By Paolo Valpolini
In the early 1990s the French Army was seeking a new 12.7×99 mm calibre sniper rifle for its infantry units, the shortlist including products from Barrett, McMillan and PGM Précision. The national product was selected after an official tender, in the form of the PGM Hécate II, the first of those new weapons being delivered to the units since 1997. Also known in the French Army as FR12.7F1, the rifle is a version of the original Hecate II which configuration was frozen in 1995 and has not evolved until now, which is not the case for the rifles produced since by PGM Précision, that were constantly submitted to improvements.
A bolt-action rifle, fitted with a three-lug high-strength steel bolt and a 700 mm long (605 mm rifled length with 8 right-hand groove with a 15” or 381 mm twist rate) fully floating match grade chromium plated tapered barrel. This is manufactured in Belgium by FN Herstal and features a stellite insert, a cobalt-chromium alloys designed for wear resistance; this technology, which leverages the R&D work done on the Browning machine gun barrel, allows the barrel to survive the double number of rounds compared to other barrels, and during tests conducted by the French Direction Générale de l’Armement it was tested firing more than 12,000 armour-piercing rounds without major accuracy degradation.
The FR12.7F1/Hécate II featured a reverse-flow muzzle brake that halves the recoil, was fitted with a two-stage trigger with a 1.4-2.2 kg pull ensuring maximum accuracy, and with a double row seven-round steel magazine. The overall length of the rifle was 1,420 mm, the buttstock and pistol grip being made of wood. The 12.7 mm sniper rifle provided to the Armée de Terre was a full-French solution, and beside the sniper rifle the contract included the PF2 ammunition developed by Anthena and a Scrome LTE J10 F1 x10 day scope. Combat ready the Hecate II weight was of 16.2 kg, and was provided with a rucksack for transport. According to Army data, the kill probability at 500 meters against a human-line target (1.4 x 0.5 meters) is 0.98, which decreases at 0.94 at 1,000 meters. Against a 2 x 2 meters target representing a vehicle, the Kp is 0.75 at 1.5 km and 0.6 at 1.8 km. As for the ammunition performances, the PF2 is capable to defeat a 13 mm rolled homogeneous armed plate at 90° at 725 meters distance. The weapon proved to be highly reliable and robust and after over 20 years of service it is still deployed by the French Army infantry units, maintained by gunsmith formed by PGM Précision.
Around the late 2000 the Armée de Terre expressed a requirement for a night sight; the choice went to a system produced by Meprolight of Israel, which was modified by Bertin Technologies in order to fit it on the sniper rifle in place of the Scrome daylight telescope, the French Army FR12.7F1 being fitted with a proprietary dovetail rail.
“After over two decades of servicing in country and in operation, i.e. in Afghanistan and in Mali, the French Army rifles needed a mid-life update,” François Brion, PGM Précision CEO tells EDR On-Line. “Three main areas are involved, stock and pistol grip, rail and sight.” The original wooden stock is being replaced by a new polymer stock purposely developed by the STAT (Section Technique de l’Armée de Terre, the French Army Technical Service) and produced by PGM Précision, which is designed to cope with the Meprolight night sight, which huge front lens and the recoil damper integrated in the mount increase considerably the height of the optical axis from the barrel axis. As for the pistol grip, this is AR15-like and is provided by Hogue of the USA; according to available information the DGA might exploit the recess in the grip to add a shot counter. To make the rifle more flexible in terms of sighting the “French Army” rail is being replaced by a STANAG 4694 Picatinny with a special slope of 54 MOA allowing to mount any type of western-made scope. That said, the Armée de Terre decided to replace the original Scrome LTE J10 F1 fixed magnification sight with a variable magnification 5-25, illuminated reticle and parallax adjustment, the proposals from different competitors being currently evaluated. “Those upgrades should allow the Hecate II to remain in French Army for at least 10 more years,” François Brion tells us.
Photos PGM Précision and P. Valpolini