Story & Photography by Kevin Owens
Instead of writing the usual firearms article, I decided to go another route and write about how this rifle got adopted by the U.S. Military, specifically Special Operations command. The Federal Acquisitions process is notoriously difficult to navigate, but sometimes if people put their ego aside and admit they don’t know everything, it can work out.
My involvement in the Advanced Sniper Rifle (ASR) program began with my involvement in its predecessor, the Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR). I started working at the 1st Special Forces Command Force Modernization office as a combat developer in the summer of 2015. My first assignment was to see the failing PSR project over the finish line. The program had been struggling for the last year and was in jeopardy of being cancelled. A combination of poorly written performance specifications on the government’s behalf, and a vendor that was unwilling or unable to fix the simplest problems had left the program in a mess.
The final straw came when the selected PSR was unable to meet the accuracy requirement. Since the minimum number of rifles had already been purchased, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) decided not to buy any more, and the government walked away. This was a tough and costly decision, but the prevailing opinion was that it would be quicker and less expensive to start again using the lessons learned.
As the lead combat developer for weapons and ammunition in 1st SFC (A), this became a big part of my life for the next 3 years. I should explain that due to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) the DoD cannot simply purchase whatever it wants. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) write performance specifications (P-SPECS) which are released to industry, the submission is built around those P-SPECS, and a full and open competition is done in the interest of fairness and to avoid corruption.
Applying the Lessons
If one good thing came out of the failure of the PSR, lessons were, in fact, learned. I read every document written, and it became clear that all the way through SF Command from the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and SOCOM, there were acquisition personnel involved in this process who didn’t understand ballistics. The first order of business was to get everyone on the same sheet of music. In the fall of 2015, every Acquisition Officer, DoD civilian and green suiter who had a decision on this rifle met in a cabin in a dry county in the Texas panhandle. I think it was Harry S. Truman who said, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”
We had in attendance combat developers and experts from Special Forces, Ranger Regiment, Naval Special Warfare, the U.S. Marine Corps, engineers from Picatinny and Crane, as well as the USASOC G8 Colonel Lynn Ashley and the SOCOM Program Manager Major Aaron Hauquitz. Ballistician Bryan Litz from Applied Ballistics flew in on his own dime to teach ballistics classes for 2 days and lend his expertise. The event was hosted by Todd Hodnett of Accuracy 1st who led the training for most snipers in Special Operations across the board.
We had over a dozen rifles that we weighted and measured to see what was possible. We tested triggers, talked about rails, barrels, chassis and calibers. Once we agreed on a P-SPEC, we all went outside and shot it to make sure it was practical, testable and achievable. We knew from experience we had to choose the bullet first and have the rifle built around it. The bullet and the gun are a team and can’t be separated. Later we would test dozens of projectiles on a Doppler radar and pick the top five for terminal ballistics tests. At the end of this week we had set this program up for success and moved toward a greater capability in the hands of the service member, the priority from the onset.
The ASR is a long-range sniper rifle in three different calibers, .308, .300 Norma Magnum and .338 Norma Magnum (NM). The .308 is strictly a training round because of range restrictions throughout the U.S. It would be difficult to shoot the .300NM or .338 NM round. It is also a fantastic round for learning how to call wind as it is so heavily affected. The .300NM is the anti-personnel round for engagements out to 1,500m. The Berger 215-grain hybrid was selected after SOCOM tested 24 different projectiles on a 2,000m Doppler radar and then tested the top five rounds on ballistic gel for terminal effects. The .338NM is a 300-grain, anti-material round that will replace the Barrett M107 .50 cal. It will be used against material targets such as radar dishes and soft skin vehicles.
The ASR was selected in a three-phase approach. Phase 1 was technical specs: Rifles were weighted, measured and all the technical specifications were checked. Rifles were fired from the shoulder to ensure sub-MOA precision at 100m.
Phase 2 was an endurance test. Sand, wind, dust, extreme hot and cold temperatures and barrel life.
Phase 3 was user assessment. Trained snipers from all branches would test the rifle in realistic conditions for 2 weeks.
By the time Phases 1 and 2 were complete, only the Barrett MK22 Mod 0 remained in the competition having met or exceeded all requirements. As a separate program, the Nightforce® ATACR 7-35×56 with the TReMoR3 reticle won the contract for the scope. The best scope with the best reticle on the best long-range rifle in the world.
All in all, my experiences with the ASR gave me confidence in the acquisition process when you corral the experts and take a scientific approach. The truth is in the data, and the data revealed the Barrett MK22 Mod 0 ASR. It was a pleasure and satisfaction in my 20-plus year Special Operations career to be part of something that will ultimately lead to more capable and more prepared service members on the battlefield.
The author with the Barrett MK22 Mod 0 ASR in the Arizona mountains.
The following are specs we developed per P-SPECs released to industry (open source) and the Capability Production Document (CPD).
T = Threshold is the bare minimum we will accept
O = Objective is what we really want
3.5. Weapons control requirements
a. The ASR shall be manual in operation (T).
b. The ASR shall be available in right-handed configuration (T), ambidextrous (O).
c. The ASR shall be capable of being operated without the operator having to break cheek weld (T).
d. The ASR action shall maintain smooth and consistent operation and have no degradation of operation throughout the life of the weapon (T).
e. The ASR shall be capable of closing the bolt on an empty magazine (T).
f. The ASR shall incorporate single-round loading, without insertion into an empty magazine, through the ejection port (T).
a. Trigger pull shall be consistent from pull to pull with a fixed pull weight of 2.5lb (+/- 0.5lb) for a minimum of 10,000 rounds (T); 20,000 rounds (O).
b. The trigger shall reset after being released, even if the weapon is not fired (T).
c. The hammer/firing pin/striker shall not be released or override the sear when exposed to rough handling conditions when safety is activated (T), when safety is not engaged (O).
cess when you corral the experts and take a scientific approach. The truth is in the data, and the data revealed the Barrett MK22 Mod 0 ASR. It was a pleasure and satisfaction in my 20-plus year Special Operations career to be part of something that will ultimately lead to more capable and more prepared service members on the battlefield.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N6 (June/July 2020)