Assault Riffle SA80

Assault Riffle SA80

The SA80 A2 L85 is a 5.56mm gas-operated assault rifle manufactured by Heckler & Koch. It is a member of the SA80 family of assault weapons and serves the British Armed Forces as individual weapon (IW) and light support weapon (LSW).

The SA80 series of rifles entered service with the British Army in 1985. The SA80 family underwent a major mid-life update in 2002, during which the SA80 A1 rifles were upgraded to the SA80 A2 standard.

The British Army’s SA80 A2 is being phased out to pave the way for SA80 A3. The upgraded version minimises its visual and infra-red spectrums. It is more resistant to abrasion, and comes with a new handguard that supports the upper receiver while improving the precision and accuracy of the weapon system.

SA80 A2 L85 assault rifle design and features

The selective fire gas-operated design of L85A2 incorporates a bullpup layout with magazine and firing mechanism behind the trigger group. The rifle’s automation is provided by combusted powder gases. The gas is fed into a short-stroke gas piston system on the barrel through a three-position adjustable gas regulator.

SA80 A2 has an overall length of 785mm and barrel length of 518mm. The weight of the rifle with loaded magazine and optical sight is 4.98kg. The muzzle velocity of the rifle is 940m/s. It has a cyclic rate of fire of 610 to 775 rounds per minute. The SA80 A2 can effectively engage targets within a 400m range.

The rifle features a revolving cylindrical bolt integrating locking splines, an extractor and casing ejector. The rotation of the bolt is ensured by a cam pin. The fire-control lever allows the operator to select semi-automatic fire or fully automatic fire. The flash suppressor on the barrel acts as a base for mounting grenades and a blank-firing adaptor or a bayonet.

L85A2 is fitted with a heavier and longer barrel for achieving greater muzzle velocity than the SA80 rifle base model. The SA80 A2 can also be mounted with AG-36 40mm Underslung Grenade Launcher (UGL) and EO Tech Holographic sight. The under-barrel grenade launcher weighs about 1.49kg. The UGL will allow the forces to fire effective fragmenting munitions up to a range of 350m.

Magazines of SA80 A2 L85

The L85A2 is fed by three types of 30-round magazines, including a plastic Magpul EMAG (Export Magazine) and two types of standard metal magazines. The EMAG was introduced in 2010 as an urgent operational requirement to replace the steel STANAG 4179 magazine.

In September 2010, Level Peaks Associates was awarded a £13m ($21m) contract to deliver more than a million Magpul EMAGs to the UK Ministry of Defence. EMAG is over 40% lighter than the other existing magazines issued for the SA80 A2 rifle.

The EMAG is also provided with an easily detachable cover to offer protection against dust and sand. The magazine has a clear window showing the ammunition left in the magazine. It ensures  operators maintain sufficient levels of ammunition at critical points in battle.

SA80 A2 L85 SUSAT, ACOG and CWS sights

The SA80 A2 L85 is mounted with a SUSAT (Sight Unit Small Arms Trilux) telescope and a Common Weapon Sight (CWS). The SUSAT optical sight on a quick-detachable mount above the receiver is equipped with a fixed four times magnification and tritium-powered illuminated reticle. Back-up iron sights are also mounted on the body of SUSAT.

The SA80 rifle used by the non-operating military units is fitted with fixed iron sights integrating a flip rear sight and a post foresight. The rifles used by the British Armed Forces are also equipped with the Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) in place of SUSAT.

The UK Ministry of Defence preferred Elcan SpecterOS 4x lightweight optical day sight under the Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) programme. The new sight will replace ageing SUSAT units across the British Armed Forces.

L85A2 was provided with new adaptor to mount the new sight, while the SpecterOS sight is equipped with an illuminated reticle

Variants

Rifle

The L85 Rifle, referred to on occasion as the L85 Individual Weapon (IW), is the standard rifle for the British Armed Forces.

When initially adopted for service, the L85’s grenade-launching capability was fulfilled by then-conventional rifle grenades, namely the L74A1 HEAT and L75A1 HEAT-APERS versions of the Luchaire grenade; when these experienced problems with premature detonation, the L85A1 HE grenade was adopted in their place. Various underbarrel grenade launcher models were trialled, including the M203 and a proprietary “Enfield Close Assault Weapon” developed by Royal Ordnance. It was eventually decided that the L17A2/L123 40mm Underslung Grenade Launcher (UGL) should be adopted; this is issued on a scale of one per fireteam, and is used with fragmentation, HEDP, red phosphorus, white illuminating parachute, infra-red illuminating parachute, practice, and drill ammunition, with buckshot ammunition also being intended for adoption. The addition of the UGL adds another 1.12 kg to the L85A2’s weight.

Light Support Weapon

The L86 Light Support Weapon (LSW) is a magazine-fed squad automatic weapon originally intended to provide fire support at a fireteam level. The weapon has a heavier, longer barrel than the rifle and features a shorter handguard with an integrated bipod protruding from the front. The stock has a shoulder strap to take the weapon’s weight in the prone position and a rear vertical grip for better control of the weapon when firing bursts. The weapon is otherwise identical to the L85 version on which it is based, and the same magazines and sighting systems are used. In addition to British Armed Forces use, the LSW was also adopted by MOD-sponsored cadet organisations.

The increased barrel length, bipod and the optical performance of the SUSAT give the weapon excellent accuracy, increased muzzle velocity and greater effective range. From its inception, the L86 was a target of criticism on much the same basis as the L85. The LSW has the additional issue (shared by any light support weapon derived from a rifle, for example the heavy-barrel FN FAL) of its inability to deliver sustained automatic fire as it lacks a quick-change barrel, and belt feed.

While the LSW was supposed to replace the L7A2 GPMG at the section level, the weapon’s shortcomings meant that many units reverted to the GPMG (or held onto it if it had not already been replaced) and the role of a LSW was ultimately filled by the L110A1-A3 light machine gun, a belt fed weapon with a quick-change barrel in the same way as the GPMG. Owing to its high level of accuracy in semi-automatic mode, the primary use of the L86 shifted to that of a sharpshooter rifle following the introduction of the L110A1, however it was replaced in this role by the L129A1 Sharpshooter Rifle. The L86 was withdrawn from service in 2019.

Carbine

The length savings offered by the SA80’s bullpup design meant that initially there were no plans for a carbine variant. By 1984 however, an extremely short prototype model was developed; the barrel terminated immediately in front of the pistol grip, which in combination with the lack of any sort of foregrip or handguard presented a risk of self-inflicted gunshot injuries if the firer’s left hand was to slip forward. Two further prototypes appeared in 1989 and 1994; the former was slightly longer than the previous model (overall length 556 mm, barrel length 289 mm) and used the rear grip from the LSW as a foregrip, while the latter used a 17.4-inch barrel (length overall 709 mm, barrel length 442 mm) and was fitted with the handguard from the LSW.

The fourth attempt (2003–2004) is also the only one to officially be adopted, being known as the L22 Carbine in British service; it resembles the 1989 model, including the foregrip which is now a purpose-made component which can be adjusted by the end user, but is constructed to A2 standards and has a 318 mm (12.5 in) barrel and an overall length of 565 mm. Around 1,500 were manufactured from surplus L86 LSWs; more were built with the increased demand, bringing the total to around 2,000. The shortened barrel means that the carbine is less accurate than the rifle variant, especially at longer ranges; the official manual gives an effective range of 200 m while stating that the weapon’s effectiveness beyond this is entirely dependent on the firer’s skill.

The version that was finally accepted for service was introduced during the A2 upgrade programme and so features the relevant markings and component assemblies – official documentation disagrees over whether to refer to the weapon as the L22A1 or L22A2, Initially issued to tank and armoured vehicle crews for emergency action out of vehicle, the L22’s compact size has also led it to being used by the Royal Marines Fleet Protection Group as well as helicopter pilots, armoured fighting vehicle crews and dog handlers of all three service branches.

Cadet General Purpose Rifle

The L98 Cadet General Purpose (GP) Rifle is used for weapons training by MOD-sponsored cadet organisations such as the Army Cadet Force, Sea Cadet Corps and Air Training Corps. The L98A1 version was introduced in 1987 to replace the .303 Lee–Enfield No 4 rifles and .303 Bren guns (which had not been replaced by the SLR owing to that weapon’s weight and recoil being too much for young cadets; the GP Rifle had no such problems, and its suitability for cadet use was actually emphasised in official documentation).

It was similar to the L85A1 but lacked the gas components, instead being a manually operated, single-shot weapon, with a cocking handle extension piece mounted on the right side of the weapon for this purpose. It was also distinguishable by the absence of a flash eliminator and only being fitted with adjustable iron sights. The L98A1 rifle began a phased decommission in early 2009 in favour of the updated L98A2 version; this is virtually identical to the L85A2 rifle save for the absence of fully automatic capability and a plain foresight blade without a tritium insert.

Both Cadet GP Rifle variants also have a drill purpose version designated as the L103, used for teaching cadets the basics of the weapon they are handling and for rifle drill; this SA80 variant has been modified so as to render it a deactivated weapon and make subsequent reactivation uneconomical. It can be distinguished from live weapons by the use of a white cheek piece and handguard top cover, the bolt carrier assembly being painted red, and the letters ‘DP’ (Drill Purpose) being present towards the rear of the weapon.

Specifications

Mass 3.82 kg (8.4 lb) (L85A2 empty)
4.98 kg (11.0 lb) (L85A2 with SUSAT sight and loaded 30-round magazine)
6.58 kg (14.5 lb) (L86A2 LSW with SUSAT sight and loaded magazine)
3.52 kg (7.8 lb) (L22A2)
Length 785 mm (30.9 in) (L85A2 & L98A2)
900 mm (35.4 in) (L86A2 LSW)
565 mm (22.2 in) (L22A2)
Barrel length 518 mm (20.4 in) (L85A2 & L98A2)
646 mm (25.4 in) (L86A2 LSW)
285 mm (11.2 in) (L22A2)

Cartridge 5.56×45mm NATO
Action Gas-operated, rotating bolt
Rate of fire 610–775 RPM
Muzzle velocity 930-940m/s (L85, L98)
950-970m/s (L86)
780m/s (L22)
Effective firing range 300-400m (L85A1, L85A2, L98 rapid fire)
600m L85A3, (L85, L98 section fire)
800-1000m (L86)
200m (L22)
Feed system 30-round detachable STANAG magazine
30-round detachable polymer Magpul EMAG
Sights Telescopic SUSAT, ACOG and ELCAN LDS scopes, aperture iron sights

Operators

  • Bolivia: Sold as part of British military aid; used by special military and police units
  • Jamaica: Used since 1992.
  • Mozambique: Sold as part of British military aid.
  • Nepal: Sold as part of British military aid.
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Sierra Leone: Sold as part of British military aid.
  • United Kingdom
  • Zimbabwe: Sold as part of British military aid.
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