SA80 in Bolivia

German newspaper published this photo of a Bolivian special forces solider carrying a SA80 rifle. Bolivia is only one of two users of SA80 outside of Britain, the other being Jamaica.

The solider in the above photo looks a lot less frightening than the now-disbanded Bolivian police unit Unidad Táctica de Resolución de Crisis (UTARC) who also used the SA80.

[ Many thanks to Miroslav for the tip. ]

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.


  • gallan

    That black ski mask is still pretty scary.

    • -V-

      I see these for sale now and then. On top of the intimidating factor, they are also level IIIa rated.

      • Lolinski

        They looked really scary before, must have been effective at scaring the pants of folks, too bad they have to use the SA80 haven’t heard good things about them.

    • David/Sharpie

      Those are bullet “proof” masks.

      “Proof” because while bullets won’t penetrate, your face will be pretty messed up.

      • Mike Knox

        Only maybe, but your nose for sure. Those masks have stiff foam padding like boxing masks. Use it too long and you’d get some nasty acne attacks..

      • David/Sharpie

        I saw a show on Storage locker auctions (I think it was auction hunters, maybe storage wars) where the guys found one of these masks that would stop a .44, they took it to a gun friend of theirs and he made a deal that they would do something and he’d give him his own mask that would stop a .38, I think they put it on a watermelon or a mannequin and whatever they shot was messed up. They used a Beretta 92.

        Sorry, there are a lot of “I thinks” because it was awhile ago that I saw that episode.

    • Ripley
  • 54Bravo

    I’d rather have one of those classic M16A1s in the first picture!

    • W

      theyre a better rifle anyways.

    • Esh325

      It’s difficult to say if you haven’t used one.

      • 54Bravo

        I haven’t used the SA80 but have heard and read enough from legitimate sources to not think a whole lot of them (I personally think the L1A1/FAL was better, and I have shot those a few times) but I have PLENTY of time in on the M16A1s, thank you very much.

        The A1s were still widely used when I was in the service (along with the 1911A1 and M60). I even recall that the well used example I knew and loved in basic training, was made by the GM Hydramatic division.

      • Esh325

        Which sources?

    • 54Bravo

      You know as well as I do that there are MANY documented complaints and flaws on the SA80 coming from a wide variety of sources including the soldiers themselves, the MOD Defense Minister, even the Army’s own armorers. But since you are challenging me on my sources (other than my two Gulf War veteran shooting buddies that shot the SA80 and hated it) I will go ahead and do some of the googling for you, and here are just a few:

      “SA80 (Small Arms for the 1980s): The Sorry Saga of the British Bulldog’s Bullpup” (note: a VERY comprehensive and informative article on the SA80 with dozens of widely varied sources cited)

      Defence ministers are under pressure to scrap the troubled SA-80 rifle after an inspection team sent to Afghanistan found that, even after a refit, major faults still needed rectifying if it was to be used in combat again.

      The original SA-80, produced by Royal Ordnance, jammed repeatedly under fire in Sierra Leone and the Balkans. As a result, Heckler and Koch was paid £92 million to modify the weapon.

      But defence sources said the modifications had made the weapon virtually unusable in many combat situations. Now it is thought likely that ministers will decide that they must cut their losses and go for the Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifle.

      Its cost could be reduced if it is established that Heckler and Koch failed to produce a modified weapon that worked.

      Earlier this month an MoD inspection team flew to Afghanistan amid reports of a number of stoppages affecting Royal Marine commandos hunting al-Qa’eda fighters.

      The team, including two experts from Heckler and Koch, was horrified to find the problem was far worse than previously thought.

      A demonstration by a company of Marines returning from a mission showed a third of the companies’ rifles, between 30 and 40, not working properly.

      “A British army rifle which has just undergone a £92 million ($140 million) revamp has been found to misfire by soldiers serving in Afghanistan.”

      Immediately after the first Gulf war 1990 (Operation Granby), the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) commissioned the LANDSET Report (officially entitled “Equipment Performance (SA80) During Operation Granby (The Gulf War)”), into the effectiveness of the L85A1 IW & L86A1 LSW.[24] This report criticised the acceptance of the weapon into service. Neither weapon had managed to pass the sand trials and both frequently jammed. The mechanism of both weapons needed to be well lubricated as the weapon became prone to seizure if fired “dry”, yet in sandy condition the lubricated weapon became unreliable due to the lubricant attracting sand into the moving parts. The LANDSET report identified in excess of 50 faults. Most notably the magazine release catch, which could easily be caught on clothing and therefore accidentally release the magazine; the plastic safety plunger which became brittle in cold climates; firing pins that were not up to repeated use and prone to fracture, if used in automatic fire mode. Although this report identified over 50 faults, and some of the rifle’s problems were corrected as a result (e.g. the magazine release guard and trigger); these modifications only addressed 7 of these issues and complaints over reliability in service continued.

      “Although highly accurate on the firing range, the rifle is disliked by troops because it can only be fired righthanded and for years has been prone to blockages and breakages – particularly in hot or dusty conditions such as those encountered in the 1991 Gulf War. There are growing fears in the MoD that the expensive upgrade has failed to eliminate these shortcomings.” “The SAS and other Special Forces units, which have a free choice of weapons, have never favoured the SA80.” “Ministers ordered a review of the rifle after the upgraded version, the SA80-A2, was hit by problems during the Royal Marines’ recent operations in Afghanistan.”

      Army’s £93m revamped rifle ‘still misfiring’

      The Ministry of Defence should consider scrapping the Army’s SA 80 assault rifle, plagued by problems since its introduction into service, if reports that the weapon has been malfunctioning in Afghanistan prove correct, the Tories said yesterday.

      The challenge followed the announcement by Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, of an investigation into claims by Royal Marines that the rifle had suffered from jamming and misfires during operations in the country. The weapons involved were “improved” SA 80 A2s, the product of a £92 million project to remedy the rifle’s defects.

      The MoD’s concern about the weaknesses of British infantry firepower in recent operations has also been illustrated by the decision to equip the Army with a new light machine-gun because of the inadequate rate of fire provided by the machine-gun version of SA 80, known as the Light Support Weapon (LSW).

      Mr Hoon said he had sent a team from the MoD and the SA 80’s manufacturers to Afghanistan this week to investigate the problems.

      Speaking at the launch of Army 2002 on Salisbury Plain, he said: “I have just come back from Afghanistan, where I talked to the Royal Marines who have used the gun. The problems are that from time to time the rifle is jamming and they believe that is because of the really extreme conditions they have encountered. It is very hot, very windy and there is a lot of sand there.”

      “Rifles still faulty after £92m modifications, MoD admits” “A number of standard army rifles, recently modified at a cost of £92m, have jammed or misfired in operations in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday.

      A team has just returned from Kabul after investigating official reports from soldiers that three SA80-A2 rifles had malfunctioned. There were anecdotal reports of other rifles not working properly, the MoD said. “We have still to get to the bottom of exactly what those problems are before we make any judgment”, said Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, who visited Kabul earlier this week.

      “But it’s not good enough. We have spent a considerable amount of money upgrading this rife and I don’t want to accept second best. We do not want anybody to be facing any more risks out there than they are already.”

    • 54Bravo

      I replied here yesterday with a wide variety of articles and sources about the SA80 numerous deficiencies but for some reason, this site’s mods don’t look like they are posting it (perhaps the sheer length of it).

      So, start with this one very well written article that has dozens of well documented sources about the sad tale of the SA80 and knock yourself out:

      ‘SA80 (Small Arms for the 1980s): The Sorry Saga of the British Bulldog’s Bullpup”

  • William C.

    Did they manage to get them upgraded to A2 standard or are they the original POS A1 model? I’d definitely rather have one of those M16A1s if I were them.

    • 6677

      I believe both jamaica and bolivia use the A1. Not certain or educated enough to tell the difference at a glance.

    • Entropy

      They are using the A1 version. The easiest way to tell at a glance is to look at the cocking handle – on the A1 it’s made of green plastic and is a simple bar that sticks out at a right angle to the bolt. On the A2 it’s black plastic and shaped more like a semicircle.

      AFAIK only British SA80s were upgraded to the A2 version. They carry H&K receiver markings. Outwardly they look pretty much the same besides the cocking handle and the addition of a small guard around the magazine release, but internally they are improved in a number of small ways which increased the strength and reliability. For one thing, the lower receiver (the trigger mechanism housing or TMH as it’s known) is made of thicker steel which resists deformation better. I am not sure what modifications they made to improve the rifle’s resistance to dirt, but from what I’ve heard and my own experience with the L98A2 (c. 2008 H&K built, semi automatic only version of the L85A2) it was a very reliable rifle so long as you seated the magazine correctly and didn’t ride the cocking handle forward.

      The SA80s that are currently issued are A2s which have been further upgraded to have Picatinny rails in place of the forward handguard, and may be fitted with an underslung 40mm launcher (also made by H&K).

  • burner

    is that dude wearing MARPAT? has to be a cheap copy i thought only the devil dogs got to grace the marp

    • W

      nope. its in service with other countries as well. certain units in the Iraqi Army even wear a similar MARPAT desert pattern.

  • Cuban Pete

    Leave it to those dumb coca-chewing indians to buy that POS.

  • The Forty Twa’

    I’m always amazed by the amount of complaints people who have never used the L85 come up with regarding the weapon.

    • Esh325

      Yeah, if you’re bashing something you never used, you don’t really have a valid opinion.

  • Nielsen

    Ok Steve, I need to know now. Is the “solider” instead of soldier an inside joke that I have somehow completely missed, or what gives? You are *very* consistent with it 🙂

  • Michael

    The A2 version has better accuracy, better reliability and is shorter than an M4. Ok so it cost 4 times as much, but its only the Governments money.
    These guys were probably given the SA80s.
    Anybody heard of a .22 version for Civilans, like the GSG MP5 or .22 ARs? I heard they were being made. Maybe like a KelTec 22 magnum , made of invisible metal and plastic

    • Riot

      Well considering the barrel is about one and a half times the length of the M4s and has the heaviest barrel of it’s caliber while the M4s is notoriously skinny under the handguards, the greater cost is to be expected. It also is at at the opposite end of buying in bulk.

      • Esh325

        I don’t know where they get the cost from, but it’s not justified. The SA80 is basically a modified AR-18 made into a bullpup, and one of the biggest selling points of the AR-18 was that it was cheap to make because it has a stamped sheet metal receiver, as does the SA80.

      • Michael

        The barrel is longer than a M4, but the overal length is shorter.
        As for costs. They set up a production line to make around 300,000 rifles from a no bid company, BAE. Then sent them to H&K to “fix”, which was part of BAE. If they had put the design and production out to bid the costs would be lower. The down side of having no domestic gun production and no competion. Look at other British weapons systems from BAE, good but expensive. Many senior military officers and Politicians that make purchasing decisions retire and work for these arms companies. No incentive there!!
        Still a great rifle, but 1980s technology. For the same money every soldier could have a M4 and a 7.62 AR.
        Special forces often use M4s because they often work with Americans where resupply is important and, in my opinion because they want to be different.

      • Esh325

        Well, that explains the cost. The M4 is derived from the AR15, which came out in the 1950’s, so you could say that’s an even older design. In my opinion, for a small arm to become obsolete, there has to be a new design or technology that significantly outperforms it. I don’t see the British replacing the SA80 until another 5-10 years, but when they do replace it, hopefully they’ll choose a better and more cost effective rifle than the SA80.

  • PB

    Jamaica is phasing out or have completely stopped using the SA80 in favor of the M16

  • Lew

    For those of you wondering these are A1’s. The easiest way to identify an A2 is that the charging handle looks like a comma (“,”) rather than a piece of pipe.

    • Lance

      You can tell by the thin pencil barrel and A1 sights and triangle handguards.

  • Lance

    Not surprised I also see M-16A1s too. Most 3rd World nations have many guns in service mostly buying for lowest bidder not commonality.

  • Billick

    I believe Bolivia, Jamaica and Nepal.

  • Keith

    They look less scary walking out of bright purple smoke.

  • DanTrybg8472

    Tagesschau is not a newspaper, but a television news program made on behalf of the german public-broadcast network ARD.

  • Braven117