In 1960s, the British were (as many countries) looking for smaller, lighter assault rifles to replace their larger, bulkier battle rifles firing high-powered ammunition. The British MoD liked the compactness and light weight of the US M-16 series and its 5.56mm NATO round, but had also paid close attention to the numerous deficiencies of the M-16 series and its ammunition that were being revealed in Vietnam. The idea of a lightweight rifle firing small-caliber, high-powered ammunition was a good idea, but they felt they could do better. This led to the predecessor of the L-85, called the Enfield XL-64 Assault Rifle .
Enfield and the British MoD had always liked their EM-2 design (and rightly so). The bullpup design made for a compact, handy weapon, suitable for a variety of roles, from a cook who has it slung over his shoulder for emergencies to infantrymen on the attack. Enfield felt that improvements in ammunition propellant and bullet construction meant that they could use a far smaller round than that of the EM-2 – it wouldn’t be as powerful as the .280 British round, but could outclass the 5.56mm NATO. Radway Green, the company contracted to produce the ammunition, started with a necked-down and trimmed 5.56mm NATO case, eventually ending up with a 4.85x49mm round. (This round was very close in dimensions to the 5.56mm NATO round, and many 5.56mm-firing weapons could be easily converted to fire it using a kit that Enfield also intended to produce.)
The Enfield XL-64 Assault Rifle could easily be mistaken for an early L-85 at first glance – because they are essentially the same weapons. (More on this later.) The Enfield XL-64 Assault Rifle had been long in the design and finalization of its configuration, and it was the mid-1970s before it was revealed; trials didn’t even start until 1978. Once trials started, problems began immediately – and they were almost entirely political (and monetary) problems. Once again, the United States had already decided that the new version of the 5.56mm NATO round, the FN-designed SS-109, was going to be the new NATO standard assault rifle round, and weren’t interested in anyone else’s cartridge designs. (Of course, tons of money were also on the line.).
Enfield had realized almost from the beginning that the same thing that happened to their .280 British cartridge would almost certainly happen to their new 4.85mm round. Therefore, they designed into the Enfield XL-64 Assault Rifle almost from its inception the capability to be easily converted to fire the 5.56mm NATO round and use M-16-type magazines. Though the SS-109 round was in its infancy when Enfield began working on the XL-64, only a few modifications were needed to accommodate the SS-109. That, and some more cost-cutting measures, morphed the Enfield XL-64 Assault Rifle into the L-85. One good thing did survive the XL-64 program – the SUSAT 3.5x light weapons sight. This compact scope would go to equip many L-85s, and draw the attention of the entire world.
The L22A1 Bullpup Assault Rifle has the same internal modification as the L85A2 and L86A2, but as the modification were done before the L22 was officially introduced it is designated the L22A1, new upgrades are now available such as the 20rnd magazine and picatinny rail systems.