|Place of origin||Belgium|
|Used by||90+ countries (see Users)|
|Designer||Dieudonné Saive, Ernest Vervier|
|Action||Gas-operated, tilting breechblock|
|Rate of fire||650–700 rounds/min|
|Effective firing range||400–600 m sight adjustments|
|Feed system||20 or 30-round detachable box magazine. 50 round drum also available.|
Aperture rear sight, post front sight; sight radius:
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 more than 90 countries.
The FAL was predominantly chambered for the 7.62×51mm 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".
A British Commonwealth derivative of the FN FAL has been produced under licence as the L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle.
- 1 History
- 2 Design details
- 3 Variants
- 4 Production and use
- 5 Conflicts
- 6 All users
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
In 1946, the first FN FAL prototype was completed. It was designed to fire the intermediate 7.92×33mm 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., and in 1951 even made a deal that the U.S. could produce FALs royalty-free, given that the UK appeared to be favouring their own EM-2.
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 1951 General Election 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 Dieudonné 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 AKM, 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. Unlike the Soviet AKM 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. The piston system can be bypassed completely, using the gas plug, to allow for the firing of rifle grenades and manual operation. The FAL's magazine capacity ranges from five 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 7.62×51mm 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.
The Sturmgewehr 58 (StG 58) is a battle rifle manufactured under license by Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now Steyr Mannlicher), and was formerly the standard rifle of the Österreichisches Bundesheer (Austrian Federal Army).
It is essentially a user customized version of the FAL and is still in use, mainly as a drill weapon in the Austrian forces. It was selected in a 1958 competition, beating the Spanish CETME and American AR-10.
The StG 58 featured a folding bipod, and differs from the FAL by using a plastic stock, rather than wood, to reduce weight, in the later production rifles (although the early FN-built production rifles did come with wooden stocks). It can be distinguished from its Belgian and Argentine counterparts by its combination flash suppressor and grenade launcher.
It was replaced by the AUG in 1977, although the StG 58 served with many units as the primary service rifle through the mid-1980s.
STG-58 with DSA Type I receiver
|Place of origin||Austria|
|Weight||4.45 kg (9.81 lb) to 5.15 kg (11.35 lb)|
|Length||1,100 mm (43 in)|
|Barrel length||533 mm (21.0 in)|
|Action||Gas-operated, tilting breechblock|
|Muzzle velocity||823 m/s (2,700 ft/s)|
|Effective firing range||800 m (870 yd)|
|Feed system||20-round magazine|
FN Production Variants
LAR 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 higher 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 synthetic buttstock, while the 50.42's buttstock is made from wood.
- Folding-stock, standard barrel length.
- Folding-stock, shorter 458 mm barrel, paratrooper version and standard charging handle.
- Folding-stock, shorter 406 mm barrel, paratrooper version, folding charging handle. This shorter version was requested by Belgian paratroopers. The upper receiver was not cut for a carry handle, the bolt stop device were de-activated which 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,the charging handle on the 50.64 was a folding model similar to the L1A1 rifles.
FAL OSW (DSA-58 OSW)
- Folding-stock, shorter 330 mm barrel, paratrooper version.
Other FN Variants
- FAL .280 Experimental Rifle
- FAL Universal Carbine
- FAL Bullpup 1951
Armtech L1A1 SAS
Dutch company Armtech built the L1A1 SAS, a carbine variant of the L1A1 with a barrel length of 290 mm.
Production and use
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2009)|
The FAL has been used by over 90 countries, and over two million have been produced. The FAL was originally made by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) in Liège, Belgium, but it has also been made 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. Some theorized that the movement of the tilting bolt mechanism tends to return differently with each shot, affecting inherent accuracy of the weapon, but this has been proven to be false. The FAL's receiver is machined, while 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).
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. In 2010, a project to modernize the totality of the existing FAL and to produce an unknown number of them was approved. This project was called FAL M5.
Argentine FALs were produced by the government-owned arsenal FM (Fabricaciones Militares) at the Fábrica Militar de Armas Portátiles "Domingo Matheu" (FMAP "DM") in Rosario. The acronym "FAL" was kept, its translation being "Fusil Automático 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 Automático 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.
A version of the FALMP III chambered in the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge was developed in the early 1980s. It used M16 type magazines but one version called the FALMP III 5.56mm Type 2 used Steyr AUG magazines. The FARA 83 (Fusil Automático República Argentina) was to replace the Argentine military's FAL rifles. 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.
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 5.56×45mm NATO SS109/U.S. M855 (.223 Remington) cartridge, to be used primarily by its peacekeeping troops on overseas deployments.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly purchased several thousand Argentine FAL rifles in 1981, which were supplied to the Nicaraguan Contras rebel group. These rifles have since appeared throughout Central America in use with other organizations.
These rifles are currently being modernized to a new standard, the FAL M5 (or FAL V), which uses polymer parts to reduce weight, and has Picatinny rails and optic mounts for carrying accessories.
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 M964A1. By the late 1980s/ early 1990s, IMBEL had manufactured some 200,000 M964 rifles. Later Brazilian made FALs have Type 3, hammer forged receivers. 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 5.56×45mm. 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 5.56×45mm 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 STANAG 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 (made after 1989 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."
- M964, the standard length semi-auto and full auto.
- M964 MD1, short barrel semi-auto and full auto.
- M964 MD2, standard length semi-auto only.
- M964 MD3, short barrel semi-auto only.
- M964A1, folding stock standard barrel semi-auto and full auto.
- M964A1 MD1, folding stock short barrel semi-auto and full auto.
- M964A1 MD2, folding stock standard barrel semi-auto only.
- M964A1 MD3, folding stock short barrel semi-auto only.
British and Commonwealth
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 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 1993. Australian L1A1s 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 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. It is noteworthy that most countries that adopted the FAL rejected the Heavy Barrel FAL, presumably because it did not perform well in the machine gun role. Countries that did embrace the Heavy Barrel FAL included Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, and Israel.
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.
The L1A1 is still used as a ceremonial weapon by Australia's Federation Guard.
The Canadian Forces operated a number of versions, the most common being the C1A1, similar to the British L1A1 (which became more or less a Commonwealth standard). It was manufactured under license by the Canadian Arsenals Limited company. Although the FAL was created in Belgium, Canada was the first to adopt it. The Canadian Forces began using the C1, a modified version of the FAL, in 1955. It served as Canada's standard battle rifle until 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 C2A1, as a section support weapon, which was very similar to the Australian L2A1. The C1A1 was also adopted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1961.
The Malaysian Army was another country that adopted the Commonwealth L1A1 SLR rifle, to replace their obsolete bolt action rifles. The Royal Malaysian Navy adopted the L1A1 SLR early than Malaysian Army about 1965-66 alongside the Sterling SMG, while the army didn't adopt it until 1969.
New Zealand's Armed Forces used the Australian-manufactured SLR L1A1 as the standard service rifle for just under 30 years, replaced by the Steyr AUG in 1988. The Australian L2A1 (AR) variant of the weapon also saw limited use.
The United Kingdom produced its own variant of the FN FAL incorporating the modifications developed by the Allied Rifle Committee, designating it the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR). The weapons were manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, Birmingham Small Arms, Royal Ordnance Factory and ROF Fazakerley. After the production run ceased, replacement components were made by Parker Hale Limited. The SLR served the British Armed Forces from 1954 until approximately 1994, being replaced by the L85A1 from 1985 onwards.
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. The main reason for the replacement of the G1 in Germany was 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.
FN FAL rifles produced in Belgium were adopted by the Greek Army before the adoption of HK G3A3s rifles produced under license by Hellenic Arms Industry(ΕΒΟ). For a few years, FN FAL rifles were also produced under license by the Greek PYRKAL (ΠΥΡΚΑΛ) factory. FN FAL and FALO rifles were in use by Greek Army Special Forces and IV Army Corps from 1973 till 1999 and are still in use by Greek Coast Guard. 
The Rifle 7.62 mm 1A1 is a reverse engineering of the UK L1A1 self-loading rifle, manufactured by Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli of Ordnance Factories Board. The Indian 1A1 differs from the UK SLR in that the wooden butt-stock uses the butt-plate from the Lee-Enfield with trap for oil bottle and cleaning pull-through. The 1A1 rifle has been supplemented in service with the Indian Army by the INSAS 5.56 mm assault rifle. The 1A1 rifle is still available for export sales. A fully automatic version of the rifle (known as the 1C) is also available.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to overcome several logistics problems 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 German 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 Rov've Mittan or 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 (called the Makle'a Kal, or 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 maneuver 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. During the later stages of the Yom Kippur War, it was noted that some Israeli soldiers had informally exchanged their FALs for the far more reliable 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.
Like most British dependencies of the time, Southern Rhodesia had equipped its security forces with the British L1A1, or SLR, by the early 1960s. Following that country's unilateral declaration of independence in 1965, new rifles could not be readily procured from the UK, so Belgian FNs and South African R1s were imported instead. The older L1s subsequently completed their service with territorial troops in the Rhodesia Regiment.
During the Rhodesian Bush War, security forces fitted most standard FNs with customised flash suppressors to reduce recoil on fully automatic fire. However, a few soldiers rejected these devices, which they charged upset the balance of their weapons during close action. In this theatre, the FN was generally considered superior to the Soviet Kalashnikovs or SKS carbines carried by communist-backed PF insurgents.
Trade sanctions and the gradual erosion of South African support in the 1970s led to serious ammunition shortages. Consequently, shipments of G3s were accepted from Portugal, although the security forces considered these less reliable than the FAL. Following Robert Mugabe's ascension to power in 1980, Rhodesia's remaining FNs were passed on to her Zimbabwean successor state. To simplify maintenance and logistics, the weapon initially remained a standard service rifle in the Zimbabwe Defence Force. It was anticipated that more 7.62 NATO ammunition would be imported to cover existing shortages, but a sabotage action carried out against the old Rhodesian Army stockpiles negated this factor. Zimbabwe promptly supplemented its surviving inventory with Soviet and North Korean arms.
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/FAL competed head to head against the T44 rifle, basically a product-improved M1 Garand with detachable magazine and select-fire capability. Initial testing proved the T48 and the T44 roughly comparable in performance. In December 1953, both rifles competed in the arctic rifle trials. Springfield Armory, anxious to ensure the selection of the T44, had been preparing and modifying the test T44 rifles for weeks with the aid of the Armory's Cold Chamber, including redesign of the T44 gas regulator and custom modifications to magazines and other parts to reduce friction and seizing in extreme cold. The T48 rifles received no such special preparation, and began to experience gas system problems during the trials. FN engineers opened the gas ports in an attempt to improve functioning, but this caused early/violent extraction and broken parts as a result of the increased pressures. As a result, the T44 was ranked by the arctic test staff as decidedly superior in cold weather operation.
In the end, the T44 was selected over the T48/FAL primarily because of weight (the T44 was a pound lighter than the T48), simplicity (the T44 had fewer parts), the T44's self-compensating gas system, and the argument that the T44 could be manufactured on existing machinery built for the M1 rifle (a concept that later turned out to be unworkable). In 1957, the U.S. formally adopted the T44 as the M14 service 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 7.62×51mm 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 7.62×51mm 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.
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 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 International Arms. Most notably Century Arms created a semi-automatic version L1A1 with an IMBEL upper receiver and surplus British Enfield inch-pattern parts.
Until recently, the FAL was the main service rifle of the Venezuelan army, made under license by CAVIM. The first batch of rifles to arrive in Venezuela were chambered in 7×49mm (also known as 7 mm Liviano or 7 mm Venezuelan). Essentially a 7×57mm 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 7×57mm round in their light and medium weapons since the turn of the 21st 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 7.62×51mm cartridge and the rechambering of the 5,000 or so FAL rifles that had already arrived in 7×49mm by 1955-56.
Venezuela has 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.
In the more than 50 years of use worldwide, the FAL has seen use in conflicts all over the world. During the Falklands War, the FN FAL was used by both sides. The FAL was used by the Argentine armed forces and the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR), a semi-automatic only version of the FAL, was used by the UK armed forces.
- Suez Crisis
- Aden Emergency
- Malayan Emergency
- Bay of Pigs Invasion
- Indonesian Confrontation
- Vietnam War
- Cambodian Civil War
- Six-Day War
- Turkish invasion of Cyprus
- Portuguese Colonial War
- South African Border War
- Angolan Civil War
- Northern Ireland Troubles
- War of Attrition
- Rhodesian Bush War
- Falklands War
- Gulf War
- Balkan Wars
- Cenepa War
- Sierra Leone Civil War
- Yom Kippur War
- Rwandan Civil War
- Iraqi insurgency
- Libyan civil war
- Syrian civil war
- Argentina: Produced under license.
- Australia: Produced under license, replaced by Steyr AUG. Currently still issued as a drill weapon to members of the ceremonial Federation Guard.
- Austria: Produced under license.
- Brazil: Produced under license.
- Croatia: Used during Croatian War of Independence, often called "Falovka".
- Canada: Produced under license.
- Chile Former user
- Costa Rica
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Dominican Republic
- India: Manufactured a reverse engineering of the UK L1A1 self-loading rifle. The Indian 1A1 differs from the UK SLR in that the wooden butt-stock uses the butt-plate from the Lee-Enfield with trap for oil bottle and cleaning pull-through. A fully automatic version of the rifle (known as the 1C) is also available.
- Ireland: Used as the service rifle of the Irish Defence Forces from the early 1960s (starting with UN service in the Congo) until 1989 when it was replaced by the Steyr AUG. The Irish Naval Service still use the FN FAL for line throwing. In 2011, the Irish Army re-introducing an upgraded version of the FN FAL as a sniper support weapon.
- Israel: Produced under license., officially replaced by IMI Galil and M16.
- Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/ Anti-Gaddafi forces
- Luxembourg Used Belgian FALs from 1957 to 1996, replaced by Steyr AUG.
- Mauritius: Used by Mauritius Police Force.
- Mexico: Produced under license.
- Netherlands: The Royal Netherlands Army adopted the rifle with a bipod and in semi-automatic form, in 1961. In service it was called Het licht automatisch geweer, but usually known as the 'FAL'. The rifles had unique sights (hooded at the front) and the German style sheet metal front handguard. A sniper version, Geweer Lange Afstand, was also used standard with a scope of Dutch origin produced by the Artillerie Inrichtingen, and without the bipod. The scope was designated 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.
- New Zealand: Used Australian built L1A1 from 1960, replaced by Steyr AUG in 1988.
- Nigeria: Licensed by DICON (Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria) in Nigeria as the NR-1.
- Pakistan: Used by the Pakistan Army.
- Papua New Guinea Used Australian built L1A1.
- 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.
- Rhodesia: Adopted in the 1960s.
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa: Produced under license by ARMSCOR. After a competition between the German G3 rifle, the Armalite AR-10, and the FN FAL, the South African Defence Force adopted three main variants of the FAL: a rifle with the designation R1, a "lightweight" variant of the FN FAL 50.64 with folding butt, fabricated locally under the designation R2, and a model designed for police use not capable of automatic fire under the designation R3. ( 200,000 were destroyed in UN-sponsored "Operation Mouflon" in 2001). A number of other variants of the R1 were built, the R1 HB, which had a heavy barrel and bipod, the R1 Sniper, which could be fitted with a scope and the R1 Para Carbine, which used a Single Point IR sight and had a shorter barrel.
- South Sudan: Used in Armed Forces of South Sudan.
- 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
- United Kingdom: L1A1 version used by the British Army until 1987, then replaced by the L85A1. The rifle has since been phased out of service from the British Army.
- Venezuela: Produced under license.
- West Germany
- List of battle rifles
- FN-49—Predecessor to the FAL
- L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle—British Commonwealth pattern of the FAL
- FN CAL—An unsuccessful FN 5.56mm NATO assault rifle that externally resembles the FAL
- FN FNC—The replacement for the FAL in the Belgian Army
- IMBEL MD97
- Olin/Winchester Salvo Rifle
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- FN FAL (Belgium)
- Earl Harvey's T-25
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- Armtech FAL SAS
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