The development of the SA80 (Small Arms for 1980s) system, which included two weapons – SA80 IW (Infantry Weapon) assault rifle and SA80 LSW (Light Support Weapon) light machine gun, began in the late 1960s when Britisharmy decided to develop a new rifle, which will eventually replace the venerable 7.62 mm. L1 SLR (British-made FN FAL rifle) in the 1980s.
When NATO trials were announced in 1977 to select a new cartridge, British state-owned Enfield Small Arms Factory developed its own small-caliber, high velocity round, which was more or less representing the US .223/5.56 mm. case necked down to accept 4.85 mm. (0.19 inch) bullet. When cartridgecame out, Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield developed a new weapon around it, initially designated as SA80-IW or XL65. This weapon, being somewhat similar in outline to the much earlier British Enfield EM-2 assault rifle, was internally quite different, and, basically, was more or less the US-made Armalite AR-18 rifle, put into bullpup stock and rechambered for 4.85 mm. cartridge. After NATO trials, which resulted in adoption of the Belgian SS-109 version of the 5.56 mm. cartridge, Enfield engineers rechambered XL65 for this cartridge and continued its development under the designation of XL70. Due to Falkland war new system was actually adopted only in 1984. Original SA80 weapons (both L85 and L86) were plagued with many problems, some being very serious. In general, L85 was quite unreliable and troublesome to handle and maintain, so, finally, in the year 1997, after years of constant complaints from the troops, it had been decided to upgrade most L85 rifles then in service.
The upgrade program, committed in years 2000 – 2002, was completed by the famous Heckler&Koch, whichwas then owned by British Royal Ordnance company (German investors bought the HK back in the 2002). About 200 000 rifles were upgraded into the L85A2 configuration, out of total 320 000or so original L85A1 rifles produced. While official reports about the upgradedweapons were glowing, the initial field reports from the British troops, engagedin the Afghanistan campaign of 2002, were unsatisfactory. Most problems,however, were traced to improper care and maintenance of weapons, and for now the L82A2 performs fairy well both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Other than the basic L85A1 variant, the SA80 IW also appeared in the shortenedCarbine version, and inthe manually operated L98A1 rifle, which got its gas system removed and a larger cocking handle attached. The L98A1 is used to train the army cadets for basicrifle handling and shooting skills, and the rifle is fired as a manually operated, straight pull magazine repeater rifle. The latest weapon in the SA80family is the recently adopted L22 carbine, which is issued to tank crews of Royal Armoured Corps. This weapon is available in two versions, L22A1 and L22A2,the latter being fitted with additional Picatinny rail on the right side of front grip base.
Starting in 2016 British army decided to extend service life of L85A2 rifles by converting some of them into L82a3 standard, which includes lighter handguard, longer Picatinny rail and new color scheme. First upgraded L85A3 rifles entered British service in 2018.
The L85 is a gas operated, magazine fed, selective fire rifle of bullpup layout.
The receiver of the L85 is made from stamped sheet steel, reinforced with welded and riveted machined steel inserts. The gas operated action has a short stroke gas piston, located above the barrel. The gas piston has its own return spring. Gas system has a three-positions gas regulator, one position for a normal firing, second for a firing in adverse conditions and the third for launching the rifle grenades (gas port is shut off). The machined bolt carrier rides inside the receiver on the two parallel steel guide rods, with the single return spring placed above and between the guide rods. The typical rotating bolt has 7 lugs that locks into the steel insert in the receiver, just behind the barrel breech. The charging handle is attached to the right side of the bolt carrier, and prior to A2 upgradecaused some problems by reflecting the ejected cases back into the action, thus causing stoppages. In the L85A2 configuration the charging handle was redesignedto avoid such problems. The charging handle slot is covered by the spring-loaded dust cover. The bolt and its extractor claw also were upgraded in the L85A2, toachieve more reliable extraction of the spent cases.
The trigger / hammer assembly of the L85A1 is also typical for a modern bullpup rifle, with the longlink from the trigger to the hammer unit, located in the buttstock. The hammer assembly of the L85A2 was redesigned to introduce a slight delay before thehammer release when the gun is fired in the full auto. This did not affected the cyclic rate of fire but improved the reliability and stability of the weaponduring the automatic fire. The fire mode selector is located at the left side of the receiver, well behind the magazine housing, and allows for single shots of fullautomatic modes of fire. The cross-bolt safety button is located above the trigger.
The barrel is rifled for a NATO-standard 5.56 mm. ammunition, with 1:7 twist, and is fitted with a NATO-standard flash hider, which allows to launch therifle grenades from the barrel.
The L85 is fed using NATO-standard (STANAG) magazines, similar to M16 type magazines, with the standard capacity of 30 rounds. Early L85A1 steel magazines caused a lot of troubles, as well as amagazine housing itself, which had a thin walls that could be easily dented,thus blocking the magazine way. Both magazines and its housings were upgraded inthe L85A2 configuration.
The standard sighting equipment is the 4X SUSAT(Sight Unit, Small Arms, Trilux) telescope, with illuminated reticle. The SUSAT is mounted on a quick-detachable mount at the top of the receiver, and features an emergency backup open sights at tits top. The SUSAT allows for an accurate fire (mostly in single shots) out to 400-500 meters. For a second-line troops an alternative sighting system is available, that consists of the removable front post sight with high base and post protection “ears”, and a detachable carrying handle with built-in diopter rear sight.
The L85 can befitted with the proprietary knife-type multipurpose bayonet. L85A2 and L85A3 rifles also can be fitted with 40 mm. under-barrel grenade launcher, using special handguard.Launcher is made in Germany by Heckler-Koch.
|Full text name||Enfield SA-80: L85A1 L85A2 L85A3 assault rifle (UK)|
|Caliber cartridge||5.56x45 NATO, .223 Remington|
|Overall length, mm||770 (709 - Carbine)|
|Barrel length, mm||518 (442 - Carbine)|
|Weight empty, kg||4.13 (with SUSAT optical sight and no magazine)|
|Weight loaded, kg||5 (with SUSAT and loaded with magazine with 30 rounds of ammunition)|
|Magazine capacity, rounds||30|
|Cyclic rate of fire, rounds/min||700|