The Portuguese Army, after decades of struggling to get a new service rifle to replace its old battle rifle—the FMP G3 (a license built in Portugal HK G3)—has completed the process of acquiring an assault rifle and is being re-equipped with the SCAR®-L, in 5.56x45mm, built by Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal in Belgium. The Army has also bought the FN SCAR®-H, a battle rifle in 7.62x51mm that will be used as the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) at the squad level. To augment these rifles’ firepower, the Army purchased the FN40 Grenade Launcher (40x46mm); this can be attached to both rifles, SCAR-L and -H, or it can be used in the stand-alone configuration.

The FN SCAR is one of the best rifles of our times. With extensive use by the Belgian Armed Forces, U.S. Special Operations Command, French Special Forces, Slovenian and Lithuanian Army, as well as numerous other special police forces from other nations, this is an extremely modern weapon, with all that is required for high-intensity combat, and features reliability and ergonomics appropriate to the rigors of the battlefield. This is a tool that any well-equipped and prepared Armed Forces would wish to have in their inventories.

The Pursuit of All-Around Weaponry

The pursuit for the replacement of the G3 was made through NSPA (NATO Support and Procurement Agency), based in Luxembourg. It was a public tender with all the big weapons manufacturers trying to accomplish the requested specifications and capabilities. The Army based its requirements in tune with the ideas of NATO working groups for light weaponry and defining some main lines according to its missions and national defense strategy.

Weapons had to be reliable and accurate in any weather conditions and with the rigors of combat. They had to be maneuverable, ergonomic and compact enough for vehicle and helicopter operations and be easily deployed in parachute operations. They also had to be able to take the modern accessories used in combat, namely a silencer, sight, flashlight and laser designator. Both SCAR-L and -H fit all these requirements. FN has one of the highest reputations for its barrels’ quality, manufacturing and supplying many companies that manufacture AR-15s in the U.S. FN SCAR rifles are veterans in combat; they have been used extensively in Afghanistan with an excellent report. FN SCARs have a folding stock that is also adjustable in length; this makes these weapons extremely compact for storage or transportation. The top and low Picatinny rail allows for inclusion of any accessories needed—additional side rails can be added for other necessary items, making for full 360º coverage.

Portuguese Army FN40 Grenade Launcher right view. Retracted stock and sights deployed in the stand-alone configuration.

The assault rifle and designated marksman rifle had to have the most communality parts possible. This is important not only for the training of soldiers, where they can easily transition from one weapon to the other without any additional training, but for logistics who can maintain a reserve of parts that will work in both guns. The FN SCAR-L and the SCAR-H have many parts in common; the most obvious is the stock that can be changed directly from one to the other. These rifles are disassembled exactly the same way, and their controls are placed in the same places, allowing soldiers to maintain a muscle memory even in the most stressful situations of combat. The SCAR-H even has a caliber conversion kit that enables it to be converted to fire 5.56x45mm ammunition.

Members of the Portuguese Army Special Operations Forces do a live-fire shooting drill with some FN SCAR-Ls they recently tested before delivery of their new rifles.

Portuguese Army FN SCAR-H in 7.62x51mm with the 16-inch barrel. Equipped with a two-point sling, bipod, five-position foregrip and the Trijicon VCOG 1-6×24 sight.

SCAR Sub-Compact

FN Herstal has a Sub-Compact (SC) version of the SCAR-L. These guns are almost fully interchangeable and based on the modulatory concept of the SCAR. There is also a conversion kit that transforms the SC into the .300BLK caliber by a simple change of the barrel. The SCAR Sub-Compact, even though it is not part of the Army contract, has already aroused the interest of the Portuguese Special Operations community; it is a perfect weapon to replace the old, outdated HK MP5 and Uzi submachine guns still in service. The Army is even considering using the .300BLK version because of its performance with subsonic ammo being able to silence any shots and being perfect to replace MP5SD versions, increasing in this way any SOF Task Unit Firepower.

New Materials

The Army requested that weapons should be in a color based on the Coyote/Flat Dark Earth pattern and be constructed in the lightest material possible. The SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) was from the beginning a design made to replace the M4, so in order to improve upon the M4 reliability but maintain a low-weight gun, new materials had to be incorporated. The SCAR uses aluminum and steel in crucial areas where metal is needed, but what makes it different than other contenders is the extensive use of Polymer. The Portuguese SCAR-L, with a 14.5-inch barrel, weighs only 3.5kg/7.71lb and the SCAR-H, with a 16-inch barrel, has an impressive weight of 3.9kg/8.59lb (without magazine), being much lighter that other competitors. The color Black has a terrible contrast against camouflaged uniforms. With the use of Polymer, FN had no difficulty in using an FDE color in its guns and achieved an excellent combination that presents a unique, beautiful weapon with excellent blend-in capacity.

Members of the Portuguese Army Special Operations Forces pose with some FN SCAR-Ls they recently tested before delivery of their new rifles. They will also be receiving the FN Minimi MK3 in 5.56x45mm.


The contract for the weapons will include a small batch of sights to start testing some concepts. The SCAR-L will come equipped with an Aimpoint CompM4, but the Army is already considering other dot sights like the Meprolight MEPRO M5 or the Trijicon MRO and even improving on this capability with the Elcan SpecterDR 1-4x, Elcan SpecterOS 4x or Trijicon ACOG 4×32. The SCAR-H had to be equipped with a sight that had a variable power and a Bullet Drop Compensator Reticle, so the winning choice was the Trijicon VCOG 1-6×24, but as with the assault rifles, these come in small numbers, and the Army is already thinking of improvements to the Designated Marksman capability with sights like the Nightforce ATACR 1-8×24 F1 and the Meprolight NYX thermal sights.

Left-side view of the Portuguese Army FN SCAR-L in 5.56x45mm with a 14.5-inch barrel. Equipped with the Meprolight M5 Electro-Optical Red Dot Sight.

An Interesting Feature

One very interesting feature of this contract is the inclusion of a bayonet. And although the use of this weapon is debatable in modern combat, the use of a combat knife is not. Therefore the Portuguese Army made a very smart move—they managed to include the Extrema Ratio FULCRUM Bayonet; this way each soldier will have an excellent combat knife that doubles as bayonet.

The author tests an FN SCAR-H with a 13-inch barrel. This one differs from the rifles that will supply the Portuguese Army, as these will be for the designated marksmen and will have a Flat Dark Earth color and having a 16-inch barrel. This one is also equipped with a Meprolight NYX Thermal Sight.

Combat Performance

The Portuguese Army has made a very important step. The choice of the new assault rifle will positively influence its combat performance with hit probability increasing radically over the old G3 Battle Rifle. This is not only because the Army is re-equipping with a new caliber (5.56x45mm) but because it changes the firepower dynamics of the Army’s small units with the inclusion of an excellent DMR. Assaulters will have an assault rifle with nine magazines (270 rounds), with a weight of 5.1kg/11.24lb, including magazines, while the DMR, with the same nine magazines, will carry 180 rounds with 6.8kg/14.99lb. The 40mm grenade launcher also will bring improved capacity, as it is very light and easy to use.

From the author’s perspective of all the testing and training done with these weapons, the SCAR-L is a wonderful rifle to employ. Being used to working around AR-15 and Kalashnikov rifles, it is a perfect combination of both. The FN SCAR-L is an extremely reliable and accurate gun. It is light but very easy to control; in full-auto fire, its relatively low rate of fire makes it completely controllable, even in a full magazine dump. The SCAR-L takes STANAG magazines and can take every accessory available for Picatinny rails. The ambidextrous magazine release allows right- and left-handed soldiers to make easy changes. While some people complain that the slide lock should be in both sides, the author disagrees, as he has seen problems with those designs—too many buttons, KISS (Keep It Simple and Stupid). The reciprocating charging handle has been controversial since the beginning of the rifle’s production, so much so that FN now offers the gun with a non-reciprocating charging handle. The author, being used to working with Kalashnikov-style assault rifles, finds it very normal; so much that he, when using a SCAR, usually puts the charging handle in the right side of the gun and works it exactly like an AK. The fact that the charging handle is located at middle body makes it more ergonomic than an AR-15. The stock is modular and comfortable; it is easy to work around and has a nice cheek piece that helps with sight picture in some higher sights. The author also finds the weapon’s maintenance very simple and very straightforward to disassemble and assemble and then easy to clean or change any parts needed. The only drawback in this rifle is that with intense volume of fire, the handguard heats up really fast, and the use of gloves is a blessing. The SCAR-H is an impressive DMR and has, in the author´s opinion, no match currently. It is a reliable and accurate gun for its intended function, probably the lightest in the market. It has all the qualities of the -L version, except that it takes FN proprietary magazines and would be more interoperable if it took magazines compatible with AR-10/SR-25/M110 rifles, like the Magpul ones.

The author tests an FN SCAR-H equivalent to the one that will supply the Portuguese Army designated marksmen. This rifle is equipped with the Meprolight M5 Electro-Optical Red Dot Sight and the Mepro MX3 3x Magnifier, but the Army rifles will use the Trijicon VCOG 1-6×24 sight.

Final Thought

The Portuguese Army ended up with an excellent result for its tender. Replacement of the G3 Battle Rifle with the FN SCAR-L/-H will start within the Rapid Reaction Brigade. Special Operations Forces, commandos and paratroopers will be the first units to receive the SCAR rifles, so that they can deploy them to the operating theaters where they are engaged in the Middle East and Africa. The Army is now equipped by one of the world’s largest manufacturers of small arms and with one of the best assault rifles in service.