Firearm Infobox
Name, Image, type, origin
Name SA80
Image 300px
L85A1 with SUSAT sight
Type Assault rifle
Place of origin Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
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Service history
In service 1985–present
Used by United Kingdom, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Nepal
Wars Northern Ireland, 1991 Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq War
Production history
Designed 1980s
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory, Royal Ordnance
Produced 1985–1994, revamped from 2000
Number ~350,000
Variants L85A1, L85A2, L86A1 LSW (Light Support Weapon), L22A1, L22A2, L98A1 CGP
Weight 4.98 kg (11.0 lbs) (L85A1)
6.58 kg (14.5 lbs) (L86A1 LSW)
4.42 kg (9.7 lbs) (L22A1)
Length 785 mm (L85A1)
900 mm (L86A1 LSW)
709 mm (L22A1)
Width {{{width}}}
Height {{{height}}}
Barrel length 518 mm (L85A1)
646 mm (L86A1 LSW)
442 mm (L22A1)
Diameter {{{diameter}}}
Cartridge 5.56x45mm NATO
Action Gas-operated, rotating bolt
Muzzle velocity 940 m/s (L85A1)
970 m/s (L86A1 LSW)
Effective range
Maximum range
Other identifying characteristics
Wood parts (Y/N) {{{wood}}}
Common color {{{color}}}
Imprint {{{imprint}}}

The SA80 (Small Arms for the 1980s) is a family of 5.56 mm small arms designed and produced (until 1988) by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock. In 1988 production of the rifle was transferred to the Royal Ordnance’s Nottingham Small Arms Facility (later British Aerospace, Royal Ordnance; now BAE Systems Land Systems Munitions & Ordnance).


File:British L85A2.JPEG

The rifle’s history dates back to the late 1940s, when an ambitious programme to develop a new cartridge and new class of rifle was launched in the United Kingdom based on combat experience drawn from World War II. Two 7 mm prototypes were built in a “bullpup” configuration, designated the EM-1 and EM-2. When NATO adopted the 7.62x51mm rifle cartridge as the standard caliber for its service rifles, further development of these rifles was discontinued (the British Army chose to adopt the 7.62 mm L1A1 SLR automatic rifle, which is a license-built version of the Belgian FN FAL).

In 1969 the Enfield factory began work on a brand new family of weapons, chambered in a newly designed British 4.85x49mm intermediate cartridge. The system was to be composed of two weapons: an individual weapon, the XL64E5 rifle and a light support weapon known as the XL65E4 light machine gun. Both designs were based on the 5.56 mm AR-18 assault rifle, which was manufactured in Britain by Sterling Armament Company.

In 1976 the prototypes were ready to be trialled, however after NATO’s decision to standardize ammunition among its members, Enfield engineers re-chambered the rifles to the American 5.56x45mm M193 cartridge. The newly redesigned 5.56 mm version of the XL64E5 became the XL70E3. The left-handed XL68 was also re-chambered in 5.56x45mm as the XL78. The 5.56mm Light Support Weapon variant, the XL73E3, developed from the XL65E4, was noted for the full length receiver extension with the bipod under the muzzle now indicative of the type.[1] In this configuration both weapons underwent a series of evaluations, with a small batch of pre-production weapons being used by British soldiers during the Falklands conflict.

Further development out of the initial so-called "Phase A"[1] pre-production prototypes led to the XL85 and XL86. While the XL85E1 and XL86E1 were ultimately adopted as the L85 and L86 respectively, a number of additional test models were produced. The XL85E2 and XL86E2 were designed to an alternate build standard with 12 components different from E1 variants, including parts of the gas system, bolt, and magazine catch. Three series of variants were created for "Environmental User Trials." XL85E3 and XL86E3 variants were developed with 24 modified parts, most notably a plastic safety plunger. The E4's had 21 modified parts, no modification to the pistol grip, and an aluminium safety plunger, unlike the E3 variants. Lastly, the E5 variants had 9 modified parts in addition to those from the E3/E4 variants.[1]

After receiving feedback from users, addressing concerns and incorporating the several design changes noted, including adopting the rifle for use with the heavier Belgian SS109 version of the 5.56x45mm cartridge and improving reliability, the rifle was accepted into service with the British Army in 1985, designated the SA80 (Small Arms for the 1980s). The SA80 family consists of the L85A1 IW (Individual Weapon) and the L86A1 LSW (Light Support Weapon).

In 1994 production was officially completed. Over 350,000 L85A1 rifles and L86A1 light machine guns had been manufactured for the United Kingdom. They are also in use with the armed forces of Jamaica.

Design detailsEdit

File:SA-80 rifle stripped 1996.jpg

The L85A1 is a selective-fire gas-operated assault rifle that uses ignited powder gases bled through a gas port above the barrel to provide the weapon’s automation. The rifle uses a short stroke gas piston system (the piston travels inside a gas tube located above the barrel) and a three-position adjustable gas regulator; the first gas setting is used for normal operation, the second – for use in difficult environmental conditions and the third setting is used to propel rifle grenades. The weapon uses a rotating cylindrical bolt that contains 7 radially-mounted locking lugs, an extractor and casing ejector. The bolt’s rotation is controlled via a cam pin that slides inside a camming guide machined into the bolt carrier. The weapon fires from a closed bolt.

The rifle is fed from a curved box magazine with a 30-round capacity. The magazine release button is placed above the magazine housing, at the left side of the receiver.

The L85A1 is equipped with a hammer striking mechanism and a trigger mechanism with a fire-control selector that enables semi-automatic fire and fully automatic fire (the fire selector lever is located at the left side of the receiver, just aft of the magazine). A cross-bolt type safety that prevents accidental firing is located above the trigger; the “safe” setting disables the trigger. When the last cartridge is fired from the magazine the bolt and bolt carrier assembly lock to the rear.

The rifle features a barrel with a slotted flash suppressor, which also serves as the base for attaching and launching rifle grenades and mounting a bayonet.

The rifle is built in a “bullpup” configuration, with a forward mounted pistol grip. The rifle was designed to be used exclusively by right-handed shooters since the ejection port and cocking handle (reciprocates during firing) are on the right side of the receiver.

File:American soldier with L85 DM-SD-02-03075.JPEG

L85A1 rifles used by the Royal Marines, infantry (and other soldiers with a dismounted combat role) and the RAF Regiment are equipped with a SUSAT (Sight Unit Small Arms, Trilux) optical sight, with a fixed 4x magnification and an illuminated aiming pointer powered by a variable tritium light source (as of 2006 almost all British Army personnel deploying on operations have been issued SUSATs). Mounted on the SUSAT’s one-piece, pressure die-cast aluminium body is a mechanical back-up iron sight that consists of a front post and small rear aperture. Rifles used with other branches of the armed forces when not on operations are configured with fixed iron sights, consisting of a flip rear aperture (housed inside a carry handle, mounted to the top of the receiver, replacing the SUSAT sight) and a forward post, installed on a bracket above the gas block. The rear sight can be adjusted for windage, and the foresight – elevation. In place of the SUSAT a passive night vision CWS scope can be used, and also – independent of the SUSAT – a laser pointer can be mounted.

The L85A1 comes equipped with: a sling, blank firing adapter, cleaning kit and a blade-type bayonet, which coupled with the sheath can double as a wire cutter (the sheath contains a small saw). The rifle can be adapted to use .22 LR ammunition with a special conversion kit. The rifle can also accommodate a 40 mm under-barrel grenade launcher.

The weapon’s receiver is made from stamped steel, reinforced with welded and riveted machined steel inserts. Synthetics were also used (i.e. the handguards, pistol grip, butt pad and cheek rest were all fabricated from nylon).


Modification of the L85A1 resulted in several variants: the L86A1 and L86A2 LSW, the L22A1 and L22A2 Carbine, the L98A1 Cadet GP (General Purpose) training rifle and the enhanced L85A2.


File:Gurkhas exercise DM-SD-98-00170.jpg

In 2000, Heckler & Koch, at that time owned by Royal Ordnance, were contracted to upgrade the SA80 family of weapons. Two hundred thousand SA80s were re-manufactured at a cost of £400 each, producing the L85A2 variant. Changes focused primarily on improving reliability and include: a redesigned cocking handle, modified bolt, extractor and a redesigned hammer assembly that produces a slight delay in the hammer’s operation in continuous fire mode, improving reliability and stability. The L85A2 can also mount the HK AG36 40 mm grenade launcher in a configuration similar to the M203 grenade launcher. The addition of the grenade launcher adds another 3.30 lb (1.49 kg) to the L85A2's weight.

An additional change has been made to the magazines. There are now two types of magazines, one for blanks (identified by yellow stripes on the magazine) and one for live ammunition. As blank rounds are shorter than live rounds, live rounds will not physically fit in to the blank magazine. Blank rounds will fit into the normal magazine, but their smaller size creates problems with jamming.

From 2007 an upgrade including the provision of ACOG Sights, a new handguard incorporating Picatinny Rails (with optional hand grip/bipod) and a new vortex style flash hider is being introduced for use by selected units [2]

L86 LSWEdit

The Light Support Weapon (LSW) is a magazine-fed automatic weapon originally intended to provide fire support at a fireteam level. It has a longer barrel than the L85 and a bipod, buttstrap and rear pistol grip, together with a different design of handguard. Its longer barrel gives an increased muzzle velocity and further stabilizes the bullet, giving a greater effective range. The weapon is otherwise identical to the L85 version it is based on and the magazines and some internal parts are interchangeable.

The lengthy, free-floating nature of the heavy barrel and the optical performance of the SUSAT gives the weapon excellent accuracy. From its inception, the L86 has been a target of criticism on much the same basis as the L85 with the additional issue of its inability to deliver sustained automatic fire unlike a belt fed weapon.[3]

The primary use of the LSW has shifted to that of a marksman's weapon within many infantry sections, capable of providing extremely accurate precision fire at ranges of over 600m.

The L86A1 was upgraded to the L86A2 at the same time as L85A1 rifles were upgraded to L85A2 standards, undergoing the same set of modifications.


L22 carbineEdit

Based on the L85A1 a compact carbine known as the L22A1 was also developed with a short, 442 mm barrel (the weapon’s weight, with the optical sight – 4.42 kg, length – 709 mm). The forward handguard was replaced with a vertical grip. A smaller version of the SUSAT sight was installed, with the tritium reticule protruded from the top instead of the bottom like the standard issue SUSAT. The newer L22A2 features a Picatinny rail accessory rail instead of the L22A1's fixed front grip. These carbine variants are used in small numbers by vehicle crews, pilots and rear-echelon support personnel.

L98A1 Cadet GPEdit

Main article: L98A1 Cadet GP Rifle

The L98A1 Cadet GP (General Purpose) is a manually-operated single-fire version of the L85A1 that lacks a gas system and fire selector. The rifle is re-cocked by hand after each shot, using a large cocking handle. This is connected to the bolt by an external rod, and runs on a slide on the side of the body well forward of the working parts. This makes it easier to fire from a prone position. The rifle is equipped with iron sights only. With an appropriate adapter kit it can be used to fire .22 LR rimfire rounds. The L103A1 is a deactivated version of the L98A1 used for drill purposes. It also lacks a flash eliminator, so it cannot be fitted with a blank firing attachment.



The SA80 gained an initial poor reputation among soldiers and Royal Marines as being unreliable and fragile, a fact picked up by the UK media,[3] and entertainment industry.[4] The writer Andy McNab said in his book Bravo Two Zero, that the British Army procured a "Rolls-Royce in the SA80, albeit a prototype Rolls-Royce."

Some of the rifle's problems were corrected though modifications (e.g. the magazine release guard) but complaints over reliability in service continued.[3] The British Ministry of Defence describes the L85A2 revision as "modified in light of operational experience... the most reliable weapons of their type in the world".[5] Army trials had indicated extremely good reliability over a range of climates for various operational scenarios, though with a decline in reliability in hot, and especially hot and dry conditions.[6] Reports by HK suggested that over-zealous cleaning had a detrimental effect on the rifle. This includes using abrasives on parts not suited to them, as well as simple over-cleaning.

In the mid-90s Venezuela purchased a small lot of these weapons for use by their Special Forces, with the possibility of replacing the aging FN FALs of the entire Armed Forces with the SA80. General discontent with the design and alleged reliability problems, particularly in jungle settings, quickly led to the dismissal of this weapon from all active service within Venezuela.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The 5.56 X 45mm: 1974-1985 - A Chronology of Development. Daniel Watters, The Gun Zone. Retrieved on 2007-05-05.
  2. Kit Magazine, Issue 62 Winter 2007. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved on 2008-03-16. “This technology is here now! So if you see strange looking SA80s being carried by strange looking men, then rest assured, those users that had the requirement, had the make-over, at a price.”
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Don't Buy British, Guardian Article
  4. for example the Bremner, Bird and Fortune satirical comedy documentary Between Iraq and a Hard Place included the line: "The SA80 is a lethal weapon, especially for the person trying to fire it," stolen from a description of the Vietnam War era M16.
  5. UK Ministry of Defence (Army) - SA80 A2 Individual Weapon and Underslung Grenade Launcher (UGL)
  6. [1], mirrored at [2]

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

Modern (post Korean War) UK infantry weapons
Side-arms (Self-loading Pistols) Browning L9A1L47A1 (Manuhrin produced Walther PP)L105A1L107A1L102A1 (Compact)
Rifles, Carbines, & LSWs L1A1 SLRSA80 series (L85 IW, L86 LSW, L22A1)L108A1, L110A1 (Para)L101A1M16/A1/A2L119A1 (Diemaco SFW)L100A1
Sniper rifles' L42/A1L96/A1L115A1L82A1AW50F
Submachine guns L2A1 to L2A3, L34A1L80A1, L90A1L91A1, L92A1
Shotguns L32A1L74A1 (Remington 870 Wingmaster)
Machine-guns & other larger weapons L3L4L7 "GPMG" series (L7, L8, L19, L20, L37, L43, L44)L2A1/L111A1 Heavy Machine GunL17A1/A2L67A1L1A1 (LAW)LAW 80L14/A1L2A1 (ILAW)L142A1 (AT4CS HP)L9A1 51 mm MortarL16/A1 81mm MortarMILANJavelin
Modern cartridges used 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Remington)7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Win)12.7x99mm NATO (.50 BMG).338 Lapua9x19mm Parabellum12 gauge

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