Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal (FNH) has developed and manufactured some of the world's most successful small arms, and its foray into bullpup service rifles would demonstrate the same innovation and extreme reliability that made its rifles, medium- and heavy-machine guns the choice of dozens of modern militaries.
But this was not the company's first date with a bullpup. FNH was able to build on and incorporate lessons learned from the P90, a very successful personal defense weapon (PDW) chambered for the 5.7x28mm cartridge that was developed in the late '80s and introduced in 1990. But since the rifle was designed strictly as a PDW, it had limitations. Urban dustups in Grozny and Mogadishu pointed to the fact that bullpup rifles were the way forward, especially in combat environments. The widely accepted 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge was the obvious chambering. In 1995, FNH engineers started working on the design with the goal of creating a modular and easy-to-maintain rifle that fixed some flaws in other bullpup designs. Six years later, the select-fire F2000 was rolled out to anxious customers.
The F2000 caught the eye of quite a few different procurement officers, including those from special forces units in Belgium and Croatia, India, Saudi Arabia's National Guard, the Slovenian army and Pakistan's air force, to name a few. FNH realized that civilians and law enforcement agencies wanted to capitalize on the F2000's unique design features and produced a semiautomatic version — the FS2000 — introduced in 2008. To its credit, FNH has always given law-abiding citizens the option of using its proven rifles, pistols and shotguns for self-defense, as evidenced by the PS90 and civilian versions of the SCAR.
There are currently two versions of the F2000 and FS2000 available, the Standard and Tactical. Both rifles share many common features, but they are easily distinguished by the supplied sighting system. The F2000 Standard comes equipped with a 1.6X optic. A polymer housing encases the optic, which also contains a computer for accurately launching 40mm grenades from the companion GL1 launcher. The civilian Standard uses the same housing and optics, but eliminates the launcher sight. The Tactical is more practical, replacing the optic with a 10-inch section of aluminum MIL-STD 1913 rail. The rail allows shooters to take advantage of the dozens of available combat sights and mounts, allowing the rifle optic to be customized to the mission. A set of backup iron sights comes standard. The rear aperture sight is windage adjustable and folds down into a recess molded into the upper receiver. An elevation-adjustable front post is bolted onto the rail and protected by a set of sturdy wings.
At first glance, the FS2000's operating system is pretty vanilla, using a short-stroke piston to impinge on a long operating rod that is pinned to the bolt carrier. On the operating rod, a sleeve sitting behind a captured recoil spring catches a shoulder molded into the upper, compressing the recoil spring as the bolt carrier moves reward under recoil. There are two gas plug positions, the first at 12 o'clock for standard operation and a second at 2 o'clock for adverse conditions. A small tab allows the setting to be changed without tools.
A six-lug bolt locks into a barrel extension, allowing the majority of the receiver's parts to be manufactured from polymers and lightweight aluminum alloys. Here is where the similarities with other designs end and things start to get interesting. The most clever of those aforementioned polymer parts is the switch, as it is called in company literature, which wraps around the bolt carrier. The switch picks up spent rounds shortly after extraction from the chamber and, with the aid of a pivot arm on top of the bolt carrier, guides them into an over-barrel tube as the bolt carrier returns. The pivot arm prevents spent brass from making its way back into the action.
The spent cases move down the tube and are ejected out of a right-side port just under the front sight. Often, five or six spent cases will fill the tube before the first case spills out of the ejection port. While it sounds complicated, the system has proven utterly reliable in extensive testing. I had no failures to feed or function over several hundred rounds using a wide variety of bullet weights and types. This forward ejection — dribbling would be a better description — corrects the major flaw found in most other bullpup designs. Left-handed shooters are able to concentrate on their target without the worry of hot brass being ejected into their ear. Shooting from cover or around barriers is greatly simplified, and there is no chance that spent brass will bounce back into the action. On line, multiple shooters are denied the joy of watching the guy to their right throw down his rifle and frantically tear at his collar in search of scorching-hot brass.
Bad triggers have always been an issue for bullpups. The FS2000 borrowed heavily from the P90's clever polymer linkage and has a pretty decent, almost crisp trigger pull. The safety selector, a fire control that has flummoxed many a left-handed shooter, is located under the trigger. The two-position selector has large, serrated scallops and a very positive detent to provide excellent purchase and a very tactile indication of the rifle's condition. Another condition indicator is the chamber inspection cover, located just behind the rear sight. Simply flipping up the cover and pulling back on the charging handle will give operators a clear view of the chamber. A strong spring keeps the cover in the up or down position.
The magazine release is built into the bridge between the pistol grip and buttstock. The natural motion of grabbing the magazine will trigger the release. The FS2000 uses M16/AR-15 magazines, though shooters might find the latest generation of polymer wonder mags sticky, if not impossible to use. Dust seals in the receiver wrap around the magazine body and do not allow them to drop free, but they also eliminate the chance that a magazine will be ejected accidentally when shooting from the prone position. A low-profile charging handle, also sealed against dust, runs along the upper receiver's left side. Grasping the handle causes the jointed member to pivot out away from the receiver, giving operators a little more to hold on to. Notches molded into the upper allow users to lock back the bolt, similar to a Heckler & Koch MP5. Simply bumping the handle will drop the bolt.
The barrel is cold-hammer forged and measures a full 17.4 inches counting the pinned muzzlebrake. The six grooves have a 1:7-inch right-hand twist to stabilize the heavier 62-grain-plus bullets in use by most militaries and law enforcement agencies. Civilians wanting to take advantage of lighter, more frangible bullets in the 45- to 55-grain range to limit overpenetration in home-defense scenarios should not have a problem with accuracy at short ranges.
Breaking down the rifle for maintenance could not be simpler. A large, captured stripping pin holds the upper and lower halves together. After pushing out the pin, the upper can be stripped off the lower. Since the top MIL-STD 1913 rail is locked to the barrel, no loss of zero occurs during fieldstripping. Taking apart the upper and lower exposes the operating rod, and pulling the rod straight out of the lower will drag the bolt carrier group out for cleaning. Sliding the buttplate off the buttstock allows the nearly all-polymer hammer group assembly to be removed for cleaning. The handguard can also be easily removed from the lower, but more on that later.
Stripping down the bolt carrier group and even the piston system is easy, provided the instructions are followed closely the first few times. It takes about one minute to completely disassemble the rifle, and all but the deepest recesses of the upper and lower is accessible for cleaning. Though the upper and lower halves are held together with hex-head bolts, taking apart the shells is just for factory-certified armorers.
The use of polymers is often a concern to traditionalists fond of forged steel, especially in critical areas like the hammer group. All of the parts are designed to last the life of the rifle. The proprietary receiver polymer resists damage due to impact, heat, humidity, ultraviolet light and will not break down if exposed to cleaning solvents or even NBC decontamination chemicals. Decades of extensive use and millions of rounds from rifles with polymer frames and parts should go a long way toward easing those fears. Extensive testing by engineers revealed that, after an initial break-in period, polymer parts are actually less prone to wear than steel or aluminum. QC managers occasionally pull rifles out of production for a battery of torture tests that includes 24,000 rounds. According to company officials, the last rifle tested only had three failures, one of those was magazine related and another, at just less than 15,000 rounds, occurred when the ex tractor — a metal part — broke.
The FS2000 Tactical's limiting factor has always been the inability to mount accessories on places other than the top rail. Operators running the Standard had even fewer options, at least until now. Just last year, FNH introduced a $180 accessory fore-end that solves this problem and allows the rifle to be applied to a whole new range of missions. The Tactical Fore-end is essentially a tri-rail that replaces the standard handguard. Machined from an aluminum extrusion and then anodized, the Tactical Fore-end snaps right into the lower after the original handguard has been removed. The operation takes a few seconds and can be accomplished by anyone smart enough to read the directions and fieldstrip the rifle.
Six-inch rail surfaces are at the 3, 6 and 9 o'clock position and allow lights, laser and IR illuminators, bipods — whatever — to be mounted with reckless abandon. Numbered slots help guarantee repeatability. While the stock grip is extremely comfortable and ergonomic, the addition of a vertical foregrip will probably improve handling.
When FNH set out to get its share of the growing bullpup market, it did not settle for a copycat that merely filled a gap in the product line. The F2000 and FS2000 brought useful features to an already innovative concept. In addition to the short overall length and extensive use of polymers, something nearly all other bullpup designs bring to the table, the rifle is truly ambidextrous. Weather seals make it more reliable, and a modular design make it easier to maintain in the field. The recent introduction of the tri-rail fore-end has further elevated the rifle's applicability to just about every military, law enforcement and civilian role. As this platform evolves, it will be interesting to see how future developments improve this already exceptional rifle.