It is rare in the firearms world that something comes along that is truly new and different, but FN Herstal’s FS2000 is just that. The FS2000 really is new and in a sense revolutionary, breaking new ground in several ways. The FS2000’s genesis dates back to 1995, when FNH began studying what future demands might be for a military rifle to replace current models such as the ubiquitous M16 and M4. The initial study came to no definite conclusions, but it did note that the skills demanded of soldiers were changing given the new roles and missions of military forces worldwide.
Based on this, the company set out to design a new rifle that in its basic form was readily adaptable to alternative configurations based on changing mission profiles, plus adaptable to incorporate new technical innovations, such as different caliber grenade launchers. The result was the F2000, the immediate predecessor of our subject rifle.
The F2000, of course, is select fire, while the FS2000 is not. But other than that, the rifles are very similar. The original F2000 incorporated a 1.6x optical sight mated to the MIL-STD-1913 rail on the top of the rifle. FNH also developed a 40mm grenade launcher for the F2000 and computerized fire control system for it, but the grenade launcher is not available on the FS2000. This is probably just as well, as the electronics for the grenade launcher’s fire control would surely drive costs up, and the FS2000 is not a cheap rifle as it is.
For the American market, the F2000 was changed to semiautomatic only and the barrel lengthened from 15.5 to 19.5 inches. We actually prefer the U.S. version, not only because it gives slightly better ballistics, but because we think it looks better esthetically. FNH also left off the 1.6x optical sight, which we believe was a wise decision.
The American version comes with backup iron sights installed, so the user could probably make do with them, but we preferred to install our own optic. In this case, it was an EOTech M334 military version, marked SU-231/PEQ with the serial number, as required by the U.S. military, which is ordering these excellent sights by the thousands.
Why a bullpup? Some don’t like them, but for modern military and law enforcement operations, bullpups offer many advantages, particularly in urban operations where weapons are carried in vehicles and operations are often inside buildings where longer rifles are at a disadvantage. The bullpup’s primary advantage over conventional short-barreled carbines is that the bullpup can have a full-length barrel in an envelope that is more compact than conventional carbines with ultra-short barrels.
For example, our test FS2000 has a 19.5-inch barrel in a rifle that is about the same length as a 14.5-inch barrel M4 carbine with the stock collapsed. For deployment from a police cruiser or military personnel carrier, it is just about ideal length. The FS2000’s short overall length also makes it ideal for clearing buildings.
The FS2000 has so many innovative features, it is difficult to know where to begin. Some features are carried over from the 5.7x28mm P90 (PS90 semi only for the American market). The P90/PS90 common features consist of the trigger and safety, and that’s about it. The safety is ambidextrous and within easy reach of the shooter’s trigger finger. The safety is actuated by a simple short push and gives a positive “click” when engaged or disengaged.
The FS2000’s operating mechanism is entirely encased in a polymer; there are very few openings for foreign matter such as dust to find its way into the gun’s works. This is a very important feature in today’s world, where many military and contractor operations are conducted in “the sand box.”
Much security work in Iraq is contracted out to civilian agencies, leaving the military free for other operations. Many contractors of our acquaintance bring their own weapons to the fight, and if our initial impression is any indication, the FS2000 should prove to be very reliable in hostile environments.
About the only opening exposed to the exterior is a very small linear opening on the stock’s left to accommodate the non-reciprocating charging handle, and the guide rod effectively blocks that. All internal components are essentially sealed. The FS2000 design also is very smooth with virtually no projections to hang up on straps, lines, vehicle interiors or just about anything else.
The M16 30-round magazine protrudes only about 2.5 inches outside the stock at its rear and even less at the front, where the pistol grip and magazine release block just about anything from hanging on the magazine. At the forward end, the stock is angled, once again helping to ensure that the muzzle end doesn’t get caught on anything.
As to controls, the charging handle is on the left side so that right-handed shooters can operate it without removing their strong hand from the rifle. The magazine release is unusual and requires getting used to, but in the final analysis, it makes sense. Our first impression was that the magazine doesn’t drop free, which is true. It isn’t intended to drop free, and the actual technique for removing it isn’t covered well in the operator manual.
The magazine was designed to be removed by a person in NBC gear wearing heavy gloves and to maintain control of the magazine. It is also designed to help keep dust and grit out of the FS2000’s operating system. The only instructions in the operator’s manual state that the release is pressed up and the magazine withdrawn. There’s nothing else, but it isn’t difficult to determine how to efficiently and quickly reload. The shooter grasps the magazine at the front, palm to the rear while simultaneously pressing up on the release with the top of his hand, then pulls the mag out of the rifle.
If an emergency reload is to be done, just toss the empty mag. If you’re doing a tactical reload, stuff the old mag into a pocket, mag pouch or somewhere else for later reloading. The technique is just a simple “push-pull” and is easily and quickly learned. Some will criticize FNH for this design, but we understand the purpose for it, and as far as we are concerned, if you want to use the FS2000, take the time to learn how to do mag changes. Once learned, it is about as fast as if the mag dropped free.
We found that the quickest way was to grab a replacement magazine, remove the empty mag, drop it and shove the fresh mag into position. Once the technique was explained, nobody who shot the FS2000 had complaints about the magazine change procedure. The operation is instinctive and simple, but for those who insist on “drop free” magazines, the FS2000 will be a disappointment.
One aspect that we don’t care for is the fact that the bolt doesn’t lock back when the magazine is empty, necessitating that the charging handle be fully cycled rather than simply being given a whack to get back in the fight. This can’t really be considered a criticism, just a question of training as we have always trained and operated with rifles that locked open on the empty magazine. Many widely used military rifles, for example the G3/HK91 and the AK, don’t lock back when the last round is fired from the magazine.
A final note on magazines: the FS2000 was designed around 30-round M16 mags. If you try to use a 20-round magazine, it will not project below the stock and you will have to disassemble the rifle to remove the mag. We tried it, and it is a monumental pain to get a 20-round mag out of an FS2000! Try it for yourself if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.
One of the first questions about the FS2000 is how it is cleared. Like many other aspects of the FS2000, clearing is different, but sensible and easy. First, of course, remove the magazine, set the safety to “safe,” and then pull the charging handle to the rear and lock it by lifting it slightly and letting it move forward a bit into position in the locking notch.
At this point, the rifle should be held muzzle down and the ejection port door at the front of the stock opened. This allows any spent casings or loaded cartridges to fall out the port. There is a small “hump” behind the rear sight with horizontal ridges on either side. This is the “inspection cover,” spring loaded to keep it firmly in the down or up position, whichever is desired. Lifting it fully to its “up” position exposes the inspection port, allowing the operator to see into the chamber.
We found that a small flashlight was helpful, but the chamber is fully visible well up into its interior, unlike rifles that must be cleared by checking the loaded status through the ejection port. If there is a magazine in the rifle, it is also visible through the inspection port. Once the rifle is cleared, the inspection cover and ejection port door can be closed.
Underneath the “high tech” exterior, the FS2000 is equally advanced, with little carried over from earlier designs, except perhaps the multi-lug bolt and chamber, similar to those of the M16/M4. The similarity ends with the multi-lug design, however. The extractor is in the 12 o’clock position, and unlike the M16 extractor—long noted for its inadequate spring—the FS2000 has dual extractor springs for positive engagement.
The “ejector” is also similar to the Garand or M16 in that it is a spring-loaded pin in the bolt face, but it isn’t really an ejector in the traditional sense, as we’ll see when we examine the FS2000’s functioning. Locking and unlocking are via a cam pin and cam in the bolt carrier, again similar to the M16, but not quite the same.
The fire-control module is made completely of high-strength polymer except for springs and retaining pins. Its housing, hammer, sear and all other working components are polymer.
Routine maintenance is straightforward. The FS2000 breaks down for cleaning and maintenance by simply clearing the rifle and then pressing the takedown pin as far as it will go from right to left. The barrel and receiver module can then be pulled off to the front. Once the barrel module is removed, the bolt and bolt carrier assembly can be withdrawn out of the stock assembly and lifted out. To remove the fire-control module, the butt pad is pulled out at the toe of the butt and slid upward off the stock.
Once this has been accomplished, the fire-control module can be withdrawn out the back of the stock assembly. That is all the disassembly necessary for routine cleaning and maintenance. Detailed cleaning requires a few tools that are necessary to disassemble the gas system, bolt and a few other components. These are supplied with the FS2000.
Once reduced to its major assemblies, the FS2000 is easy to clean and requires little in the way of lubrication, unlike older designs that demand high levels of lube to keep them running and serve as a dust magnet in parts of the world like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Southwest U.S. border. All in all, the FS2000 just about falls apart once the takedown pin is pressed out. The most difficult part was replacing the bolt and bolt carrier assembly that had to be “jiggled” to get the parts to align, but that was minor.
We should note that once the FS2000 is reduced to its major modules, the lower handguard can be removed from the frame assembly. This component is positively retained by the barrel and receiver module and cannot be removed unless the barrel and receiver module has been taken off. This is the attachment point for the grenade launcher mentioned above and is thus very robust.
Although the manual states it is available, the “tri-rail” handguard module for mounting accessories had to be redesigned and was not available as of October 2006. We are told that it will be ready within a few months, as will be the sling, which is different from that of the F2000. This shortcoming is our only real complaint about the FS2000. That said, the top MIL-STD-1913 rail allows mounting not only optics, but night vision, as well.
The FS2000 ejects cases out the right front. To accomplish this, as a spent case is extracted, it is held in place while a “rocker” assembly tilts to lift it above and clear of the next round in the magazine. As the fresh round is chambered, the spent case enters an ejection tube above the barrel. Since the tube is a bit over a foot in length, the first few rounds fired aren’t ejected until the tube is full and the ejection port door is forced open.
While this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. The advantage of this, of course, is that spent casings are directed away from personnel alongside the shooter. Once firing has ceased, all that is necessary to clear the tube is to tip the muzzle down and whatever casings are in the tube will fall out.
Shooting the FS2000 was a pleasure. The design puts recoil forces in a straight line with the shooter’s shoulder so felt recoil and muzzle rise is minimized. This is also aided by the muzzle brake that serves to keep the muzzle down during rapid fire strings. The stock positioned our head perfectly for the EOTech optic that we fitted.
The trigger is better than it has a right to be in a rifle that puts the fire-control module over a foot behind the trigger and operates it via twin rods, which are almost certainly responsible for the trigger’s “feel.” The trigger has a short, somewhat gritty take-up and then a very crisp break at almost exactly 9 pounds, although it felt lighter. In fact, we were so surprised by the pull weight that we measured it several more times than we normally do to verify the accuracy of our Lyman digital gauge.
FNH’s FS2000 has taken tactical rifle design to the next plateau. The FS2000 makes use of state-of-the-art materials in a platform that clearly was designed to cope with the worst conditions imaginable and keep working. For carrying in a cruiser, its overall length of only 29 inches is ideal. In our testing, the FS2000 proved totally reliable and surprisingly accurate.
The best accuracy (not surprisingly) came from Black Hills 77-grain HPBT Match ammo. From 50 yards, we got 1.0-inch groups. However, the FS2000 performed well with all the ammo we tested, including 1.5-inch groups with 55-grain FMJ Ball. Every one of our colleagues who fired the FS2000 had nothing but praise for this latest FNH rifle.
Charlie Cutshaw is a small arms, ammunition and infantry weapons editor for Jane’s Defense Information. He served as an Army infantry, ammunition and intelligence officer before retiring in 1996. His military assignments included a tour of duty in Vietnam as an adviser. He currently lives in Alabama, where he is a full-time writer and reserve officer. He can be reached at CQCutshaw@aol.com.