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Three Deadliest Sniper Rifles in the United States Military

M82 Firing
Cpl. Kaden Prickett, machine gunner and team leader with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, fires a .50 caliber Special Applications Scoped Rifle at a target 1,200 meters away, in the Central Command area of operations, Jan. 6, 2015. Marines and sailors of Golf Company spent time on the range getting acquainted with various weapons systems and cross-training one another in their respective areas of expertise. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carson A. Gramley/Released).

These three rifles are a mix of brand-new and Cold War-era designs — but don’t let age fool you. Despite one of the designs being nearly 60 years old, it remains deadly on today’s battlefields. Here’s why.

Barrett M82

The Barrett story has a rather strange and unique origin story. Ronnie Barrett — a photographer with no gunsmith training or experience — designed the first Barrett sniper rifle from scratch, in his garage from handmade parts. Despite the rifle’s humble beginnings, however, the design was almost immediately snapped up by several governments and non-governmental organizations, including the United States Marine Corps as well as the Irish Republican Army, or IRA.

The M82’s defining feature is the massive cartridge it fires, the .50 BMG. Originally made for the M2 heavy machine gun, the BMG offers a nearly unrivaled combination of stopping power and lethality at long ranges — on the M82 platform, targets as far as 1,800 meters, or over one mile, can be accurately engaged.

Perhaps the M82’s only downside is its rather large size, necessary to handle the not insignificant amount of recoil generated by shooting the large .50 BMG cartridge.

M40

The M40 has been the mainstay of Marine Corps sniper teams since it made its combat debut in the mid-1960s during the Vietnam war. The M40 sniper rifle system is actually based on the Remington 700, a popular sport and hunting rifle available in a variety of rifle cartridges.

In Marine Corps hands, however, the M40 is chambered in the ubiquitous 7.62×51 mm NATO cartridge, and is accurate out to around 800 meters, though a number of confirmed kills with the M40 have been achieved at much longer distances.

The design proved popular with the Army too, adopted in the mid-1980s as the M24 Sniper Weapon System. The difference between the two rifles is the army’s M24 uses a longer action that can accommodate longer, more powerful cartridges, and with the appropriate barrel change, can fire them as well.

Both designs have been steadily upgraded since introduction, with improvements in stocks, barrels, and portability incrementally incorporated into the platforms.

Barrett MRAD

Another Barrett rifle makes the list — their new MRAD sniper rifle. The MRAD is just about the perfect sniper rifle — and quite the unique precision shooting platform. Unlike most rifles, the MRAD is exceptionally modular and can be adapted into a variety of configurations thanks to a quick-change barrel design.

Depending on the variant, the MRAD can fire 8 different calibers. The military MRAD variant, the Mk22, will likely be capable of firing the .338 Norma Mag, .300 Norma Mag, and 7.62 x 51mm NATO.

Thanks to an aluminum upper receiver, the MRAD is quite light-weight too, 13.9 to 15.2 pounds depending on the barrel configuration.

In recognition of the MRAD’s superior qualities, it’s been picked up not just by the United States Marine Corps, but also by the Army, and United States Special Operations Command — a concrete testament to Barrett’s quality design.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ron Boline

    March 27, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    One of the 3 best sniper rifles in the US Mil…I think not. Not sure where the author gets his info from but as a former sniper instructor who participated in the testing of the Barrett M82 I can assure it is a piece of crap compared to others, say like the McMillan .50. Inefficient muzzle brake (in addition to significantly more felt recoil when compared to a clam=shell type muzzle brake, the gas ports go 360 deg. around the barrel guaranteeing a dust and debris cloud at the firing position with every shot even if counter-measures are tactically feasible and applied), the crown on the barrel was cut back at 2 45 deg angles rather than being perpendicular to the bore so gas escapes past the bullet at different times which inherently destabilizes the bullet as it exits the barrel. The magazine retention spring was too weak to withstand the forces of recoil so every 3-4 rounds the box magazine falls out of the receiver which allows the bolt to SLAM into and deform the top round in the mag (huge safety issue in addition to wasting a lot of expensive ammo). We could only get 1.5 MOA accuracy out of it using both match .50 cal ammo and 2.0 MOA with Ruafoss special purpose API ammo. And if you’re a lefty, you better have your sleeves rolled down or you’ll get the shit burned out of your right arm by hot brass. POS compared to the shell-holder type McMillan’s.

  2. RepublicansaredestoryingAmerica

    March 28, 2021 at 8:22 am

    The M40 is hardly the deadliest are anywhere near the best. The new Magnums are superior while any semi auto DMR can do its job but will be better at that task in the hands of any decent sharpshooter.

  3. Quisno Rodonovich

    March 28, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    As a long shooter the mcmillan i agree is the better of the 2(M82) So much is said about the ‘sniper rifle’ i use a 338 lapua but recased into anothertype casing. I find the 338 300gn to be the perfect round as 2000 yard distances are open .While one has to keep the air and rain in mind at such distances even temperature affects so one needs a special spotting scope which can be used to definc closer MOA’s. talk calibers all day but the real action is in the reaction to the elements.. This is one thing the longshooters i know try to assimilate better.

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