|British soldier sights the L85A2 rifle fitted with German-made 40mm grenade launcher|
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 British army decided to develop a new rifle, which will eventually replace the venerable 7.62mm L1 SLR (British-made FNFAL 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 .223/5.56mm case necked down to accept 4.85mm (0.19 inch) bullet. When the cartridge came 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 4.85mm cartridge. After NATO trials, which resulted in adoption of the Belgian SS-109 version of the 5.56mm cartridge, Enfield engineers rechambered XL65 for this cartridge and continued its development under the designation of XL70. Due to Falkland war, the new system was 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. Finally, in the year 1997, after years of constant complaints from the troops, it had been decided to upgrade the rifles then in service.
|L22A2 carbine, as issued to Royal Armoured Corps tank crews in Iraq; note that it has a Picatinny rail above the front grip|
|Upgraded L85A2 with SUSAT sight|
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-position 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 upgrade caused some problems by reflecting the ejected cases back into the action, thus causing stoppages. In the L85A2 configuration the charging handle was redesigned to 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, to achieve more reliable extraction of the spent cases.
The trigger / hammer assembly of the L85A1 is also typical for a modern bullpup rifle, with the long link 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 the hammer 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 weapon during 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 full automatic modes of fire. The cross-bolt safety button is located above the trigger.
The barrel is rifled for a NATO-standard 5.56mm ammunition, with 1:7 twist, and is fitted with a NATO-standard flash hider, which allows to launch the rifle 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 trouble, as well as the magazine housing itself, which had thin walls that could be easily dented, thus blocking the magazine way. Both magazines and its housings were upgraded in the L85A2 configuration.
|L85A1 rifle, with carrying handle and front sight installed instead of more common SUSAT telescope sight|
The L85 can be fitted with the proprietary knife-type multipurpose bayonet. L85A2 rifles also can be fitted with 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher, using special handguard. Launcher is made in Germany by Heckler-Koch.
|Enfield SA80-IW (Individual Weapon), chambered for experimental 4.85x49 ammunition|
Caliber: 5.56x45 NATO
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt
Overall length: 780 mm (709 mm in Carbine variant)
Barrel length: 518 mm (442 mm in Carbine variant)
Weight: 4.13 kg (with SUSAT optical sight and no magazine); 5 kg with SUSAT and loaded with magazine with 30 rounds of ammunition
Magazine capacity: 30 rounds
Rate of fire: 650 rounds per minute
Effective range: about 500 meters (with SUSAT sights)