POTD: British Bullpups Old & New

Matthew Moss
by Matthew Moss
Pictured being fired left to right are the SA80-A2, and EM-2 assault rifles. (Owen Cooban/MOD)

Today’s photo features two British bullpups, the L85A2 and the Rifle No.9 Mk1, better known as the E.M. 2. The E.M. 2 was briefly adopted by the British Army in 1951, but a combination of national and international political wrangling saw it soon abandoned ostensibly to ensure standardisation of rifle and ammunition amongst the NATO powers.

The L85A2 on the left of the photo is mounted with an Elcan Specter OS4x ‘Lightweight Day Sight’ (LDS) and a Shield CQS Red Dot sight while the E.M. 2 had an early 1x optical sight.

The L85 or SA80 is often mistakenly described as a descendent of the E.M. 2, this however, is not the case. The only thing the SA80 has in common with the EM-2 is its bullpup layout. The E.M. 2 was developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s by a team of engineers led by a talented Polish designer Stefan Janson. After the end of the E.M. 2 project Janson moved to the US to join Olin/Winchester.

Left to Right: L85A2, XL64 Individual Weapon and an EM-2. (Owen Cooban/MOD)

What is less well known is that between the E.M. 2 and the SA80 family of weapons is that there was another British bullpup. The XL60 series was a family of experimental prototype bullpups developed during the 1970s, which fired a 4.85mm SCHV round. You can read an insightful article about the XL60 series by Jonathan Ferguson, the curator of the Royal Armouries, here.

The SA80 owes much more to the XL64 Individual Weapon it evolved from than to the E.M. 2. The XL60 series was followed by the 5.56x45mm XL70 and XL80 series which became the L85A1 adopted in 1984. Today, despite earlier issues, the British Army continues to use a much improved version of the SA80, recently embarking on a refit programme to introduce the L85A3.

Image Sources

H/T: Nate

Matthew Moss
Matthew Moss

Managing Editor: TheFirearmBlog.com & Overt Defense.com. 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. Matt is also runs 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: matt@thefirearmblog.com

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10 of 69 comments
  • Potates Potates on Aug 16, 2018

    The EM-2 and XL60 are such aestheticly pleasing rifles, and then there's the L85.

  • S. Plankenberg S. Plankenberg on Aug 16, 2018

    There can't be a harder type of rifle to fire accurately without a rest than a bullpup.
    But accurate shooting with line infantry rifles is not emphasized much anymore anyway.

    • See 7 previous
    • Iksnilol Iksnilol on Sep 02, 2018

      @S. Plankenberg I find bullpups reduce fatigue and allow one handed use + are better balanced if you attach GLs, designators and whatnot up front as is the norm.

      I would say in regards to shooting it is superior. A muzzle heavy design might jump less at the cost of increasing fatigue which isn't worth it outside of dedicated conpetition rifles.

      I come to this conclusion having tried an AUG. I usually shoot a Sauer STR.