For years, the Portuguese Army has built their infantry corps around the Gewehr 3 (G3) battle rifle, jointly developed by a team of engineers from Heckler & Koch and the Spanish CETME state-owned research group in the 1950s.
Built under license in Portugal as the Espingarda m/961, this rifle has seen action in conflicts from the Portuguese Colonial War to deployments in Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan.
According to both NATO and the country’s Ministry of National Defence, it’s now time for a drastic change and overhaul that will see the Portuguese Army jump feet first into the 21st century with a large revamp and overhaul of its small arms arsenal and individual soldier systems and kit.
When the country’s state-owned arms producer shut down just over a decade ago, it left Portugal without the means to manufacture firearms domestically, and brought about the need to source new weapons from foreign vendors. NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency was thus commissioned to find and buy new weaponry for the Portuguese military by the country’s defense apparatus.
After a relatively short and streamlined testing and evaluation period, the NSPA awarded Belgian arms giant Fabrique National (FN) Herstal an expansive USD $50.3 million contract to be fulfilled by 2022.
Portuguese infantrymen will soon get their hands on FN’s SCAR platform, buying 11,000 SCAR-L (Light) STD assault rifles with 14.5 inch barrels. These will replace the m/961, shifting the standard rifle caliber of the Portuguese Army from 7.62 NATO to 5.56 NATO. Over 1,700 of these SCAR-Ls will be fitted with the FN40GL Mk 2 40 mm grenade launcher, which can be used in a standalone configuration as well.
In addition to the SCAR-L, Portuguese soldiers will also take delivery of two new ranged weapons -- namely 300 SCAR-H (Heavy) STD battle rifles and a 450-strong batch of SCAR-H PRs (Precision Rifle).
The SCAR-H STD comes with a 16 inch barrel and will be outfitted for use as a designated marksman rifle, bolstering platoon-sized infantry elements. Snipers at the company level will be issued the SCAR-H PR, which uses a 20 inch barrel, a two-stage match trigger, and comes with an optional folding buttstock. Both the SCAR-H and the H PR are built to fire the 7.62 NATO round.
Portuguese machine gunners will also be getting a few upgrades of their own in the form of 850 FN MINIMI Mk 3 light machine guns chambered for 5.56 NATO, and a smaller order of 320 MINIMI Mk 3s chambered for the larger 7.62 NATO caliber. These new guns will likely replace the 1960s-vintage H&K HK21 and Rheinmetall MG 3 general purpose machine guns currently in service.