DSEI17 – H&K Unveil Upgrades to British SA80

    The L85A3 at DSEI17 (Soldier Systems)

    At this years Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exposition in London Heckler & Koch have brought along their Mid Life Improvement of the British military’s SA80. The first images of the L85A3 appeared last summer. But some photos from the expo floor, posted by Soldier Systems Daily, show off the rifle’s new configuration.

    The L85A3 at DSEI17 (Soldier Systems Daily)

    The mid life improvement project is to be carried out by H&K, who have a long standing relationship with the British Ministry of Defence and the SA80 having taken on the unenviable task of fixing the L85A1’s many initial problems – creating the improved L85A2 back in the early-2000s. It appears that the mid life programme may include the manufacture of completely new major parts with the fabrication of new improved A3 receivers, which are designated as replacement parts by the British Army.

    Close up of the L85A3’s new fore-end, note the scallop cut for the trigger guard (Solider Systems Daily)

    The L85A3 has a free-floated barrel with a new fore-end with a tapered profile like that used on other H&K rifles as well as the flat dark earth finish currently en vogue at H&K. This replaces the earlier Daniel Defense railed fore-end used by the A2. The new fore-end has rails at 12 and 6 o’clock and H&K’s key system at 3 and 9 o’clock. The L85A3 on display also has a sand coloured Grip Pod vertical grip/bipod.

    Close up of the L85A3’s receiver (Soldier Systems Daily)

    The above close up of the L85A3’s receiver shows the new flat dark earth finish replacing the original black. This better fits the environments British troops have recently found themselves deployed in. Note that the original olive green plastic pistol grip, cheek piece and buttplate have been retained. It is unclear if these are reused A2 parts or newly made.

    One key feature of the A3 refit is that the new system integrates a full length Picatinny rail along the top of the fore-end and the receiver. This allows more streamlined mounting of optics. The rifle is shown with what appears to be an Elcan Spectre Lightweight Day Sight (LDS). There is currently little information available on what internal changes have been made but it is likely parts have been refurbished to align the rates of wear on the various parts.

    One of the photos released last year featuring a PARA demonstrating new kit (Combat & Survival)

    On its adoption the L85A1 suffered a raft of problems and as a result has garnered an infamous reputation. The H&K refit L85A2, however, was a massive improvement on the original and the rifle has served the British Army well in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this the A2 continues to be tarnished by the SA80’s earlier reputation, even this mid life refit is unlikely to fix that. The programme is looking to extend the rifle’s service life into the late 2020s.

    The programme to upgrade A2s to the A3 configuration has already begun with a £2.7 million contract for 5,000 rifles reportedly agreed in 2016. The programme is going to take some time, if indeed H&K are offering newly built L85A3s, and only a couple of thousand a year are to be procured due to budget constraints.

    Matthew Moss


    TheFirearmBlog.com – Managing Editor
    OvertDefense.com – Managing Editor

    Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written several books and for a variety of publications in both the US and UK. He also runs Historical Firearms, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matt is also co-founder of The Armourer’s Bench, a video series on historically significant small arms.

    Here on TFB he covers product and current military small arms news.

    Reach Matt at: [email protected]