The British Army's standard L85 Individual Weapon is getting yet another major update -- one the service hopes will make it the most effective infantry rifle it has ever fielded.
According to Jane’s 360, the UK Ministry of Defence is moving ahead with plans to modify and upgrade the majority of its existing arsenal of L85A2 assault rifles to the A3 standard at a cost of over $95.6 million.
The upgrades will be handled by NSAF Ltd., a British subsidiary of Heckler & Koch.
Hailing from the SA80 family of bullpup-style assault rifles and chambered for the common 5.56 NATO round, the L85 has had a history marred with a number of product quality problems.
The first variant, fielded by the British Army in the late 1980s, was known for its numerous reliability issues, seeing action with frustrated soldiers during the Persian Gulf War and the Balkans conflicts.
Nicknamed the Civil Servant by troops, because “it doesn’t work ... and it can’t be fired,” the L85A1 quickly gained a reputation for failing when needed most. Troubles with the gas system, plastic furniture that would jar itself loose from the rifle, constant jams and magazine feed issues were among the complaints the UK MoD found itself dealing with regarding its prized rifle.
To top it off, soldiers on patrol would often suddenly find themselves bringing a gun to bear far lighter than it was when they first stepped outside the wire, thanks to the magazine being inadvertently released at the most inopportune times. The catch for the release was poorly designed and placed.
It was determined that the gun was rushed into production too quickly and lacked a regimented testing phase that would've rooted out these flaws and brought them to the attention of the SA80 project engineering team at the former Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield.
By the onset of the war in Afghanistan, the L85A2 was introduced with many of the earlier issues resolved. Re-engineered and manufactured under contract by H&K (at the time, a subsidiary of BAE Systems), the new rifle addressed its predecessors reliability and combat effectiveness issues and proved to be exactly what the British military was looking for in a service weapon.
The L85A3 will feature a new streamlined foregrip, allowing for better handling and less handguard interference with the barrel in order to improve accuracy. Compared to the A2, the A3 will be just around 100 grams lighter because of the new foregrip.