Weapons and Kit

France Is Phasing Out Its FAMAS Rifle – But What Will Replace It?

All the gen on France's unique-looking rifle

France is phasing out its FAMAS assault rifle which entered service with the French military in 1977 but what is its legacy over the last 45 years?

During its time in service, the rifle has seen significant upgrades and action in several conflicts around the world.

Here, detailing its specifications and use over its years of service, we look at the weapon system's characteristics, why it has stood the test of time for defence organisations like the French Foreign Legion, and whether the rifle will continue to be used by mainstream militaries into the 2020s and beyond.

This is all the gen on the FAMAS.

FAMAS F1 with bayonet. Credit: joelogon / Joe Loong

What Are The Specifications Of FAMAS? 

Weight: 3.61 kg (F1), 3.8 kg (G2)

Length: 757 mm (965 mm with bayonet)

Ammo type: 5.56 mm standard NATO 

Rate of fire: 900 – 1,100 rds per min (F1), 900 – 1,150  rds per min (G2)

Effective range: 300 m (F1), 450 m (G2)

Max range: 3,200 m

Muzzle velocity: 930 m/s (F1), 925 m/s (G2)

Feed: 25 rd magazine (F1), 30 rd magazine (G2)

FAMAS G2 with bayonet. Credit: Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

Other Information

Name: FAMAS (Fusil d'Assaut de la Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Étienne – translating to English as Assault Rifle from the Saint-Étienne Weapon Factory)

Nickname: The Bulge

Origin: Saint-Étienne, France

Year of introduction: 1977

Manufacturer: GIAT Industries

Variants: F1 (1977), G1 (prototype only), G2 (1994), FELIN (2011)

Used by: France (military and civil), Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Senegal, Thailand

Conflicts: 1982 Lebanon War, Gulf War, Rwandan Civil War, Bosnian War, Afghanistan (2001 onwards), Iraq War, Syrian Civil War

Cost per unit: £1,300 

Number of units made: F1 400,000, G2 15,000

A French soldier controlling a checkpoint in Friuli, 1999. Credit: Alamy

The FAMAS Factory

Incredibly, the FAMAS hails from the same French factory responsible for producing the musket rifles Napoleon's forces fired at the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 -the Saint-Étienne Weapon Factory.

The weapon is French-designed and French-produced.

Is The FAMAS A Good Rifle?

The French military ordered and took delivery of 400,000 FAMAS F1 rifles in 1977.

However, soon after the weapon system entered service, specific issues with the rifle became widespread. These problems included the breaking off or snapping plastic parts to the weapon's exterior, including the "cheek riser" – a section towards the rear of the rifle where the user rests their cheek.

Another critical issue with the F1 was the magazine housing and associated feed mechanism responsible for mechanically taking rounds from a magazine and placing them into the chamber for firing.

The nature of the F1's initial magazine design was for magazines to be used "once only" before disposal or recycling. 

In the immediate years following the rifle's introduction, reduced French military budgets meant that the "one time only" magazines were needed to be used repeatedly. This resulted in frequent stoppages and jamming.

MAS – the manufacturer – eventually redesigned magazines to be durable, allowing for continued use as part of the weapon system.

An upgraded rifle – called the G1 – was designed to address the plastic faults and included an enlarged trigger housing area so that users wearing gloves could pull the trigger without delay. 

However, the G1 was only ever a concept rifle, and the French military persevered with the F1.

In 1994, to comply with NATO regulations, the FAMAS G2 entered service.

The G2 operated with standard 5.56 mm NATO ammo and magazines. It also included some of the upgrades the G1 offered, including the enlarged trigger housing. It additionally replaced the problematic plastic parts that dogged the F1 with fibreglass.

Although the French Navy (including the "Fusiliers Marins" and "Commandos Marine") took up the upgraded rifle, the French Army declined the purchase. Instead, it continued to rely on its ageing arsenal of FAMAS F1s.

Members of the French Foreign Legion in Paris. Credit: Shutterstock
Members of the French Foreign Legion in Paris. Credit: Shutterstock

Firing Modes

Within the FAMAS' trigger guard sits a Fire Control Selector. It includes three settings:

Safe (the central position – the equivalent to an SA80 safety catch in the on position).

Single Shot (selected by turning the switch to the right).

Automatic Fire (selected by turning the switch to the left).

Importantly, when Automatic Fire is selected, a further switch situated behind the magazine housing called the 3-Round Burst or Full Automatic Selector determines the automatic rate of fire. It can be, as the name suggests, 3 rounds or fully automatic. 

The original F1 and upgraded G2 rifles include an integrated bipod attached to the upper handguard as part of their system.

In the same vein as the SA80, when FAMAS is required to fire blank ammunition, a special plug is fitted to the muzzle to assist with the gas operation of the weapon system.

How Does FAMAS Fire Grenades?

The FAMAS rifle has the functionality for grenade systems to be fired from its barrel.

It works by fixing an APAV40 grenade onto the rifle's muzzle and then firing a bullet into the back of the grenade.

When the bullet strikes the grenade's Bullet Trap, the grenade's expanding gasses launch it, and then it explodes on impact with a target. Wow.

Is FAMAS An Ugly Weapon?

It may seem like a strange question, but weapons experts worldwide have continuously debated the aesthetics of the FAMAS weapon system and its unique look since its initial design and introduction in the 1970s.

In a 2012 article on The Shooters Log titled 'World's Ugliest Military Rifles', the FAMAS rifle was applauded for being "a decent weapons system." However, where good looks mattered, praise was not so forthcoming. The article said:

"The French troops refer to is affectionately as le Clarion ("the Bugle") because of its shape. We refer to it as le Fugly."

Still, the same article also listed the British-standard SA80 on its unattractive list.

FAMAS F1. Credit: Alamy

FAMAS And The Future

Although the weapon has been used significantly for more than 40 years, in 2017, the French military began phasing out FAMAS.

Instead, German manufacturer Heckler & Koch will produce and supply French forces with the HK 416.

This new weapon will have a special F designation at the end of its name, meaning "French Version" – the HK 416F.

The decision to introduce a new personal weapon system for members of France's military was spurned on by the closure of the MAS factory in 2002, resulting in the depletion of weapons' spares and parts.

Since 2017, 16,000 HK 416F rifles have been purchased annually by the French military. Some 400,000 FAMAS rifles are now held in storage in case of an emergency.