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

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!