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The SA80 (Standard Arm for the 1980s) is a family of related arms that include the British Army's standard combat rifle and light support weapon. They were introduced to service in 1985, and will likely remain the primary infantry weapon until 2015.

Table of contents
1 Description
2 History


The SA80 family is made of three weapons, the L85A1 IW (Individual Weapon), the L86A1 LSW (Light Support Weapon) and the bolt-action L98A1 CGP (Cadet General Purpose). All three are similar in most respects, they all fire the 5.56mm NATO round from a 30-round box magazine, and can mount the SUSAT (Sight Unit; Small Arms; Trilux), a 4x optical sight with a tritium-powered glowing action for night sighting. Combat Support and Combat Service Support troops, as well as cadets, are equipped with a simple iron sight incorporating a carrying handle, though they retain the SUSAT on the LSW.

The LSW is a section-level light machine gun. For this role it adds a bipod, buttstrap and rear pistol grip, and has a different design of handguard. Its longer barrel also improves muzzle velocity for longer range. The gun is otherwise identical to the basic L85.

The CGP is broadly similar to the IW, but lacks a gas system and change lever. They were built in order to allow Cadets to train on something similar to the IW, while not being fully-automatic, which was prohibited by law until recently. Instead, the working parts are recocked by hand after each shot, using a large cocking handle. This is connected to the bolt by an external rod, and runs on a slide on the side of the body well forward of the working parts, making it far easier to use in the prone position than that of the IW or LSW.

The Heckler und Koch "upgrades" are a matter of some debate, as the program replaced almost all of the internal workings of the rifle for $160m and can hardly be considered an upgrade. The L86 received an even heavier barrel. The new A2 versions of the L85 and L86 are outwardly similar to the original A1 versions, with the exception of a redesigned cocking handle. The CGP, as a training weapon for cadets, was not included in the upgrade program.

In a further Heckler und Koch upgrade a certain number of L85A2 rifles are now being fitted with the HK AG36 40mm grenade launcher in a configuration similar to the M16/M203.


L70 and SA80

Royal Small Arms Factory developed a rifle to fire the new .190" (4.85mm) round fitted in "necked down" but otherwise standard 5.56mm cartridges from the M-16. The new L64/65 was outwardly similar to the Enfield EM-2 bullpup rifle.

The L64 was re-chambered with the 5.56mm round, creating the L70. The MoD asked for a series of minor changes, and the SA80 family was born. Deployment was to have started in 1980, but the Falklands War interviened and the FA-FAL was retained for the duration. The weapon officially became standard in 1985.

In service the weapon quickly gained a very bad reputation. Poor placement of the magazine ejector button meant the magazine would sometimes fall out while walking. The safety was operated by the trigger finger, making for slow "rapid shoot" response. But the worst problem was that the gun constantly jammed, due both to a poorly designed cocking handle that sometimes deflected empty cartridges back into the ejector port, and general flimseyness and sensitivity to dirt.

In 1997 the SA80 was dropped from NATO's list of approved weapons. This appears to have been the final straw and an upgrade program was finally started. In 2000 Heckler und Koch, the new owners of Lee-Enfield, were contracted in to fix the problems. By 2002 the upgraded versions were fully deployed.

L85 Individual Weapon

L86 Light Support Weapon

External links:
British Army SA80 page
Enfield EM-2
The SA-80. Shame of the British Army.