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Custom-Designed Rifle Aims to Fit Commandos’ Special Needs

Category: Defence Industry

U.S. special operations forces this summer will begin testing a new assault rifle, which is expected to be more accurate and less cumbersome than current weapons.

Known as the special operations combat assault rifle, or SCAR, the weapon comes in 5.56 mm light and 7.62 mm heavy versions that are designated the Mk 16 SCAR-L and Mk 17 SCAR-H. Variants include standard, close quarters combat and sniper.

The SCAR-L is intended for close combat while the SCAR-H is meant for longer ranges. The initial production plan also includes an Mk 18 enhanced grenade launcher. More variants are expected to evolve from the core design.

Troops will be able to fire a variety of ammunition from the same rifle, and the entire SCAR family will have interchangeable parts, said Army Lt. Col. Deac Heilig, systems acquisition manager at the U.S. Special Operations Command.

The manufacturer of the rifle, FN Herstal, is testing different interchangeable barrels, he said in an interview.

Commonality of parts between SCAR versions is meant to reduce the training, supply and maintenance burdens. “Currently our special operations folks have a golf bag filled with guns,” said Paul Evancoe, director of military operations at FN Manufacturing. “We’ve given them a truly modular weapon … That eliminates the requirement for all the other clubs in the bag.”

The SCAR-L will replace the M4A1 close-quarters battle rifle and Mk 12 weapons now used by special operators. The SCAR-H will replace the M14 and Mk 11. All six variants of the two main versions share the same control arrangement, handling and maintenance procedures. “Once you’re trained on the gun, it’s the same for any variant,” said Evancoe.

Common parts also help cut costs, Evancoe noted. “They engineered it with a concept of keeping the cost of manufacturing down for both heavy and light by using just about the same stuff for everything.” The one-piece rail and frame of the new rifle enables the operator to change and level barrels quickly, which permits tailoring the gun to different situations.

All SCAR versions also use the same accessories, including sights and scopes. They will accommodate the accessory kit known as “special operations peculiar modification,” now under development for the current M4 rifle. SCAR can also be fitted with M4-style grips and other aftermarket items. “Special ops guys love to customize their personal weapons,” said Evancoe.

SOCOM launched the program in September 2003, and touted SCAR as the first assault-rifle competition since 1941. Fourteen operators tested competing weapons at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind.

After it was selected to make the rifle, FN Herstal continued to modify the design based on input from users. Operators, for example, asked for a folding sight. FN engineers at the company’s rapid-prototyping facility in Belgium fabricated one overnight. A pushbutton lock for the sight was added in hours. “To duplicate that capability [in the United States] would require a heck of a capital investment,” said Evancoe.

A SOCOM team continues to visit the Herstal facility to review engineering changes to the weapon. “This is a very efficient way to do it because the contracting officer who has to approve the changes is sitting right there with the operators,” he added.

Relying on anthropometric analysis, SCAR designers sized the pistol grip to accommodate most hands. Ambidextrous safety mechanisms, magazine and bolt releases, and charging handles can be used by southpaws and even by operators wounded in combat. A telescoping, folding stock adjusts the length of the weapon to individual body size and firing positions, and makes the SCAR easier to hide under clothing or in small bags. The folding stock is also an advantage for operators parachuting from aircraft, fast-roping from helicopters or simply entering or leaving ground vehicles, explained Evancoe.

FN engineers gave the SCAR-L and SCAR-H a relatively low rate of fire of 600 to 650 rounds per minute on automatic. Most weapons like the M16 and M14 fire around 800 rounds per minute but make it difficult to hold the weapon on target for the full burst. “A high cyclic rate doesn’t buy you anything,” said Evancoe. “If you’re more accurate with a lower rate of fire, you’ll use less ammunition because you can put your first, second and third rounds on target.”

SOCOM wants the rifle to fire both existing and yet-to-be-developed rounds, said Heilig. “The exact caliber and ammunition will be determined based on optimum accuracy and lethality in each of the intended operational scenarios as well as availability.” A gas port selector was engineered into the SCAR to accommodate new types of ammunition.

Another SOCOM priority was reliability in harsh operating environments. Special coatings make the rifle suitable for Navy SEALs, who may have to fire weapons that were submerged for long periods.

The manufacturer claims that the weapon will fire 90,000 rounds without overhauls. The intended barrel life is 35,000 to 40,000 rounds—twice that of M16-family weapons. Barrels can be changed in the field, which cuts back on depot maintenance, said Evancoe.

SCAR prototypes will be distributed to operators for testing on an undisclosed schedule. “What they’re going to do is tweak that gun and come back with engineering change proposals,” said Evancoe. FN Herstal will produce the rifles at its South Carolina manufacturing line. The company has made M16A-2s and A-4s for U.S. military for the last five years and will use the same production machinery and workers for SCAR.

The original SCAR solicitation specified production quantities of 84,000 SCAR-L standard, 28,000 SCAR-L for close-quarters combat, 12,000 SCAR-L sniper, 15,000 SCAR-H standard, 7,000 SCAR-H close-quarter combat and, 12,000 SCAR-H sniper variants.

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John C Betka
04:27 10.07.2005

Reference the article of "Custom-Designed Rifle Aims to Fit Commandos’ Special Needs" From the onset of the OIWC there details as to why this direction was another boondoggle, did anyone listen no, not until after millions of dollars and a long time they final saw the reality of this ridiculous pursuit. Now again the pursuit is with a small arm that is being considered by FN and H&K and the of course ATK. Were they not the leads in the OIWC and the PD90 fiasco? Now what is the plan of pursuit the 5.56x22mm again a caliber that has proven to be ineffective for the combat soldier? Ergo the illusion of the 6.8 SPC., the 50 Beowulf, the 5.7 FN; all failures.

What our soldiers equire is thinking outside the box, thinking of a valid improvement in the weapon they carry, their life depends on it, the above only make the money off their blood and sweat. We had a better weapon in the M14 that was scaped in favor of the toy called the M16, look what is now being proposed another ineffective toy.

Capt. Moose
22:23 06.09.2005

ROFL, I thought the M14-backers died out in the 60s. The FN SCAR is a great weapon that SOCOM can't wait to get its hands on, get used to seeing it in the future.

04:03 22.11.2005

its in use by everyone in USASOC, its a very nice weapon system,input has been given by many operators, the MK.17 is the favorite and a far better weapon than the M14.

16:26 02.12.2005

What will be the largest mag available. 100 rd, 200 rd? Belt?

16:29 02.12.2005

Mk.17 SCAR-H will use proprietary 20-round magazines in 7.62x51 NATO chambering, or standard AK-type magazines in proposed 7.62x39 M43 chambering ??????????

16:34 02.12.2005

Mk.17 SCAR-H will use proprietary 20-round magazines in 7.62x51 NATO chambering, or standard AK-type magazines in proposed 7.62x39 M43 chambering ??????????

22:06 02.12.2005

Mk.17 SCAR-H will use proprietary 20-round magazines in 7.62x51 NATO chambering, or standard AK-type magazines in proposed 7.62x39 M43 chambering ??????????

Joey Thomas
22:21 08.02.2006

Mk-17 is a great rifle and will definetely help our soldiers in the war on terror.

08:54 20.04.2006

A line of weapons as well-proven as the Stoner family rifles should be the launching point for future weapon development. As the article above stated, putting more rounds into the target is the ultimate goal rather than simply putting more rounds into the air. Accuracy is the absolute key to victory in a gun-fight. Larger, more powerful munitions are useful only in the sense that striking a target in a non-lethal area can still be devastating if the wound itself is incapacitating to the point where the target is rendered "combat ineffective".

HOWEVER - when the increased power comes at a cost of accuracy, the larger munitions should be discarded in favor of the smaller munitions. When a soldier's life is on the line, is it better for that same soldier to put one single .22 into the heart of his opponent? Or is it better to put five rounds 9mm/.45 ACP/7.62 into the legs and arms of his enemy? The answer, of course, is that the greater accuracy is the greater advantage. Given a choice between less power and more power while freezing accuracy - any professional would opt for the greater power. Unfortunately, the relationship is often such that one must choose between the two. Note that this tirade is aimed at the fully-automatic fire of a 7.62 x 28 and its inability to be accurate (has anyone seen an AK47 with a scope?) The M4/M16 has greater accuracy with lacing fire, yet still falls short of the absolute marksmen requirement.


Going with smaller rounds often serves the master of increasing accuracy. Greater accuracy often favors victory. We should expect to see smaller and smaller rounds (within some limit) until some threshold of precision is reached; beyond which additional gains in accuracy are ofset by the loss of killing power.

I would like to add two points.

First - this discussion is keyed directly to assault rifles. The "See-Saw" of accuracy VS. power with regards to sub-machine guns has a different fulcrum - one which favors dramatically improved power. It is assumed that sub-machine guns are meant primarily for close-quartered combat, with any scope being of very low magnification, or even just a simple 'red-dot' target acquistion device. In instances such as these, striking center of mass is far less difficult as the ranges tend to be far shorter. When this is the case, a great increase in power often does not cost the user much in the way of accuracy.

Point two. The OICW (I've seen it incorrectly spelled up above) was not a failed project. What is being called a 'boondoggle' is in fact a mere lack of timing. The OICW (and the subsequent XM29) did not fail on the merits of its lack of accuracy OR its fire-power (the air-bursting rounds boasted astonishing lethality). The weight of the unit was prohibitive because of its on-board electronics. I am mystified as to why the project was scrapped in the manner that it was. It is a fore-gone conclusion that electronic devices, just like your average desktop CPU, will simultaneously double its computing power and half its physical size every 18 months. With this in mind, the on-board electronics for this gun would have eventually fit into the specifications demanded by DARPA/DOD. The project should have been paused while technology caught up with the demand, not abandoned.

Furthermore, the PD90, or as it is more commonly known, the "P90", is FAR from a failure. Point in fact, the scaled down rifle rounds (5.7 x 28) actually paved the way for future munitions which the SCAR will incorporate. The decision of the US special forces to not use the P90 shouldn't reflect on the gun's ability to do what it does so well - accurately strike, penetrate, and tumble. The reason I believe that the US special forces have chosen to avoid this gun is because it IS a PD - a personal defense weapon. It isn't mean to be an assault rifle, and as such, it lacks the effective range which many of our standard weapons have today.

There are plenty of obscure guns which should have gotten more use than they have. The Spectre M4 hosted many, many innovative features and it has always remained inexplicably obscure. The Pancor Jackhammer should have written history in much the same way that the Thompson did. The Calico remains untouched by the law enforcement community it was designed for. And, of course, the P90, which is substantially better than an MP5 remains an untapped option for CQC by both special forces and police agencies. The point is, just because a weapon system isn't widely adopted, it does not equate to a failure on behalf of the system - often, it is a reluctance to give up something that works well in favor of something which COULD work better... or maybe it couldn't.

If you've read this far down - thank you.

12:02 21.04.2006

As I re-read the article, several other points come to mind. First, FN (a very fine arms manufacturer) is working hand-in-hand with the soldiers who will unltimately wield the weapon. This by itself should negate fears and doubts about the practicality of the final product, regardless of how it turns out. Second, as full-auto spray-and-pray suppression fire fades out in favor of the more accurate three-round-burst (HK MP5's also boast 4 and 5 round burst (pre-set at the factory)) - greater magazine size becomes less of an issue. At three rounds per trigger activation, a 20 round clip produces 7 effective kills. If the standard thirty-round clip at 900 rpm spits out 5 and 6 uncontrolled shots per trigger activation - then the math supports the first system, regardless of how counter-intuitive it may seem. Ideally, a soldier who is carrying 800 rounds of ammunition on his person would rather magically have all of those rounds accessible to his weapon without any additional manual transition, but even simple logic should tell you that toting around an M249 isn't the right answer for every problem.

It is said in the business world that, "Big fish don't eat small fish; quick fish eat slow fish". That same saying applies just as accurately (maybe even more so) to the mechanics of a gun fight. This applies nicely to the discussion at hand since this line of thought supports a smaller weapon such as a SCAR effectively being utilized to combat an opponent armed with a larger, bulkier weapon. The addition of 10 rounds to a magazine may seem to be inconsequential, however, if this is true, then why don't soldier's utilize these 90 round spiral clips on all of their weapons? Why not an ammo box strapped underneath each of their weapons feeding a virtually endless supply of ammunition? Taken to that extreme, it is easy to see the folly of such thinking. We should be able to agree that at some point more is NOT better. Now the only step left is for us to agree at what point too little is too little. If that line lies between 20 and 30 rounds, then so be it. It was said once that, "The difference between victory and defeat, life and death (on the battlefield) is just an eyelash." With this spot of wisdom in hand it may become clearer why counting 'eyelashes' (of difference in weapon weight/length/accuracy) become so important.

Finally, "thinking outside the box" is a term which is often used to blanketly insult and dismiss current options - without openly denegrating them. However, if there is one thing which gun manufacturers know, its that thinking outside the box often leads to innovative guns with little market value. Again, refer to the Spectre M4, Calico, Jackhammer, P90, or even a Desert Eagle. Guns and systems which overcame specific performance obstacles and yet still fail to see effective duty. The Calico solved the issue of magazine drought, the Jackhammer combined the reliability of a revolver with the devestation of a shotgun and rate of fire of a machine-gun (all with very little weight thanks to innovative plastic/steel construction). The Desert Eagle was built specifically to chamber a .357 in an automatic - a feat which had not been accomplished until they came a long. This isn't so difficult to accomplish now, but nobody BESIDES Desert Eagle can boast an automatic .44, or a .50. Point in fact, so versatile is the gun system, that is can easily be tuned to handle the next biggest round that comes down the pipe.

Again, the point... if you stray too far outside the box you end up with anomolous weapons that are viewed as nothing more than curiousities - to be studied - not to be used.

Besides, why should the box be so quickly evacuated? The brilliance of Stoner inspired many similar systems. The lauded HK G36 utilizes a similiar gas-operated rotating bolt with great success. The FN 2000 (one more unsung hero in my opinion) utilizes a similar gas-operated rotating bolt. The new XM8, utilizes a similar gas-operated rotating bold. Heckfire - even the Desert Eagle, the world's most powerful Automatic Handgun, utilizes a gas-operated rotating bolt. The point is, why should such a system be abondoned?

18:57 01.06.2006


yo the SCAR-L/H is sweet cause you can use it in goast recon 3 and it kicks mega butt!

22:46 01.08.2006

Nickolas thank you for injecting some sense...John C Betka

. in reply to your foolish comments...

In 1948, the Army organized the civilian Operations Research Office (ORO), mirroring similar operations research organizations in the United Kingdom. One of their first efforts, Project ALCLAD, studied body armor and quickly concluded that they would need to know considerably more about battlefield injuries in order to make reasonable suggestions. Over 3 million battlefield reports from WWII were analyzed, and over the next few years they released a series of reports on their findings.

Their basic conclusion was that the vast majority of combat takes place at short ranges. In a highly mobile war, combat teams ran into each other largely by surprise, and the team with the higher firepower tended to win. They also found that the chance of being hit in combat was essentially random — that is, accurate "aiming" made little difference because the targets no longer sat still. The number one predictor of casualties was the total number of bullets fired.

These conclusions suggested that infantry should be equipped with a fully-automatic rifle of some sort, in order to increase the rate of fire. However, it was also clear that such weapons dramatically increased ammunition use, in order for a rifleman to be able to carry enough ammunition for a firefight, they would have to carry something much lighter.

For both of these reasons, existing rifles were poorly suited to real-world combat. Although it appeared the new T44 (precursor to the M14) would increase the rate of fire, its heavy ammunition made carrying enough of it a real problem. Moreover the length and weight of the gun meant it was not really suitable for short range combat, where a smaller and lighter weapon could be brought to bear much more quickly.

These efforts had not gone unnoticed by René Studler, U.S. Army Ordnance's Chief of Small Arms Research and Development. He was upset about the civilian agency that was treading on "his" turf, and started an effort to support the "full power" round developed for the T25, which Springfield Armory developed prior to the T44. In the end, he asked the Aberdeen Proving Ground to submit a report on the smaller caliber weapons.

This plan backfired when his assigned research lead, Donald Hall, found that a .22 inch (5.59 mm) round would have equal performance to larger rounds in most combat situations. With the higher rate of fire possible due to lower recoil, it was likely such a weapon would inflict more casualties on the enemy. His team members, notably William C. Davis, Jr. and G.A. Gustafson, started development of a series of experimental .224 inch (5.69 mm) rounds. In 1955, their request for further funding was denied.

A new study, Project SALVO, was set up to try to find a weapon design suited to real-world combat. Running between 1953 and 1957 in two phases, SALVO eventually suggested that a weapon firing four rounds into a 20 inch (0.5 m) area would have double the hit probability of existing semi-automatic weapons.

SO you see, the reason the M14 was chosen John C Betka, was because people lik YOU refused to think outside the box. DOn;t comment unless you know your information.

Secondly, the 6.8 Remington SPC is probably the best round available today, currently being used in small numbers by US Special Forces in the Barrett M468 rifle (based on the M4) in Iraq. It offeres 150% the stopping power of a 5.56 round, in a more controllable platform then the 7.62 - its a perfect intermediary round.

Nickolas Jacobs
03:25 08.08.2006

Great SCOTT, man! You know history! I should point out 2 relevant details first (as it pertains to myself). I have been in ZERO real combat situations -- and this means that as an "armchair quarterback" anything that I say should be taken with a grain of salt. Second, my comments are centered around "handgun combat" which is where I do better (this is for professional reasons that do NOT include arm-chair quarter-backing).

To the point, then. Using smaller rounds means that soldiers can carry more. When a soldier can carry more, that same soldier is in a position to expend more rounds with less concern. More importantly, when the rounds are smaller, the kick is often less (not a die-hard rule, but essentially true) and this means that the groupings, even for a full-auto magazine discharge, are much smaller.

I would like to point out a critical detail which hasn't been brought in to focus, here. The whole discussion started with the SCAR and then sort of digressed into a mish-mash of gun philosophy (which I prefer - when it is conducted civily AND from an informed source, big thanks, Betka). But that detail which is being left out here is the primary user of the SCAR - this is a gun which is being developed specifically for the special forces. This is not an inconsequential detail in my mind. The big difference is that the special forces who will likely be using this rifle will ALREADY have the gun shouldered and sighted, hopefully throughout the duration of the mission -- a quick drop-in and extract mission is specifically what I'm thinking of. These guns are NOT being developed for the mass military and army personal currently stationed in Iraq. The XM8 (soon to be M8) is the guard/patrol rifle of the immediate future. The Barrett M468 may also see some action under this duty, but again, it is primarily a 'reactive' rifle, rather than an 'active' rifle.

This is not meant to contradict findings of any particular study regarding WWII - but rather to put into context the specific circumstances for which the rifle should be seeing combat. I believe our troops were least trained during WWII - a time when a person could sign up for the military and be in the warzone within weeks/months. In circumstances where training is minimal - fire-power should be OPTIMAL. And not just the strength of the round, but the number of rounds in the air. However, when the training is optimal, and if a soldier is able to maintain composure - then the bigger issues become

  • - How quickly can the gun be brought to bear. (favoring smaller, lighter designs)

  • - How reliable is the weapon. (favoring a gun which miss-fires 1 out of 10,000 rds over one which jams every other clip.)

  • - How accurate is the weapon. (Rock River .223's can make an 300 yard iron-sight shot often)

  • - How calm is the shooter. (panicky shots without training are likely to miss - calm shots with thorough training are more likely to hit)

Again, and as it is such an important point I feel the need to reiterate - I HAVE NO COMBAT EXPERIENCE. But there IS something I do know about the .223 which is the current favored NATO round used by our troops - the .223 is HIGHLY frangible, and so the size alone does not accurately portray the lethality of the round. It is a simple physics question. How much powder is in the shell casing? That is the power of the round. The heavier rounds will transfer the energy very well - where the lighter rounds will not transfer the energy well at all. Having said that, heavier rounds (high grain munitions like the Beowulf) tend to have marked trajectories, where 'varmint hunting rounds' may have velocities up to 4,000 FPS; that's a very FLAT trajectory, and that equals great accuracy. More powder can be used to boost the velocity of the Beowulf, but the powder required to bring it up to 4,000 FPS is very high, and would result in necessarily LARGER guns, with greater kick. Again, reference the see-saw of power vs. accuracy.

The bottom line is that when two parties are both surprised by the engagement, the party with the greater fire-power is the obvious favored (hence the intended use of the Jackhammer as an ambush breaker).

I only fret that the context for the WWII studies listed may be inappropriately applied to the intended use of the SCAR as an offensive, special forces tool.

Two things; thank you Betka for giving me informative reading material, and for weighing in to an important topic with your expertise. And two - take my words with a grain of salt - again, I'm not a combat soldier.

Nickolas Jacobs
03:34 08.08.2006

Apologies, Dai, I miss-read and believed that YOUR (Dai's) long posting was written by Betka - Dai, thank YOU for your posting.

18:50 15.08.2006

Thank you. Glad to contribute

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