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Weapons of War

Weapons of War: Civilians Lead the Way

“Nobody needs a Weapon of War!” is the often-heard, plaintive cry of the anti-gun crusader. They want them off our streets. Generally, they point to firearms like the AR-15 and its many clones, due to their use by the military as well as civilians. Wouldn’t those same people be surprised if they knew that many military weapons had humble beginnings as firearms designed for the consumer market?

To demonstrate use by the military doesn’t alone define a firearm as a weapon of war, we’ll take a look at three origin stories for weapons systems that ended up in the military arsenal.

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Weapons of War: SIG SAUER P320
The most recent example of a civilian firearm’s adoption for use as a military weapon is the SIG Sauer P320. Introduced to the market in 2014, it’s a striker-fired pistol with a polymer frame. Almost three years later, it was adopted by the U.S. military as the Modular Handgun System to replace the long-serving M9 handgun, built by Beretta and based on its commercial 92F model. The Department of Defense plans to purchase 421,000 units of the 9mm NATO P320 pistol to be delivered to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force in two different models — a full-sized variant known as the M17 and a smaller, carry model called the M18. The Army selected the longer-barreled M17 for standard issue, significantly increasing the number of troops who’ll be issued pistols, including infantry squad leaders and above, based on lessons learned from the War On Terror. In fact, the pistols have already been used in combat by members of the U.S. Army.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division qualify with their new M17 Modular Handgun Systems manufactured by SIG Sauer. (U.S. Army photo)

Fielding is well underway across the armed services, with most selecting the M18 and its more compact frame. It’s anticipated that the newly formed U.S. Space Force will also adopt the M18 following the precedent set by the Air Force, which is providing most of the new service’s personnel, bases, and equipment through transfer of ownership. Likewise, the U.S. Coast Guard has plans to purchase the MHS, but no numbers have been announced.

The pistol is truly modular, with a receiver element consisting of the trigger and operating system. It can be swapped in and out of various grips, which are tan in color rather than the traditional black of military small arms. Additionally, the modular receiver accepts several different calibers and barrel lengths. SIG also anticipated future requirements for a handgun red-dot optic by including a mount in the slide with a removable cover plate.

The origins of the P320 are found in the SIG P250, though SIG CEO Ron Cohen was adamant the new pistol be capable of disassembly without depressing the trigger. The need to depress the trigger to break the gun down for maintenance is a well-known safety concern among professional users and blamed for negligent discharges and fatalities in other designs.

The SIG Sauer P320 was introduced in 2014 as a modular, polymer construction, striker-fired pistol that would grow into the M17 and M18 now used by the U.S. Army. (Manufacturer’s photo)

While the P320 has been quite successful, it has also exhibited some issues. Despite testing the pistol according to every industry and government standard drop test, in August of 2017 a website discovered a drop-firing issue with the civilian P320. The pistol would fire if dropped at a negative 30-degree angle from a height of greater than five feet. Not a common occurrence, but notable nonetheless. The MHS version offered to the government already used a different trigger than the commercial model and remained unaffected, but SIG offered a voluntary upgrade program to commercial P320 owners to swap out parts.

Along with the pistol, the Army also adopted new 9mm rounds, including the M1152 Full Metal Jacket and M1153 Special Purpose ammunition. Manufactured by Winchester, the M1153 Special Purpose cartridge is a jacketed hollow point based on their PDX1 round. However, the pistols are currently only being used with the ball round, while the Special Purpose Ammunition is reserved for future wartime use as it continues to be certified for issue. Even with ammunition, the military is catching up with the commercial market, which has had ready access to hollow point ammunition for decades.

Weapons of War: Remington Model 700
With over 5 million manufactured, the Remington Model 700 is the most popular bolt-action rifle in America’s long history of firearms. Introduced in 1962, this two-lug bolt-action design goes back to 1948. Today, Remington continues to offer over 30 off-the-shelf variants of the Model 700 for hunting, target shooting, and tactical use in a wide variety of calibers. Both the U.S. Marine Corps and Army have adopted variants of the Model 700, type-classified by each service as the M40 and M24, respectively.

Like the SIG P320, the commercial Remington 700 has seen trigger issues. Also like the P320, the issues didn’t affect the versions adopted by the military as they used different triggers with the exception of early M40 models, which were essentially commercial varmint rifles.

The Remington Model 700 is America’s most popular hunting rifle. (Manufacturer’s photo)

Weapons of War: M40
The Marine Corps version of the Remington 700 is the M40 family of sniper weapons. The Marines initially selected a short-action version of the Model 700 due to limitations on available ammunition. Decades later, this decision ultimately limited their choice of calibers.

During the Vietnam War, the Marines purchased several hundred off-the-shelf M700 40x rifles, the varmint hunting version of the commercial rifle. They were outfitted with Redfield scopes and quickly pressed into service to fulfill an urgent need by Marine scout/sniper teams.

Adopted as an interim solution during the Vietnam War, the M40 sniper rifle served U.S. Marine Corps Scout Snipers for over half a century, undergoing multiple upgrades. (USMC photo)

Throughout the life of the program, all the way through the short-lived M40A6, these sniper rifles were built in-house by the Marine Corps Weapon Depot at Quantico, Virginia.

Initially, they had wooden stocks, which were prone to warping in the humidity of Vietnam. So, as the weapons were upgraded to newer models, the wooden stocks were replaced with fiberglass McMillan stocks. In fact, over the life of the program, various different stock and barrel options were evaluated, with some being adopted. This is why the model designations seem to skip ahead.

The M40, M40A1, and M40A3 relied on an internal five-round magazine, while the M40A5 came with a removable 10-round box magazine. The M40A5 model also introduced a threaded barrel for use with suppressors or other muzzle devices.

Rifles were modified and maintained by Marine Corps Precision Weapons Repairmen at the Weapons Battalion at Marine Corps Base Quantico. (USMC photo)

The Marine Corps had just fielded an upgrade to its family of sniper weapon systems, the M40A6 with its chassis system, when they made the decision to adopt the Mk13 Mod7 in 300 Win Mag, previously used by USSOCOM. The Mk13 also relies on Remington’s M700 long action, mounted to an AICS chassis.

Weapons of War: M24
The Army, on the other hand, adopted the M24 Sniper Weapon System in 1988, much later than its Marine counterparts. The M24 replaced the M21 sniper platform, which was based on the M14 — a weapon taken out of service more than two decades prior.

The M24 incorporated a long-action receiver, allowing it to be upgraded to larger calibers. In fact, although it began service firing the 7.62 NATO caliber, eventually it was transformed into a 338 Lapua Magnum platform with the adoption of the M24A3 model. Later versions of the M24 SWS also featured a removable magazine.

A U.S. Air Force Security Forces Defender conducts qualification training on the M24 Sniper Weapon System, which is used for airbase defense. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When originally adopted by the U.S. Army, the M24 was configured by H-S Precision in South Dakota. Later variants were built by Remington. The most significant upgrade to the M24 was its designation in 2010 as a completely new weapon, the M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, with its new chassis, barrel, suppressor, optic, and even a new caliber, 300 Win Mag.

Members of the 19th Security Forces Squadron participate in an advanced designated marksman course with the M24 at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. (U.S. Air Force photo)

While the Army already adopted the M110 Semi Auto Sniper System by Knights Armament Company and the M110A1 Compact Semi Auto Sniper System to supplement the bolt-action sniper weapons, it announced plans to also issue the USSOCOM Advanced Sniper Rifle, based on the Barrett Multi-Role Adaptive Design, as its new bolt gun.

Although precision optics aren’t the focus of this article, both the M24 and M40 rely upon various telescopic sights, which were adapted from technology developed for use in hunting and precision shooting. They serve as yet another example of weapons of war that wouldn’t exist but for developments in the civilian sector.

19th Security Forces Squadron Combat Arms instructors teach advanced designated marksman students use of the M24 Sniper Weapon System. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Weapons of War: Winchester Model 1895
To find one of the most amazing examples of the weapon-of-war phenomenon, we have to go back more than a century. In the late 1890s, Winchester produced a variant of their popular lever-action rifle with a fixed-box magazine rather than the tubular magazine found in previous models. It was produced in a variety of calibers and styles, from carbines to muskets. At the time, a musket was a long-barreled rifle that incorporated a wooden forend extending to the end of the barrel, along with a bayonet lug and sling swivel. These muskets were initially supplied with an 8 3⁄16-inch bayonet, which later grew to a 16-inch-long blade.

Incorporating a chassis construction, the short-lived M40A6 was the last of the M40 series of 7.62mm NATO sniper weapons. (USMC photo)

It seems that Winchester offered to sell variants of this 1895 rifle to England at the advent of World War I. The Brits passed on the guns, but Czarist Russia found itself pushed into a war it was unprepared for and took Winchester up on the offer, due to the promise of quick delivery. The result was the Winchester Model 1895 Russian Musket, in 7.62x54R no less, with an initial order of 100,000 followed quickly by a second order of an additional 200,000. The caliber selection was to ensure compatibility with the standard Russian rifle of the time, the Mosin-Nagant.

The Remington M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle was originally referred to by the U.S. Army as the M24 Reconfigured Sniper Weapon System due to the common action. (Manufacturer’s photo)

Winchester promised production would commence in six weeks. Instead, it took six months to modify the design to accept the cartridge, adapt the receiver to accept Mosin-Nagant stripper clips, and incorporate the Russian rear sight marked in arshins, a Russian unit of linear measurement equal to 28 inches.

Despite delays, including rifles rejected by Russian inspectors located right at the factory, often for cosmetic flaws such as wood grain not being straight enough on the stocks, Winchester delivered the first tranche of rifles just two weeks late and the second contract on time. Rejected examples were sold commercially by Winchester to the U.S. market.

The Mk13 Mod 7 Sniper Rifle replaces the M40 family of sniper weapons in the Marine Corps, introducing the 300 Win Mag cartridge. (USMC Photo)

However, of the 300,000 weapons ordered, Winchester actually delivered just 293,818. Apparently, the 6,182 shortfall was lost at sea while in transit. It was wartime — one explanation is that their numbers succumbed to preying German U-boats.

Once they arrived in Russia, the muskets were put to quick use against both German and Austro-Hungarian forces. They were also issued to volunteers from Estonia, Finland, and Latvia. Those Latvians ended up using the Model 1895 muskets to aid the Bolsheviks during their uprising, hoping to gain their independence from Russia. The muskets saw use by both White and Red forces during the Russian Revolution. Following a period in storage, they were later supplied to Republican forces in the Spanish Revolution. After General Franco won, the arms were collected, refurbished, and came full circle to be exported to the U.S. for commercial sale.

Considered a musket based on the military nomenclature of the time, this Remington lever action rifle was chambered in 7.62x54R, modified to accept a bayonet, fitted with special sights and a stripper clip guide for use by Czarist Russian forces during World War 1. (Martin Bordson collection)

Weapons of War: Shotguns
Did we say three origin stories? Well, that was a bit of a fib. We’ll touch on one additional type of firearm that’s widely considered to be designed and used for hunting — the shotgun. Almost every shotgun in use by militaries around the world was originally created for the civilian market. Several popular models have been adapted for military use over the years, including the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870 series.

For example, take the Remington 870. With over 10 million in circulation, this ubiquitous pump-action shotgun is widely used for hunting, sport shooting, and home defense. Chances are good that if you have a bird hunter in your family, they own, or have owned, an 870. What they may not know is that the 870 has also been adopted by military and police organizations around the world. It has even been copied by the Chinese company Norinco and imported back into the States. It’s a similar story with the Mossberg 500 family — the 590 remains in use with both the Marine Corps and Army Special Forces.

Remington made over 11 million Model 870 12-gauge shotguns, which are used by both civilians and military to protect and defend. (Manufacturer’s photo)

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout history, there have been a multitude of stories of commercially available firearms being adopted for use as weapons of war — more so, if you consider firearms in use by law enforcement.

So next time someone starts talking about so-called “weapons of war,” kindly show them a few of these instances, with the Remington 700 being the most striking example of a firearm designed for hunting game transformed into one meant to hunt man.

A Marine assigned to Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Central Command (FASTCENT) runs a Mossberg 590A1 while training in Jordan. (USMC photo)

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