Evolution Toward the British Enfield Weapon System

By Jonathan Ferguson, Photography by N.R. Jenzen-Jones

The XL60 series of experimental firearms was the first generation of what was initially known as the “485 Weapon System,” designed and produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) Enfield, located in North London, United Kingdom, by a team led by Sydney Hance. The term “485 Weapon System,” so-named for the weapon’s 4.85mm calibre, was later dropped in favour of “Enfield Weapon System” or EWS, which persisted until at least 1982 but was ultimately also side-lined. Instead, the name “Small Arms of the 1980s” or “SA80” was adopted and remains in use to this day. This term is used alongside the land service or “L” designations (e.g., L85A2). Interestingly, this name was in use from the very beginning by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), sometimes with the prefix “Section” as in “infantry section” or squad. As per the preliminary study and MoD specification, the EWS/SA80 system comprised rifle and light machine gun variants, known by their period NATO euphemisms of “Individual Weapon” (IW) (today simply “Rifle, 5.56mm”) and “Light Support Weapon” (LSW) (a term still in use today, sometimes considered interchangeable or overlapping with “squad automatic weapon,” or SAW; automatic rifle; and light machine gun, or LMG). Several variants emerged during development which all received their own designations. This can get confusing, so these official designations are detailed here:

The “00 series”

However, this is jumping the proverbial gun somewhat, as there are two earlier iterations of these prototypes that should be first discussed. In 1972, British Ministry of Defence followed on from the preliminary study covered in the previous article. By this time, it had been decided that the new weapon family would be a modern bullpup in a small calibre high velocity (SCHV) calibre. As covered previously, the gas system and working parts of the new weapon were very closely based upon an existing and straightforward design—the Armalite...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N3 (March 2019)
and was posted online on February 1, 2019


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