SA80 (Small Arms of the 80's) is the standard issue British Army rifle (Its two versions are designated as L85 and L86, which are respectively infantry rifle and light support weapon.). It is also used by other branches of the British armed forces per necessity, as well as Jamaican Defense Force. There is also an even shorter carbine variant used by Helicopter/Tank crews and Royal Marine boarding parties known as the L22A1/L22A2. The SA80 components were notoriously "copied" by Enfield Workers from the SAR-87 manufactured by Sterling Armaments at the same time but this led to the unreliability of this bullpup rifle.
SA80 is of the bullpup configuration. It has a simple fire selector with two settings: (single/auto). The SA80 is compatible with any STANAG magazine. It is fitted with a bayonet lug. Full-sized versions of SA80 can be fitted with AG36 underbarrel grenade launcher (which reportedly enhances the somewhat poor balance of the weapon).
All SA80 rifles are equipped with SUSAT sights upon shipping. According to operator reports, SUSAT tritium sights are one of the best features of this firearm. Alternatively, the SA80 is equipped with a bladed front sight, and a diopter rear sight that also functions as a built in carrying handle - this configuration is usually used by second-line troops.
However it must be noted that this weapon performs very well in CQB situations as it can be brought up to the sight line easily and quickly, which is useful when the urban nature of a battle means shots have to be taken in seconds.
Some reports of component failure in the original design have been noted, such as the cocking handle falling off, rendering the weapon useless or other bits and pieces to come loose. Another problem is that the SA80 is heavier than many other 5.56x45mm NATO rifles. Of particular annoyance was the habit of the magazine of A1 variants to fall out of the rifle when held across the chest due to the location of the release. British soldiers have, on occasion in the past, demanded alternate weapons such as the G36 or weapons of the M16 family. There was been some speculation that the UK would replace the SA80 with the G36 or a similar weapon, but this was dispelled by the improvement programme undertaken by H&K (which updated almost all rifles to the improved A2 variant) which solved most issues and has made the rifle into one of the most reliable weapon systems in the world.
- SA80/L85A1 - No longer in use except with some reserve units, the original variant of the SA80. Reports from operators indicate, that this firearm, while possessing unusually-high accuracy for an assault rifle, had serious problems with reliability, especially during automatic fire, and was very sensitive to fouling and handling, due to being converted to semi-automatic for use by Cadets.
- SA80/L85A2 - This modification had been adapted in 1997, and most of the L85A1s were upgraded to the L85A2 configuration throughout 2000-2002. In this modification most of the original problems (many discovered during the first Gulf War) were addressed. Some features include Teflon coated gas parts and bolt carrier to prevent carbon buildup, upgraded magazine receiver and an ergonomically shaped cocking handle. L85A2s have accommodation for easy installation of the AG36 grenade launcher. During an international test the L85A2 was proven to be the most reliable service rifle in the world, firing around 65000 rounds without a single problem, beating such weapons as the M16, Steyr AUG and G36 in reliability by a long way. The L85A2 has recently been issued with a RIS. It has also been issued with an ACOG scope as a UOR for operations in Afghanistan. Please note that reliability is suggestive, and has more to due with maintenance than anything else.
- L98A1 Cadet GP - Previously issued to cadet units but has now been completely phased out. It is not capable of automatic fire and has to be manually cycled for every shot. Different from the L85A1 by being shorter, lighter due to a lack of gas parts, and a cocking handle extender to aid reloading for younger cadets.
- L98A2 Cadet GP - New issue to cadets it is a semi automatic rifle the only difference between the L98A2 and the L85A2 is barrel length and a missing change lever.
- SA80/L22 Carbine - There have been three attempts at a carbine, the first was in 1989 (length overall 556mm, barrel length 289mm). The second attempt was in 1994, this used the standard L86 LSW handguard and a 17.4inch barrel (length overall 709mm, barrel length 442mm). The third attempt (2003–2004) is also the only one to officially be adopted - the L22. This resembles the '89 model but has all the necessary A2 upgrades. Issued to tank and armoured vehicle crews for emergency action out of vehicle, around 1,500 were "manufactured" from surplus L86 LSW's. Due to the shortened barrel (11.4"), it is less accurate and less powerful, especially at long ranges. Because there is no handguard, these guns are outfitted with a vertical front grip. (Exists in A1 and A2 variants). The L22 has been seen in the hands of the Royal Marines Fleet Protection Group due to the compact size, also the SUSAT sight on the L22 is shorter and the reticle is placed upside down.
- SA80/L86 LSW - This version of the SA80 was initially intended as the infantry light support weapon. It features a longer and heavier barrel, underbarrel rail with folding bipods and vertical grip behind the magazine housing. Due to its design as an LSW, it can`t mount a bayonet, or a grenade launcher.
Practice showed, that the L86 is poorly suited for a support weapon because of its limited magazine, fixed barrel and general reliability problems in full-automatic fire therefore making it somewhat useless for its role. However, its excellent single-shot accuracy allows it to be successfully used as a marksman rifle. The L86 is usually used as such, and is currently known as a DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle). For suppression fire, the British Army now issues the FN Minimi SSW as of late.