The United States Armys M24 sniper weapon system (SWS) is one of the best overall sniping systems in use today. Based on Remington Arms Company's venerable 700 action, the system is a rugged, nearly indestructible means of dispatching hostile threats from long distance. Though some of the more recently designed sniper systems feature technical advancements not available on the M24, the Armys SWS is the standard by which all current-issue systems are compared.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Army had fielded primarily semi-automatic sniper rifles first the M1C and M1D and by the mid-1960s, the M21, a highly accurized M14 scoped with either the ART 1 or 2 day telescopes. The reason, or reasons, for using semi-automatic rifles is unknown. Certainly, sniping was unappreciated in the U.S. Army at this time and the logisticians would not have wanted to add additional equipment into the supply system M1s and M14s (the platform for the M21) were in use by regular soldiers. Possibly, as well, Army leadership was concerned with U.S. snipers encountering mass wave attacks such as those faced in Korea and therefore preferred scoped, rapid-fire.
Whatever the reason, by the mid-1970s, Army snipers (primarily those among special operations forces (SOF)) were increasingly dissatisfied with the M21. The wood stocks were prone to warpage, the bedding would give way after one to two thousand rounds, the scopes could not be depended upon to retain zero, and the rifles accuracy suffered when debris entered the gas system. Consequently, maintenance costs for the M21, in both time and money, were very high. By 1976, the Army began consideration of new sniper rifles, even testing some rifles at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive and the military made no decisions.
At about the same time, the military was also considering improvements in performance of the match cartridge used in sniping, the M118, through increased technical requirements. Hugo Teufel, "Military Match Cartridges and Their Use in Combat A Brief History, Part II" Tactical Shooter (November, 1998). These increased technical requirements were, at this time, unsuccessful.
By the early 1980s, the military did develop a new match cartridge, the M852, and also redesignated the M118 Match Cartridge as a Special Ball Cartridge. These actions were temporary, pending the development of a new sniper rifle and ammunition. Though work had begun to acquire a new sniper rifle for the Army, it would be several years until fruition.
At around this same time, a number of new units were joining the SOF community. Sniping was critical to these units missions and neither the available equipment nor the available training was up to the required tasks. SOF units were using "bootlegged 7mm and 300 Winchester Magnum weapons.
That the Army needed to replace its sniper rifle was clear. What was unclear is what the new rifle would like. The outcome of this issue would be dependent upon the players involved in the process, but critical to the decision would be the views of one group of shooters the instructors at the J.F.K. Special Warfare Center (SWC), Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC) at Ft. Bragg.
In late 1984, SWC set forth requirements for the sniper course, SOTIC. The first course ran in early 1985 and was filled. One thing was apparent with the conclusion of this course the M21 was woefully inadequate.
SOTIC instructors began work on a new rifle for SOF shooters. Though a number of the personnel would be heavily involved with the development of this rifle, two in particular are worth mentioning the late Larry Freeman, NCOIC and the late David Zavitz, instructor and gunsmith. Along with Gale McMillan, the SOTIC instructors would be the creative forces behind the Armys new sniper rifle.
4 Background Cont.
The SOTIC instructors and SOF other shooters many of whom had significant combat sniping experience were inclined to return to a bolt action rifle. In the mid-1980s, they took a number of old, 1960s-era U.S. Air Force procured Remington 700s with Redfield Accutrac day telescopes. The stocks were pure walnut, unbedded, and the barrels had a high number of rounds through them. In their present condition, the rifles were unsuitable. Working with Gale McMillan, the SOTIC instructors had McMillan install barrels and stocks, and scoped the rifles with the new Leupold Stevens Ultra M3.
When the SOTIC instructors put together the prototype rifles, they took them to Camp Butner, North Carolina for testing on the 1000-yard range. Importantly, General James Guest (who at that time was in charge of the SWC) was in attendance. General Guest shot an M21 first. Though he had a low score on the 1000-yard NRA bullseye target, he was unconvinced of the need for a new sniper rifle for SOF shooters. The instructors provided the General with one of the new prototype rifles. Upon shooting an "X" with the first shot, the General decreed "make it happen." The new rifle of which approximately 15 would be built -- would be known as the "Free-Zatz-Millan." As a side note, General Guest would later testify to Congress on behalf of the new sniper rifle and would further inform Congress that the M21 was no longer necessary, leading to the M24s adoption, the M21s phase-out, the M25s unofficial adoption by a number of SF and SEAL units, and the adoption by some special operations units of the SR25. See Hugo Teufel, "The M21 and M25 Sniper Weapon Systems" Tactical Shooter ( 1998) Mike Wilson, "The SR 25," Tactical Shooter (December, 1998).
The Generals approval made the possibility of a new Army sniper rifle a reality. But his approval would not remove all obstacles to its ultimate approval and adoption. The Army is not monolithic. In addition to the SOF snipers, there are snipers in regular Army units, trained primarily at Ft. Benning. The new rifle was no longer to be solely an SOF project. Army shooters from Benning would have involvement in the process.
And then there are the Department of Defense components involved in the development and production of small arms. The two primary government components would be the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, Armament Research, Development and Evaluation Center (ARDEC) in Picatinny, New Jersey And The U.S. Army Tank-Automotive And Armaments Command Armament And Chemical Acquisition And Logistics Activity (ACALA) in Rock Island, Illinois. ARDEC would handle design issues and specifications, ACALA would responsible for writing the manual, establishing the assembly and disassembly procedures, and determining the contents of the deployment kit
The SOF shooters had in mind an off-the-shelf rifle that they could deploy quickly. This approach would be in sharp contrast to the engineers and program types at ARDEC and ACALA. Their approach, as described to me by a retired SF NCO who participated in the selection process, would take several years to develop the new sniper system ("five years for the bullet, three years for the barrel to match the bullet, and another five years to develop the end product"). When hearing this response, one SOTIC instructor became very upset. Throwing a Pelican case with one of SOF prototype rifles in it across the room, he commented, somewhat sarcastically, that civilians could buy rifles meeting the SOF shooters requirements on a daily basis and off-the-shelf. As a result of this and other meetings, the shooters were able to achieve their goal of an off-the-shelf rifle. These "issues" with ARDEC and ACALA would not be the only ones the SOF shooters would face.
The most issue to confront all concerned would be cartridge selection. The SOF shooters thought that the 7.62 x 51-mm NATO cartridge should be the primary chambering for the new sniper rifle. Though overall an ideal round, the 7.62 mm NATO round it has maximum effective range of 800 meters under the best of conditions, far less at night, given the difficulty of reading wind in the dark. Accordingly, the SOF shooters wanted the ability to change over a limited number of rifles to a medium range (900 to 1100 meters) caliber, such s the .300 Win. Mag., until a new sniper cartridge was adopted.
The SOF shooters were not the only "end-users" involved. Regular Army snipers, represented by Ft. Benning, wanted the ability to change over all of the new rifles to a larger or more powerful chambering. I should note that this fight continues over 10 years later.
Further complicating the issue was the Armys consideration of various calibers for medium and long-range shooting. For example, the military was considering the .338/.416 for longer ranges, the .50 for hard targets from 800 to 1500 meters and the 14.5-mm for targets past 1500 meters. Again, this issue is still alive today.
The various parties to the selection process were able to work out their differences and by mid-1987, the Army was ready to seek bids. The military issued its product description and held a contractors conference, at which over 50 contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers attended. Competing contractors would have 45 days to submit their proposals including functioning weapon systems to Picatinny, New Jersey, ARDECs location.
5 Background Cont.
The foundation for Remingtons entry would be the 700 action. Designed originally for hunting, the Remington action in accurized form was the basis of 40X target rifle first entering the market in 1961 and the Marine Corps M40 first built in 1996. (The M40 was, of course, the inspiration for Remingtons introduction of the Varmint Special, a heavy-barreled version of the 700.)
It would take more than just a good receiver to win the contract critical to Remington's bid would be a high-quality barrel. The company went first to Boots Overmeyer, but he did not have the capacity necessary, should Remington win the contract. Remington next contacted Mike Rock. Working very closely with Rock, Remington was able to produce the needed barrels with the distinctive Overmeyer 5R rifling in time to enter the competition. Accompanying the barrel would be an adjustable length of pull stock from HS Precision.
Remington also needed to equip its entry with a day telescope. At the time, only Unertl and Leupold manufactured rugged tactical scopes, suitable for military application. Remington approached John Unertl first, but he told the company that he was too busy building scopes for the Marines. (Many have said that Unertl turned down submitting his scopes for the M24 because the Army had snubbed him some years back.) Remington turned to Leupold Stevens. Leupold had recently brought its Ultra (now, Mark IV) line of scopes, mounts, and rings to the market. Remington was impressed with the quality and ruggedness of Leupold's gear and chose the Oregon-based company as the optics subcontractor for its submission.
Various manufacturers submitted their bid samples and the competition ultimately narrowed to two companies Remington and Steyr. There were three criteria that the military was considering ruggedness accuracy and cost. Cost was the least important of the three criteria it was also Remingtons weak point.
There were sixteen shooters involved in the testing of the two entries eight from the Army Marksmanship Unit four SOTIC instructors and four Rangers. Though the Steyr entry was very accurate, by the seventh round it was throwing rounds, sufficient to cause misses at targets past 600 meters. Remingtons submission did not have this problem and was also built far more ruggedly than Steyrs.
Remington won the contract to produce the Armys next generation sniper rifle. Remington firmed up arrangements for production, including bringing barrel manufacture "in-house."
Much has been said about Remington's dropping Mike Rock as a subcontractor for barrel production, much of it untrue. When officials of Remington first approached Rock they explained to him that it was the company's intent to develop, and later produce, the barrel for the M24, should the company win the contract. After winning the contract, Remington did bring barrel production "in-house." The company resubmitted the weapon systems with the Remington-produced barrels to the military for first article testing and the military accepted them. Importantly, the Remington-produced barrels were approximately 25 more accurate than the Rock-produced barrels.
6 Criticisms, Responses
Almost immediately after the military adopted the M24, criticism of the new sniper system erupted. The HS Precision stock was not durable enough to withstand field use. The Leupold M3A suffered from elevation and windage knobs with insufficiently positive clicks. The long action was inappropriate for a .308 caliber rifle. But the greatest criticism leveled against the M24 was that at 4,500, the system was too expensive. Time and logic have addressed these and other criticisms leveled against the system.
Starting first with the stock, a SOTIC instructor has informed me that in the 10 years SF has used M24 for instruction, he has only seen two stocks break, on weapons that students dropped from over 500 feet above ground while jumping into an exercise. In another well-known example of the stocks and rifles toughness, is the story of an encased M24 run over by a two-and-a-half ton truck. The truck driver was unaware of the weapons location and backed over it. When the parties involved realized what had happened, they found the weapons bolt sticking through the wall of the gun case. Taken to the range, the M24 was fired and found to be fully functional. (I hear from my friend at SOTIC that this weapon is still in use at SOTIC.)
It is true that the combination of the long action and the 7.62 x 51-mm cartridge can be a problem for a shooter the rifle is prone to jam. This can be overcome through proper training in the loading and use of the 700 long action.
The cost criticism is perhaps the most galling. The high initial cost of the M24 is due to the federal governments procurement policies. Whenever a new weapon system is developed, he manufacturer incurs certain development costs. Normally, these costs are spread out over the entire production run of the system. However, the government may not normally incur monetary obligations beyond the current fiscal year. Such was the case with the M24. The federal government required Remington to factor into its price for the first year of production, the total cost of development for the system, approximately 500,000. After the first year of the contract, the price of M24s dropped to approximately 3,500 each
7 The M24 SWS
Though some old-timers may miss the "perfectly good" M21, the M24 is a very capable system. The M24 is not merely a rifle it is a system. When complete, the system includes the following equipment an M24 rifle with a 10 x 42 mm Leupold Stevens Mk. IV M3A day telescope and Mk. IV rings and base Redfield Palma rear sight and "International" globe with interchangeable inserts deployment, or "D", kit, complete with cleaning kit, tools, and replacement parts M1907 sling and drag bag operators manual and protective travel cases for the scope and complete system.
The barrel of the M24 is unique. Remington hammerforges the barrel with 416R stainless steel, the bull barrel is 24" long, and its width tapers down from 1.2" at the breech to approximately .9". The 5-R rifling was designed by Boots Overmeyer, is angled at 110 degrees, has 5 grooves, and a right hand twist of 1" in 11.2". There are a number of advantages for the military marksman with this barrel. The angled rifling leads to less bullet deformation as the rifling swages it. Some believe that this results in a more even pressure curve as the bullet accelerates through the barrel. As well, once the barrel is broken in, the rifling lends itself to reduced metallic fouling a longer, more accurate lifespan because of reduced wear effect on rifling cross-section, and higher bullet velocities. The downsides to 5-R rifling are the greater than normal metallic fouling of the bore during the break-in period, and greater difficulty in barrel production, resulting in a more expensive barrel.
HS Precision makes the adjustable length-of-pull stock, which is made of Kevlar-reinforced fiberglass and has a full-length 7075-T6 aluminum-bedding block. The action is screwed into the bedding block with two screws, both of which are set to 65inch/pounds. The grip is fully contoured and ambidextrous grip and highly rigid fore-end.
There are conflicting stories behind the adjustable stock and 24" barrel. Some (including one SF NCO who was on the development team for the M24) have attributed these two features to the militarys desire to transport the sniper system in the 1950s era paratroopers rifle case. Others attribute these features to less cynical reasons. When I asked John Rogers, he stated that the choice of barrel length was Remingtons, and was not dictated by the military. Further, the specifications for the M24 relating to the requirement for adjustable length of pull, MIL-R-71126 (AR) 4.6.6. refer to testing procedures for the stock when the user is wearing NBC and cold and warm weather gear.
Leupold Stevens manufacture the day telescope, mount, and rings. The scope, the M3A, has a body that is machined from a solid piece of 6061-T-6 aircraft aluminum. All lenses in the M3A are treated with a proprietary anti-reflective coating to increase the lenses light transmission. The reticle is a mildot-pattern and is etched into the glass lens. (This is the primary difference between the commercially available M3 and the Armys version the commercial versions reticle is a more traditional wire design.
8 The M24 SWS Cont.
Perhaps the best feature of the scope is its combination elevation turret/bullet drop compensator (BDC). Depending upon the caliber of the rifle on which the scope is mounted, the shooter selects the appropriate cam, sights in the rifle, and then can dial in the range on the BDC (though, of course, the shooter must still take into account altitude, humidity, temperature, etc., as they affect bullet drop). Specific cams available for the scope are
".308 Match," 168 gr. BTHP at 2,600 ft./sec. (BDC increments in yards)
"7.62 mm Military," 173 gr. BTFMJ at 2,600 ft./sec. (BDC increments in meters)
".300 Winchester Magnum," 220 gr. FMJ at 2,650 ft./sec. (BDC increments in meters)
". 30-06 Springfield," 180gr. FMJ at 2,700 ft./sec. (BDC increments in yards)
". 223 Rem. (5.56mm)," 55gr. FMJ at 3,200 ft./sec. (BDC increments in yards)
It is my understanding that Leupold is working on a cam for the new Federal Gold Medal Match and M118 LR cartridges using the 175-gr. BTHP Sierra MatchKing bullet. Importantly, all cams are built around the constants of sea level and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Use of a cam in conditions other than those will result in deviations from the intended point of impact.
Each "click" on the M3A whichever cam is used is equal to one MOA. Windage adjustments are in ½ MOA adjustments. The advantage to the 1 MOA adjustment on a combat scope is that reduces to one, the number of revolutions a shooter can make with the elevation turret. This was very important to the military as shooters in stressful situations (such as combat) often are off by a complete revolution when the time comes to take the shot.
9 Improvements, Accessories
In September of 1992, the military rendered the Military Specification for the M24 (MIL-R-71126 (AR)) inactive, except for use in replacement of already issued sniper systems. Nevertheless, there have been a number of improvements to the system. To address the dangers of scope glint and lasers on the battlefield, the military has added to the system an antireflection device (ARD) and external mount assembly (EMA) laser filter. The ARD is the Tenebraex killFLASH and is threaded to fit both the M3 day telescope and EMA laser filter. The killFLASH is under 3" long with a 1.75" thick honeycomb filter that provides the same glint shielding capability that a 27" conventional tube. When properly installed, however, the killFLASH will reduce the amount of light the scope can gather by 15.
The number of non-eyesafe lasers on the battlefield necessitates the EMA laser filter today. Whether these lasers are used offensively or for distance calculation, if snipers are to continue to function effectively, they need protection from high-intensity beams of directed light. The EMA laser filter provides this protection, but at some cost to the user. First, the filter affects the colors the user sees, potentially obscuring targets. Second, the filter will shift the point of impact by as much as one minute of angle. Third, the filter is very reflective, and will give away a shooters position, without installation of the killFLASH ARD, of course.
The military also upgraded the spotting telescope for the M24 system. The new scope, the M144, is a variable-power straight day telescope. Manufactured by Bausch Lomb and very similar to its Model 61-1548P, Elite 15-45x60 Zoom Telescope, the M144 provides magnification from 15 to 45 power, comes with a quick detachable tripod, Tenebraex ARD and laser filter unit. My understanding that the major difference between the M144 and the Elite is quality of the seals used in the M144 to keep out moisture.
The M24 also can be equipped with night vision. Until recently, the night optical device (NOD) of choice for shooters was the Simrad Optronics Model KN250. The Simrad attaches to the day telescope, allowing for no change of zero on the system.
The second NOD found on the M24 is the AN/PVS-10 combination day/night optic device. This scope, still in development, is intended to simplify optics for the M24, while improving upon the current Mk. IV M3A/Simrad combination for day and night operations. The scope weights nearly 5 pounds, is fixed at 8.5 power with mildot reticle, and can be adjusted for output brightness and reticle illumination. A number of shooters using the PVS-10, with whom I have spoken, have been displeased with the scopes performance, but with the issuance of a national stock number, NSN 5855-01-410-8979, it is likely that the scope will be made part of the M24 system.
10 Other Agencies, Governments Fielding the M24
The Army is not the only entity to use the M24. The U.S. Parks Police and the New York Police Department have equipped their snipers with the system. The NYPD rifles are not stamped "U.S." nor do they have U.S. Government serial numbers.
There are also a few foreign governments that have purchased the rifle under the Foreign Military Sales program. The Israeli government recently purchased 890 M24s. Previously, Lebanon, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates had purchased small quantities of the system. Perhaps the most surprising sale was to Egypt, which purchased the most M24s of any non-U.S. Government entity 1000. Sadly, the Egyptian military did not wish to use match cartridges with the system. Moreover, that country's military is not known for maintaining its weapon systems -- whether an air defense network or an SWS -- and it is unknown how the equipment has fared.
Finally, Remington made a few "civilian" M24s for commercial sales. In 1995-96, Remington built a limited number of the M24 rifles (not the complete system) and offered them to its Law Enforcement wholesalers. The rifles sold for 2500 to 3000 dollars. Occasionally one sees these rifles for sale and they are sure to be collector's items.
11 The Future?
The Army has been fielding the M24 system for a little over ten years now. The first M24s produced for the Army in 1988 were sent to SOTIC. Just this year, the Army changed them out. With ten years of use, several new barrels and approximately 75,000 rounds through them, the rifles have performed well beyond the expectations of those involved with the systems development, in particular given that the rifles are used for training and undergo significant stresses. (By the way, only after ten years and 75,000 rounds did the extractors begin to fail on these rifles.) The M24 will not be the last SWS the U.S. Army purchases, however.
Remington and the U.S. Government are looking to the future of sniping. In recent trials at Ft. Benning for the upcoming Medium Range Sniper System, Remington fielded a number of interesting potential submissions. In addition to the standard M24 in 7.62 x 51 mm and .300 Win. Mag., Remington tested the "SR8", a 700 action-based rifle in .338 Lapua (using a Sako extractor), and another rifle based on the 700 action chambered for .30-338. Shooters firing these rifles were hitting B-27 targets from 1900 yards. The rifles were scoped with fixed ten and sixteen-power Leupold Mk. IV day telescopes.
As well, Remington is looking into an "upgrade" or "product improvement" of sorts of the M24, the "M24 TC." The M24 TC is a concept rifle with a twenty-six inch composite fiber barrel and stainless steel barrel liner mated to a titanium alloy receiver. The rifle is chamber for the Remington 7mm Remington Ultra Long-Range Sniper (ULRS) round, with an effective range of 1500 meters.
12 Specifications for the M24
Calibers7.62 x 51 mm, .300 Winchester Magnum
Barrel, Length, TwistRemington hammer-forged, 416 R with 5R grooves, 24" (7.62 mm), 111.2 RH
Weight12.1 lbs., unloaded without scope, 15 lbs. Loaded with scope
SightsLeupold Mk. IV M3A scope, Redfield Palma, International iron sights