Heckler & Koch Wins Contract for the SA80A3, The Brit Bullpup Lives On

German-based firearms giant Heckler & Koch announced they have won a significant contract to upgrade SA80 5.56mm NATO rifles for the UK Ministry of Defence.

The current contract is valued at $18.6 million (£15 million pounds) and will build or upgrade the UK Arsenal of service rifles into SA80A3 variants. The British Army’s “Equip to Fight” Programme, an overhaul initiative designed to help modernize the UK fighting forces, has an optional two-year contract extension that could add another $62.2 million (£50 million pounds) to HK’s bank account, with the work split between the company’s facilities in Germany and the UK.

The SA80A3 upgrades involve a new foregrip, an improved upper receiver, and extra internal safety features. It also has the capability to use the HK AG36 40mm grenade launcher, dubbed the L123A2 in British Service. The rifles are going with a neutral earth color scheme which has shown better thermal performance and doesn’t contrast and stand out like solid black. HK’s variant of Keymod is being used on the handguards for ancillary equipment.

Heckler & Koch wins Contract to Upgrade British Military Rifles

British Army with the new HK-upgraded L85A3/SA80A3 (Photo: British Army)

The SA80 series Individual Weapon, a 5.56mm NATO bullpup designed by Enfield in the 1980s, was originally produced in England for the British armed forces in three variants– the L85 rifle, L86 light support weapon, and the .22LR L98A1 cadet rifle– with just under 372,000 of all types produced. After Enfield shuttered in 1988, production was moved to Royal Ordnance’s Nottingham Small Arms Facility until 2001, when that British factory closed its doors as well.

Since then, HK has been upgrading the SA80 in a series of generational improvements, first as the SA80A2 and now as the SA80A3, with work done at the former Nottingham works, now run by Heckler & Koch GB as NSAF Limited. The original SA80 rifles were riddled with problems and in the world of modern 5.56 small arms it may actually rank worse than the M16’s rough introduction. H&K saved the rifle and has since crafted it into a workhorse for the UK.

Personally I think it is still one of the more poorly executed designs still in service but H&K got it running.

More of note than their UK SA80 program, Heckler & Koch is having great success selling their HK416 series rifles to military forces worldwide, with the platform seeing adoption in Norway, France, U.S. SOCOM, and the U.S. Marines as the M27 (it still takes a bayonet). Further, the company has allied with Textron Systems and Olin-Winchester to develop an offering for the U.S.Army’s futuristic new Next Generation Squad Weapon program.

H&K and Sig Sauer are continuing to fight it out in the top seats for Military and LEO contracts for their weapons. Sig is going hard for full services (Guns, Ammo, Suppressors, Optics, Training Aids, FoF Airsoft, and Free WiFi) and it will be interesting to see how the 20’s look with weapons and tech emerging.

Keith is the Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Group editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. A Certified Instructor since 2009 he has taught concealed weapons courses in the West Michigan area in the years since and continues to pursue training and teaching opportunities as they arise.