|British SAS soldier with a Colt Canada/Diemaco C8A1|
The AR-15 weapon platform was "born" in the United States and has been employed by members of our military units for over 40 years now. It has experienced a number of modifications/incarnations and the models currently in use look a good bit different than those originally carried by brave soldiers in Southeast Asia in the 1960's. Older models like the 20" barreled M16A2 are still used by some reserve units and in basic training marksmanship qualifications. Newer models like the M4 and 10.3" barreled Mark 18 CQBR are more commonly seen in service now due to mission requirements.
In recent years, the platform has been employed by many foreign military units and particularly those who have a "special operations" role to fulfill. There has been an expansion of special operations units and a resulting increase in special operations missions in most modern and well funded militaries. Special operations tactics (with highly trained and equipped personnel) typically have the best ability to address most of the current situations and applications in which military force is required in this present day. In the next few blog posts, we will offer some general information about these units who have adopted "our" successful weapons system. It is an interesting development that I believe offers some high praise for the dependability and usefulness of the AR weapon platform.
Great Britain has been a faithful ally of the United States for over a century and has given our country tremendous assistance in the Global War on Terror. While many of England's special forces units such as the Royal Marines and Paras have trained and fought with AR platform weapons, it is the famous SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service) units that employ "our" weapon platform on a routine basis.
The SAS was formed in 1941 during World War 2. The regiment (actually a brigade at that time) gained extensive combat experience,especially in the North African theatre. The unit was disbanded at the end of the conflict, but resurrected during the Korean War. It has remained active, and since expanded into 3 regiments.
While special operations units tend to be secretive in nature, certain operations (successful and unsuccessful) often bring them unavoidable notoriety. In the Spring of 1980, terrorists captured the Iranian Embassy in London and held 26 people hostage. The terrorist's demands were not being met and as a result, they executed a hostage. Shortly after this, the SAS was tasked with infiltrating the embassy, freeing the hostages, and neutralizing the terrorists. The operation took less than 20 minutes, and though there were casualties, it was considered a success.
As in any special operations unit, there is a certain level of freedom in the selection of weapons and tactics to employ that "regular" military units rarely enjoy. Focusing on standard issue assault/battle rifles, evidence has shown members of this unit using the Heckler and Koch G3, 417, and AR platform weapons produced both in the US (Colt and Lewis Machine and Tool) and Canada (Diemaco, now Colt Canada). The H&K G3, 417, and the LMT L129A1 are 7.62X51 NATO caliber weapons, while the Colt and Diemaco AR platform weapons are chambered in 5.56X45 NATO. All but the H&K G3 are at least in some sense AR platform-style weapons. The H&K 417 is a piston operating system, rather than direct gas impingement, but maintains the controls and ergonomics of the AR platform.
Use of the AR style weapon by the SAS and some other UKSF units has been most noticeable in the recent GWOT operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While their AR platform weapons often have mounted optics like the Canadian ELCAN, noticeable in some of the pictures in this post are weapons with the U.S. military ACOG optic. With the broad array of weapons systems available to an elite unit with an "elite budget" like the SAS, its choice to employ the AR platform weapon should give owners of similar, civilian models assurance of a quality, dependable rifle for the applications in which they use them.
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