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SA80 History: The Pre-Production XL85 and XL86

Armament Research Services (ARES) is a specialist technical intelligence consultancy, offering expertise and analysis to a range of government and non-government entities in the arms and munitions field. For detailed photos of the guns in this video, don’t miss the ARES companion blog post:

The SA80 saga continues today with the final pre-production versions of the L85A1 and L86A1, although at this point they still both carry XL designations, as they were not yet formally adopted weapons. In these weapons we can see a couple last distinctive mechanical changes, but perhaps more importantly by this time the worker morale at RSAF Enfield was thoroughly in the tank. It had become well known that the factory complex was going to be taken public or sold outright, and it was widely expected that Enfield would be shut down as a result. A new facility would be built in Nottingham, but none of the rank and file staff expected to transfer. They would be laid off, and they knew it. Not surprisingly, quality control suffered as a result.

As for the guns themselves, the first distinctive visible improvement was in the magazine well. In the XL70 weapons, the bottom half of the magazine well had been simple welded onto the bottom of the lower receiver, in order to retain the easy stamping of that element. On these guns, that have been replaced by a separate box which encompassed the magazine and was spot welded into the lower receiver. This change in construction method allow the magazine well to be much more precisely located in the receiver, and then fixed in place without the risk of warping the thin sheet metal of the lower receiver – while still retaining the simple stamping of that lower.

The other visible change was to the Light Support Weapon, and it consisted of a long “girder” support added below the barrel. This was intended to mount the bipod onto, in the hopes of resolving the long-running problem of split groups in the LSW. This was a problem in which the first round of a burst would hit substantially low and left relative to the rest of the burst. While the LSW was a quite accurate weapon in semiautomatic mode, this split group problem was a substantial detriment to its effectiveness as a proper support weapon.

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