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EDITIONS
Friday, 27 September, 2002, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
'Faulty' rifle passes desert tests
British corporal with an SA80 A2
Tests in Oman may have restored confidence
The Army is to keep the controversial SA80 A2 assault rifle after it passed "intensive" tests in the desert.

A top military commander told a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in central London on Friday the rifle - a UK forces' standard weapon - was "highly reliable".

Trials were carried out in Oman after Royal Marines in Afghanistan claimed the new rifle jammed in action on three occasions - despite a 92m upgrade.


I am clear that the SA80 A2 lives up to and in some cases surpasses expectations

General Mike Jackson
Jane's Army
But Commander-in-Chief Land Forces General Sir Mike Jackson blamed those problems on troops not being properly instructed how to clean it.

And he said the rifle out-performed other unnamed rifles in the tests, where it achieved 95% reliability, against a target of 90%.

General Jackson also announced a new education and training programme to build confidence in the rifle.

He said: "After pretty intensive trials and exercises we are confident that we have got the weapon we need and want.

"I am clear that the SA80 A2 lives up to and in some cases surpasses expectations, with the proviso that correct maintenance regime is followed.
General Mike Jackson
General Jackson praised the SA80 A2
"It does what it is designed to do and it does it well."

After the Marines' complaints, it seemed at one point the rifle may be scrapped.

In July, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon notably failed to give the rifle his full backing and several senior MoD figures suggested they wanted rid of it.

Tests are believed to have shown that, among troops using cleaning methods associated with the old version of the rifle, reliability was just 17%.

Arms sales

However, among those following a new maintenance regime, the figure was 85%.

Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's Army, told BBC News Online: "I've never known a weapon that doesn't have problems in arduous conditions, especially in sand and dust.

"All rifles need to be looked after for 24 hours a day."

Geoff Hoon
Hoon's dilemma was whether to scrap it
The previous version of the rifle - the SA80 - was suspended as a Nato weapon in 1997 following a series of jams.

Meanwhile, the BBC's Today programme has learnt the government is selling the rifle at an arms fair in Africa.

But the MoD said its commercial sale would not affect its supply to British troops.

Mr Heyman said such sales could always be suspended in the event of war and would probably be in very small quantities.

But the arms fair provoked an angry response from Amnesty because the human rights group claims it breaks a government promise about small arms trafficking.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Adams
"The Ministry of Defence is sticking to its gun"
Former paratrooper Christian Auchincloss
"The MoD has suggested troops were not cleaning their weapons properly"
See also:

26 Jul 02 | Politics
21 Jul 02 | Politics
03 Jul 02 | Politics
23 Jun 00 | Politics
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