UKSF Impression

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.

L85A2 SFSG

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.

 

 

Angry Gun L119A2 Prototype Rail – Write Up Vol 1

Introduction

This is a first impressions write up of a prototype, pre-production, Angry Gun L119A2 style rail.

First of all, the caveats:

1 – I have been involved, in a small way, alongside several others, in encouraging and helping bring this product to fruition. This prototype rail has very kindly and generously been provided to me by Angry Gun, free and before general production. I will try and be as objective and fair as possible, but in the interests of transparency, that’s where I am coming at it from.

2 – This is a prototype, it may therefore differ very slightly from the actual production variant based on the manufacturer’s own testing and the feedback from myself and the distributor (RedWolf UK). I have no link to RedWolf UK other than being friends with the UK manager. There’s no commercial interest or otherwise there.

In the pictures, you see the prototype Angry Gun L119A2 rail mounted on my Tokyo Marui NGRS A1 lower – in a sort of hybrid setup. I haven’t had opportunity to build a complete A2 rifle yet – rest assured when the rail hits general release, I will.

I have, and this review pertains to, the shorter CQB rail, for the 10.5in upper. There is also a 15.7in upper with a longer rail. I don’t have an example of the longer rail, however the attachment method, fit, finish, and quality should in theory be identical – it is simply an elongated version, with the obviously benefits and drawbacks that entails (greater weight and centre of gravity moved forward versus greater rail real estate, hand positions and accessories further toward the muzzle).

NGRS L119A2 5 (Large)

Genesis

The L119A2 had been rumoured for some time before it was seen in public, first as a grainy still, then a few days later in a glorious high resolution photo in the hands of Blades during Exercise Winchester Accord – That was May 2016. This new rifle obviously caused some excitement among UKSF Impression fans, and after 17 years of the venerable L119A1 people began experimenting with building L119A2s – many based on Geiselle rails or KAC URXs, but if we’re completely honest, while they looked ok, most just looked like M4s with freefloat rails.

I began messaging airsoft manufacturers to see if any would be interested at all in catering properly for this very keen market. Most rebuffed or ignored me, although a few discussions developed, and the one with Angry Gun seemed really promising, they were polite and keen, and asked for more information.

I then sounded out several people, both in UK groups and also a few helpful individuals from Canadian airsoft groups, their own forces use a very similar system, so they were keen on seeing something happen. Slowly, from a variety of sources, I compiled enough information for the manufacturer to make it a feasible project. I also used the L119 Owners Club and The Airsoft Diemaco L119-A1 Appreciation Group to try and demonstrate the demand for the product. Angry Gun were interested in the product but concerned it might be abit too niche, serious buy in and commitment from RedWolf UK to the product helped push it over the line.

The rail quite simply would not have got to the stage it is now, fairly imminent release, were it not for the information people helped me dig out, the buy-in and backing from RedWolf UK (In particular Gaz) and of course Angry Gun themselves. So if you’re excited about the product and pleased it’s coming to market, you have them to thank.

I run the L119 Owners Club Facebook group and Gaz runs The Airsoft Diemaco L119 Series Group, while information has been provided by British and Canadian aficionados, and the rail, has been designed and built in Hong Kong, the whole enterprise has been global, community based, and very rewarding to witness, and see the fruits of.

UKSF adopted the A2 during 2015/16 and to have an airsoft build possible in just over a year is remarkable.

NGRS L119A2 4 (Large)

Concept

So addressing the first point, many will know since the rail was announced, that Angry Gun obviously aren’t producing a full monolithic upper receiver, as per the real Colt Canada rifle. The Colt Canada IUR (Integrated Upper Receiver) is the system used on the L119A2, and CANSOF’s closely related C8IUR. This is used by Colt Canada under license from LMT, who hold the patent. In short, on the real thing, there is no ‘rail system’, the upper receiver and front end are completely seamlessly integrated from the same material.

There are numerous reasons why this approach wasn’t undertaken by Angry Gun.

1 – All airsoft manufacturers use different dimensions for upper receivers and lowers, so rather than one product the manufacturer would have instead be producing many small runs of similar products.

Design and testing costs would spiral, economies of scale wouldn’t be achieved, stock would be harder to move… It wouldn’t economically stack up – and you might still find compatibility problems. A rail will work with almost any system, no fuss.

2 – As above, costs would be vastly higher for a full monolithic upper, but you would also need larger machines to actually produce the items, especially the 15.6in version.

3 – If you product a monolithic receiver, the barrel, barrel nut, gas block, etc all become complete propriety too. You will likely also need to provide a barrel nut tool alongside the rail. This greatly increases cost and complexity.

4 – A rail system lets you retrofit the item more easily to existing weapons, rather than having to build from scratch.

HAO Airsoft have suggested they will release a monolithic upper in CQB variant for the PTW only. I am sure, given their reputation, that will be a great product, but PTWs are a niche market, and you can bet the price will be rather eye-watering. If you want a L119A2 in the next six months (minimum), you want a 15.7in version, or you want to use a platform other than a PTW, then this rail is the only game in town.

Neither the costs for the Angry Gun or HAO products are confirmed – I am not aware HAO have even started prototyping, however my discussions with them are not as in depth as those with Angry Gun. Logic, and an examination of HAO’s existing catalogue, suggests that their product will be several times more costly than this rail however.

NGRS L119A2 6 (Large)

Accuracy

The replica looks very accurate to the real thing, I have studied it from a variety of angles and it’s very close.

The very few variations I found and improvements I suggest, I will relay to Angry Gun privately at this point. I feel given I have a prototype it would be deeply unfair to review it like it was the finished article. The number of items I found were very few, and very minor and I had to crawl over it and check between reference pictures a lot to find them.

I am very impressed, the item is true to its inspiration and of high quality, the design solutions to making it look monolithic are creative and very well delivered. It’s one of the highest quality replica airsoft products I have come across. If anyone has followed my builds or kit at all they might realise I have high standards on kit and builds, and frequently use real parts and kit. I am thrilled with the quality and talent evident even in a prototype rail. Attention to detail and faithful reproduction of the reference weapon has been on display throughout the work and manifests in the prototype.

The grenade lug on the rail is removable, but the attachment is secure and seam is pretty much invisible. The lug isn’t removable on the real thing, but the fact it is on the replica is for two reasons.

1 – It hides the barrel nut interface bolts below. Keeping these hidden helps it appear monolithic.

2 – If you like want to build a C8IUR for a CANSOF kit, then removing the lug makes it look exceptionally close to their issued weapon. If you were super keen you could get an extra rail slow machined in there to finish it off.

The major noticeable difference between a standard receiver and Angry Gun A2 rail combination and a true Integrated Upper Receiver is the area of the join. Obviously a true monolithic upper has no joint whatsoever, and there is a ‘flare out’ between the receiver and rail areas, there is also a built up area around the ejection port which is chunkier than on a standard AR pattern upper. This is not present on the airsoft system. It does not detract majorly from the effect though, and I am exploring options regarding receiver modifications.

NGRS L119A2 7 (Large)

Fit and Finish

The rail is built using 6061 Aluminium, and the finish is anodised in a Matt Black. Rail numbers are applied using a laser, and there are no other markings present, as per the L119A2 reference pictures seen thus far.

It is secured via two bolts to the chunky hidden barrel nut fixing, to hide the attachment method as well as possible. The securing bolts are under the grenade lug on the bottom of the rail. The rail also has a couple of areas where it overlaps the receiver to further integrate it visually and stop rotation. This did mean the ejection port pin on my NGRS interfered slightly with the rail however, so it required trimming by about a millimetre.

I found the finish to match my brand spanking new Marui NGRS upper incredibly well, but obviously upper finishes differ based on the manufacturer in question and age. The dark grey cerakoted lower on my A1, which has been somewhat worn, has a markedly different finish. Certainly in some cases a lick of paint will help tie the rail and upper receiver together.

I haven’t put the product through any torture testing and I have yet to get it out for a game, I therefore can’t talk about its long term durability with any great certainty. What I will say though is that the finish is very similar to my Angry Gun suppressor on my A1, which has held up great so far. Also by the very nature of the item, there’s not a huge amount that can actually go wrong with it. I think, like most airsoft products, you have to expect if you use it properly at skirmishes and events it will scratch up and wear over time. Personally I don’t anticipate the rail being any more susceptible than anything comparable on the market, and a bit of wear and pristine kit looks good anyway. I don’t abuse things, but at the moment everything on my A2 upper is brand new, and I hope it will develop abit of character over time.

Everything has been fitted tightly to the upper, there are no weird gaps or junctions, and no movement. This obviously may vary between receivers but it’s excellent on my Marui. The join is small and certainly from any more than a few centimetres it looks pretty seamless. Mounting an optic over the join also helps.

It is worth noting that the holes on the rail for gas block pins to be knocked through don’t align perfectly with airsoft gas blocks. That shouldn’t be a problem though given that the rail isn’t actually monolithic.

When using a stock Marui NGRS barrel and barrel base, you do need a handful or barrel nut shims, but that shouldn’t be a problem for most. Many people have a random box full of shims like that you accumulate over time, and if not, they aren’t expensive to buy.

I initially bought and modded a replica Daniel Defense low profile gas block to stand in for a Colt Canada one, but having fitted it, it is obviously too long compared to the real. It fits with the Angry Gun rail just fine, but doesn’t look like an A2 should. I am exploring other options, but a modded Noveske style gas block seems a strong option for those after something accurate to the real A2.

-EDIT- A Noveske style gas block, once modded with a bolt to the front, works a lot better.

Ergonomics

If, like me, you’ve resisted the profusion of cool HK 416s and pimped M4s in favour of using L85A2s and L119A1s for years, the change is marked. Using the L119A2 upper I’ve built from the Angry Gun rail is a complete revelation. You gain rail space, it’s absolutely rock solid with no wobble at all, and it’s very ‘pointable’. LA-5 boxes, optics, sling mounts and hand grips can all move further forward, easing the congestion with the A1 once it was set up more heavily.

The system retains the two full length rails in the 12 and 6 oclock positions, with much smaller rail elements to either side in the 3 and 9 oclock positions. This saves weight, and gives a potentially more comfortable hand position where in traditional quad rails the backward side rails would rarely be used. The grenade lug also functions as a sort of handstop if using a magwell grip. I have found however that moving an AFG to the foremost position on the lower rail gives the best ergonomics, and is a setup favoured by the guys carrying L119A2s for real.

NGRS L119A2 3 (Large)

Litmus Test

I guess the litmus test is this. Given that I have been given a rail, for free, it’s easy to say I like it. Would I actually go out and spend my own money on one though?

The answer is a resounding yes – I will certainly buy a further two, if not more, when they go on general release.

Availability and Price

Release date will vary on if/how quickly Angry Gun can accommodate any comments we make from testing and review. It wouldn’t be too far off though, and Pre Orders will be available from RedWolf UK.

Price will inevitably depend on the finalised production costs from the manufacturer, the exchange rate and costs at the time of order. I don’t think they will compare unfavourably to other airsoft rail systems in terms of price though, and they will totally unique.

-EDIT- RedWolf UK have give an early indication that the price will be around £135, with the above caveats.

NGRS L119A2 1 (Large)

Conclusion

Ultimately, as touched on before, if doing a modern UKSF or CANSOF impression, you may very well want to build an L119A2 or C8IUR – the L119A1 seems to have left services with the ‘main’ UKSF units. If that’s the case, the Angry Gun rail is the only product on the market that can do that convincingly.

If you do buy one then I doubt you will be disappointed in the product, I certainly haven’t been with the prototype. I intend to follow this write up with a further one, with more technical information on the attachment system, weight and what I know of compatibility with various brands as time allows. If you have any questions please feel free to ask on the Facebook threads in L119 Owners Club.

Pictures are of the prototype Angry Gun L119A2 rail fitted to a Tokyo Marui NGRS upper receiver, on my NGRS L119A1 lower.  The parts list for the upper is as follows, * denotes replica:

  • Angry Gun L119A2 rail*
  • Toyko Marui NGRS Upper receiver, barrel base and CQB-R Barrel*
  • GG&G Aimpoint T1 Mount
  • Nuprol Aimpoint T1 Replica*
  • Element LA-5 with custom sticker set*
  • PTS Ergo Ladder rail covers*
  • Magpul AFG1
  • Magpul RSA-QD
  • Replica Daniel Defense Low Profile Gas Glock (modded)*
  • Replica Surefire FH556-216A Flash Hider*

My article on my Marui NGRS Diemaco L119A1 on The Reptile House Blog…

The L119A1 represents a classic form factor. Simple, functional and well balanced. Each detail that differentiates a Diemaco from an M4 comes together to form a cohesive whole. Having built a G&P L119A1 several years ago, I’d planned for some time to step up a level. So, toward the end of 2013 I sprung […]

via Tokyo Marui NGRS L119A1 Build, by Jay — The Reptile House

My write up on Exercise Final Encore on The Reptile House Blog…

The Concept HTIS Exercise Final Encore was not an ‘Op’ in the same vein as most milsim events. It was alternatively conceptualised as a training event. In some ways it was inspired by the recent real public counter terror drills for military and blue-light services; most notable of these, London’s Operation Strong Tower and Greater […]

via “Barely Airsoft” – Final Encore Realsim Report, by Jay — The Reptile House

Interview with the S23 Gearmonkey Blog…

Good Guys wear Black – an interview UKSF Impressionista with JW01 Long ago, already then mutual admirers of kits and gears, JW01 and I finally swapped messages over one the most liked photo’s way back on the original Mk I ‘Beer Mat’ giveaway … It was here, whilst already aware of his work I realized, […]

via Good Guys wear Black – an interview with UKSF Impressionista JW01 — s23gearmonkey75