War profiteer of the month: FN Herstal

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A soldier fires a vehicle mounted machine gun
A US soldier fires a FN Herstal M240B machine gun
Translated by
Gabriela Garcia Calderon Orbe (ES)

FN Herstal (“Fabrique National Herstal”) is a Belgian arms company that specialises In producing rifles and handguns. The company was founded in 1889 and is owned - via a holding company called Herstal Group – by the regional government of Wallonia. Herstal Group owns a number of other affiliated companies and manufacturing facilities around the world, including:

  • US Repeating Arms Company (USA)
  • Browning Arms Company (USA)
  • FN America (USA) – a merger of FN Manufacturing and FNH USA
  • FNH UK (UK)
  • NOPTEL (Finland) – acquired in 2011

Weapons

FN Herstal and its various subsidiaries produces a vast array of handguns, rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and weapons for helicopters and other aircraft, as well as a range of “less lethal” weapons used by police and security personnel. Weapons produced by FN Herstal are in use by over 100 countries around the world, and have been used in many of the major conflicts throughout the 20th century.

Recent weapon developments include the deFNder™ Light, a remote weapon station which is mounted on top of a vehicle and can integrate many FN machine guns, and allows the operator to control and fire the machine gun from inside the vehicle. The company produces similar platforms for higher calibre weapons and for mounting on naval vessels. The Belgian government recently announced the purchase of 135 deFNder™ Light systems, armed with a 7.62mm machine gun.

Other weapons produced by FN Herstal have been used by dozens of countries, for many decades. For example, the FN MAG is a machine gun originally designed in the 1950s. It remains in production in various models and variants, and has been used by more than 80 countries. The FN MAG is also produced by a number of other companies under license. For example, the Indonesian state owned company PT Pindad produces the FN MAG as the SPM2 GPMG. Similar arrangements exist with arms companies in Sweden, Egypt, India, and Singapore.

“Less lethal” weapons

An FN303 less lethal weapon. It looks similar to a rifle but has an air tank and circular magazine

FN Herstal also produce a series of weapons it describes as “less lethal”, intended to be carried and used by police and security personnel who “who required a capability that lay between the baton and the firearm”. The primary weapon advertised by the company is the FN 303, a should fired weapon that can be loaded with a range of different projectiles, including impact, paint, and OC powder. The US subsidiary, FN America, also advertises the FN303-P, which looks similar to a handgun. There is at least one reported death associated with the FN303; in 2005 Victoria Snelgrove was shot in the eye by police in Boston, killing her. Two years after the incident the Boston police destroyed their stock of FN303 guns.

Weapons produced by FN Herstal have recently been spotted being carried by police and security personnel in the USA, responding to protests carried out by the Black Lives Matter movement. The Omega Research Foundation website identifies a number of concerns with the weapon, including high capacity firing causing “an overdose of irritant especially in confined spaces”, and weather conditions affecting the weapons accuracy, increasing the risk of head and upper body injuries.

As well as the US police the weapon has also been used by the police in Turkey, Belgium, Georgia, Finland, Brazil and Luxembourg. There are also reports of a large export of 2,000 FN303’s to Libya in 2008, alongside hundreds of other weapons and over a million rounds of ammunition. The weapon has also been used by the US military in Iraq.

Stop Arming Saudi

Weapons produced by FN Herstal have been used by the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen. A group of researchers identified the use of FN F2000 automatic weapons, which are produced solely in Belgium and sold through the US subsidiary.

In February 2020 the regional government of Wallonia blocked a number of export licenses which would have permitted the export of arms to the Royal Saudi Air Force.

In 2019, Amnesty International documented evidence of the use of the FN Minimi – a submachine gun - by a Yemeni militia called “The Giants”, who are supported by the United Arab Emirates. A week after Amnesty’s report was published it was revealed that FN Herstal would be displaying the Minimi at the IDEX2019 arms fair. At the time Patrick Wilken, Arms Control and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International, said “It’s a jarring sight to have FN Herstal hawking the Minimi in the UAE after we exposed how the Emiratis illicitly gave this weapon to an unaccountable militia in Yemen.”

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