Infantry: January 15, 2002


The British Army has received the first of 200,000 of its SA80 assault rifles rebuilt by Heckler & Koch to eliminate long-known design problems. The project, to be finished by Feb 2006, is costing $131 million. The British SA80 rifle (and its sister Light Support Weapon) have been plagued with design defects. A parliamentary committee identified 32 such problems and complained that the Army should not have ordered production of the rifles until these were fixed. Beyond those problems, it was discovered that the SA80 (already far less reliable than it should have been) was completely unreliable if it used any 5.56mm ammunition other than the special L2A2 rounds made by Royal Ordnance for it. This made the rifle effectively non-compatible with every NATO 5.56mm cartridge made outside of the UK. The H&K refit of the weapon includes a new barrel (thicker, to improve cooling and durability), bolt, firing pin (more durable), charging handle (to avoid interfering with ejection), magazine (to feed the rounds more reliably and to be more durable), extractor (more reliable), hammer (improved stability), and gas system (improved reliability). The interior of the receiver will be machined to clear the feed and extraction paths, which have such close tolerances that the weapon often jams. The weapon will be more reliable in desert and arctic conditions after it is rebuilt into the SA80A2.--Stephen V Cole


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