U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is taking another look at MRAD (Multi-Role Adaptive Design) rifle from Barrett (developer of the .50 calibre sniper rifle in the 1980s). MRAD lost out to Remington in the 2012 SOCOM competition to select a standard weapon to service as the PSR (Precision Sniper Rifle) and replace several older sniper rifle designs used by SOCOM. Barrett kept tweaking the MRAD design and obtained orders from a growing number of police and special operations customers. Recently SOCOM ordered some MRAD rifles chambered for the new (since 2017) .300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) so SOCOM snipers could take another look at MRAD as well as the 300 PRC round which appears to offer significant improvements in range and accuracy. The PRC round was of interest because in early 2018 the same manufacturer introduced a 6.5mm PRC round which outperformed the 6.5mm Creedmoor that SOCOM had selected in 2018 to replace the standard NATO 7.62mm round still used in some sniper rifles. In this case, SOCOM is doing what it has the authority and budget to do; look at any new technology that it believes will give its special operations troops an edge. This capability has proved itself time and time again and in this case, SOCOM is trying to keep up with a burst of technical advances in the design of new rifle cartridges.
Earlier in 2018 SOCOM listened to its snipers and adopted the 6.5mm Creedmoor round to replace the larger NATO 7.62mm round for its semi-automatic sniper rifles. As SOCOM often does they brought in 27 snipers from Special Forces, SEALs and MARSOC for three days to test two new rounds (6.5mm Creedmoor and .260 Remington) against the currently used NATO 7.62mm round in the three semi-automatic sniper rifles currently used in SOCOM (M110A1, SR-25 and Mk20). Each of these rifles can easily be adapted to fire the 6.5 Creedmoor or .260 (6.6mm) Remington via a barrel change. The two smaller rounds had been developed by simply putting the smaller bullet in the same case used by the .308 (which the NATO 7.62mm round is based on). This means that there are no appreciable weight or space savings. The Creedmoor simply supplies better performance as a sniper or sharpshooter round. But soon after Creedmoor showed up a new cartridge design, the PRC entered the market (for hunters, competitive target shooters, police and military users) and SOCOM wants to get a good idea of just much of an improvement the PRC is. The MRAD rifles will, like so many other new items in the past, be tested by SOCOM snipers on target ranges and, if they pass that test, will be offered to SOCOM snipers overseas for use in combat zones. The SOCOM snipers have a reputation for being demanding and blunt in their assessments. That’s another practice SOCOM wants to maintain and if the snipers find the PRC (and/or MRAD) a significant improvement SOCOM will buy more of them and replace the recently adopted Creedmoor round and even the current PSR.
SOCOM and its snipers were surprised at how well the relatively recent 6.5mm Creedmoor round performed but these same snipers pay attention to user comments about all manner of new ammo and rifle designs. The 6.5mm round has long been popular with hunters and snipers in Europe but it never caught on in North America where the heavier 7.62mm (“.30 caliber”) round was preferred. But the 6.5mm design always had the potential to surpass the 7.62mm round and it was the 6.5 Creedmoor, which became available in 2008 (a decade after the similar .260 Remington) that did just that. The three days of SOCOM tests confirmed what many civilian and military users have been saying, that the 6.5mm Creedmoor was a superior round. The SOCOM tests showed that the 6.5mm Creedmoor had longer effective range (1,000 meters) than the 7.62mm (700 meters) and has higher accuracy as well as less wind drift and recoil. Since the 6.5mm Creedmoor uses the same case as the 7.62mm round the same magazines could be used and all that needed to be changed in existing rifles was the barrel. SOCOM will begin issuing the new 6.5mm versions of their semi-automatic sniper rifles in 2019.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army, which is seeking a new design (and rifle round) for its light machine-gun and assault guns will take the SOCOM findings into account although the army does not expect to have candidate rifles to test until 2022. The army and marines appreciate all the testing and combat zone evaluations SOCOM carries out. Many police organizations have, also, adopted the 6.5mm Creedmoor and it continues to be a popular round for long-range target shooters and many hunters but a number of these existing Creedmoor users are impressed by the PRC.
One reason Barrett got the contract to deliver MRAD rifles using the .300 PRC is that Barrett wants to prove that their long-range rifles don’t have to use the 12.7mm (.50 caliber) round. A major problem with the 12.7mm rifles is that they are too heavy and most snipers will not carry it long distances unless they absolutely have to. With longer range smaller rounds becoming available (like the .338 Lapua Magnum) lighter rifles were needed to handle them. The .300 PRC outperforms the 8.6mm Lapua Magnum and can be effective at up to 2,000 meters. Moreover, it is a smaller round that is more easily adapted to current PSR rifles. The MRAD comes in various barrel lengths (51 cm to 69 cm) which determines weight. The 62 cm (24.5 inch) barrel MRAD weighs 6.7 kg (14.8 pounds) empty. In addition to the PRC round, the bolt action MRAD can handle Lapua Magnum, Win Mag and .308 Winchester. With a loaded ten round magazine and scope, MRAD weighs less than 9 kg (18 pounds). This is similar to the PSR and in some respects superior. The heavier 12.7mm rifles weigh about twice as much as the PSR and MRAD.