Minister Guto Bebb has announced that the British Army’s standard combat rifle is to be upgraded.

The SA80 A2 will be upgraded into the A3 model under the Mid Life Improvement (MLI) project, which will ensure the rifle has the enhancements needed to remain in service until 2025 and beyond say the MoD.

According to the announcement, there will be an initial investment of £5.4 million for the project, which will be carried out by Heckler and Koch at a Nottingham Factory owned by the company which also functions as UK headquarters of Heckler & Koch.

Defence Minister Guto Bebb said:

“This multi-million-pound upgrade will give our Army a lighter, more hardwearing, better-camouflaged combat rifle so our soldiers can perform on the frontline of some of the most dangerous locations across the world. This investment is also a boost to Nottingham’s highly-skilled gun-makers who proudly support our troops in their task to protect our country in the face of intensifying threats.”

According to the MoD, changes to the rifle include:

  • A more durable hardwearing coating in a “Flat Dark Earth” colour offering better camouflage in a range of environments.
  • The A3 is 100g lighter than the A2 and has a more streamlined fore grip making the weapon easier to handle.
  • The A3 rifle has a bracket to secure new innovative low light sights which can clip on or in front of the day sight without the need to remove it. These sights are smaller, lighter and require fewer batteries whilst operating just as effectively in low light/night conditions.

Director Land Equipment at the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, Major General Colin McClean said:

“The SA80 is a battle proven weapon used by the UK Armed Forces on operations all over the world. The upgrade will build upon the rifle’s state-of-the-art features enhancing accuracy and consistency. The Mid Life Improvement project will ensure that our troops have the right equipment at the right time.”

The MLI project will see 5,000 weapons upgraded initially with the intent to upgrade more weapons in the future. The fielding of the first tranche began in February.


  1. Why not just scrap that L85 and go for the C8, instead of spending all this money on polishing a turd? I’m happy the government is investing in our lad’s equipment, but it seems like a stop-gap fix rather than a sustainable one

    • Have you ever used the weapon? I have and found it a perfectly serviceable and usable weapon. As have a lot of my friends.

    • From previous comments on a separate thread the government is waiting for the US to complete a review into future calibers, so there is no point spending three to four hundred million on C8 rifles if they can spend just over five million upgrading the existing rifles before they replace them properly in 2025.

    • Because the L85 is in the system, all the ancillary elements needed to support the rifle from training aids through to armoury racks are expensive to replace. With the tight nature of the budget and the fact that the rifle is reliable and even popular with troops after its successful service use in recent years it makes more sense to push replacement to the right and upgrade what we have.

      One advantage of the AR18 derived L85 design over the AR15 derived C8 is the bolt and bolt carrier don’t need a tight tolerance with the receiver making it easy to upgrade and repair. When an AR15 derived rifle wears out you need to bin it (one of the reasons why the US constantly buy new batches of M4 rifles, with the L85 you just replace the bit that has worn out.

      The main driver for retiring the L85 will be if the cost of the constant small repairs outweigh the cost of replacing the whole system. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

      If it is replaced certainly the Colt Canada C8 would have a good chance as the rifle is already in the system itself for special forces, armed forces police and Royal Marine use.

      • Fedaykin the only prob would be the ‘special forces’ police and some of the RM. Would want a different rifle because otherwise how would anyone know they were ‘special’

    • The original was shit, prone to stoppages and all that but the upgrades have seen it turned into a world class rifle! Can’t ever remember getting a stoppage out on the ground in Iraq or Afghan, heckler and kosh did an amazing job on the A2

  2. Morning
    The turd you refer to was the original SA80 introduced in the mid 80’s – built by RO on a design first suggested in 1951.
    The weapon system you see today is a totally different beast.
    It’s like Trigger and his brush – “8 new heads and 15 new handles” it may look a bit like the original but it isn’t.
    It does look like the Army have pushed replacement down the road, trials with 7.62mm (which if selected would require a new weapon) have shown that 5.56 is still effective – especially as part of a wider weapon suite the Army/RM are starting to use at section/troop level to deliver kinetic effect.

    • The SA80 is a rip off of the AR 18 only reconfigured into a bullpup, but with cheaper parts which is why they had they had to get HK to fix them. The fundamental design if very reliable.

    • The SA80/L85 bears no relation to UK experimental bullpup rifles in the 1950’s except general layout.

      The EM2 uses a gas and bolt system copied from the German Gewehr 43 whilst the SA80/L85 uses a gas and bolt system directly copied from the Armalite AR18.

    • Wrong in about as many ways one could imagine or expect.Royal Ordnance Enfield Lock designed three assault rifles all of which worked. They were ‘bullpup’ designs but very different internally. The EN1 was discontinued with because it had too many parts for effective use in the field; the EN 2 was adopted and was about to go into production when U.S. pressure made the new (1951) Churchill government drop the British .280 (7 mm) round in favour of the U.S. 308 (7.62 mm) that was standardised across N.A.T.O. afterwards. Today U.S. military affairs historians believe this was a mistake; the 7 mm might return seventy years after it was dropped according to some sources. Royal Ordnance designed an experimental XA70 for a new 4.85 mm round that was designed to penetrate body armour, This personal weapon also was in a bullpup configuration, but otherwise very different to the EN 1 & 2. It worked very well; however, again U.S. pressure led to this round being swapped for the 5.56 mm that the U.S. had huge stocks of following the withdrawal from Vietnam. Then Enfield Lock was put up for sale in 1979 and historic Royal Ordnance went to the wall. The people there were by now, one might guess, pretty fed up. They simply took (sic) an AR 15 breech and barrel and rammed into the ‘new’ SA80. It inherited all the faults of that design that had cost many young grunts their lives, jamming in action. So it proved. BAE bought H&K (for five minutes) to sort out the ‘problems’. H&K re-designed much and the result, A2, has had better news. Declaration of interest: A cousin was involved in testing the EN 2 and went ballistic when it was cancelled.

  3. […] Міністерство оборони Великої Британії збирається модернізувати штурмові гвинтівки SA80 A2 до версії A3, що забезпечить її експлуатацію у військах до 2025 року і далі, повідомляє UK Defence Journal […]

  4. Major General Colin McClean said:
    ” The upgrade will build upon the rifle’s state-of-the-art features enhancing ”

    Good to see Colin is bang up to date with 35 year old state of the art weapons technology….

    Perhaps it’s just his sense of humor!

    • State of the Art compared to the US Militaries 54 year old Rifle. Small arms technology has basically plateaued since the 1970’s so…. yeah the L85 is still pretty much state of the art (if a little heavy)

  5. The L85 is beyond doubt a dated rather heavy rifle, but it works reliability and dies the job.

    No point replacing it until a new NATO caliber is decided on, then perhaps go for a re variant of the USMC M27 in the new intermediate caliber.
    The current 5.56mm version gold standard of service rifles….

  6. “The MLI project will see 5,000 weapons upgraded initially with the intent to upgrade more weapons in the future. The fielding of the first tranche began in February.”

    It’d be nice to know for sure they were upgrading them all. Logistical nightmare for an armourer to have to deal with both versions going in and out, not to mention sights etc. Lets hope they work on a unit by unit basis at least.

    • I believe that is what they are doing. As far as I know the Grenadier Guards have been delivered them en masse for trials and all going well it should be fully rolled out later. I reckon they’ll give them to the Paras and Marines first like they did with Virtus.

      • Awesome!

        Personally I’d like to see the Bootnecks get it first but hey ho, as long as they or the Paras/both get their hands on them to put them through their paces soonish I’ll be happy.

  7. For squad level; the ergonomics are better on M4, but the SA80 is more accurate.

    If the trend is now precision based suppression (FN Minimi under review), then be good to see more L129a1 procured.

    Ultimately the American’s are looking at a calibres like the 6.5, so I think we should follow their lead in regards to expenditure on R&D.

    • Ergonomics are largely in the eye of the beholder. I *hate* the layout of the cocking handle on M4’s and M16’s. With a passion. So for my money ergonomics wise I’d take an L85 over an M4 any day.

  8. The A2 version of the rifle is like chalk and cheese to its predecessor. It still remains substantial more accurate than the standard AR15 due to the longer barrel. However the bugger is heavy my modern standards but it’s easy to fire from the shoulder. Compared to the AR it still has auto fire which is great when house clearing.
    The 5.56 round was developed to increase the burden of casualties, with the thinking for every field casualty it takes two soldiers to care for the wounded. However Afghan proved than when your opponents were high on speed to them down using 5.56 required a minimum of five rounds. This as well as the improvement to body armour is why they’re investing 6.5 and 7.62 calibres. 6.5 seems to be the favourite at the moment as the cartridge is similar in size to the 5.56 There a soldier can carry nearly the same number of rounds compared to NATO 7.62.

  9. this rifle is an absolute Turd. I wish to god they would get rid of it once and for all. the sharpshooter, even though it’s stupidly heavy with all the ancills on, is a roaring success. point and shoot, rounds on target.

    I’ve never once gone to the range with an sa80 or fired it on ops and been 100% my rounds are going to hit the target first time or not feared a failure of some your basic rifleman, the lowest common denominator, that is totally unnacceptable. same with the minimi para. shite.
    it’s a mystery weapon that’s only accurate in perfect conditions. nobody likes the sa80 besides the idiots at the SASC.


    • So true. My first service weapon was the sky 7.62 which although heavy was in my opinion a more accurate and effective rifle. Moving to the 5.56 was hard work to regain my accuracy and the effective range went from 500 meters down to 300 meters on accuracy. I have to admit sa80 is easier to clean and maintain than spring but the effectiveness of a 7.62 round compared to a 5.56 I would choose a larger caliber every time. The desire to cause injury in order to slow the advance is total of bollocks. I would rather cause casualties at 5, 6 and 7 hundred meters with the 7.62 than fuckin about at 200 meters with 5.56. That aim is not to kill but to suppress, subdue and overcome the enemy. We are all humans, one nation under the sun, enemies today and friends tomorrow. Served in the Royal engineers from 89 to 98. Saw a lot of changes not all good and not all bad. Serviceability, accuracy, reliability and stopping power make an effective weapon. I hated the sa80 simply because it failed to be as effective when the caliber dropped to 5.56. Sa80 at 7.62 or the 6mill alternative would probably have been a good life. But eggheads thought different so everything went to shit..

    • I am smelling Walter Mitty or one who holds a silly grudge! Anybody who uses ‘reaper’ as their handle is a throbber in my book.

      SASC liking the L85 or not is immaterial, the real arbiters are the ITDU. The former’s role is to teach marksmanship skills which if you are complaining about not being sure about getting 100% of your rounds on target rather explains why you might hold them a grudge (it is not necessarily SASC fault that you are a poor shot complaining about his equipment). The latter are the lot who actually test and authorise equipment for issue to the Army.

      The Para L110a2 MINIMI has a very short barrel not making it particularly accurate over 300 meters, which was a bit of a problem when Terry Teliban liked to take a pot shot from over 600 meters! Not particularly the fault of the gun really so the L7 was dusted off and issued again whilst ITDU looked at getting a long barrel variant out.

      Now we are no longer in Afghanistan it is not the most pressing of issues and the whole “What kind of machine gun should we use?” question is being reviewed again.

        • British Army did buy a small number (176?) of the 7.62 FN MINIMI (side note the Minimi was first designed as a lighter than the FM MAG 7.62 machine gun that was then rechambered in 5.56) as a UOR for Afghanistan.

          I doubt they were brought into the core equipment budget at Afghanistan Endex as:

          1) Probably shagged after intense use
          2) MOD and ITDU are still mulling over the “What machine gun would we like question?”

        • Then again I wold love to know the Russian moon magic used that managed to get the PKM to weigh in at 7.5Kg firing the big old 7.62x54r and still controllable vs the FN MAG 11.79Kg firing the similar (performance wise at least) 7.62 NATO

    • By men on the ground I assume you means the usual bunch of american gun nuts and internet walts who never fired one or the Bratty wagon chasers still lamenting their SLR.

      Cause funny thing is, I and about 50,000 other “men on the ground” asctually carried it and had no dramas.

  10. A 6.5mm ( or whatever intermediate caliber is inducted) M27 derived rifle would be my choice as the next service rifle. The Armalite ergonomics just can’t be beaten.

    But with HK making replacement receivers and all other parts except the TMH, the L85 in its latest A3 incarnation, can be kept in service for many years yet.

  11. I used this rifle in the early/mid-90’s – the A1. Does it still break down to a zillion pieces? It needed precise and frequent cleaning in my day and was very unreliable with regular stoppages….I can still remember my NCOs close inspection and sarcastic comments when cleaning! Clearly evolved massively and a mature piece of kit now. It’s a huge deal to change an infantryman’s primary weapon, massively risky and should be avoided unless new weapon is truely proven

  12. Julian the current A2 is the same design as the A1. But HK made a number of improvements. For example the return springs are stiffer so it doesn’t jam as much or need the “forward assist” to ensure the bolt carrier is fully forward and engaged. The gas regulator has also been modified so it doesn’t coke up as much. The TMH hasn’t changed and has loads of parts. Compared to an AK or AR it’s overly complicated but since HK redesigned it it’s much better. The HK416 uses the same gas/piston system and is loved by all. In some respect if we hadn’t asked HK to fix the SA80 the 416 wouldn’t be as good as it is today!

  13. So does Britain not design and make our own guns anymore either? The French, Germans, Italians, etc. all still do. It is like this in every single field, bar none. You cannot say you are a major European country when you have to go cap in hand to a foreign company for every single thing. We are a major European country, we want our industries rebuilt so we can be a force in at least some fields.

    • It’s like we are a third world country, which we certainly are not. We want our industries rebuilt, in at least some fields, with modern state of the art facilities. We are not keep going cap in hand to foreign companies for every single thing. We have been absolutely humiliated. If other European countries can manage it, so can we.

    • That’ll be the same French who ordered the HK416 then so no they don’t build their own, what else do we go ‘cap in hand for’ most of our equipment is either built here, or as part of international programmes with parts built here or assembled here

      • And at the time of the re design HK was a British owned company indeed potentially saved from going out of business by being bought as it was struggling for business even from its own Government. Sadly having been rebuilt and remade a viable outfit it was sold off which to me seemed rather short sighted but pretty typical of British companies historically. Hey VW would have been part of Wolseley now apart from short sightedness in 1946 lol. How things turn eh.

        • Interestingly, though HK implemented the A2 upgrade, most of the fixes implemented were researched and developed by the SASC at Warminster.

      • One would hope whatever system replaces the L85A3 will be licence manufactured in the UK.

        The requirements will probably be for 150,000 to 200,000 so there is most definitely a case to be made for local manufactue.

  14. Bring back the stengun, my dad was called stengun Stopps during the war , a loverly gun until it stopped.

  15. And that’s another thing, we should be able to go to a range and shoot semi automatic rifles in Britain, you know, like you can in practically every single other European country.

    • Errm you can, I’ve seen privately owned semi auto .223 M4s being shot at our local range I’m Barrow in furness.

      • They may be. 22lr sorry, but still, it’s a semi auto rifle legally available in the UK, for how long though I’m not sure.

  16. The sa80 rifle first variant was a piece of rubbish when introduced in the early days ,remember guys the Mod has bought over the years crap weapons systems as the foremost mentioned ,I had left the navy when introduced and the reports from some friends that it was a steptoe job (junk) and after upgrades it is still as much use as a chocolate hammer ,it kills yes but time to get our people the best rifle for them

  17. The SA80 was made so Britain could build a gun that they could sell oversees and failed dismally. The whole idea of a bullpup rifle is to make it shorter without loosing the acuresy of aong barrel. In this the SA80 worked where it failed was another advantage of the bullpup was to make it lighter other countries that have adopted the bullpup design ( Austria Australia Israel) to name a few all made rifles that fit both criteria and have the added advantage of being able to be converted to fire left handed. The Aug Tavar and Lithgow guns also look less heath Robinson than the SA80. I honestly think the British milatery should look elsewhere if they really want a bullpup or look seariously at other rifles in common use today there are a fair few out there with battlefield proven system. One other advantage of the modern bullpup is the weight it’s construction from metal and modern plastics make it stronger ald lighter allowing troops to carry more ammunition or other equipment.

  18. I wonder how much confidence it will install in potential “NEW” recruits looking to join our armed services given the stigma attached to it over the years?

    The question we should be asking is, what do the heads of the Army require as the weapon of choice to replace the current version!

    • Probably the same amount of confidence it has installed in “NEW” recruits since 1990? The rifle has been in service for longer than virtually everyone in the Armed Forces today, and honestly it’s hard to find people who complain about the L85A2, besides the minor gripe that M4’s are lighter (although I’ve heard blokes say that the M4 is too light before as well, don’t quite see how that one works but oh well).

      Honestly why should we replace the L85? It’s a good system, it’s reliable, accurate, and proven in Afghan and Iraq. Any gain we’d get from going to some other weapon system would be offset by the massive cost of changing the entire armies armoury.

  19. What is needed is a Hever calibre like back to the 7.62 although the sa 80 is a good weapon it lacks distance and you find your self at a disadvantage and out gunned as I am sure our troops have experienced

  20. I can offer some reasons why the SA80 was so bad in the early days as I toured the production line in ’84 and carried out an emergency trial of the weapon and sights that summer.

    At the time, the first rifles were being built by the Royal Small Arms Factories (RSAF) Enfield site. I went around it with a bunch of other army types as part of an “industrial familiarisation course” I was on at the time.

    As we were being shown around we were told that the whole production line was being moved to RO Nottingham as RSAF had been privatised and the Enfield site was being closed. We were shown how each weapons was individually fitted together, with spares being specifically fitted to an indentified weapon and issued with a unique serial number so that they would actually work when a replacement part was needed. We asked how the hell anyone could guarantee that a specific part would be available at any given time or place on operations and no-one could answer that one.

    Then, as the group moved on, I noticed that the guys on the line were packing some parts of the line in a wooden crate and simply chucking others into a metal container. I asked what was going on and they told me that there were no job offers at Nottingham and that they were being made redundant; so they were effectively sabotaging the line hoping that they would be called back to fix it. Can’t blame them I suppose.

    They also told me that quality control was hopeless – which was why the parts had to “sweated” to fit an individual weapon.

    I think it was a common fault in UK industry at the time. We went to another factory making tank sights and were told about the brand new processes involved in making the separate parts of the site to within a gnat’s whisker of accuracy etc. Then we watched an old-boy in a brown overcoated join the separate parts using gasket sealant from a tube which he simply squirted all over the touching surfaces by hand, and then tightened a series of bolts – again by hand. We asked what controls were in place to ensure an accurate fit between the various parts and were greeted by blank stares – no-one had thought about it till then!!!

    In the middle of ’84 I was told to run an emergency trial of the new SA80 as there were concerns about its accuracy. We were given a section of Gurkha marksmen-qualified soldiers and a range and set to work. We discovered that the IW site was badly out and that, at some ranges, using the LSW sight on the IW was a better bet. The LSW site did not work on its own weapon either. It was partly to do with the sights themselves – but also the sight-mounting system which was too crude to be consistent or accurate.

    It turned out that the trial was ordered as an SF detachment was about to deploy overseas and there was a desire in some quarters that they do so with a UK weapon rather than the usual US kit. They went with the US stuff, needless to say.


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