Bolivian Police armed with SA80

I was surprised to learn that Bolivian police use the British SA80 assault rifle. This makes Bolivia the only other country aside from the UK and Jamaica to make use of the SA80. The below photo shows members of the now disbanded Bolivian special police Unit for the Tactical Resolution of Crisis (UTARC) marching in a parade.

The Unidad Táctica de Resolución de Crisis (UTARC) were disbanded in 2009 by President Evo Morales after their leader allegedly shot at reporters who were filming a botched arrest.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Payce

    I’m assuming those masks are for show or to hide their faces.

  • The face masks are interesting, especially in comparison to the unwieldy helmets used by some other special police units such as GSG 9.

    The masks remind me of experimental archaeology results about recovered Roman cavalry helmets; they don’t appear to restrict vision as long as they fit closely.

    Ceramic and titanium are impractical for such shapes, so I guess the masks are either non-ballistic masks (unlikely) or made of steel (or ballistic aluminium).

    The lack of a mouth opening is confusing, though.

  • Tierlieb

    What a sweet mask. Anyone know these?

  • Simon_the_Brit

    There must have been some dodgy deals done in Bolivia 😉

    Nobody would choose to be armed with an SA80 🙂

  • Gregor

    Forget the L85, eyes on the Army of Two masks 😉

  • Nigel Cupcake

    Wow they look absolutely menacing.

  • Are those…hockey masks?

  • JT

    Now those are some intimidating looking guys! Armoured masks? Really?

  • Bob Barker

    Purple is the new black.

  • moose

    looks like army of two video game

  • Tom

    They’re police?!
    Bloody hell, I wouldn’t want to break the law there.

    Also, why would anyone choose the SA-80? Is there export controls on selling arms to Bolivia?

    • My guess the rifles were aid. Countries often give military aid but specify that it must be spent in their country.

      British Diplomat: You can buy whatever rifles you like with the money.

      Bolivian Diplomat: Great, we will take the M4 Carbine, the Americans are using it and its very cool.

      British Diplomat: …. any rifle as long as its the SA80.

      Bolivian Diplomat: I thought the SA80 had issues with it ….

      British Diplomat: its the SA80 or the SA80.

      Bolivian Diplomat: …. fine …. we take the SA80.

  • Jim S

    I have a distinct fear of men who make even purple smoke seem menacing…

  • Greg

    they look so badass, even their uniforms/gear make them looks like they’re some kind of black force, and the purple smoke and black mask just added to that.

  • Khorre

    Man, that has to be the most hardcore looking police force I’ve ever seen.

  • zak b

    A quick search for this unit turned up nothing. And I’m suspicious of the rather video game (Army of Two) looking hockey masks.

    Could you point out a source of info or two for this unit?

  • j

    Dude those guys look really badass

  • JJP

    What are those masks they are wearing? Very intimedating apearance. Cool photo.

  • HG

    Wow. Who wouldn’t want to abridge civil liberties in a get-up like that?

  • Bob

    Are the wearing some sort of hocke/kevlar masks?

  • JonMac

    Trust me, it’s a surprise to (most of) us Brits too.

  • Jeff

    Ballistic Facemasks have gained a notoriety since ‘Army of Two’ came out. They’re most likely level IIIA masks from China. almost all of them look either like the ones above, or look like the bottom half of a paintball mask:
    They’re really bulky for the amount of protection they give IMO. But I guess some people are willing to give up a good cheek weld and aiming for a better defense. It would work great for turret and door gunners though

  • Tinkerer

    Can we say “Airsoft Gear”? Because that’s what those masks are. Just do a search en eBay: . It wouldn’t surprise me if those SA80 were airsoft replicas as well -simply put, the bolivian military and security forces are stuck in the seventies when it comes to hardware -and even de fifties-.

    Now, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, they do seem to have some SA80 around… along with a pletora of other rifles, both NATO and WARPAC standards, from a lot of different decades. Logistics nightmare.

  • Theodoric

    There’s nothing wrong with the more recent SA80s, though. Not since they added in some fancy German engineering.

  • zak b

    Good call Steve on searching for their Spanish name (Unidad Táctica de Resolución de Crisis). I found this article:

    Apparently the unit was responsible for several terrorist kills before being disbanded.

  • Droptong
  • anon
  • Crystal

    Ballistic face masks are not just for airsoft. see links!

    and a retired army friend of mine has previously worn this one and said it was not enjoyable.

  • Crystal

    With a little more searching, these look like the exact masks the subjects in the photo are wearing.

  • Adam
  • subase

    lol, they even got that helmet that doubles as a shoulder pauldron. Army fatigues really spoiled the look though, total mismatch with the black. I wouldn’t ponder too closely on the masks they are likely just for show. Or one of those things that sounded like a good idea until someone actually used them, and now they are just used for looks.

    And look at the guy behind him, looks like he has a M4.

  • Lance

    Check out the Wikipedia page on the Type 56 Chinese AK copy they show Bolivian diver armed with Type 56s seems Bolivia has no East or West alliance attitude and uses different guns and ammo per unit. One has L-85 one has Type 56s another M-16s all depends on what General in what unit likes what.

  • KevintheCynic

    Like Steve mentioned, you need to search for the Spanish title, the net returned a few hits within seconds.
    I used Google Translate for this site and found the first paragraph pretty interesting.
    Translated to English is says: –

    September 22, 2009, 06:01

    La Paz – Bolivia .- .- The former commander of the disbanded Tactical Crisis Resolution (UTARC), Captain Walter Andrade, charged with assaulting and shooting journalists Santa Cruz, was presented yesterday to testify voluntarily before the prosecutor assigned to the case of livestock research Santa Cruz Nelson Vaca, Carlos Fiorilo…

    Assaulting and shooting journalists! No wonder you don’t hear about UTARC now!

  • 6677

    why do people complain about the sa80 platform so much. true the a1 variants where unreliable but the a2 supposedly gets a similar round count before failure to the m4. by that reasoning you could argue the m4 is also crap

    • Psycho

      Yeah, the AR-15 platform is actually has an equally bad service record as the SA-80 family, but the creators of both are too proud to disband these gun platforms.

      That said, the both the AR-15 platform and the SA-80 platform have both been revised so that most (if not all) of the issues have been fixed.

      I like both of the platforms, as each has their own strong points and weak points and when properly maintained they can both serve a man and protect his life.

  • Bob Z Moose

    I didn’t know Jason worked for the Bolivian police. Seeing British guns in the hands of another nation is weird. I thought that the SA80/L85 was made by the Enfield Armory, but it turns out that it was made by several different companies, including H&K and a couple of other smaller companies. It seems it was also cloned by some company in Indonesia.

  • Okki

    Lots of South American nations have LEO’s hide their face when in uniform or otherwise on the job. Prevents the bad guys from snapping a picture and paying a visit to your family and relatives. Granted most frequently that duty is covered (all pun intended) by a ski-mask (see any Mexican drug bust perp media presentation).

    For parade purpose this looks way more bad ass and intimidating though. Great call on the M4 (or M16) in the background. Disappointed they didn’t spring for the Magpul mags though.


  • MibZ

    Why did everyone immediately assume that the masks were airsoft gear?

    Airsoft is all based upon real things, even if the actual gameplay isn’t. There isn’t any reason you couldn’t have a ballistic mask, and now I’ve actually seem them for sale thanks to someone in an earlier comment.

    It would still hurt like hell if you got hit because of the kinetic energy, but I’d wear it, sure beats being dead.

  • Guardsman

    I think the masks are only worn to hide their embarrassment at having to use the world’s most expensive, heaviest, most number of parts updated and ergonomically unsound assault rifles.

  • subase

    The admittedly heavy looking GSG 9 helmets are probably great. They offer unrestricted vision, full face ballistic/concussion protection, able to be used with comm devices, space for breathing and ventilation and even allow an unmodified cheek weld.

    Also considering wars nowadays are very police orientated and winning public support is important, the helmets allow people to see your face.

  • JonMac

    Bob Z Moose – what’s your source for that? So far as I know, all SA80s extant today were manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factories at Enfield and then Nottingham prior to 1994. Many were then remanufactured by H&K as the A2 family, solving all of the operational issues with the weapon, though it is not a well-designed or well-made rifle otherwise.

  • ggjjgjgjg

    by some reason when i look at this pic i can hear some hardcore metal riff in my head… lol

  • Luis

    Bueno este es un grupo de Elite que me emociona es uno de los mejores que hay en Bolivia yo sere Policia para que haga diferentes servicios a mi Patria

  • JRO

    The SA-80s date back to a British training mission in early 2000s, british special forces trained some Bolivian army and navy personnel; but apparently they favored the cops, which is odd given that their intervention “style” differs so much (ie extrajudicial executions).

    UTARC is not dead, it just changed names and is way more secretive now, SA80s are now being seen with the DELTAS group (the second best police group). Some references to the training mission:

  • onetruegod

    We left with 72 men in our platoon and came back with 19, Believe it or not, you know what killed most of us? Our own rifle. Practically every one of our dead was found with his [M16] torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.
    – Marine Corps Rifleman, Vietnam

    • Griffin

      Good job. Completely on topic and appropriate. Not thread jacking at all.

  • Cahal Mcgirr

    The U.K. also ‘donated’ 5000 of these to Mozambique as ‘aid’ when RENAMO was still in the field way back in the 70’s/80’s according to the BBC.

    • armourer mick

      The L85 ( sa80) didn’t enter service ’till ’87,so I find this statement a little far fetched

      • Gmod10imf

        They most likely didn’t use this weapon at the time but once the L85 was entered into service it became there standard weapon.

  • Ryan Campbell

    Sucks they got the A1 version.