I picked up a SCAR 16S a few weeks ago. I got it because I wanted a factory carbine in 5.56mm that wasn’t an AR-15–I have a few AR-15s already, and I really enjoy putting together AR-15 project guns. And if I wanted something different, I was going to get something significantly different. Plus, the SCAR 16 was the coolest gun in the world when I was in high school. I wanted one so bad. Well, now I have one.1 What’s it like, and how does it stack up to a comparable AR-15?
The SCAR was designed by FN for SOCOM. It was to be the ultimate carbine for their requirements, replacing the Mk. 12 CQBR, the M4 and the Mk. 18 SPR. It was intended to be highly modular, and featured a quick-change barrel. The SCAR 16 shares 90% of its parts with its big sister, the SCAR 17, which is chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. Currently, SOCOM is focused it’s resources on buying the SCAR 17, since it’s hard to find anything quite as good in 7.62 NATO, and they can get M4s for “free.”2 A variant of the SCAR, the FN Advanced Carbine, was entered in the individual carbine competition, but that competition was cancelled. The SCAR has proven reliable and popular with SOCOM, especially with the SEALs. However, it hasn’t been a big enough improvement over the M4 (which itself is improving) to warrant procurement by Big Army. Enough history, let’s get on to the civvie version!
Disclaimer: A SCAR is not an AR-15.
You might think this is totally obvious, but I think it bears repeating. People are used to AR-15s, and a lot of SCAR reviews out there call out the SCAR for not being 100% AR-15-like. Well of course it’s not. If you want an AR-15, go buy one of those. I love AR-15s. I think they’re great. I won’t stop you. But this is different in a lot of ways–some good, some bad.
The SCAR 16S is chambered in 5.56x45mm, and comes with a 16″ lightweight barrel. Works for me. It’s 1.5″ longer than the standard barrel length in the military version, but I have to deal with the NFA and they don’t. Also unlike the military version, it comes with the excellent FSC556 muzzle brake instead of a flash hider. Since it’s got a 16″ barrel, muzzle devices can be swapped by the owner if desired. Otherwise, it’s basically the same gun as the military version.
The stock is pretty awesome. Since there’s no buffer tube,3 the stock can fold. It’s also telescoping, and has a nifty adjustable cheek riser. The SCAR can be fired while the stock is folded, which makes you feel cool. And also, kinda goofy. The stock has six positions of telescoping goodness, and the riser has two positions. I’ve heard stories that soldiers had issues with the stock breaking. I’m not sure how much of this is because soldiers can break anything, and how much is due to engineering problems that have been worked out but mine is pretty sturdy. I haven’t actually tried to smash it to bits or do anything stupid with it like break rocks, but I also haven’t babied it. I’m no soldier, so take that as you will.
I like the reciprocating charging handle. You can mount it on the left or the right side of the gun. Some people have scraped knuckles on their optic when using it, but this hasn’t happened to me. I have an Aimpoint Comp M4S mounted on my SCAR, and I tend to wear gloves at the range. If you don’t wear gloves and have a different optic, your results might be different. Some people have also complained that the charging handle has hit their hand while shooting. I’m not honestly sure how this can happen if you’re not trying to make it happen, but maybe that’s because I don’t hold my carbine like a complete moron. I’ve also not seen anyone post a picture anywhere of their hand position when the charging handle hit it. The reciprocating charging handle makes diagnosing whether your magazine is empty or if your weapon has jammed easy. Plus it makes locking the bolt back for administrative or remedial action simple. On the left side, you can pull the bolt back, and with your hand palm down, can trip the bolt catch to lock the bolt in position with your thumb. Simple, convenient, one-handed operation.
The bolt catch is only on the left side of the gun, but the safety and mag release are ambidextrous out of the box. As mentioned before, the charging handle can be configured on the left or the right side, per the user’s preference. The safety is nicer than the AR-15, since the 45 degree position is fire, not the 90 degree one. The shorter throw is nicer to work with. I know, it sounds silly, but it still works better. It’s a bit nicer for the military, since full auto is at the 90 degree position rather than the 180 degree one. Triggerwise, there’s a “combat trigger” in there that’s designed to resist abuse and desert sand and always trip a primer. So it’s not bad, but it’s not good. It’s a trifle gritty and somewhat heavy. There are aftermarket triggers from Geissele and Timney that make things better, of course.
Unlike a lot of the higher-end AR-15s, the SCAR comes with a quality set of folding backup iron sights. The rear sight is adjustable for range and windage, and has two apertures. The front sight is mounted conveniently on the gas block. Minor annoyance: it blocks the front of the picatinny rail, so you can’t slide an accessory over it. Most things you’d want to mount on the top rail don’t need to slide on like that, but there it is.
I should also mention the quick-change barrel. I think the military may like this one more than me. It takes me a long time to shoot out a barrel, and I don’t often think of swapping them. However, I do like that I don’t need a vise to remove or replace a barrel, unlike when working with the AR-15. It’s a minor thing, but the design is cool, and it saves me having to figure a way to improvise a vise in my apartment.
First thing I’m going to call FN out on here is being cheap. The gun came to me in a cardboard box, with some cardboard padding. Lame. With an MSRP well north of two grand, the least they could do is throw in a halfway decent plastic case. Ideally, it’d be a lockable travel-ready case, but I’d settle for almost anything nicer than this lame cardboard thing. It’s not even a cool looking box.
They’re cheap again with the stupid A2-type pistol grip. No one likes these. They’ve got a nub in a stupid place. This is an expensive gun intended for civilians. Would it kill you to put a better grip on there? There are lots available, and while preferences vary, almost all of them are better than the basic A2. It’s something the premium-ARs tend to get right. First thing I changed was the lame grip. Fortunately, AR-type grips work on it, so I grabbed one and made the switch.
The SCAR is in some ways stuck in the early 2000s. Just like the stock M4, it comes with seven inches of handguard space. This is enough for your hand. There’s room for accessories, but it gets a little cramped. You also don’t have much choice in where you’re going to put your hand. AR-15 ergonomics have moved on so people can grip out further if they want, and so that there’s more space for hands and accessories. For the record, this is why so many military guys went to vertical foregrips. Once they loaded their M4s with all their kit, there wasn’t enough room left for their hands. Being a civilian, I don’t have this much crap to hang off my gun. I might like to get my support hand out a bit more though. There are extensions, but they add weight forward. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and the SCAR is probably heavier than most AR-15 carbines out of the box. That said, I might give a handguard extension a try.
Clearly, the SCAR doesn’t use the same sort of operation as the AR-15. The SCAR is tappet driven: gas drives a small piston which smacks the bolt carrier assembly and drives it backwards. The bolt carrier assembly is reassuringly beefy, and most of the weight is above the bolt. Since there’s no gas flow required, the bolt itself is pretty thick and sturdy. It doesn’t have any obvious narrow points where stress issues might arise. Field stripping is easy, and requires no tools. Those of you who have seen pictures of the SCAR might note that the different shades of tan don’t match. This is by deliberate request of SOCOM, as it’s supposed to break up the outline of the rifle. I have no idea if this actually works.
SHOOTING THE SCAR 16S
It’s a light recoiling carbine. Duh. The FSC556 muzzle brake does a great job of helping you keep the rounds on target. Unsurprisingly, the recoil impulse is different from that of the AR-15, but it’s not unpleasant, like any other carbine. It handles well, and while shooting with the stock folded isn’t very practical, it puts a big grin on your face. I’ve found that even though I’m not using a thumb over barrel grip, the Magpul AFG is pretty comfortable on the handguard. The trigger snob in me would like a better trigger, but this one is serviceable. I’ve shot many worse triggers (mostly courtesy of Fishbreath).
I’m not going to compare the SCAR to a quality entry level AR-15 like the M&P15 sport or the Colt LE6920. Those are much cheaper and still shoot 5.56mm, but don’t have any rails or quality furniture. No, such things aren’t necessary, but they’re nice. And I always think cross-market comparisons are stupid. If you’re thinking about a SCAR, you might be wondering how it compares to the premium AR-15 options. Even though we take away most of the price differential, the AR-15 has been out longer and is very popular, so it’s got a lot more development. There are a number of modular handguard options, which are lighter, but tend to get hot faster. Pretty classic tradeoff. The SCAR’s handguard is sturdier, since there’s no joint. But, you’re pretty much stuck with it. The AR has more ergo options, but the SCAR has a better manual of arms for troubleshooting. Overall, the AR-15 is a more mature platform, so if you only had to get one, I’d tell you to go that route. Probably. But the SCAR is way cooler, and if you already have an AR-15 (or several), or just like the SCAR, you can’t go wrong with one.
1.) Okay, I have a civvie semiauto-only one. Shut up, it’s still awesome.
2.) By “free”, I mean paid for by the parent service, not the SOCOM branch. E.g. paid for by the US Navy, but out of the big budget, not that of the SEALs.
3.) Remember that part where it’s NOT an AR-15?