One special operations forces (SOF) materiel program that witnessed significant activity during the past year was the Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) program.
Draft specifications for the PSR evolved during the first half of 2009, in a process that eventually identified a “Precision Sniper Rifle, Increment 1,” that would “… enable USSOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command] Snipers to use one or more shots to interdict enemy personnel, positions, and non-technical vehicles mounted with crew served weapons out to 1500 meters (1640 yards) or further, and to defeat Level 3 body armor out to 750 meters (820 yards) or further …
“The PSR system will replace the heavy sniper rifles (HSR) in the SOF inventory for precision engagements against personnel and material targets,” explained an early version of the spec. “The current Family of Sniper Weapon Systems include a Medium weapon capable of precision anti-personnel fire out to 1200m and a Heavy weapon capable of precision anti-material fire out to 1500m. These systems provide SOF with the 80 percent solution to the HSR requirement. The PSR first increment … extends the anti-personnel precision fire capability out to 1500m. The final increment of PSR will meet the anti-material capability either through enhanced munitions, an additional weapon, or a variant of the Increment 1 weapon.”
In late March 2010, USSOCOM issued a solicitation for the procurement of a PSR “system and ammunition,” noting that the system “is designed to address the operational effectiveness and SOF sniper survivability over the current inventory of sniper weapons. The major components of the PSR system are: rifle, ten magazines, sound suppressor including a mirage mitigating device, operator manual, sling, cleaning kit, bipod, drag bag, and hard carrying case. These items have been determined to be a commercial item and are intended to fulfill the approved USSOCOM requirement for a PSR.”
Although many specifics of the solicitation were not released to the public, it was publicly acknowledged that responding contractors were required to deliver both product samples and written proposals for evaluation under specific user criteria. Subsequent reports indicated that the program progressed through identification of “finalist” candidates with follow-on firing tests. However, it appears that the initial round of 2010 firing tests did not result in follow-on procurement action.
One industry representative, requesting anonymity, reported that none of the guns had met the accuracy requirement at 1,500 meters, likely because of ammunition variation, and that the vendors were expecting to have their guns returned, along with information about the testing process, results, and possible follow-on actions.
Now, early in 2011, several of those industry product samples/designs are appearing in public displays, along with anecdotal industry reports as to the status and future of PSR. Somewhat surprisingly, the Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade Show and Conference (SHOT Show), held in and around Las Vegas, Nev., in mid-January, provided several representative examples.
Barrett, for example, used SHOT to highlight a wide range of products, including its MRAD™ (Multi-Role Adaptive Rifle).
“This is the gun that we submitted to the SOCOM PSR,” explained Kyle Lynch, director of sales and marketing for Barrett. “It’s our modular, multi-caliber sniper rifle with initial release in .338 Lapua [Magnum]. Standard configuration is going to be the gun, 10-round magazine, three accessory rails, and 24.5-inch barrel. We will also do a 20-inch barrel and some other variants later.
“We have a folding stock that actually folds to the ‘ejection port’ side of the gun, where it locks ‘onto’ the bolt knob,” he continued. “There are several benefits to that. One, I have got the action locked when I am transporting this gun – the rounds stay in; the dirt stays out. Also, I have not increased the width of the gun by folding the stock. The Mk. 13 that’s in use now with the special operations units folds to the non-ejection port side. So in that case, I have the width of the bolt handle plus the width of the receiver plus the width of the stock. So the MRAD design makes it a much more streamlined package for transport.
“Other features include a single-button length of pull adjustment, with our goal being a 5- to 95-percentile solution. It has an adjustable cheek piece. It has a 30-minute [of angle] rail taper to take advantage of the elevation and travel and the scopes to reach out to those longer distances. I can reconfigure the pistol grip – some of the more fancy designs that are on the market will work. Any standard AR-15-type grip will work. With no tools, I can take out the safety lever and move it from one side to the other, either for a left-handed shooter or right-handed shooter who just likes to have the safety on the other side. It only takes about a minute to do that,” he said.
“But the ‘big feature’ of this design is the quick-change barrel,” Lynch added. “I can pull these two bolts out; the barrel comes out of the front of the receiver; a new barrel goes in; and in three minutes, I’ve changed the barrel. I can do that for purposes of changing the weapon length to suit my mission or as part of a caliber conversion. Let’s say, for example, I have my gun set up in .338 Lapua and we have a ‘training day’ where I want to emphasize moving targets, and those targets are at 500 yards. Well, there’s no reason to spend six dollars a round to shoot a moving target that’s 500 yards away, when I can put in my 7.62 mm NATO conversion and shoot the M118LR for 56 cents a round. I can train at much less cost that way. Or if I have a mission more suited to a smaller caliber or shorter barrel, it lets me do that.”
He went on: “Another big benefit of the system is in the maintenance requirements. When this barrel gets ‘shot out’ or the gun gets broken, the user can actually reconfigure the gun, update the gun, and put the new barrel in, in a few minutes, rather than having to send the entire gun back to depot where there is going to be a highly skilled person with machine tools remanufacturing parts, turning the barrel, and reassembling that gun. So that gun is not going to be offline for a number of months. The shooter who has experience and history with this gun and has it set up with his scope can do it himself in just a matter of minutes.
“My goal for this weapon is to reset the standard, Lynch concluded. “If I asked 10 people in the sniper community right now what they considered ‘the standard’ sniper rifle – not necessarily state of the art but the standard – they are going to identify some variant of a Remington 700. That’s a fantastic gun that has served us well for years. But it is only one thing. The user cannot, for example, change the barrel on that gun when it wears out in 1,200 rounds, which is a very short training cycle for special operations snipers. So now he has a gun for a few months and, when it’s ‘shot out,’ he has to send it back and get a new one to replace it. With this design, he has a new barrel installed in five minutes and he’s ready to go with ‘his gun.’”
“That’s going to be done again,” he acknowledged. “And we have concern about that because we shot the rifle out to 1,500 meters repeatedly and it did what they told us it had to do. So something that went on there is a mystery to us.”
Remington’s MSR is available in .338 Lapua Magnum, .338 Norma Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, and (.308) 7.62 mm NATO with barrel lengths of 20, 22, 24, and 27 inches (barrel life greater than 2,500 rounds).
The folding stock design folds to the ejection port side of the weapon, shortening an overall length of 46 inches (stock open and extended with 22-inch barrel) to 36 inches.
The primary rail on top of the weapon is a monolithic Military Standard 1913 mounting rail available in 20, 30, and 40 MOA (minute of angle) options, allowing a variety of day/night optics to be mounted on the same plane.
FNH used the SHOT Show venue to spotlight its “Ballista” sniper rifle design.
“‘Ballista’ is our name for the PSR,” noted Ben Voss, instructor and firearms specialist with FNH. “USSOCOM calls the program Precision Sniper Rifle while we call our product Ballista.
“The solicitation didn’t require a specific caliber. It required the rifle to be able to engage a point target at 1,500 meters – 40 inches tall and 20 inches wide – basically an ‘echo’ silhouette. It may not have required a specific caliber but, if you read into that, there are limits to the calibers able to do that. The .338 Lapua can do it comfortably. The .300 Winchester Magnum and the Mk. 248 220 grain [Sierra] MatchKing™ can also do it,” he said.
“If you submitted a caliber you could also submit other calibers with it,” Voss added. “And if you submitted a multi-caliber gun, it had to be three calibers. So our submission, and a lot of the other submissions, offered .338 Lapua, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .308. And that caliber change capability has to be done at operator level within a very short period of time. I can’t remember if it was three or five minutes, but the operator has to be able to change the caliber of the rifle.
“That may have restricted a lot of people from putting in entries,” he said. “If they didn’t want to be stuck with a single caliber, once they went multi-caliber they had to go three. And there was that time constraint on the operator being able to change the caliber.”
He continued, “Our stock folds to the right side [ejection port side] and with the bolt in place and closed it folds over the bolt and locks the bolt in place for transport … The solicitation specified that it had to have a folding stock. It had a maximum overall length, with the stock deployed, that could not exceed 50 inches, and when folded could not exceed 40 inches – the overall system without suppressor.”
The initial FNH submission for the PSR solicitation featured the SureFire 338 suppressor with SureFire suppressor adapter.
“When the solicitation comes back out and they resubmit it, we will probably be putting on our own suppressor and our own brake,” Voss said. “We’re not there yet, but we are working toward that.”
He noted that one of the uncertainties surrounding a new PSR solicitation was whether it would be open to all bidders or just the three finalists from the initial effort, adding that the Ballista was one of those three finalists.
“We suspect that any new RFP would be spring or summer time,” he noted. “We are always going to meet threshold but we are working diligently to get everything in line and come up with as many different options as we strive to prove and meet objective requirements. The more objectives you meet the better you will do in any selection. So, until the final date, we are going to continue to offer different triggers that are within threshold, offer different barrels in the threshold, different suppressor options, different optical mounting options; everything we can do to make our submission better and show the customer: ‘This is what we have and this is the spectrum of things we can do right now.’ All of these meet your threshold and some meet your objective.”
“We submitted ‘quite a few’ for SOCOM PSR,” noted Stacey Blankenship, customer service representative for Accuracy International of North America. “When we offered it to them, we offered it in three different cartridges. Obviously one of those was the .338 Lapua Mag. And you could take the gun from a .338 Lapua Mag to a .308 NATO cartridge in as little as 7.5 minutes with a complete barrel change, bolt change, magazine change, and all back together.
“We did have the privilege of making it as one of the three PSR finalists,” he acknowledged. “Just like in many other things we are there in the top 1-3.”
In contrast to many of the other industry PSR designs that featured stocks folding to the ejection port side of the gun, the Accuracy International candidates folded to the left (non-ejection port) side of the weapon.
“You can look at the benefits of this design in a couple of ways,” Blankenship said. “One is that when the stock folds over the bolt it certainly protects the bolt and locks up the bolt. It makes it a little ‘cleaner’ for whenever you are carrying it on your back perhaps. But other than that it makes it where you cannot negotiate the system whatsoever. Our folding mechanism has been in existence for well over 20 years. The operators we have operated with – and our system was designed by operators for operators – requested that it not fold to lock the bolt system. So when you lock ours to the other side it’s still out of my way, but if I had to, while I was carrying this weapon, it could be ‘utilized’ in an entry or emergency situation, because I can still fire the weapon.”
He continued, “Now, is that something that would happen often? No. But it’s something our users wanted. Certainly there are other realities where having it lock the bolt side makes it cleaner for certain things. That’s great. But there are always pros and cons, gives and takes, to everything. But we’re not a copier. We are an innovator. We have always done this – it’s traditional. If, in fact, we had enough desire from the operators for something else, we would have done it the way they asked us to do it.”
Asked about new features on their PSR design, he quickly pointed to the “.338 10-round double-stack, double-feed magazine. That’s 10 rounds of .338 Lapua Mag. This magazine is going to be very similar to anyone who has ever utilized an M14. There’s a lip on the front end of it and a locking point on the rear. So in fact we have two locking points. You load up a payload of 10 rounds of .338 and it’s going to be considerably heavier than 10 rounds of 7.62 [mm]. But we are not going to get any ‘droopage.’ The presentation of my mag to my mag aperture, to my bolt face, to my sequence of loading is going to be exactly the same from round one to round 10.
“Another thing about the design is the ‘cut out’ in the design,” he said. “So, when it’s down on the ground, I can ‘drop the mag’ and reload it with the weapon on the ground. There is not another weapon in the competition that can do that. They are going to have to [lift the weapon off target] to get the magazine in there, or they are going to have to [turn it to a side]. But I can put this weapon straight on the ground, take the mag out, and load it just the same. And I’ve never moved [off target].
“And just like everybody else we can offer them the flexibility of taking the weapon from 7.62 [mm] to a .300 Win Mag – which is currently in service in several different loadings – to the .338 Lapua Mag, and even including ‘a couple other cartridges’ we presented to them if they would like to experience them: the .300 AI [Accuracy International] cartridge and the .338 AI. They are not on the market. They haven’t been released yet. But the .300 AI is quite a step above the .300 Win Mag as we know it. And it operates on the same bolt, same bolt face, and can push a 225-grain projectile at ‘well above’ the pressures and velocities a 200 or even the 190 [grain] /A191 [Mk. 258 Mod 0] is currently at.”
This article first appeared in The Year in Special Operations 2011-2012 Edition.