The SCAR weapons family from FNH is one of the most recognizable platforms from the GWOT era. It has had a long and often odd history but has become known as SOCOM’s rifle in many ways. This week, we got our hands on the latest variant of the SCAR 16, known as the SCAR 16S NRCH. The last letters of which stand for Non-Reciprocating Charging Handle. Which may have some of you begging the question, why would you do that now? And very fortunately this rifle came to me because I can answer that.
The FN SCAR bears probably the coolest name in rifles of all time, just as it reads right there. But it gets even more ninja when you realize that SCAR stands for Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, with the O and F being deleted from the acronym by a very smart marketing guy. And it’s true, the SCAR was built at the behest of SOCOM, with a very specific set of parameters. ( Also, it says Assault Rifle right in the name. Somebody go tell David Hogg.) Back in 2004, SOCOM had a solicitation for a family of assault rifles, and all the big dogs showed up. FNH’s SCAR beat out a full dozen competitors, including H&K’s XM8 space gun. This could also be seen as the test that spawned other space guns, such as the Remington/Bushmaster/Magpul ACR/Masada a few years down the road. ( I know that is confusing. Let me clarify: Magpul made the Masada and then licensed it to Bushmaster who called it the ACR. Remington and Bushmaster were owned by the same parent company, but only Remington was allowed to sell rifles to the military and LE. So they made one as well. Technically, yes, 3 separate companies made a rifle that bore 2 different names.)
The SCAR was a very cool concept, and came with two receiver sizes. There was the SCAR-H (Heavy)in 308, and the SCAR-L ( Light). Both had user configurable barrel lengths, and it wasn’t out of the question even then that they would one day field multiple calibers. The idea was that 3 rifles, all ergonomically identical, could do everything from a CQB gun, to a general purpose patrol gun, to a semi auto sniper system. The third version in question was a SCAR-H with some minor changes to make it a sniper rifle. The rifles had all kinds of whiz bang features for the day, such as folding stocks and tan paint.
Unfortunately, FN was about to learn a hard lesson many other military contractors have learned in the past. There is a lot of daylight between winning a contract, and getting to deliver on a contract. The original win was in 2004. Most people would assume then that SOCOM was taking delivery on crates of new rifles by early 2005. But that is not at all how it worked out.
It took until 2008 for SOCOM to conduct a Field User Assessment and declare the SCAR blessed by the Pope. Which is a fancy way of saying they brought a bunch of ninjas from the various SOCOM commands to Ft. Bragg and had them go shoot the piss out of them for a couple of months. Now I wasn’t tasked to be part of that crew. But one of the benefits of having a cool enough badge and living on Ft. Bragg is that you can show up to things like that and participate. In fact, it was kind of hard not to. The SCAR test monkeys would also just randomly show up at SOCOM unit ranges and be like “ yo, anyone wanna try and melt the barrel out of this thing for a little bit.” So I am not exactly unfamiliar with the weapon.
That got more intimate a few years later when I was on CQB instructor duty. The SCAR-H had already been fielded pretty widely. In fact, a large number of sniper teams were opting to carry the SCAR-H instead of the SR-25/M-110 since it was more reliable and just as accurate. We had not, however, seen much of SCAR-L. That changed when a certain host nation bought SCAR-L’s and asked that their Special Forces trainers bring the same. Therefore, I taught several classes per year of Green Berets on SCAR-L’s, that were going to said nation on deployment.
Which brought up a big problem. A lot of CQB/ Urban combat shooting is from odd positions. The Kyle Lamb methodology had really taken root, which means barricades and cars all over hell’s half acre. And the reciprocating charging handle is a less than stellar idea from those positions. About a year into this, I by chance bumped into FN’s VP of military sales at of all things the FNH 3 Gun Match in Virginia. I asked him point blank why the SCAR had all these excellent features, but a reciprocating charging handle. An engineering dilemma we solved in the ’60s. And he told me the magic sauce. “Because SOCOM insisted it have one.”
Which it turned out was absolutely true. That sounded completely stupid, so I went and checked. Sure enough, buried in the solicitation, is the demand for a reciprocating charging handle. Some genius decided to add it to the pile, and FN complied. The customer is never wrong, especially when he has Uncle Sugar’s checkbook. (SOCOM would later both cancel the orders for the SCAR-L, and ask for a 5.56 conversion kit for the SCAR-H. Which makes total sense, use the large frame gun to shoot the little bullets, good idea.)
So I, for one, am very happy to see the new NRCH model of 16S. The SCAR was always a great gun, with that one little flaw. That was only really a flaw in certain situations, but a show stopper for many of us nonetheless. The new models feature a charging handle on both sides of the bolt, that, get this, doesn’t move when you shoot it. Just like all of our other guns, including FN’s M240 and M249 machine guns.
Other than that, the SCAR remains the same. Which is in no way an indictment. Our test model shot a very reasonable 1.5 MOA on average, well inside the acceptable for a battle rifle. It still has all the cool stuff, like folding stock and a built-in adjustable cheek piece. The monolithic upper rail is good for a variety of optics options. And most importantly? That look. The SCAR managed to look like a space gun, but a cool space gun. You don’t set this baby to stun. You set it to “ The Covenant must be exterminated.” (That is a HALO reference for you codgers. Master Chief would be totally at home with a SCAR.)
It has been a long road, but the SCAR-L has earned its place. Often overshadowed by its Heavy brother, the Light version is having new life breathed into it with the NRHC model. If you are looking for something off the beaten path but proven in the harshest of environments, the 16S is for you.
is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com