Britain's new battle rifle.
To be sure, ordnance officials had already begun experimenting with a 4.85mm small arms system on the bull pup configuration, and some of this arm's features have been adopted into the subject of this article--the Enfield Weapon System.
Designed at the 400-year-old Royal Ordnance Factory, the Enfield Weapon System is unlike any arm yet issued to the British soldier. In fact, the System is made up of two arms, the Individual Weapon (IW) and the Light Support Weapon (LSW) which will have more limited distribution and take the place of the current L7A1 general purpose machine gun (GPMG).
It was Guns & Ammo's good fortune, recently, to be contacted by Robert King of Royal Ordnance who asked if we would be interested in an exclusive test of what is destined to be Britain's new battle rifle.
King, and his associates Colin McKie, also of Royal Ordnance, and John Klein of Sage International, their U.S. representative, had a prototype version of the Individual Weapon in this country under diplomatic clearance. They had been showing it to governmental and police agencies, though as yet, the gun had not been fired outside of the UK.
Unfortunately, on the rather short notice afforded us, it was impossible to obtain sufficient quantities of SS109 ammo for the test, so we were forced to use standard Yankee .223 fodder. Bob warned us that while the ammo would work fine, the gun, with its 1-9 rifling twist, wasn't really set up for the lighter bullet. As will be seen later, this caveat simply wasn't necessary.
The IW is a compact, sturdy bull pup measuring 33 inches overall with a 20-inch barrel. It takes standard 30-round M-16 magazines and features black pressed-steel triggergroup and receiver housings. The fore-end, pistol grip and butt are of a green-hued, high-impact fiberglass.
The Individual Weapon weighs some 10 pounds unloaded, is gas-operated and comes standard with a 4X SUSAT (Sight Unit, Small Arms, Trilux) optical sight. This unit is mounted on a bracket incorporating windage and elevation adjustments.
The bracket slides onto a dovetail base, which is integral with the receiver. By simply loosening a couple of thumb nuts and lifting up on a detent, SUSAT can be routinely removed from the gun.
Although iron sights similar to those used on the M-16 have been designed for the rifle, these will be issued only to support troops. Each front-line soldier will have his own SUSAT, optimized to his particular visual requirements.
The SUSAT has a wide range of view and a rather curious, albeit effective, reticle with a single, large, semi-transparent tapered post. The reticle, which has a built-in tritium illuminating element for low-light conditions, proved to be excellent for quick target acquisition, which, of course, is the primary concern of a battle rifle's optics.
While SUSAT is held to be virtually indestructible (Colin threw our test sight with all his force onto a concrete patio, refitted it and continued firing), a backup open sight has been fitted to the top of the unit's body to satisfy the military.
Despite its bull pup silhouette, it must be admitted that, internally and externally, the IW has more than a passing resemblance to the AR 180--although no particular ancestry to that arm is claimed.
The fore-end upper handguard is hinged, allowing quick, easy access to the gas system--a definite plus in an automatic arm. The rifle has a small safety on the receiver just above the trigger. A selector switch is located on the rear lower right portion of the "butt." This allows the gun to be changed from semi-auto (called by the English, "single shot") to full auto. The magazine well is located midway between the butt and pistol grip. It features an extremely positive mag release lever.
The operating handle and ejection port are on the right side of the receiver. No UWs or LSWs will be made for southpaws. New recruits will simply be taught to fire right-handed, and as the average Britisher has only limited exposure to firearms prior to entering the army, it is felt that this will present no training problems.
The IW has been set up for an all-purpose bayonet--which is really more of a survival arm than an actual adjunct to the rifle. It has a stainless steel bowie-style blade, the lower edge of which is scalloped for cutting rope. The handle is a one-piece stainless casting that fits completely over the IW's flash supressor--though the handle has been vented to allow the gun to be fired when the blade is fitted. The scabbard incoroporates a whetstone, saw, and bottle opener, and when affixed to a keyway in the bayonet blade, operates as a barbed wire cutter. Clever, what?
Other accessories for the IW include a grenade launcher (the gas bleed can be cut off completely for "bomb throwing"), a .22 rimfire conversion unit for training purposes, a blank firing adapter, sling and cleaning kit.
Enough of superficialities, though, let's get into the Weapon System's innards.
The gas system is composed of three moving parts--the gas plug, a retaining plunger and piston rod. When assembled, the gas cylinder forms a sleeve over one end of the gas plug. At the opposite end a shallow socket retains the piston rod.
The gas plug is fitted into a hole in the gas block on the barrel, located at the front of the handguard cover. Gasses tapped off the barrel flow down the plug through one of two metering orifices, and cause the cylinder and piston rod to move rearwards. The gas plug, by the way, has the two metering orifices, one normal and the other "excess", so that the system may be adjusted should it become fouled by repeated firing. The piston rod pushes the breechblock to the rear, unlocking the system and ejecting the spent round.
After a short travel, four radial holes in the cylinder allows the gasses to be vented off. Following the ejection cycle, the spring-loaded recoil rod assembly causes the block to move forward, stripping off and chambering a fresh round.
Finally, the spring on the piston rod returns the rod and cylinder to position for the next cycle. In full auto this feature affords a cyclic rate of fire of some 750 rounds per minute.
Fieldstripping the IW is a snap. First, remove the magazine and check to make sure the gun is unloaded. Then slide off the sight and pull out a captive pin in front of the magazine well. Another captive pin, located at the heel of the stock, must also be pulled out to its first notch to completely free the trigger group, which can now be rotated out of the upper housing. Placing your hand over the recoil rod assembly to keep it from springing out, pull the second captive pin out to its second stop and remove the rods. Slide the breechblock to the rear and remove the operating handle from the block. The block can now be slipped free from the receiver.
Of course, as ingenious and intriguing as a gun may look, the ultimate test is in the shooting. Accompanied by Messers King, McKie and Klein, my colleague Phil Spangenberger and I eagerly put the IW through its paces.
One is immediately taken by the compactness and handiness of the piece. The British found in Northern Ireland, when entering a house, it was necessary to carry the longer L1A1 pointed skywards. Needless to say, in a critical situation it would take valuable moments to bring the arm into play. The IW, on the other hand, tucks neatly into one's side with the muzzle pointing forward at all times. If necessary, the gun can be employed with one hand at an instant's notice. Also, the short bull pup configuration would be ideal in the cramped spaces afforded by armored personnel carriers.
The IW is designed so that it is held with the right hand, and the operating handle released by the left hand reaching over the top of the gun. Though this sounds rather awkward, in fact the configuration of the piece makes this quite efficient once one gets used to it.
Our first rounds were "single-shot" from the shoulder at a 100-yard gong to get the feel of the piece. After the gong was rung with monotonous regularity, we decided to switch to full auto. Short, seven-to-ten-round bursts either struck the gong directly or spattered in close proximity. Recoil was virtually nil, and the gun evidenced no overwhelming tendency to "climb," though, of course, there was some vertical movement.
The sight, the rubber cup of which is placed right on the eye, gave a good field of view and provided almost instant target acquisition.
Short auto bursts at the silhouette target at close range invariably put the first two or three shots into the X and 9-ring, with the others spreading only about 8-10 inches to the upper right.
In all, we fired close to 1,000 rounds of mixed 55-grain ball, hollow point and soft point .223 with nary a hitch. The IW functioned flawlessly. Unlike many of today's assault rifles, the IW incorporates a fair modcium of "human engineering" in that it is comfortable to shoot, and the user is not forced to be a contortionist in order to get an adequate sight picture. Perhaps the only hitch in the design--and this is inherent in all bull pups--is for the uninitiated to have a tendency to want to grab the magazine rather than the pistol grip--old habits die hard.
From-the-hip shooting was controllable and surprisingly accurate, even at extended distances. In effect, at reasonable ranges either from shoulder or waist, the IWhs adversary had better keep his head down.
Though we didn't have a chance to handle the LSW, pictures and specs indicate that it will have a longer (25-inch) barrel, a rear pistol grip, bipod and wire shoulder rest. In most other areas (with the exception of weight--12 pounds unloaded) the LSW is identical to the IW.
At the time of this writing, Royal Ordnance is awaiting the Minitry of Defense's signature on a contract callin for 100,000 units. In effect, the IW and LSW will eventually replace all the L1A1s, Sterling submachine guns and GPMGs now in service. At first this may seem to be quite a task for a lightweight .22 auto--but based upon our shooting experiences with the Enfield Weapon System. I'm confident that the gun will shine in any of the roles for which it is intended.
Royal Ordnance is also considering producing a semi-auto civilian version of the IW and is anxious to get public response to the idea. Drop them a line at Sage International, Dept. GA, 1856 Star-Batt Drive, Rochester, MI 48063 and let them know if you would be interested in such an arm. I know they can put me down for one.