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The British L85 (SA80) rifle


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#41 JN1

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Posted 28 November 2010 - 1322 PM

Yes, HMS Dreadnought had a US powerplant to save time - subsequent RN nuclear subs had British reactors.


The PWR1 reactor which powered all British subs from the Valiant to Trafalgar classes used a core based on a Westinghouse design inside a Rolls Royce designed reactor assembly. IIRC when the Canadians were interested in buying an SSN, which would have been either our Trafalgar class, or the French Rubis class, the Americans objected to us selling a reactor with significant US content.

The newer PWR2 reactor which powers the Vanguard and Astute classes is an all British design.

HMS Drednought was apparently British from the reactor compartment forward and American from aft of there.

#42 FirstOfFoot

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Posted 28 November 2010 - 1740 PM

I guess a small team of competent designers with solid leadership simply cannot design something so complex as a gas operated rifle :rolleyes: within reasonable budgets and timeframes....it's simply too difficult.


Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for AI. Hell, they even sort-of-sponsored me for a while in the late 1990s (they were the UK distributors for Lapua ammunition; national squad got a deal) and I regard the late Malcolm Cooper as a sporting hero - even got to ask him technique questions once.

But this is a firm who specialises in bolt-action guns with free-floated barrels - I'm sure that they could design an acceptable service rifle, but how long would it take? What risk is attached to the delivery? Who's going to manufacture the end product (because they've only got a 20,000 square foot facility, hardly conducive to turning out a few hundred thousand weapons)? To repeat the engineering maxim, "Quick, cheap, or good - pick two..." and they're only five years out of receivership (they nearly went bust in 2005; had to lay off 24 out of 28 staff).

I have no doubt that a good team of designers could develop something truly amazing - after all, UK plc does niche engineering products rather well (look where a lot of Formula 1 cars get developed). I just don't see people going to Ferrari to develop the next 4x4...

Edited by FirstOfFoot, 28 November 2010 - 1746 PM.


#43 thekirk

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Posted 28 November 2010 - 1802 PM

I just don't see people going to Ferrari to develop the next 4x4...


Maybe not Ferrari, but Lamborghini was once in that very situation...

http://en.wikipedia....mborghini_LM002

#44 GPMG

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Posted 29 November 2010 - 0319 AM

What is the thinking for a replacement? 2020 isn't that far away.

Would the replacement be something designed specifically to British specifications or something off-the-shelf?

I dont see why they don't replace it with new SA80s. It may cost more to get someone to start up production but they save the cost of retraining, binnning existing spare parts and associated tools and buying new spare parts and associated tools. It eliminates any teathing problems with a new weapon system. Unless they are going to change to a new cartridge any weapon that is going to be ready for issue by 2020 isnt going to be significantly better than the SA80.

#45 thekirk

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Posted 29 November 2010 - 1052 AM

I dont see why they don't replace it with new SA80s. It may cost more to get someone to start up production but they save the cost of retraining, binnning existing spare parts and associated tools and buying new spare parts and associated tools. It eliminates any teathing problems with a new weapon system. Unless they are going to change to a new cartridge any weapon that is going to be ready for issue by 2020 isnt going to be significantly better than the SA80.


Restarting production isn't a simple matter: Unless they stockpiled all the machine tools, jigs, and whatnot, it's not even possible. Add in the problem with the weapon being built as design and production was transitioning to the digital age, and it might prove to be unaffordable. Mass-production of something like this isn't as simple as a lot of people think. Which Royal Ordnance pretty much proved, given that they had to go to H&K in order to sort things out with the A2 version. It's possible that even H&K might have problems starting from scratch, as well, since they never built the entire weapon, just refitted the originals.

#46 Tony Williams

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Posted 29 November 2010 - 2154 PM

The last I heard, half of the SA80s made were still in store, and HK could presumably upgrade the rifles to L85A2 status, as they have already done with the rest.

It would cost at least as much as an all-new off-the-shelf gun, though, and leave the MoD open to criticism for throwing so much money at an old design which has always had a very controversial reputation.

#47 Lampshade111

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Posted 30 November 2010 - 0008 AM

Years ago before the A2 upgrade I heard rumors the UK was looking at G36 variants. I don't know if there was any truth to that however.

I imagine by 2020 or whenever they need to start replacing those L85A2s, the UK should design a new bullpup AR or a foreign design. It sounds like restarting L85 production would be so difficult as to be not worth the effort over building another design, but does Royal Ordnance have the capability to manufacture a new weapon on that scale at all?

#48 nigelfe

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Posted 30 November 2010 - 0249 AM

If you have the full technical data pack and there are no ambiguities in it anything is possible. Of course you need the right machine tools, etc, (which RO almost certainly don't have) but in the end establishing a production line, setting it to work and getting the quality acceptable is just a matter of time and money. And component production can be sub-contracted. But the TDP is totally critical, and its the undocumented bits that will bite you hard on the bum - ie changes made during production that no-one got around to documenting, including lurks to improve the process.

#49 Anixtu

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Posted 30 November 2010 - 0749 AM

but does Royal Ordnance have the capability to manufacture a new weapon on that scale at all?


Royal who? Royal Ordnance no longer exists. They were bought by BAE (British Aerospace at the time) in the late 80s, though the name was not dropped until later. BAE don't seem to be a manufacturer of small arms at present.

#50 Assessor

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Posted 30 November 2010 - 0906 AM

If you have the full technical data pack and there are no ambiguities in it anything is possible. Of course you need the right machine tools, etc, (which RO almost certainly don't have) but in the end establishing a production line, setting it to work and getting the quality acceptable is just a matter of time and money. And component production can be sub-contracted. But the TDP is totally critical, and its the undocumented bits that will bite you hard on the bum - ie changes made during production that no-one got around to documenting, including lurks to improve the process.

+1. Emphasis mine above. There are numerous examples of what appear to be simple production restarts or reverse-engineering projects that become horribly mired and produce nothing very useful at all.

Nowadays there are capable British firearm designers / manufacturers, and there are large-scale firearm designers / manufacturers, but there are NO large-scale British firearm designers / manufacturers. When a full replacement for the L85 is decided upon, it won't be a UK designed and manufactured weapon, unless someone decides to create a new company and build all the infrastructure to do it!

#51 Chris Werb

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Posted 01 December 2010 - 1919 PM

+1. Emphasis mine above. There are numerous examples of what appear to be simple production restarts or reverse-engineering projects that become horribly mired and produce nothing very useful at all.

Nowadays there are capable British firearm designers / manufacturers, and there are large-scale firearm designers / manufacturers, but there are NO large-scale British firearm designers / manufacturers. When a full replacement for the L85 is decided upon, it won't be a UK designed and manufactured weapon, unless someone decides to create a new company and build all the infrastructure to do it!


Not sure what you call 'large scale' but this company seems to get by:

http://www.manroy.com/

In the States, lots of companies that never produced a gun before made weapons*. This lasted well into the postwar period. International Harvester had made M1 Garands in the Korean War period, not having made them in WW2. Some of the best M14s for example were made by TRW which hand not made rifles before. OTOH Harrington and Richardson, a manufaturer of guns of long standing, had serious QC problems. IIRC General motors made M16s in the Vietnam era. There are lots of small companies turning out semi and full automatic centrefire rifles in the states, often starting off in a shed with a few lathes and graduating to CNC machines. Given the will, this is not a hard capability to reinstate.

*For example, for the M1 carbine alone:

* Inland Division, General Motors (production: 2,632,097), sole producer of the M1A1 Carbine. Receiver marked "INLAND DIV."
* Winchester Repeating Arms (production: 828,059) Receiver marked "WINCHESTER"[33]
* Irwin-Pedersen (operated by Saginaw Steering Gear and production included with Saginaw total)
* Saginaw Steering Gear Division General Motors (production: 517,213 ) Receivers marked "SAGINAW S.G." (370,490) and "IRWIN-PEDERSEN" (146,723 )
* Underwood Elliot Fisher (production: 545,616) Receiver marked "UNDERWOOD"
* National Postal Meter (production: 413,017) Receiver marked "NATIONAL POSTAL METER"
* Quality Hardware Manufacturing Corp. (production: 359,666) Receiver marked "QUALITY H.M.C."
* International Business Machines (production: 346,500) Receiver marked "I.B.M. CORP."
* Standard Products (production: 247,100) Receiver marked "STD. PRO."
* Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation (production: 228,500) Receiver Marked "ROCK-OLA" [34]
* Commercial Controls Corporation (production: 239) Receiver marked "COMMERCIAL CONTROLS"

Edited by Chris Werb, 01 December 2010 - 1923 PM.


#52 FirstOfFoot

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Posted 01 December 2010 - 1948 PM

Years ago before the A2 upgrade I heard rumors the UK was looking at G36 variants. I don't know if there was any truth to that however.


The UK ran comparative trials for the A2 against several other designs. At the time, when the trials results indicated that the A2 outperformed all of them, there were cries of "Fix!" and implications that SA80A2 couldn't possibly be more reliable than the Steyr / AR15 / G36... It seems that (seven years on) that the trials weren't "fixed". Certainly, users aren't complaining about L85 reliability.

#53 FirstOfFoot

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Posted 01 December 2010 - 1958 PM

Maybe not Ferrari, but Lamborghini was once in that very situation...

http://en.wikipedia....mborghini_LM002


Indeed - and look at the results of their first attempt. A rear-engined 4x4 aimed at the military? Daft.

A relation works for Landrover; when they were bought by BMW, apparently they were asked to have a look at the first-ever BMW attempt at an SUV. They allegedly managed to identify several hundred kilograms of weight savings, because BMW didn't know what they could afford to take out. Mind you, Landrover's on-road handling improved afterwards, so it was a fair swap.

#54 nigelfe

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0417 AM

The UK ran comparative trials for the A2 against several other designs. At the time, when the trials results indicated that the A2 outperformed all of them, there were cries of "Fix!" and implications that SA80A2 couldn't possibly be more reliable than the Steyr / AR15 / G36... It seems that (seven years on) that the trials weren't "fixed". Certainly, users aren't complaining about L85 reliability.


IIRC MoD never published the list of rifles that A2 reliability was compared with, I understood there were 5 or 6.

However, I can't see that converting more A1 to A2 is a big deal. Of course I'm assuming MoD owns the mods and has a TDP for them, given this then it doesn't have to be done H&K.

I entirely agree about manufacturing capability, as I said once you've got a good TDP then its not a big deal. The issue may be good designers.

Edited by nigelfe, 02 December 2010 - 0419 AM.


#55 Assessor

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0447 AM

In the States, lots of companies that never produced a gun before made weapons*.

I know, I know! The difference I see is that in the main these expert engineering companies were building something that worked - the task was one of pure manufacturing, with what they had to do, how they had to do it, the required tolerances, materials, limitations and issues known, and an established baseline of how it ought to work.

On the other hand, can you imagine Rock-Ola (for example) not merely manufacturing a state of the art weapon (as the M1 more or less was at the time), but designing one as well?

I don't doubt that a company like JCB could cheerfully crank out clones of a simple, functional automatic rifle here in the UK, but they would need the backup of a company who can fettle the process to meet their production capabilities, and unfuck the process when they find that mechanical shovels and rifles are different beasts. Neither could they (I content) respond to the probably quite stringent operational demands the UK armed forces would place on the design. Also, going from small-scale to vast scale production isn't necessarily as simple as it sounds, so even enlisting the help of a skillful, reputable arms design house wouldn't guarantee solving the problem.


Could it be done? Almost certainly, yes it could. Could it be done efficiently, economically, in a timely fashion and "right first time"? I wouldn't put my shirt on it.

#56 Tony Williams

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0452 AM

Could it be done? Almost certainly, yes it could. Could it be done efficiently, economically, in a timely fashion and "right first time"? I wouldn't put my shirt on it.

I'm inclined to agree. In order to mass-produce small-arms, we would have to set up an entirely new factory, buy a whole range of machinery to mass-produce the bits, train all of the workforce - and then close it all down a couple of years later once the production run had ended. Much cheaper just to buy from an existing production line.

#57 Chris Werb

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0520 AM

I'm inclined to agree. In order to mass-produce small-arms, we would have to set up an entirely new factory, buy a whole range of machinery to mass-produce the bits, train all of the workforce - and then close it all down a couple of years later once the production run had ended. Much cheaper just to buy from an existing production line.


That's what happened with the L85/6. They built a new factory (in Nottingham?) ran it for a couple of years and literally sold everything off and demolished it!

#58 Chris Werb

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0532 AM

To be fair to AI, they do make a .50 semi auto sniper/anti materiel rifle, so aren't completely devoid of self-loader experience.

#59 BillB

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0613 AM

That's what happened with the L85/6. They built a new factory (in Nottingham?) ran it for a couple of years and literally sold everything off and demolished it!

Not quite Chris. There was already a long established Royal Ordnance factory in Nottingham making tank & arty gun barrels among other things; a number of lads from my school got apprenticeships there. They took all the stuff from Enfield set up a small-arms production line on the site in the late 1980s. The whole shebang closed in 2001.

See here: http://en.wikipedia....tingham#Closure

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#60 shep854

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Posted 02 December 2010 - 0849 AM

"In the States, lots of companies that never produced a gun before made weapons*."--Chris Werb

More recently, there's a certain Austrian maker of hand-tools... ;)

Edited by shep854, 02 December 2010 - 0850 AM.





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