It’s no secret that the A2 has had a hard few years, with prolonged use in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also ironic that after many modifications it is now a respected weapon, but one without any real chance of newer versions coming into service due to a lack of the tooling required.
The A1/A2 are what I would class as 1st generation bullpups: that is, rifles that have made it into mass production and have been accepted into service. Other examples include the Steyr Aug and the FAMAS.
One of the problems that this first generation of bullpups had was the inability to fire the weapon left handed. (The Steyr could be set to fire either left or right, but not both.) Although the SA80 was easy for left-handers to adapt (I was one of them!) this often meant that, in built-up areas, the shooter’s body was exposed in situations where it was not possible to fire from cover, i.e. doorways. The only option was to fire an unaimed shot by placing the rifle butt between armpit and chest. Another aspect often commented on is the lack of effective fire due to the calibre used, but for the moment let’s not go there!*
Since the introduction of these first generation systems others have followed, and some have tried to address the left-handed shooting problem. Models intended for military use include the Tavor for Israel, the SAR21 for Singapore and the Croatian VHS-2, which is allegedly under consideration by the French for the FAMAS replacement. There have also been civilian bullpups developed, mainly for the US market, The most notable is the Kel-Tec RFB which uses a forward ejecting system to solve the left/right-hand problem. However, this system had problems with jamming, so Kel-Tec have developed two new models with a downward ejecting system.
Just recently another ‘bullpup’ system has been announced by a US company, and it’s this one I’m going to take a closer look at. At this point I am not saying that this system is the answer to what should replace the A2. However, I think this has come the closest to answering the questions which have been raised on various forums with regard to calibre and left/right-hand commonality.
DESERT TECH MDR
The Desert Tech MDR is a new system that is still under development and due to go on sale in the US later on in 2015.
It uses a forward ejection system, allowing the user to switch from using right to left-hand firing instantly. The ejection system itself can also be switched over to the left-hand side if issued to a “lefty”. So far, nothing to write home about. However, the ace up Desert Tech’s sleeve is that this system can change barrel length and calibre in approximately one minute without re-zeroing. There are videos on YouTube that demonstrate this procedure which can be found below: I will list the time references for the barrel changes. At the time of writing the calibres being used are 5.56mm, 6.80mm, 7.62mm and .308″.
The barrels are 10”, 16” and I think there is a 24”.
What this means IMO, is that a UK infantry section could have one weapon system with options to have a 10” barrel for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) but also a marksman with a longer barrel in 7.62mm as was used in Afghanistan when the L129 was bought in as an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR). The video shows the demonstrator changing barrel and bolt in around 45 secs, obviously the carbine version could be used for AFV and air crew with the option to carry a longer barrel to adapt to various situations.
The video features the barrel change at 06:20. (It was whilst watching this video that I got the urge to write this article.) At around the 08:00 minute mark the guy manning the stall starts to explain about the mods to the company’s bullpup sniper system. This can also permit rapid barrel changes. He shows the rifle with a short barrel, with an overall length of 26”(less with that new folding stock). To me this means that a sniper could move around without having to a have a secondary weapon system, or even jump in with the weapon ready to fire. I have added a second video showing a demonstration of the weapon hitting targets at 1000 yards straight after a barrel change! (Barrel change is shown at 04:00.)
[tab title=”Video 1″]
[tab title=”Video 2″]
To summarise, I am not saying the British Army should rush out and buy 10,000 units right now!
However, the Desert Tech system does seem to answer many frequently raised points about barrel lengths and calibres.
Also, as this weapon is still undergoing final tests, there’s a chance of getting in early and possibly getting a licence-to-build contract and, therefore, maybe a return to manufacturing weapons in the UK again! (Stop laughing at the back!) I’ve only included the two videos shown here as many of the public domain material is for the benefit of US civilian gun enthusiasts, rather than for the military perspective. However, there are videos of the weapon being fired and there are several on the sniper rifle variant. While the A2 still has service life left, it would be possible to carry out trials on the Desert Tech MDR and, if successful, sort out a manufacturing process and then copy the A1 roll-out strategy. That is to say, frontline line “teeth” arms receiving it first with other arms to follow. (I wasn’t issued the A1 until 1992 when I was in 7 brigade, 18 months after the infantry across the road!)
*The calibre debate is a huge subject, not for this short post