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.
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 Originally made for the M2 heavy machine gun, the BMG offers a nearly unrivaled combination of stopping power and lethality at long ranges — on the M82 platform, targets as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.
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.
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.