The L85/SA80, the 5.56 service rifle of the United Kingdom’s armed forces, is perhaps the most ill-fated service weapon in history. Built upon the excellent AR-18/180’s operating system, engineers managed to take everything that worked about that rifle and make it… well… not.
H&K managed to debug the rifle into a working condition, but it still remains a far more awkward system than most of its NATO competition. Even the AK holds ergonomic superiority I believe. It is a rifle that can be made to work, not one that works smoothly with its operator.
But is the rifle truly awful or is just the worst of a working group? I lean towards the latter opinion when it comes to the L85, especially the A2 and A3 formats. It is the worst, but it does now actually work and can serve in its role reliably if not optimally. The new AIW, the L403A1, is leap forward in optimizations.
Many claim it further heralds the demise of the bullpup. That is an opinion I do not share, the bullpup configuration still has significant strengths and can be designed with few detriments. The dominance of the AR-15/18 in the West is a product of commonality as well as functionality.
If it isn’t broken do not fix it. It is easier to take on a moderately customized but fully built system than it is to design one that does the same thing from the ground up. The M27/M38, HK416F, HK416A7/A8 are all excellent examples of taking a well proven system like the HK416 and simply making the desired feature set updates.
The past success of the AR designs largely fortifies its future success so long as a few things do not happen. First, a catastrophic failing of the design in a scenario where it needed to perform. Second, a technological leap so great that the design cannot be cost effectively adapted to meet it. Third, an adversary with a threat profile that requires a radical shift in small arms to meet.
These are also true of other service rifle designs and I suspect we will continue to see adaption more than adoption in the case of radical design changes. Even the US Army’s choice of the SIG SPEAR as the XM7 is the most radical recent change, but that is still a mix of adaption and adoption as the XM7 is an AR-10/16 derivative meant to be familiar to AR-15 users.
Anyway, good video and worth your entertainment time.