07 Sep 23. British troops will soon be more lethal on the battlefield, as a new £90m contract delivers modern, high precision rifles, the Knights Armament KS-1.
The new advanced rifle.
- New rifle provides UK troops with an improved lethal capability on the battlefield.
- Rifle more discreet through sight and hearing signature reduction.
- Up to 10,000 weapons could be procured over the next 10 years.
British troops will soon be more lethal on the battlefield, as a new £90m contract delivers modern, high precision rifles.
The Alternative Individual Weapon (AIW) system – known as the L403A1 and procured by Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) under Project HUNTER – is made up of a new assault rifle fitted with a muzzle signature reduction system and an improved optical sighting system.
The AIW is a modern rifle using the latest in design technology and manufacturing methods, to produce an exceptionally reliable and accurate weapon. The magnified optic means the user is able to engage threats from greater distances; whilst the signature reduction system works to mask the AIW from detection from sight and hearing.
Supplementing the current in-service L85A3, the AIW system has been secured under a £90m contract with Macclesfield-based company Edgar Brothers, supporting the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy by helping sustain approximately 50 jobs at the family-owned company.
Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge said: “This is another example of how we are committed to investing in the most advanced battlefield equipment to back our troops on the battlefield. This advanced rifle’s ability to help soldiers maintain the stealth edge not only protects them but delivers war-fighting advantage over our adversaries.”
An initial £15m order of 1,620 AIW systems has been placed, with options to procure up to 10,000 systems – totalling £90m – under the contract over the next decade. The systems will initially be fielded to the Army Special Operations Brigade (ASOB) who operate in complex, high threat environments.
DE&S Dismounted Close Combat Portfolio Leader, Colonel Paul Cummings, said: “Project Hunter has been a fabulous example of close collaboration with the user community and strong engagement with industry to deliver game-changing capability at pace. This is another example of the enormous commitment of the men and women in DCC to deliver battle-winning capability into the hands of the user and I’m enormously proud of what they have achieved. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Edgar Brothers as we move into the production phase.”
The L403A1 is a high performing modern development of the ArmaLite Rifle (AR), which pushes the boundaries of modern performance. As an AR system, it shares much in common with the rifle systems used by many of the UK’s allies. Given their specialist role, and the critical task of working with and alongside many of the UK’s allies, the platform will enable ASOB to share skills and drills in an efficient manner.
Lt Col Gareth Davies, SO1 SoldierWorks, Military Capability Delivery, Army Headquarters, said: “Project HUNTER has successfully delivered a new weapon option for UK Defence. At the current time this is being procured for the Army Special Operations Brigade (ASOB). It offers a marked increase in lethality, and the system includes one of most capable day sights currently available. Importantly the weapon system will be further enhanced by our newest generation of night optics, with which the ASOB are already equipped.”
As a key component of the ASOB, the Ranger Regiment will receive the AIW later this year. Made up of four battalions, the Rangers deployed to over 60 countries in their first 12 months of operation, following their formation as part Future Soldier under the Defence Command Paper 2021.
Knight’s Armament Company (KAC) is a sole proprietorship, producing rifles (including the M110), suppressors, weapon accessories, and night vision scopes. Since the 1970’s, this veteran-owned small business performs the majority of R&D and production efforts within the boundaries of the KAC facility in order to provide the best control of product quality and required delivery schedules.
Among its more than 300 employees, KAC boasts an experienced engineering staff, well-equipped for research in all aspects of small arms and advanced electro-optic technology.The KAC facility is located on the site of a former Tomahawk missile factory.
The site features numerous test cells, ranges, and explosive storage areas which provide the opportunity for unique business opportunities.
A total of five firing ranges for small arms, from short function testing ranges to the 1,000 meter range, are used in the development and product qualification of small arms systems. Both indoor and outdoor ranges facilitate testing during rare cases of inclement weather.
KAC also maintains an anechoic test cell used in the study of acoustic signatures of weapon systems.
Barrel: 13.7″ (34.8cm) 1:7 Twist
Weight: 6.88 lbs (3.12kg)
Length: 32.2″ (81.8cm) to 34.2″ (86.9cm)
Armourer’s Bench said, that the requirement called for a ‘Rifle System’ which comprises the weapon and a ‘Signature Reduction System’ [suppressor] and an ‘Optic System’. The rifle itself had to be ‘gas operated with a rotating, locking bolt’ and was to specifically have “a standard configuration, not bullpup, with the magwell in-front of the trigger housing.”
The UK launched Project Hunter to select a new Alternative Individual Weapon (AIW) to replace the SA80/L85 series of rifles and Colt Canada L119s in service with the Rangers and elements of the Royal Marines Commandos. After two years of competition the UK MoD has announced that Knight’s KS-1 has been selected as the L403A1, beating off reported competition from Heckler & Koch, SIG Sauer, Daniel Defense and Glock.
Other weapons believed to have been evaluated include the HK416A5, the SIG Sauer SPEAR-LT, the Daniel Defense M4 and Glock’s GR-115F. Other companies believed to have submitted rifles include Colt Canada, Lantac, Haenel and Steyr amongst others.
The new rifles will supplement the L85A2 and L85A3 which currently equip the majority of the UK armed forces. The rifles will be procured via UK-based company Edgar Brothers and the £90m ($110m) contract will see up to 10,000 new rifles delivered over the next decade. An initial £15 million order for 1,620 AIW systems has been placed with the British Army fielding them with the Army Special Operations Brigade, with the brigade expected to receive the first rifles by the end of 2023. The Royal Marines’ ‘strike companies’ and Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron will also be among the first to receive the L403A1. The ‘Alternative Individual Weapon’ essentially fulfils the same role every AR-pattern rifle in UK service has since the 1960s.
BATTLESPACE Comment: Although not specifically named this rifle is likely the Knights Armament KS-1 (see above) which the Editor fired at this year’s Close Combat Symposium (CCS). This choice indicates that the British Army will stay with the .556 calibre as made by BAE Systems at Radway Green and not go .665 as chosen by the US Army. Other contenders were Sig Sauer, FN, Steyr and LMT. One stipulation was UK support which Edgar Brothers will supply. FN in particular offered to manufacture the rifles in the UK.