4 YORKS Yorkshire Regiment Army reservist firing a SA80 on Exercise Yorkshire Strike 100221 CREDIT MOD .
Weapons and Kit

Splitting The Difference: The SLR v The SA80

4 YORKS Yorkshire Regiment Army reservist firing a SA80 on Exercise Yorkshire Strike 100221 CREDIT MOD .

Almost everybody serving in the Armed Forces today has only ever known the SA80 (or SA80 A2) as the standard issue weapon used by personnel across the branches of the military.

Introduced officially in 1985, the rifle has undergone upgrades and seen action around the globe, most notably in Northern Ireland, The Gulf War, Bosnia and more recently, Afghanistan and the Iraq War

Now nearing its 36th anniversary as the British Army's standard service rifle, the weapon system has stood the test of time.

However, in terms of the number of years in service it has enjoyed, the SA80's predecessor – the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle – is equally impressive.

Entering service in the mid-1950s, with design origins stretching as far back as the 1940s, the weapon commonly known as the SLR saw service in several conflicts. It remained the standard service rifle in the British Army for an impressive 31 years.

But how do the two rifles compare?

Take a look at the specifications, different types of conflict the weapons were used in and one or two neat little facts about the L1A1 SLR and SA80 rifles.

The L1A1 SLR

The SLR v SA80 – Specifications

Weight                4.337 kg           3.83 kg

Length                1.143 mm         785 mm 

Ammo type         7.62 mm          5.56 mm NATO

Rate of fire          20 rpm             610 – 755 rpm

Effective range   800 m              300-400 m

Muzzle velocity   823 m/s           940 m/s

Feed                   20 or 30 mag    30 mag

The original SA80
The original SA80

SLR v SA80 – Further Details

Name                   L1A1 Self Loading Rifle / SA80 (inc SA80 A2)

Origin                  UK  / UK

Year of intro        1954  / 1985

Manufacturer      Royal Small Arms Factory / Royal Small Arms Factory

Variants               A1, C1, C1A1  /  L85, L86 LSW, L22 Carbine, Cadet GP Rifle

Used by               UK, Commonwealth / UK, several nations as UK Aid   

Conflicts – LSR Malayan Emergency, Suez Crisis, Aden Emergency, Vietnam War, Cambodia Civil War, Indo-Pakistan War, The Troubles, Falklands War, Gulf War.

Conflicts – SA80 The Troubles, The Gulf War, Yugoslav Wars, Sierra Leone Civil War, War in Afghanistan, Iraq War.

British soldiers with sniffer dog, on patrol in Northern Ireland, 1979. Credit: Alamy
British soldiers carrying SLRs on patrol in Northern Ireland, 1979. Credit: Alamy

Cold War v War In The Desert

One of the starkest differences immediately evident about the weapon systems is something non-mechanical but instead related to their generally used environments.

The SLR is a Cold War-era weapon. The skirmishes and conflicts British soldiers carried the rifle in included a majoritively urban theatre type. Notably, The Troubles throughout the 1970s and 80s, and of course, less urban but still cold-climate settings like The Falklands.

Conversely, by geopolitical chances, the SA80 has seen much of its service in warm weather climates. Initially, that included the Gulf War in 1991. At the onset of the new century, soldiers used the rifle in action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Two Weapons One Factory

Both the SLR and SA80 originate from the same factory.

"Enfield" is a name immediately recognisable among weapons enthusiasts. Enfield Town was the home to the now-closed Royal Small Arms Factory in London's most northern borough- Enfield.

The Royal Small Arms Factory heritage website says that the facility was "famous for creating some of the world's most iconic weapons."

"Between 1816 and 1988 The Royal Small Arms Factory was at the heart of Britain's military small arms industry. Famous for creating some of the world's most iconic weapons of the 19th and 20th centuries, the factory was responsible for many industrial breakthroughs. It is the birthplace of modern mass production in the United Kingdom."

The SA80 rifle was the last of a long line of weapons to be made at the arms factory, which closed its gates in 1988. Today, the site exists as a museum.

The SLR – What Happened Next?

When the SLR was replaced by the SA80, which occurred gradually over some years, the no longer required rifles used consistently across operations for more than 30 years were mainly destroyed.

However, some were saved from the crusher and instead provided to countries including Sierra Leone. Several thousand units were sold in the US as spare parts for other weapons systems.

The Future Of The SA80

In April 2018, Defence Minister Guto Bebb announced that the "Ministry of Defence [was] upgrading the British Army's standard combat rifle to ensure troops [were] equipped with the best possible battle-winning kit" as the organisation moved into the 2020s and beyond.

The upgraded rifle was named SA80 A3, after the last upgrade in the early 2000s was named SA80 A2. 

The MOD announcement placed a cost to the upgrade at £5.4 million, naming Heckler and Koch as the supplier for the project. They also said that the scheme would help sustain 20 "highly skilled" workers at the Nottingham Small Arms Factory.

The MOD said changes included:

  • A more durable hardwearing coating in a "Flat Dark Earth" colour, offering better camouflage in a range of environments.
  • A 100g saving in weight over the A2.
  • A more streamlined fore grip making the weapon easier to handle.
  • A bracket to secure new innovative low light sights which can clip on or in front of the day sight without the need to remove it. These sights are smaller, lighter and require fewer batteries while operating just as effectively in low light/night conditions.


Did you use both the SLR and SA80 during your service in the Armed Forces? If so, which weapon did you prefer?

Let us know on our social media pages.

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