SAS makes deadly debut with new sniper rifle
By Sean Rayment
IT can stop a car in its tracks, penetrate armour and kill at three-quarters of a mile, and has emerged as one of the SAS's most versatile and deadly weapons in the Afghan war.
The new British-made L115A .338 calibre sniper rifle is believed to have been used by special forces to make several "kills" during operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
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SAS carries 'ultimate' weapon Although 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment took the gun to Macedonia during the mission to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels in the summer, the Afghan campaign is the first time the weapon has been fired - and has killed - in anger.
The L115A is a highly prized piece of equipment within the British Army - there are relatively few in use.
SAS patrols have devised simple but effective hit-and-run ambush tactics against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters moving through mountain passes in lorries and pick-up trucks, and one Ministry of Defence official said, that in such circumstances, "The effect on the enemy would be devastating.
"The first round takes care of the pick-up truck or lorry by shattering the engine block and, as the Taliban fighters try to find out what's going on, they're taken out by the sniper. At 1,200 metres, with the shot echoing around a valley, they won't have a clue what's going on.
"This is a fantastic piece of kit. It can stop any car in its tracks by splitting the engine block in two, and it can also pierce the armour of light tanks or armoured personnel carriers. With a decent sniper, anyone within its range is a dead man - even if they are wearing body armour."
The SAS has access to a vast array of sophisticated weapons, but what its armoury lacked was a sniper rifle that was relatively light but could pack a powerful punch.
The weapon was chosen after extensive and rigorous tests carried out by the Infantry Trials Development Unit. Marksmen gauged the weapon's accuracy and reliability under the most extreme conditions in the Brunei jungle, the Omani desert and during the Alaskan winter.
The American Barratt Light .50 semi-automatic, a favourite weapon of the IRA, and the French PGM Hecate .50 calibre bolt-action sniper rifle were also tested, but the L115A emerged as the preferred option.
It is a bolt-action rather than a semi-automatic weapon. It has a magazine holding five rounds and is fitted with a telescopic sight. The gun fires a .338 lapua magnum bullet which can either be armour-piercing or incendiary, depending on the type of target.
The rifle came into service only this year and will be issued to 16 Air Assault Brigade, 3 Commando Brigade and elements of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force.
The L115A is manufactured by Accuracy International, based in Portsmouth. A spokesman for the company said: "We are under contract for the Ministry of Defence and, as this is a weapon used by the special forces, we are not prepared to comment further."
A team working with Malcolm Cooper, the twice Olympic and eight-time world champion rifle shot, is understood to have helped in the design.