A new rifle has been acquired for British troops in Afghanistan that the country’s Ministry of Defence will improve the long-range firepower available on the front line.
The L129A1 Sharpshooter rifle will fire a 7.62x51mm round and will enhance accuracy of engagement during longer-range firefights with the Taliban. The weapon will be used by some of the best shots in the infantry.
More than 400 of the semi-automatic Sharpshooter rifles have been bought as a GBP1.5 million Urgent Operational Requirement. It is the first new infantry combat rifle to be issued to troops for more than 20 years.
Training on the rifles has already begun and the first batch will be sent to Afghanistan later in the year. Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Quentin Davies added troops in Afghanistan are already bristling with a variety of weapons they can use when fighting the Taliban.
“The Sharpshooter rifle adds to this arsenal and provides them with an additional, highly-precise, long-range capability. This is a concrete example of where we add to our range of equipment to ensure our brave forces have the best kit available to them on the front line,” Davies added.
Colonel Peter Warden, Light Weapons, Photographic and Batteries Team Leader at Defence, Equipment and Support, explained the “rifle is very capable and has been bought to fulfil a specific role on the front line in Afghanistan. It is a versatile weapon which will give our units a new dimension to their armoury. It will complement the SA80A2 by adding to the weapons available to commanders on the ground. The Sharpshooter’s capabilities are also complementary to the current Sniper System.
“Initial feedback on the rifle has been very positive and the Army units deployed in Afghanistan are very keen to get their hands on it,” Warden said.
The L129A1 is a gas-operated weapon with a 20-round magazine manufactured by Lewis Machine & Tool Company (LEI) in the United States. It is 945mm long and weighs 5kg. Features of the weapon include a single-piece upper receiver and free-floating, quick-change barrels available in 305 mm, 406 mm and 508 mm. It has four Picatinny rails with a 540 mm top rail for night vision, thermal and image intensifying optics. The weapon is reportedly based on the Armalite AR-10, the 7.62mm predecessor of the M16 assault rifle and M4 carbine.
Stock options include fixed or retractable versions.
Industry sources told Jane Defence Weekly last year that LEI beat competition including Heckler & Koch’s HK417 (already supplied to specialist units within the MoD), FN Herstal’s SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) and an offering from Sabre Defence Industries.
British soldiers must complete a marksmanship course to become qualified as “sharpshooters”, and are regarded as being a grade below that of a sniper. Following the introduction of Accuracy International’s (AI’s) .338-calibre (8.6mm) L115A3 sniper rifle, sharpshooters have been armed with AI’s outgoing 7.62 mm L96 rifle. However, the latter’s bolt action does not make it a suitable option for a patrolling soldier.