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The M24 Sniper Weapon System

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sean D. Smith
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
In 1854, Sir Joseph Whitworth patented the Whitworth Rifle, a single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle with a hexagonal bore that was arguably the world's first proper sniper rifle. Over the years sniping technology has come a long way, and has become a component of virtually every military.

The United States Air Force most commonly employs the M24 Sniper Weapon System for its precision shooting needs. The M24 SWS is referred to as a weapon system because it isn't only the rifle; the system includes the accessories and attachments that help the rifle be used more effectively, like optics and a bipod. 

The rifle itself is a modified version of the venerable Remington 700, a common bolt-action hunting rifle that's been ubiquitous in the United States since the 1960s. There are variations on the M24, but the most common configuration is chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, and has a 24-inch barrel. The M24 weighs about 16 pounds with all of its attachments onboard.

The effective range of the 7.62 NATO version is officially documented at 800 meters, but during the Iraq War, Army Staff Sgt. Jim Gilliland made a confirmed kill at 1,250 meters with an M24 chambered in the cartridge. 

The M24 is a proven sniping platform that's favored not only by military forces around the world, but law enforcement as well. Alternate configurations of the rifle can alter its capabilities, such as the M24A2 and M24A3 variations, which can be chambered in .300 Winchester and .338 Lapua respectively, offering an extension in effective range over the 7.62 NATO.

The most radical variation is the M24E1 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, known as the M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle.

Nearly every component of the M2010 is altered from the original rifle, most notably the switch to the .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge, which considerably increases the rifle's range and precision. The U.S. Army has upgraded all of its M24s to M2010s.

The M24 is known to be simple and reliable, offering excellent accuracy for its cost and versatility. Though semi-automatic precision rifles are becoming increasingly common, usually in the context of designated marksman rifles, large-caliber bolt-action rifles still dominate the lists of weapons used in the longest-distance sniper kills.

The M24 platform is expected to stay in service for some time.