In 2003 the United States Special Operations Command approved a Joint Operational Requirements Document launching a search for a rifle that would satisfy the multifaceted needs of our special forces. By this time some of the luster had worn off the relatively new M4 carbine that many of these troops were issued. Problems with reliability, service life, and fouling from extended firing convinced officials that we needed to supply our Special Operation Forces (SOF) with a better weapon. What they needed was a new rifle without the shortcomings of the M4.
The criterion for the new weapon was assembled by the same men that use these weapons in combat-operators who know the faults and idiosyncrasies of issue rifles as well as their strong points. The wish list that they developed would be a veritable dream gun for SOF troops.
In 2004, FN, the company that already produces the M16, M249, and M240 weapon systems for the U.S. Military, won the SOF Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) solicitation. In all cases, FN's weapons met the requirements and, in many more, exceeded them.
The SCAR-L (light) is chambered for the 5.56 x 45mm NATO round and the SCAR-H (heavy) fires the more powerful 7.62 x 51mm NATO round. The FN SCAR system was produced in small numbers initially for testing and just recently has been deployed with operational units.
A Clean System
Among the innovative features of the SCAR rifles is their ability to change their barrels quickly to one of a different length. The rifles also use a short stroke piston system that keeps the receiver cleaner and cooler for better reliability. This system also allows the use of a side folding stock and FN designed one that is adjustable for length of pull and, believe it or not, incorporates an adjustable cheek rest. The weapon's modular design lends well to reconfiguring it for a specific mission.
While the military guns are true select fire weapons the interest that they have generated has not been lost among those in law enforcement. In response to this demand, FN has just introduced the SCAR 16S, a semi-auto-only version with a 16.25-inch barrel. All of the features that make it well suited for combat also make it desirable for use as a patrol carbine or perimeter weapon.
Piston drive guns seem to be the current rage and, while I personally do not have a problem with standard gas impingement rifles, there is no arguing that piston drive weapons keep fouling out of the receiver. Heat in the upper receiver is also reduced dramatically with piston systems and that prevents the baking of carbon fouling to parts and evaporation of lubricants.
The SCAR rifles use a short stroke piston system. Gas bled from the barrel impacts the piston, which in turn hits the bolt carrier hard enough to drive it rearward, starting the feed cycle. Excess gas is expelled forward and clear of the gun through the gas regulator just below the front sight. The gas regulator has three settings: suppressed, unsuppressed, and disassembly. For most semi-auto shooting, the regulator will be left at the 12 o'clock position.
FN's SCAR uses a very heavy bolt carrier-about 40 percent heavier than that of an AR-and that extra mass ensures that the bolt goes into battery even if the rifle is very dirty. In the unlikely event that it fails to go into battery, the user can use the bolt handle as a forward assist. The reciprocating charging handle can be moved to either side.
My test rifle had the handle on the left side and for me, a right handed shooter; this is perfect as I could charge the chamber with my left hand while my right hand maintained a firing grip. Caution: Position your support hand so that it does not get in the way of the charging handle.
The upper of the SCAR 16S is the serialized part and is made from an aluminum extrusion. A Picatinny rail runs the length of the upper receiver and there are also additional rails at the 3, 6, and 9 o'clock, which are removable if desired.
The SCAR features a hammer forged, chrome-lined barrel with a 1:7 inch twist and is designed to fire the M855 62-grain bullet with exceptional accuracy. The military rifle has a quick-change barrel feature, which is not offered on the civilian model.
FN is equipping the civilian model with the Primary Weapons Systems flash hider that is designed to keep the flash out of optics and line of sight. The barrel is threaded with a standard 1/2 inch x 28 thread so that a multitude of other flash hiders can be used if desired. That's especially important if the weapon will be used with a suppressor, as the manufacturers often use a proprietary flash hider for quick installation.
The SCAR's buttstock is a work of art. There's just no other way to explain it. It is adjustable for length of pull, giving the users about 2 1/2 inches of adjustment. That's welcome news especially if you're wearing armor. By depressing a button on the left side of the stock, the cheek rest can be raised in half inches so the shooter can have a positive cheek weld when using optics or iron sights.
Below the cheek rest button is the steel buttstock lock that, when depressed, releases the hinged buttstock from the backplate and allows it to fold to the right side of the weapon. The rifle can be fired with the stock in the folded position, but this feature's real benefit is to dramatically reduce the gun's overall length in tight quarters or for storage.
The stock locks onto a protuberance at the rear of the ejection port, which also serves as a shell deflector. To re-deploy the stock, pull down and away sharply, swinging it to the left until it locks back into the backplate. A rubber buttplate ensures that the stock won't slide off a nylon vest or chest rig. What I like most about this buttstock is that all adjustments are quiet, and it is absolutely wobble free.[PAGEBREAK]
FN uses a polymer lower receiver and it looks, at a glance, very similar to an M16 lower. It features ambidextrous magazine releases and safeties in the same familiar positions. Note: The safeties only need to be flipped 45 degrees compared to the M16/AR-15's 90 degrees to fire semi-automatic.
My test sample had a trigger pull that weighed a little more than 6.5 pounds. It had some take up and creep before breaking; in other words, it is a pretty typical military type trigger. But it is a consistent trigger and predictable, and I had no problems shooting the SCAR 16S accurately.
The SCAR is designed specifically for 62-grain M855 ammo. Which I did not have. But I am happy to report that the Scar 16S was accurate with every bullet weight that I tried.
Even the light 50-grain V-Max bullet provided excellent accuracy. I would have guessed that it was far too light to group as well as it did. My single best five-shot group measured a scant .64 inches and was produced by Black Hills 69-grain match ammo. For the accuracy portion of the evaluation I used a Trijicon AccuPoint 3-9X scope mounted in an American Defense Ad-Recon scope mount.
For field shooting I switched to a
Trijicon TA31TRD ACOG with a red dot mounted topside for close range shots and found that the SCAR 16S possesses excellent handling characteristics. I was able to make quick and accurate hits on my steel targets.
If you're used to M16s/AR-15s you'll find the SCAR 16S an easy gun to adapt to. Its magazine release, bolt lock, and safeties are in the same general area as those of an M4.
After shooting the SCAR side by side with a 16-inch AR-15, I found it hard to verbalize the difference. Recoil feels slightly different, but I can't say if it is different better or different worse. Just different. At 50 yards, my time between shots during a rapid fire exercise was almost exactly the same with both guns.
FN ships the SCAR 16S with folding front and rear sights that will in all likelihood be used as backup for an optic. The front sight is adjustable for windage and elevation with tools and the rear sight can be dialed in for windage and elevation by hand. Both sights are rock solid when deployed and did not demonstrate any wiggle.
My test rifle came with one steel magazine painted flat dark earth to match the rest of the gun. Based on the M16 magazines any Mil-Spec magazine will work with the SCAR 16S.
Breaking It Down
Disassembly of the SCAR 16S is simple and does not require any tools.
Start by removing the magazine and clearing the chamber. Push the captive take-down pin from the left side until it stops. Push the trigger module forward, separating it from the backplate. The entire module can now be pulled down from the receiver. The buttstock module can now be pushed down and off the receiver assembly backplate. Pull the charging handle rearward and apply downward pressure to the guide retaining plate, then pull the charging handle all the way to the rear. Pull out the charging handle and remove the return spring assembly by pulling it out toward the rear.
The entire moving parts assembly (bolt carrier) can now be slid out through the rear of the receiver. The small end of the charging handle can be used to push out the firing pin retaining pin out of the bolt carrier from right to left and remove the firing pin from the rear of the bolt carrier. Remove the bolt cam pin from the left side of the bolt and then the bolt can be removed from the carrier.
To remove the gas piston, make sure that the front sight is in its up position. Turn the gas regulator clockwise to the
4 o'clock position and remove it from the rifle. With the muzzle pointing down, use a cleaning rod with a bronze brush (FN cautions that stainless steel cleaning brushes should never be used as they could damage the chrome lining) to gently push out the gas piston from rear to front.
FN also warns against lubricating the gas piston, regulator, or gas block as it may damage the rifle. Further disassembly should only be performed by a department armorer.
The one thing that impressed me most about the SCAR 16S is that it was still a very clean gun after firing 400 rounds. Granted, that is a very low round count, but I know there is a significant amount of carbon that needs to be removed from my AR-15 when I have fired this many rounds.
In the SCAR 16S the piston was dirty, as was the front of the bolt carrier. This carbon residue was easily removed. But the bolt and its lugs were still relatively clean, as was the inside of the upper receiver. And that's the real advantage of the piston system: Weapons stay cleaner, work better, and inspire user confidence.
In April, a battalion of U.S. Rangers were deployed into combat with the SCAR-L rifle. Feedback from this and other units will determine what the military does next with the SCAR. It is not unexpected that there will be modifications before the military places larger orders.
My very brief evaluation was just too minimal to develop any true criticisms of the SCAR 16S. It was accurate and reliable and performed exactly like we'd expect a battle rifle to.
Time will tell whether the SCAR-L has earned the right to replace the military's M4 carbine. As for the SCAR 17S, the civilian version of the SCAR H, FN tells me that it will be introduced at the 2010 Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT).
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.