The first time I saw an L85 rifle was either at the British Infantry Training Centre at Warminster or at the Royal Marines Poole naval base. I can’t quite remember. In either case, it occurred soon after the L85’s official adoption by the British armed forces. My first impression was that it looked ungainly. I remember speculating on how it would go over with the Guards Regiments at Buckingham Palace since they had a relatively intricate manual of arms. It wasn’t the fact that the L85 was a bullpup design that made it seem clumsy. At that point, I’d had a reasonable amount of experience with the Austrian Steyr AUG and the French FAMAS. I found both of those rifles pretty handy, though I didn’t like the location of the cocking handle on the FAMAS. It was the weight of the L85—11 pounds—with a SUSAT sight and a fully loaded 30-round magazine.

After quite a bit of shooting with the L85A1, my opinion of it changed to some extent. I still did not find it a particularly handy rifle, but the pistol grip helped. I shot well with the gun, mainly thanks to the SUSAT (Sight Unit Small Arms, Trilux). This optical sight incorporates 4X magnification and a tritium-illuminated aiming pointer that is quite effective once you’re accustomed to it. I remember shooting the L85A1 across an open field with car hoods embedded in the ground upright at 500 yards or more and hitting them virtually every time from the prone position. With practice, the L85A1 became handier and I learned to shoulder and fire it quickly. I found that the way the weight was distributed helped control the rifle in full-auto mode.

The SUSAT is what really impressed me about the L85A1. Initially, not everyone issued an L85A1 got a SUSAT. Royal Marine Commandos, infantrymen and RAF regiment troops functioning as infantrymen got the SUSAT, but troops in support roles were issued the L85A1 without one. The latter group received rifles with iron sights consisting of a front post with protective ears and a rear diopter built into the carry handle. Today, all of the L85A2 rifles currently issued are equipped with optical sights but not necessarily SUSATs, as troops in Afghanistan have used ACOGs and ELCANs on their L85A2 rifles.

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The first time I saw an L85 rifle was either at the British Infantry…