The French next generation rifle competition is coming to an end, the two finalists, one from Belgium and the other from Germany, and the incumbent is set for replacement over the next few years. Before either the SCAR or the HK416 are inducted as the new arm of France, let’s take a look at the last French-designed standard rifle to serve in that capacity, the innovative and distinctive FAMAS. Fortunately for us, Ian of Forgotten Weapons has done just that, with a half-hour long video on the rare imported civilian version, the MAS 223:
The video above does a very good job illustrating just how sound a design the FAMAS really is. Unfortunately, today the technical merits of the FAMAS’s design seem to mostly ignored. In several respects, such as receiver architecture, action design, barrel and hardware mounting, the FAMAS was very ahead of its time, and even ahead of some bullpup rifles today. A 1960s design, the FAMAS features a winter trigger guard, ambidextrous controls, user-changeable ejection requiring no extra points, lightweight “backbone” type construction, integrated rifle grenade launcher, free-floated barrel, and an isolated bipod assembly.
On the other hand, the FAMAS has had far from a trouble-free career. Largely due to funding issues, the FAMAS retained a 1/12 twist barrel that was designed for 55gr ammunition derived from the earlier M193 round of the pre-A2 model M16s, and these barrels created stabilization issues with NATO-standard 62gr ammunition. As well, the FAMAS also has a typically French military trigger, that is to say, not a good one.
Still, the FAMAS is an extremely significant design, being one of the very first successfully adopted bullpup rifles in the world, and a very advanced design for the period. Today, though, innovations particularly in the accessory world have made the FAMAS less than state-of-the-art, and since production stopped around the turn of the millenium, the French rifle fleet has become old.