The SFSG L85A2
The now rather venerable SA80 has had a chequered history, and has undergone a lot of development since its early days.
The original L85A1, the standard assault rifle model with the SA80 family, suffered for many years from numerous problems from which its reputation has struggled to truly recover. The original L85A1 is markedly different from the modern L85A2/3¹, the modern L85 sports a Daniel Defense quad rail, LEI/Brügger and Thomet rail adaptor on top, and Heckler and Koch upgrade, most notable externally is the scoop trigger, comma style charging handle and mag release guard. Additionally the LLM Mk3 and Elcan OS4 LDS with Shield CQC sight above further differentiate the modern weapon.
Many people will also be familiar with the interim solution used for many years in Afghanistan, what was termed the L85A2 TES (Theatre Entry Standard). This configuration for Afghanistan deployed troops in most frontline roles saw the L85A2 fitted with a Trijicon ACOG TA31 with mini RDS mounted on a wing mount, with the ACOG itself mounted on a distinctive cantilever mount. The green polymer handguard was replaced with the Daniel Defense L85 quad rail (in black as opposed to the current FDE), to this was attached the LLM01 laser light module and Grip Pod Systems Gripod. Often a Surefire SA80 flash hider was also fitted. In general this was used as a complete package, however in some cases the transition appears to be somewhat more piecemeal, the LLM in particular saw use bolted to the polymer handguard before the rest of the package was in use.
There was however one other distinct configuration of the L85 which saw use in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and represented something of a precursor to the TES which saw widespread use.
I’m not sure what to call the configuration I refer to, since it was used by UKSF, information on it is characteristically scant.
The above is the famous C-17 SFSG picture.
The Special Forces Support Group was formed during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, building upon earlier experiences which highlighted the requirement for more manpower in special forces’ operations. Previous to the formation of the SFSG 2006 regular troops had supported UKSF operations in a more ad hoc way, such as 1PARAs support of the SAS in Op Barras, however the increasing pace of SF operation and the more specialised nature of the support they needed drove formation of a unit which many consider to be the UK equivalent of the US 75th Ranger Regiment.
SFSG was initially formed from 1PARA, with elements also drawn from Royal Marines and RAF Regiment and it fell under the UK Directorate of Special Forces.
The SAS, SBS and other UKSF units at the time used the L119A1, however the units making up SFSG used the L85A2. SFSG has subsequently adopted the L119A1, and presumably have, or will, transition to the L119A2. SFSGs kit and weapons have become increasingly close to those used by the SAS and SBS.
Initially however SFSG used their L85A2s, with a fascinating package of upgrades.
These upgrades comprised the following.
- Mini RDS mounted in a custom wing mount by Shield, fixed on top of the SUSAT.
- Brügger and Thomet quad rail system (There were 4 variants trialled)
- Various trials flash hiders, and on occasion suppressors.
- Insight AN/PEQ-2
- Surefire M600 Scoutlight
- KAC vertical grip
The above setup is interesting for several reasons.
Firstly, it’s just a bit different, the parts aren’t particularly accessible so, to my knowledge, there haven’t been any airsoft replicas built other than my own. Beyond the fact that this build holds a further appeal in combining my interest in UKSF kit with a love of L85s, and it features in one of the most well known UKSF pictures, the SFSG group posing in front of a C-17.
Secondly, as with my modernised L119A1, I am intrigued by the aesthetic and style of modernising an older platform with the addition of new technology, and the curious decisions and looks it brings about. B&T’s various chunky hand guards, the Shield RDS sight for the SUSAT, and the flash hider give a solid, unique variation on what was the standard British assault rifle setup of the time. Combined with RAVs, Gentex lids and UCP, DDPM and later multicam Cryes, it really contributed to the sense that the rifle encapsulates a period of change. It heralded the long overdue modernisation of the L85A2 platform from a very pre GWOT baseline, captured the transition in kit and role of SFSG from regular, if elite, soldiers toward a special operations role.
SFSG carrying L85A2s in Baghdad. The soldier on the right was very tragically killed some time later.
Finally, it provided an intriguing insight into the items tested and thinking that took place regarding modernising the L85A2, and the eventual TES package of upgrades. I won’t pretend to know with any certainty to what degree, if any, the programs were officially linked, but it seems very likely the use of the SFSG modded L85A2 fed into the package later adopted by the rest of the infantry. The items replaced, the handguard, optics, laser module and flash hider, are exactly the same, and the use of a 4x optic with a top mounted RDS, a quad rail, and a vortex flash hider is unlikely to be coincidence.
The B&T quad rail variants are all rather clunky when compared to the Daniel Defense, they seem heavy and the method of accessing the gas parts is a bit more cumbersome. The B&T also weighs more, however the quality and durability is far better, it integrates a QD attachment point at the front, a pressure pad space either side, and is absolutely rock solid. I can see why the lighter, and probably substantially cheaper, Daniel Defence rail was adopted, but I think the B&T is a better piece of kit, at least in the Mk2 variant I own. If there’s any demand I might write up a piece on the B&T rails specifically at some point.
The red dot sight on top of the SUSAT is of the mini RDS type built by Shield, and also produced by Trijicon, J-Point and others. It is mounted on a Shield SUSAT mount, which is an incredibly solid bit of kit (it really should be too, given the price). It clamps around the SUSAT and bolts down into the top to replace the iron sight, and provided wing mount protection for the RDS. While again, very solid, in this case it fails to address some of the issues integral to the SUSAT. While I won’t presume to speak to the combat effectiveness of sights about which I know little other than that gleaned from peeking through the odd display model, the SUSAT RDS is about as low as it really feasible for a decent sight picture when using it in CQB, and the combined unit is heavy. The above notwithstanding, it looks rather cool.
My SFSG L85A2 Build
In general I much prefer the SFSG version of the L85A2 to the standard TES setup, and using a PEQ-2 for battery storage and a Surefire Scoutlight is also a benefit. I would certainly recommend looking at some of the more unique and rare setups if looking for a cool L85 build without straying into the heresy of Aimpoints and M203s. The depth of research, awesome kit choices and a really special looking replica are a great reward.
For my build I have used an Ares L85A2 as a base. Fans of the airsoft SA80 platform will all disagree on the best manufacturer, but for me the Ares is the best. It is externally stunning, absolutely bomb proof and runs like a train. My gripe with them is the quality of hop unit and stock inner barrel, but this can be rectified fairly economically to make an excellent unit that doesn’t feel like a toy. In this regard it stands head and shoulders above its rivals.
Generally it was a fairly simply build to put together in terms of the actual work, and the difficulty came in sourcing the parts and undertaking the research to gather and identify the reference material to build it off.
The HKA2 marking just above the butt pad was engraved with a shallow engraving, while the bolt has had the paint removed. I have also taped a Hogue grip sleeve to the grip to give a more positive feel and wider grip.
The parts list for the upper is as follows, * denotes replica:
- Ares L85A2 with custom engraving*
- Ares SUSAT*
- Shield SUSAT RDS Mount
- Trijicon Mini Red Dot Sight
- Brügger and Thomet Mk2 SA80 Quad Rail
- VFC AN/PEQ-2 Battery Box*
- Surefire M600 Scoutlight
- KAC vertical grip*
- Dytac Surefire SA80 Flash Hider (This isn’t correct but there is no replica of the trials flash hiders)
¹The A2 refers to the rifles which have undergone Heckler and Koch’s upgrade program/fix. A3 rifles are A2s with a couple of smaller modifications, including a longer top rail and altered rear pins. The nomenclature L85A3 has also been used, in a semi-official capacity, to refer to a further package of upgrades to a HK front end, FDE paint job, a ‘more free floating barrel’, integral Picatinny rail and a couple of other modifications. At present this has been prototyped and showcased and is presumably being developed further.