If there is one weapon that has truly revolutionized sniping as we know it, it is the Barrett M82 rifle. In fact, the M82 really created an entirely new genre of firearms: taking the traditional sniper rifle concept and expanding it into the anti-material rifle.
That’s because while the M82 can be used as an anti-personnel weapon to take out individual enemy targets at long ranges, it can also be used as an anti-vehicular or anti-material weapon as well.
Let’s discuss more about the Barrett M82 rifle and the round that it fires, .50 BMG.
Development of the M82
The Barrett M82 as we know it today was developed primarily in the 1980s. A man named Ronnie Barrett was working as a professional photographer, with very little experience when it came to building firearms. Little did Barrett know that the rifle he would develop would turn into one of the most effective weapons on the military battlefield of all time.
In 1982, Barrett was taking photos of a military patrol boat in Tennessee. The boat was equipped with two Browning M2 heavy machine guns, both of which were chambered for the powerful .50 BMG round and had enough stopping power to rip vehicles and bodies alike to shreds.
Even though he had little overall firearms experience and virtually no training in firearms design, Barrett was intrigued by the idea of taking the .50 caliber rounds of the M2 Browning machine gun and using them in a sniper rifle.
With nothing more than a sketch pad and a pen, he began drawing the design for the new .50 caliber sniper rifle. He drew three separate graphs for the rifle to show the intricate details of the rifle and how it would function, and took these graphs to local machinists in his are.
No one was interested, because they didn’t see the value in having a .50 caliber sniper rifle in the first place. It took a few months before Barrett was able to find one machinist named Bob Mitchell who saw the value in the concept of a .50 caliber sniper rifle. In less than four months, the two had built the first prototype for the Barrett M82 rifle.
From the beginning, the Barrett M82 was designed to be a semi-automatic rifle that could be fired from the shoulder. It was also designed to have recoil that would be propelled backwards rather than upwards as was the case with most rifles. This was because of the rotating locked breach design with an accelerator arm that would cause the recoil to be pushed back and cycle the action, before cocking the firing pin again and loading a new round from the magazine into the chamber.
As you can imagine, the .50 BMG round generates significant recoil because of its sheer size alone. However, the recoil is actually reduced significantly because of the design features described above. The muzzle brake attached to the end of the barrel further helps to reduce recoil as much as possible by venting the spent gasses to the left and to the right.
Barrett and Michell initially built thirty production rifles, but as you can imagine, they were sold out quickly once news spread of the new ‘.50 caliber sniper rifle.’ The CIA in particular saw much value in the rifle and purchased several of them to equip the Afghanistan guerrillas fighting against Soviet troops in the Afghan war.
The Barrett M82, being powerful enough to destroy enemy vehicles and other pieces of equipment, had single handedly created an entirely new class of rifle – the anti-material rifle.
The M82 was not just adopted by the United States military and intelligence agencies. It was also adopted by the Swedish military, who actually ordered one hundred of the M82s before the United States military did. A year later, the United States Marine Corps would order a hundred and twenty five examples of the rifle to be used in Operation Desert Storm, and proceeded to order four hundred more examples of the rifle afterwards. The United States Army actually did not buy the M82 until 2002, when they ordered several hundred versions of the M107 variants (we will discuss more on the different variants of the M82 later in this article).
Today, the M82 and its various configurations are used by more than sixty countries and have seen combat in conflicts throughout Asia and the Middle East. Even countries that do not use the M82 have adopted anti-material rifles that were clearly inspired by the M82 – the Russian OSV-96 and the Chinese Zijiang M99 are clear examples.
Technical Aspects of the M82
The Barrett M82 measures fifty seven inches with a twenty nine inch barrel and an overall weight of twenty eight and half pounds.
The .50 caliber bullet it fires weights one and a half ounces with six hundred and sixty grains. In contrast to this, a standard 5.56x45mm NATO round fired from guns like the AR-15 or the Ruger Mini-14 have just fifty five grains in them.
The M82 rifle is capable of tapping targets at very long ranges. Whereas the AR-15 has a maximum effective range of around six hundred yards, the M82 can easily tap targets at distances of fifteen hundred yards, and .50 caliber bullets can still travel for up to five miles. A properly trained shooter could easily use the M82 to tap targets out to distances of around two thousand yards.
Let’s discuss the .50 BMG caliber bullet in greater detail.
The .50 BMG
The real stand out of the M82 rifle is not the rifle itself, but rather the caliber it fires: the .50 BMG.
The .50 BMG has a very long and important history in the United States military. It was designed by John Moses Browning during World War I as an anti-aircraft round. Basically, Browning took the existing .30-06 Springfield caliber and scaled it up considerably. He then designed a machine gun to go with it called the M2 Browning Machine Gun, which was based off of the earlier M1919 Browning Machine Gun that fired the .30-06. The M1919 was a highly effective anti-personnel weapon, but less so for anti-aircraft or anti-vehicle purposes. Examples of other military rifles that fired the .30-06 included the Springfield M1903 and the M1 Garand.
The M2 Browning was released in 1933, and it remains in continuous production today. This makes it one of the longest service weapons of the United States military, surpassed only by the Colt M1911A1 in .45 ACP. The M2 had been proceeded by the M1921 Machine Gun as well.
The Browning M2 served in anti-aircraft, vehicle, and personnel roles throughout the 20th centuries, and is still being used today. It has commonly been attached to fighting vehicles, such as Humvees, tanks, and anti-aircraft guns. The .50 BMG easily has more penetrating power than most other calibers used by the United States military, and it has never been replaced since its development.
Of course, as we just discussed it was Ronnie Barrett who realized the potential of the .50 BMG in a sniper rifle format, leading to the birth of the M82 rifle.
The .50 BMG can create between ten thousand to fifteen thousand foot pounds force. This is a big step up from the .30-06 Springfield from which it is derived, which creates only three to four thousand foot pounds force. The .50 BMG is a good choice for sniper rifles because it sustains less drift form the cross winds than smaller calibers, so it can travel more accurately at longer distances.
The common rifling twist rate for the .50 BMG is 1:15, with eight grooves and lands. It utilizes a boxer primer with a single ignition point, although occasionally it is manufactured using Berdan primers.
Variants of the Barrett M82 Rifle
Today there are three main variants of the Barrett M82 rifle in use. The first is the original M82A1 and A3, the second is the M82A2 (a bullpup version with the magazine located behind the trigger), and the third is the M107A1 that has a muzzle brake designed to accept a suppressor and is built out of much more durable titanium (other M82 rifles are built out of steel.
Take note that the M82 is not the same thing as the Barrett M95, which is a bolt action sniper rifle and a development of the Barrett M90. The M95 is a bullpup bolt action rifle similar in shape and design to the M82A2. We also carry a miniature model of the M82A1 on our website.
The Barrett M82 rifle is without question one of the most influential sniper rifles of all time, because it’s really an anti-material rifle and not just a sniper rifle. The .50 BMG round it fires has a excellent ballistics and is capable of destroying enemy vehicles or bringing down enemy personnel at incredibly long ranges, and it has been duplicated by numerous other anti-material rifles that have come along since then as well.