The UK Armed Forces will supplement the current-in-service L85A3 rifle with the new Alternative Individual Weapon (AIW) system, known as the L403A1.

Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) – an organisation that negotiates and manages defence contracts on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) – has secured an initial order for the AIW system worth £15m ($18.69m) for 1,620 units, with options to acquire up to 10,000 systems – which comes to a total of £90m over the next decade.

AIW tech enhancements

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 can engage threats from greater distances, while the signature reduction system works to mask the AIW from detection from sight and hearing.

UK officials laid out their specifications for a new rifle system as part of Project Hunter in July 2021, when the MoD anticipated a “trial” system to be delivered sometime between December 2021 and March 2022.

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The current contract will support the Macclesfield-based supplier Edgar Brothers, supporting the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s priority to grow the economy by helping sustain approximately 50 jobs at the family-owned company.

“This is another example of how we are committed to investing in the most advanced battlefield equipment to back our troops on the battlefield,” said the Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge. “This advanced rifle’s ability to help soldiers maintain the stealth edge not only protects them but delivers war-fighting advantage over our adversaries.”

DE&S will field the systems with the Army Special Operations Brigade (ASOB), a regiment that operates in complex and high-threat environments. The MoD will deliver the AIWs to the Ranger Regiment 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.

As an Armalite Rifle (AR) system, the weapon 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.