By Dan Shea
Last month, I delved lightly into the British SA80 situation… this month we have Marsh Gelbert unearthing much of the roots of the British bullpup in the EM1/ EM2 feature. Next Month, I have a full analysis of the SA80A1 system, the L85A1 and L86A1 LSW. In today’s news, the British Government announced that they are accelerating the replacement of the SA80 system with a new, unnamed successor. This is apparently a timely thing to do, however they have scheduled it out about 4 years from now. With all of the controversy, one has to wonder what the British soldiers who have to carry this weapon must be thinking as they prepare to board a plane for some obscure land where they will have to rely on it for their very survival.
At this point, no credible reports exist on the tests held in Afghanistan, although the rumor mill is full of speculation. Rumor has it that the M4 version of the M16A2 in carbine form has been plagued with problems as well, and the SA80A2 actually did better in the tests. There are a lot of political agendas rolling in the background on this, and hopefully, we will be able to get some good info on this by the next issue.
Weapon systems tend to have lifespans that are fairly consistently in the 35-50 year range. Excluding variants and derivatives, our own history in the US will attest to that, with some exceptional pieces like the 1911A1 and the M2HB lasting far longer. A few were short lived as well, witness the Reising SMG- US Marines tended to heave these into the nearest river if they could find a replacement on the battlefield. Our own procurement system is not immune to problem weapon systems and development paths, either.
We have often discussed in these pages how we are waiting for the “Next leap forward”, that radical change in the basic way we think of firearms. It has been said that essentially the M16 system is a forty-year-old design that we are simply accessorizing, not improving. I would partially agree, but have seen too many interesting new improvements to the basic system to buy that whole statement. The Shrike is one example- a belt fed upper that really works- we have one in for testing now, and will be featuring our tests soon. The whole Knight’s Armament Company R&D program, as well as many others, shows how much innovation there is left to be done to the M16 series. When I saw Knight’s SR47 in 7.62x39mm, I thought I was looking at the new generation of the M16. That may still come to be.
However, it is a radical change, a fundamental change, that may be sitting on the drawing board of some fired up engineer, or in someone’s garage as they hammer away on twisted chunks of metal, focused on something that we as a collective group of firearms people haven’t even considered yet. The next Great Leap Forward is out there somewhere. SAR hopes to be there to show that genesis, to bring the story to the readers as it unfolds.
While the laws and regulations in the United States tighten a noose on private ownership of firearms, we have been successful in holding the anti firearms groups back. I believe that we can win this fight, and all can benefit from the free ownership and private arming with firearms. Unfortunately, it is a long, tough battle, and the maze of regulation that an inventor has to go through in order to comply, is discouraging. I have heard many say they might as well go into designing car parts, it would be a lot easier. That would be unfortunate, as we need designers to apply their skills to new firearms, in order to keep our country at the top of weapons design and production.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N2 (November 2002)|