The Marine Corps is not holding a bake sale to equip the best scout/snipers in the world with a modern precision rifle capable of firing a .338 bullet to 1,600 meters with deadly accuracy.
The U.S. Marine Corps is sticking with its Vietnam-era, M40 sniper rifle series, despite complaints from scout snipers who say they need the modern, longer-range weapons used by special-ops snipers.
Marine scout snipers are considered to be among the best snipers in the world, but many are frustrated at the limitations of the current M40A5 sniper rifle. The A5 is based on the Remington M700 short-action design that’s chambered for 7.62x51mm NATO, like the original M40 Marines used in Vietnam.
Seasoned scout snipers are deadly accurate with the A5 out to 1,000 meters.
Elite special operations units use sniper rifles chambered in more potent calibers such as .338 Lapua Magnum, a round that allows snipers to reach out to 1,600 meters.
The Corps will be upgrading the fifty-year-old M40 to the A6 version, which appears to be little more than a stock upgrade. Don’t get me wrong; the M40A6 will be a fine platform for inside 1,000 meters, against unarmored targets.
But we simply don’t live in a world where that is is “enough gun” for either anti-material or anti-personnel use, now that so many of our opponents are issuing body armor that can stop the 7.62 NATO round at point-blank range, much less at preferred sniping distances.
Why are the Marines being stuck with using the same short-action cartridge in a military sniping landscape now dominated by magnum-class cartridges?
Factory match-grade ammunition for the 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester family is cheap to manufacture, and the military already has tons of it contracted. Upgrading the M40A6 to even another short-action cartridge with better range and down performance such as the 6.5 Creedmoor would cost more than the meager Corps budget allows. Upgrading to a .338 Lapua Magnum, where both the gun and the ammunition cost more?
Sadly, for the $251 million cost (and that’s a low-ball production estimate, and will dramatically inflate) of a single F35B—a woefully inadequate flying jobs program already predicted to be as militarily effective as a lawn dart—the Marine Corps could outfit the scout/sniper program with the best rifles, day/night optics, and decades of ammunition.
But snipers only destroy enemy soldiers and equipment, wreck their morale, cripple their battlefield leadership, and take out key infrastructure while providing a protective overwatch for our Marines on the ground and vital real-time intelligence for our commanders. They don’t create post-retirement jobs for generals, nor line the pocket of defense contractors, or contribute to the reelections of politicians.
The Marines on the ground will be forced make do, as they always have, with outdated equipment.