UK Seeking New ‘Army Special Operations Brigade Rifle’

The United Kingdom’s Special Operations Brigade is seeking a new personal weapon. Currently, elements across the UK’s special forces are equipped with a mixture of L119A1/A2 carbines and L85A2 rifles. The new rifle will likely equip some existing units but will predominantly be issued to the new four battalion-strong Special Operations Brigade which is being raised.

The Tier 2 Special Operations Brigade will consist of smaller battalions and be tasked with training and advisory roles in hot spots. The brigade will be known as The Rangers and will draw on troops from already established specialised infantry battalions.

On 26 July 2021, the UK’s Ministry of Defence published a tender for a new “Army Special Operations Brigade Rifle Procurement and Support of an Armalite Rifle (AR) platform Alternative Individual Weapon (AIW) System”.

The tender calls for a ‘rifle system which comprises of a rifle and a ‘signature reduction system’ – a suppressor, as well as a suitable optic. The Alternative Individual Weapon (AIW) System will likely be an AR-15 pattern weapon, the term ‘Armalite Rifle’ is used. This is a holdover term for referring to AR-15 pattern weapons which has been in use since the British Army purchase its first AR-15 and M16 pattern rifles in the early 1960s. The term has also encompassed the C7 and C8s purchased from Diemaco/Colt Canada. The tender goes on to explain that “an AR platform is defined as being gas operated with a rotating, locking bolt.” Which on balance isn’t very specific.

The rifle will be “optimised for use with L15A2, a 62gr 5.56×45 NATO ball round, equivalent to SS109.” It should not have a reciprocating charging handle and the rifle controls are to include: “a magazine release, working parts release and a rotating selector lever that incorporates a safe setting.” The MoD is also clear that the rifle will be of standard configurations “not bullpup, with the magwell in front of the trigger housing,” while the weapon’s “upper and lower are to be mated using industry standard pivot / takedown pins located at the front and rear of the lower receiver.” There is no mention of barrel length, current inventory has the L119 carbine in two lengths –  15.7″ and a 10.5″ CQB (Close Quarter Battle) configuration.

Pathfinder Platoon soldier with L119A1 rifle fitted with a 10.5in CQB upper receiver, 2018(UK MoD / Cpl Jamie Hart)

The specifics of the tender conclude by saying “As a complete system, the AIW system is expected to perform consistently regardless of its configuration, i.e. with or without a Signature Reduction Device fitted, across all operational scenarios.”

UK tenders of this sort are especially interesting as they offer a glimpse of doctrine and thinking regarding small arms as the replacement of the SA80 weapon system is not planned for at least a decade. It will be interesting to see what is submitted and selected. Weapons which fit the broad criteria which may be submitted include the HK416, Colt Canada’s C8, the LWRC IC, SIG Sauer’s MCX or the LMT MARS amongst others – including some strictly non-AR-15 pattern weapons like the BREN 2 or the HK433.

Interested vendors will have until the 18 August to register their interest, with the MoD issuing invitations to tender or participate by 10 September. The value of the tender is placed at “between £500,000 and £90,000,000”, which may represent an arbitrary category for tender values rather than the planned value of the final AIW contract. The MoD is hoping for between 3 to 6 vendors to submit proposals. The tender calls for between 88 and 528 weapons for the trails and evaluation stage and a final delivery of a minimum of “3,000 systems with options for the Total Fleet Requirement circa 10,000 Systems.”

H/T – Jonny Cormie