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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
'Faulty' rifle gets 80m makeover
Soldier taking aim
Problems with the rifle first emerged back in 1991
The Ministry of Defence is to spend about 80m in trying to correct faults in the Army's standard SA80 rifle.

Problems with the SA80 rifle were reported in the 1980s and then in the 1991 Gulf War by British troops fighting in the extreme desert heat.

But it took until 1995 for soldiers' concerns to be confirmed by tests.

We know that the weapon can be improved

Baroness Symons
The "extensive modification programme" announced by the government will involve 200,000 rifles getting new components, including the weapon's magazine, firing pin, springs, cocking lever and barrel.

Gunmaker Heckler and Koch is expected to win the lucrative work contract, with 22,000 SA80s scheduled to be modified at the firm's German plant by the end of next year.

Defence Procurement Minister Baroness Symons said "there has long been concern over its performance in certain extremes of climate. We know that the weapon can be improved."

The announcement aims to put an end to the embarrassing faults that have dogged the SA80.

It was designed by MoD experts and introduced in 1986 to replace the ageing SLR which had been in service since the early 60s.
SA80 rifle facts
Weight: 4.98kg with loaded magazine
Length: 750mm
Muzzle velocity: 940mls
Feed: 30-round magazine
Effective range: 500m
Cyclic firing rate: 610/770 rounds/mins
Although lighter and shorter, soldiers complained that the rifle's bolt and magazine were prone to jamming.

One defence expert complained that it had "fallen apart" during trials in Norway in 1983.

Further complaints emerged during the 1991 Gulf War and in 1993 the Commons Defence Select Committee highlighted the SA80's "unbelievable" problems.

Four years later, the MoD ordered full-scale tests to be carried out.

Heckler and Koch, a subsidiary of Royal Ordnance, was instructed to study the weapon in 1995 and reported back in 1998.

Definitive report

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon received a final report last December.

Junior defence minister Lewis Moonie said the MoD had considered buying a new rifle, but concluded that modification represented "the most effective solution" to providing a weapon that worked in all conditions.

In a Commons written reply, he told MPs the Army planned to continue using the SA80 until 2020.

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25 Feb 00 | UK
Catalogue of MoD misery
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