The future of the R4 assault rifle includes Picatinny rails, advanced sights and other aiming devices. Denel Land Systems (DLS) has started upgrading the standard service assault rifle of the South African National Defence Force as part of the SA Army’s Soldier Modernisation Programme, known as Project African Warrior.
About 420 000 of the 5.56x45mm-calibre rifles were manufactured under licence from Israel in the 1980s to replace the older Belgian 7.62x51mm FAL battle rifles used in SA since the 1960s and called the R1 R2 and R3, depending on version.
DLS was last month awarded a R1.74 million contract to create a “dedicated marksman (DM) rifle system” from the R4. DM and DM rifles became popular in the US and other militaries after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The DM’s role is to supply rapid accurate fire on enemy targets with a highly-accurate semi-automatic rifle equipped with a telescopic sight. Like snipers, DM’s are trained in quick and precise shooting, but unlike the more specialised “true” sniper, they are also intended to lay down accurate rapid fire, the wikipedia says.
Designated marksmen are integral members of regular infantry sections or platoons, much like machine-gunners; whereas a sniper will generally work individually or as part of a two-man team independent of a small unit.
Snipers are ordinarily equipped with purpose-built bolt-action or semi-automatic sniper rifles while DMs are most often equipped with accurised battle rifles or assault rifles. The R4 modification falls into this category. For Project Warrior DLS gunmiths removed the rifle’s forward handgrip and replaced it with a new assembly that includes four Picatinny rails. As this assembly does not allow for the bipod currently fitted to the rifle, this, too, was removed. The top Picatinny rail runs back over the R4’s hull cover, and at defenceWeb’s recent Border Control conference carried an Aimpoint sighting telescope. The other Picatinny rails were covered with synthetic pads to create a rounded handgrip. A vertical handgrip can be fitted to the bottom rail and several, with integral bipods , are available. A new adjustable buttstock, similar to that fitted to the US M4 carbine, is also part of the upgrade.
To date 102 rifles have been delivered and issued to DM assigned to FIFA World Cup soccer security. At least 2000 will be modified as part of the scheme.
Meanwhile, the military has awarded contracts worth some R43 million to maintain and repair the R4. It is the first time the rifles are being returned for factory-level repair since being commissioned in the early 1980s, something a DLS gunsmith says is a testament to the durability and toughness of the weapon.
Pic: The R4 DMR on display at the defenceWeb Border Control conference.