Weapons: January 29, 2004


Britain adopted the SA80 assault rifle 19 years ago, and has had persistent problems with reliability. Three years ago, Britain spent $140 million refurbishing 200,000 of the 330,000 SA80s on hand. This was to have fixed the problems encountered during the 1991 Gulf War, when the fine desert sand would cause the weapons to jam. Complaints were few until troops returned to the Persian Gulf last year. Now there are a significant number of complaints about the safety catch. In many cases, the Ministry of Defense won't say how many, flipping the safety catch off would leave the weapon still unable to fire. The situation was considered so serious that the Ministry of Defense has hired a contractor to modify the safety catch on all SA80 rifles. About a year ago, there were many reports of problems with rounds not feeding into the rifle from the magazine. This problem was apparently fixed by providing redesigned magazines. There were also complaints about the SA80 in Afghanistan, where British commandoes were often seen using M-16s instead. 


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