French Forces in Afghanistan

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Soldier of Fortune has a post that links to a recent video montage of French forces in Afghanistan. The country’s forces have all since left the country but the video shows an interesting portrayal of how the 1970s technology FAMAS has entered the 21st century arena of small arms. Instead of replacing the current FAMAS’s with new receivers without a carrying handle (M16A4), the French seem to have simply engineered over it, and added rails and scope attachment points (I realize that the charging handle is directly below it, but look at the G36, there is a version of the FAMAS that is modified this way, but I can’t find any use of it in Afghanistan specifically). It looks like it would be an awkward weapon to fire with the scope so high above the barrel line, but I’ve never fired a FAMAS with an optical sight so I’m not in a position to make a valid argument. There has been a lot written on the FAMAS and it’s issues. One of the biggest problems with it seems to be a problem the French army has in getting the funding they need to upgrade not just the weapon systems, but their logistics as well. Forgotten Weapons covers the weapon, and TFB has a guest post about the particular problems with it.

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All these pictures are screen shots from the video provided above. Look through them to see the different configurations of the FAMAS rifle. Some of the criticism of the FAMAS and the French Army are the lack of upgrades which are due to funding constraints. A French guest blogger wrote that a lot of soldiers are paying out of pocket for gear that the Army won’t provide. I’m not sure how this impacts what is on the service rifles, but everything from scopes to slings is different in these pictures. It seems that different soldiers appear to remove their bipods because of the weight as in some of these pictures just the bipod studs are visible.

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This soldier appears to be elite because of the beard and the low profile helmet, but then why would he have a FAMAS and not a SCAR or HK416 as is evidenced in other pictures. Bipods are taken off.

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Bipod is mounted and Eotech XPS holographic sight is mounted on top of the carrying handle. What appears to be either a PEQ type laser aiming module or a grenade launching sight on the left side of the rifle. The sling looks to be a 3 or 2 point.

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Seems to be a fixed power scope, probably 4X? This soldier leaves his bipod attached and has a forward grip with a flashlight.

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This soldier has removed his bipod and has an Aimpoint scope mounted to his rifle. Notice that every single FAMAS before this picture has a completely different scope mounted on them? I don’t know if these guys purchased their own scopes or not, but there is a diversity among scopes throughout these rifles. I would imagine this complicates rear echelon maintenance as well as supply, with all these different kinds of scopes and the parts associated with each one.

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This soldier is about to fire his rifle grenade. France seems to be one of the few ISAF members that still uses rifle grenades instead of UBGLs.

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American forces use either a 200 round plastic drum (mostly used in training) or a 100 round cloth “nut sack” (mostly used overseas). But the French seem to prefer this 200 round nut sack instead. I’m hazarding a guess in saying the scope is an Elcan. Also the rail system seems to be very low profile, unlike the current rail system on the M249.

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Old school does it best, with a 100 round nutsack. This gunner has attached the front portion of the sling to the actual gun instead of the barrel which is common mistake because it adds an extra step when changing out barrels.  Notice the FR F2 in the background.

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Again we see the 200 round drum but this time with an EoTech 512 on top. What is with this mounting the optic so high off the firearm!

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A generic M4 with M203 UGBL. It almost looks American supplied because of the armory code sticker on the magazine well. Notice the two aimpoint scopes, 1X and magnifier.

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Looks to be an HK 417 because of the straight magazine in 7.62 with an EOtech 512 and an aimpoint magnifier.

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HK 416 with a light underneath, this scope appears to be the same type used on the FAMAS.

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The FR F2, with an action based on the MAS 36, an almost 70 year old design still in use today. Then again, the Browning M2 and Remington 700 are still in use as well. Notice the rifle grenade on the soldier’s back, probably carrying it for his personal weapon or his buddies.

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The G36 in use among several FAMAS rifles. Unlike most NATO weapons that accept STANAG magazines, the FAMAS cannot accept them, so this guy is pretty much on his own if he needs a magazine quick, fast, and in a hurry during a firefight. His pistol is a PAMAS G1, which is a Beretta 92 manufactured under license by GIAT in France.

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This soldier has a one point sling that he’s using as a two point, Aimpoint scope and some sort of laser aiming module mounted on the left side. He’s left his bipod on. The device at the end of the handguard seems to be a aiming attachment for rifle grenades.

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The disadvantages of rifle grenades are that you have to be picky when you mount them or use them because they interfere with normal operation of the rifle. With most rifle grenades, they require a blank cartridge to propel the actual grenade. The French AC58 F1 version requires a blank round but the current F2 version as is pictured uses live rounds to fire it. This means the grenadier can go straight into returning fire at the enemy after the grenade has been fired. Either way, I’m not too keen on shooting a live round into a live high explosive grenade just feet in front of my face.

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This scope is probably privately purchased, as no other soldier seems to have a commercial scope mounted on their rifles. He’s spray painted his rifle with a gentle camouflage scheme as well. He has a Mako Group forward grip and light combination.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Mr.T

    M16/M4 are 60’s tech

    • Jonathan Ferguson

      Try 50s.

    • Indeed they are 60’s technology but look at how much has been done to them to bring them up to speed today? The M16A4 of today is leagues ahead of the AR15 that Stoner first drew up. But with the FAMAS, it hasn’t really changed at all today, that’s the difference.

  • A guest

    That pic of the guy with the baseball cap and the M4 is from a video where (IIRC) French and US soldiers traded their weapons on a range, which would explain the armoury code.

    • Appreciate that! I wish I had known that prior to publishing.

  • FourString

    Man it’d be great if the French got H&K to fully revamp the FAMAS like what happened with the L85A2/SA-80.

    • Tom

      Much like the upgrade to the L85 it would be flogging a dead horse*. Whilst the design of the FAMAS is very interesting from a technical point of view gas operation is just so much better. I would add that I think the FAMAS is one of the best looking rifles ever made, but that sadly does not make it a good rifle.

      * Whilst the current crop of L85s seem to be doing okay from the figures I have seen it would not have been any more expensive to simply dump them and go for Diameco (as it was back then) C7s which were already in limited service anyway. The intention as I understand it is to replace the L85 around 2020 anyway. Of course with the current economy who know. At least those F35s are working out great :).

    • Wetcoaster

      Pointless. IIRC from a previous post, the FAMAS has been OOP for a while. Even if the tooling still exists, you’d be training a workforce from scratch. At some point, it’s just time for a new rifle. (Like the French seem to be in the process of looking for)

  • Weaver

    Is it bad I want a famas modified for the felin system? That is one weapon I would like to shoot. If you don’t know what I’m talking about Google famas felin.

  • ManBear

    Damn do they just mix and match their guns?

    • Trey

      It seems that they do. Just look at all of the footage in the Paris attacks. I have spotted cops from different units that carry different smgs or rifles from unit to unit. It must be a supply and armory logistical challenge. Here in the USA, it is either MP5 mags or AR mags, and Glock mags or Beretta mags.

      • Bill

        A huge number of Ruger Mini 14s. IIRC quite a while back Ruger was supplying French police agencies with Speed- and Security Sixes.

        For the average cop, needing an average patrol rifle, IMHO the Mini is just fine. I’d prefer a non-Garand style safety to keep fingers out of trigger guards, and probably ban users from breaking them down for service without specific training, but they don’t get the respect they deserve.

        • Tom

          The French police do seem to have a rather eclectic mix of
          weapons. This is I think the result of the large number of forces there
          are. You have the national police forces
          National Gendarmerie (which itself has a collection of units much like a mini
          SOCOM) and the Police Nationale (formerly the Sûreté) along
          with local municipal police and Judicial Police plus others. All these various forces seem to have a great
          deal of freedom in the weapons they purchase.

          Not claiming to be any sort of expert on this but I have
          never heard of the French using Ruger Revolvers (They were used by several UK
          police forces however) as to be honest the French Manurhin MR73 is a better revolver.

          • Bill

            My error: I was probably thinking of political issues with Ruger supplying weapons to agencies working in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

          • Tom

            Yes as I recall Senator Kennedy wanted to prevent a sale of Ruger revolvers to the RUC. But ultimately was prevented from doing so – not sure he could of done anything to be honest even if he somehow managed to get the House to pass legislation I doubt Regain would of signed off on it and even then I guess the British could of just purchased them through any one of another agencies. Still that’s politicians for you always grandstanding.

          • A.g.

            Right. Ruger gp 101 was used until year 2002 by policewomen who feel unconfortable with the size of the manurhin F1 or mr 73 revolvers. Some agents assigned as vip driver could have the shorter version too.
            Some rumors lets think than the manhurin model was a design drawn by ruger and, as the blueprint was never paid by the french gvt (as the radiotransmetter market never paid to Motorola…) the order for the policewomen needs could be an offset to ruger.

  • MPWS

    It is more of subject of application and stance. While in prone, yes this height over the bore might be a problem. On the other hand, if you look at picture with soldier taking semi-crouch position, it looks just fine. In comparison, in many pictures with M16 A1?A2 using iron sights you may notice, that top of the butt is some inch over shoulder. So there is plenty of layway vertically to work with.

    When comes to FAMAS’s potential for future, it would be possible (as author of article is suggesting) IF – receiver is modified and mag well is changed to accept STANAG. It is slick system with very low felt recoil and overall my own short experience with it was positive one. I felt that while acquiring target, sight picture is forcing my neck straight up to eliminate picture distortion; there is nothing wrong with that.

    • Michael Valera

      ummm… hes refering to the problem height over bore has with point of aim and point of impact at varying distances. you want your sights as close to bore as possible.

      • Barry

        The famas was never meant to be shot, so they can put a scope 1 foot above the bore and it would be fine. The bipod should be extended, so when the rifle is dropped during surrender the rifle is not damaged. It doesn’t use stanag mags and ruptures brass nato rounds (needs special steel cased ammo) because when the enemy captures the rifles, they can’t easily resupply.

        • Bill

          I wondered how long it would be before someone took the low road, and was frankly surprised it took this long. Without the French, we’d be preparing our evening tea and getting ready to enjoy some boiled meat while watching BBC America to see what our Prime Minister was up to and get the latest football scores, the kind played with a round ball in shorts. Well, we can still do one of those.

        • Forrest

          It’s amazing that people like you still exist…
          Do you want a bunch of good old american bashing ?

          • Barry

            Yes, funny and sarcastic people still exist. I’m sorry, but the French could not kill humor as hard as they tried. As for “good old american bashing”, let’s see if you can do it while staying relevant to the article. If you were referring to the other type of bashing…all I can say is “Run, Forrest! Run!”

          • Forrest

            Some french soldiers died for your country in Afghanistan. You may respect them. Or do you find these deaths humoristic, too ?

          • Bill

            Not that it matters to you, but French casualties in Afghanistan number fewer than 100. French casualties in the American Revolution are estimated to be slightly over 2,000. American casualties in Afghanistan are slightly over 2,300.

            I don’t like their food, I’m not real fond of the little I’ve seen of their culture, but you haven’t earned the right to badmouth the French when it comes to assisting us in battle.

            And in keeping with more current events, they kicked righteous ass in Mali.

            Now explain the humor behind French nationals being killed to defeat religious extremists and obtain our nations’ freedom. Please do, I like to laugh as much as the next guy. Tell me what’s so funny about their blood being shed, particularly on our soil, to free us? Find some sarcasm in that. C’mon, funny guy. Is it their hats?

        • http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/07/09/working-with-the-french-army/

          I suggest you read this article written by an American working with the French in country. Anything to discredit their military is quickly humbled by the descriptions of the French Forces described.
          It’s also easy for us to call the French out for surrendering during WW2, but then again it wasn’t our country that was almost eternally wrecked during the previous world war.

      • MPWS

        There is no relation, AFAIK. Trajectory and sight line will intersect some 20-30 yards ahead anyway. You do not loose nothing from POI.
        The only effect I can thing of is rotational moment of inertia being negligibly higher. In extreme case however, such as someone’s head just couple of inches away may not be seen and possibly hit; such case had happened to British troops in N.I.

  • Buckshot

    The handgun in the photo of the fellow carrying a G36 isn’t a Beretta, its a Sig Pro SP2022. The Sig is standard issue with French Law Enforcement, but I’ve never known of its use by French military before. Could they be deploying federal LE special units like GIGN? It would explain the G36 as well.

    • Jak0Spades

      Yes Gendarmerie units where deployed in Afghan as part of OMLTs for the ANP. GIGN where also deployed in Afghan, though they tended to carry out close protection duties for French HVPs.

    • Tom

      It should be remembered that GIGN (much like the Italian Carabinieri) are actually a branch of the army rather than a civilian police force.

      • pbla4024

        The equivalent of Carabinieri would be Gendarmerie Nationale. GIGN is just one unit.

  • Vitsaus

    “This soldier appears to be elite because of the beard and the low profile helmet, but then why would he have a FAMAS and not a SCAR or HK416 as is evidenced in other pictures”

    Maybe because he likes his issue rifle just fine? You see some US operator beard types using M4s also instead of MK18s or things like that from time to time. In the field troops use what they find works, CoD is not the spec ops wiki that many seem to think it is.

    • Bill

      In my experience, you can frequently tell the level of experience of a shooter by what they DON’T use or carry. Weight and complexity are seldom positives. If it’s simple and it works and I have full armory support and mags and ammo everywhere or that I can sponge/steal off other people I’m based with, why go all tacto-geek?

      To use the fictional analogy, recall the scene from “Platoon” in which Willem Dafoe is stripping out the FNG’s ruck of all the junk he won’t need.

      3 centuries from now, when we are still fighting these wars, they will be known as the “War of the Beards”

      • yallan

        True, Australian special forces almost never carry pistols and often don’t wear helmets.

  • Bill

    I’m guessing a lot of bipods were removed due to the shoot-and-scoot nature of gunfighting nowadays, in addition to weight and snag issues, It may be an issue of institutional blindness, from the inventors of the Maginot Line, expecting troops to be in relatively fixed firing points for any length of time, that installed them in the first place.

    Some of the uniforms look like American Woodland. How can you possibly go to war without 18 camo patterns, and then change them multiple times over the duration?

  • Azril @ Alex Vostox

    Does anyone got a new links of the video? The SOF video links apparently is dead end.

  • Dr. Zarkus

    How about this one, i’ve never seen one of these.

    • Where was this picture when I was researching for this post!?!?!? Probably a marksman version because of the longer barrel? But then again why would there only be an EOTech on it.

      • T.ECU

        No such thing as a longer barrel on a FAMAS. They’re all a little less under 20 inches. There ain’t really any DMR version of it either. Although as far the big army is concerned, once you slapped the big FELIN scope on it, it’s just as good as the FRF2. Sounds about right heh!
        This soldier apparently removed part of the handguard on one of those FAMAS (not FELIN but Revalorisé ?) that went though the nexter-beretta upgrade. Apparently the cover around the handguard breaks a lot.
        The soldier seems to be from a commando platoon from one of the inf bat deployed to CAR.
        Hope that helps…. wish I had read it sooner.

  • 1leggeddog

    “This soldier appears to be elite because of the beard and the low profile helmet”

    yup.

  • Dipper

    I’ve seen some videos where Swedish soldiers laugh at the French at a firing range because they are so bad a shooting using full auto. Can’t seem to find that clip now :/