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FAMAS: The ‘Die Hard’ Assault Rifle Is a Powerhouse Gun

FAMAS rifles are very rarely found within American shores, and when they are, they command a very hefty premium.

FAMAS Assault Rifle. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

When one thinks of Western European bullpup style assault rifles — firearms with action and magazine fixed behind the trigger — chances are the Austrian-made Steyr AUG or the British-made SA80 are what come to mind. The former was immortalized by Alexander Godunov in the original Die Hard film (you know, the ultimate Christmas movie), and the latter is famous for its poor reliability. What tends to get lost in the shuffle is France’s contribution to the bullpup assault rifle world, the FAMAS. 

FAMAS Early History and Specifications

As noted in a November 2017 article for Guns & Ammo, “The FAMAS rifle, or Fusil D’Assaut De La Manufacture D’Armes De Saint-Etienne, is the standard French service rifle and has been since 1978. The acronym stands for assault rifle (Fusil D’Assaut) Manufactured for the Army by the French government’s armory in Saint-Etienne.

“The bullpup concept had not seemed to gain any traction during the mid-20th century, but with the decision to make the 5.56x45mm the NATO standard, designers once again began to examine the bullpup. Perhaps one reason bullpup designs may never have gotten off the ground…was that the smaller size and weight with full-power rifle cartridges created too much recoil to allow average soldiers to operate them effectively on full auto. With the lighter recoil of the 5.56, bullpups shooting their way right out of soldiers’ hands became less of a concern.” 

The concept and design of the FAMAS actually goes back significantly farther than the disco-crazed year of 1978. The project began in earnest in 1967 under the direction of Brig. Gen. Paul Tellié, and the prototype was completed in 1971. French military evaluation of the rifle began in 1972. Upon adoption, the weapon was only issued to French paratroopers, but by 1990 it became general issue to all Armée de Terre soldiers. 

Specifications for the rifle include a barrel length of 19.2 inches and a weight of 8.73 pounds. Standard magazine capacity is 25 rounds, and cyclic rate of fire on full-auto is 950 rounds per minute. The barrel generates a muzzle velocity of 3,030 feet per second, with an effective range of 450 meters and a maximum firing range of 3,200 meters. 

Battlefield Performance

The rifle has been nicknamed La Trompette (“The Trumpet”) or Le Clairon (“The Bugle”) by French soldiers due to its unusual shape. Reports from the field indicate that the FAMAS is comfortable to fire, very accurate at battle ranges, and easily controlled during burst fire. Unlike the SA80, I’m not aware of any stories about the FAMAS falling short of expectations for reliability or durability. (If any of our dear readers know otherwise, please let us know below in the comments section.) 

This gun has seen use in roughly 13 different conflicts, including the 1982 Lebanon War, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the Rwandan Civil War. Besides France, military, police, guerrilla, and paramilitary units in roughly 16 different countries have wielded it, including in Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Gabon

The German-made Heckler & Koch HK416F started replacing the FAMAS in most frontline French Army units in 2017. However, France’s homegrown assault rifle is still expected to remain in limited service until 2028. As a personal anecdote, during a day trip I took to Paris in September 2016, I recall seeing French troops wielding FAMAS rifles in the vicinity of Notre Dame Cathedral a few short days after a failed terrorist attack in the area. 

More than 400,000 of these rifles have been built thus far.  

Want Your Own?

Bonne chance with that, and bring a bankbook. FAMAS rifles are very rarely found within American shores, and when they are, they command a very hefty premium. Buffalo Gun Center recently sold one on the Guns International website for $27,500.

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).