FN’s FDE Tactical Carbine Shoots as Good as it Looks

In testing, the FN 15 Tactical Carbine FDE P-LOK model digested a variety of factory loads with different bullet weights with no mechanical hiccups.

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.

The carbine features flat dark earth furniture and a type three hard anodized finish.

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.

The rifle’s P-LOK designation stands for the “pinch-lock” attachment of the handguard to the receiver, augmenting the wedge-lock system and adding greater rigidity for mounting heavier accessories using the rail or M-LOK attachment points.

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.

Sporting the same three-pronged flash hider used on FN SCAR guns, the 16-inch cold hammer-forged barrel produced fine accuracy.

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.

B5 Systems flat dark earth furniture includes the Bravo six-position, collapsible buttstock.

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.

The gun is set up for right-handed shooters with the safety and bolt catch on the customary left side of the receiver and the magazine release and forward assist on the opposite side.

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.

The gun is equipped with the FN combat trigger, which broke cleanly but had a somewhat heavy pull weight.

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.

Despite having a trigger with a heavy pull weight, the gun proved to be highly accurate at the range, showing a preference for heavier bullets thanks to the barrel’s 1:7 rate of twist.

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

LoadAvg. Velocity (feet per secondAvg. Group 100 yardsBest Group 100 yards
Black Hills .223 69-gr. MatchKing HP2,6130.950.73
Federal Premium .223 55-gr. Ballistic Tip2,8731.191.08
Hornady Black .223 62-gr. FMJ2,6971.000.75
Winchester .223 69-gr. MatchKing HPBT2,4820.670.26
Winchester Target .223 55-gr. FMJ2,9441.301.18

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.

SPECIFICATIONS

FN 15 Tactical Carbine FDE P-LOK 5.56 NATO

Caliber: 5.56 NATO/223 Rem.

Action: Direct-impingement semi-auto

Magazine: Magpul detachable

Capacity: 30

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.

MSRP: $1,499.00

CONTACTS:

Black Hills Ammunition

Competitive Edge Dynamics

Federal Premium Ammunition

FN

Hornady Ammunition

Leupold

Nagel’s Gun Shop

Winchester Ammunition

EXTRA PHOTOS:

Weighing 7.2 pounds empty, the carbine’s overall length can be adjusted from 34 inches to 37.2 inches.
The B5 Systems pistol grip has light stippling over its entire surface.
The magazine well is beveled for easier insertion of magazines.
For testing, the author mounted a Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x50mm scope in a set of Burris P.E.P.R. rings.

For more information visit FN America website.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • John Doe January 22, 2021, 4:16 am

    Benchmade is still giving money to nazi democrats in 2020. members of the “squad”. Socialists rashida talib and ayanna pressely who are both racist, anti-semites and have incited the violence caused by the democrat party’s hitler youth groups anatifa and blm who are both fascist hate groups. Not to mention super idiot bernard sanders. I will not support any knife or gun company that employs “people” that give money to America’s greatest enemy, the fascist democrat party. I refuse to support their ability to live at all, because they shouldn’t. Go to opensecrets.org people.

  • Big Al 45 January 15, 2021, 12:37 pm

    Yowzers, that receiver color matches my Jeep Wrangler Ruby perfectly!
    But it ain’t no FDE.
    🙂

  • koldman January 15, 2021, 10:48 am

    Looks like either a beer-fueled homegrown leftover parts build, or a factory builld where “clever styling” is the top priority. But hey, at least it’s expensive.

  • Alexander Kubilis January 12, 2021, 11:03 am

    Looking for a rifle that fires a 7.62x 51 308 that won’t break the bank

  • MaineWolf January 11, 2021, 9:49 pm

    I love the FN 509 Compact Tactical in FDE but at least it “looks” FDE. Unless it’s your camera, this thing looks more shiny goldish with OD green hue than any FDE shade I’ve seen. And the handles are more tan than FDE. Looks more like Frankenstein with the mismatched colors…just fugly. I’m not the fashion police but damn, that just LOOKS nasty. You’d think for the price and FN’s reputation for quality, they’d at least be able to get the colors closer to FDE shade.

  • Area52 January 11, 2021, 9:29 am

    Maybe gun buyers are reluctant to buy this rifle because of the three prong flash hider. After all if they did buy this firearm they would have buyers regret over buying the prong rifle. Get it?

  • Daniel Chapa January 11, 2021, 8:54 am

    If this gun shoots “as good as it looks” then I certainly hope that is not true. It looks terrible like it was thrown together with a bunch of mismatching parts in a dark garage somewhere. Probably need to get a little more light on it so you can hit the target.

  • Cas January 11, 2021, 5:47 am

    My gawd……how many different colors on that gun. Give the barrek and I’ll build a better looking AR.

    • AAron January 15, 2021, 8:30 am

      Agreed. Looks like it was built with whatever parts they had left on the shelf!

  • Abel January 11, 2021, 4:53 am

    FN is the Starbucks of the firearms industry. For hipsters with beards that think the MSRP compensates for training. Why the obsession with 3 tones of FDE? Are we even still fighting in the desert anymore? I’ve trained with rifles that cost far less and are just as capable. You probably have too but they are not paying you for the review!

    • JC January 11, 2021, 8:40 am

      BuT ThEy MaKe tHe 249 WhIcH ThE DeLtA SpAcEsHiP RaNgErS UsE…

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