The Army rolled out the M110 to much controversy, but in response to valid concerns and shifting tactical situations that snipers were encountering overseas. With soldiers fighting in built up urban areas, target ranges were decreased and the number of targets often increased, creating a need for a semi-automatic Sniper system to be fielded Army wide. However, many of us in the Special Operations community felt that the Army was getting the short end of the stick with the M110.
Where is the forward assist?
The first time I laid eyes on the M110 was at the SOF armorers course in Crane, Indiana. Crane's Subject Matter Expert in sniper systems was giving a class on the rifle when I blurted out, “Where is the forward assist on that thing?” My SR-25 had one so what was the issue? The instructor responded that Colt was the patent holder for the forward assist design and it would have set the entire M110 project back years and millions of dollars to license the design or start from scratch to create something new that performed the same functionality.
Many shooters will no doubt tell you that they never use their forward assist anyway, so who cares? It is a different situation for snipers who may very well stalk into their hide site. In this scenario you are not going to have your semi-automatic sniper rifle loaded inside your drag bag and will need to chamber a round, slowly and quietly, once at your hide site. This is where a forward assist can be of critical importance to the sniper in making sure his first round is properly chambered. The solution we were given by Crane? Stick a cleaning rod in the bolt carrier and jamb it forward.
Scope zero set
Another major failure of the M110 is not the fault of the rifle, but rather the Leupold scope provided with it. There was no zero set on the elevation turret so after you slipped your scales the turret could continue to rotate counter-clockwise, causing the sniper to lose his zero-point.
Shot out barrels
I had a number of colleagues who attended our Special Forces Group's SOTIC course at Ft. Campbell with their new M110 rifles. More than just a few came back reporting shot out barrels after less than five hundred rounds fired. The guns were dropping up to eight Minutes of Angle (MOA) and becoming hopelessly inaccurate. Snipers and spotters ended up sharing a weapon in many Sniper teams. While I did not have this experience with the M110's on my team, I had too many Green Berets report this experience to me personally to discount it or chalk it all up to hype. The Army often keeps these types of failures in-house, worried that bad publicity will result in the Army getting something even worse down the line rather than simply correcting the flaws in the system. I've been told by soldiers recently rotated out of theater that the new generation of M110's do not have this issue so it seems this flaw has since been corrected.
The M110 was developed and fielded for legitimate purposes, but in the rush to field a semi-automatic rifle I think that the Army lost sight of the big picture. In my opinion, replacing bolt-action sniper rifles with a semi-auto is short sighted. Bolt guns are much easier to fire, giving the sniper better feedback. Semi-autos are more difficult to master and sadly, many snipers simply don't get that much range time. As one SOTIC instructor told me, “A lot of soldiers will like the M110 simply because they have nothing else to compare it to.”
Kit Up! contributor Jack Murphy is a former Ranger, Special Forces Soldier and is the author of the military thriller Reflexive Fire.