Weapons: France And SOCOM Love The Mutant M-16

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October 16, 2016: In September 2016 France announced that it finally found a suitable replacement for their FAMAS assault rifle; the German Heckler & Koch HK416. Initially 100,000 HK416s have been ordered, to replace over 200,000 FAMAS rifles in service with the French military. The HK416 selection was not a surprise because since the 1990s SOCOM and many other demanding users wanted a rifle that combined the best characteristics of the M-16 and the Heckler & Koch G36. The reason for this unexpected French search for a foreign assault rifle design can be attributed to the aftereffects of the Cold War. Namely, a lot of defense companies went out of business, including some that built weapons and munitions for the French armed forces.

Before 1991, France had a large enough arms industry to produce the special ammunition (high grade steel case) needed for its FAMAS rifle. A bullpup (magazine behind the trigger) design that was introduced in the 1970s, FAMAS looked like other 5.56mm weapons, but there were some important design differences that made it difficult to use standard NATO ammunition. France pulled out of NATO in the early 1960s but, for planning purposes, stayed in touch as an unofficial member. This split from NATO did lead to France not participating in the NATO standardization program, which enabled NATO members to better communicate with each other and share ammo and supplies.

In the 1990s, the G2 version of the FAMAS was designed that complied with NATO standards (at least for ammo use.) This G2 version, however, was only purchased in small quantities for the French Navy because the manufacturer went out of business. So did the firm that made the special ammo that the original FAMAS F1 required. An Israeli manufacturer was found who could make the FAMAS F1 ammo but that was not a suitable supplier because a lot of customers for French weapons were Moslem states that threatened to boycott French weapons if France bought ammo from Israel. The basic problem was that the FAMAS F1 was too small a market for anyone to produce spare parts, or new versions. The FAMAS G2 was an OK weapon, but there were so many others that were as good, if not better, and often cheaper. So the French had no problem leaving the FAMAS design behind and went looking for standard, 5.56mm assault rifle design that will, among other things, cut ammo costs by half.

Heckler & Koch developed the HK416 as a hybrid of the HK G36 and the American M4 (a more compact M-16). The HK416 looks like the M4 with the addition of the short-stroke piston system to automatically extract the cartridge after the bullet has been fired, and load the next round. This is preferred to the M16 gas-tube system, which results in carbon being blown back into the chamber. That leads to carbon build up, which results in jams (rounds getting stuck in the chamber, and the weapon unable to fire.). The short-stroke system also does not expose parts of the rifle to extremely hot gases (which wears out components more quickly). As a result, rifles using the short-stroke system, rather than the gas-tube, are more reliable, easier to maintain and last longer. SOCOM got the first 416s in 2004 and stayed with it. The HK416 has since been adopted by several dozen nations, usually for their special operations forces.

 


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