March 22, 2023
Brand new from FN America is the pistol version of their famous SCAR, the SCAR 15P. This pistol has a 5.56 NATO chamber, a 7.5-inch barrel, is fed by NATO STANAG-pattern (AR-15) magazines and ships with no stock, which is why it is legally a pistol. It is currently only available in 5.56x45mm, in either all black or FDE (flat dark earth). But first, the elephant in the room: Sometimes your timing is perfect, sometimes it’s perfectly wrong. FN introduced the SCAR pistol just weeks before the BATFE dropped their new rule on pistols equipped with stabilizing arm braces. Their rule which—let’s be honest—basically says you can’t put braces on pistols, thus reversing everything they’ve said in the previous decade.
And it has been the existence of braces that has driven sales of these “large format” pistols. The new ATF rule, besides being unconstitutional, is legally indefensible contradictory garbage, and any sane court should see that, but it might be years before the rule gets in front of a federal court, and there is no guarantee the court will do the right thing (after all, the entirety of the NFA is unconstitutional, and it’s been in place since 1934). So, you will see no photos of braces or stocks clamped to the very convenient MIL STD 1913 rail at the rear of the 15P, as I’m already on enough watch lists and want my dogs to live long, healthy lives. But, if at some point you want to attach a stock or brace to the 15P (registering it as an SBR, the brace rule is thrown out, or whatever) that rear receiver rail makes it quick and easy.
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Why the bad timing? When you are a company as large as FN, projects sometimes take years to get off the ground. I know a few people who used to work for FN, and they told me they’d been trying for seven years to get FN to make a pistol version of the SCAR (likely since the FN engineers started working on the SCAR-SC upon which the 15P is based, and more on that in the next paragraph). Knowing how companies like FN (namely those with serious government contracts) work, I’m guessing the 15P only happened after FN satisfied all the mil/LE contracts for the SCAR-SC and decided they wanted to make a little more money on the commercial side. None of the U.S. military forces or federal law enforcement agencies will be bothered by the ATF’s brace ruling. Which is ironic, considering the purpose of the entire Bill of Rights (including the Second Amendment) is to protect U.S. citizens against a tyrannical (domestic) government, but…okay, that’s enough ranting for now.
FN SCAR vs. AR-15
The SCAR has been an interesting alternative to the AR-15, but as a rifle the SCAR is neither short nor light. For most of its existence, the shortest barrel length available on the 5.56 SCAR has been 10 inches, and an empty rifle has been somewhere north of seven pounds. Then in 2017, FN announced the SCAR-SC (sub-compact) PDW (personal defense weapon), a select-fire rifle with a collapsible stock and a 7.5-inch barrel. The SCAR 15P is the semi-auto pistol version of the SC PDW. Minus the full-auto capability, the only difference between the two is the lack of a stock on the back of the pistol, and the shorter (presumably for concealment) flash hider on the barrel of the SC. The SCAR 15P pistol is five pounds 7.4 ounces empty (without magazine) and, as delivered without stock or brace, is just 19.75-inches long. The SCAR-SC is 21.1 inches with the stock collapsed, and at 6.9 pounds quite a bit heavier, but the SCAR is well-known for being a heavy design.
A brief rundown of SCAR history for those of you new to the design. FNH’s military SCAR-L (5.56) was developed for, and won, the hard fought SOF Combat Assault Rifle competition begun in 2003. The result was not just one rifle, but two models capable of easily being changed between multiple calibers and filling multiple roles. The SCAR-L chambers the standard U.S. military 5.56x45mm cartridge while the slightly larger SCAR-H chambers the 7.62x51mm NATO (.308). Both models incorporate a quick-change barrel system. The SCAR-L can be easily fitted with a 10-, 14-, or 18-inch barrel. The SCAR-H can be fitted with 13-, 16-, and 20-inch barrels. Designated the Mk16 Mod 0 by the U.S. military, the SCAR-L was slated to replace the M4A1 carbines, Mk18 CQBR and Mk12s currently in SOCOM service. The SCAR-H, designated Mk17 Mod 0, was slated to replace the M14 and AR-10-type Mk11 sniper rifles currently fielded by SOCOM. Both models were designed to fulfill a variety of roles from close quarter combat to precision rifle, and while in use by some troops (mostly special forces) the rifles have not seen the kind of widespread success and adoption by the military FN was hoping.
FN advertises that the short 7.5-inch barrel of the 15P “delivers unmatched maneuverability,” which tells me that its “.gov” customers of the SCAR-SC wanted something that was more easily deployed out of vehicles/from concealment and useful in tight urban environments. FN Product Manager Ben Voss says the 15P is, “Ideal for in-vehicle or in-home defense when compactness is the key,” and I’m sure that’s only a slight variation on what they tell potential military and LE customers when marketing the SCAR-SC. The SC was “proposed” as being available in both 5.56 NATO and 300 Blackout, and I can find press releases from 2019 concerning FN Herstal (the parent company) offering the SCAR-SC in 300 BLK, but currently in the United States the SCAR-SC and the 15P pistol are only available in 5.56 NATO.
The SCAR’s operation is gas via a short-stroke piston with a multi-lug carrier controlled rotating bolt. What’s interesting about the SCAR is that they’ve paired that piston system with a free-floated barrel, and you get the same free-floating barrel in this pistol as you do with the rifles. Piston operating systems are generally considered less accurate than direct gas impingement guns, in part because the barrels of the former often are not free floated. With the SCAR, FN has done everything they can to increase the accuracy of their system. That doesn’t make as much of a difference on the short barrel of the 15P, but every little bit helps.
SCAR Specs Breakdown
The 7.5-inch barrel is cold hammer forged and chrome lined for the utmost in durability. It is tipped with a somewhat long three-prong flash hider. The barrel wasn’t just shortened for this pistol, the gas system was shortened as well. With the original, rifle-length gas system you couldn’t go with any shorter barrel length than 10 inches, as that brought the muzzle just about back to the gas block. The heart of the SCAR is an extruded aluminum upper receiver. Unlike the AR-15, the SCAR’s upper receiver is the serialized and thus controlled part. It has been shortened on this pistol, and total length of the top rail is 14-inches. Underneath the handguard is another six-inch section of aluminum MIL STD 1913 “picatinny” rail.
On either side of the handguard, at three and nine o’clock, are 3.5-inch polymer sections of rail that can be easily removed, if you’d prefer. To keep your hand away from the muzzle, I would recommend a hand stop or an angled foregrip. Vertical foregrips, however, are illegal on pistols, so be aware (unless you register it as an AOW/Any Oher Weapon, do all the NFA paperwork, and pay for a five dollar federal tax stamp).
Original versions of the SCAR have a reversible charging handle. There are versions of the rifle which have a non-reciprocating charging handle (NRCH), and that’s what you’ll find on this pistol. With this pistol you get two charging handles—one short one about three-quarters of an inch long, and a longer one about 1.5-inches long, that is angled downward. However, you can swap those handles from back and forth from the right and left sides, and use both or just one. The longer charging handle is angled downward so while working it you are less likely to skin your knuckles on any optic or optic mounts. FN also states you can use the charging handle as a hand stop, and that’s a pretty good idea, hooking the thumb of your support hand over the top of the charging handle. This will also keep your hand away from the muzzle—another good idea.
The upper receiver is extruded aluminum. The lower receiver is polymer and is held in place by one captive pin, at the front. Pop that receiver pin out, left to right, and the entire lower receiver pivots off the upper. The pistol grip is an AR-style grip—if you don’t like the A2-style grip provided with the rifle, you can swap out any other AR grip you’d like—Magpul, BCM, whatever.
And a quick note on all these parts and pieces. If you buy the black version of this pistol, it will be black, which I hear is both tactical and slimming. If you buy the FDE version as seen here, you will enjoy multiple shades and hues in the Flat Dark Earth-adjacent neighborhood, as the anodizing on the upper receiver doesn’t match the polymer in the lower receiver which doesn’t match the polymer grip which doesn’t match the paint on the provided magazine. If this triggers your OCD you can always get the gun Cerakoted. However, if you’re interested in camouflage (the original intent of the FDE color), the various “Full Diaper Explosion” hues will work better than one solid color.
Part of the SCAR’s “modern” design are its bilateral controls that are laid out similar to an AR-15, and that’s good, because the AR-15 has the user-friendliest controls against which all other combat rifles are judged (if that’s not a real term it should be). The safety has a 45-degree throw, and the lever on the right side is shorter, so it doesn’t poke your trigger finger. The magazine release on the right side is a checkered polymer button you can reach with your trigger finger. There is a magazine release on the left side of the rifle as well, a pivoting steel lever. On the left side of the receiver you’ll see a bolt release that is very similar to the one found on the AR-15.
The FN SCAR 15P sports an extended aluminum case deflector. The trigger system in a SCAR is completely different from that of an AR-15 in construction, but unfortunately the weight and quality of the trigger pull is very similar to that of a GI M16/M4 trigger pull, heavy and gritty. The trigger pull on my sample 15P was single stage, with a measured pull weight of 8.0 pounds. A brief aside on this—most of the SCARs in military service are being used by elite units. Almost none of the guns being fielded by the “Tier 1” guys are being left factory original, and there is a reason why Geissele Automatics, deeply involved with U.S. Special Forces, makes a Super SCAR Trigger that provides a four-pound trigger pull.
The SCAR uses NATO STANAG “AR-15”-pattern magazines, although the magazine provided with the pistol is one of FN’s own design with a thick steel body and a non-binding polymer follower. One 30-round magazine was provided with the pistol. The body of the magazine where it protrudes from the magazine well has been painted FDE. There were some issues with previous generation Magpul PMAGs binding on the SCAR’s bolt, but if you use aluminum GI magazines or current Gen M3 PMAGs they work just fine. If nothing but FN-branded SCAR magazines will do for you, they are available from FN for $38.99 apiece. FYI, standard aluminum GI magazines weigh four ounces empty. Magpul Gen M3 magazines are just a hair over five ounces. This FN magazine weighs 7.68 ounces empty according to my scale, which is the heaviest 30-round AR magazine I’ve ever tested.
The 15P comes with a shortened version of the SCAR’s traditional adjustable piston operating system. For a little detail on why piston guns are seeing a resurgence, let me take the long way around—the FN SCAR in all its iterations (including this one) uses a short-stroke gas piston operating system. This is different from the direct gas impingement operating system that is standard with the AR-15, and likely the one with which most of you are familiar. And the two are substantively different.
In a direct gas impingement AR-15, the gases from the burning gunpowder vent out the gas port in the barrel, run backward along the gas tube into the upper receiver, and push on the bolt carrier. The bolt carrier moving backward unlocks the bolt, and the firearm cycles. In a short stroke gas piston gun like the SCAR, the gases from the burning gunpowder escape out the gas port in the barrel and almost immediately hit the front of the piston. The piston stretches from the gas port to the bolt assembly, and when the gas pushes on it, the piston pushes on the bolt carrier, cycling the gun. There are far more (long- and short-stroke) piston-operated firearm designs on the market than direct gas impingement (DI) ones.
In a direct gas impingement AR-15, the hot gases and gunpowder residue fly directly into your upper receiver/chamber area, getting it noticeably dirty and hot. With a piston gun, that heat and dirt is kept away from the chamber. The dirt/heat issue has long been used by piston gun proponents as why piston guns are superior to DI guns, especially when used in very hot environments like deserts, but in truth properly made, maintained, and lubed DI guns will run and run and run—there’s a reason why the AR-15/M16/M4 design is still in use by our military after 60 years.
Let’s ignore the SCAR for a second and just talk about ARs. There have been gas piston AR designs in the past. In otherwise identical designs, piston ARs have more parts, are heavier, are more expensive, and have more and sharper recoil than DI guns. Why more recoil? With that piston there is more reciprocating weight, which translates into more recoil. And instead of a puff of gas flying back and impinging on the carrier, spreading out the impact over milliseconds, you’ve got a piece of steel smacking it, hence the sharper recoil impulse. Piston ARs were somewhat popular 10–15 years ago, but have mostly faded away for the reasons I state above. But piston designs in general (SCAR, SIG’s SPEAR and SPEAR LT) are seeing a resurgence, and for none of the above reasons. Piston guns like the SCAR are seeing a resurgence, especially on the military spec ops side, because of the increased use of sound suppressors.
Sound suppressors slow down (and thus quiet) the gases escaping from the muzzle. This, almost without exception, creates increased pressure inside the gun. In a direct gas impingement gun like an AR-15, this means more gas shooting back harder into the receiver. And not just out the ejection port but right out the rear of the receiver, past the charging handle, into the shooter’s face. Not only is this distracting and unpleasant, and I’m no doctor, but anything that smells so strongly of chlorine and likely contains trace amounts of lead probably isn’t good for you.
If you put a suppressor on a gas piston gun, the amount of gas going back into the shooter’s face isn’t increased, and stays near zero. Considering our SF troops are running suppressed almost all the time, this is a very important selling point to them, which is why they’re using the SCAR, HK 416, and now the SIG SPEAR—all piston guns. But screwing on that suppressor does change the pressure inside the gun, which affects piston guns more than DI guns, which is why having an adjustable gas block is a good idea.
The SCAR has a two-position adjustable gas system, and the toggle switch to do that is accessed through the cutout in the handguard. You don’t need tools, just fingers. Mostly, you’d only need to adjust it when switching from suppressed to unsuppressed. I’m guessing the original military/government customers this gun was designed for will be running it suppressed most of the time, which is (in part) why the barrel is so short, to keep the overall length down. And let’s talk about that barrel length. 7.5 inches is short for a 5.56 gun. The high pressure 5.56 cartridge is ill-served out of a barrel this short and, as a general rule, if you want a barrel this short, you’d be much better off going with the 300 AAC Blackout cartridge, which was optimized for short barrels.
That doesn’t mean the 5.56 NATO is useless out of a 7.5-inch barreled gun, but be aware you’ll lose almost a third of your velocity when compared to a 16-inch barreled gun. And not all loads perform the same out of such a short tube. Not all rifle cartridges are loaded with the same powder, and some which might show the same speed out of a rifle-length gun provide significantly different velocities out of a 7.5-inch barrel as they have different burn rates. During previous testing out of 7.5-inch barrels, I’ve found the Federal/American Eagle 62-grain M855 green tip was almost 200 fps slower than other brands. A result of slower-burning powder, presumably.
Then there’s the bullet issue. I was at Black Hills Ammunition a decade ago when Jeff Hoffman was testing an experimental non-expanding 77-grain bullet out of the nine-inch barrel of a HK G36C for a European government agency. Out of 14.5" and longer barrels the bullet would tumble and break apart in the gel blocks, but out of the G36C’s short barrel it zipped all the way through the 17-inch block without expanding time after time—which means the right projectile is the key when using a short barrel. Brett Throckmorton at Barnes Bullets has previously told me that the reliable expansion window for their .223 TSX bullets starts at 1,900 fps, but at that velocity there will only be initial expansion, with the petals just starting to peel back. My favorite short-barrel 5.56 load is Black Hills’ 50-grain TSX, and out of the SCAR 15P it is 500 fps over that expansion threshold.
Hornady advertises a recommended velocity range of their V-Max bullets between 2,000–4,000 fps. I spoke with Joe Thielen, an engineer at Hornady, who stated that the minimum speed he would recommend for consistent terminal performance on a 50–60 grain V-Max would be 1,800 fps, and out of the 15P I saw velocities over 2,300 fps. But, remember, the above velocities are at the muzzle. At distance you will see significant velocity loss. Then again, a 7.5-inch barreled pistol is not designed to be a 300-yard gun, it is meant to be useful at what I’ll call urban distances. Which is, in part, why I did my accuracy testing at 50 yards. With a barrel this short you get a lot of noise, and blast. The three-prong flash hider does a very good job of killing the flash of most loads, but this pistol will be stupid loud unless you attach a sound suppressor.
Accuracy testing was done off a rest, but this is not a gun designed for benchrest shooting. If you’re not going to attach a stock or brace to the pistol, you do have options. The SCAR 15P is liberally festooned with sling attachment points. A QD sling socket is clamped to the rear rail. There are two aluminum loops on either side of the receiver at the rear, and one on either side of the receiver at the front, for attachment of snap hook-type slings.
The way to run a pistol like this using a sling is to push it out against the tension of the sling. With a two-point sling, attached front and rear, standard nylon webbing might be your best bet. Using a single-point sling attached to one of the points at the rear of the gun, you might be better served with a sling that has some bungee/spring to it. If you don’t want to use a sling you can use the push/pull method, pulling back with one hand and pushing forward with the other. The pistol will rock in your hands when firing, just like any other pistol, but once you perfect your technique, follow-up shots come pretty quickly.
I didn’t have any problems at the range, but then I would have been surprised if I did. The SCAR in many variations has seen combat around the world, and the SCAR-SC has been in service for years—this is a proven firearms platform. And an iconic one—one look at it, even a short one like this 15P pistol, and you know you’re looking at an FN SCAR. Is the SCAR 15P expensive? Well, compared to AR-15 pistols, yes, significantly. All the SCARs are priced higher than even the most overpriced ARs that I can think of (cough, Knights, cough). But you’d be hard pressed to find a custom 1911 from Wilson Combat/Nighthawk/Cabot that is priced as cheaply as the SCAR, so I guess it depends on your perspective. Also, technically, this isn’t an AR-15. This is a SCAR, and if you want a SCAR pistol, it’s this or nothing.
With all of that said…I find the price of the FN SCAR 15P ridiculous, priced so high only wealthy collectors and government agencies using taxpayer dollars would even consider buying it. Then again, it’s only $90 more than the rifle it’s based on, but that just shows me the rifle is “overpriced” (whatever that means) as well. To me, there seems to be no reason for it to be priced this high, unless FN plans to only make a limited number of them and wants to balance supply with demand. And, truthfully, I think that’s what they’ve been doing with the SCAR on the commercial side—the limited supply is counterbalanced by the exceedingly high price, thereby reducing demand. The great thing about capitalism is that a product is worth whatever people are willing to pay for it, and I have no doubt FN will have no problems selling all the SCAR pistols they make.
FN SCAR 15P Pistol Specs
- Type: Gas-operated, semiautomatic
- Caliber: 5.56 NATO
- Weight: 5 lbs., 8 oz.
- Overall Length: 19.75 in.
- Receiver: Aluminum upper receiver, polumer lower
- Barrel: 7.5 in. CHF, chrome lined, 1:7-in. twist
- Muzzle Device: Flash hider
- Pistol Grip: A2
- Forend: Aluminum with rails at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock
- Trigger: One-stage, 8 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: None
- Accessories: One 30-rd. magazine, cable lock, soft case
- MSRP: $3,699
- Manufacturer: FN America
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.