Special Forces Support Group

Reveal – L17A3 Grenade Launcher

Continuing the theme of covering the overhaul of the UKSF armoury, first with Glock 19s phasing out Sigs, then L119A2s replacing L119A1s, now we have the L17A3 (there may well be another rifle floating about too – but more on that another time). It is worth noting all the above have been used a while, and it is only comparatively recently that good reference material has come to light. It is hard to pin point the exact date things entered service, and indeed entering service does not necessarily mean wholesale adoption.

Taranis Picture Template - L17A3 4

SFSG training with L17A1s on L119A1 SFWs.

The L17A1, for those unfamiliar, is the underslung grenade launcher, manufactured by Heckler and Koch, which was fitted to the bottom rail of L119A1 SFWs – it is similar in concept and operation to the AG36 UGL. It has been in use since the early days of the L119 and the Afghan invasion, and represented the replacement of the M203 grenade launcher – the L17A1 in turn seems to have now been replaced, at least in part, by a new evolved variant. I saw textual reference to an L17A3 long before I’d seen a picture, which was pretty recently, but didn’t assign any particularly significance to it, indeed some ‘upgrades’ which warranted new ‘A’ numbers have been so outwardly inconsequential as to be near unnoticeable aesthetically. Recently however a mention of the weapon on a Facebook interest group, and later a picture, have clarified exactly what the weapon is.

Taranis Picture Template - L17A3 2

A US Service M320 Grenade Launcher.

The general trend in grenade launchers, most obviously seen by the US adoption of the M320 (made by HK under the commercial name GLM) launcher, is for smaller standalone launchers which can be carried and used independently of an assault rifle. This has numerous benefits in terms of flexibility and weight, cutting the weights of an individual’s weapon, which will reduce fatigue and in turn increase accuracy – this will I’m sure be especially important given the number of other accessories now fitted to individual weapons. Additionally, the weapon can be stowed in vehicles and packs, passed between team mates and holstered with much greater flexibility than was possible before.

Taranis Picture Template - L17A3 3

L17A1 slung by the side of an SFSG soldier.

Indeed, before the adoption of the L17A3, there is reference material showing the L17A1 slung as a standalone unit. It is not clear from the picture if the weapon is fired like that, or fitted to a rifle, however given it is slung handily from a belt, it suggests to me the weapon was used independent of any other system.

The L17A3 itself appears, in precis, to be an L17A1 with the stock and folding fore grip functionality of the M320/GLM.

The keen eyed will have noticed the feature picture accompanying this article is not in fact a photo of a L17A3, I am unable to share the photos of that which I have. The featured picture is a Photoshop mock up I produced using the reference for the L17A3, using an M320 picture as a base.  A number of precise details may not be perfect, the stock pad in particular, however this hopefully illustrates, broadly, what the L17A3 looks like and what grenade launcher is currently used by UKSF.

UKSF Impression FAQs – Vol 1


In a thread I posted on the UKSF Impressions Facebook group I asked for a few Frequently Asked Questions related to UKSF Impressions which we could try and answer there. I took a few of these, and some which I have noticed posted regularly on that and other groups, such as the L119 Owners Club, and to have tried to answer them below.

I have used the odd bit of information from well informed people, but mostly I have based the answers upon pictured reference material, both public and private. I have avoided referencing things which I have not seen myself.

I am not mates with anyone in any UKSF units, although I do have the odd contact who has interesting information, none of that information is first hand either. The below has been based on careful collection and categorisation and research into evidence, although in some cases the evidence is understandably scant, in others it runs to hundreds if not thousands of images – it may be specifics are not quite right, or there are some noteworthy exceptions evidenced in things I haven’t seen, but I am pretty confident in the broad strokes of the answers below. If you have anything to add or query – get in touch though.

This first volume will be followed by others every so often, please do ask also if you have a question you want addressed in future instalments.

Have UKSF ever used LBT 6094s?

Given the popularity of the LBT6094, and the fact it is a great plate carrier, this question comes up a lot.

Individuals within UKSF, including the SAS, SBS and SFSG have used the LBT 6094 in multicam, although the latter is based on pictures of only one individual.

SBS have been seen using the LBT6094RS version, while SAS have been seeing using the standard version. Dates for usage appear to be from about 2010-2015, however it is hard to be precise.

If using the 6094 in a UKSF kit it would be wise to make sure all the other details are pretty close, to avoid it looking too much like a SEAL kit, and looking at the setups on the few UKSF 6094 pictures about will help greatly in getting the right look and time period sorted.

Taranis Picture Template - 6094

Have L119s been seen with Crane Stocks?

L119A1s have primarily only been seen with the old school CAR-15 style stock, and the later Colt Canada variant of it with the textured surface. Magpul CTRs and ACS stocks become increasingly common in the lifetime of the platform too.

The Crane Stock, or the SOPMOD Stock as it is otherwise known, has been seen however from about the mid-life of the platform. These stocks are uncommon, but have been pictured.

L119A2s have only been pictured with Magpul CTR or STR stocks in FDE.

Taranis Picture Template - Sopmod Stocks

What pistol grips are correct for a UKSF L119?

Lonestar Ordnance Stowaway Grip (commonly called the Storm Grip) is by far the most commonly pictured pistol grip on L119A1s – and is the only example seen on early setups.

Colt A2 standard grips are less common than the above but have been pictured regularly, particularly on mid-life L119A1s.

For later setups, about 2012-2015, more variation in setups and accessories begins to be seen so later era builds can include the below:

Magpul MIAD/MOE type grips, Hogue Overmoulded AR-15 Grip with finger grooves and UTG Model 4 AR-15 Ergonomic Grips do not appear to be particularly common, but have been pictured.

The only pistol grip pictured on an L119A2 is a Ergo Suregrip 2 in FDE. The exact model is abit of a guess, but it’s certainly an Ergo grip.

L119s in use with units other than UKSF (e.g. RMP CPU, RM FPG etc) have only been seen with Stowaway or Colt A2 type grips.

What do UKSF jungle kits look like?

While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and occasional training or operational deployments in the UK have led to UKSF being pictured on several occasions, their training in jungle warfare finds its way onto film much less regularly.

Therefore to get a picture of what they use is a little less straight forward. It combines a combination of using the few pictures available with inference based on how regulars train in jungle operations. Greyed out individuals in the pictures are US MARSOC.

Kit setups appear to be typical light weight uniforms, a mix of Crye and MTP kit, including both shirts and UBACs – the one example pictured in full DPM above predates SFSGs issue of multicam, while the individual in trops is the only pictured example who may well be SAS, while the others are SFSG – so he may have more freedom to look ally (worth noting, the pictures has also been suggested to be a Pathfinder). Headwear is mostly boonie hats, often cut down, while load carrying kit is almost invariably webbing, in many cases it seems to be standard PLCE, although presumably more bespoke options are out there. Comms PPT/Tacmic is on the shoulder, machetes and scarves . There is one guy wearing a Blackhawk Helivest in the picture, and a contact has suggest that the guys have slick lightweight plate carriers in their bags for use in phases where contact is probable – this would be a departure from pictures of USKF in earlier eras where armour wasn’t used in jungle ops.

Weapons don’t hold to any neat categorisation. The SFSG spec L85s pictured for instance forego their PEQ-2s and optics to just run rails and iron sights, while the L119s pictured have a mix of ACOGs and DIS, while some have LA-5s while others do not. L119s are also more commonly the CQB variant, presumably for ease of carrying in dense foliage and due to the very short engagement distances in jungles.

Taranis Picture Template - UKSF Jungle

When did MP5s stop being used?

MP5s have been associated with UKSF since Operation Nimrod, and not without good reason, they were used for many years for CQB and hostage rescue. In recent years however a combination of the fact UKSF have had huge operational experience with the L119 platform, the increasing likelihood of facing adversaries with body armour, and the advances in firearm technology have slowly pushed the MP5 to the periphery.

It is difficult to absolutely categorically pinpoint when the MP5 stopped seeing use. The last images of it in use by UKSF training were 2011, although images showing the Diemaco being used for roles which the MP5 would normally be associated with date from before that point.

MP5s saw use with specialist roles like dog handlers for longer than the rest of the various units using it. 2010-11 would probably represent the last date MP5s were seen pictured, however as early as 2003 Diemacos were being used for some tasks in CT work, and by 2005 they were being carried on raids in Iraq, and later in similar setups for CT training in the UK.

The MP5K seems to have continued to see use for some time after the full size MP5 was last seen, being used as a PDW with snipers and a concealable weapon. It is presumably still used for these roles.

Do UKSF use Warrior Assault Systems?

As a relatively inexpensive brand with durable, quality kit, WAS are popular among airsofters and often represent the first purchase of ‘proper’ kit for many. WAS also has strong credentials as a ‘real steel’ manufacturer, although many try to paint it as high quality airsoft gear, their plate carriers have been used by CTSFOs and PMCs, who trust their lives to the kit, while their various pouches and accessories are used by many soldiers to supplement issue kit.

Therefore it gets asked a lot to what degree it is used by UKSF.

In short – WAS is not greatly used insofar as plate carriers are concerned, however there are a handful of examples of the RICAS Compact and DCS being used by individual operators within the SAS and SFSG – but we are talking about so few they can be counted on one hand. It is presumed these items were private purchase and represented a perceived upgrade to whatever kit they were issued at the time, likely the Paraclete SOHPC – this does not seem an entirely surprising position to me, since I am no great fan of the SOPHC. With the issuing of Crye carriers they seem to have fallen out of use, and certainly haven’t been pictured for many years.

WAS pouches though have consistently cropped up individual kits, especially with SFSG. Their mag pouches and command panels both seemed to be relatively popular, and while their use has dropped off with greater quality and variety of issue kit, for specific roles they are certainly on the radar of the guys in UKSF – I regularly include their excellent foldable dump pouch on my kits, and judging by pictures a few guys do the same.

Ares L85A2 ‘SFSG Setup’

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.

L85A2 SFSG 2

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

L85A2 1

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.

L85A2 3

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.

L85A2 2

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.