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The BBC's Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus
"The Ministry of Defence insists that it remains an effective weapon"
 real 28k

Friday, 25 February, 2000, 11:14 GMT
British Army rifles defective

The SA80
The SA80: In the line of fire

More than 300,000 standard issue British Army rifles, some of which are in service in Northern Ireland, are set to be recalled after evidence showed the weapon was prone to jamming.

The Ministry of Defence faces a bill running into tens of millions of pounds for modifying the SA80 rifle.

"I want to ensure that the rifle available is the best that is possible.
Geoffrey Hoon
Defence Secretary
Built by Royal Ordnance in the 1980s when it was under state ownership, the SA80 has been in use by the Army for more than a decade but there are serious concerns it jams in extremely hot and cold weather conditions.

Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told the BBC he had commissioned a report into possible upgrades as soon as he was made aware of the jamming problem.

But he said he would wait for the report's conclusions before deciding whether to recall all or some of them.

SA80 rifle facts
300,000 used by British Army
Weight 4.98kg with loaded magazine
Length 750mm
Muzzle Velocity 940mls
Feed 30 round magazine
Effective range 500m
Cyclic Rate of Fire 610/770 rounds/min
Used since 1985
First faults reported in 1991
He said: "As soon as I became aware I indicated, as a matter of some urgency, an upgrade programme should be considered and that is what is happening at the moment.

"I want to ensure that the rifle available is the best that is possible."

Mr Hoon said the cost was being looked at "very carefully" but added if they all needed replacing they would be, on a rolling programme so all soldiers would have rifles suitable to the conditions they were working in.

Fears had been raised from the start about its reliability in particularly hot, or extremely cold, conditions after soldiers reported the rifle could jam.

British Army soldiers The SA80 was used by troops in Kosovo
In campaigns in the Gulf and Kosovo, troops have used the weapon in the conditions most likely to render it unreliable.

Now, a study carried out by the MoD itself has revealed significant shortcomings.

In 1998, arms manufacturers Heckler & Koch were asked to modify the weapon and carry out extreme temperature tests in Kuwait and Alaska.

The tests showed a modified version to be greatly improved.

The SA-80 replaced the Belgian FN which was the standard issue weapon during the 1970s.

More revelations

The news follows revelations earlier this week that 1bn modifications to the RAF's Tornado bomber had left it unable to drop modern laser-guided "smart" bombs.

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat spokesman on defence, said: "This is the latest episode in the catalogue of embarrassment for the Ministry of Defence in relation to armaments and equipment.

Geoff Hoon Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon
"The SA80 was shown to be defective as long ago as the Gulf War, and again more recently in Kosovo.

"Isn't it time that someone took responsibility for these embarrassing and inadequate procurement projects?"

The Heckler and Koch report was given to Mr Hoon in December, and he is expected to announce a final decision on a recall within weeks.

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus said the implication of the defect was that lives have been put at risk although the MoD would probably discount such suggestions.
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See also:
25 Feb 00 |  UK
Catalogue of MoD misery
23 Feb 00 |  UK
1bn jets 'unfit for combat'
03 Jan 00 |  UK
Damning report into Kosovo campaign
10 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Defence cash shortfall fear

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