In this war, snipers matter in close-quarters urban fights. So does penetrating power. Accurate ranged lethality is equally important for squads in open areas, where engagement distances can easily make 5.56mm rounds ineffective. Bolt-action sniper rifles solve these problems, but can get your best people killed in close-up automatic firefights. Semi-automatic weapons have traditionally been less reliable and accurate, but offer the only reasonable approach that covers both extremes.
The result has been the emergence of a hybrid approach, on both a people level and a technical level. On the human end, militaries like the Americans and British are adopting “designated marksman” or “sharpshooter” roles in normal infantry squads, who aren’t full snipers but do have additional training and qualification. On the technical side, gun makers are fielding semi-automatic systems that offer nearly bolt-action accuracy out to 800-1000 meters, but can also be used in closer-quarters firefights. The British have hurried the L129A1 to their infantry squad sharpshooters, but the Americans have a longer running program, which is beginning to ramp up production and fielding…
The XM110 SASS
The M110 is intended to replace the M24 Sniper Weapon System used by snipers, spotters, designated marksman, or squad advanced marksmen in the US Army. In 2006, the Army projected total buy of 4,492 systems. M24 orders continued into early 2010, however, and it seems likely that both will serve together for a few years.
The XM110 originally arose as units complained about their low ability to engage light-skinned vehicles, and to shoot through basic urban obstacles. More than a few units turned to captured Soviet-era 7.62x39mm or 7.62x54mm weapons, or old American 7.62x51mm M14s for this purpose, but those were just expedients. Given the twin importance of stopping power and snipers, soldiers asked for an accurate 7.62 mm NATO caliber marksman’s weapon, that could also be used in a close urban fight. The American requirement for a new semi-automatic sniper system was released at the end of 2004, and drew formal responses from 5 candidate systems.
In the end, the SASS contract was awarded in late September 2005 to Knight’s Armament Company of Titusville, FL, who submitted a modified version of the 7.62x51mm Mk11 MOD0 weapon that was descended from their SR-25 and used by Navy SEAL teams.
Unlike previous sniper rifles such as the M24, which have mostly been bolt-action weapons, the 7.62mm XM110 Semi-Automatic Sniper system (SASS) offers a higher rate of fire thanks to its semi-auto action, and 10 or 15-round magazines. A metal tube that fits covers the rifle’s 20″ barrel and significantly reduces the weapon’s observable signature when fired. It dissipates the tell-tale blast, and eliminates the blatantly obvious cloud of dust that would otherwise rise off the ground in locations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Changes from the Mk11 MOD0 include the above-mentioned suppressor that changes the dynamics but not point of aim/point of impact; buttstock changes; different mounting rails; different trigger components; an ambidextrous safety selector; different weapon color; “drag bags”; carrying cases; and shipping containers.
The M110 rifle weighs 7 kg/ 16 pounds without its magazine, and the complete system has a new sniper-spotting scope (Mark 4/ XM151) manufactured by Leupold. “We’re also qualifying the XM151 spotting scope that has the same reticle in it that the sniper sees in the Mark 4 scope on the XM110,” said Army product manager Lt. Col. Kevin P. Stoddard back in July 2006. Both scopes are manufactured by Leupold, and the new spotting scope will make the spotter mission easier when the team is operating with other sniper weapons.
Subsequent experience in Afghanistan would add even more weight to these decisions. The range limitations of 5.56mm weapons have made themselves felt, and captured 7.62mm Russian/Chinese designs generally have accuracy issues. The problem is leading to basic infantry shifts like fielding more 7.62mm M240 machine guns in place of 5.56mm M249 Minimis, and doubling the number of 7.62mm NATO caliber M14 EBR rifles per infantry squad to 2. The M110s could also begin to play a role in these tactical developments, if they are supplied in quantity to squad designated marksmen, as well as dedicated sniper teams.
Contracts & Key Events
Unless otherwise specified, all contracts are managed by the US Army TACOM contracting Center in Rock Island, IL, and involve Knight’s Armament Co. in Titusville, FL
December 24/18: New batch on order The US Army is buying more sniper rifles for its troops. Knights Armaments will deliver an unspecified number of M110 semi-automatic sniper rifles at a cost of $16.5 million. The M110 is a lightweight, semi-automatic, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed, shoulder-fired weapon that fires NATO-standard ammunition. The M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) has been in service since 2008. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order. Deliveries are expected to end by November 20, 2024.
June 9/10: A $9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 803 M110 semi-automatics sniper weapon systems. Work is to be performed in Titusville, FL with an estimated completion date of June 30/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W52H09-10-C-0061).
April 23/07: A U.S. Army story says that soldiers from Task Force Fury in Afghanistan are the first soldiers in a combat zone to receive the M110. The trial goes well, and modifications are suggested.
Sept 28/05: the US Army awards KAC (Knight’s Armament Company) a contract to develop the XM110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System. Source.
* Knight’s Armament – M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System
* US Army (July 7/11) – Team zeroes in new sniper system
* Special Weapons (August 2009) – Knight’s M110 SASS 7.62mm
* The Firearm Blog (Jan 20/09) – iPod Touch mounted on M110 Sniper Rifle. For the ballistics computing application, of course. And the occasional rendition of “I don’t like Mondays…,” when embracing the suck.
* Defense Tech (Oct 30/07) – Aberdeen Outtakes: The M110 Sniper Rifle. Incl. video.
* Soldier of Fortune, via Military.com (Aug 21/07) – The Army’s New Sniper Rifle
* AUSA Army Magazine (July 1/06)- XM110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System
* Winds of Change – Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer. Links to official report and related materials.
* NY Times At War: Notes from the Front Lines – The Weakness of Taliban Marksmanship. And how they make it work for them anyway. Effective, accurate counterfire at range offers an especial advantage against such opponents.
* Gannett’s Army Times (March 23/10) – Marksmen issued better rifles in Afghanistan. American “squad designated marksmen,” that is – and the weapons are modified M14s, so far.