Belgian firearms maker FN (Fabrique National) likes to call its guns the most battle-proven weapons in the world. While some folks in Eastern Europe may quibble with that assertion, there’s no doubt that FN is a force to be reckoned with in producing military firearms. FN weapons are used by the militaries of more than 100 countries, and the firm has long produced a variety of guns used by U.S. armed forces.
The ability to consistently manufacture guns to military specifications is admirable, but there are a couple of things you need to know about MIL-SPEC firearms. First, military customers are often more cost-conscious than civilian consumers, and their requirements reflect that. In addition, military standards are notoriously slow to change and often lag behind newer commercial products that take advantage of improvements in materials, finishes, or components. As a result, companies like FN that are constrained in how they make military firearms can swing for the fence when making commercial guns. Still, with FN’s military legacy and dominance, it’s a little surprising when some of FN’s nicer commercial firearms fly a little beneath the radar and don’t always get the attention they may deserve.
A case in point is the FN 15 Tactical Carbine FDE P-LOK. It hasn’t garnered a lot of attention since its introduction a couple of years ago, and that’s a shame because this is one very well-conceived and executed rifle that you can buy at an affordable price.
The heart of this direct-impingement, gas-operated carbine is what FN calls an “enhanced” MIL-SPEC lower receiver with a type three hard-anodized protective finish that gets about as close to a flat dark earth color as anodizing can get. The upper is of the flattop variety, and at the 12 o’clock position you’ll find a M1913 Picatinny rail that continues past the end of the upper receiver along the full upper length of the handguard, providing ample room for mounting optics of your choosing.
One thing that sets this rifle apart is the P-LOK handguard. Unlike rails on some other carbine-sized guns, this one is designed to be sufficiently strong and rigid so that you can mount just about anything you want on it. In fact, the P-LOK acronym in the model name stands for the “pinch-lock” attachment mechanism for the handguard. In application, it does not replace the wedge-lock design of earlier models, but augments it, providing greater rigidity and a solid lockup. The handguard uses M-LOK technology and has a total of 21 elongated M-LOK slots at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions for attaching accessories.
FN has justifiably earned a solid reputation for making very good AR barrels, and judging from the results of my testing at the range, the barrel on this gun is no exception. Measuring 16 inches in length, the match-grade, cold hammer-forged barrel is free-floated to improve accuracy and chrome-lined to protect the barrel from heat damage and extend barrel life. It has a relatively fast 1:7 right hand rate of twist to better stabilize heavier bullets and is tipped with the same three-prong flash hider used on FN SCAR rifles.
The barrel is wisely paired with a mid-length gas system and H1 buffer, which together make the gun noticeably softer shooting than guns that use a carbine-length gas system with barrels of this length. A low-profile gas block is pinned to the barrel.
Furniture on this gun has switched from Magpul to B5 Systems products, including the pistol grip, trigger guard, and buttstock, which are all in a flat dark earth color. The color doesn’t precisely match the anodized color of the receiver – that’s simply not in the cards given the inherent variations of the anodizing process — but it’s close enough to give the overall package a rather striking appearance. Depending on lighting conditions, the receiver actually has a bit of bronze appearance that I rather like.
The adjustable, six-positon, collapsible B5 Bravo buttstock is lightweight and provides a greater surface area for cheek weld than many designs, and allows you to vary overall length from a handy 34 inches to 37.2 inches. It’s equipped with a bit of a recoil pad, but it’s not much needed in this gun. It also has a QD mount for a sling. The B5 pistol grip fits my medium-sized hand well and has light stippling over its entire surface for a sure grip in any weather. Without a magazine, the gun weighs 7.2 lbs., placing it in the “just right” category for me – neither too light nor too heavy. The gun has a sturdy feel to it and good balance.
Controls are set up for right-handed shooters with the forward assist and magazine release on the right side of the receiver. The bolt catch and safety are on the left side. All controls have grooved surface areas for easier manipulation.
Attention to detail is quite evident in this gun. The finish on all surfaces is even and well-executed. The upper receiver locks solidly to the lower, with no wobble. Nothing on the gun rattles and the magazine well is beveled for smooth insertion of magazines.
My only mild complaint about the rifle – and it’s the same complaint I have about most factory AR guns – is that it ships with a trigger with an unnecessarily heavy trigger pull. The trigger on the FN carbine broke cleanly enough, with just a slight hint of creep on initial take up, but it broke at a measured average pull weight of 6 lbs. 4 oz. That’s OK if the gun’s intended use is purely tactical, but I’m a hunter and demand more of the triggers on my guns, so I would likely replace the FN “combat trigger” with a good aftermarket trigger such as a Timney.
It’s a challenge to shoot tiny groups with triggers with heavy pull weights, but the FN carbine delivered surprisingly good accuracy despite that handicap. For testing, I mounted a Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x50mm scope on the gun to see what it was really capable of. The gun quickly demonstrated that it was quite capable, indeed, even though I had no 5.56 NATO loads available for testing and used 223 Rem. ammo exclusively. I tested the rifle by shooting three, three-shot groups per load to conserve ammo (in case you hadn’t noticed, ammo is a tad hard to come by these days), but I also didn’t give the gun much time to cool down between shot strings, duplicating heavy out-of-the-box use, and I didn’t clean it between loads.
Three of five tested loads printed average 100-yard groups measuring one inch or less, and the remaining two loads produced average groups of just 1.19 inch and 1.30 inch. The gun showed a clear preference for heavier bullets in the 62-grain to 69-grain range, versus lighter 55-grain loads, with top accuracy honors going to Winchester’s 69-grain match load. That load produced average groups measuring 0.67 inch and a best group of just 0.26 inch. It’s worth noting that every load tested shot 1.3 MOA or smaller average groups, which is perfectly acceptable for almost any application you can think of using a 16-inch barreled AR, and I strongly suspect groups would shrink further with a good aftermarket trigger installed.
Bullet velocities out of the 16-inch barrel were considerably slower than factory-stated velocities for the rounds tested, but that’s to be expected since ammo makers use longer barrels in testing. The slowest round tested, at 2,482 fps, was Winchester’s 69-grain match load – but it was also the most accurate. That’s precisely as it should be, given the barrel’s fast 1:7 twist rate, which is optimal for stabilizing heavier bullets. The hottest load tested – and the least accurate — was Winchester’s 55-grain “white box” full metal jacket load, which stepped out at 2,944 fps.
Functionally, the carbine ran like a champ. It fed rounds without issue from the single supplied Magpul 30-round magazine, and it fired, extracted, and ejected without skipping a beat. It did so without the benefit of me adding any lubricant to the bolt because I wanted to see how the rifle performed straight from the box.
With an MSRP of $1,499, the gun is a bargain. I’ve shot some AR carbines costing twice as much that didn’t shoot any better – and didn’t come with FN’s pedigree for building solid, reliable ARs that go bang when they most have to. Whether you plan to use it for hunting or defending the castle, or both, it’s hard to go wrong with this gun.
FN 15 Tactical Carbine FDE P-LOK 5.56 NATO
|Load||Avg. Velocity (feet per second||Avg. Group 100 yards||Best Group 100 yards|
|Black Hills .223 69-gr. MatchKing HP||2,613||0.95||0.73|
|Federal Premium .223 55-gr. Ballistic Tip||2,873||1.19||1.08|
|Hornady Black .223 62-gr. FMJ||2,697||1.00||0.75|
|Winchester .223 69-gr. MatchKing HPBT||2,482||0.67||0.26|
|Winchester Target .223 55-gr. FMJ||2,944||1.30||1.18|
Note: Accuracy measured with three-shot groups fired in wind 4-8 mph at 100 yards. Velocities measured as a three-shot average over a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph.
FN 15 Tactical Carbine FDE P-LOK 5.56 NATO
Caliber: 5.56 NATO/223 Rem.
Action: Direct-impingement semi-auto
Magazine: Magpul detachable
Barrel: 16-inch cold hammer-forged
Rate of twist: 1:7
Stock: B5 Systems collapsible
Trigger: FN combat trigger
Weight: 7.2 lbs.
Length: 34 in. – 37.2 in.