The Royal Marines of 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group based at HMNB Clyde, Faslane in Scotland have started to receive the Canadian-manufactured rifle to replace the long standing but troubled SA80. Variants of the C8 Carbine have been used by British special forces units in the past but 43 Commando will be among the first British regular units to adopt the weapon.
Like the SA80 the C8 is chambered to fire the standard NATO 5.56mm round but is configured in a more traditional fashion rather than the the bullpup configuration of the SA80 (magazine positioned behind the trigger which made the SA80 a more compact weapon than previous generations of rifle such as the SLR). Despite this the C8 Carbine is still a relatively compact and ergonomic design with a reported high level of reliability.
The acquisition of the weapon for 43 Commando has been defended as reflecting the unit’s unique operating role which covers guarding Britain’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines in Faslane from terrorist and foreign intelligence operatives. The unit’s role has been made even more difficult with increasing protests against the nuclear deterrent from anti-nuclear activists and Scottish nationalists demanding the submarines’ removal from Scottish waters.
However, sources close to the Royal Marines have been quoted in The Independent as saying that the Royal Marines have been increasingly dissatisfied with the SA80; a claim not unique to the Royal Marines it must be noted. The SA80, which has become synonymous with the British armed forces in the past 25 years, has been marred by issues over reliability with it being described as a very high maintenance weapon. The SA80 has also received criticism for lacking range and stopping power especially when faced with insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq armed with the ubiquitous 7.62mm AK-47. The source quoted in The Independent states that the C8 addresses all of these issues but the Royal Navy has hit back stating that the SA80 remains the weapon of choice for the infantry soldier across the British armed forces.