SA80 is the project title for a series of bullpup 5.56mm NATO weapon systems developed for British armed forces during the 1980s. The program included a standard issue rifle, a light machine gun, a carbine for vehicle crews (the L22) and a cadet rifle (the L98), all sharing the same receiver and 80% interchangeable components. The term SA80 is commonly used to refer to the L85 IW (individual weapon) and the L86 LSW (light support weapon) the standard issue rifle and squad automatic weapon of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army and the Royal Air Force. Based around a bullpup reconfiguration of the Armalite AR-18 the rifle, the SA80 series initially looked good on paper, due to its short length, inherent accuracy, comfortable grips and by being the first standard issue rifle in the world to come with optics as standard (the SUSAT). Unfortunately, much like the American M16 rifle, the series had a disastrous introduction. The one redeeming feature of the SA80A1 series was accuracy. The weapons possessed a level of accuracy that exceeded any standard rifle that had been fielded by British armed forces, so much so that the Ministry of Defense had to create new marksmanship test for it. Despite this, the rifle was originally considered one of the worst assault rifles money could buy, due to its weight, poor reliability, fragility, poor quality of materials used to manufacture the weapon and magazines and the complexity of its design. After several government investigations and reports it was dropped from NATO's list of approved weapons in 2000 and was soon redesigned internally by the well known German firearm manufacturer Heckler and Koch (at the time still owned by British arms manufacturer BAE Systems). The modifications made by H&K transformed the rifle from a liability into a worthy choice. While still heavier than many assault rifles, the reliability and stoppage issues are virtually nonexistent. While a well maintained SA80A1 weapons could be expected to suffer a stoppage or a failure after 150 rounds, the A2 variants fare much better, the average stoppage rate for the L85A2 being one stoppage after 25,000 rounds in temperate conditions (to give some perspective, factory new M4 and M16 rifles in temperate conditions can expect to fire 5,000 rounds before a stoppage). The minimum life expectancy for A2 components is 10,000 rounds before they are replaced, meaning it is technically possible for a British soldier to never suffer a stoppage during his or her military career. The rifle is among the most accurate in the world, with an effective range equal to or better than most 5.56mm rifles. It's barrel longer than that of an M16 in a smaller (if weightier) package. The even longer barrel in the L86A2 lends the LSW well to marksman roles, a task normally farmed out to 7.62mm battle rifles. While vastly improved compared to the A1 series, the weapons are not completely without fault. Unlike most modern bullpup weapons, the SA80 series is not ambidextrous and must be fired right handed in order to avoid spent casings hitting the user in the face. This also means that when firing around left facing corners, the user must fire blind. The weapons are also considerably heavier than most of their counterparts. Because bullpup weapons have the firing mechanisms and magazine toward the butt of the weapon, they are heavier at the stock and lighter towards the muzzle end, making them unbalanced and harder to aim. This is often corrected by adding weight to the front of the weapon, which in turn makes the weapon heavier altogether. As a result, the IW when fully loaded and equipped with a SUSAT is around 6kg (approx 13lb) with the LSW being even heavier. The extra weight is not a terrible flaw, in fact, it does benefit the SA80 series insomuch as it helps to soften the recoil, making it easier to consistently deliver accurate fire on a target and makes it more comfortable for the shooter. All in all, the SA80A2 series is looked on favorably by British armed forces and will probably be kept in service up until the 2020s. The weapons are currently undergoing modifications which will see ageing but venerable SUSAT replaced, new picatinny rail systems and lighter magazines.
Ammo and magazines Edit
The SA80 exclusively chambers in 5.56x45mm NATO rounds and accepts STANAG magazines.
The SA80's maximum effective range is 600 meters.
The SA80 is accurate up to 300 meters with standard iron sights, and is effective up to 600 meters with a SUSAT scope equipped.
Reliability and Ruggedness Edit
The SA80 was notorious for being an extremely delicate and unreliable gun before its "reinvention" by Heckler and Koch. Gun expert Ian V. Hogg thought very poorly of the L86, stating that, "this rifle's service has been disastrous." Currently, the L85A2 is capable of firing an average of 25,000 rounds before jamming, and the L86A2 is capable of firing an average of 12,897 rounds before jamming.
The SA80A1's ruggedness and durability is well below par. Hot and dry weather lessen its effectiveness, and its internal mechanisms are prone to chipping and damage. With the modifications by H&K, many of the weapon's parts were replaced with ones of better quality and higher grade materials. The grips which melted when exposed to mosquito repellant were made with tougher plastic and secured more tightly. The magazine release catch, which would snag on clothes and webbing was encased. The fragile magazines, a constant source of stoppages, were replaced with ones with tougher springs. The cocking handle (one of the other main sources of the A1's jamming issues) was completely redesigned into its characteristic comma shape which helps deflect spent casings. With these improvements reliability improved greatly and some gains were made towards the rifle's durability, however the stamped steel body of the weapon will never be as rugged or durable as some of its modern contemporaries.
The SA80A1 is perhaps the worst Western rifle one can acquire. Unreliable and prone to breaking easily, the A1 series also lacks rails to mount useful electronics, grips or under-barrel weapons. The only redeeming features are the standard issue SUSAT and the rifle's incredible accuracy. Luckily the A1 is very rare as most were converted to the A2 in the early 2000s. The SA80A2 is a great improvement, made from better materials and with a reworked receiver, the A2 is arguably one of the best rifles in its class. It also has the benefit of being equipped with modular rail systems for additional equipment. It is however, to the novice, very complicated to clean and maintain, heavier than most 5.56mm assault rifles and must be fired from the right shoulder.
- Highly unreliable and fragile (A1).
- Heavy, compared to other 5.56mm assault rifles.
- Very rare outside of the UK.
- Complicated design hampers maintenance.
- Can only be fired from the right hand.
- Decently reliable (A2).
- Optics as standard (SUSAT or LDS).
- Common ammunition.
- Modular picatinny rail systems.
- Soft recoil.
- Greater accuracy and effective range than most 5.56mm assault rifles.
- As small as a carbine without sacrificing barrel length.