From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
FAL 50.63 variant, featuring a folding-stock and reduced barrel length.
|Place of origin
Cambodian Civil War
Portuguese Colonial War
South African Border War
Northern Ireland Troubles
Rhodesian Bush War
Sierra Leone Civil War
Yom Kippur War
Rwandan Civil War
||Dieudonné Saive, Ernest Vervier
||Fabrique Nationale (FN)
||1953–present (IMBEL only)
||FAL 50.00: 4.3 kg (9.48 lb)
FAL 50.61: 3.90 kg (8.6 lb)
FAL 50.63: 3.79 kg (8.4 lb)
FAL 50.41: 5.95 kg (13.1 lb)
||FAL 50.00 (fixed stock): 1,090 mm (42.9 in)
FAL 50.61 (stock extended): 1,095 mm (43.1 in)
FAL 50.61 (stock folded): 845 mm (33.3 in)
FAL 50.63 (stock extended): 998 mm (39.3 in)
FAL 50.63 (stock folded): 748 mm (29.4 in)
FAL 50.41 (fixed stock): 1,125 mm (44.3 in)
||FAL 50.00: 533 mm (21.0 in)
FAL 50.61: 533 mm (21.0 in)
FAL 50.63: 436 mm (17.2 in)
FAL 50.41: 533 mm (21.0 in)
||Gas-operated, tilting breechblock
|Rate of fire
||FAL 50.00: 840 m/s (2,756 ft/s)
FAL 50.61: 840 m/s (2,755.9 ft/s)
FAL 50.63: 810 m/s (2,657.5 ft/s)
FAL 50.41: 840 m/s (2,755.9 ft/s)
||200–600 m sight adjustments
||20 or 30-round detachable box magazine
||Aperture rear sight, post front sight
553 mm (21.8 in) sight radius (FAL 50.00, FAL 50.41)
549 mm (21.6 in) sight radius (FAL 50.61, FAL 50.63)
The Fusil Automatique Léger (“Light Automatic Rifle”) or FAL is a self-loading, selective fire battle rifle produced by the Belgian armaments manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN). During the Cold War it was adopted by many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, with the notable exception of the United States. It is one of the most widely used rifles in history, having been used by over 90 countries.
The FAL was predominantly chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round, and because of its prevalence and widespread use among the armed forces of many NATO countries during the Cold War it was nicknamed “the right arm of the Free World“.
In 1947, the first FN FAL prototype was completed. It was designed to fire the intermediate 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge developed and used by the forces of Nazi Germany during World War II (see StG44 assault rifle). After testing this prototype in 1948, the British Army urged FN to build additional prototypes, including one in bullpup configuration, chambered for their new .280 British caliber intermediate cartridge. After evaluating the single bullpup prototype, FN decided to return instead to their original, conventional design for future production.
In 1950, the United Kingdom presented the redesigned FN rifle and the British EM-2, both in .280 British calibre, to the United States for comparison testing against the favoured United States Army design of the time – Earle Harvey’s T25. It was hoped that a common cartridge and rifle could be standardized for issue to the armies of all NATO member countries. After this testing was completed, U.S. Army officials suggested that FN should redesign their rifle to fire the U.S. prototype ‘.30 Light Rifle’ cartridge. FN decided to hedge their bets with the U.S., given that the UK appeared to be favouring their own EM-2.
In 1951, FN even made a deal with the U.S. that they could produce the FAL royalty-free in the U.S. This decision appeared to be correct when the British Army decided to adopt the EM-2 and .280 British cartridge in the very same month. This decision was later rescinded after the Labour Party lost the General Election, was ousted from control of Parliament and Winston Churchill returned as Prime Minister. It is believed that there was a quid pro quo agreement between Churchill and U.S. President Harry Truman in 1952 that the British accept the .30 Light Rifle cartridge as NATO standard in return for U.S. acceptance of the FN FAL as NATO standard. The .30 Light Rifle cartridge was in fact later standardized as the 7.62 mm NATO; however, the U.S. insisted on continued rifle tests. The FAL chambered for the .30 Light Rifle went up against the redesigned T25 (now redesignated as the T47), and an M1 Garand variant, the T44. Eventually, the T44 won out, becoming the M14. However, in the meantime, most other NATO countries were evaluating and selecting the FAL.
FN created what is possibly the classic post-war battle rifle. Formally introduced by its designers Dieudonne Saive and Ernest Vervier in 1951, and produced two years later, it has been described as the “right arm of the Free World.” The FAL battle rifle has its Warsaw Pact counterpart in the AK-47, each being fielded by dozens of countries and produced in many of them. A few, such as Israel and South Africa, manufactured and issued both designs at various times.[dubious – discuss] Unlike the Russian AK-47 assault rifle, the FAL utilized a heavier full-power rifle cartridge.
The FAL operates by means of a gas-operated action very similar to that of the Russian SVT-40. The gas system is driven by a short-stroke, spring-loaded piston housed above the barrel, and the locking mechanism is what is known as a tilting breechblock. To lock, it drops down into a solid shoulder of metal in the heavy receiver much like the bolts of the Russian SKS carbine and French MAS-49 series of semi-automatic rifles. The gas system is fitted with a gas regulator behind the front sight base, allowing adjustment of the gas system in response to environmental conditions, and can be closed completely to allow for the firing of rifle grenades. The FAL’s magazine capacity ranges from 5 to 30 rounds, with most magazines holding 20 rounds. In fixed stock versions of the FAL, the recoil spring is housed in the stock, while in folding-stock versions it is housed in the receiver cover, necessitating a slightly different receiver cover, recoil spring, and bolt carrier, and a modified lower receiver for the stock.
FAL rifles have also been manufactured in both light and heavy-barrel configurations, with the heavy barrel intended for automatic fire as a section or squad light support weapon. Most heavy barrel FALs are equipped with bipods, although some light barrel models were equipped with bipods, such as the Austrian StG58 and the German G1, and a bipod was later made available as an accessory.
Among other 7.62x51mm NATO battle rifles at the time, the FN FAL had relatively light recoil, due to the gas system being able to be tuned via regulator in fore-end of the rifle, which allowed for excess gas which would simply increase recoil to bleed off. In fully-automatic mode, however, the shooter receives considerable abuse from recoil, and the weapon climbs off-target quickly, making automatic fire only of marginal effectiveness. Many military forces using the FAL eventually eliminated full-automatic firearms training in the light-barrel FAL.
FN Production Variants
FAL 50.41 & 50.42
- Also known as FALO as an abbreviation from the French Fusil Automatique Lourd;
- Heavy barrel for sustained fire with 30-round magazine as a squad automatic weapon;
- Known in Canada as the C2A1, it was their primary squad automatic weapon until it was phased out during the 1980s in favor of the C9, which has better accuracy and better ammunition capacity than the C2;
- Known to the Australian Army as the L2A1, it was replaced by the FN Minimi. The L2A1 or ‘heavy barrel’ FAL was used by several Commonwealth nations and was found to frequently experience a failure to feed after firing two rounds from a full magazine when in automatic mode.
- The 50.41 is fitted with a plastic buttstock, while the 50.42’s buttstock is made from wood.
- Folding-stock, standard barrel length.
- Folding-stock, shorter-barrel paratrooper version; standard metric charging handle and carry handle.
- Two variants with differing barrel lengths: 458 mm versus 436 mm. The shorter version was requested by Belgian paratroopers. This allowed the folded-stock rifle to fit through the doorway of their C-119 Flying Boxcar when worn horizontally across the chest.
- Folding-stock, standard barrel length, ‘Hiduminium‘ aluminum alloy lower receiver, upper receiver was not cut for a carry handle, the charging handle on the 50.64 was a folding model similar to the L1A1 rifles.
Production and use
The FAL was made by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) in Liège, Belgium and under license in a number of countries. A distinct sub-family was the Commonwealth inch-dimensioned versions that were manufactured in the United Kingdom and Australia (as the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle or SLR), and in Canada as the C1. The standard metric-dimensioned FAL was manufactured in South Africa (where it was known as the R1), Brazil, Israel, Austria and Argentina. Mexico assembled FN-made components into complete rifles at its national arsenal in Mexico City. The FAL was also exported to many other countries, such as Venezuela, where a small-arms industry produces some basically unchanged variants, as well as ammunition. By modern standards, one disadvantage of the FAL is the amount of work which goes into machining the complex receiver, bolt and bolt carrier. Additionally, the movement of the tilting bolt mechanism tends to return differently with each shot, affecting inherent accuracy of the weapon. The FAL’s receiver is machined, whilst most other modern military rifles use quicker stamping or casting techniques. Modern FALs have many improvements over those produced by FN and others in the mid-20th-century (for comparison, see a photo of a modern Para-style FAL).
It is estimated that FAL production (in all of its variants) has exceeded 1,000,000 units.
The Argentine Armed Forces officially adopted the FN FAL in 1955, but the first FN made examples did not arrive in Argentina until the autumn of 1958. Subsequently, in 1960, licensed production of FALs began and continued until the mid to late 1990s, when production ceased.
Argentine FALs were produced by the government-owned arsenal FM (Fabricaciones Militares) at the Fabrica Militar de Armas Portatiles “Domingo Matheu” (FMAP “DM”) in Fray Luis Beltrán, located a few miles north of Rosario. The acronym “FAL” was kept, its translation being “Fusil Automatico Liviano”, (Light Automatic Rifle). Production weapons included “Standard” and “Para” (folding buttstock) versions. Military rifles were produced with the full auto fire option. The rifles were usually known as the FM FAL, for the “Fabricaciones Militares” brand name (FN and FM have a long standing licensing and manufacturing agreement). A heavy barrel version, known as the FAP (Fusil Automatico Pesado, or heavy automatic rifle) was also produced for the armed forces, to be used as a squad automatic weapon. The Argentine ‘heavy barrel’ FAL, also used by several other nations, was found to frequently experience a failure to feed after firing two rounds from a full magazine when in automatic mode.
An FAL offspring chambering the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge was developed in the early 1980s; it was dubbed the FARA 83 (Fusil Automatico Republica Argentina). The design borrowed features from the FAL such as the gas system and folding stock. It seems to have been also influenced to some degree by other rifles (the Beretta AR70/223, M16, and the Galil). An estimated quantity of between 2,500 and 3,000 examples were produced for field testing, but military spending cuts killed the project in the mid 1980s.
Argentine Soldiers in the Falklands War.
There was also a semi-automatic–only version, the FSL, intended for the civilian market. Legislation changes in 1995 (namely, the enactment of Presidential Decree Nº 64/95) imposed a de facto ban on “semi-automatic assault weapons”. Today, it can take up to two years to obtain a permit for the ownership of an FSL. The FSL was offered with full or folding stocks, plastic furniture and orthoptic sights.
Argentine FALs saw action during the Falklands War (Falklands-Malvinas/South Atlantic War), and in different peace-keeping operations such as in Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia. Rosario-made FALs are known to have been exported to Bolivia (in 1971), Colombia, Croatia (during the wars in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s), Honduras, Nigeria (this is unconfirmed, most Nigerian FALs are from FN in Belgium or are British-made L1A1s), Peru, and Uruguay (which reportedly took delivery of some Brazilian IMBEL-made FALs as well). Deactivated ex-Argentinean FALs from the many thousands captured during the Falklands War are used by UK forces as part of the soldier’s load on some training courses run over public land in the UK.
The Argentine Marine Corps, a branch of the Argentine Navy, has replaced the FN/FM FAL in front line units, adopting the U.S. M16A2. The Argentine Army has expressed its desire to acquire at least 1,500 new rifles chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO SS109/U.S. M855 (.223 Remington) cartridge, to be used primarily by its peacekeeping troops on overseas deployments.
The Australian Army, as a late member of the allied rifle committee along with the United Kingdom and Canada adopted the committee’s improved version of the FAL rifle, designated the L1A1 rifle by Australia and Great Britain, and C1 by Canada. The Australian L1A1 is also known as the Self-Loading Rifle (SLR), and in full auto form, the Automatic Rifle (AR). The Australian L1A1 features are almost identical to the British L1A1 version of FAL, however the Australian L1A1 differs from its British counterpart in the design of the Main Body (Upper Receiver) lightening cuts. The lightening cuts of the Australian L1A1 most closely duplicate the later Canadian C1 pattern, rather than the simplified and markedly unique British L1A1 cuts. The Australian L1A1 FAL rifle was in service with Australian forces until it was superseded by the F88 Austeyr (a licence-built version of the Steyr AUG ) in 1988, though some remained in service with Reserve units until late 1990. Some Australian Army units deployed overseas on UN peacekeeping operations in Namibia, the Western Sahara and Cambodia still used the L1A1 SLR and the M16A1 rifle throughout the early 1990s. The British and Australian L1A1s, and Canadian C1A1 SLRs were semi-automatic only, unless battlefield conditions mandated that modifications be made.
The Australians, in co-ordination with Canada, developed a heavy-barrel version of the L1A1 as an Automatic Rifle variant, designated L2A1. The Australian heavy-barrel L2A1 was also known as the Automatic Rifle (AR). The L2A1 was similar to the FN FAL 50.41/42, but with a unique combined bipod/hand-guard and a receiver dust-cover mounted tangent rear sight from Canada. The L2A1 was intended to serve a role as a light automatic rifle or quasi-Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). The role of the L2A1 and other heavy barrel FAL variants is essentially the same in concept as the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) or Bren, but the Bren is far better suited to the role of a fire support base for a section, being designed for the role from the start. In practice many considered the L2A1 inferior to the Bren, as the Bren had a barrel that can be changed, so could deliver a better continuous rate of fire, and was more accurate in the role due to its greater weight and better stock configuration. It is noteworthy that most countries that adopted the FAL rejected the Heavy Barrel FAL, presumably because it did not perform well as either a light rifle, or a SAW. Countries that did embrace the Heavy Barrel FAL included Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, and Israel.
Unique 30 round magazines were developed for the L2A1 rifles. These 30-round magazines were essentially a lengthened version of the standard 20-round L1A1 magazines, perfectly straight in design. Curved 30-round magazines from the L4A1 7.62 NATO conversion of the Bren are interchangeable with the 30-round L2A1 magazines, however they reputedly gave feeding difficulties due to the additional friction from the curved design as they must be inserted “upside down” in the L2A1. The L4A1 Bren magazines were developed as a top-mounted gravity-assisted feed magazine, opposite of what is required for the L2A1 FAL.
The Australian L1A1/L2A1 rifles were produced by the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, with approximately 220,000 L1A1 rifles produced between 1959 and 1986. L2A1 production was approximately 10,000 rifles produced between 1962 and 1982. Lithgow exported a large number of L1A1 rifles to many countries in the region. Notable users were New Zealand, Singapore, and Papua New Guinea.
Many Australian soldiers used the SLR rifle during the Vietnam War. Many Australian soldiers preferred the larger calibre weapon over the American M16 because they felt the SLR was more reliable and they could trust the NATO 7.62 round to kill an enemy soldier outright. Australian jungle warfare tactics during the Vietnam War were far more successful than those employed by U.S. troops, and often determined by the strengths and limitations of the SLR and its heavy ammunition load.
Another interesting product of Australian participation in the conflict in South-East Asia was the field modification of L1A1 and L2A1 rifles by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment SASR for better handling. Nicknamed “The Bitch”, these rifles were field modified, often from heavy barrel L2A1 automatic rifles, with their barrels cut off immediately in front of the gas block, and often with the L2A1 bipods removed and a XM148 40 mm grenade launcher mounted below the barrel. The XM148 40 mm grenade launchers were obtained from U.S. forces. For the L1A1, the lack of fully-automatic fire resulted in the unofficial conversion of the L1A1 to full-auto capability by simply filing down the selector, which works by restricting safety sear movement.
Australia produced a shortened version of the L1A1 designated the L1A1-F1. It was intended for easier use by soldiers of smaller stature in jungle combat, as the standard L1A1 is a long, heavy weapon. The reduction in length was achieved by installing the shortest butt length (there were 3 available, short, standard and long), and a flash suppressor that resembled the standard version except it projected a much smaller distance beyond the end of the rifling, and had correspondingly shorter flash eliminator slots. The effect was to reduce the length of the weapon by 2 1/4 inches. Trials revealed that, despite no reduction in barrel length, accuracy was slightly reduced. The L1A1-F1 was provided to Papua New Guinea, and a number were sold to the Royal Hong Kong Police in 1984. They were also issued to female Staff Cadets at the Royal Military College Duntroon and some other Australian personnel.
Brazil took delivery of a small quantity of FN-made FAL rifles for evaluation as early as 1954. Troop field testing was performed with FN made FALs between 1958 and 1962. Then, in 1964, Brazil officially adopted the rifle, designating the rifle M964 for 1964. Licensed production started shortly thereafter at the Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil, or IMBEL, in Itajubá in the state of Minas Gerais. The folding stock version was designated M969A1. By the late 1980s/ early 1990s, IMBEL had manufactured some 200,000 M964 rifles. Later Brazilian made FALs have Type 3, investment-cast receivers, a feature that simplifies production and lowers cost. Early FN made FALs for Brazil are typical FN 1964 models with Type 1 or Type 2 receivers, plastic stock, handguard, and pistol grip, 22 mm cylindrical flash hider for grenade launching, and plastic model “D” carrying handle. Brazilian-made FALs are thought to have been exported to Uruguay. A heavy barrel version, known as the FAP (Fuzil Automático Pesado, or heavy automatic rifle) was also produced for the armed forces, to be used as a squad automatic weapon.
Brazil’s current service weapon is a development of the FAL in 5.56x45mm. Known as the MD-2 and MD-3 assault rifles, it is also manufactured by IMBEL. The first prototype, the MD-1, came out around 1983. In 1985, the MD-2 was presented and adopted by the Brazilian Armed Forces and Military Police. Its new 5.56x45mm NATO chambering aside, the MD-2/MD-3 is still very similar to the FAL and externally resembles it, changes include a change in the locking system, which was replaced by an M16-type rotating bolt. The MD-2 and MD-3 use M16-compatible magazines, but have different buttstocks. The MD-2 features a FN 50.63 ‘para’ side-folding stock, while the MD-3 uses the same fixed polymer stock of the standard FAL.
IMBEL also produced a semi-automatic version of the FAL for Springfield Armory, Inc. (not to be confused with the US military Springfield Armory), which was marketed in the US as the SAR-48 (standard model) and SAR-4800 (with some military features removed to comply with new legislation), starting in the mid-1980s. IMBEL-made receivers have been much in demand among American gunsmiths building FALs from “parts kits.”
The C1A1 with the unique revolving plate aperture rear sight visible.
Canadian soldier with C2 light machine gun. The C2 is the Canadian version of the FN FAL, with a heavier barrel than the regular FN FAL and C1.
The Canadian Forces operated a number of versions, the most common being the FN C1A1, similar to the British L1A1 (which became more or less a Commonwealth standard), the main difference being that rotating disc rear sight graduated from 200 to 600 yards. The trigger guard was able to be folded into the pistol grip, this allowed the user to wear mitts when using the weapon. It was manufactured under license by the Canadian Arsenals Limited company. Canada was the first country to use the FAL. It served as Canada’s standard battle rifle from the early 1950s to 1984, when it began to be phased out in favor of the lighter Diemaco C7, a licence-built version of the US M16. The Canadians also operated an automatic variant, the FN C2A1, as a section support weapon, which was very similar to the Australian L2A1. It was similar to the FN FAL 50.41/42, but with wooden attachments to the bipod legs that work as a handguard when the legs are folded. The C2A1 used a tangent rear sight attached to the receiver cover with ranges from 200 to 1000 meters. The C1 was equipped with a 20-round magazine and the C2 with a 30-round magazine, although the two were interchangeable. Variants of the initial FN C1 and the product improved C1A1 were also made for the Royal Canadian Navy, which was capable of automatic fire, under the designations C1D and C1A1D. These weapons are identifiable by a “A” for automatic, carved or stamped into the buttstock. Boarding parties for domestic and international searches used these models.
A West German soldier on a joint exercise with American troops in 1960. The Germans used the FAL briefly in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the designation Gewehr G1.
The first German FALs were from an order placed in late 1955/early 1956, for several thousand FN FAL so-called “Canada” models with wood furniture and the prong flash hider. These weapons were intended for the Bundesgrenzschutz (border guard) and not the nascent Bundeswehr (army), which at the time used M1 Garands and M1/M2 carbines. In November 1956, however, West Germany ordered 100,000 additional FALs, designated the G1, for the army. FN made the rifles between April 1957 and May 1958. G1s served in the West German Bundeswehr for a relatively short time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before they were replaced by the Spanish CETME Modelo 58 rifle in 1959 (which was extensively reworked into the later G3 rifle). The G1 featured a pressed metal handguard identical to the ones used on the Austrian Stg. 58, as well as the Dutch and Greek FALs, this being slightly slimmer than the standard wood or plastic handguards, and featuring horizontal lines running almost their entire length. G1s were also fitted with a unique removable prong flash hider, adding another external distinction. It has been alleged that the main reason for the replacement of the G1 in Germany centred around bitterness stemming from World War II and the refusal of the Belgians to grant a license for production of the weapon in Germany. Many G1 FALs were passed on to Turkey after their withdrawal from German service. Of note is the fact that the G1 was the first FAL variant with the 3mm lower sights specifically requested by Germany, previous versions having the taller Commonwealth-type sights also seen on Israeli models.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had to overcome several logistical problems (the supply of ammunition, repairs, spare parts and so on), which were a result of the wide variety of old firearms that were in service. In 1955 the IDF adopted the IMI-produced Uzi submachine gun. To replace the Mauser Kar 98k and some British Lee-Enfield rifles, the IDF decided in the same year to adopt the FN FAL as its standard-issue infantry rifle, under the name Romat (רומ”ט), an abbreviation of “self-loading rifle”. The FAL version ordered by the IDF came in two basic variants, both regular and heavy-barrel (automatic rifle), and were chambered for 7.62 mm NATO ammunition. In common with heavy-barrel FALs used by several other nations, the Israeli ‘heavy barrel’ FAL (Makleon) was found to frequently experience a failure to feed after firing two rounds from a full magazine when in automatic mode. The Israeli FALs were originally produced as selective-fire rifles, though later light-barrel rifle versions were altered to semi-automatic fire only. The Israeli versions are distinguished by a distinctive handguard with a forward perforated sheet metal section, and a rear wood section unlike most other FALs in shape, and their higher ‘Commonwealth’-type sights.
The Israeli FAL first saw action in relatively small quantities during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and by the Six-Day War in June 1967, it was the standard Israeli rifle. During the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 it was still in front-line service as the standard Israeli rifle, though increasing criticism eventually led to the phasing-out of the weapon. Israeli forces were primarily mechanized in nature; the long, heavy FAL slowed deployment drills, and proved exceedingly difficult to manouvre within the confines of a vehicle. Additionally, Israeli forces experienced repeated jamming of the FAL due to heavy sand and dust ingress endemic to Middle Eastern desert warfare, requiring repeated field-stripping and cleaning of the rifle, sometimes while under fire, though the reasons for the reputed performance issues are still debated. During the later stages of the Yom Kippur War, it was noted that some Israeli soldiers had informally exchanged their FALs for Soviet Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles taken from dead and captured Arab soldiers. Though the IDF evaluated a few modified FAL rifles with ‘sand clearance’ slots in the bolt carrier and receiver (which were already part of the Commonwealth L1A1/C1A1 design), malfunction rates did not significantly improve. The Israeli FAL was eventually replaced by the M16 and the Galil (a weapon using the Soviet Kalashnikov operating system, and chambered in either 5.56×45 or 7.62 NATO), though the FAL remained in production in Israel until at least 1981.
The Malaysian Army adopted the L1A1 SLR rifle from the British Commonwealth circa 1969 to replace the elderly bolt action Lee Enfield rifle and Sten sub-machinegun, but the Royal Malaysian Navy adopted the L1A1 SLR early than Malaysian Army about 1965-66 along side the Sterling SMG. It was also adopted by Royal Malaysian Police for its Paramilitary Field Force (Pasukan Polis Hutan/GOF). Communist Party of Malaya cadres had been found with the FN FAL as well, most of them looted from dead or wounded Malaysian soldiers. This rifle was used until in the 1990s with the adoption of the HK 33, Beretta AR70 and M16A1 rifles before FALs were withdrawn from service and transferred to second line units (Rejimen Askar Wataniah). Many Malaysian Army veterans said it was one of the finest battle rifles, rugged and easy to maintain as they found the 7.62×51 NATO calibre to be effective in combat with Communist Party of Malaya cadres armed with Type 56 assault rifles and older weapons like the Lee Enfield.
Dutch FN FAL with an infrared light and scope, exhibited at the Legermuseum in Delft.
The New Zealand Army used the L1A1 Rifle (see United Kingdom below) as its standard service rifle for just under 30 years. The Labour government of Walter Nash approved the purchase of the L1A1 as a replacement for the No. 4 Mk 1 Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle in September 1958. An order for a total of 15,000 L1A1 rifles was subsequently placed with the Lithgow Arsenal in Australia which had been granted a license to produce the L1A1. However the first batch of 500 rifles from this order was not actually delivered to the New Zealand Army until 1960. Thereafter deliveries continued at an increasing pace until the order for all 15,000 rifles was completed in 1965. After its adoption by the Army, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Navy also eventually acquired it. Unlike L1A1s in Australian service, New Zealand L1A1s later used British black plastic furniture, and some rifles even had a mixture of the two. The carrying handles were frequently sawed off . The British SUIT (Sight Unit Infantry Trilux) optical sight was issued to some users in infantry units. The L2A1 heavy barrel was also issued as a limited standard, but was not popular due to the problems also encountered by other users of heavy barrel FAL variants. The L4A1 7.62mm conversion of the Bren was much-preferred in New Zealand service. The New Zealand Defence Force began replacing the L1A1 Rifle with the Steyr AUG assault rifle in 1988. The Steyr AUG is currently in use across all three services of the New Zealand Defence Force.
Rhodesian soldiers on patrol with FAL rifles during the 1970s.
Like most British colonies and Commonwealth Nations of the time, the colony of Southern Rhodesia‘s military forces were issued the British semi-automatic version of the FAL, the L1A1. However after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Great Britain in 1965, the new country of Rhodesia was unable to obtain further supplies of L1A1 SLRs. Instead, numbers of South African R1 rifles were procured from that country. These two rifles would be the primary infantry small arm of the Rhodesian Security Forces during the Rhodesian Bush War of 1965-80. As the SLR L1A1 is inch-dimensioned, the metric FAL (including the R1) is not fully interchangeable with it. However, the international arms export embargo on Rhodesia and the eventual loss of support from the South African government meant that the supply of FALs would dry up. To make up for this shortage of arms, numbers of G3 rifles were procured from Portuguese colonies. The FAL, however, remained far more popular with the Rhodesian “Troopie” and G3s were generally restricted to police, Guard Force, and other paramilitary units.
The United Kingdom developed its own variant of the FN FAL, designating it the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR). While in production it was manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, Birmingham Small Arms and the Royal Ordnance Factory. Replacement components were made by Parker Hale Limited. The SLR was fitted with a lug so that it could facilitate a bayonet, and a rifle grenade launcher. The L1A1 SLR served the British Armed Forces from 1954 until 1985, being replaced by the L85A1.
The British SLR was graduated using Imperial measurements and included several changes from the original Belgian FN FAL. The most prominent change from the original FAL, was that the L1A1 operated in the semi-automatic mode only. Other changes included the introduction of a fold-flat cocking handle, an enclosed flash suppressor and a folding rear sight. Minor changes included sand-clearing modifications to the body, breechblock and the breechblock carrier, a gas regulator, an integral fold-away trigger guard and pistol grip, strengthened butt-stock and an enlarged fire selector and magazine catch along with a modified take-down release lever to prevent unintended activation and top-cover retainer tabs to prevent forward movement.
Later production SLRs were produced with synthetic handguards, such as the pistol grip, forward hand grip, carrying handle and buttstock. The synthetic material was produced from Maranyl pastic, a nylon 6-6 and fiberglass composite. The SLR’s synthetic furniture was of an anti-slip texture, and the buttstock included the feature of a replaceable butt-pad, depending on an individual user’s “length of pull”. The wooden furniture was present in early production SLRs, and was available in two different patterns of forward hand grip, the first being solid wood similar to the Belgian original with flat faces and two oval shaped cooling apertures, with the second having two and of a more rounded profile. Some of the modifications reflected those on the Canadian C1 and C2 Rifle, Australian L1A1 and L2A1, and to a lesser extent the Indian 1A SLR.
The SLR was produced so the fire selector featured two settings, being safety and semi-automatic, rather than the original Belgian FN which featured automatic fire. The magazine from the 7.62 mm L4 light machine gun was able to fit the L1A1 SLR. However, the L4s system was designed for gravity assisted downwards feeding, and were unreliable on the upwards feeding system of the SLR. Commonwealth magazines were produced with a lug brazed onto the front to engage the recess in the receiver, in the place of a smaller pressed dimple of the metric FAL magazine. As a consequence of this, metric FAL magazines can be used with the Commonwealth SLR, but SLR magazines will not fit the metric FAL.
Despite the British, Australian and Canadian versions of the FN being manufactured using machine tools which utilised the Imperial measurement system, they are all of the same basic dimensions. Incompatibility between the original FAL and the L1A1 are due to pattern differences, not due to the different dimensions as incorrectly thought. Confusions over the differences has given rise to the terminology of “metric” and “inch” FAL rifles, which originated as a reference to the machine tools which produced them. Despite this, virtually all FAL rifles are of the same basic dimensions, true to the original Belgian FN FAL. Due to this, the term of “metric FAL” refers to the original Belgian FAL, whereas “inch FAL” refers to one produced with the modified, British, Australian and Canadian L1A1 pattern.
Late production SLRs were produced to accommodate two additional sighting systems. The first being the “Hythe Sight” which featured a dual-aperture day and night sight, and was developed for use at close range and in poor lighting conditions such as during dusk or the night. The sight incorporated two overlapping rear sight aperture leaves and a permanently glowing tritium insert for improved night visibility, which had to be replaced after a period of time due to radioactive decay. The second sight being the L2A1 “Sight Unit, Infantry, Trilux” (SUIT) was attached to the modified receiver cover. The SUIT featured a fixed-focus scope and had a four-times magnification setting. The SUIT featured a prismatic offset and inverted tapered sight, the prismatic offset design reduced the length of the site and improved clearance around the action. Also, the SUIT helped to reduce parallax errors and heat mirage from the barrel, if it were to get hot during firing. The inverted sight post allowed rapid target re-acquisition after the recoil of the firearm raised the rifle barrel. Despite the SUITs weight, the scope was durable and robust. During the Cold War, the UK SUIT scope was copied by the Soviet Union and designated the 1P29 telescopic sight.
The L1A1 SLR was replaced in 1987 by the introduction of the bullpup L85A1, firing the 5.56 mm cartridge. Between 1987 and 1991, L1A1 rifles were phased out either being destroyed or sold on, with some going to Sierra Leone.
A T48 rifle made by FN for trials in the United States.
The USA tested the FAL in several forms; initially as manufactured by FN in experimental configurations, and later in the final T48 configuration as an official competitor for the new US Light Self-Loading Rifle intended to replace the M1 Garand. The US Army procured T48 rifles from three firms for testing, including two US based companies in an effort to assess the manufacturability of the FN design in the USA. The T48 was manufactured for testing by Fabrique Nationale (FN), of Herstal, Belgium; Harrington & Richardson (H&R) of Worcester, Massachusetts; and the High Standard Company of Hartford, Connecticut. The United States also received a small number of FAL Heavy Barrel Rifles (HBAR) (either 50.41 or pre-50.41) for testing, under the designation T48E1, though none of these rifles were adopted by US.
The T48 competed against the T44 rifle. The T44 was a heavily modified version of the earlier M1 Garand. Testing proved the T48 and the T44 comparable in performance, with no clear winner. However, the supposed ease of production of the T44 upon machinery already in place for the M1 Garand and the similarity in the manual of arms for the T44 and M1 ultimately swayed the decision in the direction of the T44, which was adopted as the M14 rifle.
In the wake of World War II, the NATO “Rifle Steering Committee” was formed to encourage the adoption of a standardized NATO rifle. The Committee and the US interest in the FAL proved to be a turning point in the direction of the FAL’s development. The US and NATO interest in small arms standardization was the primary reason why the FAL was redesigned to use the newly developed 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, instead of the intermediate cartridge designs originally tested by FN. Two political factors are worth noting: the US Government tacitly indicated to NATO, and specifically to the United Kingdom, that if the FAL were redesigned for the new US 7.62x51mm cartridge, then the FAL would become acceptable to the US, and the US would presumably adopt the FAL rifle. Secondly, FN had indicated that it would allow former WWII Allied countries to produce the FAL design with no licensing or royalty costs as a gift to the Allies for the liberation of Belgium. Ultimately, the US chose to part with the other NATO members and adopt the M14 rifle, while the majority of NATO countries immediately adopted the FAL.
Century Arms FN-FAL rifle from a parts kit
During the late 1980s and 1990s, many countries decommissioned the FAL from their armories and sold them en masse to United States importers as surplus. The rifles were imported to the United States as fully-automatic guns. Once in the U.S., the FAL’s were “de-militarized” (upper receiver destroyed) to eliminate the rifles’ character as an automatic rifle, as stipulated by the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA 68 currently prohibits the importation of foreign-made full-automatic assault rifles prior to the enactment of the Gun Control Act; semiautomatic versions of the same firearm were legal to import until the Semiautomatic Assault Rifle Ban of 1989). Thousands of the resulting “parts kits” were sold at generally low prices ($90 – $250) to hobbyists. The hobbyists rebuilt the parts kits to legal and functional semi-automatic rifles on new semi-automatic upper receivers. FAL rifles are still commercially available from a few domestic firms in semi-auto configuration: Entreprise Arms, DSArms, and Century Arms. Most notably Century Arms created a semi-automatic version L1A1 with an IMBEL upper receiver and surplus British Enfield inch-pattern parts.
Venezuela was the first country after Belgium to adopt the FN FAL in 1954 and until recently it was the main assault rifle of the Venezuelan army, made under license by CAVIM. The first batch of rifles to arrive in Venezuela were chambered in 7x49mm (also known as 7 mm Liviano or 7 mm Venezuelan). Essentially a 7x57mm round shortened to intermediate length, this caliber was jointly developed by Venezuelan and Belgian engineers motivated by a global move towards intermediate calibers. The Venezuelans, who had been exclusively using the 7x57mm round in their light and medium weapons since the turn of the century, felt it was a perfect platform on which to base a caliber tailored to the particular rigors of the Venezuelan terrain.
Eventually the plan was dropped despite having ordered millions of rounds and thousands of weapons of this caliber. As the Cold War escalated, the military command felt it necessary to align with NATO despite not being a member, resulting in the adoption of the 7.62x51mm cartridge and the rechambering of the 5,000 or so FAL rifles that had already arrived in 7x49mm by 1955-56.
The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, recently bought 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles from Russia in order to replace the old FALs. Although the full shipment arrived by the end of 2006, the FAL will remain in service with the Venezuelan Reserve Forces and the Territorial Guard.
Soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) fire their FN FALs on a range while taking part as the opposing force (OPFOR) during the Tradewinds 2002 Field Training Exercise (FTX), on the island of Antigua.
- Argentina: Produced under license.
- Australia: Produced under license.
- Austria: Produced under license.
- Brazil: Produced under license.
- Canada: Produced under license.
- Costa Rica
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Dominican Republic
- Greece: Adopted the FAL and FALO under license by the Pyrkal factories before using Hellenic Arms Industry-made G3A3s. This move was due to lack of support by the Greek government on Pyrkal. It was in use with the Greek special forces and the IV Army Corps in the Evros region from 1973 to 1999. The FAL was replaced in 2000.
- India: Produced under license.
- Ireland: Used as the main rifle of the Irish Defence Forces from the early 1960s (starting with UN service in the Congo) until 1988 when it was replaced. Its usual furniture consisted of a timber stock and black synthetic handguard and pistol grip.
- Israel: Produced under license.
- Mexico: Produced under license.
- Netherlands: The Royal Netherlands Army adopted the rifle with bipod and no fully-automatic capability in 1961, being called Het licht automatisch geweer, but usually known as the ‘FAL’ in Dutch service. They had unique sights (hooded at the front) and the German style sheet metal front handguard. A sniper version, Geweer Lange Afstand, also existed and was standard with a scope of Dutch origin produced by the Artillerie Inrichtingen and without the bipod. The scope was introduced as Kijker Richt Recht AI 62. The heavy-barrel FAL 50.42 version was also adopted later as a squad automatic weapon as the Het zwaar automatisch geweer. This rifle was replaced in the 1990s.
- Nigeria: Licensed by DICON (Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria) in Nigeria as the NR-1.
- Papua New Guinea
- Philippines: Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front received over 1000 FN FAL rifles from Libya.
- Portugal In 1960, the Army issued quantities of light-barrel FN and West German G1 FAL rifles to several of its elite commando forces, including the Companhias de Caçadores Especiais (Special Hunter [Ranger] companies). The latter often expressed a preference for the lighter FAL over the Portuguese-manufactured version of the H&K G3 rifle when on ambush or patrol. In Portuguese service, the FN FAL was designated Espingarda Automática 7,62 mm FN m/962.
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- South Africa: Produced under license. After a competition between the German G3 rifle, the Armalite AR-10, and the FN FAL, the South African Defence Force adopted three variants of the FAL: a rifle with the designation R1, a “lightweight” variant of the FN FAL 50.64 fabricated locally under the designation R2, and a model designed for police use not capable of automatic fire under the designation R3.
- Sri Lanka: The Sri Lankan Army adopted the L1A1 SLR rifle in the 1970s to replace the bolt action Lee Enfield rifle and Sten sub-machinegun. It was widely used in the early stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War before being replaced by the AK 47 and Type 56 assault rifles.
- Thailand: Used by Royal Thai Police since the 1960s, designated “Rifle Type 05” (1962).
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Turkey: Used by the armed forces until the late 1960s, when it was replaced. However, the FAL remains in use as a training rifle.
- United Arab Emirates
- Venezuela: Produced under license.
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