Operators Test New Commando Rifle

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It's a rifle designed specifically for the special operations community. Modular barrels, ambidextrous controls, a gas-piston operating system, a host of adjustment options -- but you already know that.

So with all the slick marketing language and eye-popping specifications of the SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle, it's a given that operators will embrace the thing wholeheartedly, right?

Well, let's ask them.

"This rifle is awesome," said one Special Forces operator who, like the rest of the Green Berets in this interview, declined to be named for security reasons. "It's spot on."

Now you get an idea of how the men who'll use the weapon in combat felt about it, not just some six-figure marketing guru spewing crafty catch-phrases. But what's most interesting is why they liked the rifle so much.

In an exclusive, Military.com joined a group of about a dozen special operations Soldiers from around the country who traveled to Northern Virginia this summer to test fire the SCAR before their upcoming deployment to the Middle East. Ground rules agreed to between the special operators, the rifle manufacturer and Military.com precluded naming the unit, its members or its deployment destination.

See the Military.com SCAR Demo Slideshow

The SCAR, which comes in a 5.56mm version and a 7.62mm one, is nearing the end of its field user assessment phase -- the final stage before full-rate production and fielding to units under U.S. Special Operations Command, including SEALs, Green Berets and Air Force Special Tactics units.

The entry of the SCAR into the spec ops community comes as the services, Congress and the Pentagon scuffle over whether or not to replace the current M4 rifle and address persistent complaints over the standard-issued carbine's reported lack of "stopping power" and its need for constant maintenance and cleaning to avoid jams.

But ask the special operations troops firing both the Mk-16 (the 5.56mm version of the SCAR) and the Mk-17, its 7.62mm brethren, and you'll get a completely different response on the rifles' advantages over the venerable M4.

To these hardened commandos, the issue wasn't the new carbine's gas-piston system that many experts agree causes fewer stoppages than the all-gas operated M4 -- they keep their weapons in tip top shape. Instead, some operators appreciated how well the SCAR felt with lead pouring from its muzzle.

"I like it a lot better than the M4," one special operator said after firing a magazine full of 5.56mm through the Mk-16. "There's a lot less recoil."

One Special Forces Soldier applauded the weapon's controls, with safety latches located on both sides of the receiver and situated much closer to the weapon's handle.

"This works better with my stumpy hands," the stocky operator joked.

But by far the feature that most impressed these operators was the SCAR's ability to change from something as small as a submachine gun to a weapon with the reach of a sniper rifle.

Like many competitors to the M4, both the Mk-16 and Mk-17 can be outfitted with barrels ranging from 10 inches for close-quarters battle operations to 18-inch designated marksman barrels.

"That's the best part of this weapon," explained one Special Forces Soldier. "When we deploy, we usually go with just our M4s. But if we're on an operation where we need an overwatch or we're observing at a distance, the M4 doesn't do us much good until it's too late."

With the SCAR, the NCO said, the team could have both the reach and protection of a long gun and the maneuverability and portability of an assault rifle -- all in one.

Both the Mk-17 and Mk-16 have a fully adjustable stock that can be folded to the side to shrink the carbine into the length of a submachine gun. Some of the operators at the test shoot gave the stumpy rifle a try in this configuration, but marksmanship was mixed.

"I'm not sure I'd ever want to fire it like this," one operator said after shooting the Mk-17 with its stock folded. "But it'd sure be nice to fold it up like this for transporting in a vehicle or something."

Officials with FN-USA say that U.S. Special Operations Command has ordered about 18,000 SCAR variants for commandos and a limited run of about 1,200 rifles has already begun.

It's unclear still whether these Special Forces Soldiers will be slinging lead down range with a SCAR pinned to their shoulder on their next deployment, but judging by the pile of spent casings littering the ground during their demo shoot, some of them wouldn't complain if the new rifle wound up in their armory.

-- Christian

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