SA80 History: L98A1 Cadet Manually-Operated Rifle

Armament Research Services (ARES) is a specialist technical intelligence consultancy, offering expertise and analysis to a range of government and non-government entities in the arms and munitions field. For detailed photos of the guns in this video, don’t miss the ARES companion blog post!

The Army Cadet Force is a British quasi-military organization that acts general as a precursor to military enlistment. With the adoption of the L85A1 as the British service rifle, a manually operated copy was also developed for use by Cadets. Designated the L98A1, this rifle was built without a gas system, and had a specialized charging handle to provide more leveraged extraction than the standard bolt handle.

This L98A1 was phased out of use in 2009, being replaced with the L98A2, which is essentially an L85A2 without fully automatic capability.


  1. The L98A1 was designed as manual cocking only as cadets (Army Cadets and Air Cadets) were not seen as capable of controlling semiautomatic weapons. This was such a strange reasoning as tge Army Cadet Force (ACF) were officially shooting No4’s and Bren guns fir many years. When the L98A1 replaced the No4 the ACF used the L4A1 7.62mm Bren. So the no semiautos for cadets was a stupid idea! The L98A1 was widely berated as a poor rifle as cocking it removed the supporting hand (right) from the point of balance (the pistol grip) allowing the weapon to fall out if the shoulder! The cocking handle extension and primary extraction lever (!) Would fall apart after a few hundred actuations as it was connected via a roll pin that would shear and render the rifle unservicable. A true POS in service and quite rightly replaced by the product improved (sic) L98A2. Strangely the L98A1 is legal to own in the UK by licenced firearms owners but was never sold as such although a small handful are in private hands.

    Back in 1984 a smallarms dealer I worked for bought 10 pre adoption L85A1 rifles and I rebuilt 2 of them as BATF complient semiauto only rifles as examples to show RSAF Enfield a sales oportunity for the US market. We were the IMI agent for the UK back then so know what IMI had done to get the semiauto only UZI carbine and Galil rifles BATF approval… nothing ever came of that project, I wonder where those prototype ‘L85-SA1’ rifles I built are now?

    • “When the L98A1 replaced the No4 the ACF used the L4A1 7.62mm Bren. ”

      Nope. We got the L86A1 LSW.

      The manual of arms for the L98A1 is quite laughable. Imagine a small-built 14 year old holding the cocking handle to the rear with the right hand, while reaching underneath with the left to actuate the hold-open. Magic. Plus, a massive number of cocking handle roll pins would break on every outing when we had the rifles out. Ho hum.

      Plus, to avoid people riding the bolt forward, we were taught to roll off the charging handle at the rear of movement. Which actually takes a fair bit of knack to time it just right (and avoid getting criticised if you paused at all at the rear of travel), and we’d have chronic problems with kids short-stroking them as a result. Brilliant…

      • I was taught to use the right hand for the cocking handle *and* the hold-open catch. Long fingers and a very flexible thumb required, but it worked.
        No issues with it dropping out of shoulders if you hold it snugly with your left hand.
        Biggest issue we found was that a 5’1″ 100lb girl would struggle to cycle the action 30 times.
        The way to cycle it was to get he right amount of tension in the fingers hooked over the handle, enough to pull it all the way back but light enough for your hand to pull your fingers off the handle once the bolt carrier stopped moving.
        We did have the L81A2 back then, as well. 7.62x51mm single-shot target rifle version of an SMLE, no recoil absorption or anything, in that same girl’s hands? She’d have to get up and walk back up onto the firing position after ten shots.

      • Appears, as with all things, the programme to replace bren/L4 was a protracted affair. My ACF battalion had begun familiarisation with LSW in 1993 but both .303 and 7.62 brens were still very much in use at that point. L98 meanwhile had been rolled out around 1989 (local units still had DP stocks of No.4 being used for training in 1990). I think the local TA battalion had only moved across to SA80/LSW in β€˜92 so imagine they took priority for issue of the latter over cadets hence LSW not making an early appearance alongside L98 (which were not very good)

    • Hi BotR, were you ACF or CCF (Army)? My local ACF County had a dozen or so L4A1 Brens issued due to lack of L86A1 LSWs. Might have been different in your district? Of course my lot (the Air Training Corps) only got the L98A1. Not even the ill fated .22 rimfire adaptor was issued to us! I note that .22 rimfire kit was withdrawn a couple of years back as they mostly went unservicable due to poor maintenance plus thet were crap! In my 42 year career in the ATC as both a cadet and commissioned officer the only decent kit we had was the No8 & No4 neither of which suited small stature cadets!

        • Hi BotR, Ahh! CCF eh! The Public School system (and CCF) got access to ‘kit’ the ACF & ATC didn’t as you were (are) administered differently than us ‘regulars’ πŸ˜‰

          I must say though that the No8 was one of my favorite rifles albeit too heavy for most small cadets it was ‘bomb proof’ unlike the replacement that has just come along!

          BTW, I’m filming in Switzerland soon for my history blog on prototype Swiss smallarms… where is your QTH so we can have a half liter (pint) or two?

          • I was CCF (RAF) and only got to use this rifle once – they were being introduced just as I was leaving, so that would have been some time around the end of the 1980s (IIRC I was there from around 86-89). Other than that one go it was all No. 4 and No. 8 for me.

  2. I was in the ATC 74-77 and used No4’s and No8’s but as our unit was near an RAF maintenance depot which had a 25m barrack range, every month we got to use SMG’s and Hi Powers as well, if the range warden was in a good mood. On summer camp at the RAF Regt depot(RAF Catterick) we were allowed to handle but not fire L4A1 and L7A1, but were allowed to fire L1A1 on Bellerby ranges which was fun, though some smaller cadets had difficulty with it(Although a cadet from another unit who was built like a brick sh*t house but with not as many brains, actually broke an SLR by cocking it too hard and ripping the cocking lever off!). After I left the RAF bought an FN FAL G1 but had to surrender it in the 87 SLR ban which was a sad day.

    • I was in the army cadets in Canada, and we got to use the C1 (Canadian name for L1A1) occasionally. I don’t recall any of the 13 or 14 year olds having trouble handling them. The main problem in fact was that we didn’t have our own and so only got to shoot them occasionally, which meant that when we did take them to the range we were so excited that marksmanship principles went right out the window.

      Most of our shooting was done with 22 cal Lee Enfields (we had our own rifles and indoor range for that), but that was nowhere near as fun as a C1.

  3. I used the L98A1 Cadet GP from 1992-2009 due to not having a gas system and a flash suppressor they made a large bang and had a safety distance of 50 meters when using blank. Personally I hate this rifle as it permanently damaged my hearing and prevented me from joining the British Army, if we had the A2 which is much quieter when firing blank things might have been different. However I was able to get a number of shots of very fast with a well oiled weapon.

    • πŸ™ not good!

      There was a big class action in Ireland back in the 2000s, against the Irish state for its failure to provide ear protection, and the resulting loss of hearing.

      There was no excuse, decent ear protection was a few pennies a time for disposable expanding foam plugs, of a fiver a time for ok-ish ear muffs.

      Back at the time, the British state claimed that forces, NHS hospitals and the like were exempt from health and safety, food hygiene etc regs. The regs were only for the little people.

      IIRC, that claim of immunity has been shown to be invalid.

      Hope I’m typing this loud enough πŸ˜‰

    • Dan:

      I am sorry to read that. Would a gas system and flash hider have much of an effect on the muzzle blast? I don’t know, the best way to find out would be a side by side comparison. It couldn’t be in this country though, not by civilians at any rate.

      Years back I had a corresponence with someone from the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham. He said it had been determined that firing a 5.56mm on an outdoor range was not damaging to the hearing. Nor was firing a .22 rifle on an indoor range. I don’t know how he came by that information.

      If you were not given any hearing protection, that may have been the justification. In many cases of hearing damage, I think the culprit is another rifle firing to your side, rather than your own. However it happened, there was surely no excuse for failure to issue cadets with hearing protection. You have my sympathy.

      • Some useless RCO got most of the way to starting a shoot and then started rambling about shit while I was lying there with an L85A1 in my hands once. I pushed back one cup of my ear defenders so I could hear what he was saying. I forgot to put it back in place before firing that first shot. It was LOUD, my ear went “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” for a while afterwards and my hearing on that side now cuts off at 18 kHz while the other side still goes to 20 kHz.

  4. Similar nonsense happened in Canada with the adoption of the C7 (~M16A2). Cadet corps had owned FN C1A1s (FALs) and No.7 Enfields. There was a panic about how could the kiddies be allowed to operate full autos as these were “prohibited firearms” and the kids were civilians. It apparently never occurred to anyone that they’d always be under the supervision of a officer.

    There was a plan to build a .22 version of the C7 for cadets but that never went anywhere. In the meantime the army was convinced that FATS was the answer and converted most of it’s indoor .22 ranges to it’s version of FATS the Small Arms Trainer- SAT). Funnily/ sadly they didn’t think to confirm that the ELCAN mounted on the C7 would focus on the SAT screen. It didn’t. There was talk of buying non-magnifying ELCANs to deal with this but I’m not sure if it went anywhere.

    I’m not sure if cadets in Canada shoot real guns anymore. And the army wonders why it has trouble recruiting.

  5. Ian,
    Are you thinking of writing anything on the five or six rival contestants to the Cadet Rifle.?
    They have interesting design features.

  6. Paging Denny,

    I mentioned a John Moses Browning designed pump action shotgun, that was loaded, and it ejected through a single port on the underside of the receiver, and that being a potential basis for designing an ambidextrous and gas proof bullpup…

    The design was manufactured by Remington as the Model 17, then when the patents had expired, it was copied by Ithaca, as the Model 37.

    Arguably/controversially/allegedly, Remington’s later guns seem to have followed the twin principles of 1) process engineered to be cheap, 2) in house patents only
    And those have been over and above requirements for quality, reliability and safety, that were foremost in Browning’s designs. It can be argued that the Ithaca production is a better made, more reliable and safer gun than subsequent Remington pumps.

    The design is covered by us pat 1,143,170
    The gun in​ the patent has a tubular magazine, Browning had an earlier patent for a lever action with a box magazine and cartridges feeding out of the back of the box, like a Gabbet Fairfax Mars.
    It could probably be timed to feed forwards out of a crappy STANAG compliant mag as well.

    • From the look of it, the gas block isn’t drilled for a gas port. Between that and the nonstandard barrel I’m thinking the barrel isn’t drilled for a gas port either, which means you’d have to pull the entire upper receiver/barrel assembly. From the pictures at ARES there’s also no fire selector switch, so you’d probably have to drop in a new fire control group; between one thing and another, by the time you were finished you’d essentially have built a whole new gun.

      IOW, it looks like converting one back to gas operation would be like the old joke about your uncle’s old car: all you have to do to fix what’s wrong with it is pull off the gas cap and put it on a brand new car.

      • Ian didn’t show us the fire control, but there’s a very good chance that the disconnector is still in there, to prevent the hammer from following the bolt forward.

        There’s actually a very good case for having an auto sear in there too, in order to prevent out of battery firing.

        Back in Ian’s thread about the three different examples of Druganov at the auction. Ian commented about the auto sear in the semi auto Druganov, for protection against out of battery firing, and the disappearance of the feature in commercial imports of the gun to the united state, probably at the behest of the BATFE.

        It’s yet another of the deep inner contradictions of gun control;

        An out of battery safety of some sort is a vital part of a almost any manual repeater. For example the Browning patent which I cited (us pat 1,143,170) that forms the basis of the Ithaca model 37, the Browning BPS and Remington model 17 pump action shotguns, contains a part which acts in exactly the same manner as an auto sear, as well as functioning as a slide lock.

        Like most Browning designs (and unlike many later generic engineers’ designs) it is packed full of intrinsic safety features.

        Clearly the Browning design is a manual repeater, and I’ll make a wild arsed guess that if the boys and girls of the BATFE have noticed that there’s an auto sear in there, they’re probably not too bothered.

        But when a manual repeater shares fire control parts with an auto loader, or some designer was competent and considerate enough to design in protection against out of battery firing (and the bean counters didn’t omit it to save 5 1/2 cents per gun) into a semi auto

        Then the bureacrapcy gets upset, and owners potentially face time in a cage.

        Seemingly the establishment would prefer people to suffer injury from out of battery firing, than have a safety that uncle Sam wants to charge a $200 tax on.

        • The internal workings of the TMH or Trigger Mechanism Housing as the lower part is called in the UK is identical to the Regular Rifle, except the Change Lever is missing.

  7. The L98A1 was designed to be easy to convert to full regular use. Simply drill the gas block and add the gas parts, change the Cocking Handle (and remove the rail) to the normal one and add the change lever and your good to go. Rather than have regular Weapons, reserve Weapons and Cadet Weapons you can combine the last two thus cutting down on cost and storage. The L98A1 was a very good range weapon. The Cadets are not part of the military, but are sponsored by them. Regular Recruits were trained on the regular SA80 and not this Rifle.

  8. I once got an ejected casing stuck between the body of this thing and the charging handle so hard that the QM wondered how the heck he was going to get it out

  9. When the SLR replacement was planned it was also planned to replace the .303 No 4 Rifle and Bren Guns that were held in School CCF and Community Cadet Forces (ACF, ATC and SCC) units.

    At the time there was a debate as to whether the cadet force leaders should hold the Queen’s Commission, resolved in the affirmative. After Hungerford, only the Services and Police can hold semi-automatic weapons.
    Also with the IRA kicking off after 1969 there was concern at storing semi-automatic weapons in cadet units, which would be unoccupied most of the time. Indeed in the 1950’s campaign the IRA raided Felsted School CCF making off with 8 Bren guns, 12 Sten guns, an anti-tank gun, a mortar and 109 rifles. (I was at school in 1960’s and we had a similar mix though I don’t recall any ATk guns or mortars.)

    By the time H&K upgraded the L85A1 these problems had been resolved. The L98A2 is basically a non selective fire L85A2 with iron sights and no bayonet lug.

    For any non Brits.
    The cadet forces are not part of the military but national youth organisations sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and the respective services.
    The Combined Cadet Force is based in schools, both my sons went to state schools, and were members of their School CCF, badged respectively as Royal Engineers and Paras. However it is true to say that 200 out of 260 CCF contingents are in independent (fee paying) schools though some accept pupils of nearby state schools. (Wiki)

    Army Cadet Force, Air Training Corps, and Sea Cadet Corps are community based youth organisations with volunteer commissioned officers (often retired from the military) and civilian adult instructors who are all volunteers.

    Finally in the video Ian, I don’t think you mention the pistol grip on the L98A1 which differs from the L85A1. Apparently a box of these were sold off after the factory closed (the pistol grip not rifles) and one found its way to a far east manufacturer of AirSoft SA80s so they had the wrong pistol grip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.