Rumors have swirled at every SHOT Show for years that the Designated Marksman Rifle version of the SCAR MK 17 was in the works. Now, after all the years of anticipation, the FN SCAR 20S is here for the commercial market. A Limited Edition SCAR 20S package will be offered featuring a hard case full of supporting accessories, and a more widely available SCAR 20S will also be part of the FN product lineup.
SCAR stands for Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR). FN designed the SCAR in response to a United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) request for a weapon to supersede the M16/M4 platform. The results were the SCAR 16 (5.56mm) and SCAR 17 (7.62x51mm).
This is an example of a relatively small U.S. military entity, SOCOM, being a driving force of improvement for the “Big Green” main force. SOCOM’s conglomeration of elite units is constantly engaged in active operations. This makes it a more flexible organization in terms of procurement: Effectiveness is the benchmark in the decision-making process, instead of the logistical inputs that often come into play.
SOCOM has subsequently decided to focus funding on the SCAR 16’s big brother, the SCAR 17 (Heavy) chambered in 7.62x51mm, citing more flexibility when combined with the modular nature of the SCAR design. The SCAR 17 can be converted into a 5.56mm weapon if required.
Supporting this is the fact that the SCAR platform features 82% parts commonality between the SCAR 16 and SCAR 17. This greatly simplifies maintenance, armorer training, parts supply, and logistical support with the SCAR series of rifles.
DESIGNATED MARKSMAN RIFLE
A military-only version of the current commercially available SCAR 20S has been available in the form of the FN MK 20 SSR (Sniper Support Rifle). In effect, this was FN’s version of a DMR. In U.S. military parlance, DMR stands for Designated Marksman Rifle. The default chambering of the DMR is 7.62x51mm. The DMR originated to fill the effectiveness gap between infantry assault rifles and sniper/precision rifles. This middle ground is roughly between 270 and 650 yards.
The DMR is closer to a precision rifle than a general purpose in terms of terminal ballistics, adjustable buttstocks, match trigger, match barrel, accuracy standard, magnified optics, and accessories to facilitate long-range shot placement.
Compared to the traditional bolt-action sniper rifle, the DMR is typically semiautomatic with detachable magazine capacity of 20 rounds or more. The M14 was the initial military DMR due to it already being in the logistic system and thus easy to adapt. Most would concede that a better platform was possible. This is borne out by the appearance of several candidates from various firms, with the FN SCAR 20S being the latest.
The DMR concept as epitomized by the SCAR 20S has come into its own within the military and expanded rapidly into law enforcement use. This is due to a variety of reasons, including accuracy potential, situations more suited to the higher-capacity DMR magazines, and need for better penetration than typical 5.56mm rifles.
Lastly, not to be discounted is the ability to have 7.62×51 firepower in a high-capacity platform if unsuspectingly engaged in a close melee with a need for multiple rounds sent downrange quickly. 7.62×51 potency in terms of ballistics and terminal effect makes it a favorite among our troops, law enforcement personnel, and security-conscious private citizens.
The case can be made that the FN SCAR 20S allows expansion beyond the original DMR supporting role and it becomes a prime weapon of choice in own right. The FN SCAR 20S is a case in point of how far DMR rifles have evolved.
EVOLUTION OF SCAR 17S
The SCAR 20S spawned out of the earlier introduced FN SCAR 17S. The SCAR 20S includes several changes from the SCAR 17S, as expected in a rifle designed more with accuracy in mind. The fixed stock is adjustable for length of pull and comb height. A Hogue finger-grooved rubber grip is also added. Most significant is the Geissele “Super SCAR” trigger. Trigger quality is crucial for a precision rifle. The Geissele trigger is a two-stage type set for 3.5 to 4.5 pounds.
Along with the trigger, the barrel is also a critical component of accuracy performance. FN barrel quality is renowned. The 20-inch 1:12 twist hammer-forged, match-grade heavy barrel is free floated.
The SCAR 20S has a top Picatinny rail running from the front of the handguard to the rear of the upper receiver. An extended quad handguard has rails at the three, six, and nine o’clock positions for plenty of placement options for ancillary items. The FN SCAR 20S weighs 11 pounds before adding optics and ammunition. Overall length of the SCAR 20S is 40.6 to 42.5 inches depending on stock adjustment.
The SCAR 20S breaks down into five major components: upper receiver, moving parts assembly (i.e., bolt carrier), trigger module/lower receiver, buttstock module, and magazine. The upper receiver of the SCAR is extruded aluminum and is the serialized part of the firearm.
EPITOME OF RIFLE DESIGN
The SCAR 20S can be viewed as an amalgamation of some of the better improvements made in rifle design since the field became dominated by AK and AR designs. The FN SCAR rifle design is considered by many as the current epitome of rifle design.
A nuance with the SCAR bolt is its relatively heavy mass—40% heavier than an AR’s—which assists with relentless reliability. The extra mass of the SCAR bolt assembly, combined with the mechanical advantage of the SCAR’s fixed charging handle, helps ensure that its multi-lug bolt seats consistently into battery.
The short-stroke gas operating system is adjustable. The SCAR was designed from the beginning to accommodate suppressor use—an obvious reflection of its SOCOM impetus.
The SCAR 20S operates with a reciprocating charging handle that can be moved to either side of the upper based on user preference. The charging handle can be used as a forward assist if needed. Based on the reciprocating charging handle, a user must mind their hand placement. For what it’s worth, it is a self-correcting problem in that it usually only happens once and then the user finds another method.
In an effort to determine the FN SCAR 20S’s accuracy potential, a Leupold Mark 6 3-18X scope was mounted. The SCAR 20’s flat-top receiver’s Picatinny rail allows for one of the sturdiest and most versatile scope-to-rifle connections on the market. Of course, other optics are possible in lieu of the Mark 6 Leupold for someone considering using the SCAR 20S as a more general-use rifle.
For me, considering the high degree of accuracy exhibited with the SCAR 20S, the simple solution is to keep the Leupold Mark 6 3-18X in place and mount an offset mount bracket featuring a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro or similar pattern red dot offered by other manufacturers. This allows a quick rotation of the rifle in the shoulder pocket a few degrees, accessing the red dot optic with minimal effort or disturbance of handling.
Black Hills Ammunition 175-grain Match, Federal 168-grain Match, Hornady 168-grain TAP, and Winchester 168-grain Match were tested with the SCAR 20S. No ammunition tested produced over 1.25-inch groups at 100 yards.
Federal Match produced ¾-inch accuracy regularly, with the Winchester Match not far behind. Many custom bolt-action rifles chambered in .308 Win do not have this type of accuracy, let alone a factory produced semiautomatic.
The 20-inch barreled FN SCAR 20S handled better than expected from a 7.62×51 caliber weapon. This is based on my previous experience with HK91, M1A, AR-10, and FAL weapon platforms. The SCAR 20S’s forend rail is largely responsible for this and, in my opinion, offers a better balanced weapon, despite its 11-pound empty weight.
Anecdotally, a casual observer can easily tell a steel target smacked with a 7.62x51mm versus .223/5.56mm at any distance. Much is made of the increased number of .223/5.56 rounds that can be carried compared to 7.62×51 as measured in pounds. While this line of thinking is appreciated, unless one is on an extended patrol or mission that is not easily re-supplied, the extra power and lethality of the 7.62×51 over the 5.56 trump this.
As with most weapon system comparisons, the pros and cons can be debated forever. Individual users will make the decision of what best suits their needs.
Law enforcement agencies could easily consider using the rifle, not to mention private contractors and defense-minded citizens due to the rifle’s accuracy, reliability, handling, and ergonomics. The FN SCAR 20S offers its user a chance to own and employ a rifle unlike the AR- or AK-pattern rifles so common today.
The FN SCAR 20S can serve as a benchmark for performance in the precision rifle role, as well as perform as a general purpose rifle. The 7.62×51 chambered SCAR 20S has power to spare, and the 20-inch barrel is not the hindrance one may imagine, thanks to how the rifle is balanced and handles. This is a combination hard to argue against in terms of utility.
The 7.62×51’s characteristics in terms of lethality, ballistics, and manageable recoil make it an ideal all-purpose cartridge candidate, especially packaged in the FN SCAR 20S, which takes full advantage of the cartridge and maximizes the SCAR platform in terms of accuracy.