British special operations soldiers and Royal Marines will soon be more lethal on the battlefield thanks to a £90m contract to deliver a new modern, high-precision rifle.
The Knight's Stoner 1 (KS-1), designated L403A1, boasts a muzzle signature reduction system, an improved optical sighting system and crucially can be more easily shot from the left shoulder than the current L85 assault rifle.
Royal Marines tested the rifle on exercise in Norway earlier this year.
Procured by Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) under Project Hunter, the Alternative Individual Weapon (AIW) uses a magnified optic so the user is able to engage threats from greater distances, while the signature reduction system works to mask the AIW from detection by sight and sound.
The L403A1 will supplement the current rifle being used by soldiers and marines, the L85A3.
The AIW system is being delivered by Macclesfield-based company Edgar Brothers but is manufactured by Knight's Armament Company based in the US.
Jack Leuba, director of sales at Knight's Armament Company, told Forces News: "The most immediate and useful feature of the L403A1 is the ability to use the rifle with either the right or left side of the body, allowing both left- and right-hand/eye-dominant users to interact with the rifle identically.
"This grants every user the ability to use not only their optimal side, but also enables the use of the opposite side in the event of injury or to gain tactical advantage in specific circumstances.
"The controls of the KS-1 have been refined over decades of use and experience, carefully designed to ensure rapid access while minimizing the probability of inadvertent manipulation or creating a snag hazard."
The rifle's dimpled barrel is cold hammer-forged, making it extremely strong, while its suppressor can handle extremely high temperatures, Mr Leuba said.
He explained how the handguard covers nearly the entire length of the 348mm (13.7in) barrel, providing two functions.
He said: "Not only does this protect the barrel from damage and the user from touching a hot barrel, it also serves to allow mounting of various enablers such as torches and laser aiming devices without compromising the user’s grip position on the handguard.
"Further, a free-floating handguard permits a firer to support the handguard on a solid object without disturbing the barrel, which directly contributes to increased individual accuracy."
Mr Leuba said the KS-1 shares many common parts with most M4-type rifles, "permitting parts-sharing in extreme situations if needed".
The Ranger Regiment, as a key component of the Army Special Operations Brigade (ASOB), will receive the AIW later this year.
Lieutenant-Colonel Gareth Davies, one of the people involved in the procurement programme, said: "Project Hunter has successfully delivered a new weapon option for UK Defence.
"At the current time this is being procured for the Army Special Operations Brigade (ASOB).
"It offers a marked increase in lethality, and the system includes one of most capable day sights currently available.
"Importantly the weapon system will be further enhanced by our newest generation of night optics, with which the ASOB are already equipped."
The L403A1 is a high-performing modern development of the ArmaLite Rifle (AR). As an AR-type platform, it shares much in common with the rifle systems used by many of the UK's allies.
An initial £15m order for 1,620 AIWs has been placed, with options to procure up to 10,000 more, totalling £90m, under the contract over the next decade.
Defence Procurement Minister James Cartlidge said: "This is another example of how we are committed to investing in the most advanced battlefield equipment to back our troops on the battlefield.
"This advanced rifle's ability to help soldiers maintain the stealth edge not only protects them but delivers war-fighting advantage over our adversaries."