The French Army’s standard assault rifle, the 5.56 mm FAMAS, was adopted in 1977, is based on late 1960s technology and is in urgent need of replacement: the average age of the current arsenal is over 25 years.
The DGA, France’s defence procurement agency, is poised to issue a Request for Proposals for a replacement, again in 5.56 mm calibre, which is likely to be for approximately 90,000 rifles, of which the first 21,000 will apparently need to be delivered in 2017-2018. Observers close to the programme put the estimated value of the contract at between €200-250 million. The programme is known in France as the Arme d’Infanterie du Futur (AIF) or Future Infantry Weapon.
None of the likely candidates are French, however. Manufacturers invited by the DGA to comparative trials include FN Herstal (Belgium), Heckler & Koch (Germany), Beretta (Italy), Swiss Arms/SIG SAUER (Switzerland), and HS Produkt (Croatia). Due to the technical requirements the Thales F90 – which won a $100 million contract from the Australian government last year – will not be a contender.
The fact that the next French Army individual weapon is unlikely to be French in origin has sparked some acrimonious debate. In June 2014, Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian told the Assemblée nationale that he was, “very open to French companies responding in one way or another to this opportunity and I strongly encourage them to do so.” Manurhin in Alsace, for example, has a long tradition of small arms manufacturing in France but it is unknown whether or not they will make a bid.
Although there appears to be no contractual obligation for French content or involvement in the AIF programme, contenders could do worse than find some modus operandi that includes Nexter Mechanics in Tulle, which currently provides operational maintenance for FAMAS and integrates it into the FELIN future soldier equipment now being deployed throughout the Army.
Picture shows a soldier of the 2eme Regiment d’Infanterie Étranger using a FAMAS equipped with an Aimpoint red dot sight.