SA80 assault rifles – one of the most unsuccessful arms systems of the British army

PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – In the early 50s. XX century. British weapons designer S. Johnson was the first in the world to develop an unusual design .280 rifle, designated EM 2.

The originality of the design proposed by the British was that it made it possible to create weapons of increased compactness. To reduce its length, and therefore to facilitate use in a confined space, the automation parts and the trigger mechanism were placed in the front of the stock.

The weapons store was located there, behind the pistol grip. To reduce the jump of the weapon during the shot, the butt was raised to the line of the axis of the bore. This arrangement of mechanisms is called “bullpup”.

In the mid-1950s. The EM 2 rifle took part in the competition for the role of a “NATO rifle”, but due to the lack of design and, as a result, a large number of mechanism failures, it was not put into service.

In 1970, when the question of replacing the L 4 light machine guns and L 1 rifles was ripe in Great Britain, they remembered the original design rifle created by S. Johnson. At the Royal Arms Factory, located in Anfield, an automatic rifle was created on its basis, designed to use an extremely small caliber cartridge – 4.85 mm.

The weapon had the designation XL 64. There was also a version of a light machine gun with a thick-walled elongated barrel – it had the designation XL 64 E 1. Both the rifle and the machine gun were equipped with a compact (due to the small size of the cartridge) magazine for 20 or 30 rounds.

However, during the tests, the rifle showed low fire efficiency and was again forgotten. The weapon was produced in a small series, all copies were sent mainly for testing, this type of weapon did not enter the army.

Finally, they returned to this weapon, built according to the original scheme, in the early 1980s. only after the “NATO” cartridge of 5.56-45 mm was adopted in the UK and the SA 80 program was announced to develop weapons that meet modern standards.

At the same time, the new assault rifle retained the bullpup design and up to 85% of the details of its predecessors.

Beginning in 1985, it was transferred into mass production and put into service under the name L 85 A 1. At the same time, the L 86 A 1 light machine gun was created on its basis, and up to 80% of their parts were interchangeable.

One of the distinguishing features of the L 85 А 1 was the standard installation of the 4x optical sight SUSAT [Sight Unit Small Arms Trilux – the sight of small arms “Trilux”] L 9 A 1, which provided a fairly high accuracy of fire, especially when firing single shots [the sight is installed only for the infantry variant; signalmen, artillerymen, sappers and others received weapons that did not have optics]. Sight weight – 0.470 kg.

During the operation of the L 85 A 1, many disadvantages were revealed, including insufficiently reliable cartridge feed, instability to corrosion, unsatisfactory strength and low resource of some units.

There is a known case when, during the tests of a rifle by the Royal Marines in Norway in the winter of 1985, one L 85 A 1 fired while falling onto concrete from a height of three meters with the safety cut off.

Nevertheless, the rifle, which for some time was recognized by specialists as one of the most unsuccessful among new small arms systems, has been in service for more than 20 years.

The total cost of the SA 80 program, within the framework of which the L 85 A1 was being developed, was $800 million, and the rifle itself is produced in large quantities and is in service not only with the British Army, but also with the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, territorial army units and even units of the Ministry of Civil Defense.

During Operation Desert Storm, the rifle was already the main weapon of the soldiers of the British contingent and, according to numerous reviews, proved to be quite good.

In 2000, the German company “Heckler & Koch” of the British concern “Royal Ordnance” [by this time the Royal arms factories in Anfield were “semi-privatized” and became known as the firm “Royal Ordnance” with 100% capital belonging to the Ministry of Defense], on which production of L 85 А 1 was established, received a contract for the modernization of all rifles of this brand, their shortened modification SA 80 “Cadet” [length 556 mm] and light machine guns L 86 А 1.

Nevertheless, SA 80 weapons did not find distribution outside the British Isles – almost no orders from abroad were received.

Over time, after numerous upgrades, the British assault rifle has evolved into an effective and reliable weapon. An additional advantage of the L 85 is the already mentioned compactness and the presence of a standard optical sight.

Both of the Iraqi campaigns of the past decade, in which Her Majesty’s army participated, have proven that British soldiers are armed with modern, effective weapons that will remain in service for a long time to come.


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