Last August we reported that the British Army was planning to make the move away from Heckler & Koch’s HKey (KeyMod) accessory attachment system to the M-LOK system with the ‘new’ SA80 A3. At the time our report was based on information from the August 2020 edition of the British Army’s Soldier magazine, now we have some photos of the new MLOK forend in use with troops.
As you can see from the photograph above the SA80A3 (or L85A3)’s new forend originally had HKey attachment interfaces. In August 2020, however, the change to M-LOK was announced following experimentation with a redesigned forend. The changes were iteratively prototyped using 3D technology allowing the Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU) to test changes as they were made. Major Richard McMahon, a senior member of the British Army’s dismounted close combat through-life support team said at the time that “the ability to produce 3D printed mock-ups allowed the project to move at substantial pace, with various designs tested and the ability to make quick changes as issues were encountered.”
The SA80A3s equipped with the new forend, made by H&K, were first seen in the hands of 1 battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, 1YORKS, back in late March 2021. Since then UK Ministry of Defence accounts have shared numerous other photos of the rifles with the new forends.
In the week before #Easter, #1YORKS, Kings Royal Hussars and @TheRoyalWelsh trained together, combining heavy armour and armoured #infantry setting the foundation for #FutureSoldier, Brigade Combat Teams. @BritishArmy @BritishSoldier @12ArmdInfBde @3UKDivComdSM @InfantryComdSM pic.twitter.com/hRxo5aR5SS
— Yorkshire Regiment (@YORKS_REGT) March 31, 2021
2 YORKS, an Enhanced Light Force Battalion, is one of the units spearheading the British Army’s ‘Future Soldier’ modernisation program, has also been seen with the refitted M-LOK SA80A3s. They have been testing the new forend in conjunction with the new Assault Rifle In-line Low Light Sight (ARILLS) sight system. The ARILLS can be fitted ahead of what the British Army calls the lightweight day sight, a ELCAN Spectre OS 4x, and is a device that combines thermal imaging with traditional image intensification for better low light target engagement.
From the photos we can see that the new forends appear to have a much darker finish than the initial HKey iteration. The new forend is also said to have a bulked-up lower rail for the attachment of the grip-pod foregrip. None of the photos appear to show a rifle equipped with an under-barrel grenade launcher – initial reports from last year indicated that the holes needed to mount a launcher would have to be drilled out by unit armourers as the necessary holes had not been factory drilled. This is said to be by design as the HKey holes near the gas block had allowed unwanted heat transfer after sustained firing.
All in all the new forend appears to be a positive improvement, probably one of the last the SA80 series will see, which not only improves the handling and capabilities of the rifle but also shows that the British Army is capable of flexibly addressing issues with equipment and using techniques like iterative development and additive manufacturing to quickly address equipment shortcomings.