Brits find a new nickname for the SA80


February 28, 2003, 04:42 PM

February 28, 2003

LENGTH: 737 words


BYLINE: David Williams in Kuwait and Matthew Hickley

BRITISH frontline troops in Kuwait preparing for war against Iraq say their infamous SA80 assault rifles are still not completely reliable.

Army top brass insist a GBP 92mil-lion overhaul programme has finally ended years of glitches.

But while many of the soldiers agree the rifle has been improved, others say there have been a number of worrying failures during live-fire exercises.

An Army spokesman in Kuwait stressed last night that the problems highlighted by the men were not reflected in the overall trials of the weapon. 'It has so far proved to be far more reliable than its predecessor and the men have expressed confidence in it,' he said.

The SA80's failings in the past led to some soldiers dubbing it the Civil Servant - joking bitterly that 'you can't make it work and you can't fire it'.

While many of the problems have been put down to sand getting into the rifles in the desert, the troops point out similar problems have occurred during exercises at sea.

In one, soldiers heading for the Gulf found that nine rifles out of 24 fired over the ship's side suffered problems with the mechanism feeding bullets from the magazine into the firing chamber.

And in a live-fire exercise in the Kuwaiti desert last weekend one serviceman told how his SA80 had jammed with every fifth shot - a result, he said, of the same malfunction.

Although the troops acknowledged significant improvements after the recent upgrade, several said they still had no confidence in their standard-issue personal weapon.

'It is much better, but there are still problems for which there is no excuse,' one said.

Another said: 'The weapon has improved since it went back to Heckler and Koch (the British-owned firm in Germany that carried out the overhaul) but you still can't be sure of it, and that's the last feeling you want for your weapon.' He added: 'It is about time we faced it. This rifle is no good.

'They should scrap it and go and buy the best available off the shelf, the M16, which the Americans have.

'The fact is that after all the money the Government has spent on this, they are not going to admit failure.'

The Ministry of Defence did come close to scrapping the SA80 and buying an off-the-shelf replacement, but instead Ministers opted to spend millions redesigning and rebuilding the entire stock of 300,000.

Troops serving in the Gulf are now issued with the SA80-A2 version, with a number of key modifications.

Defence chiefs unveiled the upgraded weapon last year, insisting it had become 'a worldbeater'.

It is renowned for its accuracy but its reliability in extreme temperatures has long caused concern, and it has proved particularly prone to blockages in hot and dusty desert conditions, as troops quickly found during the 1991 Gulf War.

The rifles are said to have jammed during a firefight in Sierra Leone, endangering the lives of British troops.

A National Audit Office report last year into a huge UK military desert warfare exercise in Oman was fiercely critical of the weapon's performance.

Royal Marines who encountered the familiar blockages when using the upgraded SA80-A2 in Afghanistan recently were told it was their own fault for failing to lubricate the weapons properly.

But yesterday another serviceman dismissed suggestions that the answer was more oil to keep dust and sand at bay, pointing out that the failures had taken place well away from the desert.

He stripped down his weapon, which had been cleaned four hours earlier, to show how sand had already penetrated the mechanisms, and pointed to problems with two different magazines.

However, in London an MoD spokesman played down suggestions of failings with the SA80-A2 experienced by the Royal Marines or any other Army or RAF units in the Gulf.

'The Marines have fired thousands of rounds in the past few weeks, and no weapon defect reports have been filed,' the spokesman said.

Elite units like the SAS which have free choice of weapons have never used the SA80, and it proved a flop on the export market.

These latest concerns about the rifle will underline fears over the quality and quantity of kit provided to British troops for the forthcoming conflict.

UK soldiers have already been dubbed 'the borrowers' by their U.S. counterparts because they are constantly asking for clothing and other equipment from the Americans.

The Civil Servant, eh? Shows a little creativity there....

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February 28, 2003, 04:49 PM
There comes a time when you just don't want to mess with things you had high hopes for anymore. :(

El Tejon
February 28, 2003, 04:54 PM
But, but, I don't understand! How can this be? That can't be true at all.

BUT IT LOOKS SO COOL!!! It's so "progressive" and "advanced." Wait a tick! This article is fiction. Looking cool is the most important CDI factor for any militree to consider. Bring on the FN P90s!

How can the lives of mere soldiers be more important than looking cool to the brass?

February 28, 2003, 05:07 PM
'The weapon has improved since it went back to Heckler and Koch (the British-owned firm in Germany that carried out the overhaul)

Is H&K owned by the Brits? I never heard that. Does anyone know if that is true?

What's wrong with the M-16?

February 28, 2003, 05:09 PM
Don't you just love army/mil brass?

'The rifle works because we say so!'

'Its not the rifle its the soldier!'

'Our testing does not correlate with the soldiers opinions, therefore we are right and they are wrong!'

And so on and so forth....

Maybe if the Brits invade France they can restock their army with the FAMAS (never fired and only dropped once etc. etc.) :p

February 28, 2003, 05:14 PM

The Brits did own H&K until recently.

I think a German investment group purchased the company.

Warmest regards,

February 28, 2003, 06:32 PM
During the 1991 Gulf War, didn't Brits quickly replace their SA80s with FN FALs, which used to be their standard service rifle (if memory serves me correctly)?

Also, I was reading about M14s during the Gulf War. A bunch were brought along and worked perfectly despite of having NO lubrication. I recently read this in a history of the M14.

The M14s were issued because the M16s were not up to the hitting over long range the targets that were encountered.

El Tejon
February 28, 2003, 09:34 PM
moa, the mechanical musket saw some limited action in the sandbox as well as the M14 for us. This got far more press than actually happened of course.

However, the problem with this horrific embodiment of the "Iwannacoolgun" virus is that it will not work. It is being foisted upon brave men because some pinheads in the rear can talk about how cool it is to have such an advanced and progressive weapon in the hands of someone else.

They have put their feelings above another's life. It is disgusting.

Looking cool is nice to the manufacturer as it sells guns to the unknowing whether at the gun shoppe or end user certs. The weapon must work. Fix it or ditch it!

February 28, 2003, 09:55 PM
I wonder if I can sell my "sand cut" L1A1 [FAL] "kit" gun back to it's original owners. What fools.

The only reason they changed rifles was to give the then failing British arms industry a shot in the arm (so to speak).

February 28, 2003, 10:40 PM
The Brits were pushing for a NATO-standardized sub-caliber bullpup rifle in the late forties. I have some fuzzy memories of some trials with FAL bullpups too.

February 28, 2003, 10:41 PM
If I recall correctly, last I heard the M-14 is still classified as standard issue by the USN and USNR. Maybe some of the Navy guys could clarify that, but it would imply that there's still a significant quantity of them in inventory out there somewhere.

February 28, 2003, 10:47 PM
At least one Naval Special Warfare Unit, #3 to be exact, was using M14s in Afganistan. We have a family member on that team.

February 28, 2003, 11:33 PM
'It has so far proved to be far more reliable than its predecessor

Now there's damning by faint praise...

El Tejon,

Well, gosh, AR's look pretty cool, so I guess you're screwed. ;)

March 1, 2003, 01:03 AM
If I recall correctly, last I heard the M-14 is still classified as standard issue by the USN and USNR. Maybe some of the Navy guys could clarify that, but it would imply that there's still a significant quantity of them in inventory out there somewhere.

Sure is. I've got quite a few of them in my station armory.
Wanna know something else that will just kill ya? US Navy pays $125 a piece for em.

March 1, 2003, 01:15 AM
I don't think it's a case of iwannacoolgun virus at all. It's a case of tasking Enfield, who hasn't designed a new weapon in 100 years, to design a new system.

Recently, it was a case of you can't polish a turd. Well, you can, but your hands just get messy.

At the time of the SA-80 modifications, HK was owned by a British group. Now, it's owned by a German group. A better AR magazine may be a side benefit of the SA-80 mods.

March 1, 2003, 01:43 AM
God that is funny. Civil Servant :D

On a side note I once had the opportunity to fire the original SA80A1 (not the HK made improved A2) and it functioned without issue. Keep in mind we were at a range under mostly ideal conditions.

I think this is a issue of having invested so much money in design and production that they tried to force it to work. It wasn't a bad gun, it just wasn't up to the harsh realities of combat and extreme envirnoments. Very few guns are.

List of fielded guns that failed high hopes is actually pretty long.

March 1, 2003, 02:42 AM
If the Brits wanted to completely change over to reliable arms, all they have to do is wait for the first Iraqi unit to surrender in mass and pick up their AKs. Shouldn't take more than a day to get enough to re arm the entire British army.
The bigger problem would be what to do with the SA 80s.
If the feds would resend NFA 34, I'm sure we'd be glad to buy their long as they don't charge more than $1.25 each!

El Tejon
March 1, 2003, 07:35 AM
Des and Tam, this weapon is the epitome of what happens when looks trump needs--the "Iwannacoolgun" virus run amuck. This virus is not as harmless as some believe and it works its harm on governments as well as individuals.

They had a clear chance to follow SAS, the MoD thought that it was not advanced and progressive enough. They had a chance to ditch it a few years ago and go with the A2s or HK50. But the 50 was not cool enough and the A2s were Amuricin.

Thank goodness small arms see such limited use by Big Army.

4v50 Gary
March 1, 2003, 11:13 AM
Leave the SA80 on the parade ground and take the FN. At least it works. Geez, I'd rather have the Mini-14 over the SA80. May not be accurate, but it shoots bullets which is more than I can say about the SA80.

If Britain were to invade France, they could pick up those MAS rifles the fleet footed French leave behind. ;)

El Tejon
March 1, 2003, 11:30 AM
Gary, maybe Her Majesty's militree should just trade with the RUC?:)

March 1, 2003, 11:35 AM
So, if I am reading you correctly, the only reason bullpup rifles were developed is because they "look cool", right? Those engineers at Royal Ordnance/FN/Steyr/MAS all sat down and said "Gosh, our current rifles just don't 'look cool' enough. What would look cooler?"

4v50 Gary
March 1, 2003, 01:01 PM
Want cool? How about a rifle that isn't shouldered but slips into a pivoting swivel on the helmet. A periscope or camera hooked up to a LCD on the helmet. That way the soldier need not expose his body to fire. Then again, it would look like a Napoleonic dragoon's helmet. I think the French can develop it and field test it (drop test for durability) for the English. :D

El Tejon
March 1, 2003, 01:04 PM
No, the reason they were adopted is because they look cool. I don't know what they were motivated by at Enfield Arsenal in '46/'47.

I can explain a REMF, not an engineer!;)

March 1, 2003, 01:33 PM
Seems to me that in a world fascinated with 5.56x45, MOUT/FIBUA/CQB (or whatever it's called this week), and body armour that bullpups are the logical next step.

5.56 needs barrel length to work its magical fragmenting voodoo, but a long barrel in a conventional format requires a commensurately long rifle. Also, most service rifle designs from the dawn of time to about 30 years ago don't work well for that stubborn fraction of folks who doggedly persist in being wrong-handed.

Multiple attempts to correct this (from the really canine SA80 through the moderately successful AUG and FA MAS to the next-gen FN2000 and the "whoops! Too much, too soon" G11) have been tried. The concept is sound, and it's only a matter of time until a winner appears.

JMHO... ;)

(Meanwhile, I'm off to shoot my shiny, new 103 year-old Swedish Mauser. ;) )

El Tejon
March 1, 2003, 02:37 PM
Bullpups are an old concept. Pluses and lots of minuses to fighting with a bullpup. However, whatever happens just make sure the thing works before you give it to someone's son!

MoD has had 20 years to iron out the SA80, it doesn't run. Ditch it. I don't care how cool it is, I don't care how much in kickbacks and national pride is at stake. A man's life should be worth more than any of that combined.

March 1, 2003, 02:50 PM
Doesn't anyone in the European firearms industry call it a product recall rather than an upgrade?

The SA-80 didn't work in my Rogue Spear game either.:evil:

Maybe I am contrarian because I got to fire M-14s in the Navy, but perhaps these eggheads should go back to the future with something rugged, hard-hitting and accurate than continue on the path of lowest common denominator weenie rifles.

It seems only a matter of time before the .177 Magnum MR.

"The latest advance from Enfield is this bullpup configured .177 Magnum Machine Rifle. Since no one in Britain has much firearms experience pre-Service, we have created the battle implement of the Sheeple. The magazine of the SA-2010 holds an astonishing one hundred projectiles traveling at 3500 fps. The 6gr .177 cup-nosed lead pellets are fired via super-duper compressed air. The resultant cartridge offers the state of the art in spray and pray tactical firing. No recoil. No aiming. No jamming, because the magazine is a sealed, one use, helical affair, with its own pressure cannister that ports directly into the weapon with a rubber "O" ring to keep out the sand that has stopped all of our previous efforts. This weapon is intended for use by troops with no combat experience and has been early adopted by the French Army, who are field testing it in bistros and cafes everywhere"

March 1, 2003, 02:55 PM
Do keep in mind most new designs don't work well at first. Be it guns, tanks, aircraft, ships. I recall the Orig M-16 had this problem with the selector being made out of some fiber material. In warm/moist enviroment it swelled and you could rotate to semi/full auto but gun would NOT fire. BUT back at camp where less humid/cooler it worked fine. I talked to guy who jumped in water till he found out why then fixed the problem. He had paperwork with his name on it about this.
I met a LEO who had it happen to himself and a few others their first ambush. He picked up a AK and to this day refuses to use a AR type rifle. He has a Mini 14 folding stock instead.
IMO they should pull them from combat units and issue a few to other areas (say 40% of weapons) and have them carry and SHOOT them after being in the field. Once some folks get confident they could offer them to troops. If problem keeps popping up then fix the darn thing.

March 1, 2003, 03:00 PM
The SA-80 couldn't have been adopted because of iwannacoolgun, because it doesn't look cool at all. You might be able to argue that point with the AUG, but never the SA-80.

March 1, 2003, 03:10 PM
No doubt that the SA80 is a nonperforming dog that should've been 86ed years ago.

But let's not kid ourselves: You've dissed the P90, the G36, the G11, the FA-MAS, the FAL, the G3, the AUG, the Galil, the FNC, and (for all I know) the M14 and the AK on the basis of "Iwannacoolgunvirus".

Tell the truth: "Iwannacoolgunvirus" really translates out to "any gun other than the AR that El T has decided upon", nicht wahr? ;)

I guess Colt/FN's eu certs and Stoner's profits are outside the Iwannacoolgunvirus realm, eh? :D

El Tejon
March 1, 2003, 03:20 PM
Tamara, what? WTH? What the heck are you talking about? The AR is the epitome of the "Iwannacoolgun" virus!!!

How many young men died because computer whiz kids wanted that cool looking gun and testing was not done in Vietnam??? Very similar to the L85 if you ask me.

March 1, 2003, 03:22 PM
But...but...but... you've advised young men to buy one! :eek:

El Tejon
March 1, 2003, 04:03 PM
After how long a debugging process? Thanks in part to more knowledgable gun experts in Congress (whew, thank goodness for them).:D To be repeated all over again with the M4 so everyone can be super tactical cool--geez, what's next? Give everyone a dark hued jaunty beret?

The SA80 is not the same (no doubt Parliment is once again napping). It's buggy, which means young men will be as well.

If we want to be super tactical cool in replacing the Big Army's 16s, let's don't repeat history.

March 1, 2003, 05:07 PM
Guess they'll have to equip the soldiers with a roll of duct tape to keep the sand out of the SA80. :p
The brits better be good at shooting. One shot, and then pick up the AK off of the dead iraqi...

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