts: the GIGN (elite SWAT team of the Gendarmerie) expands 60% of the Gendarmerie’s ammunition budget every year, while representing 0.1% of the manpower.

      I suspect the lower level SWAT teams use another 30%. And the same must probably be true with the Police National.

      Of course it’s not unexpected to have SWAT teams use lots of ammo for training.

      But on the other end of the spectrum, most police officers on the streets get a ludicrous 30-100 rounds of training/qualification each year. And “dynamic shooting” (ie: not just bull’s eye) is only a recent trend. But those very officers are first responders !

      • A.g.

        Near the capital city, internal rules are more followed, more money are injected and then the three training session are strictly observed.
        But 10 rounds for a session is a local do-it-yourself who seems “strange”. Better than nothing nonetheless.
        Many officers in small town don’t have the three sessions.
        Some city don’t have their own gun range. If the private close, no more
        training as soon a solution were find.

        Paradoxically, some services are lucky for political reasons or budgetary.
        One of my best time I have known “you’re free, you like that, you come” from a training officer
        With clearance from our one. “job done, no problem, no incidence : ok”.
        “Sergent, you agree ?”
        “Don’t wan’t to know anything until you’re not in my desk for valid reason” Real.
        You could believe that many of us find or deal between us to be free !!!
        For three months, each days of services, 12 dynamics rounds.
        Minor lack of discipline to mask budget squeezed, problems with other services, (range affected to service A in service B building, common coffe machine), : source dried.

        First responders, yes. Fortunately for majority.
        But, for seeing officer, in a smooth session without stress, who try to engage a new mag, three times without release of the empty yet inside the firearm and acting on the decocker lever when we explains the reason of the difficulty, some times you feel tired.

        Thats right too for the gign budget. Members shot 2 500 rounds by week by people. THEY are lucky.

  • Jean Luc Picard

    I did knew that our army had financial problems; and yes that’s unfortunate :(.
    However the Sig is considered to be a great weapon and is used in small quantities by some French army corps. Aside of the the F90 seems to be IMO the best logical choice, it’s bullpup like the FAMAS and more modular I think.

  • bbmg

    Fascinating yet rather depressing article.

    One suggestion Steve, given the narrow column width of this blog, wouldn’t it be better to shorten articles like this one then add a “read more” link?

  • Chucky

    One thing I never understood about the FAMAS (and the French) is why it was never really updated or improved. Most of it’s problems comes from the delayed blowback mechanism compounded by the cost and availability of special ammunition for it. I imagine a retrofit into a gas operated system would be cheaper than replacing the entire platform altogether.

    • snmp

      The FAMAS F1 Infrantry (FAMAS fisrt generation) of army have the need of steel case. FAMAS G2 of the Navay have not this need.

  • Denny

    Very good reading! Certainly, no active duty member of forces could afford this kind of “off the lungs” assesment. There is one (or two) thoughts left: is there an enemy to be worried about? And is there a sovereingty to defend? The French know the best. As somebody have said: it gets pretty quick political.

  • Sian

    Great insight to the french army situation!

    Maybe they should piggyback an order of rifles with one of their allies to bring the cost down? Or just start using HK416’s like everyone over there seems to be switching to.

    I’m sure that French servicemen are great, but if their government doesn’t give them a bit more support it’s going to bite them in the ass someday.

    • Calimero

      France has the second largest exclusive economic zone right behind the US, with territories across the globe.

      Oil was recently discovered off the coast of French Guyana during surveys.

      There are large zones abundant in fish next to small French islands in the Pacific and elsewhere.

      11 million square kilometers of exclusive economic zone but only three dozen French Navy ships to monitor them.

      All the goodwill of our grunts and marsouins won’t bend the rules of physics …

      • Kevin Berger

        Yes, the gap between what attention is given to defense, and what is asked from its capacities, mind-blowing. But again, it goes back to mismanagement due to mediocrity (no vision, just the next election) and moral cowardice (why tackle hard topics? Don’t rock the boat, besides, the next election is coming). Laughable.

  • Ed McCarthy

    Whatever you do, don’t try to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Buy one that is germain to your mission and easy to use and field strip. I should think you would look no further than FN or Sig Sauer gas piston with standard NATO ammunition and off the shelf optics.

  • Killian

    With all due respect to the French millitary, this is the outcome of socialism. You run out of other people’s money. In this case, you’re stuck with unpaid soldiers. SOLDIERS. But homeless criminals get carried by the French government. Your soldiers lack weapons and equipment, but you need those soup kitchens and shelters for those to lazy or incompetent to care for themselves.

    • West

      That is an incredibly insulting thing to say to a guest writer and has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    • William

      Bro, come on. The US ground military was in this same position in the mid 1970’s until the Gulf War in 1991. Cycles, governments, priorities, life in general.

    • lolinski

      I dont want to get political since i respect Steve and his blog but if socialism is so innefficent why did Jugoslavia work out so well(until serbian ultranationalists ruined it after Titos death)

      OT(on topic):

      Cant they just retrofit the Famas to accept Stanag mags and use a different internal mechanism since delayed blowback isnt very reliable(especially having to use special ammo)

      • Erwos

        You can’t really swap the internal mechanism… the whole receiver, bolt, and barrel assemblies are built around it. You can sometimes get away with converting a gun to blowback, but that’s about it. And, in this case, they’re going the opposite direction – from blowback to a piston or DI system.

        The French need a whole new gun. The FAMAS was good for its time, but the shooting world has moved on. I would personally bet on the Thales F90 winning the contract.

  • alannon

    Julien, your English is actually better than a rather disturbing number of English-primary posters I see on the internet.

    It reminds me of something a friend of mine that served with French troops said: The French have great troops, terrible officers, and execrable politicians. It seems Julien has a similar opinion, at least as regards the military/law enforcement.

    The article is interesting, and brings to my mind the question: Why not purchase from the US industry? I’m sure any trade concerns can be worked around, and quite honestly even if the cost per-rifle doubled from the civilian market, the French military could still purchase 2-3 high-quality, direct-impingement rifles for the apparently replacement costs they’re facing now. Most of the rifles at the local place are $600-700, flattop, M4-based; even adding in an optic at $600 or so, it still seems (on the surface, as international economics nor trade politics are a specialty of mine) cost-effective. Worse come to worse, purchase civvie ARs, build drop-in auto-sears in-country.

    • Alex-mac

      If they are going to get an AR might as well buy from Norinco China, much cheaper.

    • S O

      The U.S. industry and government don’t accept offset rules in arms purchases. The only somewhat fair cooperation happens when foreigners become involved during the development phase.

      Without offset rules, the U.S. would not buy French hardware in return, and this means the French would have to send their money abroad without any returns than the purchased goods.

      This is significant, for if the French government buys French products about half of the purchase price will return as government revenues through taxation, less unemployment benefits to be paid et cetera.

      To buy foreign products without an offset deal means to pay double price (if all else is equal).

      A Thales F90 or a FNH F2000 with offset deal could thus easily be cheaper than a comparable AR-15 version from the U.S..

      • Alex-mac

        Although the F90 was developed by Thales, it was done in Australia by Thales Australia. And given the lack of mass firearm weapon production facilities in France the F90 would be built in Australia and maybe Austria where Steyr resides.

    • snmp

      With AR15/M16/M4 that’s not the direct-impingement that ‘s the rifle could not launch an rifle grenade.

  • Spade

    So, does that mean FAMAS parts kits are coming some day?

    • JMD

      Don’t count on it. Even if they do make it over here, they’ll be beat to hell.

  • SwissFreek

    I can’t help but think I’ve heard of the “end of year credits” scheme before. Who ever brings ammo back from the range? Just last week i requested 4,000 rounds for my boys and got 10,000. For 10 dudes. That situation is not unique to France.

    • S O

      In my country it’s known as “Dezemberfieber” (December fever).

    • Nadnerbus

      A scene from the movie Falling Down comes to mind, where he accuses a city worker of tearing up the street during rush hour to justify their budget. “If you don’t spend all the money in your budget, you don’t get as much next year.”

      In the US, surplus ammunition can no longer be sold to the public without being “de-milled.” Not that it is going to go bad if they store it for a while. I’m sure contract deals with the ammo manufacturers play a role too. If the Lake City plant needs to produce X millions of rounds a year to pay the bills and keep the workers in staff, the military will make sure they do to keep them around and in business for when the need really arises, like keeping shipyards open with make-work as a strategic hedge against wartime need.

    • Burning up ammo and end of the year funding is a prevelent issue in the U.S military as well. I was at Fort Bragg a couple of years back and I had the audacity to try to return boxed, never fired, sealed and taped up ammo back to the ammo point. After a whole two days of bureacratic hell trying to return it, I vowed never again to save the military any money after that.

  • Leonard

    Dear Julien,
    Excellent post and don’t worry about your English, it is perfectly legible and understandable.

    The situation you describe is very similar to that in many European militaries. In your neighbouring Germany (where I come from), we have not exactly the same problems, but similar ones.
    The main thing our countries have in common is that our militaries have been shrinking since the Cold War is over, and the budgets have shrunk along with them. The current economic crisis is making things worse, despite France and Germany still being among the better-off countries.

    I think what we should do is work together more closely. We already have a common Franco-German brigade. We should expand on that and buy future equipment together, to make use of the economies of scale. I know we’re already doing that (Airbus A400M or Eurofighter Typhoon for example), but even those projects suffer from the same bureucratic problems (e.g. the Eurofighter was designed as an interceptor…but whose enemy bombers is it going to intercept? Nobody but Allies around France and Germany these days…).

    In the end, I think all of us Europeans need to stick together more as far as the military is concerned. Nobody of us wants to fight each other again, right? So there is no need for keeping seperate militaries. A joint European military would be much more cost effective and powerful than dozens of seperate ones.

    I know this post was pretty political, but I hope it is okay with Steve (since it’s about non-US foreign policy rather than gun laws). If not, feel free to delete it, Steve.

    • AnoSymun

      Politics would never allow for that. Not to be offensive to either country, but France is much more bellicose and active in foreign affairs than Germany. The former like to keep involved in world matters, especially with regards to former colonies, while the latter just wants to sit comfortably in the centre of Europe and make money (among other things, selling arms).

      The morality of letting other nations fight one’s battles aside, Germany has a good thing going at the moment. In some ways, they’re almost the Britain of the 21st Century: Finance others to fight inconveniences for you and only get involved when absolutely necessary. They’d be foolish to suddenly risk their soldiers’ lives and coffers by joining them with the French and exposing them to the results of a much more dangerous foreign policy.

      A joint Franco-German military would be even more paralysed than each army is at the moment already.

    • RocketScientist

      I am hesitant to post this as it borders on the political, but I cannot help but point out that your ‘Pan-European Military’ already exists in the form of NATO. Which is another way of saying the US military. I am always confused when people who accuse the US of being a bellicose nation point out how much higher our defense spending is compared to other developed nations. The fact is that our commitment to the rebuilding of Europe after WWII and our support of NATO has left us a legacy where we, as the principal contributor to NATO, have been subsidizing a majority of Europe’s defense needs for the last 60 years. Look at any NATO action that has taken place near the outskirts of Europe, and notice the percentage of funding, personnel and equipment that are contributed by the US. Under these conditions, it is no surprise that individual nations have let their defense spending slip to the point where they are faced with the problems described by our guest author.

      This is not to say I agree with our government’s role as world-police and protector of all. In fact I favor a role for our armed forces as envisioned by our founders: a small standing army that can be supplemented in times of war by a broad rank of trained citizen-soldiers, and whose sole function is the defense of our nation and her national interests abroad, NOT peacekeeping missions all over the globe, or regime-change invasions or pre-emptive attacks in the name of national security. But I won’t get into that, as that DEFINITELY delves into politics.

      • Leonard

        @Rocket Scientist:
        You are correct that NATO (and thus the US) has played a large role in European defense politics since WWII. And the burden hasn’t been shared equally, with the US shouldering most of it despite Europe having a greater population (and its our own continent we’re supposed to defend).

        I think this rather highlights the need for a unified European military force. The individual nations are each to small and too financially powerless to finance a fully-capable military force (except us Germans maybe, but everybody would be highly upset if we set up a strong military on our own, due to history. And we’ve become a pretty pacifist people anyways). Such forces could (and imho, should) still be allied with the US and Canada as part of NATO. But the US would no longer have to intervene in (near-)European conflicts such as the Yugoslav wars or Libya, or at least not in the same extent as they did.

        The age of interventionism is about to end, as everyone (even the US) is lacking the financial means to keep it up, and the results in Iraq or Afghanistan aren’t really positive enough to encourage further interventions (Syria is a case in point: Despite a much stronger humanitarian reason for intervention, everyone is reluctant to do so. Because we’re overstretched already and because things might get pretty ugly there…especially considering Syria’s main ally is Iran). And I think it is far easier to have all European nations agree on a common defense rather than common interventions. So defense should be the cornerstone of such a unified European military.

    • Spade

      I dunno about the politics of the whole thing, but common equipment across parts of Europe makes sense, especially from a bulk buy sense.

      Everybody has “not built here” syndrome though to some extent.

  • Aurelien

    One thing has to be clear, most armies in the modern world are flat broke.

    First because of post-cold war budget cuts. The evolution of European armies (less people, better trained) did not make the cuts disapear into thin air.
    So far the only army not to get huge cuts have been the US Army, but that’s at the expense of pretty much everything else. In Europe funding went from protecting the country against the Red menace to funding the country itself. Not that the countries are doing that well currently, but that’s another debate.

    The French army is not doing well. I got information that the AMX-10RC (wheeled tank) is pretty much at 25-30%running capacity, so 3/4th of the parks can’t even drive around at any time. Helicopters, MBTs, IFVs, pretty much the same story.

    No money + no new equipements in 10 years of conflict = worn out equipement and broke army.

    That’s why if/when the French Army is gonna replace the FAMAS it will be off the shelf.
    The other reason is because France has no mass-production capacity in small arms.
    And even the FA-MAS was already pretty much finished product when it was chosen. It wasn’t some off-the-ground program.

    Julien : The navy’s FA-MAS is the G2. The F2 never got anywhere after the prototype.

    • Sid


      You have not been keeping up with recent events. The US military is slashing the work force and eliminating many weapon systems purchases. 1/6th of the standing army will be eliminated. Each service chief had to decide which to cut, people or equipment. There are plenty of vehicle, aircraft, boat, and weapons that will not be purchased or upgraded. And there are plenty of soldiers, sailors, and airmen looking for work.

      • Aurelien

        Still, the US Defense budget is bigger than the few next countries in line combined.
        It’s nowhere near where it would be if it had been reduced as much (comparder to country size) has European defense budget have.

        That’s what i was saying. Sorry it wasn’t clear.

    • abprosper

      Interesting article. I had no idea the French military was that poor a shape.

      As a side note tight domestic gun control means no gun culture (in the positive American sense not the negative criminal one) and little domestic market for arms or interest in them.

      Since there are few to no reliable buyers in times of peace there is little money or people for development.

      Its understandable why there might be troubles

      However France could do itself a favor by avoiding wars of opportunity like Afghanistan) . Its a blow to national prestige but less humiliating I think than a spavined war machine.

  • AnoSymun

    On a different note, how is the performance/reliability of the French Eurocopter Tigers? I remember reading in the mid/late-2000s that the Germans sent theirs back after discovering that there were a number of important cables which were chafing and as such enormously decreased the safe flight hours.
    The French didn’t have that problem, or at least didn’t voice any concern. Is there any non-classified news with regards to that? Did the French not have that problem or did they work around it somehow?

  • Esh325

    I’m sorry to hear the French army is in such bad shape. I always thought they were well funded. Hopefully the French will go with the indigenous AR15 rifle.

  • James

    Julien, thanks for taking the time write this up.

    Nothing that hasn’t been covered, but your english is fine. It was also very interesting to get a different point of view on the French military situation.

    Pretty eye-opening.

  • Reverend Clint

    if they were smart they would buy some 2nd hand m-4’s and then the US could use that money to buy SCAR-H or L for special forces

    • AnoSymun

      Would be a great deal for the Americans, but how the heck would it be smart for the French?

      • Reverend Clint

        cheaper since they apparently shop at the military wing of the salvation army

    • GreenPlease

      Didn’t the U.S. army just buy ~100,000 M4s from Colt for ~$600/apiece? Why can’t the French get a similar deal?

      • Harald Hansen

        Any arms deal you read about usually includes not only the hardware itself, but spare parts, logistics support, training, end-of-life etc etc. The M4 deal you referenced was probably just the rifles, as the US military is already set to handle the M4.

  • Foetus

    Let’s buy some AK12 from Izhmash 😀

    • nick

      As much as I would love to see a nato country adopt the ak12, I don’t think it will ever happend.

      But if the french adopt it, they would rock

  • bob

    Why was the upgrade to the G2 so limited.

    • Aurelien

      The G2 was not an upgrade but a colplete build from scratch. The Navy and Air Force went for the G2 because – according to my sources in both services – their F1s were already pretty trashed. The Armys F1s, on the other hand, were better maintained by the troops and as a result were in better shape, so the high command did not see the need to waste any money on it.
      Plus France wasn’t a NATO country and the COld War was already over, so no need to spring for a NATO-compatible rifle.

      • Brick

        France is a founding member of NATO.

      • Aurelien

        Yes, but not in the 90s, when the G2 was introduced.

  • Timothy Yan

    mmm…, at least the Japanese SDF paid their troops a living wage. Also their Navy & AF is one of the best in the world.

  • RickH

    Good article. Interesting that the FAMAS action is so hard on “brass”. In comparison with the old HK G series, they both have fluted chambers to ease initial extraction, but the roller locking bolt action of the HK must be a bit easier on the cases then the delay lever action of the FAMAS. The HK is still pretty violent, but the only damage to the cases that I’ve seen when I owned several was due to ejection, the case hitting the ejection port (if you didn’t run a case buffer).

  • AR

    Does the Foreign Legion suffer from the same lack of equipment like the regular army? I wonder what’s the ratio of regular army vs. Foreign Legion troops in a hot zone like Afghanistan.

    • A.g.

      Many reasons.

      1/ Spirit :
      “Legion is an elite, stronger than other corps. We do better with less. We don’t complain”

      2/ Disciplinary
      From 1/, discipline is harsh. Really harsh. The soldiers understand quickly to became quiet, discret, follow order and nothing else. A good way to shut complain when you cut funds for supply.

      3/ Troops origin : Almost all soldiers comes from countries (many easterns) where Legion are far away better than they could know in the country of birth. Even with bad condition who was worst than “regulars” troops that’s always better.

      Perhaps 4/ Numbers of task and environment
      Due to the specificity and expertise they are more needed and meet more difficult environment who deteriorates véhicules and equipment quickly.

  • FailBlog

    I agree with the (stupidly down voted) comment about lefty socialism being at blame.

    As a former hardcore lefty, I understand their mindset.

    They loathe militaries and soldiers in general. They think they’re primitive remnants of our more lizard brained past and nature. And that their only purpose is to murder brown people in 3rd world countries in order to steal their natural resources.

    And they believe in internationalist, wealth sharing government.

    Their wet dream is to create a UN on steiroids or a global EU where we’re all governed by a central body of “liberal” intellectual elites. They want to tax the rich and the middle class into oblivion and spread the wealth evenly to the poor/lazy/minorities/women and from rich countries to poor countries.

    They also support mass immigration and multiculturalism so we’re all one big tan glob of sameness. That way we won’t want to fight each other or be nationalistic/racist.

    We all better hope that their global socialist utopia isn’t a total fantasy or we’re all in for a really bumpy ride…

    I fully expect the last half of the 21st century to be much like the first half of the 20th century with global strife due to civilizational demographic implosions and the rise of China, islam and the 3rd world.

    As France only exists geographically and not racially/culturally by the end of this century, it won’t be worth fighting for anyway. So no worries when it comes to having a crap military.

    • John Doe

      As a current (somewhat) hardcore lefty, there are definite problems with the socialist mindset. I’m not a fan of how they really view the armed forces/law enforcement. They like to think that violence is a barbaric practice that’s completely unnecessary and avoidable, and that we should all be able to live without self-defense and the like. It’s pretty disgusting.

      But quiz me on immigration or anything else, my opinion will be different. But as a liberal, I’m a believer in maximum individual rights, and that includes guns (and more guns). But this is probably too much politics for this blog.

      • GreenPlease

        Check out The Territorial Imperative. Anthropologists hated it at first but now it’s widely accepted as its implications have widely been upheld by evolutionary psychology.

    • Nadnerbus

      The down votes probably had less to do with disagreeing with the sentiments, and more to do with whether it was the time or place for them. Though the nature of the article pretty much guarantees that they will come up.

      Firearms, not politics, etc.

    • Brick

      “This comment has sparked a hot debate! What do you think?”

      Well, I think “FailBlog” has never been a “lefty socialist”. I think he or she listened to Beck and people like him a bit too much and has absolutely NO clue whatsoever about France.

      What does the French military problem have to do with socialism? Chirac and Sarkozy and therefore the presidents of France since 1995 are by no means socialists. The socialists took other a few months ago. Seriosly, how can one be so stupid and blame them for this decade old problem? Sarkozy and multiculturalism? WTF? Just WTF?!

      Anyways back to the question at hand: what rifle will the French government choose? I personally find it highly unlikely, that they will go for the HK, which was at one point brought up in this blog as a possibility. Many German/French military projects have failed. Beginning with Leo-AMX 30 and ending in the Eurofighter and PARS. Eurocpoter Tiger is the exception. France is one of two NATO countries, that do not use the German 120 mm Rheinmetal cannon on their MBTs. I think this is at least to some degree due to French nationalism. This will IMO most likely lead to chosing a partner from another more likely smaller country. Steyr seems very plausible to me. Some French engineering on that rifle and it will be an easy (political) sell. Or somewhat less likely an AR15 with a French upper reciever. Choosing an all German gun will lead to the introduction of that rifle during the next election, giving the rightwing a real easy point to attack. So thats not gonna happen in my opinion. Since the difference in performance of the NATO rifles is minor it boils down to a political and price question. It doesn’t look good for HK in both areas since it would be a totally foreign gun that’s rather pricy.

      • FailBlog

        European Right-wingers are a joke. Being slightly to the Right of the far-Left socialists who dominate Euopean politics does not make one a proper Right-winger. Just because a couple of French Presidents have been considered “Right-wing” doesn’t change the fact that they were governing over countries that are solidly socialist. Cameron in the UK for example is considered to be a “Right-wing” “Conservative” (*snort*) for European/British standards, but he’s really nothing of the sort and he’s still governing over a very socialist society.

        And Sarkozy – and other “Right-wing” leaders in Europe – were only denouncing multiculturalism to win over far-Right voters. It’s mere talk. They aren’t really doing anything concrete to combat mass immigration or “multiculturalism” (islamification/3rd worldization).

    • Kevin Berger

      Predictions/projections of what will be in say 10 years are almost always proven dead wrong in hindsight, at least based on a general recollection of what is made available to the lay person. Even when events are set in motion willingly, law of unintended consequences and all.
      And you KNOW what will be in 100 years? Impressive. You’re in 1912, and looking with certainty at 2012, just think about it.

  • Brandon

    Hopefully the French can get HK, FN, Beretta and a whole slew of other companies in a bidding war to provide a quality replacement for the FAMAS at an acceptable price point.

    It is shameful that they send soldiers to Afghanistan so ill-equipped.

    • GreenPlease

      My bet is on Berretta. French banks own a lot of Italian debt (both public and private).

  • Distiller

    Since none of the European nation state forces are capable of full spectrum warfare anymore the obvious way ahead are Unified European Forces.
    Btw, it’s not so much that the forces are broke, it’s a total political-military disconnect paired with way too large forces sizes.
    But on topic: Realistic off-the-shelf options are FN SCAR L/H/PR, with the H&K 416/417/G28 a somewhat distant second. Don’t think any SIG or Thales-Steyr or Beretta oddballs are desirable. And the Russians … well, that requires a political revolution first.

    • Nadnerbus

      A unified European military would require a unified European body politic. Since the EU is not there yet as a political institution, and personally deeply worries me at its lack of democratic grounding, I don’t think a unified Euro military is coming any time soon.

      Different nations, different aims.

      • RocketScientist

        To both of you, Europe already HAS a unified military force, and HAS for the last 50 years. It’s called NATO, and consists mostly of US equipment, funds and manpower. Read my post below, the US subsidized Europe’s recovery from WWII and the defense of their borders, and has continued to do so since.

      • Aurelien

        RocketScientist, France was not a full-fledged NATO member from 1966 to 2009.
        That’s in a way what made it appear “better” than the surronding countrie’s, because it held its own without US support and bases.

        There is a European defense force, but it’s pretty much only on paper and will be until Europe becomes a federalized system and not a group of fully independant countries.

      • RocketScientist

        Yes, they de-integrated their military forces from NATO’s in the 60’s when DeGaulle got his ‘collant’ in a twist over his perceptions of American dominance (ONE thing he got right). They removed their army from NATO integrated command, and established different standards for equipment to maintain an independent military. But they have always been full signatories of the treaty. This means they knew that if they were ever attacked/invaded they could count on full commitment of NATO forces to their defense (so still benefited politically/financially in regards to defense planning/expenditure). In fact, after their de-integration France and the US made arrangements for the rapid re-integration of french military forces into the NATO command hierarchy and supply chains, in the event of open conflict with the soviets OR in the event of an invasion of central Europe by any party. So the French didn’t quit NATO, they said they wanted their military to be independent of it, and even then not if it was called on to defend France itself.

  • Big Daddy

    These countries do not spend money on their armies because they know they can hire the US Army to fight their wars.

    Why did we invade Iraq?

    Why are we still in Afghanistan after the actual forces responsible for 9/11 were defeated?

    Who did they call to take out Saddam’s forces the first time, the USA.

    So since WWI it has been the USA to come and bail everybody out when there’s a war.

    I know this statement will get downrated but it is the 100% truth, it’s there in History.

    • Big Daddy

      Only 2?

    • GreenPlease

      Some call it a Pax Americana, some call it American Hegemony.

    • Jim

      Although I don’t entirely agree with him, it’s true.

      Since the start of the Cold War and even more so now, NATO relies on America. Like how we had to supply NATO aircraft munitions because they were running out from bombing Libya.

      At least Japan seems to be even thinking about the idea of strengthening their military amongst territory claims from China, Russia and South Korea.

      • Big Daddy

        Only 18….LMAO.

        It’s the truth……..try reading some history.

        Why were we in Korea? NAM? Why are we always fighting in places 1000’s of miles away? Grenada, Panama before that many years ago the Philippines, look at all the little wars that nobody even cals a war our troops are there. What where we doing in Somalia?

      • AnoSymun

        As much as some of you might bitch now, trust me: You wouldn’t like European states with independent full spectrum militaries.

        You complain now because you feel Europe doesn’t back you up enough, but how would you feel if Europe was strong enough to pursue its own foreign policy? If it didn’t have to rely on/consult with America for intervention? I would hope that at least some of you remember the Suez Crisis from High School History?

        Throughout the Cold War, and especially with Suez, the US made it perfectly clear to “Free” Europe that independent action was not welcome. Weak and dependant on the US, most of the countries complied, effectively submitting themselves and accepting a vassal role to America.

        Now, throughout the Cold War, as long as they still had someone to “truly” fear, they kept up powerful militaries because they weren’t sure that even America had the forces (in Europe) to be able to stop the PACT armies. But nowadays? America would hardly tolerate a European country just going off on military adventures without their permission anyway, not just in the Western hemisphere but anywhere in the world. So why bother?

        Nukes provide sufficient deterrent for “serious” conflicts to escalate, America deals with peripheral annoyances, Russia doesn’t have any reason to invade Europe any longer, anyway, and the rest of the world still couldn’t take on Europe offensively. So why re-arm?

        We don’t have a (truly) independent foreign policy, we don’t have any real threats and we don’t have societies hawkish enough to be willing to spend 14% of our GDP (p.c.) to upkeep powerful armies regardless. And let’s face it: America is really quite happy with having the Europeans as fat and lethargic vassals rather than having to really deal with them as equal partners (diplomatic niceties aside) with the will and capacity to act independently if they wanted.

      • Kevin Berger

        @ AnoSymun
        Re suez, this brings one of my silly pet theories to my mind. The suez crisis was basically the USA and the USSR saying to the “old powers” they had them under their duopoly, and they’d better behave, or be whacked on the nose with a rolled newspaper.

        The brits reacted as brits do, and said, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, so they reactivated the “churchillian” idea of the “Special Relationship” nobody was taking seriously then because UK Strong!1!, and have been increasingly addicted to it, to the point of now being an US appendix (I joke, but not that much, go through the 2003-on online newspapers, op-eds, essays,… and you’ll find many an english or even US pundit, thinker, academician,… decrying the british loss of sovereignty and one-sided “SR”).

        The french reacted as french, and went their bloody-minded way, “screw you, guys, I’m going home”, suez plus Dien Bien phu plus the US support to algerian decolonization, so they made their Force de Frappe and all to get them some strategic leverage.
        And the israelis reacted like jews in an antisemite joke; the USA? How much? What, so little to buy a congress critter? We’ll take two dozens! More seriously, they went on and developped their own “special relationship” with the top dog, and now have it backing them up.

        So, in the big prison yard that is the world, the brits set themselves as a bitch (but they’re kissed on the mouth from times to times, so it’s all good), the french went to pout and do their own stuff in their cell (and the anglosphere gang bully them because they’re too chicken), and the israelis made friend with (or bought, if you’re cynical) the big bodybuilded ‘roid head to get his protection, if you wish.

      • Kevin Berger

        Still @ AnoSymun
        Re the european armed forces, that’s quite true, the “USA” (scare quotes because different people want different things, in the US power structure) do NOT want an independently capable “Europe” – just think of the JSF debacle, aimed at 1) killing whatever is left of european defense industries, and 2) unifying the european airforces under an US-dominated, US-regulated, US-led airframe.
        Back in the early 90’s, when France and Germany made some noise about creating some common forces, everything was made by the USA/NATO to kill it (whatever still exists to this days are paper-only forces, nothing more).

        With the last decade war(s), there’s been a gap between the need for allies (spelled “auxiliary troops”, “suppletives”,…) and the aversion against STRONG allies.

        The post cold war drawdown of the european armed forces, which were real, numerous, actual, capable forces, no matter what the current revisionist History is, may have been a boon to the USA as it dreamed itself as the “sole super-power” (well, the Beltway did, not so sure about Joe six-pack, the Us people themselves do not seem to have an imperialistic streak and much prefer to leave alone and be left alone, they weren’t even hot to invade Canada, muhc to the chagrin of their betters)…
        But, still, I can’t help to wonder if the US army brass didn’t end having second throughts about it; who knows what’s coming up next in this still-young century? Might be that the need for capable ALLIES might be sorely felt by the USA. As James Cagney put it “I ain’t that tough, after all…” Suppletives on a leash don’t cut it.

      • AnoSymun

        @Kevin Berger
        I see we would get along just fine 😉

    • Aurelien

      That’s not all true but not all false either.

      The thing is that the US has positionned itself as the “gendarme of the world” : bases everywhere, huge army, fights “injustice” and the awful communists. And people that want to steal oil from them.
      So the other countries just adapted.
      Why run a full sized army if you have US bases at your borders ? In case of an attack, you can just let the US take the hit and go help after.

    • AnoSymun

      Why did Bush jr. invade Iraq? Plenty of theories, ranging from Bush wanting to continue his daddy’s work to oil companies to just general warmongery. I’d be curious how you’d trace either Gulf War back to the Europeans.

      Why are you still in Afghanistan? You broke it, you own it. You’re definitely not still there as favour to the Europeans if that’s what you’re trying to imply. If anything, Afghanistan simply provided a nice distraction when you “withdrew” from Iraq, a second chance to prove that you can win an insurgency. Though that doesn’t seem to work out, either.

      “Bailing everyone out when there’s a war” sounds so generous. More accurate statement would be “assuring that your horse in the race wins when it doesn’t look that way without your own participation” – after all, “everyone” would imply the Axis/sympathizer nations, too.

    • Big Daddy

      Excellent point AnoSymun.

    • Big Daddy

      Only 28 down rated…wow I thought there would be a lot more. I really suggest y’all read history. The real story not the BS the media and our school systems feed us.

      When I was in school they made it seem like we won WWII all by ourselves, nobody mentioned the Russians.

      When I started to study history I realized what we did on D-Day was NOTHING compared to what the Russian had to fight against. We landed 150,000 troops they attacked with millions of troops and thousands of tanks.

      Find out the facts people, enlighten yourself. You wont like the truth, I didn’t but I accepted it and embraced it because it was the truth.

      • Aurelien

        Well yes you’re right, the US (mostly comentator, politicians and so on) tend to try and make believe that they won WWI and WWII by themselves whereas in France (from what i remember from my time in school) it was shown as a collective effort. Everyone did his small part to kick some german/japanese butt.

        After all at the time the French military apparatus was a huge part of the US strategy in Europe in the 40s, as well as French partisans inside the occupied regions. As a matter of fact in both conflicts the american soldiers saw their work as some kind of dept-paying for the independance.

        The russians got bumped out of the history books because they were the enemy right after (and competitors during WWII), but they suffered huge losses and inflicted tremendous pain to the German army with the technical help of the west (tanks, trucks and so on…).

    • Brom

      I don’t remember they Americans coming to bail us out in the Falklands?

      An I also note the arrogant dismissing of the UK in that. A nation that support the USA in the wars mentioned and far more besides yet the US seems to show very little reciprocal loyalty quite happily shafting us if theres a buck or two in it for them.

      • Neez

        Falklands was a territorial dispute, not really a political one. But the U.S. offered plenty of indirect support in the way of military exuipment and supplies to the brits. You have to keep in mind this was during the cold war, so the U.S. was afraid of getting involved and the argentinans turning to the U.S.S.R for help. Then the cold war would have greatly escalated over some stupid islands without any real resources? Why did people die over those islands?

  • Daniel

    Julien, your English is just fine. As a fellow francophone, though, I have to point out something kind of funny. Your cadence is still very French, and if you put your text into Google translate, it actually spits out (almost entirely) legible French.

    Thanks for your article. For all the American criticism of the military industrial complex, it’s easy to forget that the opposite is sometimes just as scary. While people can argue about some things, there are some that I think should go without saying — like paying soldiers and providing body armor (and ammo!). If you have to send soldiers to war, you should at least send them in well-equipped and certain of their families’ security.

  • Ryan

    Regardless of the politics, this was an interesting read!

  • gilgoul

    First of all I’d like to congratulate Julien on a most impressive post.

    I have nothing to add but a few anecdotes from my own service almost 20 years ago that may help to illustrate Julien’s post, and maybe bring on some perspective as I have since moved to a different country where I serve in the reserves.

    concerning the famous tête de mickey (those tiny pieces in the bolt assembly that determine the side of brass ejection), they had a bad tendency to rust very quickly in tropical condition, I have also witnessed some extractor breakage maybe due to the particular “violent” ejection on the FAMAS F1. (it seems to be a tendency quite honestly, as the ejection on the ANF1 is also quite hard)
    To palliate to this problem, we would carry in our cleaning kit an extra “mickey mouse head”.
    As of the general handling of the weapon, it is definitely not bad, the ergonomics are generally good besides a major flaw (security wise) in the selector design as it sits inside of the trigger guard but Julien covered that already.
    I witnessed a legionnaire accidentally shooting a three round burst though the roof of a truck because of that and his own “loose” trigger discipline.

    As of the budget renewal issue, this particular feat, already related to me by my father and uncle who served in Algeria in the 1958-1961 period, this unfortunately hadn’t changed by 1993-94-95, thus I had to put myself and a driver thru the excruciating boredom of VBL driving in rounds around base to make sure we’d have the same fuel allotment for the next year, and at the end of an overseas deployment, we CO’s, NCO’s and brigadiers (corporals) had the time of our life shooting close to 30000 rounds just because while we could fly them in, we apparently couldn’t fly them back to the “metropole” (while most of the rounds were still in their sealed plastic bandoleers).

    Just a word on the possible break-away from the bull-pup rifles. with the years I gathered a bit of experience handling the AR15 family of rifles, everything from vietnam-era m16 (not even the a1) to the trijicon scoped m4a1 going throught the CAR15 and m16 shorty with m203), but none of the piston versions nor their german interpretation.

    Well, the m16 is much better than it’s reputation, it is a great platform with so much after market adaptations and accessories that it surely is the most sensical and affordable weapon platform nowadays in the 5.56 NATO caliber.
    Also, most of the bad behaviour I have witnessed and experienced was due to bad magazines.

    I leave behind the debate between the m193 ball and the m894 ball (SS109) as it is not relevant for a NATO country but it should be noted that this issue is still alive among some armed forces, to interesting conclusions.

  • Peter Ball


    All armies have their f-ups, nuances, and crazy rules. Even the US…God knows the US armed forces are one of the first when it comes to idiotic rules. Such is the life in any bureacracy.

    The problem with the French Army is that it’s stuck in fake tradition, it only remembers its past glory and forgets is recent debacles, and worst of it all, it’s at the mercy of a Parliament in which the military is looked down upon as a three-headed stepchild.

    As long as the French think that the Franco-solution is best, that the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” option is worse, and that everything has to be “polyvalent” (you know exactly how badly that word is regularly used in the French armed forces), your military will be one that is manned by brave men with crappy systems led by an inept government.

    C’est la vie.

    • Kevin Berger

      Yes and no.
      A cultural revolution may be (is) needed for the french armed forces. Still, looking back at the “recent debacles” as you call them, I can see those cultural revolutions. The Indochina war, the algeria war, the 1970’s “privateers” wars, all were marked by the french army re-inventing itself, not to even mention the rapid 1944 refounding, or the 1914 transformation under fire (literally). So, no, I’m not that worried here, and I don’t think that the “anglo-saxon” model is needed neither.

      You write “c’est la vie”, that’s absolutely right, the FAF as they are now are a reflect of the time, a reflect of France, its post-60’s relationship with itself and its institutions. What they will be later on, who knows? But they will be the reflect of their times, then as well – let’s say that if algeria war v2.0, Cold War v2.0 or anything unpleasant like that comes, people will adapt. La fonction crée l’organe, as you know. What worries me is the “soil” (people, industries, minds, ressources,… those can’t be changed/replaced easily), not the gear nor the money poured in.

  • Stella

    Would being able to use standard (brass cased) NATO 5.56 drive down costs for the French military?

  • Martin


    What the French army needs (and the British) is the good old reliable Lee Enfield, still in use in many parts of the world!

    • Leonard

      I suppose your comment was meant as a joke (some others didn’t, judging by the downvotes), but I will still give a serious answer to it.

      Reliability isn’t the only issue. Or we Germans would still be fielding the K98k. Or better yet, would buy the K31 from our Swiss neighbours. But we don’t and there’s a reason for that. Or rather, lots of reasons.

      First: Volume of fire. Military research has determined pretty early that volume of fire is essential for defeating the enemy. War is not primarily about killing the enemy soldiers (for which well aimed single shots with Enfields, K98s or similar are just as well suited if not better than modern assault rifles) but about forcing the enemy into retreat or surrender. And that is best achieved by superiority in firepower (and superior tactics to bring your firepower to bear). And even if you are well trained with your Enfield, you cannot fire more than 10 somewhat accurate shots per minute with it, after which you have to reload anyways. And while the sustained rate of fire is the same as with an M16 (we had an article about overheating guns not long ago here, mentioning the number of 12-15 shots per minute of continous fire being the maximum that can be sustained with an M16), you can achieve a much greater volume of fire over short periods. And reload more ammo much more quickly. Recoil is also much less than it was in WWII carabines, making the guns easier to handle. And so on.

      In short, modern assault rifles make it much easier to bring your firepower to bear than classic WWII rifles. I own both because as a sports shooter I don’t have to fight, but if I would have to I would probably still prefer my AR-15 over my K31 or K98.

  • John Koh

    Hi Julien,

    Excellent article and your mastery of the English language is excellent. Strange that you mentioned Etienne Faverjon, I did not hear much about him after a military forum (can’t remember which) linked to a YouTube presentation of his ARES assault rifle concept sometime back. It appeared to me to be very much based on the long stroke operating system of the AR-18 but with a reciprocating charging handle. I do not know whether his current AR-15 variant uses direct impringement or a short stroke piston but learnt from a Google search that he was injured in a robbery attempt sometime in July this year. As someone who transitioned from the M16S1 to SAR-21 during my reserve training a few years back, I did not know that the FAMAS had its’ full automatic selector at its’ rear like the SAR-21 unlike the Tavor TAR-21 or the SA-80 which is a major inconvenience especially when you are used to the M-16 system.

  • Kevin Berger

    All in all, seems like a good overview, not much to add nor substract.

    Still, lest some new internet meme be born, let me just correct the “totally inaccurate beyond 30 meters” bit, this was with one of the faulty lots back in the very beginning of the ammo debacle, and new sources have been found since for the “french” steel-cased (and higher pressure, IIRC) M193-type ammo.
    Also, the 3000 euros private gear buys issue was mostly a pre-2008 matter, nowadays, from what I’ve understood, it is back to a more “reasonable” 700-ish euros budget, mostly spent on “comfort” items (no disrespect intended here, civilian outdoor gear can often be much better than mil-gear), something that is supposed to be in the lines of what other afghanistan-bound soldiers can spend.

    IIUC, 2008 and the Uzbeen ambush really was a wake-up call, France had been part of the afghan conflict since 2001 but only through its special forces (up to 1/3rd of the manpower, before the 2003 clash and the french troops removal) and with aerial & satellites assets (IIRC, the french planes were the only non-Us planes allowed to provide CAS for Us special troops back then).
    From 2005-on, as the Detente went, french forces went back in, but in a mission that was supposed to be peace-keeping, meaning that the soldiers ambushed in Uzbeen were issued weapons and materials as if they were in Chad or Djibouti : not a nice place, might well get fired on by local assbandits, but won’t get caught in a real ambush.

    Since then, lots of efforts have been made for personal gear, and the ghetto-style, gerry-rigged Famas have been (hopefully) replaced by the Famas infantry (ghetto-style & gerry-rigged, but by the armorers). “Before”, the brass could just tell the troops to man-up, show some grit, and do what they had to do with whatever was given to them. But, in a REAL, if low-intensity, thanksfully, shooting war, the first since chad bar some isolated gunbattles and small-scale clashes in somalia and elsewhere, this simply couldn’t do anymore, so changes had to be made. In gear, tactics, protocols, mindsets, firepower,… after two, decades of peace-keeping and police actions in africa.

    Anyway, this is a factual, if a tad on the catastrophic side.
    France STILL has a functional MIC, despite the horrid mismanagement and penny-wise, pound-foulish ways that have led over the last three decades to the demise of the ammo, small arms, footwears, BDU,… french productions. France still is the world’s 3rd or 4th exporter of military equipment, depending on each particular year, after all, still has a viable, idependent nuclear deterrent (the bottom treshold is nearing, though, again due to lack of investment), still produce its high-value planes, nuclear submarines, armored vehicles, assorted costly/ruinous Cold War design legacies,…

    There IS money, France still is one of the few “credible” defense spenders in Europe. It’s simply that to “save” a few millions here, a few millions there, the “stuff” side of the defense budget has been entering a death spiral, very akin to a starved body consuming its own muscle mass after its fat reserves are depleted. Ground troops, artillery, armor,…

    Thanksfully, France is now in the very paradoxal situation of being England, IE being an “island”, with no standing or potential ennemies at its direct borders, a first in many centuries, and so can afford (for now!) to have a corresponding english-style “police force/expeditionary unit” army.

    But, still, it’s a nadir, current french ground army is new slighty below under the maximum strenght the occupying Germany allowed its 1940. Good news is that I have no doubt that ramping up could be made in less than a decade, bad news would then be that it would mean a “real” war (no disrespect intended neither), not a war of choice, half a world apart.

    It’s mismanagement, but not because of “socialism”, rather because of COWARDICE. Not the “innate, intrinsic cowardice of the French”, but the moral cowardice of the politicians who know the army won’t protest, the moral cowardice of the military brass, kept in line with an obscene top-heavy structure (the all-volunteers army is now 16 years old, and in retrospect, one could cynically guess that is was a feature, not a bug, to help swallow the bitter pill, way many chiefs, and not that many, not that well-paid and well-treated injuns), and the moral cowardice of the french population, all-too happy to be detached from the chose militaire and to relegate it to the “professionals” (contrast and compare with the swiss militia model, in crisis as it might be now, but which at least can BOTH provide good soldiering, and citizen-soldiers).

    Still, a people has leaders it deserves, that goes for France as for others, and it doesn’t bode well for our times.

  • Mike Knox

    The French, being French, would probably resort to something rather eccentric awhile conformed to their rigid preferences. They might still pick a bullpup that feeds off an AR magazine, like an F2000, TAR-21, that AUG that does so, or an L85. Why? Because they’re French..

  • bondmid003

    If you think these guys have it bad, you haven’t seen ROK conscripts. 17 year old kids with sub par gear and 30 year old Daewoo’s across their back.

  • wolf

    Wow, a very biased text…

    Some points (sorry for my english, who is very french) :

    -I never heard about the lost of the cheek rest…
    -Yes the sling is a piece of crap, but every soldiers in infantery unit have a 30$ sling, a very good one.
    -Yes there is a problem with the munitions, but a soldier who know how to shoot can hit a target at 300m without a problem…(we even train at 700m !)
    -Infantry regiments are equiped with the Famas Felin, not the F1.
    -Troops in afghanistan have kevlar helmet, ciras, moutain boots, gps, glasses (oakley !), backpack blackhawk (titan), aimpoint, acog etc etc
    -Yes you have to buy your own gloves, and in other theater like africa, it’s better to have your own tactical vest (arktis) because no ciras ! But hey, it’s the same in other countries.
    -About unpaid soldiers : in 2011, a new software was put in place to manage pay slips. No without problems, who result in some delays. Now it’s ok, all soldiers are paid.
    -For helicopters, yes there are some problems with our puma fleet, old helico ! The NH90 is coming, we have the caracal and the tiger ! About the leclerc mbt, first version had some problems, resolved since. It’s still a very high tech mbt, and expensive to operate.

    So yes, French army have some problems like any others armys, but it’s not as worse as you say…

  • Luc

    This is very biased, you dais “France has no arms industry” this is wrong, we have Nexter, Manurhin, verney-carron and PGM precision, talking about the french army being broke and having useless equipment is also wrong, france recently recieved 10000 high tech future soldier FELIN systems, i’m doubting your article.