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Assault rifle


The CETME Model L was an attempt to create a smaller-caliber version of this rifle series, but it was not a success, and was quickly withdrawn from service

Country of origin Spain
Entered service 1984
Caliber 5.56x45 mm NATO
Weight (empty) 3.4 kg
Length 925 mm
Barrel length 400 mm
Muzzle velocity 875 m/s
Cyclic rate of fire 750 rpm
Practical rate of fire 40 - 100 rpm
Magazine capacity 10, 20, or 30 rounds
Sighting range 400 m
Range of effective fire 400 m


   The Santa Barbara Sistemas CETME Model L is a 5.56 mm assault rifle developed in Spain, based on the preceding 7.62 mm CETME rifles. It is broadly similar to the preceding models and the competing Heckler & Koch HK33, but evolved quite differently, ultimately entering production as an essentially original weapon.

   Development of the Model L began in the mid-1960s, when CETME was asked by the Spanish government to develop a 5.56 mm version of their eponymous 7.62 mm assault rifle. It was probably expected at first to be little more than the matter of re-chambering the weapon, adjusting the action, and replacing the sights and magazine well, but so many alterations were made to the Model L that it ended up having no common components with the preceding Model C when development was complete. The first prototypes were completed by 1980, and the Spanish Army's trials of the weapon took place from 1981-82. Further delays wracked the program, and serial production wasn't approved until 1984, with deliveries finally beginning in 1987. However, the Model L was not well-received in operational service, despite the considerable time and effort that was invested into its development. Its design and construction also proved extremely problematic, as described later below.

   Naturally, the layout of the Model L changed little from the Model C, but the appearance has changed considerably. The biggest changes were the replacement of wooden components in the furniture with polymers, and the new external finish of the weapon; most Model Ls are olive drab in color. A distinctive throwback to the CETME Models A & B is the inclusion of a bipod in the Model L, which had been abandoned in the definitive Model C. The rear sling swivel is still located in a recess in the side of the stock, but the Model L only has one swivel on the left side (previous models had swivels on the right side as well). Another notable change is that the housing for the charging rod is covered in a polymer shroud, in whatever color the rest of the furniture is. There are several minute architectural changes between early and late production Model Ls, with the most obvious being that the foregrip on late models is 30% shorter, with a slotted, blued metallic barrel shroud filling the gap between the front of the shorter foregrip and the bracket that joins the barrel and charging rod tube.

   Even the bayonet used on the Model L is different from that of the previous models. Rather than using the bolo-style M1964 bayonet, the Model L uses a bayonet with the same type of hilt, but a different blade with a spear tip and a centerline grind, like the M4 bayonet used on the M16.

   The Model LC carbine is easily distinguished from the Model L rifle by its T-shaped steel skeleton buttstock, the flat stop of the receiver, and a shorter barrel that effectively joins the back end of the muzzle brake with the barrel bracket. The buttstock may be retracted into the weapon to reduce its length. Late production examples of the Model LC have the same furniture changes as the Model L. While normal infantry are issued the Model L, the Model LC are primarily used by paratroopers, marines, and special forces.

   The Model LV is the designated marksman variant of the Model L. It is tapped for a scope and usually fitted with one, but is otherwise almost impossible to distinguish from the Model L.

   The operating system of the Model L is the same roller-delayed blowback operation as that of the previous models, which is described in the main CETME page. The main advantages of the roller-delayed blowback system are lower cost, easier maintenance and cleaning, and the use of less parts, but it also has the effect of reducing the weapon's overall recoil, relative gas operated or recoil operated firearms. The reduced-power chambering of the Model L has no doubt allowed this system to increase its accuracy and controllability even further.

   The sights consist of a shrouded front lost and a rear leaf, which are essentially another throwback to those of the Model A & B (problems with this type of sight had led to it being abandoned in the definitive Model C in favor of a front post and a rear diopter; those problems returned as well). While the Model C had four range settings (100, 200, 300, and 400 meters), the Model L only has two, at 200 meters and 400 meters. The front sight is pinned to the front of the charging rod housing, while the rear sight is welded onto the receiver. The Model L was also tapped to accept optics, and the Model LV is usually issued with a telescopic sight.

   The ammunition used in the Model L was problematic as well. The sole vendor of 5.56 mm ammunition to the Spanish Army was INI (Instituto Nacional de Industria), and they made ammunition with propellant charges that burned unusually "hot" (that is, with high chamber pressure) and dirty, leading to rapid wear of the Model L, and the need for exceptionally frequent cleaning. INI also made their 5.56 mm ammunition with unusually hard primers, which led to further reliability problems. The poor quality of Spain's 5.56 mm ammunition was even more pronounced in other the weapons of other nations who were unfortunate enough to fire it; at NATO exercises, the participants were warned not to use Spanish ammunition if their rifles were gas operated.

   The Model L was compatible with STANAG magazines by design, allowing it to use magazines from most other NATO nations (such as those used in the M16, HK33, FNC, and so on). There are 10-, 20-, and 30-round magazines for the Model L; the 30-round magazine is the model most widely issued, while the 10-round magazine is used primarily for ceremonial purposes. These magazines are also STANAG-compliant (in other words, they could be used in the three aforementioned rifles and others), but they were made with excessively thick stamped steel walls that ended up causing a number of problems with feeding and cycling of ammunition. The quality control was also very poor and inconsistent, to the point where the Spanish Army found that some wouldn't actually fit into the rifle. Adding insult to injury, while the proprietary magazines were designed to be expendable (in 1995, they each cost only 25 pesetas), soldiers were forbidden to discard them under any circumstances, and some were actually severely reprimanded for losing magazines. The rank-and-file were less convinced of the value of these magazines than their superiors, and during many deployments and exercises, Spanish soldiers scrounged the battlefield relentlessly (and perhaps even bartering behind the scenes) for discarded US military magazines. Though the aluminum STANAG magazines used by US troops are not known for ruggedness, they nonetheless eliminated the feeding problems in the Model L, and were frequently used by Spanish troops whenever they could get away with it.

   The composition and layout of the furniture in the Model L was another issue; it proved more fragile than the wooden furniture of the Model C, and was prone to cracking, distortion, and even melting in some spots during prolonged automatic fire. This was another debacle that recalled the failure of an earlier CETME model (in this case, the plastic furniture of the quickly-abandoned Model E), no doubt raising the question of whether Santa Barbara Sistemas had learned from their earlier mistakes, especially in light of the fact that late-model G3s and the HK33 (which also used polymer furniture) suffered no such defects. The aforementioned changes to the Model L's furniture in late production were made in an attempt to resolve this issue, but it was not completely successful.

   Another questionable design feature of the Model L was the decision to use a 400 mm barrel, in light of the much lower power of the 5.56x45 mm NATO round compared to 7.62x51mm NATO round used in the earlier Model C. Even in numerous firefights involving 5.56 mm rifles with longer 500 mm barrels (notably the Colt M16) before and since the introduction of the Model L, the lethality, stopping power, and penetration of the 5.56 mm round proved wanting, even against exposed enemy personnel. Not only had the earlier Model C fired a more powerful round, but it also did so with a barrel 50 mm longer.

   In spite of these numerous ongoing issues, the Spanish Army formally adopted the Model L in 1984, and began to gradually phase-out their stocks of Model Cs. It was a mistake Spain would soon regret, and to date has still yet to recover from.

   Matters worsened when the Model L finally went to war for the first time. Its showing during the 1991 Persian Gulf War was nothing short of scandalous; the Model L performed so badly that the Spanish Army actually talked the Coalition into supplying them with replacement rifles, most of which ended up being M16s (which have been harshly criticized for performing poorly in the Persian Gulf's sandy conditions and extreme heat --- yet, the M16 fared better in these conditions than the CETME Model L!). Later that year, production and development of the Model L was terminated, and a frantic effort to find a replacement ensued.

   No other domestically-produced weapons in this class were available, forcing Spain to import their next service rifle from abroad, for the first time in almost 50 years. The weapon eventually selected by the Spanish armed forces was the H&K G36, which was officially adopted in 1999; ironically, in the wake of the CETME, which was developed in Spain and later built by Germany as the G3, now a German rifle was replacing a Spanish rifle.

   The only user of the CETME Model L is Spain. Most were withdrawn by 2002, when the G36 had officially replaced it, but some are still used in second-line units of the Spanish armed forces. In total, the Model L had served as the primary service rifle of Spain for an ignominiously short 8 years.

   The Model L has also been sold as a surplus rifle on the civilian market (after being converted into a semi-automatic-only weapon), but a combination of severe European arms transfer restrictions and a lukewarm reception for its customer base have mostly curtailed this effort.




   CETME Model L: Original production model. Has a fixed stock, barrel extension between the barrel bracket and muzzle brake, and usually no scope.

   CETME Model LC: Carbine version of the Model L, with a shorter barrel and a retractable metallic buttstock.

   CETME Model LV: Marksman variant, tapped for optics with a STANAG sight mount. Usually fitted with a British-made SUSAT or Spanish-made ENOSA telescopic sight; both are 4x magnification sights. Otherwise, it has no obvious difference in layout from the Model L.

   Late Models: The late production Model L series rifles have an altered furniture layout, in particular a shortened foregrip and added ventilation for the barrel. Late examples of the Model L, LC, and LV all have these features.


Related weapons


   StG-45: This German assault rifle was developed late in World War 2, and was meant to replace the StG-44 in production and service, but the first production batch was never completed. Its roller-delayed blowback operation became the design basis of the later CETME rifle.

   CETME Model C: The preceding CETME rifle, chambered in 7.62x51 mm NATO.

   HK33: The Heckler & Koch HK33 is the G3-based counterpart of the CETME Model L. However, unlike the Model L, the HK33 was a success, in terms of both functionally and sales.

   Several publications allude to the recent development of a successor to the Model L and G36 in Spanish service, in the form of the CETME Model XR, but it is unclear if this is a real weapon program. It has been claimed several years ago the Model XR will be chambered in 6.8 mm and enter production in 2016. However, as this article is itself being written in mid-2016, neither the new caliber nor the new model appear to interest the Spanish military.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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