By Daniel T. McElrath, Shooting Illustrated
FN’s Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, or SCAR, has always been something of a rumor. You often heard about it, but rarely saw one. Introduced with much fanfare about 15 years ago, it was expected to be the hot new battle rifle, an improvement over the AR platform. That it was initially specific to Special Operations Forces (SOF) gave it special cachet.
However, its relationship with the U.S. military is “complicated.” It answered the call for a new SOF rifle, gained approval and was deployed, but additional, in-bulk orders either never materialized or were cancelled.
An oft-cited issue with the SCAR was the presence of a reciprocating charging handle. Each time the short-stroke, gas-piston SCAR fired, the charging handle moved back and forth, and woe be unto the shooter who wasn’t careful about support-hand placement. Whether or not that was the sole problem the military had with the platform, there existed the perception that it was a significant factor.
In a remarkable, yet long-awaited, feat of engineering, FN has now rejiggered the SCAR to have a non-reciprocating charging handle. Modified gun in hand, FN re-approached the U.S. military like Dorothy bringing the Wicked Witch’s broomstick to the Wizard, only to be likewise blown off. FN has therefore shifted focus to the commercial market, where conspicuous consumption and pride of ownership have long given the semi-auto version of the platform a niche fanbase. Though, like ARs, it was chambered in both 5.56 NATO and 7.62 NATO and even used the same magazines, it had its own look and unique features that distinguished it. With its “thicc” receivers and adjustable, folding stock that oddly tapered toward the butt, it didn’t really look like anything else. Also, it was pricey enough to offer considerable exclusivity.
FN is now building all SCARs with the non-reciprocating changing handle, including the SCAR 16, the .30-caliber SCAR 17 and SCAR Mk 20 precision semi-automatic Sniper Support Rifle. Moreover, a kit is available to allow owners of earlier SCARs to retrofit the new charging handle. The non-reciprocating unit is ambidextrous and allows keeping the forward assist. Moreover, with both a straight and bent version included with each rifle, the updated handle will accommodate any grip style, and the bent one permits clearance of any optic. The thoroughly tested new system is expected to offer the same service life as previous SCARs.
The SCAR 16 we received for testing was similar to one we used at a press event prior to the rifle’s public unveiling. Just as then, the gun was absolutely reliable. Further, its ergonomics were outstanding, particularly due to its adjustability. The gun’s length-of-pull adjusts between six settings. Moreover, the comb can be angled upward to accommodate higher-mounted optics.
Additionally, the SCAR tallies cool points for its side-folding stock, which can be locked in place while still allowing the gun to operate. Thus, not only is the rifle easily stowed in a small space, it can be brought to bear quickly from its storage space and can be maneuvered and operated in pretty tight confines.
A leading firearms expert (and FN enthusiast) had pronounced the SCAR a 3-MOA gun. He knew whereof he spoke. The rifle’s accuracy was only adequate, despite its hammer-forged, freefloat, chrome-lined barrel. Some of that was due to a less-than-stellar trigger, which grated until breaking at a measured 6 pounds, 11 ounces. After the break, the trigger would—rather disconcertingly—sweep to the rear of the trigger guard, pause for a moment, then spring forward.
Another factor may be the gun’s proprietary nature (which likely also contributes to its price). There is no large, decades-old aftermarket creating premium parts or accurizing tweaks for the SCAR the way there is for the patent-expired AR. Further, the gun was specifically built for a military contract and to military standards, not for the now-spoiled and picky civilian market that expects at least MOA accuracy at this price point.
That said, the gun is light, comfortable, adjustable to a variety of users, has the convenience of a folding stock and a fairly simple manual-of-arms. Most importantly, it goes bang when it’s supposed to, and now you don’t have the distraction of worrying where your support hand is.