Why did the French Army decide to replace the FAMAS with HK-416?

4 mins read
Legionnaire with FAMAS doing shooting training in the alps

You might have already heard that the HK-416 from Heckler and Koch is replacing the old FAMAS in the whole French Army. So in a short time, each regiment and company of the French Foreign Legion is going to get the new weapon.

I can still remember when I touched the FAMAS first time in my life. You can read my story about that here.

Why did the French Army decide to replace the FAMAS?

Designed to replace the good old Mle 49/56 automatic rifle, the FAMAS brought the French army into the club of assa)))ult rifle users.

Adopted at the end of the 1970s it was a gem of the gun industry; precise, ambidextrous (for right- and left-handed users), bull-pup, and integrated grenade launcher. However the FAMAS will quickly suffer from a major defect: it is hard to evolve.

FAMAS Rifle laying on a camouflage coloured jacket

To the old version, it’s impossible to add a tactical handle, a laser designator, a recoil absorption stick, a cheek pad or even a simple rifle scope.

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In short, all that other assault rifles accept and which make the operator’s life much simpler (and sometimes saves it) isn’t compatible with the FAMAS. The latest version had already have a Picatinny rail (or even two), but it wasn’t the ultimate solution.

The French government launched the researches, the Future Individual Weapon program in 2009.

The new weapon had to be able to :

  • fire all types of 5.56 mm NATO standard ammunition
  • launch a rifle grenade and 40mm low speed grenades
  • integrate the FELIN and simulation systems

After months of real-life tests and studies of the different logistics chains offered by competing companies, the choice felt on the HK416.

Legionnaire holding an HK-416 rifle

Famas vs HK-416 – a technical comparison

Unit cost1500€ (F1) 3000€ (G2)1,200 €
Caliber:5.56 mm5.56 mm
Weight 3.68 kg4 kg
Total length of the weapon:760 mm831mm to 931mm
Automatic firing rate:1100 cps / min 700-900 rounds/min
Practical range300 – 500m300 – 500m
Magazine25 cartridges30 cartridges
Produced byFrance (MAS)Germany (Heckler & Koch)

Was that a good choice? Is the HK-416 better than the FAMAS?

I’m not qualified enough to say a strict yes or not. I liked the FAMAS, because it’s precise, but once I fired an HK-416 I don’t want to use a FAMAS anymore.

The bullpup system gives a good precision level to the FAMAS, but the explosion just next to my ears made me deconcentrated. The HK-416 is ergonomic, easier to assemble and dissemble, has 3 Picatinny rails which allows the operator to equip his rifle with basically whatever he wants.

The cleaning doesn’t take hours anymore like it was with the FAMAS. During trainings, like the corporal or sergeant course in Castelnaudary, cleaning a FAMAS the whole night with a helmet on the head and camouflage on the face was a well-known ritual.

We used to even say, that there are two things that surely don’t exist in our lives. A well ironed chemise and a clean FAMAS.

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