MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, CA -- Marine snipers have found a new best friend. The Marine Corps has upgraded the old sniper rifle, the M-40A1, replacing it with a new and improved rifle.
The M-40A3 will fully replace the M-40A1 by October 2004, said Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Bier, the project and field officer with 1st Marine Division.
"Because of the fact only 30 rifles are produced every month, and with a limited amount of scopes, it'll take a while to fully replace the old rifle," Bier said.
Each rifle is hand-built by precision weapons repairmen at Weapons Training Battalion in Quantico, Va., according to the according to Staff Sgt. James Knight, a sniper section repairman at Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico, Va. Beir added the old rifles are being sent back to Quantico for disassembly.
The M-40A3 was tested in 1996 and was finally issued as an official Marine Corps weapon in 2000, Bier added. During the rifle testing, surveys showed shooters enjoyed greater accuracy and increased comfort.
As with the M-40A1, the M-40A3 is a bolt-action, manually operated, magazine-fed, air-cooled, shoulder-fired weapon with an optical scope.
However, the M-40A3 has an adjustable cheek piece and recoil pad on the butt stock, giving the shooter the chance to position the weapon more comfortably.
It's designed to shoot beyond 1,000 yards, according to Lance Cpl. Gunther Johnston, an armorer with 1st Recon Bn. It uses special rounds - the M118LR, chambered in 7.62mm. The M-40A3 uses the rail system, allowing snipers to change out a fixed 10-power scope for an ANPVS-10 night scope.
"Unlike the M-40A1, the M-40A3 has a mount rail like the M-4, which allows you to attach different units to it," said Sgt. Steven D. Lovell, team leader with 1st Recon Battalion's B Company. "It's great for patrolling urban areas as well."
The day scope allows a sniper to see up to 800 meters; the night scope allows 600 meters.
The rifle is built on a fiberglass stock with a stainless- steel barrel, a steel floor plate and trigger-guard assembly. The magazine box holds five rounds. Additional enhancements include six quick-detach sling swivel mounts and a removable, swivel bipod.
"The M-40A1 has helped out the Marine Corps for a long time, but I'm glad we finally improved it," Johnston said.
Still, the new rifle comes with some drawbacks. For one, it's heavier. The new rifle outweighs the old by 2 pounds.
Some shooters still like the old rifle.
"I'd rather shoot the M-40A1," said Sgt. Andrew C. Giermann, a reconnaissance and surveillance instructor with I Marine Expeditionary Force. "It's lighter than the M-40A3, making it much easier to maneuver."
"The M-40A3 is more of a defense weapon," said Staff Sgt. Van Seelay, chief reconnaissance and surveillance instructor with I MEF. "It's basically a bench-rest weapon, and the M-40A1 is an offensive weapon because it's a lot easier to employ."
The increased weight, though, hasn't hampered the rifle's performance. Johnston said most snipers prefer the M-40A3 because of the upgraded comfort.
"The new stock is very easy on the shoulder when firing, and the adjustable cheek piece is good too," Seelay added.
Giermann, too, said there are things to like about the rifle. Despite loving the rifle with which he learned his trade, he's warming up to the new weapon.
"I like the fact that the M-40A3 has a bipod," Giermann said. "It's much more stable while firing."