Reviews FN SCAR 15P PDW Pistol: Small, But Fierce Dave Merrill April 21, 2023 Join the Conversation Over the years, we’ve seen as many SCAR variations as “SCAR Killers” (see RECOIL Issue 53), and none so coveted as what was dubbed the “SCAR PDW,” except for perhaps the 7.62×39 version that eats from AK magazines. And in a case of unfortunate timing, with the legality of pistol braces recently stripped away (at least for now), FN launched the SCAR 15P, essentially a SCAR PDW (officially dubbed the SCAR-SC (subcompact)) without select-fire capability or collapsible buttstock. But let’s be real honest up front: those who buy FN SCAR rifles probably aren’t worried about the extra $200 for a tax stamp. And even if you are or can’t due to local laws, this gun can still be useful. Read on. While the 10-inch barreled SCAR CQC shares a receiver with its standard-length brother, the SCAR-16S, the SCAR-SC and SCAR 15P sport an even shorter 7.5-inch barrel. As such, the SCAR 15P has a proprietary receiver to accommodate this lack of length. One of the improvements we’ve seen with the SCAR-SC (and by extension, this SCAR 15P) is in the receiver itself. The original PDW featured a gas block with an integral front sight, and a correspondingly even-shorter receiver, with severe lack of accessory rail space on the sides. The current model has a slightly longer receiver, forgoing the useless integral front sight and providing a couple more needed inches of space for your hand. This is especially important on the pistol version, as a vertical grip can’t be added while complying with current U.S. laws. Takedown is standard SCAR, at least the NRCH ones. Note the skeletonized bolt carrier and Picatinny receiver cap. In lieu of the collapsible stock of the SC or the folder of the standard, the 15P has a Picatinny railed rear. If adding a stock is the ultimate goal, standard SCAR stocks will drop right in, or any number can be attached directly to the rail. Like other weapons in the SCAR family, the 15P is a short-stroke piston gun with a two-setting (normal and adverse) gas regulator. The FDE SCAR 15P also retains an “FN level” of color matching, which is to say, good enough for government work. Frankly, if FN actually released an all-matching FDE SCAR, we’d assume it was a Chinese knockoff. The mid/late aughts design of the FN SCAR 15P is still evident in the form of removable side Picatinny rails along with a longer section on the bottom. But what was once seen as an anachronism is cool again, with quad rails appearing more frequently on rifles. There are M-LOK conversions available from companies like Parker Mountain Machine, or you can simply remove them from the gun for a slicker profile, provided that you don’t need the space to attach a light or other accessory. The FN SCAR 15P, and indeed all SCARs shipped since the fall of 2021, ships with a non-reciprocating charging handle (NRCH) as standard. As a quick history lesson, the original FN SCAR has a reciprocating charging handle, which moved back and forth with every shot fired. It may seem strange that FN specifically designed the FN SCAR to have a reciprocating charging handle, until you learn that it was a SOCOM requirement for a next-gen rifle at the time. The original idea was that if the charging handle itself reciprocated, there would be no need for a separate forward assist in any new design. The downsides to a reciprocating charging handle are many, and they rear their ugly heads at inopportune times such as in rollover prone, while using barricades, or accidentally grabbing the magwell and getting your thumb slammed. Thankfully, times have changed for the better since the mid-aughts. The 15P ships with two charging handles: a standard small, and a longer angled that can be turned up or down. If you have an aftermarket SCAR charging handle that you like and it’s not yet available in NRCH, you’re out of luck. That said, the new ones are nice enough that if they were part of the original package, half of those aftermarket options wouldn’t exist in the first place. FN ships the SCAR 15P not just with a box, but also with a very nice zippered and padded carrying case, required trigger lock, and magazine (a 30-rounder for those living in free states and a 10-rounder for the rest). Also included are two separate charging handles, one straight and another curved; they can be placed on either side of the gun either articulated up or down. Unlike the SCAR-16S and 17S, the 15P doesn’t ship with sights. This makes sense, as iron sight selection can be a very personal thing, but it’s also a shame because the standard SCAR rear sights are often viewed as the pinnacle of the pack. TAKEDOWN & DESIGN Takedown on the 15P is a bit different than the now-legacy SCARs, and if that’s all you have experience with, you may end up scratching your head. Field-stripping is still toolless, requiring popping a single captive pin in the trigger housing, but getting to the guts is different. In order to remove the bolt carrier group, the charging handle must first be locked in the forward position. Once this is performed, the bolt assembly will slide right out, but importantly the assembly can’t be removed together with the sled. After you remove the bolt assembly, pull back the non-reciprocating sled, remove the charging handles, then the sled itself. Though it’s possible to install the sled upside down, the mistake will be immediately evident because the charging handle can’t be replaced, to say nothing of the bolt assembly. The bolt assembly of the SC and 15P is skeletonized to reduce weight and felt recoil, and correspondingly, the gas system itself is tuned to this system. The rest is all SCAR as you know it, though it should be noted that not all aftermarket parts for legacy SCARs will work with the NRCH models, specifically the front plate replacements. OUTFITTING A new and shiny SCAR deserves new and shiny parts, and fortunately the 2023 SHOT Show delivered in spades. For an optic, we went with the latest from Holosun, the DRS (Digital Reflex Sight) with thermal overlay. This is a hybrid optic, containing both a circle-dot red dot reticle combined with a multi-function thermal overlay. The thermal can be set to black or white hot, fusion, as well as highlight and edge detection. For bright environments, the Holosun DRS-TH has an opaque flip cover to run both-eyes-open occluded. It’s just like a video game. The future is definitely now, and there’s a reason it won our Best of SHOT (see the winners on page 114). Also from Best of SHOT is the EOTech On-Gun Laser (OGL), which shares controls with a PEQ-15 but is smaller and bundled with parts and accessories people normally shell out for themselves as standard. Powered by a single CR123 with a nine-hour continuous runtime, the OGL has optically aligned visible and IR lasers and a beam divergence control that has just the right amount of resistance. SureFire joined the party with the M340DFT Turbo Mini Scoutlight Pro. Focusing on candela rather than raw lumens, the M340DFT runs from an included USB-C rechargeable 18350 battery for 71,000 candela and 550 lumens, or 33,000 candela and 300 lumens when used with a CR123A. The M340DFT has a tremendous amount of throw for its small size and is right at home on the stubby FN SCAR 15P. The EOTech OGL and SureFire M340DFT are slaved together with a dual switch mounted to the left Pic rail. Because of limited real estate and cable management, this SCAR 15P is being run with the long, angled charging handle on the right side a la AK — it’s really not as bad as you might initially imagine because the system is so short. Normally, we’d delete Pic rails for Parker Mountain Machine parts, but in this configuration we actually used them. The rubbin’ nubbin’ A2 grip is still present, and you’ll likely want to invest in a hand stop, especially if you swap the muzzle device to something shorter. SIGHTING & STABILITY The main advantage of a stock system is stability. This third point of contact with the body not only allows for a more consistent distance between the eye and the sights, but also results in a smaller wobble zone and easier recoil management for faster follow-up shots. The same concept applies to shooting positions themselves, with offhand shooting generally being less accurate than a kneeling position, which in turn is less accurate than laying prone on the ground. With braces having been legally designated as stocks, that option is off the table unless you like flirting with federal felonies or first have an approved tax stamp (in which case just use a real stock). Your dentist will love this technique if you do it with a SCAR equipped with a reciprocating charging handle. The FN SCAR 15P is certainly stock-worthy — if you’re in a state where you can legally do so, obtaining a tax stamp is the easy button here. However, if you aren’t so inclined, all is not lost and your SCAR 15P is far from useless in factory configuration. And if you do get a tax stamp, here’s how you can use it while you wait: Every sighting system you install on a gun is simply a reference point. Clearly some are better, faster, and more precise than others, but they’re just references nonetheless. With every system, we balance speed of target acquisition with precision. The real questions are: How small of a target are you shooting, and how far away is it? The further and the smaller the target, the more fine-tuned your aiming system needs to be and the more stability you require. The reason why many shotguns can get away with a single bead, pistols with fixed sights, and rifles with adjustable irons is distance. Any angular deviation of the muzzle has an exponential effect with added range, and once we get out of the bounds of bad breath, both the stability and sighting method matter far more. This will look somewhat familiar to those who were taught “short stocking” with an M16 during CQB back in the ’90s. If you’re going to run sans stock, you also might consider a different muzzle device. While muzzle brakes in general and on short barrels in particular are loud AF and generally fall into the realm of bad manners, they also can be quite effective in keeping muzzles flat under recoil. The added weight of a silencer can be a burden on your forearms, but many are effective brakes themselves. How you shoot matters, too. Fast blasting like you’re a competitor shooting three-gun at cardboard four feet away or dirt shooting at the farm isn’t advised; instead go for controlled, single shots, placed exactly where you want them. SLINGING IT In a method first popularized by the SAS running stockless MP5Ks, sling tension can be successfully used to add stability. This is the method that FN is highlighting the most in their promotional material, going so far as to advertise the SCAR 15P as “sling ready” and even including a Magpul QD swivel in addition to the numerous standard sling attachment points. While recoil management is typically performed by pulling your gun’s stock into your shoulder, the SAS method with a stockless gun is to attach a single-point sling to the rear and press forward when firing. The SAS Sling Method is also the best (and possibly only) use of a bungee single-point sling. “It works as well as a stock!” said no one ever. We first featured this in Mike Pannone’s article in RECOIL Issue 19 with a stockless CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 pistol. To maximize controllability of this setup, the sling should be fairly tight during press out to add as much tension as possible while maintaining the ability to see the sights themselves. This method is best with lower-recoiling systems, but useful at closer ranges. You also might find the weapon has better balance with the sight mounted closer to the rear. CHEEK PISTOL CONCEPT A method that’s stable enough to drastically improve group sizes, so much so it may one day be regulated too, was developed by Rhett Neumayer of Demonstrated Concepts. First conceptualized for “large-format pistols” such as the KelTec CP33, it can be applied to AR pistols, stockless PDWs like you see here, and even Shockwave-type shotguns. It should also be said that it looks strange, and even people in-the-know may poke fun at you — to say nothing of the posturing “alpha” types on IG. Sensitive types should take note. With the Cheek Pistol Concept you mount a dot sight much further forward than normal, and also higher, to make some space for your face. Your shooting hand goes around the grip and runs the trigger like normal and your support hand goes on the forend (many find gripping over the top to be more comfortable). Then, your cheek is smooshed down into that space behind the optic. With a normal SCAR with a reciprocating charging handle, your dentist will love this technique. With the 15P it’s not so bad, but just in case you forget to pop the charging handle forward it’s best to run it on the opposite side of normal. LIGHTS & LASERS A laser isn’t a bad sighting system, though it does nothing for you in terms of stability and recoil management. A properly zeroed laser can be a force multiplier. There are many good reasons why you shouldn’t use a light as an aiming method for a firearm, which is why you rarely see weapon mounted lights recommended for the role. Though flashlights are far outclassed by their culminated cousins, some of the earliest patents regarding mounting lights on firearms concerns their utility for aiming. One of the main downsides is that the beam pattern of a light gets significantly wider with range, while the fired projectile itself has a much smaller impact zone. Add in that the intensity of light has an inverse square relationship with distance and you can find yourself in trouble pretty quickly. With a WML, laser, and cabled controls, there’s not a lot of extra space on the short receiver. That said, with an LEP (Laser-Excited Phosphor — see RECOIL Issue 58) lights can have a very tight beam, and high candela lights like the SureFire M340DFT seen here are better than most. AMMUNITION SELECTION The shorter the barrel, the more choosy you have to be with ammunition, at least if you want to do more than poke holes in your target. This mantra is of double importance when we’re talking about 5.56mm, especially shot from a dinky 7.5-inch barrel. You don’t want to use garbage Wolf, ever, or ammunition optimized for longer barrels like surplus M855 ball. For time on the range, use whatever works, but if it’s ammunition intended for use against living things rather than cardboard or steel, more time, care, and consideration needs to be employed. Fort Scott Munitions developed a number of 5.56mm loading specifically tailored for extremely short barrels like the Maxim Defense PDX (see RECOIL Issue 41) and would work well here. Other excellent options are Mk 318 Mod 0 SOST, Federal TBBC, Barnes TSX VOR-TX, Federal Fusion MSR, and Hornady InterLock HD SBR. Heavier weight ammunition like Mk262 and IMI Razor Core are also popular. In terms of inexpensive “blasting ammunition,” 55-grain IMI M193 performs decently out of short barrels, too. ON THE RANGE & LOOSE ROUNDS Though the SCAR 15P is just under 20 inches, you can save yourself even more length if you switch to a different muzzle device. Normally, we’d be hanging a can from the end, but even a shorty kurz silencer adds too much ass to the front end unless you’re pulling back on a stock or brace. The good news is that the open-prong FN muzzle device is quite effective at killing flash, and we were glad to have it over the PWS FSC brake that comes with the standard — it kicks off far too much concussion for a barrel this short. We found the SCAR 15P to recoil far less than anticipated when shot from an extended sling, with even less recoil than its larger 10-inch barreled brother — kudos to that skeletonized carrier and finely tuned gas system. The Holosun DRS-TH performed well, even if it makes the gun look particularly stubby due to its height. In lower light the thermal overlay can be used with the front cover flipped down; when in outline mode, this gives a video game-esque fusion experience. In terms of practicality, if you’re just considering raw dollars, you’ll want to look elsewhere; being the most cost-effective option out there has never been the goal of anything FN produces, and you won’t find them lining the shelves at Walmart, either. The FN SCAR 15P is yet another example that FN is dedicated to the FN SCAR family of rifles and is putting resources behind continuous development. While we wish it were released a decade ago — we’ll sure as hell take the opportunity now. SPECS: FN USA SCAR 15P Caliber: 5.56mm Capacity: 30 Weight: 5.65 pounds OAL: 19.75 inches Barrel Length: 7.5 inches MSRP: $3,699 URL: fnamerica.com Accessories: Holosun DRS-TH: TBD (about $1,600) EOTech OGL: $2,199 SureFire M340DF: $399 Price as configured: $7,897 Explore RECOILweb:Review: Canik Mete SFT and SFXSCCY's The Limit: We Review the SCCY CPX-3 PistolKopis Designs L-Via Hands On and ReviewLearning radio comms and why you should NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. 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