After five years of shopping for a new weapon, the U.S. Navy SEALs
took the plunge and adopted the 7.62 x 51 mm SR25 sniper rifle,
made by Knight’s Armament Company, of Vero Beach, Fla., and
stirred the precision rifle market in the process.
The Navy let a sole source contract for 300 weapons, in May 2000,
after type classifying the weapon and assigning it an official national
stock number. Now referred to as the Mk 11 Mod 0, the stock number
signifies not just the SR25 rifle but indicates a full weapon system,
including the rifle, a Leopold scope, back-up pop-up iron sights
and a lightweight military match suppressor.
The SR25 is a familiar weapon within the civilian precision rifle
market. It began as a combination of design ideas from the AR-10
and AR-15 rifles, and uses “over 60 percent of existing M-16
parts” in its construction, according to company literature.
More than 3,000 units have been sold to civilian shooters since
the rifle was first produced in the early 1990s.
Most of Knight’s customers prefer the 24-inch barrel version
that outsells other versions at a rate of 9 to 1. It is the only
version that the company would guarantee for an out-of-the-box accuracy
of less than one minute of angle at 100 yards. The longer barrel
version has been popular among civilian marksmen, but at 44 inches,
it was too long for military operations. With the suppressor attached,
the weapon was 50 inches long.
Designers at Knight’s Armament changed the 24-inch barrel
of the commercial version to its 20-inch barrel version to meet
the SEALs’ requirements for a weapon better suited for urban
combat. Although this would appear a simple conversion, an exchange
of one barrel for another, Knight’s engineers knew the 20-inch
version was not as accurate as the 24-inch barrel one. They needed
to make changes behind the barrel to deliver the same accuracy of
the longer version.
When the SR25 was first under development, Eugene Stoner, who originated
the idea for the rifle, said he wanted combat soldiers to have the
quality of a match rifle without needing a convoy of gunsmiths with
them to maintain accuracy. Engineers at Knight’s knew there
were changes in store if they wanted to maintain that level of quality
when they changed the barrel length. The shorter barrel version
was inherently less accurate than the longer barrel.
Improving the barrel would not improve the performance of the weapon,
because precision is a function of the barrel in combination with
the other working parts according to a company spokesman. All of
the moving parts behind the barrel would need adjustment.
The new 20-inch barrel SR25 is not the same rifle as the one produced
three years ago according to a company representative. The firing
pin, ejector, extractor and buffer were changed to achieve the same
level of accuracy as the weapon with the 24-inch barrel.
The result of the changes that ultimately led to the contract award
means more than delivering a match quality rifle to a few Navy SEALs.
Knight’s Armament makes all of the parts for the SR25, except
the barrel, in house. The company uses Obermeyer barrels in all
of its SR25 variants. The shorter barrel meant they had to re-engineer
manufacturing of the moving parts of the rifle to a higher standard
to transfer the level of accuracy in the more forgiving 24-inch
barrel version to the shorter barrel version. Those changes will
have an effect on the way Knight’s produces all other SR25
rifles, which makes the project a classic example of the influences
the civilian and military markets have on each other.
Knight’s Armament expects the contract to lead to further
sales in the commercial and military markets. The company credits
a recent sale to the U.S. Army Rangers to its Navy contract. Civilian
consumers will see the changes in commercially available versions
of the same weapon.
Ironically, the SR25 began as a military project, but was sustained
in the development process by commercial sales. With no government
funding to support the research and development of the weapon, Knight’s
sold the weapons in the highly competitive, high end of the commercial
gun trade. Although a company spokesman indicated the precision
rifle market might already be saturated, he said the company was
confident that the recent changes to the weapon, combined with the
government “seal of approval,” would have a positive
affect on commercial and military sales.
As a weapon with a federal stock number assigned, company representatives
said the weapon now qualifies as an official national match category
weapon. Competitors will likely begin to see the SR25 at the National
Match at Camp Perry, in Ohio.
The National Rifle Association is scheduled to consider a proposal
to include the SR25 in the service rifle competition in the National
Matches, a move that would place it with the M-16 and other rifles
in military service. Military teams including the Navy Marksmanship
team would likely use it in the competition.
The SR25 originated to meet a perceived future military requirement
for a new 7.62 x 51 mm sniper rifle. It was built around existing
AR-10 and AR-15 designs. As a private venture, Knight’s Armament
sustained the project through commercial sales while it provided
test models for potential military customers patiently waiting for
a positive response.
Feedback from the military customers led to engineering changes
and improvements that ultimately affect the civilian model—and
the evolution of small arms design.
Virginia Hart Ezell is president of the Institute for Research
on Small Arms in International Security and a reserve Army major
in the Ordnance Corps.