Upgrading the British Army’s SA80A2 Assault Rifle
Heckler & Koch in Multi-Million Deal for SA80A3
The SA80 (L85) is the designation for a revolutionary family of assault weapons. On its initial introduction, the assault rifle proved so accurate that the British Army marksmanship tests had to be redesigned. Now, the SA80A2 assault rifle will be upgraded to the A3 model under the Mid Life Improvement (MLI) project. This will ensure that the rifle has the capability needed to remain in service until 2025 and beyond.
The SA80 is a range of selective fire, gas-operated assault rifles firing the 5.56×45mm NATO round. The L85 rifle variant of the SA80 family has been the standard issue service rifle of the British Armed Forces since 1987, replacing the L1A1 variant of the FN FAL. The first prototypes were created in 1976, with production ending in 1994. The A1 variant was significantly upgraded in the early 2000s by Heckler & Koch as the SA80A2.
Nottingham Small Arms Factory
An initial investment of £5.4 million for the project, which will be carried out by Heckler & Koch, will help sustain around 20 highly skilled jobs at the Nottingham Small Arms Factory owned by the company.
Minister for Defence Procurement Guto Bebb said:
This multi-million-pound upgrade will give our Army a lighter, more hardwearing, better-camouflaged combat rifle so our soldiers can perform on the frontline of some of the most dangerous locations across the world. This investment is also a boost to Nottingham’s highly-skilled gun-makers who proudly support our troops in their task to protect our country in the face of intensifying threats.
‘Flat Dark Earth’ on the Picatinny Rail
Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the ‘Flat Dark Earth’ paint with Cerakote coating. These features minimise both the visual and infra-red spectrums allowing the operator to stay unseen. They also give a specialist resistance to weathering and abrasion – important for an army required to complete their tasks in any number of conditions.
This paint job extends to the Picatinny Rail which is welded to the A3 body’s upper receiver. The handguard is also new and supports the Picatinny Rail that sits on the upper receiver. This Picatinny Rail sits on all sides and allows the attachment of in-line night optics, hand grips and other attachments that can increase the potency of the weapon system. The handguard is also free floating, meaning that when the weapon is fired the barrel can resonate freely. This further increases the exactness of a weapon system which is already accurate out to 300m when deployed individually.
Mid-Life Improvement Sees State-of-the-Art Features for Battle Proven Assault Rifle
The changes to the SA80 assault rifle include:
- A more durable hardwearing coating in a “Flat Dark Earth” colour offering better camouflage in a range of environments.
- The A3 is 100g lighter than the A2 and has a more streamlined fore grip making the weapon easier to handle.
- The A3 rifle has a bracket to secure new innovative low-light sights that can clip on or in front of the day sight without the need to remove it. These sights are smaller, lighter and require fewer batteries whilst operating just as effectively in low light/night conditions.
Director Land Equipment at the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, Major General Colin McClean said:
The SA80 is a battle proven weapon used by the UK Armed Forces on operations all over the world. The upgrade will build upon the rifle’s state-of-the-art features enhancing accuracy and consistency. The Mid Life Improvement project will ensure that our troops have the right equipment at the right time.
The MLI project will see 5,000 weapons upgraded initially with the intent to upgrade more weapons in the future.
Grenadier Guards Test SA80A3
The fielding of the first tranche began in February, with the Grenadier Guards becoming the first infantry battalion to fire the new weapon system. This year sees them deploy on three separate operational tours on Op TORAL to Kabul, Op TRENTON to South Sudan and Op SHADER in Iraq. The busy deployment period sees them adapt to three different theatres where they will be doing three completely different jobs. Training has therefore been paramount and helped them get to grips with a number of differences in the weapon systems.
Image: British Army, Grenadier Guards testing the SA80A3 Heckler & Koch upgrade (Crown Copyright, 2018).