The Marine Corps is notorious for fielding outdated equipment – some of which can be as many as 30 years old. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Marine snipers carried the M40A1 sniper rifles, many of which were introduced shortly after the end of the Vietnam War.
The Marines currently use a newer variant of the M40 as its primary sniper rifle – and it still shoots roughly the same distance it did 12 years ago: 1,000 yards.
Active and former Marine Corps snipers say their weapons are inferior to that of other American military branches, and they do not match what the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State carry either.
“It doesn’t matter if we have the best training,” one anonymous reconnaissance sniper told the Washington Post. “If we get picked off at a thousand yards before we can shoot, then what’s the point?”
That feeling is shared by Sergeant Ben McCullar, who led a sniper team in Afghanistan and served as an instructor at the Marine Corps’ main sniper school in Quantico, Virginia, before leaving the service.
“With an average engagement of 800 yards, you’re already ruling out a lot of our weapons,” McCullar was quoted as saying by the Post.
During McCullar’s most recent deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, he and his fellow snipers often found themselves in situations where they needed better rifles.
“Sometimes we could see the [Taliban] machine gunners, and we really couldn’t engage them,” McCullar told the newspaper. He added that if Marines had different weapons, such as a.300 Winchester Magnum or a.338, their accuracy would be much improved.
The.300 Win Mag fires 300 yards farther than the Marines’ M40, which uses a lighter.308-caliber bullet. The Army adopted the.300 Win Mag as its primary sniper rifle cartridge in 2011.
In a statement, the Marine Corps Systems Command said it has “evaluated several options for replacing the M40 series sniper rifle; however, the weapon continues to meet our operational requirements.”
The M40 is built by Precision Weapons Section, a component of the Marine Corps that is exists only to build and repair the Marines’ precision weapons and is primarily staffed by Marine armorers.
According to Chris Sharon, a former chief sniper school instructor at Quantico, there has been a reluctance to cut the M40 program because it could mean the death of the Precision Weapons Section.
Sharon says the solution is the Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) system, in which services purchase directly from a private arms manufacturer.
“It’s not that expensive,” Sharon told the Post. “You could buy and maintain two PSRs for one M40. … All of our NATO allies have a.338 rifle, and we’re the only ones still shooting.308.”
In its most recent upgrade, the Marine Corps went from M40A5 to the M40A6, which still shoots the same distance.
“You have to look at those programs and ask who’s driving the bus on this?” Sharon said.
All active and former snipers who spoke to the Post expressed concern about the next conflict and how Marine snipers will stack up against their enemies.
“We make the best snipers in the world. We are employed by the best officers in the military. And we are the most feared hunters in any terrain,” said an anonymous Marine sniper instructor. “But the next time we see combat, the Marines Corps is going to learn the hard way what happens when you bring a knife to a gunfight.”