Despite all the books, magazine articles and movies that have centered around precision marksmanship, for a very long time the Army didn’t seem very serious about it. The Marine Corps, yes. But the Big Green was pretty sure about which tool was best suited for the task. And, until the War on Terror began, a gap existed between basic rifle qualification and sniping.
In Iraq the war changed from fluid combat to ambushes and roadside bombs. Marksmanship—at least for the ground-pounders involved in dealing with these tactics—changed. A sniper team wasn’t always available, so units called for a specially trained designated marksman to be included within each squad with a particularly accurate scoped rifle.
In terms of a 7.62 NATO solution, U.S. Army TACOM developed the M14EBR-RI from M14s mothballed 30 years ago in Anniston Armory, AL. The Marines developed the M39—also out of an M14. They had to face facts: In the role of a squad designated marksman, a bolt-action rifle is utterly insufficient in terms of rate of fire. The British chose a different path: the Lewis Machine & Tool LM308MWS. After being selected by the Ministry of Defense, it was designated the L129A1.
A Purpose-Built Concept
The LM308MWS is one serious piece of gear, enough to engender gun lust at the range. The basic layout is a direct-gas-impingement Stoner system. The low-profile gas block is secured to the barrel and drives back the plated carrier and bolt just as you’d find on any M16. The scaled-up bolt and carrier handle the task of shuttling live rounds in—and empties out—of the chamber without a problem. The carrier cycles into the buffer tube, which has a LMT-manufactured CRANE stock, exactly as made for the U.S. Government.
The upper receiver is the LMT Monolithic Rail Platform, a single sculpted bar of aluminum—receiver and forearm in one. The MRP starts as a huge forging, and LMT machines it down to a fraction of its starting weight, with the rear being a receiver and the front being a railed handguard.
The really trick part of it is the barrel attachment. Lewis simply machines both the receiver insertion shaft and the barrel extension to exacting standards, then uses two large machine bolts to clamp down the split part of the receiver tightly around the barrel extension. That’s why the gas tube is secured to the low-profile gas block and barrel—it comes out with the barrel as an assembly of barrel, gas block and gas tube.
The operation is exactly the same as any other AR. The selector is the same, the magazine release is the same, and the recoil, while heavier, is the same straight-back push as any other AR you’ve ever fired. The two-stage trigger LMT installs provide a clean, crisp trigger pull and reliable ignition, even of surplus 7.62 ammo.
The LM308MWS comes with Magpul 7.62 magazines, which happen to share similar dimensions and patterning (but made out of polymer) as the Knight’s Armament SR-25 magazine issued with the L129A1 and used by U.S. snipers for the M110. Twist on the stainless barrels is 1:111/4; chrome-lined barrels are 1:10. Either will stabilize any 7.62 NATO load out as far as you can hit with it. For those who want a bonus in durability, the chrome-lined barrel is also cryogenically treated for stress relief.
Enough of how the LMT .308 is like every other AR. How is it different? Well, there is that barrel. Installation or change is simple: Open the action, remove the bolt/carrier, check that it is empty, then take the supplied torque wrench and unscrew the two screws forward of the magazine well. The torque wrench is adjusted and sealed by LMT, so you don’t have to wonder about how much torque to apply. Here’s an interesting detail: While you have to remove the front screw, the rear only has to be loosened (three full turns, LMT suggests), and you can then pull the barrel straight out the front.
The barrel is relieved at the rear to clear the rear screw, but slotted to allow the front screw to pass through. Not only does the relationship of the screw and slot lock the barrel in place, it orients it vertically so the gas tube lines up with the gas key on the carrier. Additionally, it provides great return-to-zero alignment of the barrel to the receiver.
Now, the overenthusiastic among us will be scheming already. “Cool, do the long-range patrol and march in with the long barrel and big scope, then swap to the SBR and red dot for CQB operations.” Calm down; that’s not why it’s there. Oh, you can swap barrels and count on a pretty darned close return to zero, but it won’t be perfect. And no one who is really serious about accuracy (especially of the 600-yards-plus variety) is going to go swapping barrels without confirming the zero.
No, LMT did it for a different reason: downtime. You see, in military organizations, if the barrel on a rifle goes bad, there’s often a great deal of downtime until the supply chain catches up and an armorer can get it fixed. The senior company NCO has to see that it gets returned to base where an armorer with the tools and the authorization to swap barrels resides. With the LMT MRP, ideally that same NCO can perform a barrel replacement in the field and check zero in an afternoon.
For us, it means something else. As long as you have the tools and another barrel, you can configure your LMT308MWS to shoot other cartridges that utilize a .308 profile and bolt carrier. LMT currently offers barrels chambered for .243, .260 Rem., .338 Federal, and 6.5 Creedmoor.
LMT includes a factory-certified torque wrench with each rifle. If you plan to change barrels, you’ll need this tool to obtain a proper torque setting. Once the proper torque setting has been reached, the wrench makes an audible click.
The MRP and its quick-change barrels requires a same-plane iron sight set, and LMT supplies them. The rear is the LMT tougher-than-nails adjustable BUIS, while the front is a clamp-on that ends up looking very much as if it has a standard front sight forging melded into the rail.
I had no illusions about my ability to use iron sights and ascertain the accuracy of the rifle with .308 ammo. (Hey, there’s a reason I wear glasses.) The British, on their L129A1, use KAC flip-up sights and a Trijicon 6×48 ACOG. I had a chance to use one on an LMT out to 600 yards, and it was superb. But here at Gun Abuse Central I don’t have much opportunity to get out to 600 yards. And I’d like to try it with something a little more in line with the job of Designated Marksman. So I managed to score a Leupold CQBSS, the newest USMC selection, a 1.1-8X scope.
As soon as it arrived, I knew I was in trouble. It has a 34mm tube. I prevailed on LaRue to send me a mount, and in short order I had a great combo: a 1.1-8X optic in a QD mount. Unfortunately, it won’t fit over the LMT rear sight so I did my testing with the rear sight removed. Were I building this up as a defense rifle or a departmental marksman rifle, I’d swap out the LMT rear sight for something that folds flat enough to ride under the scope.
Ammo and Accuracy
When I first started testing the LMT .308, I had a couple of malfunctions. My first thought was, How could I have broken it already? Then I considered the ammunition. I was using my West German surplus ammo to get a feel for the recoil and check the zero. This ammo (loaded in 1993) is Berdan primed and features a nickel-plated mild steel jacket over a lead core. The Bundeswehr intended it for the G3 (which we know as the HK 91) and MG3 (a direct descendant of the MG42). So maybe using it to check the LMT .308 wasn’t the best first step.
I switched to Winchester M80, and the rifle cranked along perfectly. After a few hundred rounds of mixed ammo, drills and some zero work, I tried the German ammo again, and by then it was working just fine. The lesson? Ammo designed for and intended to be used in piston-driven or roller-lock rifles may not be tuned for best effect in a DI Stoner system.
The recoil isn’t a big deal. The straight-line stock and rifle weight make shooting pleasant. You might think that the 16-inch barrel would exact too much of a velocity price, but as it turns out, not so much. The .308 is quite forgiving of short barrels, and you don’t lose so much as to create a problem. After all, you aren’t shoving bullets downrange at 3,000-plus fps to start with, and they are big bullets. So what if you lose a hundred fps or so? A quick calculation showed me the numbers. If we took the Hornady A-Max load and added another hundred fps to it (what we might get with a 20-inch barrel), the drop at 600 yards changes by only 10 inches—a little more than one MOA.
The LMT .308 wanted to shoot better than I was able to. My groups were often as not “four and one” groups, where my rusty bench technique with .30-caliber rifles had me shooting four into a tight cluster, and throwing one out somewhere along the way. A dedicated bigbore shooter such as Dave Fortier could—no doubt—wring out more accuracy from this rifle.
The LMT worked flawlessly for the rest of my testing. The Leupold scope is an eye-opener, and everyone who looked through it wanted one of his own. In fact, everyone at the range wanted both the rifle and the scope.
Oh, and the British model? Why can’t you buy an “L129A1” with the tan-colored stock, ERGO grip and rail covers? Because the Ministry of Defence says no.
But if you simply must have yours look like the British rifle, you’ll have to order the tan furniture on your own. At first, the MOD said it wanted 440 rifles, no more. But LMT has since delivered more than 3,000 for use by the Brits.