By Paolo Valpolini
The Villepinte exhibition would have marked the first public appearance of the full FPSA (Fusil de Précision Semi-Automatique, semi-auto precision rifle) suite, the rifle system selected by the French Army to replace the current bolt-action FR-F2 sniper rifle in 7.62×51 mm calibre in use by its infantry units. The French Direction Générale de l’Armement signed the contract with OIP Sensor Systems of Belgium, which acted as prime contractor for a team of industries including Telefunken-Racoms of Germany, involved together with OIP in the night vision clip-on sights, FN Herstal, which is providing the SCAR-H PR rifle equipped with the Schmidt & Bender PMII ShortDot Dual CC 1-8×24 day sight, the Rotex-V suppressor from the Swiss B&T, and the PGM Précision bipod, while ammunition is provided by MEN Metallwerk Elisenhütte GmbH, HGH Infrared Systems being in charge of the test benches for day sights as well as for night Image Intensification (I2) and thermal (IR) sights, and Radar of Italy providing fabric accessories such as pouches etc. A full European team, as was requested by the French DGA. The contract, which entered into force on December 13th, 2019, includes 2,620 rifles.
“For the first time, OIP Sensor Systems acts as prime contractor for such a large small arms contract,” Hendrik Vercruyssen, the FPSA programme manager tells EDR On-Line. As it happens in other areas of the defence business, the system accessories represent a higher value than the platform, thus it is not anymore granted that the platform manufacturer, in this case another renowned Belgian company, FN Herstal, becomes the team leader. To ensure sufficient financial mass OIP teamed with its sister company, the German-based Telefunken-Racoms. While the latter is traditionally more oriented towards communication equipment, it has developed the necessary capabilities thanks to some other Bundeswehr-related night vision programmes. The clip-on sights are known as the OIP Tigris Modules “The Tigris-IL, the I² product, is a derivative of our popular Loris night vision device, which we transformed into a clip-on system,” Hendrik Vercruyssen explains. The I² choice went to the Photonis 4G tube, in the green version, which provides an 8.3° Field of View (FoV) when the day scope is set on the x1 magnification, and a 2.8° FoV when it is set on the maximum x8 magnification. The Tigris-IL is 220 mm long, with a 90 mm diameter, and weighs less than 850 grams, without the single AA battery that provides power. Overall OIP will provide the French Army around 1,800 Tigris-IL.
“Coming to the thermal version of the Tigris,” the FPSA programme manager continues, “here OIP is more familiar with bigger systems, however we developed a 360° situational awareness system for armoured vehicles, Sentinel, which has day/night capabilities thanks to thermal sensors, and this was key in leading us to the choice of the right sensors.” The detector is the 17 µm pitch Pico640Gen2 640×480 by Lynred, Device-ALab providing the engine core and MicroOLED the OLED display, all three being French companies. Operating in the 8-14 µm band the Tigris-IR has a variable FoV between 6.9° and 2.8°, depending on the day sight magnification, its dimensions being 105x90x250 mm, while it weighs just over one kilogram without the four AA batteries. The Belgian company wll produce some 1,100 Tigris-IR for the French Army. The rifle will be provided with its trasport case, which is hosting the weapon with all its accessories, and has an emplacement for one night sight, either the Tigris-IL or the Tigris IR.
The effector will be the SCAR-H PR in 7.62×51 mm calibre, the last two letters standing for Precision Rifle, fitted with the 20-inch barrel (508 mm), adopted in the semi-automatic version. This gas-operated, rotating bolt weapon replaces the older bolt-action rifle, and weighs 4.5 kg without scope and magazine, the latter hosting 20 rounds, although a 10-round magazine is also available. The version adopted by the French Army is peculiar as it has a fixed buttstock replacing the foldable one, its shape being also different, and is not equipped with iron sights. The day sight is provided to FNH by Schmidt & Bender in the form of the PMII ShortDot Dual CC that adds 625 grams to the rifle, the French Ministry of Defence considering the combat weight of the FPSA at 6.75 kg in combat order.
The bipod, specifically developed by PGM Précision of France for sniper rifles, contributes with 680 grams to the overall weight. Used only in specific situations, the Rotex-V suppressor is provided by the Swiss specialist B+T and provides a sound suppression of about 30dB (A) at a weight cost of 700 grams.
While sights are key to hit the target and the rifle is the shooting element, what delivers the effect on the target is the ammunition. MEN is providing two types of ammunition, a Match round and an Armour Piercing one. The former was already part of the company portfolio, and is based on an FMJ lead-steel ball weighing 9.45 grams (146 grains), with a V0 of 825 m/s ± 15 m/s. The German company developed a new AP ammunition to answer the requirements of the French DGA, the main one being the capacity to defeat a 16 mm RHA target. The 9.8 grams (151 gains) projectile is made of tungsten carbide, aluminium, steel and molybdenum disulfide, its V0 being 830 m/s ± 15 m/s, this round being still in the final stage of qualification.
The same applies to the whole system. “Unfortunately the COVID crisis hit the process quite heavily, especially because our team is very international and smart working can only partially replace the actual work,” Hendrik Vercruyssen explains, adding that the companies are doing their best to ensure that by September 13 the firm batch that includes a number of pre-series weapon systems as well as all qualification documents will be delivered on-time to the customer. “The DGA has also confirmed the Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 batches, the former including all training materiel, both for operators and maintainer, while the latter includes 655 rifles with day scope and bipod, 443 Tigris-IL and 273 Tigris-IR, as well as all materiel to ensure Level 1 and Level 2 maintenance for weapons and sights,” The programme manager tells us.
EDR On-Line understood that the industrial team is making an effort for providing the DGA with a number of systems by the autumn of this year, in order to allow forces to train in view of the first deployment with the FPSA before the end of 2020. “The three following batches, Tranches 3, 4 and 5 will be identical and will include 655 rifles and accessories, 441 Tigris-IL and 273 Tigris-IR, while the two final batches, 6 and 7, will include respectively 3,150,000 AP rounds and the same number of Match rounds,” he concludes.
Photos courtesy OIP Sensor Systems, FN Herstal, PGM Précision, DGA