Well, fellow FNForum members, today was a day of days. I am delighted to report that I have now seen SCARZILLA, held it in my own two hands, and actually fired the weapon, in both full auto and semi-auto, three full magazines down range. Here are my impressions of the FNM facility, and the weapon.
First and foremost, I would like to thank FNForum member johns , who was gracious enough to invite me to come tour the facilities and manufacturing plant at FN Manufacturing, LLC in Columbia, South Carolina. Johns was a complete gentleman, professional to the core, and yet very down to earth and personable. He greeted me at Security when I arrived. Given the nature of the overall operation at the plant, I will be guarded in my statements, since, after all, this facility makes weapons for our warfighters. The facility has its own Security team, uniformed and fully armed. No cameras are allowed, and no cell phones are either (camera phones).
The first impression you get when coming into the facility is how modern it is. There are, of course, considerable security measures in place (closed circuit cameras, concertina wire, magnetometers, etc.) but once inside the gates you feel as if you are walking into a corporate campus setting. The offices are very nice, and the people were all friendly and polite. It is clear from the outset that the people who work there really enjoy their jobs.
Johns escorted me through the manufacturing facility where the M249 5.56 SAW (squad automatic weapon), M240 7.62 machine gun, and M16s are built. The immediate impression is how clean everything was, and how well lit and comfortable the building is -- yes, it is unmistakably a factory, but it is clear that the people who designed and built it really wanted to make it a place where human comfort factors were carefully considered. I was expecting a dark, dimly lit, almost dungeon-like feel to the place -- it is completely the opposite - brightly lit, numerous windows let in lots of natural light, and the people that work there all seemed content and upbeat. Overall, the most impressive part is how genuinely focused the people were in their work. Everywhere you look you see people really involved in their job functions -- no question that they were concentrating on their tasks and took great pride in what they were doing or making.
The next impression is just how many computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines there are -- the capital investment in the facility and equipment was clearly evident and truly worth a fortune. All throughout the plant there were roll carts and bins filled with billets and barrel stock, all waiting their turn in the CNC machines. The finished products - slides, barrels, receivers, etc. - are absolute works of art. I was literally amazed at the complete quality and level of craftsmanship that went into each process.
Johns took me into the barrel swage area, where the barrels were being cold hammer forged...you could feel the thump, thump, thump of the hammer as it pounded steel into weapon barrels as you passed by. He showed me the natural gas fired furnace areas where the parts are heat treated, and took me through the area where the various platings and finishes are applied (phosphate, nitride, chrome, etc.) – almost everything in the plating process is computer controlled. I was expecting this area to have a lot of chemical odors, especially in an enclosed building, but to my amazement there were no detectable odors. You could feel the induced draft clearing the air around the dip tanks. Even the tank farm area where the caustics and other chemicals were stored was clean and odor free. The facility is extremely well managed. I am not sure who the facility general manager is, but he/she really has a great workforce, because this plant had stellar "housekeeping" controls.
I also visited the testing range, where every barrel made is test-fired, and then walked through racks of completed weapons, all the way out to the custom handmade wooden crates (even the crates were well made) of guns waiting to go to their new owners or operators.
The machinery is all state-of-the-art, and while it is undeniably impressive, what really struck me was how much human handiwork was being done. Johns told me that Fridays are pretty light days (the workers have a 4 day week, ten hours per day) for the plant. The tour was like a trip to Disneyland for me, as it would be for any gearhead…!
The highlight of the tour was when johns took me into the (very nice air conditioned) indoor range that is part of the Engineering department, where one of his colleagues held a FN SCAR Mk 17 Heavy in his hands. I promised johns I would not use names in this post, but this gentleman (who is designing and working on the SSR sniper variant of the SCAR Mk 17 Heavy - more on that later) handed me the SCAR 17H, and began to load magazines for use on the range. He loaded some magazines faster by hand than most people can do with a speedloader. The magazine loads very easily, and is very similar in design to the FN FAL mags. Very sturdy design.
The first thing I noticed about the gun was how light it is, in the eight-pound range, very light for a 7.62mm weapon. The second impression is how well balanced the weapon was -- I grasped it dead center, and the gun self-balanced in my hand. Next, I took in the quality of the construction of the weapon - it is absolutely superb - as well built as the SCAR 16Ss are, but clearly stronger given the higher caliber and thicker barrel. After an orientation on the weapon and the range, I was allowed to send some rounds downrange.
The gun is virtually identical to the 16S, all the controls are in the same place – it is just beefier and stronger. The recoil was actually quite mild, especially given the light weight of the gun itself. I own three Springfield Armory M1As (22” standard, 16” SOCOM II, and a SOCOM 16) in addition to a Remington 700P TWS, all in 7.62, and it was on par with these much heavier rifles in terms of felt recoil. It is clearly a big bore gun, but it is remarkably controllable. The rifle had a flash hider designed to accept a suppressor, so it was not being aided by a muzzle brake or compensator. It was easy and exciting to shoot.
As to accuracy, it was much better than I expected, and I had very high expectations. Here is a target from the final magazine of the three I shot – you can be the judge for yourself:
The range was 23 yards long, so I figure that the target was set at 35-36 feet, using iron sights, off-hand. The shot on the lower left corner was a called flyer – my fault, but still in the box. The first two shots are the side-by-side pair at the top – I really focused in on each shot and got the accuracy results I was looking for [the very first shot was the one on the left of these two - slap dead center]; after that, I went center mass. Note the tight groupings when I really homed in on the sights. I am totally and completely satisfied with the accuracy of the SCAR 17 – with a suitable optic on top, and more time to get dialed in on the gun, it would undoubtedly be deadly accurate. I REALLY WANT ONE!
In sum, this rifle was everything I wanted it to be, and even more. I shot it twice on full auto, but muzzle rise was unavoidable, despite really bearing down hard on the gun. It climbs no matter what you do – but all .308 autos do. It would require a bipod to be controllable. That said, if I had a mud hut full of insurgents looking to shoot me, I would go full auto…you just have to hang on for dear life, and in that situation, you would…!
Johns also had the project manager for bolt-action guns bring in a .458 Safari rifle and let me shoot it. That gun was, in a word, intimidating. The sheer size of the barrel alone gave me pause. The size of the round did too. And at $5.00 a round, it gets expensive fast. But the gun was beautifully made, a gun worthy of only the best of heirs. It kicked harder than a field-plowing mule, too! You could feel the concussive wave on your chest when the gun was fired – I shot it once, dead center at point of aim. Utterly awe inspiring…whatever was in front of that round would go down with the first shot. They gave me the shell casing for a souvenir – one person said it looked like a beer can came out of the gun!
The project design engineer for the FNP-45 Tactical also joined us on the range (another cool guy) and he brought out his own personal customized Browning Hi-Power pistol to shoot – a very nice gun, and a real treat, since I had never fired one.
After the “fun with the guns” time at the range, johns had one more surprise in store. We went back into the Engineering Department, and the gentleman who had handed me the bad-ass full-auto brother of SCARZilla had an advanced prototype of the SCAR 17H SSR sniper rifle variant sitting on top of a desk. 20” barrel, suppressor friendly flash hider, extended rail with slotted port for gas valve adjustment, adjustable cheek piece and length of pull, and monopod. This weapon will fill a niche that is currently unfilled (I do not count the AR versions in that equation) and I think FN will sell every one of these it makes. Brilliant design for the concept of a squad designated marksman sniper rifle capable of suppressive fire and target elimination…and the barrel can be switched to be used in CQB by the end user in minutes. It will be available commercially in awhile…!
This SSR had a match grade trigger (I was allowed to dry fire it) that – you guessed it – is modular and interchangeable with the other SCARs. Some people have complained about the service grade trigger in the standard issue SCARs – this new trigger for this rifle will eradicate that as an issue immediately. What a great way to end a great day!
I walked away from this experience with a grin on my face that will take a week to go away. The SCAR 17S will be in my happy hands as soon as it is on the market. It is, in my unbiased objective view, the perfect weapon. In thinking about it, if I could have only one weapon, of all the weapons I can own, this would definitely be THE ONE.
Of course, I cannot own the M240/MG58, but I will own the SCAR 17S for sure!
I snagged some FN and SCAR swag at the FNM store before I left:
Back of T-shirts:
A thousand thanks to Johns, and to all the good people of FNM and FNH-USA, and to FN Herstal for the SCARs!!! :P