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Weapons: SCAR Seeks Salvation
   Next Article → INFORMATION WARFARE: USAF Seeks One In A Million
August 25, 2010: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has bought 1,600 of its new SCAR assault rifles, and is sending most of them to Afghanistan for further testing. SOCOM spent $19 million developing SCAR, in cooperation with Belgian weapons manufacturer FN (which has set up a SCAR manufacturing plant in the United States). FN hopes to get orders to produce at least 10,000 more SCAR rifles. FN had originally hoped to built a lot more SCARs. But field tests in Afghanistan have, so far, not been as encouraging as hoped. Enthusiastic SOCOM acceptance of SCAR is important, because that could encourage others (both domestic and foreign) to adopt it. If FN and SCAR got real lucky, millions of these rifles could be sold. But at the moment, FN is facing potential sales in the low thousands.

SOCOM has lost some of its enthusiasm for SCAR and decided that the M-16 and M-4 aren't so inferior after all. That's because last year, SCAR was issued to a battalion of U.S. Army Rangers headed for Afghanistan. This was the first big combat test for SCAR, which had completed field testing in 2007. The rangers found SCAR to be, in most cases, as good as the M-16s and M-4s it replaced, but not markedly superior. As a result, SOCOM backed off on its plans to replace all M-16s and M-4s with SCAR weapons. Meanwhile, SOCOM has given FN another list of needed tweaks for SCAR, and an order for 40mm grenade launchers for SCAR.

SCAR was part of several recent attempts to develop a replacement for the M-16, if only because the M-16 has been in use longer (nearly half a century) than any other American infantry weapon. What advocates for a new rifle, and critics of the M-16/4 fail to take into account is that the rifle has undergone numerous tweaks and improvements since the 1960s. Most telling, surveys of combat users report that the weapon works, and that they are satisfied with it. Sure, the troops would like something new and exciting, but not at the expense of ruggedness and reliability. That's what hurt SCAR, where combat use revealed some unforeseen quirks. This happened while in the hands of a lot of troops who had used M-16s in combat, and now wanted them back. Combat troops tend to be very wary of new technology, especially if it's supposed to replace something that, well, works. It's a matter of self-preservation. New is nice, but not if it gets you killed.

SCAR (Special operations forces Combat Assault Rifle) was a SOCOM (Special Operations Command) effort to develop a new assault rifle that had some of the characteristics of the (now abandoned) U.S. Army XM-8 rifle. SOCOM had the money, and authority to develop their own weapons. And SCAR is mainly for use by SOCOM troops. SOCOM wanted a weapon that did everything the XM-8 did, and a little more.

Back in 2003, SOCOM asked rifle manufacturers to submit proposals, and FN (a Belgian firm) came up with the best ideas. One advantage FN has was its ability to quickly implement requests for design changes. FN’s rapid prototyping shop was often able to turn out a new part in hours. This, and FN's long history of good weapons design, gave them the edge. SCAR has a more reliable short-stroke, gas piston operating system, and a floating barrel for better accuracy, plus several other improvements over the current M-4/M-16.

There are two basic models of the weapon. The 5.56mm SCAR-L weighs 3.5 kg/7.7 pounds (empty), while the 7.62mm SCAR-H weighs 3.9 kg/8.5 pounds (empty). A 30 round 5.56mm magazine weighs a little under 450 grams/one pound, while a 20 round magazine of 7.62mm ammo weighs nearly half a kilogram (a little over a pound). Special sights can weigh up to a kilogram, so a fully loaded SCAR won't weigh much more than 4.6 kg/ ten pounds. FN also came up with a grenade launcher for SCAR. So far, SOCOM has ordered 850 SCAR-L and 750 SCAR-H.

Both models operate the same way, and have many interchangeable parts. SCAR-L is basically a replacement for the M4, which was designed (with a shorter barrel) as a “close combat” version of the M16. The SCAR-H was to also replace the M14, a 1950s era 7.62mm weapon (a replacement for the World War II M1) that is still favored for long range and sniper work. The SCAR design is the result of much feedback from the field. For example, the rate of fire was lowered to 600 RPM (rounds per minute) from the 800 typical with the M14 and M16. This makes SCAR easier to hold on target when firing full auto.

SCAR-H can be quickly converted to fire AK-47 ammo (the 7.62x39 round) with a change out of the barrel and receiver. Both models can be fitted with a longer and heavier sniper barrel. Thus this ability to quickly change the barrel length enables the SOCOM to equip their troops with the specific weapon they need. SCAR is also built to be more rugged than the M-16. The barrel is good for some 36,000 rounds, twice as many as the M-16. Barrels may be switched by users without special tools. Both models of SCAR take all the special sights and other accessories SOCOM troops favor. SCAR is meant to be easily modified and personalized for each user. It’s expected that SOCOM experience with SCAR will influence the next generation of U.S. Army and Marine Corps small arms.

SOCOM has not given up on SCAR, but it cannot ignore the fact that many of its troops are not yet ready to give up on old reliable. Other nations are having the same problem. No one has really come up with a replacement for the M-16. Even the AK-47 was replaced, in Russian service, by an M-16 type weapon. Same with most other AK-47 users, especially after the Cold War ended. The M-16 still has a lot of problems, but lack of popularity among combat troops is not one of them.

 

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davidhughes       8/25/2010 12:38:35 PM
To say that "Even the AK-47 was replaced, in Russian service, by an M-16 type weapon" is stretching by a very considerable margin the meaning of 'type' - all that the replacements have in common is that they have a barrel firing a medium size round!
 
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Colonel Korg       8/25/2010 1:18:00 PM
No, the AK-74 uses a 5.54mm round. That's similar to the 5.56mm NATO in weight and power. The AK-74 is the 90's version of the AK-47 (same action and style). Just uses the smaller and lighter round. The old USSR like to copy successful western designs or ideas and put a Russian twist on it.  I.e. re-chambering the AK-47 to use a smaller round and updating the parts that needed it but keep the reliable parts intact.
 
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YelliChink       8/25/2010 2:17:49 PM
19 million dollars for a new family of small arms......
 
Robinson Arms and Magpul have both achieved the same with much less expenditure.
 
Well, at least that pork barrel spending is creating something. Can't say the same to the current project that I'm a tiny part with.
 
I doubt the wisdom to make new family of small arms for SOCOM. It makes much more sense for them to buy existing guns and demand customization and gunsmithing through secret contracts, which they have been doing for very long time. If they want quality weapons, then call Viktor Bout.
 
The last thing you want is your soldiers operating special weapons in AO, especially in the scenario of Afghanistan/Pakistan. You want your men to be blending into the environment.
 
So, why SCAR? Why?
 
 
 
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trenchsol       8/25/2010 6:07:19 PM
Couple of days ago I've read on Fox News that SCAR had remarkably good reception from the troops.
 
Anyway, SCAR uses short stroke piston, so, in theory, it should be little less accurate in burst fire. On the other hand the rate of fire is significantly lower, so it may compensate.  How does it look in the real life ? Is there any significant difference in accuracy ?
 
I guess, when fired, it feels little a bit like firing AK rifle ?
 
How about a price and overall costs ? The service life of short stroke piston weapons is supposed to be twice longer, compared to direct impingement ones ?

DG

 
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Colonel Korg       8/26/2010 12:12:42 PM

Well, at least that pork barrel spending is creating something. Can't say the same to the current project that I'm a tiny part with.
How is it "pork barrel" if congress is not involved?  SOCOM has it's own procurement system that's pretty much independent of congress.  

The quick change barrel for the SCAR-H that allows it to fire the 7.62x39mm AK-47 round is great for troops that are cut off from regular supplies. They can use "pick up" ammo in a pinch.

The M-16 is a tough act to beat considering it's had 40 years of combat proven development, but when it first came out, it had plenty of problems. (Ask any early Vietnam veteran who had to use the first model.)  The best way to find out a weapon system's short comings is to use it in real combat. (assuming you have done as much simulated combat testing as you can to get the initial bugs out).  But only in real combat do the subtle pro's and con's reveal themselves.  Personally, I want my tax dollars being spent for our troops to be buying the best we can afford for them. They deserve it.  

Colonel Burton had it right. Don't try to CYA or build a personal empire from a development program. Do what's right for the troops. Not what's right for you.


 

 


 
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AThousandYoung       8/27/2010 2:12:09 AM
The M16 family is turning into another Ma Deuce or B52...immortal.
 
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YelliChink       8/27/2010 12:24:52 PM

How is it "pork barrel" if congress is not involved?  SOCOM has it's own procurement system that's pretty much independent of congress.  

The quick change barrel for the SCAR-H that allows it to fire the 7.62x39mm AK-47 round is great for troops that are cut off from regular supplies. They can use "pick up" ammo in a pinch.

Colonel Burton had it right. Don't try to CYA or build a personal empire from a development program. Do what's right for the troops. Not what's right for you.


 


The highlighted part doesn't make any sense.
 
If you can supply them with extra barrel then you can supply them with ammo. If they can carry extra barrel then they should be carrying extra ammo instead. If they can't carry extra ammo and extra barrel, what's the point of SCAR anyway? After all, picking up dead enemy weapon isn't rocket science. People have been doing that since long, long time ago.
 
And, SOCOM's money do come through the Congress. They don't grow money themselves, and they have to tell Congress why they have to spend so much on shoelace. Sometimes it's hard to explain, so some lard is needed to lube the system.
 
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JFKY    SCAR   8/27/2010 12:55:39 PM
Is, IMO, merely SOCOM's way of saying, "We're from SOCOM." because, in the field, wear their snazzy brown, or green, or whatever colour berets....
 
I mean if they didn't have SCAR, how would you KNOW they weren't just some bunch of "Legs?"  This way you will be able to recognize the "cool kids."
 
And the Sov-Bloc 7.62 thing is just silly....you want to fire AK ammunition, get an AK...why bother with a new weapon?  Again, so they can show "they're SOCOM."
 
I can like SOCOM's troops and their skills and still recognize empire-building and self-promotion, when I see it.
 
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Shawnc       8/31/2010 4:52:20 AM
Actually, the FN SCAR is not available in 7.62x39mm calibre.
 
On FN's website the SCAR models are listed as the  5.56mm NATO Mk.16 SCAR-L and the 7.62mm NATO SCAR-H. There is no mention of the SCAR-H being convertible to 7.62x39mm, and apparently this capability was dropped from the development requirements early on.
 
I guess it was a 'D'Oh!' moment when SOCOM realized that if you can battlefield pickup AK-47 mags from dead enemy combatants, you can pick up AK-47s as well! Converting a SCAR-L to fire 7.62x39mm rounds would have not only entailed a barrel change, but also compatible bolt and magazine well adaptor.
 
Breaking down a hot rifle while taking fire to pull out a bolt retaining pin to swap bolts wouldn't be very fun!
 
Then there's the issue that the 7.62x39mm rounds that you pick up could be anything from Chinese made stuff (apparently with mild steel cores!) to 'Peshawar specials' or worse...
 
Oh, and according to all the online sources I found, this particular order by SOCOM was for SCAR-H, not a mix of SCAR-H and SCAR-L.
 
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Mikko    Weathered AK's   8/31/2010 6:56:27 AM
Isn't it kind of risky to just pick up an AK-47 from the ground and start using it? The sights could be off to an extent you couldn't hit a barn door with the weapon. That being the case when fighting guerillas as Taleban and their varying degrees of maintenance discipline, training and access to proper ranges.
 
Neither the SOCOM troops or Taliban (for example) have that much opportunities to adjust the sights on the field as they rely on staying hidden and choosing the time and place for combat.
 
That being said, I would personally consider carrying a very own 7,62x39 to the field from the beginning in case I were to operate in a hostile environment for longer periods of time. Maybe I'd even grab a higher quality AK-variant with me to get the best of both worlds.
 
Before anyone beats me to it, I acknowledge I bring nothing new to the table; just pointing out a con side in picking up very weathered and possibly poorly maintained AK's.
 
M
 
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