Good Guys wear Black – an interview UKSF Impressionista with JW01
Long ago, already then mutual admirers of kits and gears, JW01 and I finally swapped messages over one the most liked photo’s way back on the original Mk I ‘Beer Mat’ giveaway … It was here, whilst already aware of his work I realized, one of our readers, was in fact one of the leading UKSF impressionista’s. Whilst a veritable young blood in comparison to some of the elder statesman of the ‘Wannabe’ generation, JW01 really has a passion and eye for detail, that perhaps has been scarcely seen of late … Some may well argue, that some of these gears, feature either anachronisms or inaccuracies, they’d be missing the point. JW01 is more about the journey, and to be honest, having a considerable inside knowledge, such cross pollination of gears and equipment is not entirely far from reality. Not to accuse our venerable UKSF from falling out of kit and gear jumble sale. But, quite often their very own kits are mash of what works best. It’s this ethos that adds credibility and authenticity to JW01’s journey on his mission to complete the ultimate UKSF impression.
S23: JW01, thanks for sitting down with us, straight off the bat, what caught your eye with UKSF gears, as opposed to other popularized units ?
JW01: There is certainly an element of wanting to portray my own country’s forces, I feel a great amount of pride in what they represent, and there’s an element of that. When I was first getting into impressions, I initially wanted to build a regular British impression, SA80’s are possibly even more of an interest of mine than Diemacos. I ran into the issue that many found though that regular kits were impossible to put together accurately due to Mk4 Ospreys and Mk7 helmets being unavailable for legal surplus.
I’ve always had an interest in the SAS however, from a love of WW2 history through to reading Chris Ryan and Andy McNab books as a kid, then watching the much maligned television drama Ultimate Force as a teen. When getting into Airsoft reading Mark Urban’s Task Force Black had a big effect on where I wanted to take my kit. Then it moved into making a 2008 SFSG kit, and eventually the modern iterations I do now.
UKSF kit is generally abit of a mix and match of kit, although nowadays greater budgets and standardisation makes it look more homogenous than before. I think part of why the Multicam Black kit pictures, both reference shots and E27s impressions, have gained traction is because it’s abit different to the usual sea of Multicam.
For me, UKSF Impressions is where I have decided to take my kit, but I really do appreciate the awesome stuff that’s being done by players who go different ways, there’s some stunning US kits about, and I have a soft spot for what Berzerkir Mechanised and SOE_SWE do too, it’s the picking up on the particular aesthetic, functional setups and nailing the fundamentals of the look that’s so engaging.
S23: I always watch the considerable and frequent evolution of your gears, with envy and intrigue. I know source material is scant, often many months or even years out of date. However, it looks like you’ve captured more of the mindset behind how these mysterious soldiers from both the SBS/SAS approach function over form. Is this a conscious decision, or something that’s been ‘acquired’ from years of research ?
JW01: My initial kits were pretty bad, both in terms of functionality and look. Like with anything it takes abit of time and experimentation to hone the decision making, no matter actually acquiring the gear.
I lurked on UKAZ and Zeroin a lot, saw what others did and the discussions, and began building up a catalogue of reference material. Eventually I started to contribute more, have my own input, and slowly become trusted enough to see some of the less public reference material out there. It’s certainly a patience thing, I don’t just decide on a kit and build it a week later as a flash in the pan, I have been interested in UKSF kit of various iterations a few years now.
I also have a rather over organised system for cataloguing images, divided by unit and theatre and timeframe – that sort of geekiness helps a lot. I think I have over 2000 images of various UKSF/SFSG and elite Police units in that library.
My Airsoft team is a collection of mates who skirmish together, and our team kit is M81, so I don’t have to tailor my UKSF kit to make it Sunday Skirmish-able, I pick and choose bits from the gear pile for a more relaxed style for events with them. If I want to run light I can, or I can run the UKSF Impression stuff to test setups.
On the flip side, alongside the guys I’ve started to run with with at more milsim style events, we’ve started a specific callsign/identity, E27, which has let us coordinate kit and tactics, and beyond that we get on well and can share advice and input on gear, its led to improved kit by virtue of that sharing and having others into it, and performance driven decisions made across the group.
Finally, my job outside of Airsoft is as a designer, and an interest in the design of gear and how setups works together carries over. I’m a sucker for well-designed kit and I am always pretty hot on the admin of it, ensuring things are accessible, taping up trailing straps, routing cables properly, secure any loose items or flaps, making sure that things can run slick or can quickly have capacity and capability added. It’s an ethos that’s put forward by Mark Owen, of DEVGRU fame, in No Hero where he talks about how he believes the kit should always be exactly how the user wants it so it’s never a distraction or annoyance, and fades into the background and lets you undertake a task. Ofcourse you find other guys likewise doing the real thing whose kit looks haphazard, but the former approach has certainly shaped how I set up kit.
S23: You’ve naturally earned considerable respect, and garnered a respected authoritative voice on the venerable L119a1 (UKSF Diemaco) – however, you’re not afraid to mix it up and ‘shock’ purists – SF orientated mindset or just following your heart ?
JW01: I think any respect is just though being around abit now, and the chaps who used to be building awesome Diemacos aren’t quite so visible. Quoting forum names, people like Cracking Day, Panoptes and Perr Mike maybe aren’t quite as visible at the moment, even if they’re still about in some cases, although collectively they really helped inspire my builds.
I guess part of the reason some of my builds are different is that I do a modernish UKSF Impression, and so there’s abit more freedom with parts and setups than the classic builds. I’m also loathe to run kit or a weapon that doesn’t work for me just because it’s photo accurate.
Things like my ghetto mounting of a Scoutlight on a HSP Thorntail to lift it tight into the LA-5 was just my being keen to make my setup work for me. Other bits like the use of SOPMOD stocks and Ergo Rail Extensions are supported by reference pics, although they aren’t common. Other bits, like BAD Levers, ASAPs, AFGs etc tend to look out of place when you look at a Diemaco with one of the classic setups in mind, but they are very much the done thing now.
The thing I really love about the aesthetic of a modern setup, which I find as awesome as the classic looks in its own way, is the fact that they are modernising what is inherently an outdated platform. It’s almost creaking under the weight of progress, as all these modern accessories and parts are fitted to what is a very dated base. Alongside the weird SFSG pimped L85’s, another favourite of mine, I think it sums up the curious mix of cutting edge and dated kit in use by UKSF very well.
Overriding concern is making something which works well for me though, and I use an base rifle and set of accessories and tweak a bit to make a rifle to my tastes, because ultimately that’s what the real guys do.
S23: Aside from breaking trends, you’ve done your fair share of authentic builds. What’s really key, aside from trades, barrel and flash hider that truly define, visually, the quintessential L119a1 build ?
JW01: When people talk about a ‘classic L119A1’ what they tend to be thinking about is several eras. You have the 16″ examples used in early Afghanistan, Qala-i-jangi for instance, and the CQB variant that’s ubiquitous in the kit Task Force Black images, a few years later you have SFSG examples, and lately a profusion of different parts. Getting the right optic, grips, stocks and PEQ/LA-5 for the unit/era your weapon is going for is the key to getting it looking right.
I myself don’t tend to paint my replicas but if painting then that’s another thing that can really make or break a build. It can be neat and complex or scrappy and rushed, both work, but colour choice and technique make it. I’m never convinced by the ‘dusted’ look, and often Krylon appears too flat, mixing up paint brands abit so they’re less recognisably the colours at the local airsoft shop helps make things look less Airsoft too.
The biggest physical thing people seem to get wrong is the front sight though, the CQB should have the bayonet lug removed but is otherwise like an M4 front sight. The 16″ should have the trademark reinforced front sight (with bayonet lug). Many first builds people get mixed up, they know the front sight should be different, but now exactly how.
Storm grips are also one of the finishing touches which really sets off a classic build, and they’re often overlooked. Modern examples though have much greater variant in pistol grip.
S23: Over the last year and a half, you released a very authentic sticker set, affording enthusiasts the option to accurately reflect the UKSF variant of the LA5. Sheer vanity, attention to detail or an observation of a gap in the market ?
JW01: The LA-5A Stickers were primarily due to my own attention to detail on the builds I was putting together. It frustrated me that the replica LA-5’s came with those gold stickers, which threw off what should have been the finishing touch on a Diemaco build.
I therefore set out to replicate the type most commonly seen on UKSF examples, with the help of someone who kindly provided me high resolution pictures of an actual UKSF LA-5’s stickers. I then set about finding myself a printer, with the company I eventually settled on requiring a minimum order of 50. I got them printed, gave a few to friends, then after pictures received a bit of interest, started selling the excess. I never intended to start it as a money making scheme, but thankfully it’s made me some money to offset a small part of my stupid kit buying.
I recently sold out and after multiple requests ran off a second batch, however I’ve had several issues with the printing; colour fidelity and durability is markedly worse than the first run, despite using the same printing company. I’m not comfortable selling them, so I’m currently on the lookout for another printing company.
S23: Whilst, you and I, as we spoke offline, are sworn to secrecy. You’ve been a leading light fielding interest on behalf of UKSF reenactors and collectors, interest in the new Diemaco A2 upper. This has recently gathered momentum, and I’m sure your eager to make an announcement soon. But, tell us, what you can about the journey thus far ?
JW01: The L119A2 had been rumoured and talked about for a long time before it was pictured publically. I initially noticed an interesting looking rifle in the hands of a guy in a blurry still of the Trafford Centre training as part of Exercise Winchester Accord, I was convinced this was the oft mentioned A2, but didn’t expect to see much more. Two days later though the Sun ran high resolution pictures of members of G Sqrd SAS who’d been snapped as part of the exercise. These were the motherload in terms of modern kit reference material and confirmed lots of rumours and snippets heard in the previous year or so, but the cherry on top were great pictures of the A2.
Obviously this caused quite a stir, and soon afterward I got hold of more pictures showing it, although these couldn’t be shared. The interest was great but there was precious little detail to allow a manufacturer to make a replica.
I set about gathering information, asking about and contacting manufacturers to try and drum up interest. In this case we found the guys on Canadian Impressions groups extremely helpful and knowledgeable, since their forces use a very similar IUR variant.
Recently UKSF type uppers have become available on the Canadian civilian market and this has given a new wealth of information and images which should hopefully allow an airsoft replica to be made. The UK and Canadian Diemaco enthusiasts together have shared information really well together, and it’s a perfect example of cooperation within the hobby.
I hope that soonish I can reveal abit more about progress on an A2, it looks like interesting times ahead.
S23: Before, we let you go, really appreciate you taking the time out to talk, obligatory last question I always like to ask (kind of a trademark), I’m a fan of 30 Rounds per mag, what’s your thoughts on this – could you see this perhaps bringing something new and fresh to game play if embraced by the masses?
JW01: I don’t play a lot of MilSim, with work and not having a car I’m not mobile or available enough, so I can’t really comment from that perspective, generally I find I don’t get through a lot of ammo though as more MilSim-esque games, the gameplay itself is almost self-limiting in terms of ammo expenditure. Generally I think the arguments that 30 round mags are too restrictive given the inherent inaccuracy of the weapons is a strong one too.
However I have noticed in local skirmish games an increasing tendency for games to stagnate due to the sheer volume of fire being laid down. Tactical movement and aggressive play is stymied when barricades and cover are hosed continually, and it ruins some of the most exciting and challenging parts of the game in favour of empting hicaps into windows and doors.
I think ammo limits, while being difficult to enforce, would, if adopted, have the most pronounced effect on skirmishes which would become more than a rate of tire and ammo carrying competition.
… huge thanks to JW01 for this fantastic turn, I’m sure you’ll agree this makes for a fantastic read – S23
Be sure to check out more of JW01 exploits Instagram: http://instagram.com/jay_w01