Enfield L85A1 (Video)

The L85A1 (part of the SA80 small arms family) was adopted by the British military in 1985 as a new generation of small arms to replace the L1A1 FAL (one quick note, where “A1” indicates a revision in American designations, it is simply the first iteration in British ones – there was no “L85”). As a bullpup rifle, the L85A1 was intended to replace both the FAL and Sterling SMG, similar to the French replacing the MAS 49/56 and MAT 49 with the FAMAS.

Unfortunately, the L85A1 had massive problems of both reliability and durability. They were kept pretty much hidden until Desert Storm, when it became unavoidably clear that the weapon was seriously flawed. The UK government denied the problems for several years, until finally contracting with H&K (then owned by Royal Ordnance) to redesign and rebuild the rifles. The result, after changes to virtually every part of the rifle, was the L85A2 – a much better rifle that will be tainted with its predecessor’s reputation regardless.

Mechanically, the L85A1 and A2 are basically copies of the Armalite AR-180, with a multi-lug rotating bolt and a short stroke gas piston. It feeds from STANAG magazines, and it universally fitted with the heavy but rugged SUSAT optical sight.

Thanks to the Institute of Military Technology for allowing me to have access to this rifle (which is extremely rare in the US) and bring it to you!

 

67 Comments

  1. Been looking forward to this one for while, Ian, nice one.

    Just wanna add a couple points. One of the major changes in the jump from A1 to A2 was the change in magazine: the one there in the video is the early version (STANAG 4179, I think?). If you banged the bottom of the rifle hard enough with a semi-empty mag, you could push the magazine into the rifle beyond the stops which, obviously, caused feeding issues. The newer magazines that arrived alongside the A2, made by HK iirc, were far more reliable. We used to load the old mags up to 25 to help prevent other feed issues as well.

    Another fun feature of the bolt release is that if you hit the back of the rifle even moderately hard, you can knock the bolt carrier off its hook. If you’re trying to clear a jam (failure to extract etc) with a magazine in the rifle, this can cause all sorts of fun and games.

    Finally, that little block at the end that retains the recoil spring and guide rods? I think we all got smacked in the face more than once because we yanked too far on the rear retaining pin…

  2. Bullpup rifles look good on paper, but in MOBUA they almost all have the same problem; you can’t fire them off the left shoulder ’round a right-hand corner without eating brass.

    I say “almost all” because the Beretta 2000 has this unusual “tube” system that dumps the empties out the front, and the FN P90 PDW drops them straight down.

    Generally, any rifle that can only be fired off the right shoulder is a PITA in urban combat.

    I include the otherwise excellent Ruger Mini-14 family in this category. While not bullpups, they do like throwing the empties back at a 60 degree angle to the bore. That wings them over your shoulder if firing right-handed, and sticks them up your nose or in your eye if doing it off the left.

    Cartridge ejection is still the bugaboo of automatic rifle and shotgun design. Those empties have considerable kinetic energy of their own, and it has to go somewhere.

    cheers

    eon

    • “empties out the front”
      Other forward ejecting bull-pups:
      TKB-022 by Korobov (1960s)
      A-91 by Gryazev (1990)
      Kel-Tec RFB by Kellgren (2003)
      Case-less ammunition seems to definitive solve ejection problems, but often proved troublesome.
      I think that solution in style of S&W Model 1940 Light Rifle might work.

      • Addition:
        Notice that A-91 has grenade launcher. It purpose is not only throwing grenades, but it also acts as barrel weight (lesser barrel rise)

      • Daweo, there’s also the Keltec RDB that ejects downward, as well as the FN F2000 that ejects forward over the barrel (similar to the RFB).

        The downside of the RDB is that it ejects downward behind the magazine well, so there’s significantly more action length vs most guns.

      • That’s pretty much the only really practical way to make a genuinely “ambidextrous” bullpup, but it can be a problem when firing prone.

        Empties can “stack up” in the chute, and eventually you get a smokestack in the chamber. And with the ejector port underneath you can have the devil’s own time clearing it.

        The Calico weapons, with their magazines on top and bottom ejection, seem to have a sensible solution all-round.

        But I agree that caseless, or probably better CPCTA (Combustible Plastic-Cased Telescoped Ammunition), is going to be the only really practical solution to the problem long-term.

        cheers

        eon

        • The RFB chute is above the barrel rather than below. I agree that it’s difficult to clear jams, but after figuring out the right gas system setting I haven’t had any (even running Tulammo crap). It’s smaller than most 5.56 bullpups too (for a given barrel length) – the RFB is 26″ OAL with 18″ barrel, vs a Tavor X95 at 26.125″ (probably about the same realistically) with 16.5″ barrel.

        • “But I agree that caseless, or probably better CPCTA (Combustible Plastic-Cased Telescoped Ammunition), is going to be the only really practical solution to the problem long-term.”
          Now I remember yet another possible solution – “rocket” bullets like 9mm AUPO or Gerasimenko VAG automatic pistols:
          http://modernfirearms.net/handguns/hg/ua/vag-e.html
          However it require straight-walls of case and thus trying to get bigger capacity would lead too incredibly long cartridge. Maybe it might be solved if this case would not be only ejected via barrel, but also acts as discharging sabot?

    • eon, do you mean FN F2000 ?
      By the way, a forward ejecting tube is quite common on automatic guns under armor.
      F2000 has some faults but stoppage from filled up ejection tube is not on the list.
      It is quite a well sealed design, probably more immune to dirt ingestion than a downward ejection like the Keltec RDB (as Karl and Ian mud tests have shown us)

      • Yeah, that’s the one. Brain fart.

        The stoppage problem I was referring to was one the British found with the S&W Light Rifle in 1940. Firing prone with the magazine “mononpodded”, the rounds dropped down the chute until they hit ground at the bottom.

        If some dirt got stuck in the bottom end (easily done), unless it was cleared, after about two magazines the chute was full of empties and the topmost one didn’t clear the boltway, causing a smokestack-style jam.

        Downward ejection is probably the least worst method (the Owen and X1/F1 SMGs used it quite successfully, as did the early Beretta SMGs with top-mounted magazines), but it can make some firing positions a bit problematic.

        cheers

        eon

  3. “British military in 1985 as a new generation of small arms”
    And Australian Forces adopted different bull-pup rifle – Lithgow F88 – few years later 1988. Am I wondering: did they recognize fatal flaws of L85A1 or choose different rifle from different reasons?

    “They were kept pretty much hidden until Desert Storm, when it became unavoidably clear that the weapon was seriously flawed.”
    What a shame – having 5 years to make it working, but nothing done.
    Parsimonious loss twice.

    “L85A2 – a much better rifle that will be tainted with its predecessor’s reputation regardless”
    Interesting, that they don’t change designation.
    This reminds me about WW2 German aeroplane – Me 210 which got so bad reputation, that after some changes it was renamed Me 410, on the other hand famous Bf 109 remain 109, despite there were alterations in its development great enough for rename. Well in fact early war Soviet identification tables titled Bf 109 F as a Me-115.

    • The Lithgow is actually the Steyr AUG, and AFAIK Australia is the only place it’s still made. It was chosen because it could be made in Australia with an existing plant, and the license fees were cheaper. Also, it was (and probably still is) a darned sight more reliable than the L85.

      As a bonus, the Lithgow/AUG can be made “left-hander friendly” by simply swapping the extractor and ejector in their slots in the bolt, and changing the snap-in plastic cover over the ejector port in the stock comb from one side to the other. There’s no way to make the L85 eject to the left at all.

      The Lithgow also has a 9 x 19mm conversion with a short barrel, making a pretty handy SMG/PDW for operations requiring same. So it also replaced the 9mm SMGs in the Army’s inventory and simplified the logistics a good bit.

      cheers

      eon

        • Hmmm… You have a point. Just like how FN FAL rifles could be given a right-handed charging handle, the SA 80 could just have the bolt replaced in order to accommodate left-handed users. But strangely, the Walther P38 is a right-handed pistol with left-handed cartridge ejection. Nobody has ever explained or asked why the engineers designed the P38 that way. Similarly, the charging handle on the Gewehr 43 is left-handed. Do you have any idea why that happened?

          • I used to own a P1 (Manhurin-made P.38 used by West Berlin PD) and it tended to send its empties out to the left and forward, landing at my 10 o’clock at about five feet.

            I’ve long suspected this was intended to make range shooting less trying, as the P.08 tends to throw its cases straight up and a bit back. I’ve gotten hot brass down the back of my shirt collar with the Luger more than once.

            One that tosses cases straight out to the side is fine, unless you’re in the next stand on the side it throws them out of. And partitions can bounce cases right back at the shooter if the gun ejects to the side.

            I’m pretty sure the P.38 setup was based on range safety considerations more than anything else. In the field, of course, where the empties go is probably the least of your problems.

            cheers

            eon

          • John C. Garand/Springfield Armory’s light rifle entrant had the magazine loaded in the top, canted at a 45 degree angle… Possible tribute to Pedersen? The empties plopped out the bottom left, with a case going down the sleeve every now and then… Yowtch!

            Of course, if anyone has handled the winning design, Winchester’s U.S. carbine, cal. .30 M1, and fired it left handed, then you’ve experienced getting an empty case right between the eyes or glancing off your forehead!

            The Walther P5, a 9mm pistol used by a handful of old German Bundesländer polizei-departments and some Dutch cops also ejected empties to the left… Probably because it was just a “breathed on” P1.

    • To continue aviation theme:
      Martin B-26 is good example of aeroplane, which initially got poor reputation, but later it proved efficient. It go poor notes due to design of pitch change mechanism, if it was not maintained carefully, there was possibility that pitch would change without crew will, which might lead to propeller spin too fast and disintegrate. Due to this and other properties it got many negative monikers, as:
      B-Dash-Crash, Flying Coffin, Widow Maker, and to cite memories of one crew-member some other names I can’t repeat all relating to a feminine personality from Baltimore with “No Visible Means of Support” (Baltimore was place where B-26 were produced)
      Anyway, IIRC, this bomber type has highest survival rate of any US bombers deployed in European Theater of War.

    • I believe the Australian forces held trials and selected a rifle purely based on its own merits. They selected the M16, however Colt would not allow them to manufacture it in Australia, so the next best rifle was adopted; the Steyr Aug.
      Interestingly enough it is widely accepted that the Augs we produced in Aus had serious QC issues and did not perform nearly as well as the Austrian made ones used in testing.

      • The INITIAL Australian AUGs had problems which were ironed out within the first 2 years.

        I shot in an open competition in 1991 against Australian military personnel using their F88’s and they were able to win just about everything with them even against accurized AR15’s (I managed to win the U21’s section using a No4 converted to 7.62 NATO). I had a chat with a lot of them and they told us they did have initial issues, particularly with the plastic mags but they had ironed them out by then.

        In their words ‘you can’t miss with these’. I managed a 1.5″ group at 100m prone with sling with one.

        The F90 is the updated version with a few tweaks to the original design.

  4. That particular example must have departed the UK very early on because it has not received the modifications that were implemented shortly after introduction to service to ‘fix’ some of the problems – it is not quite correct to say nothing was done when problems became known … but it was ‘too little, too late’ as far as the A1 goes.

    The SUSAT also has a large (early?) adjustment ‘dial’ which I have never seen before – but the giveaway is the lack of a ‘U’ shaped guard for the magazine catch – spot-welded on to help prevent accidental release as Ian describes – we didn’t have to wait until the A2 for that, or a few other improvements which I cannot recall details of right now (although some might have been to the SA80-specific bayonet / wire-cutter sheath rather than the rifle).

    Interestingly, I did not experience any real malfunctions with the A1 and live ammo (blank was a different matter altogether!). Albeit not Infantry, nor having used the A1 in the desert, I did have occasion to crawl around Sennybridge ranges (and up a river) without any failures to fire on a number of live-firing assaults while at Sandhurst and later on in my career! However I have to agree on the general lack of robustness – early furniture ‘melting’ when exposed to issue insect repellent was a reality – and yearned for my L1A1 for some time.

    The A2 certainly feels much improved, especially in ‘Theatre Entry Standard’ with the rail fore-end etc and a couple of USMC I met in Helmand seemed very impressed…

  5. The MOD accepted it into service without it passing the normal tests, then lied and denied its faults, while men were sent into battle with it, that is the real scandal.

    • Richard, I don’t think that is the case – considering we had never had a Service rifle capable of automatic fire before, any previous test standard would have been irrelevant!

      In fact there is no UK MOD ‘normal test’ for weapons (or any other equipment), although past standards might be taken into account, the acceptance criteria are decided at the time they are being considered for service…

      The L85A1 passed the tests it was subjected to. I seem to remember reading accusations that the rifles submitted for testing were ‘hand built’ and of a better standard than those eventually produced, CF the ‘quality control’ issues Ian mentions in the video, but cannot find any references right now.

      However, what could be said is that the standards chosen were not a particularly high ‘hurdle’. While it could be dismissed as MOD ‘propaganda’, the A1 and A2 test standards were compared in an MOD News announcement in Oct 2001 – quoted in Anthony G Williams’ article “SA80: MISTAKE OR MALIGNED – AND WHAT NEXT?” (apologies, the original table would be easier to read but won’t reproduce here)

      “Q. Why wasn’t the SA80 reliable when it was introduced?

      A. When the SA80 was accepted into service the stated battlefield mission, which determined the characteristics of the weapon, was for the rifle to fire 120 rounds over a 24 hour period. The LSW had to fire 800 rounds in 24 hours. Against these criteria the unmodified weapons are very reliable. Today the battlefield mission is for the IW to fire 150 rounds in 8 minutes 40 seconds. The LSW needs to fire 960 round in 36 minutes. It is, therefore, not surprising that the SA80 weapon system needs to be modified. Comparing the battlefield requirements set for the SA80 system in the late 1980s to the current one is similar to comparing the Vauxhall Astra of 1986 to the current model. The latest version is much more reliable. It is the same with the SA80. NB In the original trials any number of stoppages that could be cleared by the firer were not counted as failures. In the trials of the modified weapon more than one stoppage, including those that can be cleared by the firer, counts as a failure.

      Old Mission:

      Rifle – 120 round in 24 hours

      LSW – 800 round in 24 hours

      New Mission:

      Rifle –

      30 rpm (single shot) for 40 seconds

      10 rpm (single shot) for 6 minutes

      30 rpm (single shot) for 1 minute 10 x 4 rounds (in bursts) 1 minute

      Total 150 rounds in 8 minutes 40 seconds

      LSW –

      60 rpm (in bursts) for 3 minutes Wait of 1 minute (replicates change of position)

      60 rpm (in bursts) for 3 minutes

      Wait of 2 minutes (replicates refill 5 magazines and move)

      60 rpm (in bursts) for 2 minutes 30 seconds

      Wait of 10 minutes (replicates move, reload, receive orders and move)

      30 rpm (single shot) for 10 minutes

      Wait of 2 minutes (replicates refill 5 magazines and move)

      60 rpm (in bursts) for 2 minutes 30 seconds

      Total 960 rounds in 36 minutes

      A battlefield mission was counted as a failure when there was more than one stoppage that the soldier could clear immediately on their own or there was a stoppage that required an armourer or a tool to clear.”

      The MOD insisted that a series of minor modifications (and presumably also hoped that production improvements after the move to RSAF Nottingham) would solve the issues. But it was only the large scale deployment to the demanding environment of Kuwait on Op GRANBY that brought things to a head and initiated the proper solution – development of the A2 models!

          • … ironically, since it was mentioned in the video because of the ‘cosmetic’ resemblance

            – I’ve just never thought of it as having been brought into service, and even the quoted article supports that, even though it was ‘adopted’ by the MOD…

            So I concede I was incorrect in saying there had not been a previous test standard for an automatic weapon, but I would still say the problem was not one of ‘failing normal tests’ but poor selection of the criteria used AND undoubtedly poor quality during subsequent manufacture.

            I think accusations of lies and an attempted ‘cover up’ are a little extreme. I don’t know for sure but, in my experience, the ‘MOD’ is slow to react rather than outright fraudulent and would more likely have stuck with its ‘evidence’ (ie the trials results and some minor modification requirements) until the weight of contrary reports coming from the Gulf War was overwhelming!

          • There is also the Armalite AR15, adopted as a substitute standard for jungle warfare in 1964. The ideal trial benchmark for a general issue replacement.

          • Alright, alright! 🙂

            Considering the MOD had experience from adopting the No9 and AR15, that makes the test criteria selected the original for SA80 trials even poorer!

  6. I enjoyed this highly entertaining presentation; oh man….did I have good time!

    But, to the point. I recall in one of defence review type magazines in 80s ad saying: CHOSEN BY PROFESSIONALS. It should have sounded rather as “Forced on Professionals”. In T. Dugleby’s book on bull-pups is described in short form, long and arduous development of this particular POS. I know, it is too easy to beat in poor bastard.

    What Ian mentioned is pretty well in accordance what I know and read elsewhere except receiver part. Even (and mainly there) had HK full hands. The original sheet metal was supposed to be measly 0.8 (0.030″) thick; they changed it to whole 1mm (0.039″) which is same as on AKM47. I had that unique opportunity long time ago to be able to examine this creation first-hand.
    As being practicing designer at the time, I was struck among other things by the fact that there are not any relief grooves on bolt. This leads me to think what happens in low temperature; will bolt an carrier with no space between and close fit freeze together? And how about fine sand and grit? I would suggest in this connection to look how sa58 linear striker is done. Then you have this disastrous face to receiver interface; just the anti-thesis to AUG… and I better leave it there.

    Anyway, on theme of Bull-pups; they are definitely NOT lost case and they do have future. The ejection issue, being so often mentioned had been practically salved, among others by George Kellgren. Even if such basic approach is taken as an alternate bolt and replacement face rest (such as on FAMAS) it is in my mind not a big deal. Having empties ‘pooping-out’ out front is not my preferred solution (just thing of dirt being clogged in there). F2000 taking this approach did not get very far with sales too.

  7. In all fairness though, I have heard from people who actually had it done, that LSW version was highly accurate at impressive range; far better than next comparative weapon on hand, this being Minimi/ M249.

  8. I seem to remember back in the 90’s, before the AW Ban, a few individuals bringing into the US L85A1 “Cadet Rifles” from Canada. Does anyone else remember these?

    • Not as imports but ‘in Service’ as an Army cadet, and later as an instructor…

      Yes, the L98A1 – as bad as the L85A1 might be, the Cadet Rifle was truly horrible!

      You would think a manually operated system would be more reliable than a gas-operated one but the lever system on most L98A1 was REALLY badly made and the way it worked meant things had to be just right to prevent miss-feeds etc … and things were rarely perfect with the cocking handle just flopping around in the scrawny arms of a young cadet!

      I think the only good thing about them might be that the iron sight (which was possible as, or even more, common that the SUSAT as mentioned elsewhere here) had better graduations than on the L85A1 (although that might only be whilst trying to qualify on the range, not necessarily in actual combat)!

      • Rob,

        The Cadet GP was a total piece of rubbish, though yes, the rear sight on the iron was better than that of the L85 as it was a target sight with the disc graduations up to 400m, I recall. The L85 iron sight was just big hole/little hole, like an M16A1.

      • The L98A1 was being introduced just as I was leaving the CCF and so I only got to try one once, firing about 50 rounds IIRC. The gun seemed to work well enough (though it wasn’t as nice as the Enfield No. 4), but such a short trial wouldn’t be enough to tell and my memory may well be faulty. That was over 25 years ago and I’ve never seen one since, though I’ve often wondered if they might be available for sale as they are presumably legal as S1 firearms. Whether it is worth bothering is another matter.

  9. The blurb for the video states that the rifle was “universally” fitted with the SUSAT sight, but this wasn’t the case – outside of the infantry the rifle had iron sights. Basically, British forces distinguished between their rifle and carbine based on the presence or absence of optics.

    Furthermore, in comparing the mass of the rifle with its predecessor the 4x SUIT sight used by British infantry seems to have been glossed over. Compared to the L1 rifle and the Sight Unit, Infantry, Trilux the L85 is lighter, and has lighter ammunition.

    Ian and Karl often speak of “designated marksmen”, but never seem to bring up British infantry optics – I was surprised Ian didn’t spend more time on this.

    • Hopefully this was anonymous information; he could be court marshalled for it, retroactively.

      British are now slowly recovering from this faux-pas by acquiring Colt-Canada carbines and LMT full bore rifles. No more domestic ‘under-growth’.

  10. Question to you all:

    Why have top-mounted magazines in a general-issue service rifle received such short shrift? I mean, if LMGs from box magazines must be fed vs. a belt system, then the Czech ZB26/30 and 52, the Bren, the Japanese WWII LMGs, and the Madsens and a few others are praised for the arrangement.

    The only SMGs that come to mind are both Australian: Owen and Australian F1 9mm.And “sort of” the unconventional Belgian P90 and Hockler und-so-weiter.Koch G11–“Geh-Elf” caseless machine…

    Rifles? Uh, well, gee, I guess that there is the Stoner system, and the über-rare Robinson arms, which was a civilian rifle only, not military issue, and … None other? It would seem that if most shooting is done from prone, various sorts of crouched/from cover/ “squatting/rice-paddy-prone,” “rolled over, unconventional positions” and such, the top mounted, bottom-ejecting rifle would have at least some of the benefits of either the bull-pup or the conventional rifle?

    • The major problems with top-mounted box magazines are;

      1. They stick up and advertise your position, even when you’re down in the weeds firing prone. The Japanese Army lost a lot of Type 96 and Type 99 LMG gunners because the top-mounted magazine made the SAW team very easy to spot, localize, and eliminate. German SS SAW teams with the ZB26, French Army ones with the M1924/29, and even Commonwealth teams with Brens had similar problems.

      2. They require the sights to be offset to one side or the other, usually the left. This makes the gun a “one-shoulder” firing proposition much like a bullpup’s ejection issues. This generally isn’t a problem in open-country warfare, but once you’re in the “avenues and alleyways”, it’s a different story.

      3. Even when prone, you have to reach UP to change magazines. That’s a good way to lose a hand or arm to enemy fire.

      4. Contrary to belief, top-mounted magazines do not automatically feed perfectly. Gravity helps, but the condition of the mag, its feed lips, cartridges, etc. have more to do with it.

      The Bren was a genuine PITA in that department unless the magazine was loaded very carefully, due to the rimmed 0.303in rounds. It also worked better with only 25 to 28 rounds instead of the full rated 30 rounds. The later L4 model worked much better, simply because it used the rimless 7.62 x 51 NATO round.

      The one problem the top-mounted magazine doesn’t have is you don’t have to dig a “pit” for it when firing prone.

      Box magazines on a SAW are a non sequiter, anyway. A SAW should be belt-fed.

      As for a rifle, the only ones I’ve ever seen with a top-mounted magazine were some early experimental Mannlicher bolt-actions, and on the self-loading side one Mannlicher, an early recoil-operated Mauser prototype, and the Madsen M1896 that was the forerunner of the Madsen LMG.

      Generally, the perceived advantages of a top-mounted magazine on an LMG aren’t considered to be important enough to put up with the aggravations of same on a rifle.

      cheers

      eon

      • “Box magazines on a SAW are a non sequiter, anyway. A SAW should be belt-fed.”
        Rifle-caliber machine-gun evolved into belt-fed.
        Before it there was also other solution: magazine sticking to side (for example Johnson LMG) or feed device sticking to side (Hotchkiss Portative, Breda 1937).
        This would still be one-hand only (that it firing only over “proper” corners) but it don’t shows position to enemy so easily as top-mounted one.

        Some AT rifle features top magazines: for example Lahti L-39 and Boys

        Special case of magazine placement is Pedersen Device with magazine sticking diagonally (however this might be caused by limits of using existing fire-arms)

        • The Pedersen’s magazine setup was indeed due to having to fit in the Springfield rifle receiver, with a new ejection port machined in the left receiver/boltway wall. It couldn’t stick straight out to the right due to the height of the right receiver side.

          Also, the magazine was stuck out at an angle so as not to block the rifle’s sights.

          cheers

          eon

    • “and a few others are praised for the arrangement”
      In this place it is worth mentioning of Lewis machine gun and DP machine gun and DA machine gun and DT machine gun.

      • The DP pan magazine does not stick up as far as the box magazines mentioned by eon, e.g. Japanese LMG designs, French FM 1924/29, Brno ZB26/30, Bren, North Korean whatever-the-heck-its-called-PK-with-top-mounted-box-magazine, Czech VZ52, etc. etc.

        At least one of the Czech SMG designs, sold by the handful to places like Bolivia and apparently dumped on Biafra–so I’ve learned thanks to Ian’s site–had the ability to configure magazines like the Sten so it could be fired from the lip or rim or parapet of cover, or like the MP40, Shpagin, etc. with the magazine vertical for running around.

        There are very many designs of magazines loading into the side, but again it would seem that SMGs–Erma/Sten/Steyr Solothurn/Type100/MP.I 18 und MP.II 28 and copies, etc. etc. and a handful of automatic weapons, FG42 and Swedish HomeGuard’s Kg m/40, Swiss Furrer and some prototypes, etc. excepted that there are few *rifles* actually issued with the feature. Unless someone dusts off the TRW low-maintenance scheme or similar.

  11. No.9 Mk.I 7mm during clement atlee.
    IW L85A1 5.56mm during maggie thatcher.

    How many nations no longer have a government arsenal factory, hmm?
    Finland… No more after Sako95
    Germany… Hu.K is the answer. What was the question?
    France
    USA… Colt, no FN! Uh, Colt!, uh, Remington!
    UK
    Others?

    • It would probably be easier to count European countries which still have some kind of military small arms manufacturing capability, either a government arsenal or private company. That would be Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and I think Bulgaria, Belorussia and Ukraine; Russia of course. Turkey, if counted as European. I may be forgetting some of the Balkanese nations…?

      The Sako Rk 95, by the way, was not made by a Finnish goverment arsenal. The Valmet small arms factory (former VKT) was privatized in 1988 when it merged with Sako. Government did keep a minority share in the new company. Production of the Rk 95 ended in 1999 when the government decided that no new assault rifles were needed, thanks to the purchases of 200,000 AK clones from China and Germany in the early 1990s. With no new government orders forthcoming, Sako decided to dismantle the production line. The actual facilities were fairly antiquated in any case, with no CNC machinery and low maximum production capability.

      • Yes, thanks for the clarifications. I meant that Valmet and later Sako was the end for a Finnish-made Kalashnikov, however inarticulately I put it.

        My understanding is that the German MPiKMs are gone from inventory… Only the Chi-com Type 56 Kalashnikovs remain… And there may be “too many” of those too given present demographic trends…

        So meanwhile, unless I’m mistaken, HK is going to build the next French service rifle to replace the ageing FAMAS, while Steyr will team up with Rheinmetal to create some sort of service rifle replacement for the G36, which has been sold to any number of fellow Nato nation’s police and military forces… While HK claims they won’t sell any longer to non-Nato nation states… Really, someone should write a book!

        Again, thanks for the corrective.

        • The former East-German AKs are still in warehouses as emergency reserve weapons… There was some talk a few years ago about getting rid of them or the Type 56s, but nothing came of it so far. Basically it seems to have been some bean counter’s proposal to dispose of “extra” assault rifles in order to save a few euros. In practice warehousing small arms is quite inexpensive compared to for example vehicles, so they probably will be kept around for many years to come.

      • “either a government arsenal or private company. That would be Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and I think Bulgaria, Belorussia and Ukraine; Russia of course. Turkey, if counted as European. I may be forgetting some of the Balkanese nations…?”
        Not Balkan, but if I am not mistaken Switzerland has SIG which make SIG SG 550 and Belgian FN Herstal is also still active, Swedish Bofors still exist however I don’t know whatever it manufacture or not fire-arms in this moment.

        • Yes, stupid of me to forget FN and SIG. The AK5 (FN FNC) production is Sweden ended long time ago, but I don’t know if they kept the production line or not. Probably not, since Swedish defence policy in the 2000s concentrated on foreign peacekeeping etc. and actual defence of Sweden was largely ignored.

          • Thoughtful of Finland to keep the Kalashnikovs stock-piled “just in case” Sweden decides it needs an armed forces! Ha! I am kidding of course… But still…

            I know Bofors makes any number of larger weapon systems, and that while the “coastal artillery” was all mothballed and disbanded, that the navy has a bunch of anti-ship missiles based on land… Sort of a krypto-coastal defense.

            As for FN… Not sure who’s buying these days? And yes, SIG. Presumably Zastava is still around for Serbia and I do believe Croatia must have some kind of arms industry. Certainly Cugir-Romania and Arsenal-Bulgaria are still around too.

          • The fixed Finnish coastal artillery is also mothballed or disbanded. Some of the 130mm turret guns remain nominally in reserve, but all the 100mm turrets (modified T-55 turrets) have already been retired permanently. The last 130mm turrets will be retired in 2018, if I remember correctly. Some 130mm (M-46) towed guns are still allocated to the coastal artillery, but those will also be retired pretty soon. There are some land based ASMs (RBS15, the same is used by Sweden) and modified long range anti-tank missiles (Spike-ER) were purchased 10 years ago to replace the 100mm turrets.

            While it is somewhat sad to see the fixed coastal guns retired, the whole concept of fixed coastal defenses is admittedly obsolescent. The development of precision munitions and satnav guided weapons in particular has made it so. Once you know the map coordinates of a fixed target on the surface, it can be destroyed, usually sooner than later.

  12. if you try to fire the L85 around a left hand corner, you have to expose a lot of your body.

    Also you can fire it left handed – it will remove your teeth and part of your face if you do!

  13. There is a technique taught for CQB bringing the weapon to the centre of the body using the right hand but it only really works with the new optics rather than SUSAT (looks strange but kind of workable there is a youtube vid somewhere showing it).

    Couple of things you might not have realised:
    1) At a trade show in the 1980’s a prototype of the L85 was being shown off when a Stirling employee (who has a AR18 assembly line in the UK at the time) noticed some of the parts were actually from one of there AR18.

    2) One of the biggest complaints is with the gas plug which in a piece of stupid production engineering it is possible to reassemble reversed turning it into a straight pull action. Becomes a huge problem because it then can’t be removed without a trip to an armourer and a big hammer. This was fixed on the A2.

    3) The lower body is referred to as the Trigger Mechanism Housing.

    4) Left handed prototypes exist but were turned down on cost grounds. They were not convertable so essentially a left handed weapon would have to be ordered from the factory as such hugely complicating logistics.

    5) A carbine prototype did exist to replace weapons where even the L85 would be too big but wasn’t purchased. The current A2 carbines were made from cut down and converted L86 (taken mostly from the cadet forces IIRC)

    6) HK apparently made or is making new TMH and upper parts marked as A3 but not officially designated as such. These were produced purely as attrition replacements but were apparently far better quality of metal. (Rumour mill only from an armourer)

  14. Long time reader, first time poster – mainly because this is the first weapon I feel slightly qualified to talk about!

    I used both the A1 and A2 version in the British Army. The example in this video is a very early “poor” A1, as denoted by the lack of a magazine release fence and the early SUSAT. After Gulf War 1 and the bad press from the crummy performance of the weapon, there were a series of small improvements made to the A1 series. All the L85 and L86A1 weapons I used had a magazine release fence that prevented the release from being pressed in accidentally. It’s not an A2 upgrade. Another criticism that I’ve seen was that the cocking handle falls out – the only feasible way I could see that happening (and have seen it happen, in fact) is the cocking handle being put back incorrectly. It’s not the best fit, but it doesn’t fall out on spec. I can’t speak for the initial of rifles though.

    By the time I used the A1, by far and away the worst aspects of the rifle were the utter junk Radway Green STANAG magazines. Very cheap, very flimsy and awful springs. There was a lot of Colt/US STANAG mags floating around (and one Battalion shooter I shot with carried a private Sterling 40 rounder for certain competition shoots). Almost all stoppages I had with the A1 were mag related.

    The gas plug on *both* variants can be inserted in a manner that “bricks” the rifle. The gas plug has a sprung retaining plunger that gets pressed in, then inserted into the gas block from the rear, pushed through and then clicks out once through to keep the plug in place (depress with a combination tool and rotate to achieve different gas settings (Normal, Adverse and Off). IF you insert the plug with the plunger at the 6 o’clock position, there’s a real danger the plunger will click into the gas port. It’s actually fairly difficult to insert into the 6 o’clock position as it’ll mean having to wedge a finger between the barrel and gas plug, although you can insert the plug and then rotate, which is the most likely failure mode. Only saw it happen once with a very new recruit in training. You get used to being careful (always insert with the plunger at the three o’clock position and push straight through) to the extent it’s second nature.

    The A2 has lots (LOTS) of little mods. Ian mentions it was a complete gutting – well, to the average soldier there’s very little to tell the difference between the two (the H&K upgrade gave us black coated gas parts, so that was wire wool out of the window for scrubbing them). It’s a smidge heavier, as parts like the hammer were beefed up, but visually they look similar inside. The first A2 I got my hands on felt a bit more solid and a touch heavier. The H&K magazine was absolutely brilliant, but for one thing – it was so heavy! I believe it was the G41 design of STANAG mag. More and more polymer mags are being used nowadays I believe. The only issues I had with the A2 (not deployed, so didn’t test it to death operationally, but there were few complaints from the sandbox), was the special blank mags. These were half yellow painted mags with a block in them so live rounds couldn’t be loaded, part of a safe training system. They were pretty rubbish, anything more than about 25 rounds and they’d hardly fit into the rifle.

    Ergonomics are controversial – they’re not great, but once you train day in, day out with it, they’re not an issue – once you’re used to it all the firing controls are very quickly and easily accessed with the non-shooting hand. Not shooting left handed for firing around cover isn’t great, but there you go. Remember when using the SA80 family, all manipulation is done with the non-shooting (left) hand, reaching across the top to access the cocking handle (not nearly as awkward as it sounds).

    The SUSAT was a good sight. The pointer was very easy to use, and the thing was nearly invincible. This is good, because the Emergency Battle Sight on top was next to useless.

    A1 became adequate, nothing more than that, once the post GW1 tweaking was done – as I said, the magazines became the worst aspect. A2 was the rifle it should have always been. Personally, the rifle should have been replaced at the time the A2 upgrade was accepted as being necessary. It’s too heavy, outdated and past it. A good example of what happens when politics bugger up the development cycle.

  15. Apart for the problems, compared to the FAMAS and the AUG, despite those had been adopted earlier, the L85 seems to be a weapon of a previous generation. Stilistically, constructively and ergonomically, it seems more a close relative of the AK47 and the Sturmgewer 44 than a weapon of the ’80s. Remove the plastic parts, and it could easily pass for a last ditch weapon of the Third Reich.

    • It’s rather more modern than that; it’s very much 1960s-70s technology. As Ian points out, the weapon is a bullpupped AR18. The FAMAS & the AUG were oddities for going with substantially polymer receivers.

        • Come on, its far closer to the host AR18 than the weapons you mentioned. Classic 60s/70s stamped metal, plastic furniture short stroke gas; look at the FNC, the AR70, the rival Sterling offerings…

  16. Anyone remember handgunner magazine? I recall picking it up in a newsagents in the early 90’s and the articles on the SA80 were something of a revelation to me at the time. They were giving HMG and various politicians some serious heat on the SA80. Handgunner magazine was very well written and I still have a couple of issues on my shelf for reference. Sadly it died with the handgun ban and I believe that the editor and writer Jan A Stevenson suffered a bad car accident around the same time.

  17. Long time reader, first time poster – I echo everything that Dan said about this but because I also have a little experience with this particular weapon and I wanted to chip in. I was in the British Commandos and served in Afghanistan. Although I left before the new LMT sharpshooter rifles were issued, I was issued an M16 while cross-training with the US Marines, so I have some basis for comparison.

    Firstly, Ian, if you are reading this; love your work. It’s the only firearm related show I watch, It’s not just a series about guns, its a history lesson on the evolution of modern infantry warfare and the way you present it is spot-on.

    Almost everything you say about the SA80 is correct, the only parts I disagree with are a matter of opinion. The SA80 was and is a terrible weapon, few have more reason to hate it than I. But it’s reliability issues were not quite as terrible as you make out. Provided you were well trained, you could get it to work adequately and if your skills and drills were weighed off then you could partially mitigate its flaws.

    The worst aspect of the weapon was not its reliability. It was the nonsensical, counter-intuitive layout. No amount of the many incremental fixes made to the A1, the overhaul given it by HK or the new A3 mods could mitigate this. As they say; “you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter”.

    By contrast the M16 appeared to have been designed by someone who wanted to make a weapon user-friendly. The controls are logical, intuitive, easy to reach quickly and operate smoothly. It’s like a car that almost seems to drive itself; compact, light and ergonomic.

    If it weren’t for the IDF adopting one then I’d be almost ready to say that the bullpup was a blind alley in small arms development. I found the balance was awkward, especially when using a heavier nightscope or thermal optic, the layout necessitated more controls in awkward positions and less time for both hands to maintain positive control of the weapon, although you do get used to it. But the IDF don’t mess around and if they have chosen a bullpup then they must have had some compelling reasons for having done so. I just know what I know and I didn’t like the SA80.

    I don’t think I ever heard anyone complain about the weight. By the time you get used to carrying one you don’t notice it anymore. The LSW although it seemed like a piece of rubbish in peacetime was actually an asset on operations; able to deliver accurate fire beyond the range of a rifle it was sometimes used as a sort of marksman’s rifle.

    I can see why the SA80 looked like a good weapon on paper and understand how it got pushed into service. But there should be a special circle in hell reserved for those who did so, and then ignored the complaints coming from the unfortunate soldiers who had to live with this decision. The SA80 should serve as an example. Not necessarily of poor small arms design (although it is), but of a flawed procurement process.

    Sadly no one seems to have taken notice and T. Atkins is regularly treated to some of the most outstanding blunders in the history of military supply. Of particular note is the monumentally stupid (at least when I had to use it) Bowman radio system and the new respirators, which have a canister on both sides to neatly prevent the shooter from making a cheek-wield. Look up “General Service Respirator” if you doubt me and imagine the jaw-dropping stupidity of the officers who approved its adoption over the practical, though comically ugly S10 respirator.

    Having said all this (and you may thing me crazy after having bashed the rifle so much) if I had to go into a fight again tomorrow then the rifle I’d choose would be… the SA80!

    After so many thousands of hours carrying one and seemingly infinite repetitions of the drills for magazine changes and clearing stoppages. The muscle memory that this has left me with means that the actions are still reflexive. Almost any other weapon might be more reliable, but I know I’d be a damn sight more confident not to fumble a mag change or an IA drill with the SA80. I guess you could call it the British forces version of Stockholm syndrome.

    If I had time to re-train with another weapon then perhaps I’d reconsider. But now that its all over and I’m safely home… why bother?

  18. The news of problems with the L85 was published in an article titled “Service Rifle SAFU” in Jan Stevenson’s Handgunner magazine.

    Bureaucrats are never pleased about having their noses rubbed in reality.

    Handgunner was punished by being closed down for several months, while the bureacracy investigated the messenger, rather than addressed the problems with the rifle.

    Sorry for not being as active here recently, I’m currently on a poor internet connection.

    Keith

    • I also remember Jan Stevenson and the series of articles in the Handgunner magazine .

      At about the same time, I was also involved in UK railgun research programmes and thereby got to know some of engineers at ROF Enfield. From that, or other sources, I think I heard that:

      The SA80 was produced not long before the privatisation of the UK Royal Ordnance Factories. To make sure that Enfield looked to have a viable business, it was essential to make sure that British forces used the Enfield product. To save UK taxpayers the “expense” of running competitive rifle trials, the procurement specification was written around the SA80, so that only that rifle qualified, hence there was no need to run competitive trials.

      I think I also heard that the Enfield “obsession” with bulls-eye accuracy lead to the design having a relatively heavy barrel. Then, to fit within its overall weight allowance, much of the rest had to be lightweight and insubstantial.

      Please note that all of the above is just what I think I know and so may not be “absolute truth”.

      Derek.

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