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New SA80A3 Assault Rifle Revealed At DVD ’16

Para wearing new VIRTUS load carriage equipment and Batlskin Cobra helmet aiming SA80A3 [© Bob Morrison]

The 2016 DVD (formerly Defence Vehicle Dynamics) military expo commenced at Millbrook Proving Ground this morning with additional focus on the equipment of the two new Strike Brigades announced in the 2015 Strategic Security and Defence Review.  
In addition to focusing on vehicles, this year’s DVD showcased three displays: a Dismounted Soldier feature; a Mounted Close Combat vehicle park; and a Command HQ. C&S was also given the opportunity to ‘Meet The Teams’ running current and future Dismounted Close Combat and Protected Mobility Vehicle programmes.

SA80A3 [© Bob Morrison]

Para wearing new VIRTUS load carriage equipment and Batlskin Cobra helmet holding SA80A3 [© Bob Morrison]

However the one exhibit which really caught our attention was the SA80A3 assault rifle prototype. Part of a feasibility study for the SA80A2 Mid Life Improvement project, which aims to prolong the in-service life of the UK Forces’ 5.56mm weapon beyond its 2025 OSD, the A3 prototype includes a number of modifications including:-.
¤ a safety stud placed above the change lever on the trigger mechanism housing to ensure that this lever does not over-rotate,
¤ the Weaver rail on top of the upper receiver being taken off and a full length Picatinny rail fitted – this will allow day sight and night sight to be mounted in tandem,
¤  a new foregrip, or quadrail, as part of the new full-length rail which will be attached slightly differently to the current one allowing the barrel to be more free-floating than at present to improve accuracy and  consistency,
¤ redesign of the A3 upper receiver for improved reliability and maintainability over the current A2 variant,
¤ and colour change to Dark Earth for better compatibility with MTP camouflage uniforms.

At this stage the A3 model, of which ten prototypes have been produced, is a feasibility study but as much of the A2 stocks have seen extensive combat service in Iraq &/or Afghanistan since introduction in late 2001 they deserve a speedy upgrade.

SA80A3 prototype fitted with inline sights and under-barrel grenade launcher [© Bob Morrison]

SA80A3 prototype fitted with inline sights and under-barrel grenade launcher [© Bob Morrison]

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15 Responses

  1. Bernard Fox

    But its still 5.56 and not 7.62? why not make an inter-changeable calibre weapon so both types of ammunition can be used to suit the situation? The other problem is that it cannot be fired left handed? that could be incorporated into a new design so that it could be fired both left and right handed, instead of troops having to expose themselves to enemy fire?

    1. k3267

      its actually just as well, 5.56 takes more guys off the field, and you can fire it from the left should the situation dictate it

      1. James

        5.56 bounces off more people in the field. Having to shoot someone 10 or more times to bring him down is not an advantage at all.

    2. Keyboard commando piss off

      From a scale of national army and its intended engagement type. I’d say SA80A3 is good enough.
      Being able to fire from left hand is a good feature to have, but it’s not essential.
      As for caliber interchangability goes. That’s more of a neat gimmic that nobody on the field actually use.

  2. Editor

    The SA80A3 is an SA80A2 (L85A2) Mid Life Improvement project, which will prolong the life of the in-service rifle and improve its capabilities in much the same way that the A2 modifications took the A1 forward in 2000/1, not a replacement weapon type or a total redesign. We will go into more detail in a future issue of the magazine.

  3. Phil D.H.

    It’s an interesting dilemma…….update, or purchase a new system such as HK416 or SCAR.

    It would appear that France has gone for the HK416, consequently, there is an opportunity for greater equipment commonality.

    Stay with 5.56 or return to 7.62 (HK417 or SCAR).

    Make a temporary fix (‘Mid-Life-Improvement’), and then wait for the next generation intermediate calibre (.264usa or 6.5x47L).

    Has the somewhat excessive weight (relative to other 5.56 rifles) been reduced?
    How much does the; ‘Mid-Life-Improvement,’ cost relative to a new HK416/417 or SCAR?

  4. Editor

    Even if, as anticipated, an initial US calibre decision is made by the end of 2016 and a change (from 5.56mm and 7.62mm to a new calibre) is proposed it is likely to take more than a decade for all NATO nations to agree to standardise and then to re-equip so the UK team is concentrating on incorporating the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan on the existing weapons while also investigating future possibilities.

    The cost of upgrading rifles to A3 standard would be a fraction of the cost of totally replacing them, and as the A2 has been proven to be an exceptional 5.56mm calibre weapon in harsh combat conditions* there are little grounds for replacing it as the standard assault rifle at the moment.

    * Footnote: We realise that some armchair generals and some Walts (aka the “I could tell you who I served with but would then have to kill you” brigade) may contest this but as C&S draws its conclusions from talking to those who have experienced frontline combat we know who to believe.

  5. Phil D.H.

    Many thanks for your reply.
    If the calibre decision is expected this year, then we don’t appear to have long to wait.

    The soundness of a decision to stay with 5.56 may depend on the performance (range and terminal ballistics) of the new; ‘5.56 Enhanced Performance Ball,’ ammunition that I believe is imminent.

    My understanding was that one of the problems, discovered in Afghanistan, was that the opposition would, more often than not, utilise the 7.62x54R that out ranged the 5.56, such that a significant portion our ‘troops’ were unable to effectively return fire.
    The introduction of the 7.62 LMT sharpshooter rifle was an attempt to close that adverse ‘overmatch’ gap. If we stay with 5.56 that ‘gap’ will still be there for any adversary to exploit. From a practical point of view, this might be seen from a helmet cam video, from the Mercians in Afghanistan:

    Helmet-cam 1 Mercians ambushed in Gareshk at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5bf9SFieCQ

    I would add that, the soldiers shown were incredibly brave and disciplined in what were perilous circumstances.

    It appears that the GPMG gunner became the focus of enemy fire as he was, probably, the only man in the patrol who had the range to return fire.

    In my earlier comments I did not mention the reliability of the A2 at any point, consequently; I had to read your ‘*Footnote’ several times to try to appreciate the point that you were making.
    Your ‘*Footnote’ response appears to be, for whatever reason, somewhat defensive.

    1. Editor

      Phil, I’m afraid I don’t have time to respond further as I need to work on the November issue of the magazine before heading off to cover the validation exercise for the British-led Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Land) 2017 commitment next week. As the November issue is already close to full it is most likely we will not be able to go into the SA80A3 story in any depth until the December issue (on-sale 10th Nov) and in that article we will also bring photos of a 7.62mm weapon and associated helmet with proposed Future Vision technology. One small point, during the Mediterranean phase of the SA80A3 trials one of a test group of ordinary soldiers, not a sharpshooter, managed a fist-sized grouping at 520 yards (using issue an sight) with the A3 and its more accurate and near free-floating barrel.

      As for the footnote, that was aimed at those commenting on social media and blog sites in response to this C&S news story who continue to perpetuate the myth that the SA80A2 is a bad weapon and that the M4 is a superior one which should be issued to UK Forces to replace it.

  6. Phil D.H.

    Appreciate your comment regarding the accuracy of the A3, but; would need to know the ammunition used for the demonstration (M855, MK262**, BAE-EPB, [US-M855A1, MK318 Mod1]), to fully grasp the significance of the 520 yard group.

    Due to the drop in velocity, at that range, the terminal ballistics ‘might’ be quite unpredictable.

    As it stands, this could well be a ‘one-off,’ only achievable in the Mediterranean, on a fine summers day. What, for example, were the wind and weather conditions on the day?

    Re: ‘*Footnote,’ The ‘DI M4 fan-club’ is a feature, but not necessarily a benefit!

    Appreciate the discussion and hope that your attendance at British-led Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Land) goes well.

    ** Typo corrected by Admin

  7. Jim

    Not to say it’s impossible (as if you fire enough rounds you will eventually get one group of ‘fist size’ with any combo or rifle/ammo) but I think using that as an example of its capability to be very misleading and unreasonable. No factory ammo in the world through a high volume AR barrel is capable of this kind of accuracy consistently. Whilst it is capable of significantly better groups than an issue M16, it is fundamentally weak and inherently inaccurate due to its pressed steel receiver. And there are thousands of aftermarket and upgradable M16/M4 parts available extensively trailed by actual gunsmiths and experts in their field worldwide.

    The free(er) floating nature of the barrel attachment method is a very positive step as most common AR platforms use free(ish) floating designs and we are coming from behind.

    For my 2 cents, teaching the basics of marksmanship effectively and getting soldiers on the ranges more than once a year (in many cases) would be an ever better place to invest the money.

  8. Phil D.H

    I have copied the following from ThinkDefence and hope that it might be helpful in the discussion.

    The contract appears to be with HK for £2.7M to upgrade 5000 units of SA80 A2.
    That works out at an upgrade price of £540 per unit.

    This would appear to have more in common with a full scale; ‘Proof-of-Concept,’ evaluation. It makes purchasing sense to; ‘test drive,’ before you make the big decision.

    Extract from: ThinkDefence
    “The Dismounted Close Combat Programme team, part of the UK Ministry of Defence, intends to place a contract for the Equipped to Fight Improvement (EFI) programme for the modification of 5 000 SA80 weapons with Heckler & Koch GMBH & Co for work to be completed by March 2017. The estimated contract value is 2 700 000 GBP. The contract will require the supplier to modify the existing SA80 A2 weapon by fitting a combination of new and modified components.”

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