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Operation Iraqi Freedom

In my time as a writer for TTAG, I’ve toured my share of manufacturing facilities. From the small-time operations like the scrappy pre-Freedom Group AAC (when it was still under Kevin Brittingham) which looked only a little larger than my parent’s garage, to the sprawling operation that is Leupold & Stevens’ operation in Beaverton, Oregon. After you see a couple, they all start to look the same. The same machines, the same floor layout, the same processes…it gets hard to distinguish what makes one manufacturer any better than the others. But for FN Manufacturing (FNM), the plant that makes FN guns in the U.S., the difference is something they shout from the rooftops: their people . . .

Harry Taylor has been working with FN Manufacturing for thirty-two years. In that time, he’s done many jobs at the plant. From machine setup technician to supervisor, Harry’s done it all. His favorite assignment, though, was working on the M240B production line — making the .30 caliber replacement for the US military’s aging M60 machine gun. The reason he enjoyed the job so much wasn’t that the work was particularly fun, but because he knew the guns were going to be protecting American lives.

He’d been in the Army himself, honorably discharged just before coming to work for FN Manufacturing. He knew exactly what it meant to rely on a firearm to defend your life and he was determined to give the new generation of soldiers a firearm that could be relied on to go bang every time.

That kind of mindset is pervasive throughout the plant. FN Herstal started in 1889 as an alliance of Belgian arms makers that banded together to service a large contract from the Belgian government.  That business eventually expanded to selling firearms to the arsenals of Europe.  When John Browning joined their ranks, they became aware of a growing commercial market in the U.S.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that FN Herstal began exploring the possibility of establishing a plant to produce “sporting arms” for the American public.  However winning a contract to produce M240 machine guns for the U.S. military accelerated these plans and FNM was established in 1978.

The ranks of FNM’s workforce quickly swelled thanks to additional military contracts and became a workforce heavily laced with retired military personnel. With each of those former military workers came the experience they gained in the service, and the knowledge that the guns they make could be sent to help their brothers still in uniform. It gave them a clear purpose.

The best illustration comes from the testing range. FNM has a 100-meter firing range in the rear of the facility where they test all their guns to ensure that they meet the military’s standards. The M16, which FN Manufacturing has produced for ages, is required to keep to a 5-inch circle at 100 meters for ten consecutive rounds. While I watched from behind the firing line, I think the worst group I saw was barely half that spread.

One of the weapons testers had himself been in the military and his son followed in his footsteps. After the son left boot camp, he was issued an M240B before being sent overseas. He called his father to let him know, since FN was the sole manufacturer of that machine gun at the time (previously designated as the FN MAG). His dad asked him for the serial number of the machine gun, then looked it up. The father had fired the test for that gun himself and the gun had performed remarkably well.

According to John Lockard, a Vietnam vet who will soon retire from FNM as operations adviser, the mindset of everyone at FN Manufacturing is that when the guns are needed, they’ll go bang every time. Not “if” they’re used, but “when.” Every gun is treated with the idea that it will be called on to defend someone’s life at some point, an accurate assumption for military firearms.

Twenty years after FN Manufacturing got going, FNH USA was established to manage U.S. government relations and new business development activities for its U.S. military operations, as well as support sales and marketing efforts for its growing U.S. commercial and law enforcement markets.

Despite the fact that commercial products were added to FNM’s line-up, the mindset didn’t change. The same attention to detail and the same belief that every gun will be called upon to save a life is in the minds of workers while they’re assembling commercial firearms as it is when they’re running the M240 line.

I asked Harry if he’s a gun guy and he says he definitely is. When I asked what kinds of guns he likes and he started listing off some hunting calibers, I knew exactly what occupied his free time. He started talking about how deer season is about to start in South Carolina and his eyes lit up. When I asked him who made his guns, the answer was predictable — FNM (they also make the Model 70 Winchester). The reason? “Because I know it will go bang every time I pull the trigger.”

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    • Bleh: Cosmetic, the MAG 58 (the basis for the m240b) was developed to meet a call for a new co-ax mg for the US Army in the 70’s. It’s a new MG design (in so much as such a thing can be these days).

      The M1919 is recoil operated while the M240b is gas operated. Completely different animals inside.

      • I would think that the MAG’s linieage, like most moder medium MGs, is traceable at least in part to the MG-34.

        • The M-240 is a mixture of the M-1919 feeding action with the BARs gas action. Over not all units embraced the 204B. SEALs still have M-60E3s and the Coast Guard uses M-60s still as do the Navy. Compared to the PIG its heavier and bulkier. But the FN has far better barrel change and selectable rates of fire.

          Overall you selling a FN commercial a bit too much Nick. Its ok but Other gun makers have loyal and loved employees too, IE Colt SW Ruger HK Olympic Arms ect.

  1. The barrel on my new AR was made by FN and it’s a piece of art as well as being accurate. I just ordered a Model 70, partly because they are made by FN, and I look forward to that rifle being well-made, accurate and dependable.

  2. I can definitely appreciate that they put so much emphasis on quality. With everything in our society getting cheaper and more disposable it inspires confidence to know that there still exist manufacturers who are looking for more than quick cash. I just wish I wasn’t going to be saving for the next 2-3 years to get my SCAR-17S.

    Has FN considered producing more budget minded firearms? Not sacrificing quality but perhaps fewer features for a lower price. Similar to the S&W M&P 15 Sport. Because.. I’d far rather have an FN.

  3. I know you guys are getting free stuff from FN but this is a bit too obvious even for a puff piece.

      • Nick is sponsored by FN and shoots on their team. Maybe this article should have been written by one of the others on staff.

        • Yeah, the least he could do is put some sort of a disclaimer that it’s a sponsored article or something. Nothing against FN, let’s just be honest here that this is basically an ad for them.

        • Yep – this screams of typical gun mag “articles” where the authors all love whatever product they are given. The Truth About Guns was supposed to be just that, the TRUTH.

    • I’d agree with you if I didn’t whole heartedly agree with the article having used FN’s machine guns in the sand box countless times and never been let down.

      • +1. You’re not the first serviceman I’ve heard singing FN’s praises.

        Just as a note to the doubters; on rare occasion, advertisements don’t have to lie or talk up their product. Sometimes they ARE just that good.

        • The only experience I have with FN firearms is a m16a2 issued in basic. And it was a jammomatic clunker. I understand that it was used and abused by so many trainees that did not know anything about firearms, including myself at the time. But it did leave cost me a sharpshooter or maybe even an expert badge so I’m still a little bitter about it after all these years.

        • My FN M249 SAW was awesome – when it didn’t jam. And it most positively did jam every 50 – 150 rounds of M855 / M856, despite being clean and well – maintained. When fired from a USGI aluminum mag, they jammed much more often than that.

          I’d much rather clear rooms with an M4 or IAR than an M249. That’s my $.02 as a USMC 0311 basic rifleman.

      • I’m not suggesting FN doesn’t make a fine product. But what exactly is the point of this article?

  4. How about they get their people to make SCAR 17 part support more readily available. Also, ANY spare parts for FNS line of pistols would be a nice touch. I “get” that their guns aren’t supposed to malfunction and that their parts are supposed to go 50,000 rounds (minus recoil spring and barrel). However, they’re delaing with American shooters who like to have their own spare parts on hand for their guns. Lack of spare parts and vaporware magazines turn a lot of people off to Fn which is a shame because their firearms are fan-f*cking-tastic.

    • Less than 2 weeks ago a LGS near me had a stack of what looked like at least 100 SCAR 17 mags, and one of those “SCAR 25” machined lowers (FDE). And a SCAR 17 (black, wee bit pricy). Price on the magazines was lower than online gouging prices by about $20 (still very pricy compared to PMags, but available). I can’t say I’ve shopped too hard for any of this stuff, but it’s floating around, a least.

      No idea about any other parts; I don’t get the impression the SCAR aftermarket is very big.

    • You forget like the FN 57N they make some crappy parts or mags so you have to buy there perts overpriced over and over again they are like HK to civilian gun buyer.

  5. Being a Cavalryman I’ve been messing with the M240 since 1989. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had the opportunity to fire all kinds of machine guns. I’m pretty sure I’ve fired every American, British, Russian, Japanese and German machine gun produced from WW I to the present day. I’m not an Infantryman, so I can’t speak to what it’s like to have to lug one up one side of a mountain and down the other, but as a Cavalryman the M240 is hands down my favorite machine gun. Accurate, reliable, easy to assemble and dissassemble, easy barrel changes, adjustable rate of fire (by turning the gas plug), and did I mention accurate (at least when mounted coaxial to the M1 main gun and slaved to the best fire control system in the world). It doesn’t surprise me that the FN factory is full of people who know what it’s like to stake your life on their product, it shows.

      • Actually Cavalry conducts reconnaissance and security operations (to include screen, guard, and economy of force operations). Being as how it is no longer 1863, today reconnaissance and security is conducted with aircraft (manned and unmanned), wheeled vehicles, armored vehicles, and dismounted. The mission hasn’t changed a bit. I’ve served in heavy and light Cavalry Squadrons, to include in the 82d Airborne Division, hence I’m one of a handful of dudes you’ll see running around with over 100 jumps and yellow braid on my Class A’s.

        I did however command a Tank Battalion, and then I called myself a tanker, not a Cavalryman.

        • Compared to the M73/219 they replaced we fell in love at the first burst. I, too, am a recovering cavalryman. That gas plug though, wasn’t really intended to change rate of fire, more to compensate for fouling in the gas system during prolonged use. But wotta I know, I also preferred firing the M85 on low rate, hated having to reload the cupola tray

        • Spent a coupla years detailed as the armorer in an armd cav troop, Pretty much every small arm in use in the field in the late ’70’s made it’s way through my racks

    • “I can’t speak to what it’s like to have to lug one up one side of a mountain and down the other,”

      Hehe, its no M60 that’s for sure. But, I loved my pig!

      • I didn’t get much of a chance to play with them, but the M240s mounted on our Blackhawks seemed to be pretty effective. Louds buggers, even with flight helmets.

  6. The C-9 (Canadian designation for the FN Minimi (a/k/a SAW)) that I carried around in my misspent youth was probably the most reliable gun I’ve ever used. Belt after belt of ammo fired, covered inside and out with that nasty, fine prairie dust, and it still kept firing. I remember literally scooping out the carbon from the receiver with a metal spoon, but the thing was unstoppable.

  7. There’s a novel idea. A large, complex, group operation is working very well because of the quality mindset of the people involved in the operation. Rules, procedures, tools, standards, etc. are meaningless if the people involved do not care.

    Now here’s the crazy part: the same thing applies to society. The root cause of every problem in society is people who have a poor quality mindset. Laws, standards, protocols, government programs, etc. never have and never will “fix” the problems in a society. The problem lies within the people.

    That is why civilian disarmament gun control will never reduce violent crime. Beyond the fact that it is impossible to disarm criminals, gun control fails to account for the violent, criminal mindset of the criminal. Fix their mindset and you will fix the violent crime problem. Of course that is a Herculean task. Nevertheless, it is the only answer that will actually work.

  8. Good write up, Nick. Thanks. I appreciate your focus on the people working there, great bit of info re. the man whose son was using one of the MGs he test fired.

  9. I’m sure the workers there are proud of what they do. The idea that something you are building is being used by one of our service people definitely brings a higher level of focus to workers. That I have seen personally.

    Just wish FN had some decent customer service on the commercial side. I called them twice on problems with my FN SLP and all they wanted to do was get me off the phone. Pretty rude about it too. I gave up with that and just figured it out and fixed it myself. It runs pretty good NOW. No thanks to them.

  10. While I realize that Nick is on team FN, the amount of FN fapping has gotten a bit over the top. This is the truth about guns not “the attempt to sound unbiased about everything FN despite the person writing several articles on them being a member of their team” If they are that good perhaps it would mean more coming from someone not on their team.

    • Couple thoughts for the whiners….

      (1) Don’t like an article? Don’t read it.

      (2) Don’t like TTAG? Don’t read it.

      (3) Don’t like what you are reading here? Go start your own blog site and you can write anything you want and we probably won’t read it.

  11. I can’t speak for their commercial products as I’ve never used them, but the M240B is the most reliable weapon system I’ve ever used. I’ve fired over a hundred thousand rounds through them and never had problems ( excluding blanks of course). As a gun team leader and gun squad leader I’ve directed fires for a hundred thousand more rounds and aside from operator error or bad ammo, no stoppages, ftf, fte, etc. Great weapon

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