Rifle Review: FN Herstal SCAR 16S FDE – A Rifle for the Civilian Operator


The FN Herstal SCAR 16S breaks tradition in so many ways, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to help it with that task. Unlike the usual pattern of military firearms adopted by the civilian market after years of proven service (usually in combat), such as the M1903A3, the M1 Garand and the M16 (in the civilian AR15 version), civilians are able to get their hands on a semi-auto only model of this rifle almost as soon as it was delivered to the military – and not the general military, but members of the elite SOCOM (Special Operations Command).

Although this review is about the civilian FN SCAR 16S, it’s worthwhile to quickly go over its military roots. It was developed by FNH USA (Fabrique National de Herstal) as an entirely original rifle, designed from scratch and without any carry-over from the M16/M4 or other existing pattern. Designated the Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR), it was designed as a modular weapons system, with two platforms: the standard (S) model chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO and the heavy (H) in 7.62x51mm NATO. They share the same control layout, layout and cleaning/maintenance procedures, so to know one is to know them both.

FN Herstal SCAR 16S FDE Barrel

The action is a short stroke gas piston with a rotating locking bolt. Field trials have shown that, compared to the M16/AR15 multi-lug bolt and plunger-type ejector system, the SCAR is less sensitive to fine sand, dust and other detritus that can foul up the action. The upper receiver is aluminum, mated to a polymer lower with two cross pins.

Made with the superior (and expensive) cold hammer forging method, the MIL-SPEC barrel (16¼” with a 1:7 twist) is free-floating and has a chrome-lined bore. It has a compensator which diverts the muzzle blast to the sides and at a backwards angle, which spares the shooter’s hearing but is reported to be especially loud for anyone located on either side. Although it probably won’t generally be an issue for civilian shooters, the barrel can be easily and quickly replaced without special tools and without adjusting for headspace.

FN SCAR 16S FDE Rear Sight

The polymer stock, available in black or Flat Dark Earth (FDE), includes a side-folding stock; folded, the overall length of the rifle is 27½” and, with the adjustable butt, is 37½” fully extended. The grip is A-2 style and the butt features an adjustable cheek support.

Iron sights consist of a folding diopter rear sight on the receiver rail and a folding front sight on the gas block. There are four MIL-SPEC 1913 Picatinny rails: a full-length one on the receiver and three shorter ones on the right, bottom and left of the free-floating handguard. This allows the shooter to get creative with scopes, lasers and lights.

FN SCAR 16S FDE Trigger

Both the safety lever and the magazine release are ambidextrous and the charging handle may be mounted on either the right or left side. The trigger guard is enlarged, to allow the shooter to wear gloves. The trigger guard is made of composite polymer and, from field reports, and it is reported to be excellent, right out of the box. Steel and aluminum body magazines with low-friction followers are available in 10- and 30-round capacities, but any M16/AR15 magazine can be used.

One last word on what is happening on the military side of the SCAR 16S development and adoption. FNH USA originally designed the SCAR system in two platforms, Standard and Heavy, each with three versions: standard (S), close quarter combat (CQC) and sniper variant (SV, later changed to long barrel, LB). If that sounds like an overly complicated system, it should be noted that all of these shared a whopping 90% common components. Even so, the Pentagon wanted to streamline the system by adopting only the Heavy platform, with a 5.56x45mm conversion kit. The response from the field trials (rumored to be a SEAL team), was that they wanted to keep both, since the S platform was 8 ounces lighter than the H one. The Pentagon won the argument, and the Heavy version, with a Standard conversion kit, will be adopted for SOCOM. What that means is that the FN Herstal SCAR 16S civilian version for sale isn’t even available to the SOCOM troops (unless they buy their own). Custom USA XL Magazine provided by www.magazinewraps.com.

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FN SCAR 16S Black:

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