FAMAS stands for Fusil d'Assaut de la Manufacture d'Armes de St-Etienne (Assault Rifle by St-Etienne Arms Factory - a member of the French govt. owned GIAT Industries concern). Development of this rifle began in 1967, under the leadership of the Paul Tellie, a French arms designer. This new rifle was intended to replace in service the MAS Mle.49/56 semi-automatic rifles, MAT-49 submachine guns and some MAC Mle.1929 light machine guns. First FAMAS prototype had been built in 1971. French military began to test this rifle in 1972-73, but, in the meantime, France adopted a Swiss-designed SIG SG-540 5.56mm assault rifle as an intermediate solution. FAMAS rifle was adopted by the French in 1978 and since then became a standard French Army shoulder fired small arm, known among the French soldiers as "Le Clairon" (the bulge). According to the Janes Infantry Weapons 2000, the total number of FAMAS F1 rifles built is estimated at 400 000, and the production of the F1 variant is now completed. It is still used by the French army, and was exported in small numbers to some countries like the Senegal or United Arab Emirates. Since then, the GIAT Industries developed an improved version of the F1, known as the G1. This rifle featured an enlarged trigger guard, that covered a whole hand, and a slightly improved plastic handguards. G1 was an intermediate design, and was consequently replaced by the latest production model, the FAMAS G2, which appeared circa 1994. This rifle has the G1-style enlarged trigger guard but can accept only STANAG type (M16-compatible) magazines. It was adopted and purchased by the French Navy in the 1995, with the French Army soon following the suit, and also offered for export. At the present time the slightly upgraded FAMAS G2 rifle is used as a platform for the future FELIN system (a French counterpart to the US "Land Warrior" programme), which incorporates a various electronic sights and sensors, connected to the soldier carried equipment, like the helmet mounted displays, ballistic and tactical computers etc. GIAT also now offers some variations of the basic FAMAS G2 rifle, such as "Submachine gun" with shortened receiver and barrel of 320 mm long, "Commando" with the standard receiver and the 405 mm barrel, and the "Sniper", with longer and heavier 620 mm barrel and an integral scope mount instead of the carrying handle.
The FAMAS rifles seen some action during the operation "Desert Storm" in Kuwait in 1991, as well as in some peace-keeping operations in the mid and late 1990s, and proved itself as a reliable and trustworthy weapons.
The FAMAS assault rifles are built using the bullpup layout, with the magazine housing behind the pistol grip and trigger. The gun is built around the compact receiver, which is enclosed in the plastic housing. FAMAS is one of the relatively rare systems that uses a lever delayed blowback action, borrowed from the French AAT-52 machine gun, but originally invented by the Hungarian designer Paul de Kiraly prior to the Second World War, and improved by the Paul Tellie for the FAMAS rifle. This system consists of the two-part bolt (breech block) with the delay lever interposed between the light forward part (the bolt itself), which has a bolt face and the provisions for extractor mountings, and the heavier rear part (the bolt carrier). The lever is pivotally mounted on the front part of the breech block (bolt), with its lower legs resting against the cross pin in the receiver and the upper legs resting against the face on the bolt carrier (assuming that the bolt group is in its forward position). Gun is fired from the closed bolt. When cartridge is ignited and fired, the gas pressure against the cartridge base pushes the cartridge case back in the fluted chamber, against the bolt face. The bolt begin to move back under the pressure, but at initial stages of the movement, when the pressure is still high, the delay lever transforms the short movement of the bolt into the longer movement of the heavier bolt carrier, thus delaying the opening of the bolt. As soon as the pressure in the chamber is dropped down to reasonable level, the lever is completely withdrawn from the contact with the cross pin, and from this moment on both bolt and its carrier begin to move back with the same speed, compressing the return spring and extracting and ejecting the spent case. The bolt face has extractor mounting points on both sides, so user can mount the extractor claw on the left or the right side of the bolt, which will result in the left-side or right-side extraction of the spent cartridge cases through the ejection ports on both sides of the gun. One of the ejection ports, which is not used at the moment, is always covered with detachable cheek piece, which can be installed on either side of the gun, as required. This allows to solve the problem of the left-hand use, which is essential for most bullpup rifles. The charging handle is located above the receiver, under the carrying handle, is shaped like trigger and completely ambidextrous. The charging handle does not reciprocate when gun is fired.
The firing mechanism unit is contained in the detachable plastic housing just behind the magazine port. The unit is linked to the trigger by the long trigger rod, and the safety / fire selector is located within the triggerguard, just ahead of the trigger. The selector has 3 positions for safe, single shots, and automatic fire. Additional three-rounds bursts module is built into the firing mechanism housing, with the additional selector under the housing, behind the magazine, that allows for the unlimited full automatic fire or 3 rounds burst modes to be selected (when the main selector is in the full auto mode).
The sighting system of the FAMAS consists of the blade front and the diopter rear sight, adjustable for range and with two flip-up apertures, for good visibility and low light conditions. Both sights are mounted on the pillars, that are in turn mounted on the receiver, and concealed by the large plastic carrying handle. The carrying handle has the provisions for mounting a Weaver or Picatinny-style sight bases. A special receivers also available with the integral sights base instead of the carrying handle.
The standard FAMAS barrel is 488 mm long and has a NATO-standard 22mm diameter flash hider, which also is used to launch rifle grenades from the muzzle. Current FAMAS barrels are rifled with 1:9 twist (1 turn in 228 mm, right hand), so both older M193 and newer 5.56mm NATO / SS109 / M855 ammunition can be fired with good results. Another interesting fact about FAMAS barrels is that it has only 3 groves (while most other rifles have 4 to 6 grooves). The "Commando" variant has the shorter barrel which cannot be used to launch grenades. Both standard and the Commando versions can be fitted with the 40mm M203 underbarrel grenade launcher, if required. Every FAMAS rifle (except for the shortest "Submachine gun" version) can be fitted with folding, non-adjustable lightweight bipods that can be folded along the gun body when not in use. On most rifles these bipods are fitted as a standard. Every FAMAS rifle is equipped with the carrying sling and with detachable bayonet.
Caliber 5.56mm NATO (.223rem)
Action Delayed blowback
Overall length 757 mm
Barrel length 488 mm
Weight 3.8 kg with empty magazine
Magazine 30 rounds (STANAG)
Muzzle velocity 925 m/s
Rate of fire 1000-1100 rounds per minute
Effective range 450 meters
This article uses material from the Modern Firearms & Ammunition site article "GIAT FAMAS assault rifle".