Weapons: Evolving Sniper Rifles


April 7, 2022: The U.S. Army 1s halfway through distributing 6,000 M110A1 semi-automatic 7.62mm SDMRs (Squad Designated Sniper Rifle) to all the infantry squads and similar size combat support forces like engineers and reconnaissance units. The M110A1 is an upgraded version of the 2008 M110 SASS (Semi-Automatic Sniper System) that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan began receiving in 2008. This weapon was not a big technological breakthrough. It is based on the older AR-10 rifle. The 1.03-meter (40.5 inch) long rifle can have a 15 cm (six inch) tube attached to the barrel, which reduces the noise and flash made when the rifle fires and largely eliminates nearby dust rising into the air, which often gives away the sniper's position.

The M110A1 has incorporated several user suggestions. The rifle is based on the German G28 sniper rifle. The barrel is 18 percent shorter but still includes a suppressor. There is an adjustable stock, which makes a much more compact weapon for soldiers traveling in vehicles or airborne troops. There is less recoil and the SDMR can use two new rounds that provide greater accuracy at up to 600 meters. One of the new rounds is armor piercing, which can damage equipment that ordinary bullets would bounce off. There is a new scope that holds its zero (does not have to be recalibrated after movement or even parachuting to the ground. The new scope has more flexible and easier to use optics that makes it more efficient during day or night shooting at various ranges and is designed to work with a rifle mounted laser designator. Without any accessories, the SDMR weighs 4 kg (8.8 pounds) while with accessories (mainly the scope) total weight is about 4.5 kg (just under ten pounds).

The army is about to introduce a new series of combat rifles and light machine-guns using the lighter Creedmoor 6.8mm round and the SDMR can make the switch by swapping out the 7.62mm barrel/receiver and replacing it with a 6.8mm one. Both use the same type round magazine because the main difference is the size of the projectile. SDMR can use a ten or 20 round magazine. Each SDMR costs about $6,000. Over the last two decades the army and marines have found that the more expensive sniper rifles are worth the cost.

Since 2003 American soldiers and marines have greatly increased their use of snipers, and the success of this move spread to other countries. The more aggressive use of snipers since the 1990s is one of many changes in ground combat. In that time, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, infantry tactics have changed considerably. This has largely gone unnoticed back home, unless you happen to know an old soldier or marine that remembers the old style of shooting. Put simply, the emphasis is on fewer bullets fired and more accurate shooting. Elite forces, like the Special Forces and SEALs, have always operated this way. But that's because they had the skill, and opportunity, to train frequently to make it work. The army and marines have found that their troops can fight the same way with the help of some new weapons, equipment, and tactics, plus a lot of combat experience and specialized training. This includes the use of new shooting simulators, which allows troops to fire a lot of virtual bullets in a realistic setting, without all the hassle and expense of going to a firing range.

Currently, about ten percent of American infantry are trained and equipped as snipers (or “sharpshooters”). Commanders have found that filling the battlefield with two-man (spotter and shooter) sniper teams not only provides more intelligence but also a lot of precision firepower. Snipers are better at finding the enemy and killing them with a minimum of noise and fuss. New rifle sights (both day and night types) have made all infantry capable of accurate, single shot fire. With the emphasis on keeping civilian casualties down and the tendency of the enemy to use civilians as human shields, a lot of snipers or infantrymen who can take an accurate shot at typical battle ranges (under 100 meters) are the best way to win without killing a lot of civilians.

New sniper equipment has made a big difference. During the last decade the U.S. Army has issued several new sniper rifles. The original M110 was one of them. Snipers have adopted some more powerful rounds, like the Lapua Magnum and the .300 Magnum, and ever more useful accessories. Several sniper rifle models were modified to handle the longer-range rounds (by replacing the barrel and receiver).

Previously, many snipers have had success using tuned up M14s (from the 1960s) as sniper rifles. While semi-automatic and rugged, the M14 wasn't designed to be a sniper rifle. The AR-10, as the M110, was a better model for a semi-automatic sniper rifle, since it is inherently more reliable and accurate. As far back as World War II it was known that there were many situations where a semi-automatic sniper rifle would come in handy. But it's taken over half a century to solve the reliability and accuracy problems.

The M110 largely replaced the bolt-action M24 and provided commanders with much more effective snipers. That increase in numbers (of snipers) and their effectiveness, has changed the look (less random fire from U.S. troops) and feel (the U.S. troops appear more in control) of the battlefield. It's also easier to spot the enemy. He's usually the guy firing on automatic. The fellows firing one shot at a time are the Americans and they are usually the last ones standing.




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