Preview – The Ballista in .338 Lapua You Wanna Play, You Gotta Pay
Photography by Henry Z. De Kuyper
FNH USA’s Premium Long-Range Rifle Is Chambered in $10 Bills, But Its Performance Is Worth the Price of Admission
The USSOCOM Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) project started in 2009 and solicited bidders to supply a modular sniper rifle with the ability to effectively engage targets out to 1,500 yards, an accuracy requirement at that distance of 1 minute of angle (MOA) for a 10-round group, and the ability to switch calibers in the field. No upper limit to caliber was specified, but it’s a testament to the abilities of the .338 Lapua round that it was picked by every manufacturer who tried their hand at submitting a contender.
The usual heavy hitters such as Accuracy International, Barrett, Remington, and Sako submitted rifles for evaluation. FNH USA partnered with a relatively unknown German company to develop the Ballista as its entry into the competition, eventually being beat out of the race by Remington. Its loss is our gain, as this fully developed, multi-caliber, special forces sniper rifle is now available on the commercial market. Sometimes, the military procurement process conjures up images of $600 hammers. In this case, however, the price-to-performance ratio is a little more reasonable, and while $7,000 is not exactly cheap, you get a lot of rifle for the money.
Unique Alpine is based in Bavaria and manufactures the TPG-1 bolt-action rifle, which forms the basis for the Ballista. While an excellent rifle in its own right, it wasn’t sufficiently developed in order to meet the PSR requirements of size, weight, and modularity. So FNH’s staffs from South Carolina and Virginia were given the task of bringing it up to speed. The finished product is a result of this collaboration, which is manufactured in Europe and then distributed stateside by FNH USA’s commercial division. We got to spend some quality time with a preproduction sample of the .338 Lapua variant.
In a conventional bolt gun, the bolt locks up into the receiver, which is threaded to accept a barrel. Taking a more unconventional approach in order to accommodate a quick-change barrel, the Ballista’s bolt locks into a barrel extension (think AR) that is permanently threaded to the barrel’s friendly end. The receiver acts merely as a box to align the other components and doesn’t have to absorb the stresses generated by the cartridge. So it can be made of lighter materials, rather than steel, thus saving considerable weight. The unfriendly end of the 26-inch barrel is fitted with a 10-port brake with a replaceable cone baffle, which integrates with a proprietary suppressor. While originally spec’ed as a polygonal-rifled, gain-twist tube, the civilian version is more conventional. This is a good thing, since most of us prefer to tailor bullet weight and type to the application in hand. In testing it was found that the military barrel liked only the G.I. load and didn’t much care for anything else, which doesn’t help if you want to use your fancy new rifle for hunting or to experiment with some of the very high BC bullets available.
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