October 08, 2020
When U.S. military troops are taught to communicate, they are told to give the “BLUF,” an acronym for “Bottom Line, Up Front.” Roger that. In March 2020, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps officially announced that they will procure a multi-caliber variant of the Barrett Multi-Role Advanced Design (MRAD) as their standard sniper rifle in 2021.
Currently, snipers employ multiple rifle platforms in varying calibers to fulfill a variety of missions. The MRAD will become the central platform that will accept various cartridges as each mission dictates.
The Barrett MRAD is the result of a 2009 Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) solicitation from the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). It was engineered from Barrett’s 98B with features such as a folding and adjustable stock to allow the rifle to be transported more easily. The most significant change was a military requirement for the PSR to feature user-changeable barrels to accept multiple calibers. On the MRAD, this is achieved by loosening two Torx screws in the receiver to allow the barrel to be removed from the front of the monolithic receiver and handguard. To complete the conversion, the user had to change the bolt face and the magazine with certain cartridges. Time to change a barrel or caliber? Two minutes or less.
Remington’s Modular Sniper Rifle (MSR) was selected as the winner of the PSR competition in 2013 and designated the Mk 21 PSR. However, USSOCOM decided that the Mk 21 did not conform to the requirements in 2018 and restarted the program. In 2019, USSOCOM awarded Barrett Manufacturing a $50 million contract for the MRAD in .338 Norma Magnum (NM) and named it the Mk 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle (ASR). The kit issued to troops included barrels and bolts for .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO, .300 NM and .338 NM. In March 2020, the Army indicated that it would purchase 536 MRAD sniper systems for $10.13 million, while the Marine Corps said it would purchase 250 MRAD systems for $4 million to “replace all current bolt-action sniper rifles” currently in service. Hence, the Mk 22 ASR will replace the Remington M2020 Enhanced Sniper Rifle (ESR), the semiautomatic Barrett M107 in .50 BMG and the Remington Mk 13 series.
The MRAD is amazing. There you have it folks, need I say more?
At first glance, the MRAD may remind you of one of the many large-framed rifles that Barrett has brought to market since being founded in a garage by Ronnie Barrett in 1982. Barrett’s guns have enjoyed a reputation for ruggedness that have withstood the rigors of the battlefield since deploying to the Persian Gulf in 1990.
When I first saw the MRAD, I didn’t even give it a second look. As a U.S. Army Special Forces sniper and a sniper instructor with 1st Special Forces Group, I’m just a guy who can appreciate the application of fire from extended distances. Why wasn’t it love at first sight? I’m not sure, but perhaps I thought that the gun looked heavy and clunky.
When I finally visited Barrett Manufacturing’s headquarters in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, I walked into my old buddy Bryan James’ office. (He’s now Barrett’s vice president of sales.) There, I had the opportunity to discuss many of the projects they are working on, one of which happened to be the MRAD for the solicitation. He gave me a quick rundown when two impressions were made. First, the MRAD isn’t as heavy as it looks.
It checks in at about 13.4 pounds which isn’t anorexic, but the gun I was looking at was chambered for the .300 PRC that has a maximum overall length (OAL) of 3.7 inches and requires a magnum rifle action. A sniper doesn’t want a lightweight rifle chambered in an extended long-range howitzer-of-a-cartridge like the .300 PRC.
Another detail I wouldn’t have noticed without handling this fine example of ballistic hardware, was how smooth the bolt action cycled. I’m used to large sniper rifles having a bolt that requires some work to unlock, cycle and lock. The MRAD is as smooth as a custom rifle, but one with a polymer sleeve that fits around the entire length of the bolt while cycled. BLUF: Amazing.
I must have had intrigue written on my face because James nodded and asked, “You wanna shoot one?” I morphed into a little kid.
In my excitement, I rapid fired questions off to James. “Is there elevation built into the full-length rail? Can the user easily change barrels? What tools do I need to adjust the stock? What feedback has the military given of the rifle?”
My last question threw my host off. Barrett had already started shipping a good quantity of these rifles off to the U.S. Navy’s SEAL community. USSOCOM was also finishing up their testing of the ASR candidates in 2019, which included Accuracy International’s ASR. Remington Defense had partnered with Christensen Arms on a proposa (using Christensen’s carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel), but withdrew before having to submit a sample once they concluded they couldn’t win. If you have shot the MRAD, it may not be a shock as to why Barrett won the coveted ASR contract with the military-spec version of the MRAD.
Back to my other questions: Yes, there is 20 MOA built into the one-piece mil-spec optic rail. (Early MRADs had a 30 MOA slope.) This feature accommodates snipers who might need to extend the optic’s adjustment range for extremely long distances that the new cartridges are capable of. The single rail atop the receiver and handguard also allows the use of in-line systems to be added in front of the scope such as night vision (NV) and thermal devices. Full-length top rails have become a standard expectation for military sniper systems.
Changing the barrel and bolt face is simpler than I thought it would be. From my experience, I can’t see snipers changing barrels in the field, but if they needed too, they could. More than likely, this feature would help a shooter who needed to change a barrel and bolt to feed a particular load for a mission-specific target set or perhaps to accommodate ammunition available for training. The important takeaway is that it can be done at the operator level.
The stock is adjustable for length of pull and has a cheek riser. Both can be tuned to a shooter without any tools. There is a hand-tightened star nut securing the comb and a button located at the top of the stock that engages two notched shafts. Unlike a lot of others, Barrett’s stock design has survived the military’s drop tests.
The stock also folds to the right side, while pivoting on a pair of robust hinge points. A folding stock is a great feature for troops who may have to jump into combat situations. When the stock is folded, it also locks the bolt handle in the down position through a hole designed just in front of the recoil pad. The bolt handle does not lock in the down position when the safety is on, however. With other weapon systems, this could be an issue that results in a lost bolt in the field. The MRAD’s captured bolt system also won’t allow it to come out without disassembling the upper from the lower receiver, another combat-worthy detail.
On the topic of safeties, the MRAD has a thumb safety that is similar to the ergonomics that so many of us have become accustomed to on the AR-15 and M4 platforms. The difference is that the MRAD only requires a 45-degree rotation of the safety to put the lever into its fire position. The example I evaluated did not feature an ambidextrous lever.
The pistol grip attachment is the standard AR-15 pattern, which allows the end user to readily change the grip if they don’t like the Magpul MOE grip that Barrett delivers on this setup.
To evaluate the MRAD, I was supplied with a 26-inch barrel in .300 PRC with 1-in-8-inch twist rate. There is also a lighter barrel option (carbon wrapped by Proof Research) for the MRAD as appears on the lesser-known Department of Defense (DoD) variant of the Mk 22. I was also provided a 24-inch barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor for this review.
In March 2020, Leupold also announced that it had been selected to provide the Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm as the day optic for the ASR program. (The Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44mm with the Mil-Grid reticle was chose for the Army’s M110 sniper rifles, also.) It is finished in a proprietary coating of Flat Dark Earth (FDE) color, and incorporates the U.S. Army’s patented Mil-Grid reticle. It will be mounted on USSOCOM’s Mk 22 Mod. 0 rifles in Leupold’s Mark IMS mount. Hence, this is the same optic configuration that I evaluated the MRAD with, sans the FDE color. Leupold President and CEO Bruce Pettet commented, “Our optics face strenuous durability testing, and fully meet the extremely high performance standards that the military demands.”
I pulled a round of Hornady’s .300 PRC 225-grain ELD-M out of the box and thought about how this bad beast would recoil. Barrett’s series of M82 and M107 sniper rifles in .50 BMG can seem like they’ll loosen teeth, but when you shoot it them, the recoil isn’t that bad.
With the optic mounted, I boresighted the MRAD at 100 yards to get on paper before taking care of Guns & Ammo’s standard testing protocol. The results were amazing with three shots touch at 100 yards. Of course, accuracy was a significant reason SOCOM selected the MRAD.
Using Barrett’s specially designed muzzlebrake makes the .300 PRC completely manageable to shoot repeatedly. I shot it out to 200 yards and then headed to the long range with my shooting partner Al Zitta, another clever arms designer. (Shout out.)
We easily dialed in dope for 300, 400 and 500 yards. When we got to the 600-yard target, I dialed the solution that Hornady’s 4DOF Kestrel suggested and struck the steel silhouette close to center — but not perfect. With a slight correction, I sent a second round that hit perfectly where the Mil-Grid reticle was aimed.
As most of us do, we get a little cocky when shooting with our friends. This was just such a day, so I turned to Zitta and said, “Let’s go for 6-inch head box.” “Giddy up,” was his answer.
I quickly and easily grouped five rounds into the small target area. When I looked at my friend, it was as though he had seen a ghost. “Holy sh …,” he said with his New England accent. “Your turn Z-Man,” I replied.
I stood up and stepped back. Zitta rubbed his hands together and slid into position. He had already shot the rifle, so he knew what to expect in terms of recoil and the MRAD’s accuracy potential. In the end, he went five for five. Sure, at this range you can still miss with the MRAD in the caliber, but you have to try pretty hard. Cocky, you say? Believe me; your confidence and cockiness will hit an all new high if you can get behind the Barrett MRAD. The MRAD paired with Hornady’s .300 PRC ammunition is a perfect marriage. Thinking back to the battlefield, I sure am glad those Special Operations guys are now carrying this new sniper system. America’s enemies should be afraid. BLUF: They already are.
Barrett MRAD Specs
- Type: Bolt Action
- Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win., .300 WM, .300 PRC (tested), .300 NM, .338 LM, .338 NM
- Capacity: 10 rds.
- Barrel: 20 in. and 24 in.; 26 in. (.300 PRC, .338 LM)
- Overall Length: 45.4 in. to 49.4 in.
- Weight: 12 lbs., 15 oz. to 14 lbs., 8 oz.
- Stock: Barrett; folding, adjustable length of pull and comb
- Grip: Magpul MOE
- Optic Rail: M1913, 22 in., 20 MOA, integral
- Materials: 7000-series aluminum
- Finish: Cerakote; Black, Tungsten Grey, FDE, Burnt Bronze, OD Green
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 8 oz.; adjustable module
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $6,154
- Manufacturer: Barrett Manufacturing, 615-896-2938, barrett.net
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