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Bigger Is No Longer Better
by James Dunnigan
June 14, 2013

The state owned Ministry of Defense Industry of Azerbaijan has introduced a 12.7mm version of its Istiglal 14.5mm anti-material sniper rifle. The 12.7mm Mubariz sniper rifle is much lighter, at 15 kg (33 pounds) with a five round magazine. The Istiglal weighs 33.8 kg (74 pounds) and used a 14.5/114mm round compared to the 12.7/108mm in the Mubariz. A new version of the Istiglal weighs 28 kg (61.6 pounds) and both versions have an effective range of 3,000 meters.

The Azerbaijan firm manufactures a wide range of infantry weapons, including mortars, as well as armored trucks and many components for military equipment. The firm has exported its large caliber sniper rifles to Turkey and Pakistan. Turkey is planning licensed production of the Mubariz sniper rifle.

At the same time the 12.7mm sniper rifles are losing market share to lighter (6.8 kg/15 pound) 8.6mm rifles. These have proven to be quite accurate at very long ranges.

Four years ago a British sniper (corporal Craig Harrison) set a new distance record when he killed two Taliban in Afghanistan, at a range of 2,620 meters (8,596 feet). He did this with a L115A3 rifle firing the 8.6mm Lapua Magnum round. The previous record was held by a Canadian soldier (corporal Rob Furlong), who dropped an al Qaeda gunman at 2,573 meters (7,972 feet) in 2002, also in Afghanistan. Furlong, however, was using a 12.7mm (.50 caliber) rifle. These weapons are good at 2,000 meters or more but weigh twice as much as 8.6mm rifles.

Five years ago the British Army began replacing most of its 3,000 7.62mm L96A1 sniper rifles with one modified to use the .338 (8.6mm) Lapua Magnum caliber round. This Accuracy International "Super Magnum" rifle is basically an L96A1 "Arctic Warfare" rifle modified to handle the larger, 8.6mm Lapua Magnum round. The new rifle (the L115A1) weighed 6.8 kg (without a scope), was 1.27 meters (fifty inches) long, and had a 685mm (27 inch) barrel and a five round magazine.

Snipers in Iraq, and especially Afghanistan, have been calling for a longer range round but found the 12.7mm (.50 caliber) weapons too heavy. The .338 (8.6mm) Lapua Magnum round has an effective range (about 1,500 meters) about 50 percent greater than the 7.62mm standard NATO round. Like most long range rounds, if the weather (clear) and winds (calm) are right, you can hit targets farther away. Those were the conditions Harrison encountered when he took his three shots (the third one hit the machine-gun the two Taliban were using).

The 8.6mm round entered use in the early 1990s, and became increasingly popular with police and military snipers. Dutch snipers have also used this round in Afghanistan with much success and have a decade of experience with these larger caliber rifles. Recognizing the popularity of the 8.6mm round, Barrett, the pioneer in 12.7mm sniper rifles, came out with a 7 kg (15.5 pound) version of its rifle, chambered for the 8.6mm.

Nevertheless, China has had success with several 12.7mm sniper rifles, exporting them to many countries as well as various rebel movements. Some of the Chinese manufacturers are private firms and all Chinese small arms manufacturers are free to export to just about anyone who can pay.


 

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