HK416-F Will Replace the FAMAS in the French Army

By Jean Huon

In the 1970s, France adopted the FAMAS, a modern bullpup style assault rifle.

Several variations were produced:

• FAMAS F 1 (353,373 guns for the Army and Air Force)
• FAMAS G 2 (10,000 guns for Navy)
• FAMAS Felin (22,600 rifles), improved variation with scope and communication device.

The FAMAS works with a delayed mechanism and uses 5.56x45-mm ammunition specially designed for it; most rounds had a steel case. The rifle is robust and reliable, despite some minor faults.

Lacking a long-term vision, the French government closed all of the small factories at the beginning of the 2000’s: MAS closed in 2002 and Manurhin cartridge factory in 2006.

France was living in peace, and the stockpile of ammunition was important to maintain. However, the political situation in the world has changed and become more dangerous, with the massive evolution of terrorism. The French army fights in several theatres, such as Afghanistan, Africa and others.

During this time, that stockpile of ammunition has run out. Cartridges were ordered from several factories in Europe or other countries, but all were M193 configuration with brass casing. It was not the best choice, and several accidents occurred with explosions of brass cartridges outside of the chamber. In the same timeframe, some Special Forces were equipped with a few modern rifles such as the M4 carbine, HK G36, HK416-F and FN SCAR rifles.

French headquarters invited bids for a new assault rifle. The program was designated AIF (Arme d’Infanterie Future = Future Infantry Weapon) to fit Army, Navy and Air Force needs. The French Army was then equipped with a complete NATO standard rifle and ammunition system.

The Program

The DGA (Délégation Générale à l’Armement or Armament Government Office) has worked since 2009 to develop the AIF program, and the competition was opened on November 28, 2014, for a new 5.56-mm NATO rifle and accessories.

Geographical and Intellectual Constraints

The rifle has to be designed in the European Community. Main parts of the rifle will be produced in the EC, such as: barrel, bolt head, receiver and assembly.

Description of the AIF

The AIF will be delivered in two versions: a standard model (AIF-S) and a short-barreled configuration (AIF-C).


• Weight: less than 4 kg (8.83 lbs), without magazine and optical sights.
• Less than 5 kg (11.03 lbs) with 10 empty magazines.
• Overall length with stock retracted 900 mm (35.43”).
• Barrell length 360 mm (14.17”) or more without muzzle brake.
• Accuracy: Comparable to FELIN system.
• Able to launch rifle grenades.


• Overall length with stock retracted less than 800 mm (31.5”).
• Barrel length over 250 mm (9.84”) without muzzle brake.
• Accuracy: Comparable to FELIN system

Requirements for Both Weapons

• Be adapted to physical characteristics of soldiers (male and female).
• Both weapons will have a common design with similar mechanical parts.
• Fitted with a four quadrant rail system.
• Caliber 5.56-mm NATO cartridges in a 7” twist barrel.
• Telescopic stock with 100-mm (3.93”) clearance. Cheek rest advised.
• Pistol grip without finger rest.
• Trigger pull between 2.5 and 3.5 daN (5.5 lbs and 7.7 lbs).
• Ambidextrous selector with safety, single-shot or burst manageable with or without gloves.
• 30 round magazine, STANAG 4179 (M 16) type.
• Ambidextrous magazine button release, outside the trigger guard.
• Chamber loaded indicator (recommendation).
• Designed to be fired by a right or left hand user, without damage during ejectio or fitted with a reversed ejection side device which can be changed in less than 10 seconds.
• Working with gas action and locked bolt.
• Gas port without adjustment.
• Ambidextrous or axial cocking lever, manageable with or without gloves.
• Adjustable front and rear sights, with two apertures.
• No cook-off after a 180 round full auto firing
• Maximum noise level at about 170 dB.
• If pins are to be used, they will be “captive pins”.
• Blank firing device which can resist impact of three bullets.
• Working at temperature between -54°C and +52°C (-65°F and +165°F).
• Black finish.
• Disassembly has to be accomplished in less than two minutes.
• Sling rings on both sides.
• Components will be compatibles with oil, solvent and decontamination products used by the French Army.

Grenade launcher

• Both versions will accept a 40x46-mm, single-shot grenade launcher.
• Weight under 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)
• Will incorporate a safety and a double-action trigger mechanism.

How Many Weapons Are Needed?

The initial program looked for:

• 45,000 AIF-S
• 45,000 AIF-C
• 9,600 40-mm grenade launchers
• 38 million blank cartridges
• 51,000 Anti-Tank/Anti-Personnel 40-mm grenades
• 13,000 smoke grenades
• 28,000 practice grenades.

Since the publication of the competition, orders for more rifles (102,000) will be added—also practice and instruction guns, dummy cartridges and grenades.


• Bipod
• Weight of no more than 700g (1.54 lbs).
• Front grip bipod
• Weight of no more than 400g (0.88 lbs).
• Sling
• Bayonet - To also be used as an insulated wire cutter (1,000 volts).

Magazine and grenade pouches

Made of polyamide and brown colored. Fitted with two magazine pouches and three grenade pouches.


Blank cartridges

Working with the blank firing device.

40x46-mm grenades
• Anti-Tank/Anti-Personnel grenades
• Smoke grenades
• Practice grenades.


Guns will be tested to address concerns about:
• Double Feeding
• Barrel Obturation
• Cook-Off
• Drop Test
• Sound
• Accuracy of Optic Mount
• Sights
• Unfavorable environment (mud, sand, dust, hot climate and humidity, salted fog, accelerated watering, freezing rain, salted water, oiling away, shaking, vibrations, etc)
• accuracy with bullets
• accuracy with grenades
• muzzle flash
• magazine drop test
• tests of accessories
• blank cartridges
• 40x46 grenades

Other testing will be conducted to evaluate its serviceability, in practice, during combat and maintenance.

Weapons for Test

The competitor would have to be Europeans, have enough capacity to produce 16,000 rifles each year and present sales history of 80 million Euros/year. Approximately 20 companies tried to present guns, but only five were retained.

Beretta ARX 160 A1

Developed and built by Beretta in Italy, the rifle has a classic styling with a folding telescopic stock, an ambidextrous selector, several Picatinny rails for accessories, can fit a 40-mm grenade launcher. It can accept a standard barrel, a heavy 16” barrel or a short 12” barrel. ARX 160 rifle is used by Special Forces in Italy, Albania, Egypt, Emirates, France and Turkmenistan.


Made by FN-Herstal in Belgium, the SCAR (Special Combat Assault Rifle) was made for the U.S. Army, which researched a modular rifle to replace some other rifles. It has a side folding telescopic stock. Frame, grip and bolt are similar to those of the M4 carbine, and the gas action is the same as the FNC carbine. Forearm has a four quadrant rail system. The bolt and barrel are made of steel. Upper and lower frames are made of light alloy. Selector is ambidextrous. Sights, front and rear are on the upper rail. They can be replaced by any optical sight. Magazine is if the AR-15 type, with an ambidextrous catch.

The SCAR works with a short stroke gas system. The rotary bolt has seven lugs. Each variation of the rifle can mount the 40 mm FN40GL (Mk 13 Mod. O) grenade launcher. The FN-SCAR is used by SOCOM in U.S.A., Navy SEALs in Belgium, Special Forces in France, Latvia and Paraguay.


The HK416 was developed for the U.S. Army. It is an improved M4 carbine and was made for special units which were not enthusiastic about the M4 or M-16 used by Special Forces, particularly with silencer. Research expenses were paid by the manufacturer.

The first guns, initially designed as HKM, were delivered in 2005, and they became the HK416 after some improvement. They are used by Special Forces in the US, Albania, France, Germany, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Turkey. The rifle was developed in the A2, A3 and A5 variations, the A5 is made into the HK416-F.

Sig-Sauer MCX

It is modular assault rifle presented at the beginning of 2015 by the German/Swiss SIG-Arms company. It is designed like the MPX submachine gun by the same manufacturer, and both come from the M16 family. It uses a gas action with a short stroke system and a rotary bolt with seven lugs. Sights are mechanical, fitted on the upper rail or optical. Magazine is of the AR-15/M16 type.


Designed in Croatia by Marko Vukovik, the VHS-2 was shown in 2005. It is a bullpup like the FAMAS rifle but with a bolt device similar to the one used by the G36. The firing selector is located in front of the trigger. The rifle has also a bolt hold open system after firing the last cartridge in the magazine; it is located on the left side just above the pistol grip. Mechanical or optical sights are mounted on the upper rail. Magazine is of the AR-15/M16 type.

It is a gas system and short stroke piston. A device with a gas port above the chamber allows reduction of recoil. The rifle is offered as a standard model (VHS-D) or short barrel (VHS-K). It is used by the Croatian Army since 2007 (15,000 guns), and some others were sold to Iraq and Kurdistan.

The Others

During the Eurostary 2012 exhibition, I personally asked engineers from the French group Nexter Industries to know if they wish to come back to small arms and ammunition production. The answer was NO!

Then rumored information about an association between Nexter and other foreign partners was false. The French group prefers working in the production of armored vehicles and artillery; that probably explains it merging with the German group Krauss-Maffei-Weigmann (KMW) in July 2015. About the AIF some others companies tried to present rifles but without success.

Ceska Zbrojovka

The Czech company proposed the CZ 805 Bren A1, but it was not accepted. It is a modular rifle presented in 2010, its name was adopted in memory of the successful light machine gun designed by the Czechs and adopted by the British just before WWII.

The light alloy frame contains barrel, bolt carrier and bolt. Forearm has a four quadrant rail system. Cocking lever can be mounted on left or right side, and ejection port is on the right. Pistol grip combined with magazine housing is made of polymer. The telescopic stock is folded on the right side. The rifle has a selector, a bolt stop and uses AR-15/M16 magazines. It works with gas action and can receive a 40-mm grenade launcher.


The Austrian company Steyr-Mannlicher produces the STM 556 assault rifle which is also a clone of the M16. It is organized with a lower and an upper frame, both made of light alloy. The polygonal forearm has four Picatinny rails.

It works with a gas action, short-stroke piston, and the rotary bolt has seven lugs. The telescopic stock is located in the axis of the barrel. Magazine is of the AR-15/M16 type. Metallic parts receive a black Mannox® finish.


Thales Australia Ltd., Garden Island (New South Wales), is a division of the French group Thales. It produces the EF88 which is a licensed variation of the Austrian AUG rifle. Thales Australia improved the rifle. It is fitted with a special upper Picatinny rail holding an integrated electrical circuit connected with batteries in the stock. That supplies energy to any electronic communication or sighting device.

The rifle can be furnished with 14”, 16’ or 20” barrel and can receive various accessories:

• Bayonet
• Austrian Madrich 40-mm grenade launcher
• Finnish Ase-Ultra sound suppressor
• Blank firing attachment able to stop a bullet.

Thales was probably not accepted because the improvements of the rifle were not designed by European people.


The company is the oldest firearms manufacturer in France. It did propose a partnership with the Israeli IWI group to develop a variation of the Galil rifle adapted to the French needs. But the designers of the program request so high level of sales results that the company cannot meet the requirements.

HK 416

The competition was opened at the end of November 2014. Two weeks later all the details were published on the Internet, and many people gave their opinion about it. We were far from the secretive bidding of the past.

The selected weapons were announced in Spring 2015. In June 2016, non-official information said that the final selection was between FN’s SCAR and HK’s 416.

On September 10, 2016, the winner was announced as the HK416-F, and the order was given on September 22, 2016.

Informed by the DGA that its offer was not accepted, FN-Herstal tried to protest about the decision with an appeal, but the Administrative Court in Paris rejected the claim on September 20.

Description of the Rifle

The HK416-F has a six-position telescopic stock. Upper and lower frame and bolt are the same as the M4 carbine. The short stroke gas system design comes from the G36. The forearm is a polygonal tube with four Picatinny rails. The barrel and bolt are made of steel, the frame and forearm are of light alloy, while the stock and grip are in polymer. The magazine is made of sheet metal (steel). The weapon has a matte black finish.

• The selector is ambidextrous with three positions: safety, Semi-auto and full-auto with pictogram marks.
• The magazine is vertical with a lower feed opening and is of the AR-15/M16 model.

Sights are:

• Folding front sight and rear sight with two apertures
• Any optical device.

The HK416-F is gas operated with a piston and a rotary seven-lug bolt.

Characteristics AIF-S AIF-C

Caliber 5.56 mm (.223) 5.56 mm (.223)
Ammunition 5.56 x 45 5.56 x 45
Overall length 931 mm (36.65”) 842 mm (33.15”)
Length with stock retracted 830 mm (32.67”) 741 mm (29.17”)
Barrel length 368 mm (14.48”) 279 mm (10.98”)
Weight 3.755 kg (8.28 lbs) 3.450 kg (7.61 lbs)
Magazine capacity 30 rounds 30 rounds
Cyclic rate 850 rpm 850 rpm

Description of grenade launcher

The 40x46-mm LG 40 grenade launcher associated with the HK416-F has a frame with an attachment that can be mounted on the lower Picatinny rail of the forearm and locked on the gas port rest. The rifled barrel can be opened to the right or left side. The trigger has a double-action firing mechanism and an ambidextrous safety located at the rear. Sighting device can be folded and mounted on either side. LG 40 can also be mounted on a stand-alone stock and used as a single-shot grenade launcher.

Characteristics LG 40

Caliber 40 mm (1.57”)
Ammunition 40 x 46
Overall length 504 mm (19.84”)
Length with stock retracted 328 mm (12.91”)
Length without stock 285 mm (11.22”)
Barrel length 215 mm (8.46”)
Weight with sight and attachment 1.565 kg (3.45 lbs)
Weight of stock 510 g (1.12 lbs)

Thus, the FAMAS will be replaced by the HK416-F. If the goal is reached, deliveries will begin in 2017, and they can be spread out over 15 years. The rifle is expected to be serviceable for 20 years or longer.

This sale is of a little more than 140 million Euros, a very nice contract for HK, and an excellent rifle for French forces.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N3 (April 2017)
and was posted online on February 17, 2017


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