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Special Report: Advances in Ammunition

By Christopher Rance

The Workhorse

For over two decades, U.S. Military snipers have relied on the 7.62x51mm NATO sniper cartridge, M118LR (long range), to engage point targets with accuracy at long range and with minimal risk of collateral damage. The M118LR was designed to replace the underperforming M118 “Special Ball” (SB) because the tolerances on the M118 SB were subpar, with the biggest complaint arising from fluctuating powder charges that lead to wide spreads of muzzle velocity. In 1993, the United States Marine Corps collaborated with Lake City on the design of the new M118LR cartridge. Sierra Bullets was brought into the mix, and they provided the USMC with prototypes of their new bullet, now known as the 175 Sierra MatchKing. The 175 Sierra MatchKing was a 175-grain bullet with a reverse drawn copper jacket, lead core and a 9-degree boat tail design. The M118LR utilized a Copper Alloy No. 260 brass case and a No. 43 Boxer-style primer.

The M118LR ammunition saw widespread use in combat, with the majority of combat operations taking place in desert type environments, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where temperature variations in a 24-hour period could be +/- 60 degrees. Snipers using M118LR ammunition started to become aware of M118LR’s sensitivity to temperature change. All firearm powders burn at different rates depending on the temperature, which then affects the velocity of the bullet as it leaves the barrel. Another critical issue with the M118LR ammunition was the excessive muzzle flash that it gave off during low-light shooting scenarios. This was a hinderance to the concealment of the sniper, and it impaired night vision.

Improvements to Sniper Ammunition

Throughout the conflicts of Afghanistan and Iraq, accuracy inconsistencies were identified by snipers. The Navy Special Warfare Center (NSWC) was tasked to develop an improved version of the M118LR ammunition to address the temperature sensitively, muzzle flash and accuracy complaints that snipers were voicing to their command. The improved cartridge also needed to function in the new crop of semi-auto sniper rifles being employed by the various armed forces, such as the M110, MK11 and SCAR17H rifles. The...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N7 (August 2018)
and was posted online on June 22, 2018

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