Last year, the U.S. Army began equipping its first units with the service’s new squad designated marksman rifle (SDMR) the M110A1. The use of the new SDMR will provide Army infantry squads with a very potent means of engaging targets up to 600 meters away, and is part of an effort to improve the performance of infantry weapons against effective modern body armors.
U.S. Army SDMRs, a Brief History
The use of SDMRs within U.S. Army infantry squads emerged as a result of fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it became clear that the Army’s M4 and M16 rifles struggled to cope with long-range engagements that were becoming increasingly commonplace. To compensate, the Army turned to a modified version of the M-14 rifle, a move already undertaken by U.S. Navy SEAL teams.
The M-14 emerged as the successor of the M-1 Garand that had served as the Army’s primary infantry rifle during both World War Two and the Korean War. The M-14, which first appeared in 1959, fired the full-sized 7.62 x 51 mm NATO round and was accurate out to 500-800 yards. The M-14 was envisioned as a replacement for not just the M-1, but also for a host of other weapons in service during that era including the BAR rifle, and as such the M-14 was designed as a select-fire weapon, giving it the ability to fire in a fully automatic setting. The rifle’s powerful round proved impossible to control when fired in this manner, however, and M-14 as a whole was heavy and unwieldy. The M-14 would serve as the Army’s standard-issue rifle for only seven years, before being replaced by the M-16 in 1967.
The M-14 found a new lease on life in the 2000s, however, when it was adopted for use as an SDMR. In response to a need for a rifle capable of engaging targets at longer range, the Army would pull old M-14s out of storage and fitted with scopes.
The Army would improve on this rather inelegant solution by piggybacking off of a U.S. Navy SEAL initiative. As early as 2001, the SEALs had requested modified M-14s, and the result was the Navy’s Mk. 14 Mod 0 rifle that featured a shorter barrel, an aluminum chassis stock, and Picatinny rails that allowed for the mounting of modern weapon attachments. When the Army requested similar modernized M-14s, all that was required was the swapping of the Mk. 14 Mod 0’s shorter barrel with a full-length 22-inch version. The result was the Army’s Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR), and the Army began issuing two EBRs to infantry squads. Equipped with a Leupold 3.5-10x scope, the EBR gave infantry units the ability to engage targets up to 800 meters away.
In 2017, the Army announced that it was looking for an upgrade on the EBR. The Army ultimately settled on the M110A1 rifle, which it had originally selected as an upgrade over its M110 sniper rifle as the service’s new Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS) through a $44.5 million dollar contract with manufacturer Heckler & Koch in 2016. In 2019, Heckler and Koch announced that it would be producing between 5,000 and 6,000 new M110A1 SDMRs for the Army, and in June 2020 the Army began equipping units with the new SDMR.
The M110A1 is a modified and improved version of the Heckler & Koch G28 in use by the German Army. One of the M110A1’s most prominent features is its reliability: the rifle uses a short-stroke gas piston to actuate an operating rod which allows the weapon to run cooler and with less fouling of the bolt carrier group and chamber, which cuts down on malfunctions and improves the service life of its parts. Controls and interface on the weapon are also similar to those on the M4/M16 family of rifles, which allows for greater familiarity in handling the weapon, and also features ambidextrous operating controls and weight reduction features.
The M110A1 is also a highly precise weapon, boasting a guaranteed accuracy of 1.5 minutes of angle (MOA) at 100 meters; this means that a trained marksman should be able to place shots within a 1.57 inch circle at a range of 100 meters. The rifle will be fitted with the Sig Sauer Tango 6 variable zoom optic, allowing operators the flexibility to utilize the weapon at various ranges. The M110A1 is designed to allow soldiers to accurately engage targets at ranges of up to 600 meters.