Let’s talk about one of the more admired weapon systems of the civilian firearms market, the Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) . Manufactured by Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FNH) in Belgium, the SCAR 17S is a next-generation that is a slightly modified variant of the SCAR-H (Heavy) battle rifle - specifically chambered in the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge.
The SCAR 17S was not developed from the ground up as a civilian firearm, rather it is the end result of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Special Operations Forces (SOF) Combat Assault Rifle Program from 2004. This program gave birth to both the 5.56x45mm NATO SCAR-L (Light) and the SCAR-H variants. Without going into the details on the military contract and acquisitions process, we’ll just say that FNH has been offering the SCAR 17S to the commercial and law enforcement markets since 2008. The differences are minimal, however the SCAR 17S is made a Belgian made, semi-automatic variant that is modified slightly during import to comply with Title 18 of the U.S. Code, section 922(r) regulations.
Lineage, because nothing comes from nothing. What weapon systems make up the DNA of the SCAR? I guess we’ll never know for sure unless FNH tells us, so let’s do some analysis. There are undoubtable features from the AR-15/AR-10, but not enough to seem duplicative. The lower receiver, trigger, pistol grip, and controls are evident, but these features are purely on the exterior, so it's ergonomics are certainly born from this decades-old mainstay. Additionally, the overall lines of the SCAR are inherently similar in to FNH's historic patriarch, the Fusil Automatique Leger - Light Automatic Rifle (FAL), evident in the pencil profile barrel, gas valve, and magazine. Both externally and internally the SCAR shares some similarities with the Heckler & Koch G36, particularly the use of polymer construction, profile, and short stroke gas piston system and bolt carrier group. This is not to conclude that FNH copied several weapon systems to create the SCAR, but rather studied designs and components in a very respectable manner in order to achieve a truly modernized product.
For a civilian or law enforcement official, what’s the appeal of the SCAR 17S over other rifles on the market? Well first, it’s a heavy hitter with the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. When you combine that with the weight build and modularity of the weapon system, it quickly becomes evident that it has a place where older battle rifles like the Heckler & Koch G3, FNH FAL, and Springfield M14 simply can’t compete. A 7.62x51mm NATO weapon system that has the punch of a M14, yet the compactness and utility of a M4 proves that we’ve graduated from the era of massive battle rifles.
What makes the SCAR 17S so impressive?
1. Weight - at 7.9lbs unloaded, its light. The SCAR 17S features an aluminum upper receiver with polymer lower. When loaded loaded the balance is superb. You actually feel guiltless when adding some slightly heavier aftermarket options to the weapon system to improve ergonomics and functionality. Weight is on par with a standard M4. By comparison the Heckler and Koch MR762 is 9.84lbs and the LWRC R.E.P.R. is 9.30lbs - both of which are derivative AR weapon systems.
2. Recoil - very minimal and smooth felt recoil. Muzzle rise is practically non-existent due to the well balance of the weapon system, but particularly the short-stroke gas piston and bolt carrier group minimizing the amount of mechanical movement at the rear of the receiver. What does recoil is absorbed very well into the stock, coupled with a FNH branded Primary Weapon Systems (PWS) muzzle brake that makes follow-up shots seamless. Shooting the SCAR 17S in the standing position, the shooter will find that bringing the stock inward so it rests on the pectoral muscle, versus the pocket of the shoulder will make shooting even more controllable.
3. Reliability - the SCAR 17S’s reliability is born in the short stroke gas piston operating system that nearly isolates the carbon build-up in the chamber, thus keeping it clean and cool during sustained operation. Of course quality components are also at play, to include best quality metals and polymers. Overall the SCAR 17S has been expertly designed in the areas that focus on combat durability, reliability, and how to sustain this over time, something we benefit from all the testing and development from the SCAR fielding trials by SOCOM.
4. Accuracy - likely due to the free-floating barrel, the SCAR 17S is prescribed by FNH to be capable of 1 Minute of Angle (MOA) at 100 meters, however the rifle is clearly capable of 1/2 MOA using the right ammunition. The SCAR 17S is surely a quality rifle, capable of match-grade results. One can expect to get 15,000 rounds through the barrel without seeing serious degradation (throat erosion) that would affect accuracy. It should be noted that because the SCAR 17S has a pencil profile barrel, it is prone to accuracy degradation as the barrel increases temperature.
5. Modularity - as one should expect from a military grade weapon system - the SCAR 17S is completely outfitted with 1913 rails (including a monolithic upper rail for mounting optics). Given the relatively small handguard of the SCAR 17S, there are numerous aftermarket rail options that add to the mounting space (both 1913, VLTOR’s designed KeyMod, and Magpul’s M-Lok system). The SCAR 17S’s ergonomics are what should be expected from a modern weapon system. There is an ambidextrous safety and magazine release, plus the charging handle can be switched from either the left or right side. The factory furniture is good, however several aftermarket manufacturers have perfected grips, stocks, and triggers. Factory back-up iron sights (BUIS) are superb, they are quality pieces that allow for adjustments, and fold easily when not in use.
Sights: Back-up Iron Sights (BUIS) fully adjustable for windage and elevation
Magazine: 10 or 20 round detachable box magazine (DBM)
Muzzle Velocity: 2342 fps (w/ 150gr M80 NATO ammunition)
Effective Range: 800 Meters
Color Options: Black and Flat Dark Earth (FDE)
The SCAR 17S, as a variant of the SCAR-H is built around the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, specifically the 150gr NATO M80. That being said the SCAR 17S really shows an appreciation for the 168gr and 150gr cartridges and may be choosy with 175. Those looking to shoot heavier bullets from the SCAR 17S may want to research and test a few options on the market to ensure accuracy standards. All things considered, the SCAR 17S eats anything, brass and steel cases alike, Russian, American, European, or various military surplus.
The SCAR 17S can be paired with practically any optic on the market. Some will look to pair the SCAR 17S with a medium to long-range optic that truly tests the maximum effective range. Others will pair optics with the weapon system in a manner that allows for ideal short-medium distance engagement. Ideally the SCAR 17S weapon system works very well with both scopes fixed magnification optics that can withstand the recoil of a 7.62x51mm NATO platform, making the mounting a critical part of the optics pairing.
Shooting suppressed can be tricky at first so it may be worth looking to invest in replacement gas screws in order to cut down on the amount of recycled gas being returned. These screws are offered by such companies as Midwest Industries and HANDL Defense for a nominal cost.
No weapon system escapes criticism. For the SCAR 17S the reciprocating charging handle may ‘make aware’ an unsuspecting/untrained shooter of its presence rather abruptly. The bulky design may not appeal to those AR-10 fans who prefer a skeletonized weapon system. Under heavy use the factory stock latch, which is made of polymer may see sheering on the teeth and render the stock un-lockable in its full length configuration. Other than that, price seems to keep budget buyers from investing the SCAR 17S.
As with most popular weapon systems, there is a complete industry that supports aftermarket upgrades. These products offer options for ergonomics, mounting, precision, and just about everything else. The SCAR 17S is one of those weapon systems that could essentially exist as completely aftermarket with the exception of the barrel, bolt carrier group, and upper receiver. Listed below are several products that we have utilized on the SCAR 17S, they are outstanding investments. There are other products from companies such as HANDL Defense, Midwest Industries, and Otto Arms that we have yet to review and test, but they are worth considering nonetheless.
Stock - VLTOR’s SCAR Stock improves upon the factory stock in many areas to include butt plate angle, integrated storage, and improved tolerances to eliminate the slight wobble. Most of all the SCAR Stock adds mass to the stock without significantly increasing weight or hampering the adjustability or foldability of the stock. (MSRP $99.95)
Charging Handle - GG&G’s enhanced charging handle is necessary if outfitting the SCAR 17S with a quick-detach (QD) mount for optics. The charging handle has a downward angle (not quite 45 degrees) but enough to clear your knuckles when charging the weapon system. The charging handle is very strong, made from 4130 ordnance steel and manganese phosphated. (MSRP $30.50)
Stock Latch - Under harsh use, the factory stock latch on the SCAR 17S, which is made of plastic can fail. This failure will keep the stock from locking into the extended position. Tango Down offers an aluminum aftermarket upgrade that cancels out this issue. The Stock latch is made from aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum and type-III anodized for an extended lifecycle. (MSRP $62.95)
Safety Selector - The SCAR 17S features outstanding ergonomics, however the selector switch may protrude away from the lower receiver in a ‘blocky’ fashion for many users. Magpul created the SSG, an aftermarket upgrade that allows the shooter to maintain the ergonomics, but decreased the overall profile of the switch. (MSRP $19.95)
Trigger - If we had to pass on one essential upgrade, it would be the Geissele Super SCAR trigger. A true two-stage match trigger with a 4.0lb overall pull (1st stage is 2.5lb, 2nd is 1.5lb) and features clean crisp break. This trigger will turn the already-impressive SCAR 17S into a rifle with match shooting capabilities. (MSRP $325.00)
Handguard - surely VLTOR’s CASV handguard is the best on the market that we’ve used. It has the ability to mount 9” lower and two 7” 1913 rails (sold separately), plus two 45 degree mounting surfaces for offset BUIS or lights/lasers. Made from aircraft-grade anodized hard coat 6061 T6 aluminum, it allows for increased mounting surface and extends the length versus the factory standard handguard. (MSRP $249.95)
Grip - The Hogue AR-15/M-16 style over-molded rubber grip with integrated finger grooves is a great option for those looking for an alternate option to the SCAR 17S factory A2 grip. Because of the rubber construction, the Hogue grip adds ‘gripability’ when it’s needed. (MSRP $26.95)
The conclusion is simple, if you’re looking for a weapon system that is modern, reliable, modular, and quality through and through…the SCAR 17S should be on your short list. It won’t come cheaply, given the menu of upgrades available, optics pairing, and the base price. What you get is a weapon system that will serve you very well, provide you with the capability you need - so long as you train for it. Oh, and envy…those who don’t have one will likely envy you even if they say otherwise.