Deadlier, More Destructive Sniper Bullets Are High on Army's Wish List

Snipers engage targets in Germany
Sky Soldier Snipers from HHC, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment engage targets in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Sept. 6, 2018, during Saber Junction 18. (Capt. Joe Legros/173rd Airborne Brigade)

The Army just picked a new, multi-caliber sniper rifle. Now, it wants a new class of ammunition to make snipers deadlier and more destructive against enemy personnel and equipment.

Under its Precision Sniper Rifle, or PSR, effort, the service awarded a $50 million contract in late March to Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc. for the MK22 Multi-role Adaptive Design, or MRAD, sniper rifle, which can be chambered for .338 Norma Magnum, .300 Norma Magnum and 7.62x51 NATO ammunition.

"A lot of the capability that we are looking for in the PSR is really resident in the ammunition," Lt. Col. Christopher Kennedy, chief of the Lethality Branch at Fort Benning, Georgia, told an audience Wednesday at the Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate's Industry Day. "And while we are going to field [the MRAD] with commercial, off-the-shelf ammo, we are actually looking for a lot more capability, especially out of the .338."

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The MRAD will allow Army snipers to shoot out to 1,500 meters with the barrel chambered for .338 Norma Magnum. That's 300 meters farther than the current M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, chambered for .300 Winchester Magnum.

The new rifle is scheduled to replace the M2010 and the Barrett .50 caliber M107 sniper rifle, which snipers have used to attack enemy soft-skinned vehicles and other equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So as part of the new ammo effort, the Army is "going to be pursuing some anti-materiel [ammo] in the .338 caliber," Kennedy said.

The service also wants "some improved performance rounds -- think highly lethal against human rounds -- in all three calibers," he said, adding that it also will need new subsonic ammunition for suppressed sniper shots.

"I don't want to say silent because nothing is silent, but some very quiet ammunition that is chambered on all three of those calibers," Kennedy said. "We have done a lot of market surveys, the [product managers] looked around, and the stuff that we are looking for just doesn't exist or at least we don't know about it. So, there are some real opportunities if you are in the ammunition-making business."

Army maneuver officials used the industry day to give defense firms an idea of what the service needs both in the near term and over the next decade.

In the short term, the Army will be looking for reduced-range ammunition for the Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, which will fire a special 6.8mm projectile.

The service is in the final phase of evaluating NGSW rifle and auto rifle prototypes, which are slated to start replacing the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022.

Textron Systems, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc., and Sig Sauer have delivered prototype systems and ammunition for the competitive effort.  

Each vendor's design is unique and fires a different version of the common 6.8mm ammunition, which is being designed to exceed the 600-meter maximum effective range of an M249 on point targets. The M4A1 has about a 500-meter maximum effective range on point targets.

The Army has no current plans to extend its marksmanship ranges, so the service will need a reduced-range training round chambered in the 6.8mm, Kennedy said.

"We are really looking and saying how are we going to train this weapon?" he said. "We are not going to be able to go to a tank-round range to do live fires with these weapons all the time, so I am looking for something that has an [estimated range] that's more like traditional 5.56mm ... but we can shoot it out of that new weapon.

"If not, we are literally going to be having to go to larger and larger ranges to do what the Army has traditionally done on a lot smaller ranges."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

Related: Army Awards $50 Million Contract for New Special Operations Sniper Rifle

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