7 March 2016 – What happened to the straight-pull SA80 rifles issued to the cadet forces? The MoD claims they were converted into semi-auto L98A2s but that is not true. Some partial clues are available, however.
Anyone who was an ATC, ACF, SCC or CCF cadet in the years up to 2010 will remember this monstrosity:
That, to give it its formal title, is the Rifle, 5.56mm, L98A1 Cadet General Purpose. It is a factory-built straight pull version of the L85 service rifle.
Being a straight-pull firearm, it is legal to own on a standard firearm certificate. The L98A1 barrel and “gas block” (carrying the foresight) were unique components, as was the barrel extension block; none were drilled to accept gas parts as the L85 and L86 Light Support Weapon were.
In April last year someone made a Freedom of Information request to the MoD (scroll to the bottom for the PDF link), asking what happened to the L98A1s after they were withdrawn from service. The response stated: “They were converted to the L98A2 version, with the exception of 2,488 converted to drill weapons and 4,015 kept in storage.”
This, however, is nonsense. Take another look at that photo above. It’s not the best angle but you’ll see the guide rail for the cocking handle is firmly fixed to the rifle’s body. If you were to strip the rifle and look inside the upper receiver, you’d see three whacking great screws holding the rail on. The body is drilled to allow those screws through. No L98A2s on issue have those tell-tale holes in the upper.
L98A2s are converted L85s. The only difference between the two is that the L98A2 has a different trigger mechanism insert, without the automatic sear. But how, you ask, does UK Shooting News know this better than the MoD’s FOI people?
That’s why. Annoyingly the original, full size, photograph is long gone, but this copy is just good enough to show the shadow of paint underneath the NATO stock number and the weapon designation and chambering information. That shadow clearly (at least, to the naked eye when I took this picture) says L85. You can see the original NATO stock number for the L85A2 painted underneath the new one: L98A1s never had the NSN painted on; that was a Heckler und Koch A2 upgrade feature.
The FOI request revealed that the MoD still has 4,015 L98A1s in storage, and says the original fleet size was 21,707 rifles. If that is true, what happened to the other 16,000 L98A1s, given that they were not converted into A2s?
Ominously, the document also says: “Government policy is that all weapons are disposed of by being destroyed.”