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September 28, 2012: The U.S. Army is introducing a shorter and lighter version of its M110 SASS (Semi-Automatic Sniper System). While smaller, it won't be any cheaper (about $2,200 each). The most important accessory is a scope and these cost nearly as much as the rifle. For example, the Bushnell Elite LRS 3x21 scope goes for $1,800 each. These scopes are built to handle weather, rough treatment, and still deliver accuracy. Minimum magnification of this scope is 3X and max is 21X. Snipers can also use less expensive accessories like flash suppressors, bipods, slings, stocks, and items like camouflage suits. There are also wind sensors, computer software, and so on. The accessories can easily cost more than the rifle itself.  

SASS has been around since 2008. The new CSASS (Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System) will use a collapsible stock and a removable flash suppressor to get the length down to 91 cm (36 inches) long and the weight under 4.1 kg (9 pounds) unloaded. The CSASS is addressing demands from the troops for a more compact sniper rifle for the many snipers who are part of infantry units, not special sniper detachments. But even a more compact sniper rifle will, on occasion, require some special accessories.

The M110 has largely replaced the bolt-action M24 and provided commanders with much more effective snipers. That increase in numbers (of snipers) over the last decade and their increased 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.

The M110 achieved its high accuracy partly by using a 20 inch heavy floating barrel. The "floating" means that the barrel is attached only to the main body of the rifle to reduce resonance (which throws off accuracy). The standard M110 weighs 7.9 kg (17.3 pounds) in combat and about 32 kg (70 pounds) with all components of the system. The M110 can use a ten or twenty round magazine. 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.

Previously, many snipers have had success using tuned up M-14s (from the 1960s) as sniper rifles. While semi-automatic and rugged, the M14 wasn't designed to be a sniper rifle. The AR-10 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 CSASS is also meant to satisfy users of the M-14s, whose size (118cm/46.5 inches, same as SASS) was always a drawback. The SASS, however, weighed a third more than the M-14. With the lighter and shorter CSASS, plus a reputation for accuracy and reliability, M-14 users should finally be lured away from their 1950s era sniper rifle.

 


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