The argument for the modular police sniper rifle
Police sniper teams are better equipped with a rifle that can field two different calibers to meet the demands of increased overwatch assignments and conventional SWAT operations
There was a time – not long ago – in law enforcement when the demands on police sniper weapons were less strenuous than they are today. In those days, a police sniper was considered to be suitably equipped with a .30 caliber bolt gun with a 4-round internal magazine, because the most likely scenarios really didn’t demand anything more. Police sniper engagement distances were likely to be short, and the number of targets limited, so the limited capacity and the mid-level energy of a .30-06 or .308-class bullet was sufficient for all reasonable expectations.
A new era in sniping
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, however, things began to change for the police sniper.
As the counter-terror mission grew more important, police snipers increasingly anticipated deploying against teams of heavily armed and armored attackers, which dictated a need for increased capacity and faster engagements. Likewise, the increased probability of having to engage and stop vehicles used as breaching tools, IEDs, or anti-personnel weapons (in “motor vehicle mow downs” as esteemed police trainer Ron Borsch has labeled them) highlighted the need for a harder-hitting cartridge, fired from a weapon with the same advantages of increased capacity and a faster-operating cycle.
Although the classic Remington 700-style police sniper rifle had served law enforcement needs well since the creation of tactical teams in the mid-1960s, the limited capacity, mid-range power and manual operation of these guns made it tougher for snipers to keep up with these changing mission requirements. This realization was further enforced by the spike in demand for police snipers to protect large public venues after the October 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival attack, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
With police snipers now being increasingly tasked to secure stadiums, arenas and large outdoor venues where vehicle-borne IEDs, person-borne IEDs and other targets had to be engaged at longer distances, it became more important to augment the sniper’s arsenal with weapons capable of getting the job done.
As a result, many police sniper teams added specialty guns from companies like Barrett and Accuracy International to supplement their inventory, with enhanced features like increased capacity, detachable box magazines, larger calibers (up to .50 BMG) and semiautomatic operation. These improved weapons enhanced police capabilities and filled the gaps left by the older bolt guns.
TACFLOW Academy’s Director of Sniper Training, Mark Lang, explains that the new equipment came with a new set of issues, however. For example, adding a .50 caliber rifle to the table of organization and equipment gave teams an anti-vehicle capability that they didn’t have before, but it also increased the number of rifles that a team had to train, qualify and deploy with. The increased logistical, transportation, storage, maintenance and training requirements could be burdensome for police snipers and departments.
In light of this, Lang and his training staff are now recommending police sniper teams consider adopting modular, multi-caliber precision rifles. “We’re way beyond the 4-round, Remington 700 era now,” said Lang, “sniper teams are better equipped with a rifle that can field two different calibers to meet the demands of increased overwatch assignments and conventional SWAT operations. We’ve seen that trying to maintain and deploy multiple specialty precision rifles can be a problem.”
A new standard
Instead, Lang increasingly favor platforms from proven manufacturers such as the CADEX CDX-MC KRAKEN, Accuracy International AXMC or Barrett MRAD for the precision rifle role, which allow police snipers the ability to quickly switch between calibers on the same gun, and transform a .308-class, anti-personnel rifle into a large caliber (.338 Lapua Magnum) anti-vehicle weapon with very little drama, as mission requirements dictate.
The modular, multi-caliber rifle concept offers the following advantages for a police sniper:
As noted, the ability to switch between calibers allows a police sniper the flexibility to tailor his rifle for the specific tasking or mission requirements. Many overwatch assignments can benefit from the improved ballistics of larger-caliber projectiles, which are more capable of defeating the strong, turbulent winds typically found in urban downtown areas. Furthermore, the chassis-type design of these guns allows for the use of high capacity box magazines and rail systems to host important accessories.
The modular, multi-caliber rifle has the potential to save police departments money in several ways. First, modular rifles can be converted to larger calibers using kits that contain the required barrel, bolt and magazine/adapter, which cost less than purchasing a second rifle. The modular design also allows the user to easily replace a worn barrel, whose accuracy has degraded, by simply ordering and field-installing a replacement. There’s no need to go to the expense and difficulty of sending a rifle back to the manufacturer for a barrel replacement, which would take the rifle out of service for an extended period (and require another, expensive backup rifle, to substitute for it).
The modular, multi-caliber rifle also saves money by virtue of the fact that it’s no longer necessary to buy additional optics, suppressors and other accessories to outfit a second rifle. Since quality optics often rival the cost of the rifle itself, this has the potential to save significant costs. Similarly, suppressors can be very expensive, so it’s important that companies like Surefire and Thunder Beast Arms manufacture muzzle adapters designed to be fitted on both .308 and .338 Lapua Magnum barrels, which use common thread pitches that allow for a single suppressor to work on barrels in both calibers.
Finally, the modular, multi-caliber rifle may achieve some savings by reducing the need to store, transport and maintain additional rifles – something that department armorers will certainly appreciate.
Because the same action, trigger, stock, controls and optic are used, the modular, multi-caliber rifle will be more familiar to the sniper than a second gun that is used less frequently. Instead of transitioning back and forth between the different guns (and possibly different action types), everything remains the same outside of scope dope and recoil. This should enhance the sniper’s comfort and performance with his weapon under stress.
Modular, multi-caliber rifles benefit from precision engineering and manufacturing, with close tolerances ensuring a high level of consistency and predictability during barrel exchanges. Coupled with quality ammunition from makers like RUAG Ammotec (who offer projectiles tailored for open air, glass and armor applications with near-matching ballistic curves), this allows a police sniper to switch barrels and be confident that there will be a minimal – and predictable – shift in point of impact at various distances. There will certainly be a small shift after changing calibers, but the shift will be the same each time by virtue of precision machining, and the sniper will be able to predict it, based on his prior training with the gun. This extraordinary consistency is a prime virtue of the modern, modular, multi-caliber rifle.
It’s easier to carry a spare barrel, bolt and magazine for your rifle than it is to carry a second rifle and all its accessories. Snipers who have to hump all their gear to a sniper position will appreciate the weight savings achieved by a modular, multi-caliber rifle system.
Although it offers many advantages over traditional options, Lang is quick to note that the modular, multi-caliber precision rifle can’t do it all alone. There is still room for other rifle systems in the tactical environment, filling roles such as the special purpose rifle for Immediate Reaction Team members, and the patrol rifle for general security, patrol and SWAT missions. A modular, multi-caliber precision rifle won’t replace every rifle in the police sniper’s arsenal, but it can certainly replace the host of specialty precision rifles that have begun to clutter up SWAT vehicles and armories, as the collection expanded over time.
If you’re interested in learning more about Lang’s experience with the modular, multi-caliber precision rifle concept and realistic sniper training in stadiums, arenas, and other large public venues, make sure to check out the offerings from TACFLOW Academy.
Shoot straight, and be safe out there.