Caliber choice for patrol rifles has always been something that engenders almost ad-nauseam conversation. And I'm not going to start that argument here. That's not because the decision isn't critical. It's because caliber choice is not rocket science.
Most of the time the caliber discussion revolves around penetration or more likely overpenetration. Again, it is a valid debate, but often people on both sides base their arguments on myth, pseudo-science, and what amounts to nothing more than marketing claims. It is simply amazing how much the "industry" drives the decisions made by law enforcement and even the military. Instead of choice being determined by what's best for the operator, the industry often tells us what we "need."
As a SWAT lieutenant, I have tested numerous rifles, suppressors, and other gear, and I've learned to take vendor claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. A lot of stuff just doesn't meet the grade.
My point here is that you simply cannot take someone else's word about a police firearm. You have got to test it and test it well. The decision you make may determine the outcome of a real life-and-death situation; it is truly critical.
Which brings me back to the caliber debate and leads us into this discussion of the FNH USA SCAR 17S, a .308 caliber patrol rifle.
There are agencies and jurisdictions where the extra range and penetration of the .308 rifle is a necessity. Many rural jurisdictions may have to deal with four-legged critters that a 5.56 round would simply irritate. And there are also areas where every home owner has a 7mm Magnum or bigger rifle for deer hunting where local law enforcement needs the power and performance of .308 rifles.
You can control the penetration of the .308 with bullet selection, but you cannot add range to the 5.56mm. Whether a .308 patrol rifle is for you depends on what you actually need and the ranges at which you will need it.
OK. Lets's talk about the SCAR 17S.
The SCAR 17S may be the most perfect .308 patrol rifle that I have ever evaluated. I know that's a strong statement. So let me elaborate.
In my experience all but some custom rifles are often problematic or erratic when purchased in bulk. One of the most popular guns on the market came to me in a pair, and it took all kinds of tweaking to get these to work at all for the first 100 rounds. That's not the case so far for the FNH USA SCAR 17S.
The SCAR 17S is not an AR-type rifle, it just looks like one. The gas system is different and has more in common with rifles like the Heckler & Koch G36, the FN FAL, and other proven systems. It does, however, have the ergonomics associated with the AR platform.
The SCAR 17S was developed for the military, and the military wanted to smooth the transition for its troops from ARs to the SCAR so all of the controls are in the same place with a couple extras. Some of these out-of-the-box extras are what we should have on every rifle intended for police work. For example, there's an ambi-safety control. Another nice touch is the ambidextrous magazine release. Not only does this facilitate left-handed shooting, it also makes magazine changes from the prone position easier to perform regardless of which side you shoot from.[PAGEBREAK]
The SCAR's charging handle can also be moved to either side, making it easy for anyone to operate. Yes, it is a reciprocating handle and that seems to tweak the noses of the AR purists, but honestly, my advice to AR purists is to get over it. Having run AK-47 rifles, G36 rifles, and a few others, I can tell you that if you are actually focusing on the threat, you don't notice. Short of pushing the rifle into the ground as you shoot it, it would be pretty difficult to induce a malfunction .
Another nice touch on the SCAR 17S is the assortment of sling attachments on both sides of the rifle. It can be slung on the right or left side, and can be slung when folded.
The SCAR's folding stock is nice for storage in a trunk, in a rack, or just in general. The stock also adjusts for length of pull to accommodate body armor and different body sizes.
One of the last features of the SCAR 17S that I want to discuss may be the most important: the sights. This rifle comes with an excellent set of battle sights that accommodate the entire range of the caliber.
About the only thing missing from the SCAR 17S right out of the box is the two extra magazines. Again, why manufacturers do this is clear, but it is still something you will always see me complain about. Magazines are essential, especially with this rifle. The magazines are proprietary and few places stock them. It would be nice to see three come with the rifle.
Since the magazines came up let's deal with the proprietary magazine. It is great marketing to have your rifle fit all the "popular magazines," but I don't think that's the best way to do things. This is true if you are selling rifles, or you are in the military where logistics are an issue. For me, it is all about how it works, and unless you are preparing for the invading horde as an apocalyptic warrior you only need three magazines. More importantly they need to work all the time and when the magazines are made specifically for your gun, they do.
Testing the SCAR 17S
The best test for this rifle was right out of the box with iron sights. Initially all that I added was a sling. The rifle was zeroed and fired for groups at 100 yards from prone using my drag bag on the range. No bipod was used although one could be added easily, especially one that goes over a rail.
From this position most of the groups measured between 1.5 and 2 inches. Federal 168-grain Gold Medal Match was my preferred ammo. Since shooting groups is all about the "system" not just the rifle, it is likely that the SCAR 17S is actually more accurate than it was in my test, but a 1.5-inch group gets the job done in most any case where it could be used in a patrol environment. Put a scope on this rifle and you may see groups closer to an inch, which is about as good as it gets.[PAGEBREAK]
After putting a good 200 rounds of various ammunition through the SCAR 17S on the move and from various positions with iron sights, I added an Insight Technologies MRDS (Mini Red-Dot Sight). If given the opportunity to keep this rifle this configuration would be my preference. The MRDS allowed for faster target acquisition and a bit more accuracy. It also is very small, very light, and does not detract from the other strengths of this system.
During much of my testing, I wore a soft vest or no vest. But I also shot the SCAR 17S while wearing a tactical vest. The folding stock accommodated the tactical vest easily even with rifle plates.
The SCAR's folding stock also makes storage easy, and the cheek weld adjustment is nice. Adjustments are made by a simple push of a button, and the cheek weld moves up to accommodate optics. When you use iron sights, all you have to do is simply move it back down. The SCAR's stock is very simple, very adjustable, very rugged, and it works.
All of the features of the SCAR 17S are really impressive. But the best thing about this rifle is that it works and works and just keeps on working. I saw a SCAR 17S fire at least a thousand rounds at a recent media shoot with zero malfunctions. Now I've seen it do the same in my hands. This gun just works, plain and simple. It worked from the first round out of the box to the last round that I fired. It did so with ammunition ranging from 150-grain polymer tipped bullets to 180-grain full metal jacket. It even fed the 165-grain tactical, a round that chokes most AR rifles as the system just does not like flat bullets. I have no doubt that this rifle is reliable.
I have long been a fan of the .308 rifle, and the SCAR 17S is easily one of the best I've seen for patrol applications. It is lightweight, reliable, accurate, and comes with pretty much all you need right out of the box. In addition, the SCAR 17S's ergonomics make for easy transition and can accommodate any size of officer. For those agencies that want select fire models, they are available and the trigger is excellent and controllable.
If your area of operation requires the range and power of a .308 rifle, the SCAR17S is about perfect. It will take longterm testing to see how it works in the long run but for the time it was in my hands it was flawless. Believe me, had they let me buy this gun, I would have.
If you or your agency are looking for a .308 rifle, take a hard look at the SCAR 17S. It will likely do all you need and then some.
Iron Sights vs. Optics
My recommendation for police departments is to keep firearms simple and test them thoroughly. This goes double for patrol rifles.
Make certain that your agency's patrol rifle can be operated out of the box by your least experienced officer. Keep the gadgetry to a minimum, and be certain the rifle will work with nothing more than iron sights, a sling, and three magazines.
Unless your department is willing to buy a sighting system with the rifle, it is critical to keep it simple. And the truth is many agencies don't want to buy optics. Take a trip to a typical police rifle training range, and you will see that red-dot sights are still rare.
That means officers need to use iron sights, and that's fine. There is nothing you cannot do in a typical patrol environment with iron sights; it is just easier with a red dot or optic.
Lt. Dave Bahde is a 20-year veteran of South Salt Lake (Utah) PD and an experienced SWAT team leader and firearms instructor.