Saturday, July 2, 2011

Classic versus innovation

The United States' M24 sniper weapon and the Beretta SC-70/90 assault rifle are well established, classic designs. By contrast, the Barrett M82 .50in calibre rifle, known as the "Light Fifty", and the Heckler & Koch G-36 are more innovative weapons, and both have attracted great interest outside their countries of origin.

The Barrett M82 "Light Fifty"
The American Barrett Firearms Company was founded in the early 1980s by Ronnie Barrett, who designed and built semi-automatic rifles chambered for powerful .50BMG ammunition, fired by Browning M2HB heavy machine guns. Barrett's first working rifles were available in 1982; four years later came the improved M82A1 rifle. The semi-automatic rifle has a ten-round detachable box magazine and a x10 scope.
The Barret Model 90 is a bolt action, bullpup rifle in which the magazine is to the rear of the trigger. This makes the weapon short and lighter than the M82A1.

At this stage the "Light Fifty" was seen as something of a novelty, but in 1989 the Swedish Army purchased about 100 M82Als. Major success followed in the US led international operations Desert Shield (1990) and Desert Storm (1991). The US Marine Corps ordered 125 "Light Fifty" rifles, and the US Army and air force also put in orders. It was given the designation SASR -Special Applications Scoped Rifle.

The weapon is used against targets such as the optical equipment on crew-served weapons, radar cabins, trucks and parked aircraft or in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) function against unexploded munitions. Its long effective range of 1,800m/1,980yd, powerful muzzle velocity of 854m/s/2,800 ft/sec and capability to use different natures of ammunition such as API make it a potent tool. As with so many concepts, once Barrett had proved the principle of .50 long-range sniping weapons, other small arms manufacturers soon followed suit and produced their own designs.

The M24 sniper weapon
By the mid-1980s, the US Army M21 sniper rifles needed to be replaced, and conflicts in the deserts of the Middle East and mountains of Afghanistan meant that ranges for snipers jumped to distances of up to 1,000m/1,095yd. The US Army set the specifications for a bolt-action rifle, requiring a stainless-steel barrel rifle and a stock made from Kevlar-graphite (a tough man-made material used for body armour). After a final shoot-off between the Steyr SSG rifle and the Remington model 700BDL, the latter was standardized in 1987 as the US Army's M24 sniper rifle. The M24 fires 7.62 x 51mm NATO from a five-round internal magazine. It has a 10x42 Leupold Ultra M3A telescope sight (Mil-Dots) and detachable emergency iron sights. The maximum effective range is 800m/875yd.
The M24 sniper rifle (right), which replaces the M21 rifle seen on the left, is an entirely new system. The M21 is based on the M14 and, despite its vintage, has proved a very effective sniper rifle in numerous conflicts around the world.

The Beretta SC-70/90
Beretta had already produced the AR70/223, a 5.56mm weapon for the export market, when the Italian Army decided to replace its 7.62mm Beretta BM59 rifles. The AR70/223 had been accepted by Italian Special Forces and exported to several countries including Jordan and Malaysia. Beretta produced an upgraded version in 1985, and following trials against similar calibre rifles, it was accepted as the AR-70/90. A folding butt version, the SC-70/90, was produced for Special Forces and a carbine version with a shorter barrel, the SCP-70/90, was made for paratroops. Finally, a squad automatic, the AS-70/90, was produced with a heavy fixed barrel and detachable bipod. The Beretta AR-70/90 weighs 4kg/9lb empty and has a cyclic rate of 670 rpm. The effective range of the AR-70/90 is 500m/550yd, while for the SCP-70/90 it is 350m/380yd.

The Heckler & Koch G-36
What came into being as the HK-50 project in the early 1990s became the the Heckler & Koch G-36 assault rifle. After the cancellation of the Gil (the futuristic caseless ammunition rifle), the Bundeswehr had no modern 5.56mm NATO-compatible rifle. So Heckler & Koch set out to develop a new assault rifle for the Bundeswehr and export markets. The brief was to produce a new rifle that was flexible, affordable and extremely reliable.
The Heckler & Koch G-36 has been described as the weapon that may replace the L85A1 in British service. It is a rugged, well-priced weapon that can be fired comfortably by left-handed soldiers.

The G-36 uses a short-stroke gas piston above the barrel, a square-shaped bolt carrier and a rotating bolt with seven locking lugs. In these respects, it has similarities to the American AR-18. However, the receiver and most of the external parts of the G-36 are made from polymers reinforced with steel inserts in load-bearing areas.

The G-36 has a cyclic rate of 750 rpm and even though it can fire from standard M16 30-round magazines, the company has also decided to produce translucent magazines that allow the firer to make a quick visual check of the available ammunition. The rifle has an ambidextrous cocking handle and empty-case deflector for left-handed shooters.

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