SOCOM Searching for New Rifle As Snipers Do Damage in Modern Combat
Ask any soldier, and they’ll tell you that there are fewer scarier things on a battlefield than an enemy sniper. The combination of the unknown with the actual danger elevates snipers to some of the most hated figures in warfare.
But snipers are force multipliers, more so when it comes to special operations. Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Green Berets fight in small numbers, and the snipers within their ranks play a key role. In a team of 12-16 commandos, many will be sniper-qualified, thus maximizing the firepower of the group.
US special operations forces are now looking for a new, extreme long-range rifle for their next big fight, a possible high-intensity conflict, as the war in Ukraine has shown the damage that snipers can do, the impact they can have on the battlefield.
A New Sniper Rifle
In December, US Special Operations Command, or SOCOM,released a solicitation for offers for a new sniper rifle. The notice requires certain standard characteristics for the new sniper rifle.
The Extreme Long Range-Sniper Rifle (ELR-SR) program is looking for a new modular, magazine-fed, multi-caliber capable system to replace the M107 Barret and MK15 anti-personnel and anti-materiel sniper rifles. There is a requirement that the weapon’s operator be able to swap barrels easily within 5 minutes.
SOCOM also wants its new sniper rifle to be significantly lighter than the ones it will be replacing. With a maximum weight of 22 lbs, the ELR-SR will be almost 9 lbs lighter than the M107 Barret and about 5 lbs lighter than the MK15. In terms of range, the ELR-SR is expected to be similar to older sniper rifles.
Special Operations Command is looking for a precision weapon that can hit targets up to 2,500 meters (1.5 miles) away. As for its durability, SOCOM wants the new sniper rifle to have a barrel life of between 1,200 and 1,500 rounds.
Additionally, the new rifle should be capable of firing the .300 Norma Mangum bullet, which has been approved by the Department of Defense, as well as subsonic and supersonic rounds.
SOCOM also specified that the new sniper rifle should be able to take a sound suppressor no more than 8.5 inches long with recoil-reducing attributes. The command is also looking for a rifle with as little recoil as possible because the less recoil a weapon has, the more accurate the shooter can be.
Navy SEAL Teams have relied on the MK15, and the M107 has been a favorite across the US special operations community as a heavy sniper rifle. Normally designed to take out fortified targets and lightly armed vehicles, special operators have used both sniper weapons against enemy troops in short- and long-range engagements with devastating effects. It is, after all, a .50 caliber bullet we’re talking about.
“Sniper ops are very much part of the way we fight,” an Army Green Beret serving in a National Guard unit told Insider.
“There is always some guy coming from or going to sniper school. It’s an important capability and useful beyond just the shooting part. Sniper-qualified guys excel in special reconnaissance,” said the Special Forces operator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.
Sniper Ops in Ukraine
The fighting in Ukraine, high-intensity combat that could in some ways reflect a potential future great power conflict between the US and its rivals, has shown that sniper operations can very much be part of large-scale modern battlefields. Kyiv even claims the longest sniper kill in history.
In November, a Ukrainian commando with the country’s security services, the SBU, claimed an impressive kill shot against a Russian soldier 3,800 meters, almost 2.4 miles, away. The shooter was Vyacheslav Kovalskiy.
Before this shot, a Canadian special operator held the longest kill record with a 2.2 mile shot in Iraq in 2017. Other recent notable sniper kills include a 1.5-mile shot by a British sniper in Afghanistan in 2009 and a 1.3-mile shot by a South African commando in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014.
Sniper operations can have an important effect on the fighting and the morale of a force, especially in a battlefield like Ukraine, where a lot of combat is taking place in trenches and urban settings. The presence of an enemy sniper catches fire among troops and adds to the psychological pressure of combat. If the sniper is good and pulls off impressive shots, the effect is amplified.
The US military and special operations community are paying close attention to the fighting in Ukraine, as they have been for years, taking useful lessons about warfare and technology as they look to the future and maintaining much-sought overmatch against potential adversaries, like China or Russia. SOCOM’s solicitation for a new rifle for its snipers looks like a step toward making sure the US is prepared.