The L85A1 (part of the SA80 small arms family) was adopted by the British military in 1985 as a new generation of small arms to replace the L1A1 FAL (one quick note, where “A1” indicates a revision in American designations, it is simply the first iteration in British ones – there was no “L85”). As a bullpup rifle, the L85A1 was intended to replace both the FAL and Sterling SMG, similar to the French replacing the MAS 49/56 and MAT 49 with the FAMAS.

Unfortunately, the L85A1 had massive problems with both reliability and durability. They were kept pretty much hidden until Desert Storm when it became unavoidably clear that the weapon was seriously flawed. The UK government denied the problems for several years until finally contracting with H&K (then owned by Royal Ordnance) to redesign and rebuild the rifles. The result, after changes to virtually every part of the rifle, was the L85A2 – a much better rifle that will be tainted with its predecessor’s reputation regardless.

Mechanically, the L85A1 and A2 are basically copies of the Armalite AR-180, with a multi-lug rotating bolt and a short-stroke gas piston. It feeds from STANAG magazines, and it universally fitted with the heavy but rugged SUSAT optical sight.

Thanks to the Institute of Military Technology for allowing me to have access to this rifle (which is extremely rare in the US) and bring it to you! Check them out at


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  1. Duff can tell you more about this, since he was there. I volunteered to go but only if I could become a WOC flying skinships. By then, enough guys had come back with horror stories about infantry deployment. I had heard rumors during nam’ that many soldiers, being disgusted with their Mattel tinkertoy M16’s would grab AK’s from dead VC and NVA as they were more reliable than what was issued and packed a bigger punch. They had to hide them from their superiors though. People I talk to about weapons don’t like my telling them that the 16 was basically a 22 mag. (I know it is a .223 but that is pretty close to me)

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