In 2007, when the Navy SEALs went looking for an alternative to the Barrett weapons system it already used — an ultra-high-caliber rifle capable of firing .5-inch cartridges at distances beyond 1,200 meters — it talked to the best weapons manufacturers across the globe. Eventually it contacted a small company with 50 employees, who, it had heard, could make a weapon suitable for its tactical and operational demands.
It didn’t buy American; it skirted around the excellence of German and Scandinavian weapons design; and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t call the Russians. It went British. It approached an enterprise that embodies a high-tech, design-focused approach, blending traditional British engineering with the latest technological innovation.
The Portsmouth company, Accuracy International (AI), equips the British Special Boat Service and Special Air Service with sniper rifles. In 2008, it signed a 3.7 million-pound contract to supply almost 600 sniper weapons to the UK Ministry of Defence. What came out of the SEALs’ approach to AI was a new gun.
“The fact that such a small company can be a world-beater in the manufacture of quality weapon systems in a market dominated by huge American and European companies is a huge achievement,” says Color Sergeant Lee Chevenix, a British Army sniping-team instructor. “I know from first-hand experience how revered the AI product is, even in the States, where traditionally U.S. producers are favored.”
AI’s weapons are now part of long-range sniping lore. Craig Harrison, a British Army sniper from the Household Cavalry, hit two Taliban machine-gunners with two consecutive shots at a range of 2,475 meters in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in 2009. Inadvertently he had taken the world sniping record using an L115A3, the 0.338-inch caliber military sniper-rifle system made by AI that is now standard issue for the British Army.
“We saw two insurgents running through a courtyard,” Harrison said in interviews. “They came forward carrying a PKM [a general purpose Russian machine gun], set it up and opened fire…. Conditions were perfect, no wind, clear visibility. I rested the bipod of my weapon on a compound wall and aimed for the gunner firing the machine gun. The driver of my Jackal [patrol vehicle] spotted for me, providing all the information needed for the shot, which was at the extreme range of the weapon.”
Harrison killed one machine gunner with his first attempt and hit the other with the next. He then let off a final round to knock the enemy weapon out of action. His gun was the same as the one used by Black Watch corporal Christopher Reynolds, who killed a Taliban commander at a range of 1,853 meters. In 2009 another AI rifle, the L96A1, was used by two snipers from 4th Battalion, The Rifles (formerly the Greenjackets), part of the Welsh Guards battle group, to make 75 confirmed Taliban kills in 40 days. In one instance, two human targets were killed with a single bullet.....