The Type 62 Almost Became France’s Main Battle Rifle
Politics and price intervened
by MATTHEW MOSS
The Fusil Automatique Type 62 represented the culmination of a decade’s work by designers at France’s Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne, or MAS.
Since the debut of the self-loading MAS-49/56, designers had been working on a suitable select-fire weapon. The result was the Type 62, which the French army accepted for trials in July 1962.
Rather than firing France’s then-standard 7.65-by-54-millimeter cartridge, the Type 62 was chambered for NATO’s 7.62-by-51-millimeter round in use with the British Army’s L1A1 (FN FAL), the U.S. M14 and the Bundeswehr’s G3.
Like other contemporary battle rifles, the Type 62 fed from a 20-round magazine. It weighed 9.9 pounds and was 40 inches long. It featured a combination of plastic and wooden furniture — a plastic handguard and wooden stock and pistol grip.
The Type 62 boasted a comprehensive sight system with a 200-to-600-meter drum sight and an additional battle peep sight. Near the trunnion there was a folding U-notch rear night sight. Both the front and rear sights had luminescent inserts.
A shooter could also fit an optical sight to a dedicated top cover mount. Finally, there was a rifle grenade launching sight — similar to that on the MAS-49/56 — located above the barrel, between the front sight post and handguard.
The Type 62 was gas-operated. It relied on a tilting bolt to lock its action. It derived its action from the MAS-49, while its short-stroke gas piston system was similar to that of the Belgian FN FAL.
MAS made 60 Type 62 for the trials and these prototypes faced off against the battle-proven FAL in evaluations at Section Technique de l’Armée de Terre and at the Bourges Proving Ground. Five French units also carried out troop trials with both rifles.
The trials found that while the Type 62 was a serviceable rifle, troops preferred the FAL. They considered the FAL’s trigger to be superior — and also rated the FAL as more accurate. The Type 62 suffered vertical dispersion, according to the trial troops.
The testers also preferred the FAL’s handling. They considered the Type 62 to be overly complicated. The French weapon had more parts than the FAL did. This made the Type 62 harder to disassemble and clean.
In March 1963, the French general staff accepted the results of the trials and tentatively selected the FAL over the Type 62. The French estimated that they would need to acquire 30,000 rifles before July 1966 — and a further 120,000 by the end of 1970. Manufacture of the FAL would subsequently take place at MAS.
But Paris balked at the high price of all these FALs — and briefly considered adopting the cheaper German G3, instead. While the French considered their options, in 1964 the United States adopted the 5.56-by-45-millimeter M16 for use in Vietnam.
This apparent abandonment of the 7.62-by-51-millimeter NATO round, which France had not yet adopted, prompted Paris to scrap the plan to replace the MAS-49/56.
In the late 1960s, MAS began work on a new 5.56-by-45-millimeter rifle. This would become the FAMAS bullpup, which France finally adopted in 1981.
Originally published at www.historicalfirearms.info.