Could The Next French Service Rifle Be… Italian?

Since the French announcement earlier this year that they would begin replacing the aging FAMAS with a new design by 2017, there has been some speculation over what design would be chosen as its replacement. One question that hovered over the heads of myself and a friend, though, was how, exactly, the FAMAS fleet – which unlike the Russian AK or American M16 and M4 fleets, has been serving the French armed forces in conflicts around the world for at least 15 years without any newly produced rifles – was being maintained in battle ready condition. Given the state of French military equipment, my friend and I both speculated that perhaps the FAMAS was not being well-maintained, and that maybe the weapons were simply well designed and manufactured enough, with enough spares in inventory, to continue serving all this time.

However, according to small arms writer Leszek Erenfeicht of Poland, Jean Huon, French military technology historian and author of the excellent Collector’s Grade books Proud Promise and Honor Bound, mentioned a couple of years ago that the French government had contracted with Beretta to overhaul their FAMAS rifles.

Could this relationship mean Beretta is a shoe-in for the French contract, or might the faults of the commercial ARX-100s carry over to the military weapons and affect their bid? Was the inside source who said the French had adopted the H&K 416, which was reported on this blog in 2012 wrong, or has the official news of that just not broken yet?

The existence of a relationship between the French government and Beretta doesn’t necessarily mean Beretta will win the French rifle contract – the now defunct St. Etienne small arms factory was well-known for being one of the most rigorous small arms testing organizations in the world (it was not unknown for companies to enter French competitions just to have their rifles evaluated there), and this rigor in procurement might carry on today. However, it does give Beretta an edge over other companies, should Beretta meet French testing standards.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • wetcorps

    If the French army got 1€ for every new rifle they are rumored to adopt next, they’d be able to actually afford it by now 🙂

  • J.J

    Of course the French would pick a P.O.S like the Baretta. Something tells me they expect to see hard use.

    • Joshua

      More like not lol. Even the Italians have not seen hard use combat with the Beretta given their ROEs of only enaging the enemy if directly fired upon.

      Its not uncommon to see us taking RPK and AK-47 fire and returning fire while the Italian guys stand around doing nothing because they have not received direct incoming.

      • Mr.T

        French do intervene around Africa a lot so rifles would see combat sooner than later .
        Italians learned its cheaper to pay off Taliban than fight them ,French were actually hit bad after taking over a supposedly quiet Italian sector in Afghanistan ,not knowing italians paid Taliban protection . Look up Uzbin valley ambush.

  • mosinman

    i wonder if the FAMAS could be updated to cure some of the issues it has. why did St. Etienne go out of business?

    • Seburo

      The G2 fixes most of them. However only the French Navy uses it. Their also flat broke the last I remember.

    • Luk

      the FAMAS G2 had been a improvement program upon the original FAMAS with modifications to make it compatible wiht nato standards but it never been distributed to the army. FAMAS has still the reputation to be mechanicaly complex and difficult to maintain on the ground.

      The Manufacture d’Armes de St Etienne was a public company, which mainly worked for the french army. Since there are several excellent european light firearms companies, I guess keeping one more company was not a very usefull.

      For political reasons, the winner will be an european company and I wouldn’t be surprised that the winning company will produce the rifles on the french territory.

      I’m wondering if the army will choose to keep a bullpup rifle. I guess it may be easier to change for a rifle with the same layout and dimensions.

      I’m also keeping in mind that the french group Thales is building the F90 in Australia, maybe a way for the french governement to buy from a french company (and choose a bullpup rifle).

      • J.T.

        I would be shocked if they didn’t go with the F90.

        • Manny Fal

          They really should, sure the F90 is expensive and ergonomically deficient, but how else are you going to make a rifle that’s usable while putting 2kg on the front? (optics, accessories and UGL)

      • Joshua

        Have to agree, my time behind the FAMAS is limited but I certainly wasn’t a fan.

        The French soldiers we traded rifles with also said they much preferred our M4A1’s after spending a day using them.

        • Josh, could you elaborate?

        • n0truscotsman

          My experiences were the same. The French liked our M4s.

          Why they wouldn’t just buy canadian C8s, ill never know.

      • Clairon

        The AIF (Arme Individuelle Future – Future Individual Weapon), the official current name for the replacement of the Famas, will not be produced in France. 90.000 units to produce isn’t big enough to start a new production espacially when you already cannot fully use your own production, like FN & HK are currently facing.
        The battle will be between HK & FN, with a small advantage to FN. The HK416 is german, it’s still remain sometime a problem for some old conservative frenchies (and you’ve a lot of them in the Douce France), and the HK416 has a kind of US DNA, another typically blocking factor in France … FN is located in the French speaking part of Belgium (can be an advantage) and FN is owned by the local Walloon government (south part of Belgium). This local walloon government is also very politically close to the actual french government (both left/labour sensibility)

    • The biggest issue the FAMAS has is that the factory that made it shut down in 2000.

      • mosinman

        yeah i’d say that’s quite an issue

  • northafrican

    • mosinman

      if i had an ARX that’s how i’d paint it.

    • Ya, the ARX-160 joins the XM8 and friends in the ranks of Freaky Fish Guns.

      • To maintain the alliteration, might I suggest: Freaky Fish Fusil.

    • Iggy

      yeah that thing better be an ergonomic wonder, because the design doesn’t really have much going for it, at least by eyeball

    • FourString

      upon entering limbo
      the doorbell sayeth: “YEW HAV BEN KEELED BY A FEEEEEESH GUN”

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    As long as it’s not French, they’ll be OK.

    Just kidding, I love the French 😉

  • Joshua

    It’s certainly a possibility that given close relations they would just pick Beretta, but they would not be doing themselves any favor imo.

    I wouldn’t put the ARX-160 in the top tier of rifle designs.

    • It has been fairly disappointing, I agree.

    • Manny Fal

      HK416 though has that icing problem, gas dial moving under fire and folding sight frozen in place due to carbon build-up. And of course it’s very expensive and heavier than average.

      In contrast the only problem the ARX-100 seems to have is a bad trigger, which can easily be fixed if specifically targeted in a contract. It’s cheaper and lighter too.

      But I think they should just adopt the Galil Ace, it’s already been adopted by active militaries, who are pleased with it’s performance no complaints. It’s popularity will also mean a market for accessories to be developed. And it comes in a variety of calibres useful for foreign operations. Also keep in mind France supplies arms to foreign nations as well, so something that’s cheap and proven for third world armies is a consideration.

      • Wetcoaster

        The folding sight is an accessory though. They could just as easily slap on A2 carry handles and an A2 foresight onto those rails if so inclined.

      • The Galil ACE has been adopted by militaries that most likely don’t rise to France’s testing standards. It’s probably a fine gun, but I’m not sure it’ll meet French requirements.

        I think one of the things likely to make or break a rifle in this competition is its suitability for launching rifle grenades.

        • Clairon

          And adopting an Israeli arm will even politicaly more difficult that a US or German one. Don’t forget that this choice will not only be technical, but also with a huge political influence, a rifle is the first military symbol, and France will have for the first time a non-French standard rifle, I can assure you that will not be easy to promote in France. So a belgian/swiss/italian or even german gun will be accepted, it’s Europe, but an Israeli weapon, absolutely impossible. But the way French army has such bad “souvenirs” about the role of some Israeli experts during the french intervention in Ivory Coast.

          • Manny Fal

            In that case I favour the CZ-805 Bren, so far i haven’t heard anything bad about it unlike it’s competitors.

        • Manny Fal

          Not true. And disproven by Australia, Britain and France having subpar rifles. Instead it works like this, the more active a military the more stringent their testing tends to be. The militaries of both Colombia and Vietnam are more active than the French military.

      • John Sjöström

        Icing problem? are you talking about that report on the ar15forum? One guy at a forum talks about a rifle and almost everyone belive in it.

        • Manny Fal

          Norwegians reported the problem, Norway being the only country to have adopted the HK416 as their standard military rifle since it’s debut 10 years ago. In contrast the Galil Ace which came out less than 5 years ago has been adopted by the military of Chile, Colombia, Vietnam abd Peru.

  • David Lowrey

    I wonder does this mean we might see some famas parts kits hit the market.

    • mosinman

      i like that idea, maybe an importer here could rebuild them and sell them for a decent price… or just sell them to enterprising individuals that will build them themselves

      • David Lowrey

        I’m just worried that the french would rather destroy them then sell parts kits to civilians. Centry might start importing them again, and supply the 922r compliant parts.

        • mosinman

          century actually imported some?! i could see them destroying them too, but if they are as broke as people say… wouldn’t they want to sell them? 😉

          • David Lowrey

            Yeah in the 1980s. Century imported 100 of them. But due to poor sales they stopped importing them. There are now less then 80 still functional, some where lost or stolen. Spare parts are also non existent. They cost about $13,000. The french have certain laws regarding the sale of military materials to civilians, so I fear they might destroy them instead of sell them.

          • mosinman

            that’s a shame 🙁

        • MR

          Exactly. In WWII, they destroyed their navy, rather than sending it to the allies. If survival isn’t a strong enough lure to distribute arms, fiscal responsibility surely holds no draw at all.

          • Tsuba

            In WWII we destroyed our navy rather than sending it to the GERMANS ( TOULON sabotage) or either the royal navy destroy a part of it (Mers el KEbir) get your facts straight

  • big daddy

    They would be better off buying an AK in 5.56mm or an IWI ACE. Especially in Africa…..that’s were they actually do fight.

  • Lance

    I think Beretta would be the best political pick for France. Face it unlike Germany and Britain Italy is in great connection to France. ARX is still better weapon than any bullpup.

    Still I think France may keeping the FAMAS for a longer time than this blog the writer states. They had this competition since 2010 and Its been a long and hot issue for this blog but not in France. The FAMAS G2 fixed the F1 problems but the Navy and there Marines where only users who bought them, So they may just update all FAMASs to G2

    s. But overall if they goto a new design best bet would be Beretta or the HK 416. But that may not happen.

    • n0truscotsman

      “ARX is still better weapon than any bullpup.”

      Thats debatable, especially since the ARX has no service history of any kind to objectively evaluate its performance.

      There are also bullpups that have seen extensive service, such as the AUG and Tavor.

    • Frenchboi

      The most political and logic solution would be the Thales made stayr aug A3 thing… because Thals is a somewhat french company…

  • echelon

    The ARX looks so much better with a short barrel. If they’d just extend the handguard out on the 16″ versions it would look a lot better.

  • Forrest

    It may have to be said that a part of the french Army (the french “air commandos”, which are the “army” of the air force, devoted among other things to air bases protection) has already chosen the HK416. And also that most of the french special forces are already with the HK416.

  • Alex Nicolin

    But if they break their index fingers trying to pull that trigger, how would they tie that white scarf on the end of a stick to make a surrender flag?

    • Forrest

      If you can read something longer than a republican slogan :

    • Balrog2005

      Seriously ? Did you even have a finger to clik the link about french firearms ben overused by their army wich have been fighting in Africa, Afghanistan etc…during the last 20 years ?… This is not a joke, is a insult to servicemen and pure ignorance.

  • toms

    I predict the Thales F90 will win but who knows

  • ghost

    Should the French have rifles?

    • Forrest

      Should you post ?

      • ghost

        Yes, I have no reason to make you happy. Don’t you have a washing machine laying around missing an agitator? Get back in it.

        • Forrest

          Thank you, have a good day, too !
          PS : did you try prunes ?

  • Wetcoaster

    The way I see it, the French have plenty of modern choices in Europe – the G36, ARX-160, Bren 805 and AUG of course, but if they don’t mind the AR platform, then also the HK416, and Sig 716 are also available. (I’m purposely leaving out the Sig 55x series – but the French did use locally manufactured Sig rifles for a time before the FAMAS).

    If they wait a couple more years, the Polish rifle might be available too.

    The Radom, ARX, and Bren are all new designs without a lot of use under their belt, so the AUG, G36, and AR designs will have a leg up there.

    It’ll likely come down to who promises the right pork to the right people – Sig and HK for one aren’t in the best financial shape, so will probably be pushing for the contract about as hard as Boeing sold the F-15 to Korea and Singapore to keep their lines open.

    Speaking of pork, Dassault seems pretty desperate to make some Rafale sales and the French have been aggressively promising industry benefits – if Canada signs a big, timely Rafale order, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the new French service rifle order ends up going to Colt Canada. Purely on technical merits, of course.

    • mig1nc

      I’ve seen photos of French troops using both AR-type carbines (I think they were Cold Canada/Diemaco) and FN SCARs. They don’t seem to be opposed to using whatever works.

      • frenchman

        All branch of french special forces have made a joint procurement of HK-416, this explain the AR we’re seeing on a lot of pictures.

      • Wetcoaster

        Totally forgot the SCAR, but yeah that’s another option.

        I bet Sig and HK will be making the hard sell though, with the support of their friendly German pols thinking about Sig’s last wave of layoffs.

  • gunslinger

    itallian you say?

  • With a force pre-trained in Bull-pups why would the French go with the Steyr or the Australian derivative F90?? (I don’t think they would consider the Tavor even though its likely the best bullpup and I say that as an Australian)

  • LCON

    I still think It will be F2000.

  • Cknarf

    Why are all these countries pissing around? Just buy some M4s and be done with it.

  • Tsuba

    I ve heard about hk and fn trying to sell their own rifles to the french army, theses rifles have been modified to fire the french rifle grenade