“Beneath this mask of a failed bullpup there is more than double feeds and malfunctions. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof, especially when they jam!”, in other words, the SA80/L85 bullpup rifle platform probably wouldn’t be too good at being in anti-establishment movies, considering that the platform itself is a product of the establishment. In all fairness, the L85A2 has come leaps and bounds since its problem years in the 1990s and early in the British involvement of OIF, or Op Telic.
This week at the Defense Vehicle Dynamics exposition held in Millbrook Proving Ground outside of the town of Bedford in the U.K, the MoD was showcasing a prototype of what might become the L85A3 to the public. Combat & Survival wrote about it, and it looks like they erroneously labeled it as the SA80A3 when in fact the British Army is on the L85A2, not the SA80A2. From their posting-
Part of a feasibility study for the SA80A2 Mid Life Improvement project, which aims to prolong the in-service life of the UK Forces’ 5.56mm weapon beyond its 2025 OSD, the A3 prototype includes a number of modifications including:-.
¤ a safety stud placed above the change lever on the trigger mechanism housing to ensure that this lever does not over-rotate,
¤ the Weaver rail on top of the upper receiver being taken off and a full length Picatinny rail fitted – this will allow day sight and night sight to be mounted in tandem,
¤ a new foregrip, or quadrail, as part of the new full-length rail which will be attached slightly differently to the current one allowing the barrel to be more free-floating than at present to improve accuracy and consistency,
¤ redesign of the A3 upper receiver for improved reliability and maintainability over the current A2 variant,
¤ and colour change to Matt Earth for better compatibility with MTP camouflage uniforms.
At this stage the A3 model, of which ten prototypes have been produced, is a feasibility study but as much of the A2 stocks have seen extensive combat service in Iraq &/or Afghanistan since introduction in late 2001 they deserve a speedy upgrade.
So really the changes we are looking at here are modifications to the upper receiver and the handguard. The handguard and combined full length rail system probably have the largest changes, finish to Matte Earth (didn’t realize that color existed prior to this article, can’t find any examples on it elsewhere), side rails to what appear to be Key Mod, back up iron sights, a much more slimmer and modular quad rail system (to include the Key Mod), full length rail system, and then some internal changes to the design. The ensuing pictures come from ThinkDefense, a UK based defense blog.
Bare in mind that all these upgrades are apart of a Mid Life improvement program, so this doesn’t even mean the MoD will be getting a new rifle, it just means they will be updating the L85A2s they have now to A3 versions. In addition, these are just prototypes so the final changes might not have anything to actually do with what we see here. The article mentions this is supposed to get the military to 2025, so if Britain is in the ballpark of a new rifle competition then, it’ll be an interesting turnout. In addition to the above statement, we have these details about the modification of the rifle–
The Dismounted Close Combat Programme team, part of the UK Ministry of Defence, intends to place a contract for the Equipped to Fight Improvement (EFI) programme for the modification of 5 000 SA80 weapons with Heckler & Koch GMBH & Co for work to be completed by March 2017. The estimated contract value is 2 700 000 GBP. The contract will require the supplier to modify the existing SA80 A2 weapon by fitting a combination of new and modified components. Specific tolerances of materials are needed along with exact dimensions and surface finishes on the components to allow for interoperability with the existing system, particularly when managing the variable interface caused by differing rates of wear of existing components which are recycled as part of the programme. There are very high risks involved in managing the variable tolerances and manufacturing processes when combining new and existing weapon components.
In case you need getting caught up, here is an example of an earlier L85A2 that was rebuilt by H&K, compared to the L85A2, which is currently in use across the MoD. Notice the change in scope from the SUSAT, Trijicon, and the Elcan in the pictures above. Currently the MoD actually uses all three scopes within the rifle inventory. With the exception of any of Britains SF (SBS, SAS, and some of the Paras and Royal Marine Fleet Security Force), which are much more interested in the AR platform than a committee designed rifle.
And this is the original SA80 from the 1980s as issued. In fact the name SA80 comes from Small Arms of the 80s.