Royal Marines adopt C8s

UK-Close-Protection-2-2-660x539

The 43 Commando’s Fleet Protection Group has recently come out in a press briefing that the unit has replaced the L95 service rifle (bullpup SA80) with Colt Canada C8s, which the MoD classifies as L119. This is particularly interesting as this will be the first UK non SF group to be issued the L119 en masse. British Special Forces have never liked the SA80/L95, even going back to the Gulf War. Nowadays they use everything from L119s to LMT Marksman rifles while the rest of the British Forces are still with the L95. The Royal Marines Fleet Protection Group is responsible for guarding British nuclear weapons and submarine bases in the UK, in addition to being the Royal Navy’s special ship boarding unit, similar to the VBSS based units in the U.S. (Vehicle Board, Search and Seizure). This unit appears to be similar to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Security Forces and the FAST platoons currently in use. The commander mentioned that the move was because they were able to use low velocity ammunition, which is important for over penetration qualities, especially when dealing with submarines. Which puzzles me, because the two rifles (L95 & L119) are both chambered in the 5.56x45mm NATO, so it would appear that the round should work in both. I assume this might have something to do with the gas piston system of the L95 not being able to cycle the lower pressures of a low velocity round.

The move makes the unit the first British non-special forces unit to completely drop the bullpup L85A2 (SA80) rifle used by the rest of the regular forces. Various UK special forces units already use the C8, which is designated the L119 in British service.

43 Commando already used small numbers of L119s, as well as other specialist weapons such as the H&K MP5 submachine gun, but the move now confirms the L119 as the unit’s standard weapon. A senior Royal Navy source told IHS Jane’s that 300 more C8s had been purchased to fully equip 43 Commando. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was unable to provide IHS Jane’s with the cost of the acquisition.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • 6.5x55Swedish

    It’s funny how militaries are less and less interested in bullpups while the civilin market loves them.

    • Ryfyle

      More accurately, Armalite based platforms. It’s a great platform for what it dose.

    • Al

      The move from the L85 has everything to do with reliability and not that it is a bullpup. As for the civilian market, firearms are toys for the most part, not tools of the trade.

      • BattleshipGrey

        But of all the other bullpups on the market, they still chose the AR platform. New Zealand made the switch and it looks like France will do the same.

        • Al

          Economics and politics play a much greater role in weapons purchases than what the troops might want. Due to volume, the AR platform is very reasonably priced to purchase and maintain when compared to say, the AUGa3, Tavor, or F2000

          • BattleshipGrey

            I’m sure that’s probably THE factor in these cases. But they could have what they want if they do a more staggered phase out/in.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Why are bullpup people so stubborn to admit that clearing malfunctions, reloading, and shooting from unconventional positions JUST SUCK with their favorite form factor!?

            Bullpups have their place. It’s just not in wide distribution military environment.

          • Fdfas Jlkjl

            Special forces get the rifles they want. Lots of SF choose ARs. How many choose bullpups?

          • G0rdon_Fr33man

            Why would you choose a rifle based on what SF groups use?

          • Kivaari

            There is a coolness factor. Especially if the SF guys like it. SF troops do get a chance to try other platforms in actual combat. It seems that after playing with the new toys, they go back to proven systems. If your rifle works there is little need to go elsewhere. When Wanat is injected, it just shows that an unusual amount of fire going forward in a short time frame, that pretty much no rifle will stand up to that abuse. There were other rifles that could be used. Those that were not destroyed by enemy fire were present. We should not condemn the entire system because of one very unusual experience. Firing over 300 rounds in under 30 minutes would be hard on any rifle used.

          • Many are choosing AR’s with short barrels, making them comparable in length to bullpups.

        • Kelly Jackson

          The FAMAS is a pretty dated design

          • It was adopted in 67 which is several years younger than the M-16/AR-15 is.

          • Paul Joly

            No early 80’s to 90’s

          • BattleshipGrey

            The AUG is much older than the Tavor, yet I’m reading more frequently from people that have shot both extensively that choose the AUG over the Tavor by a long shot.

            I’m not suggesting that France should or shouldn’t replace the FAMAS, just saying that they are, reportedly to the AR.

            I’m actually a fan of bullpups, but I have taken notice of several militaries that are switching from them to the AR platform.

          • tsubaka

            well it’s been ages we’re talking about replacing the famas (almost like the m4/m16 family) but yeah it’s looks it’s serious now (it always looks serious in the beggining until they forget about it)

          • Kivaari

            It had serious problems regarding ammunition. It should not have been chosen – but was due to national pride.

      • Mr Mxyzptlk

        The SA80 family are pretty reliable now, when tested in most environments they were more reliable than an AR-15. I imagine that this particular case is more to do with the fact that when you are fighting at literally a spitting distance the disadvantages of a bullpup start to outweigh its advantages.

        • Vhyrus

          I thought fighting at spitting distances was where bullpups did best?

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, but some still imagine WW1 style bayonet charges where the 20 cm reduced length of the bullpup allegedly makes it useless.

        • Kivaari

          It took engineers and workers from HK to make them work. Just like British automobiles, the Brits just can’t make two parts alike. Even the bayonets were launched like rifle grenades. Bayonets are not hard to make.

          • Mike

            Bayonet launching from rifle!!!!
            Now that sounds like a good idea.
            Is that a British invention? Sounds like something Barnes Wallis would come up with..

          • Kivaari

            It was somewhat comical. The flying bayonets were an unintended consequence of faulty design and manufacture. About 30 years ago, a British magazine, Defense Update, had a comparison cartoon showing how the limited budget has forced British forces to compromise on gear. APCs, replaced with wooden wagons, helmets being just cooking pots and a wooden spear replacing the new troubling rifle. The replacement of the rifle with a pointed stick was viewed as an improvement. At the time the rifles were still being built in England. It took HK to salvage the rifle from the dustbin.

        • brainy37

          Who did the study that said the L85a2’s were more reliable than the M4? I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric put out by H&K after the rework but have yet to see any sort of actual study. What we do know is that it doesn’t like anything except for Radway Green made specifically for it which isn’t a good sign.

          The SAS, SBS, the Brigade Patrol Troop of 3 Commando Brigade and the Pathfinder Platoon were still using DI M4’s long after the L85a2’s went into service and later to C8’s (Canadian version with better barrel profile). Why would they go to a less reliable rifle with a shorter barrel?

    • Vitor Roma

      The civilain market is now getting better bullpups than the militaries. Tavor with improved trigger, fully ambi and great to supress RDB, fully ambi and fancy MDR, improved M17S from K&M.

      • CommonSense23

        And the civilian market also has better access to non bullpups.

      • Israel asskissing conservative

        Nope. Tavor available in the USA is completely inferior to what has been sold by IWI around the world for years now.

        RDB isn’t really useful.

        MDR is not even available.

        The reason civilians like bullpups(IN THE USA) is because of 26″ overall length and 16″ barrel requirements.

        Militaries don’t have to deal with these requirements, and hence, bullpups are not attractive.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      Almost as if militaries have the budget to test these things back to back… Hmmm..

    • James B.

      The SA80 is not a good example of a bullpup. The Israeli Tavor is a much better example, and I don’t see the IDF moving away from it.

  • Mouldy Squid

    I own the new civilian version of the C8, the Diamaco SR15.7, (being Canadian I have to show my support 😉 and I can say that this is the best AR rifle I have ever used. It surprises me not at all that Colt Canada is getting lots of overseas contracts with this rifle.

    • Dave

      What makes it so special and sparkly, may I ask? What features and factors add to making it so much better?

      • Mouldy Squid

        My reply post is still being moderated since there are some urls in it, but the thing that makes it the most special (at least to we Canucks) is the maple leaf stamped into the receiver.

  • Girthquake

    Their first statement isn’t true, the pathfinder platoon of the parachute regiment has used the L119 for years. Also, the SA80 is designated L85 not L95.

    • Mr Mxyzptlk

      In with a pedantic correction to your correction, the SA80 isn’t designated as anything as this is the term for the project and the family, not any individual weapon. The SA80 IW (Individual Weapon) in the L85A1/2. There are a few other non UKSF that have also used the L119A1 in both the normal and CQB variants, including the Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit, the Royal Marines Police Troop, and some AAC and RAF pilots. I imagine that this procurement will make them the single biggest user outside of the special forces though.

      • anonymouse

        Those units are all no bigger than 10-20 personnel, 43 Commando has 800.

  • Joshua

    “…the two rifles (L95 & L119) are both chambered in the 5.56x45mm NATO, so it would appear that the round should work in both. I assume this might have something to do with the gas piston system of the L95 not being able to cycle the lower pressures of a low velocity round.”

    This might be true, but I think piston guns can cycle low pressure rounds when set up proproperly. My severely undereducated guess is that it has to do with barrel length. The shortest barrel length Wikipedia lists for the l95 is 17 inchs vs the 10 inch barrel of the c8. The 5.56 is so hot and fast it is real problematic to develop low pressure and/or subsonic rounds that function reliably so any extra barrel length wants to add velocity/pressure and just a few extra inchs could mess things up. Then if they want to use a suppressor, that’s more pressure and barrel length to contend with. U.S. forces now have a ton of experience with our mk18 10 inch barrel and suppressors and rounds to go with it compared to almost zero experience with the sa80 (l95) for cqb that they can share with the Brits. The mk18/l119 is shorter, lighter, mechanically simpler and has way more experience behind it as a cqb setup.

    • Mr Mxyzptlk

      The L22A2 barrel is a lot shorter than 17 inches. I can’t remember off of the top of my head but it is around 11″ so pretty much un par with the L119A1 (but a noticeably smaller gun overall). The problems with the L22A2 for this role are the lack of modularity and optics choices (this may change if they fit a pic rail at some point like on the L85A2) and inability to fire from the left shoulder. I’m a big believer in this last point not really being an issue for an infantry weapon, however for what the FPG does it is useful, and they train to transition between shoulder for corners with their MP5s so I imagine they want to be able to do this with a 5.56.

      I also imagine that any of the SA80 weapons could fire low velocity ammo by changing the gas plug to the open/fouled position, or at most also changing the springs which would be a lot cheaper than 300 new guns, so I doubt that this is the main reason for the acquisition.

      • Joshua

        O.k, thanks for that info, good to learn a little something today. After hearing what you have to say i would make a slightly more educated guess than my previous entry, that all the things you say have merit, but the dominant consideration still has to be the fact that lots of weapons could offer those benefits, but only the c8/mk18 has the current history and proven track record. If the u.s. has this weapon already funded and developed and sorted out, why try and do all that all over again with the sa80 when you could transition to an already proven platform and all the r and d and real world experience built in, not to mention having American advisers help you out. Besides their own guys already hate the sa80.

  • Lance

    Face it the M-4 wins again!!!! Well like the SAS the M-16 and M-4 are preferred weapon of elite units though regular solder and marines in the UK still will use the SA-80 for a while.

    • Ryan

      SAS doesn’t use M16’s or M4’s, they use the C8.

      • Mr Mxyzptlk

        They have used the M16/A1/A2 in the past, but only the C7 SFW and CQB since the early 2000s. They also used the C7 (along with RM BPT and Pathfinders) but they were phased out as well a few years ago. They have never used the M4.

        • Ryan

          They used the M16 back when they were kicking about Sierra Leone but as you said, they binned them in favour of the C7 when they started kicking doors in Baghdad.

          • Mr Mxyzptlk

            I don’t know exactly when they got the C7s, but I don’t think the SAS really ever replaced one variant of the AR-15 with anything else, they just acquired different batches of types at different times. Until they standardised on the L119A1 that is (2001ish I think). There is a photo of the RM BPT using a mix of M16A2s and C7s, and I remember once seeing an SAS patrol using everything including slickside M16s, M16A1s, M16A2s and Colt Model 733s in the same photo.

          • Ryan

            That sounds like a photo I need to see.

      • toms

        The only real difference is where they are made. Like most of Colt Canada wins over Colt USA it comes down to two things, the Canadians are easier to export from (shorter time to delivery) thanks ITAR, and the Diemaco barrels last a tad bit longer as they are hammer forged. Otherwise they offer almost the exact same configurations.

        • ostiariusalpha

          FN USA makes the American service rifles, and their M16 and M4 barrels have been cold-hammer forged for awhile now.

      • snmp

        UK SAS use Amarlite AR15 before the M16

  • Callum King-Underwood

    There is no L95 rifle in service. Its an L85

    • McThag

      Not just L85 either. L85A2, all of the land series gets an A# unlike US designations.

      So the first version is L85A1 then the current L85A2.

      If we’re being pedantic, that is.

    • Ben

      The L95 (now L95A1) is a straight-pull bolt-action version of the the L85A2 (basically an L85 with no gas system, so has to be manually charged for each shot). It’s for use by the cadets.

      It’s set-up to be civilian-legal to own on a firearms certificate, as the cadet forces are civilian organisations sponsored by the MOD, but not actually part of it. So they can only have weapons available to civilians in the UK.

      • Steve_7

        Nope, the L98A1 is the straight-pull version of the L85A1 and what H&K basically did was take L85A2 uppers and clip on the L98A1 lowers to create the somewhat semi-auto L98A2.

        Somewhat, because the L98A1 has the select-fire trigger pack, so all you need to make an L98A2 go full-auto is a pair of needle-nose pliers.

        Also the Armed Forces Act 1996 allows cadets to use prohibited weapons.

  • Ryan

    The L119A1 has been in service with non-SF units for a while now. Para Pathfinders, 43 Commando and RMP have been running them for a few years.

    • anonymouse

      Several do, but only specialist and often informal platoon-sized units within a parent unit that still uses the SA80. 43 is the first full unit to drop the SA80.

  • Ezra Bristow

    Designed by the incompetent, issued by the uncaring, carried by the unfortunate.
    I think bullpup design was adopted at a time when only the elite of the elite did all the fancy “firing from the left shoulder” malarkey… times change, equipment has to change with them.

    • Gecko9mm

      “Designed by the incompetent, issued by the uncaring, carried by the unfortunate.”

      That’s a true keeper that applies to just about everything in the universe isn’t it?

  • Fred Funk

    Miles: A minor mistake: Royal Marines wear a Dark Green Beret. The picture you are using shows soldiers from the Airborne Brigade wearing the Maroon Red Beret (The Maroon Machine) Utrinque Paratus.

    • Tom

      Very true on the Marine but If I had to guess I would say they are actually RMP soldiers wearing the para/maroon beret if you look at the cap badge it looks nothing like that of the paras (RMP close protection types wear the beret colour of whom ever they are protecting but keep their cap badge). Also The RMP do use C8 which replaced the HK G53.

    • Mr Mxyzptlk

      It is just an exemplar of the L119A1 in British service rather than with the FPG. After all, they have only just ordered them. As for specifically who they are in the picture, RMP cap badge + maroon beret = 156 Provost Company I believe. Slightly odd though, as although entitled to wear the Maroon I though they still more the Scarlett most of the time. Maybe they are guarding a Para bigwig or something. Well, TBH most of the time they wouldn’t even wear a beret operationally, it is not the most tactically sound garment.

  • Ron

    VBSS is Visit, Board, Search and Seize
    The FASTs do not have a Nuclear Weapons or SSBN security mission, that is the mission of the 2 Marine Corps Security Force Battalions, Kitsap-Bangor and Kingsbay.

    • Mr Mxyzptlk

      I believe that the FPG see themselves as the equivalent of the RTT. They train together annually in an exercise called Tartan Eagle.

      • Ron

        The RRTs (Recapture, Recovery Tactics teams ) are unit within the two MCSFBNs; recapture/recovery is part of what occurs at Tartan Eagle. There is significantly more to the requirements of strategic weapons security to prevent compromise than just recapture and recover.

  • Kivaari

    If M16 based rifles as bad as some claim, it’s great to see real military units adopting them. Perhaps the guns work well.

  • AMJ1977

    When the Royal Marines were first sent to Afghanistan they were issued M16’s with colourful paint jobs. These were formerly the weapons belonging to the SAS and SBS. This was around the time the new H&K improved SA80A2 was about to be introduced. The marines were being sent into a war fighting area, as they’re experts in mountain warfare and needed reliable rifles. Now the SA80A2 is a very good rifle, the A1 was pretty awful and no one wanted the new version, especially if you consider yourself an elite unit and have just been given the secondhand rifles of very special troops. But the A2 was and is an excellent and very much improved rifle. The marines left Afghanistan without really engaging any enemy, operation ptarmigan but loving their rifles. They wanted to keep them, the paras found out and decided they deserved the same status. HQ infantry in Warminster said, no. So a few inspired officers started to complain in the Daily Mail about how inferior the new SA80A2 was, they did eventually get the fn minimi as out of the three saws tested, the German was the best but too expensive, the Israeli was ok but the Belgian one made the biggest noise. The officer in charge of procuring it was a marine.

  • Thomas T Hodges

    Royal Marines wearing Para berets instead of green ones-what gives?

    • Chi Wai Shum

      The guys in the picture are from the army. The picture is actually not directly related to the news.

    • Ben

      They are members of an RMP close protection unit. They wear whatever beret the local regiment is wearing. Either that or they’ve passed p-company, so would have the right to wear the maroon beret with their own cap-badge.

  • Tony Williams

    The key to this news item is that those involved in guarding nuclear facilities, or boarding ships, are keen to minimise penetration for obvious reasons. So they have adopted frangible bullet ammunition (I am pretty certain it is the MK255 RRLP – Reduced Ricochet, Limited Penetration ammo developed for USSOCOM). As is well known, the SA80 series are picky about the ammo they use (Radway Green makes two flavours of 5.56mm ball ammo with different types of propellant – one for the SA80, one for the rest) so the MK255 probably doesn’t work too well in that gun, since it was developed with the AR-15 family in mind. So they more or less had to adopt an AR-15 type weapon to fire that ammo.

    This does not presage a general move away from the SA80. The L85A2 is now one of the most reliable 5.56mm military rifles in service as well as very accurate, and there is no great urgency about changing it – any replacement would have to be at least as reliable, which is a high bar to clear. The troops don’t much like it (heavy, ergonomically poor) but they respect its performance.

    As far as bullpups in general are concerned, the much-discussed move towards the general use of suppressors might change perspectives. A suppressor adds several inches to the overall length of a barrel – and the shorter the barrel, the higher the pressure of gas escaping from the muzzle so the bigger the suppressor has to be. A bullpup is about eight inches shorter than a traditional rifle with the same barrel length, so the advantage is obvious.

    Even if your traditional rifle has a folding stock, that doesn’t help in urban fighting when the stock needs to be extended to hit anything much beyond pistol distances.

    • Ron

      There is not a requirement for RRLP Ammo around strat weapons

      • Tony Williams

        @Ron: “There is not a requirement for RRLP Ammo around strat weapons”

        Clearly there didn’t use to be, but they have certainly adopted such ammo now so they presumably believe it is desirable.

        • Ron

          Tony,
          It is not a requirement in the protection or recapture of US assets, the MCSFBNs and AFSFs employ weapons in the delay and denial of access and recapture/recover missions with significantly more penetration and destructive capability. The thought that RRLP is necessary shows lack of knowledge on the subject and instead assumptions on requirements. The whole of the surety enterprise is built around knowing that to meet certain threats there are ammo types in usage that would surprise those not use to dealing with the program.

          • kyphe

            Tony is not taking about US requirements! At no point does he mention RRLP Ammo as a requirement for US forces guarding strategic assets. This article is about British forces and British requirements. The British commander in the article in question clearly states that reduction in overpenetration is a key factor behind the decision to re equip this unit.
            US forces did develop the round so probably feel it is necessary for some missions or it would not be in inventory.

          • Ron

            Do know who owns the tridents and the packages they carry that rides on the British subs and whose policy they follow because of that?

            having been a service lead for strategic weapons security for years I knows the requirements and policy for strategic weapons

          • kyphe

            The warheads are British mate! you may need to update your info.

          • Ron

            They ride on US missile in US RVs,
            The reason RRLP is not a requirement and not used is 1) you have cleared area around the limited areas you cannot equip the defense force with reduced range ammo that cannot engage to the extent of visibility. 2) The RRT must be able to fight their way into a structure to recapture any lost assets, which means they must be able to provide fires at a distance to facilitate entry and securing of the structure, not the mention the turtle decks of the subs are long enough that the reduced range ammo may not allow engagements topside/pier side the length of the boats.

            You and Anthony seemed to seized on a munition type and built a case your minds that is must be used in certain role. When you don’t really know what that role involves or its requirements

          • kyphe

            The britsh do not use US requirements on their leased equipment. I will take the words of the British military personnel over some guy on the internet sorry dude.

          • Ron

            You can believe what ever you want, you can adopt the ostridge approach to not having to admit something all you like. However of three of us, I am the one who actually did Strat Weapon Security and can explain exactly why the other two don’t know what they are talking about

          • kyphe

            you are the only one making claims you are the only one not reading, you are the only one contradicting the stated evidence. live in your own world if you want to mate

    • lostintranslation

      Succinct and to the point.

    • IndyToddrick

      But if you’re going to be concerned about over penetration then why not use an (already standard) MP5, rather than changing to another 5.56 carbine just so you can shoot lower velocity, frangible ammo???

      • CommonSense23

        Overpenetration is typically bigger issue with a MP5 than a rifle caliber weapon. Its one of the reasons the FBI HRT stopped using them.

    • brainy37

      I’m a bit skeptical when someone says the L85a2 is the most reliable 5.56mm military rifles out there. Was their an official comparison? The SAS, SBS, the Brigade Patrol Troop
      of 3 Commando Brigade and the Pathfinder Platoon were still using DI
      M4’s long after the L85a2’s went into service and later to C8’s
      (Canadian version with better barrel profile). Why would they go to a
      less reliable rifle with a shorter barrel when they didn’t have the MK255 RRLP requirement?

  • gunsandrockets

    That is a very stumpy barrel shown in the photograph. Yet all the links go to stories which seem to describe M4 length barrels. So which is it? What are the Royal Marines using?

    • JSmath

      10/11.6/14.5/15.7″ barrel configurations for the C8 alone.

      Link to Colt Canada already replied, will show up once it’s approved.

  • JSmath

    So you’re saying it doesn’t rattle as much as typical ARs? 😛

    • Mouldy Squid

      The only thing I hear, other than the bang, is the buffer spring compressing/decompressing in the stock.

  • kyphe

    They drop a 20in barrel bullpup for a 10in barrel AR for a force that predominately operates in CQB environments. Totally straight forward rational decision to me. If they swapped a 20in bullpup for a 20in AR for CQB they would be morons.

  • Mike

    I believe they do not make any SA80s anymore. So any new rifles will have to be something else. In the last 15 years they have been used extensively, I am sure many are worn out. Any Special Forces unit want “special forces ” weapons to make them feel “special”

  • Kivaari

    The use of bull pup rifles doesn’t provide any benefit beyond a few feet-per-second increase in velocity. In exchange for higher velocity the shooter gets a one-side-only rifle (except the terrible FN2000) with poor handling, awkward reloading, and pretty much nothing of value. Give troops an M4 carbine and they will learn how to deal with 4 more inches of rifle in front of them.

  • John Micheal Stacey

    Dont Royal Marines were Green Berets?? Not sure who wears Razberry Berets. Look like those were purchased in a Second Hand Store….

  • Jim R

    Interesting. how many times have we been told since 1963 that the AR-15 / M-16 family of weapons is junk, “sh!ts where it eats”, “poodle shooter”, “jam-o-matic”, &c? Yet, not only does our military keep using them, but other countries adopt them, too.

    There are a number of excellent service rifles out there, many with some advantages over the AR-15 / M-16. However, it is clear from over fifty years of service that the Black Rifle has a well-deserved place in the ranks of Greatest Firearms Ever Made.