The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated how critically important snipers are to a fight marked by urban canyons and high-mountain caves. Problem is, those highly-trained sharpshooters are in short supply, and the need for accurate, long-range fire has outpaced the services' ability to field one-shot killers.
So both the Army and Marine Corps began a program to seed infantry squads with so-called "designated marksmen" -- call them "snipers-lite."
The growing need to equip these new marksmen with accurized rifles prompted the Army to reconsider the role of the venerable M-14 rifle for the war on terror. Back in Desert Storm, armorers from the 10th Special Forces group took M-14s equipped with a match barrels and fitted a gas piston on them for optimal performance, re-designating it the M-25. They replaced the stock with a McMillan M1A fiberglass one, developed a scope mount and added a Bausch & Lomb 10x40mm fixed-power optic or a Leupold Mark 4.
The revamped M-14 provides the Army squad designated marksman with on-command direct fire support for his squad, a fire team or his platoon. The heavier-caliber sharpshooters provide cover when machine guns displace, counter-sniper fire in urban areas, and they help in overtaking valuable real estate.
Infrared targeting lasers such as the AN/PEQ-2 and PAQ-4C make the DM's job more like 24-hour shift work. Now that suppressors for the M-14-series of rifles are available, the night-vision capabilities coupled with sound mitigation makes the Soldier's ability to own the night even more secure.
Taking the M-14 modifications a step further, Crane Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center teamed up with Sage International to create an M-14/M1A package that is dubbed the "Enhanced Battle Rifle."
Using the M-14 barrel, receiver and trigger groups, the EBR chassis adds a retractable stock, a cheek piece that's adjustable for height and a floated Picatinny quad-rail fore-end made of high-strength aluminum. The EBR also adds a pistol grip for additional control and ergonomic sling points.
But the new rifle is heavier than the M-16 or M-4 which weighs nearly seven pounds, with each 30-round magazine adding another pound. The basic M-14, however, weighs nearly 10 pounds with an addition of almost two pounds for every 20 rounds of 7.62 the EBR fires.
A soldier's wisdom varies from one to another but many don't care about the weight. The confidence in the effective range and terminal ballistics of the M-14's 7.62mm round brings the argument back to the Vietnam-era rifle.
The EBR feels a little heavy at the fore end, but this helps the rifle address criticism that it is uncontrollable when firing on full-auto. The additional weight -- and the fact that the stock is in line and parallel with the barrel -- helps reduce muzzle climb.
The EBR chassis comes with a Picatinny rail that replaces the stripper-clip guide, helping Soldiers mount high-powered scopes that can extend the rifle's range. Unique to the EBR is an extended rail just forward of the receiver. For the followers of the Jeff Cooper doctrine on scout rifles, red dot optics work well in making this rifle an effective close quarter battle scout rifle. Regardless of scope height, the shooter can obtain proper cheek weld by adjusting the EBR's stock.
As the Army and Marines Corps continue to develop a semi-auto designated marksman rifle, many within the tactical community feel that the resurrection of the M-14 is just a stopgap. But praise from troops using the M-14's variants and moves made by the Navy suggest otherwise. In 2004, the Navy signed a contract to upgrade nearly 3,000 of their M-14s with the Sage EBR chassis.
What will remain, in any case, is the designated marksman. The smallest infantry unit includes a team leader, two riflemen and a gunner. One of these riflemen will be expected to fill the role of the designated marksman, using optics to distinguish combatants from non-combatants and minimizing collateral risk with precision fire in urban areas.
The book on small unit tactics has evolved to defeat a new kind of enemy, and the old standby Springfield Armory M-14 has evolved right along with it.