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Army Explores Lighter Barrels for Sniper Rifles

The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., is exploring new lightweight barrel alternatives “for the intended purpose of improving the performance of low rate of fire weapons, such as bolt action sniper rifles.”

Specifics of the desired lightweight barrels include a barrel length of 23.5 to 24.5 inches “when measured from the bridgeface of the bolt to the end of the barrel face” and chamber dimensions and tolerances “as specified in ANSI/SAAMI [American National Standards Institute/Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute] 2299.4 for .300 Winchester Magnum ammunition” with the chambered end of the barrel “able to interface with a Remington 700 Long Action receiver.”

Barrels delivered under the project “shall be capable of withstanding the proof firing of one proof cartridge derived from service load standard deviations as specified in ANSI/SAAMI 2299.4 using Mk248 MOD 1 (DODIC AB43, 220 grain) ammunition as the service load.”

In outlining its desired technical approach to obtain five available lightweight barrels from multiple contractors, Army representatives cautioned, “Weight reduction that is accomplished solely by removing steel from a barrel (e.g. fluting, tapering) is not considered an alternative to current Army barrel technologies/configurations and does not meet the requirements of this contract.”

“The barrel hardware shall be composed of materials other than commonly used barrel materials (i.e. stainless or chrome moly),” they added. “Applicable technologies/processes include, but are not limited to, carbon fiber wrapped or low density alloy composite barrels and/or new manufacturing methods that enable the use of alternative barrel alloys to reduce weight and maintain or improve barrel stiffness.”

A subsequent question and answer process with industry revealed that the new lightweight barrels will be compared to a currently fielded barrel design described as weighing 4.61 lbs and featuring a 1 turn in 10 inches right hand twist with 5 grooves.

Although the particular sniper barrel eyed for replacement is not specified in the new solicitation, the stated characteristics would seem to point to initial comparison with the Army’s new XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, a critical combat capability program under which Remington is replacing existing M24 .308 sniper rifles with a significantly enhanced .300 Winchester Magnum design – which has a 24-inch barrel with 1 in 10 inch twist rate and 5R rifling [See: “New ‘Game Changing’ Army Rifle Starts Bridging Sniper Gap,” DMN, posted May 27, 2011]. At the time of its fielding, government representatives said that they were viewing the XM2010 as “a technology test bed” that would help define future directions for sniper weapons.

Initial industry responses to the government solicitation also questioned whether the government had established specific target weight reductions or targeted improvement in barrel stiffness. Asserting that no weight or stiffness targets had been developed at this time, the government response instead offered a list of three capabilities in order of importance: increased barrel stiffness for increased probability of hit; improved barrel life for increased operational availability; and weight reduction for reduced soldier load and improved mobility.

The contractor solicitation response date was recently extended to July 15, 2011, with the five barrels to be delivered within 90 days after any subsequent contract award.


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-6734">

    Good move, as long as its effective

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-25192">

    A good heavy barrel, match grade with composite materials. Unless im mistaken id say make the barrel longer or have variations. for example: have the upper reciever exchangeable for longer range missions. if you need to really reach out and touch someone then you have a longer barrel option. realitically needing to hit targets much more beyon that in built-up urban areas is plausible but not as likely. in iraq in 2004 in ramadi shots extended to around 900 meters and those were rare engagements.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-25209">

    Right, but this exploration is due to conditions in Afghanistan, where you might have to climb up and down a few thousand meters in rough terrain carrying a sniper rifle that then has to fire flat and accurate over to the next ridgeline. So .308/7/62 mm doesn’t cut it, and you have to go to a more powerful round, but usually that means a heavier weapon, so the effort is to get the flat trajectory, range, and hitting power of a more powerful round, but not to have to pay a weight penalty for it.

    It’s really the same old story, but these days there are at least some advanced materials you can use.