Imagine my surprise when I came across these photos, picked from the Belgian Army website. It shows troopers on a shooting range near Kabul, equipped with a weird-looking gun. After scrutinizing them, it was clear that the weapon in question is the FN F-2000, first shown to the public in 2001.
Despite its short length, an F-2000 is a relatively bulky weapon with (for a handheld gun) large vertical surfaces, which is why these examples are camouflaged. Notice that Belgian soldiers retain the older Kevlar PASGT helmet [PASGT = Personal Armor System for Ground Troops - MFBB]. Personally, I fail to comprehend why the US Army dispensed with them in favor of the new ACH [ACH = Advanced Combat Helmet], which is distinctively smaller. I have read all the stuff concerning its lighter weight and comfortable feeling, its alleged better ballistic and impact protection, its compatibility with the most recent night vision devices and communication equipment and so on. But it seems to me the soldier on the ground had definitely less protection in the neck and ears area, and I fear troopers will once again pay the price in blood for it. The reason the US Army adopted the M1 helmet back in 1941 was just because the WWI-era M1917 helmet only protected the top of the head, and it looks that in this regard the ACH is a step back over the PASGT. Murdoc Online agrees with me. Check out his post on this subject, it has a good graphic to illustrate the increased vulnerability.
The vehicle in the back is a Kraus Maffei-produced Dingo 2 multipurpose armoured vehicle with a remote-controlled machinegun on top. The Belgian army purchased 220 Dingo 2's in its various forms and currently has a handful in Afghanistan as well as some in Lebanon. Together with a host of other wheeled vehicles they are meant to replace ALL tracked armoured vehicles, which basically is an insanity, but then Belgium had for the past eight years a socialist Defense Minister, André Flahaut, who singlehandedly helped the armed forces a good way towards it transformation to the world's biggest kaki-clad transportation company, with the majority of its obese and middle aged truckers running silly errands. As has been stated on these pages before, civilized countries should have written it in their constitution that a socialist can never run a defense ministry. For some time, it looked like Canada might have committed the same fatal error as Belgium when it considered scrapping all its Leopard MBT's in favor of armoured cars. Luckily, they didn't and its Leopards have come in mighty handy in AF. Other western countries, like Sweden, are even worse off than Belgium, see this article, "Years of Cuts have left Sweden defenseless", but then Sweden has the most abominable history in Europe when it comes to leftist governance. All of this does of course not detract from the Dingo's undisputable qualities, but in my view it is rather an up-armoured Humvee than a wheeled Bradley AIFV. It will never be able to perform the duties of the latter, and this is where our policy makers have (again) gone wrong.
Now for the FN F-2000. It is probably the world's most modern assault gun, combining all modern features required of this weapon such as compact bullpup design [bullpup = shooting mechanism and magazine located behind the trigger - MFBB], modularity (the FN-2000 can literally be tailor-made by adding or leaving off diverse options), and fully ambidextrous handling. The latter means that its design is such that it can with the same easy be used by right and left handed users. It can be fitted with 40 mm FN EGLM grenade launchers as well as a computerized fire control system. The F2000's calibre is 5.56x45 mm NATO, it weighs 4.6 kg with a 40mm grenade launcher, and it's a gas operated, rotating bolt, selective-fire weapon, utilizing a short-stroke gas piston and a 7-lug rotating bolt which locks into the barrel extension. Possibly the most unique feature of the F-2000 is its patented front ejection system: the spent cases, extracted from the chamber, exit the gun via an ejection tube lading from the gun's rear its ejection port near the muzzle, where they fall out at a safe distance from the shooter's face! A special swinging guide, entering the way of the closing bolt, directs the spent case, held on the bolt face, to this ejection tube. At the same time, lower lugs of the bolt strip a fresh cartridge from the 30-round magazine.
This photo, when compared to the picture before, leaves not a shred of doubt anymore about the gun's identity. The gun sight is different... but then the rail on top of the weapon allows for different sights and scopes. An F-2000 is shorter than an M-4, but its barrel is actually comparable, possibly longer (400mm) due to the bullpup design. Its rate of fire is 850 rounds/minute, its effective range 500 meters (without gunsights).
On most Internet sources you'll find that the FN F2000 rifle is only operated by Belgian Special Forces (since 2004), the Slovenian Army, and Peruvian and Chilean Special Forces. Since the current batch of soldiers on duty in Afghanistan is actually drawn from an artillery unit (2nd Artillery Regiment) these photos prove that the FN F-2000 has found its way to mainstream Belgian Army units. With regards to other users beyond the ones above, I cannot exactly rejoice in the rumour that Saudi Arabia signed a deal with FN Herstal in 2005 to procure 50,000 (!) F-2000's... to complement its FN P-90's!
Whether the FN F-2000's will ever be used against Taliban is another matter. The 300 troops in Afghanistan are still only guarding KAIA (Kabul International Airport), and the Belgian government issued a truckload of caveats with regards to their use. The Netherlands is a comparable country, but they have been effective and stalwart allies of the US in Iraq and especially in Afghanistan, where they have the equivalent of a light brigade (some 2,000 personnel with a LOT of heavy matériel) operating in the dangerous Uruzgan province. Maybe, just maybe, Belgium's engagement in the WOT may be upgraded a bit in the coming months. I admit it's a big maybe since Belgian politicians, regardless of their stripe, usually have backbones as consistent as spaghetti which has been lying in boiling water for over one week. There have been parliamentary elections on June 10 and while we are still waiting for a government to be formed, it does look as it's going to be a coalition of liberals and christian democrats. Not that these have any basic understanding of defense matters, but at least the socialists will very likely land in the opposition. And that alone is a big step in the right direction.