U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has been seeking a standard sniper rifle since 2009. The new weapon has finally been selected and is called the Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR). SOCOM held several competitions before selecting a modified version of the existing MSR (Modular Sniper Rifle) as the winner. Last March SOCOM ordered 5,150 PSRs for about $15,000 each, as well as 4.6 million rounds of ammo. The rifles and ammo will be delivered over the next ten years. The new PSR has been well received.
The PSR will gradually replace the M40 and Mk13 (a customized SOCOM version of the U.S. Army M24) sniper rifles. The PSR is a bolt action rifle weighing 7.7 kg (17 pounds) and is 1.2 meters (46 inches) long with the stock extended (91cm/36 inches with the stock folded). Depending on the barrel installed, it can fire one of five cartridges (.338 Lapua Magnum, .338 Norma Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .308 Winchester, or 7.62x51 NATO standard). The PSR will mainly use the .338 Lapua Magnum. Max range with the more powerful magnum rounds is 1,600 meters. The PSR uses five or ten round magazines. The older 6.8 kg (15 pounds) M24 is based on the Remington 700 hunting rifle, as is the 7.5 kg M40. The MSR/PSR is an entirely new design and is also from Remington. The MSR entered service in 2009, and many SOCOM operators saw it as the likely winner of the PSR competition.
The .338 (8.6mm) Lapua Magnum round was selected as the standard for the PSR because it has had an impressive track record in combat. The Lapua Magnum in a relatively new development that first appeared in 1989 and was designed for big game hunters and police snipers. It was a round that can hit effectively out to about 1,600 meters and military snipers soon began to call for its use in their weapons. British snipers in Iraq, and especially Afghanistan, got it early on and found the Lapua Magnum round did the job at twice the range of the standard 7.62x51mm round (developed 60 years ago and based on a round developed before World War I). The 8.6mm round entered military use in the early 1990s, and became increasingly popular with police and military snipers. Dutch snipers also used this round in Afghanistan with much success and were one of the early adopters. British snipers in Afghanistan had many of their 7.62mm sniper rifles converted (by replacing the barrel and receiver) to use the new round. By 2009, the Americans were also on board and a growing number of their sniper rifles got new barrel/receiver assemblies so the Lapua Magnum could be used.
In the last decade 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 in the last decade 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 M110 SASS (Semi-Automatic Sniper System) was delivered to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. This weapon is 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. In the last few years snipers have adopted some more powerful rounds (like the .338 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 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 has 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.