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SOCOM Sniper Rifle: The FN Mk. 20 6.5CM

By: Warren Gray

Copyright © 2022

“What do you feel when you shoot a terrorist?” a cynical, liberal, CNN reporter asked a U.S. Marine Corps sniper in late 2005. The Marine shrugged and calmly replied, “Recoil.”

They said that it couldn’t be done, period. When I was a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant applying for Officer Training School (OTS) after earning my Bachelor’s degree and starting on my Master’s degree classes, they bluntly told me that no one from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, had ever been selected for OTS. This was because Pope was a low-priority, C-130E/H Hercules transport base, supporting the U.S. Army at neighboring Fort Bragg, and the flying unit was commanded by a mere colonel, not a general officer, with no real “pull” or influence on the selection boards.

But I didn’t work for the Pope commander. My boss was Major General (later a four-star general) Carl W. Stiner, commanding the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and his immediate supervisor at that time was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so it’s probably an understatement to say that he had some pull with the OTS selection board, even though he was an Army general and I was an Air Force sergeant.

The Air Force hates having prior-enlisted officers (which the Navy aptly calls “Mustangs”), and does everything possible to discourage them from applying for OTS. They think that we are “rugged individualists” or “mavericks,” who cannot be properly molded in the appropriate, clean-cut, Air Force image. But, thanks to General Stiner, I was selected for OTS, graduated, became a commissioned officer, and served the remaining two-thirds my 21-year, military career in that capacity. And, interestingly enough, of the 10 officer trainees in my small, OTS flight, I was the only prior-enlisted applicant, and the only one who remained within the Air Force long enough to be promoted to major.

The moral of this introductory story is that the special operations community sometimes has a certain amount of pull and influence that the conventional Armed Forces do not possess, and they can often accomplish very positive things that irritate many conventional-minded generals in other services.

With that example being illustrated, when the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM, or just SOCOM) in general, and JSOC, in particular, was seeking a new, sniper rifle in 2017, they were rumored to be experimenting with the semiautomatic, FN Mk. 20 Sniper Support Rifle (SSR) in 6.5mm Creedmoor (6.5CM.)

But they said that it couldn’t be done, period. All of the high-level, Pentagon naysayers and stubborn traditionalists adamantly insisted that the U.S. Armed Forces would never adopt a new weapon chambered for anything except 5.56x45mm NATO, 7.62x51mm NATO, or 9x19mm Parabellum (aside from a small number of optional, Glock-30Spistols in .45 ACP for Delta Force.) It just wasn’t done! “Standardization” was the diehard name of the game.

The irrational subject of “standardization for the sake of standardization” can be quite troubling. I had some small-minded, Air Force supervisors who demanded that I not tell the fighter pilots in my squadron in Germany everything that we knew about enemy missile systems, because the information allegedly needed to be “standardized” with generic symbols, instead of being very accurate and specific. However, I quietly advised and assisted our pilots and weapon systems officers to the maximum extent possible, to keep them fully informed, and save American lives. Enough said about that.

USSOCOM forces, particularly Navy SEAL teams and Air Force Special Tactics squadrons, had already been successfully using the combat-proven, FN Mk. 20 SSR in 7.62mm NATO since 2011, and despite the obvious misnomer of “Sniper Support Rifle,” it’s really a primary, sniper weapon. Genuine, sniper-support troops normally use the standard, Colt M4A1 carbine to safeguard their assigned snipers.

The FN Mk. 20 SSR, built by FN Manufacturing in Columbia, South Carolina,  is derived from the Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle-Heavy (SCAR-H) Mk. 17 LB (Long Barrel) rifle, with a 20-inch barrel, which led to the SCAR-H PR (Precision Rifle, introduced in 2019, and used by the French and Lithuanian armies) and SCAR-H TPR (Tactical Precision Rifle), all in 7.62mm NATO chambering (See my Gunpowder Magazine article on “The Mk. 17 SCAR-H Battle Rifle,” from February 22, 2021.) It’s a semiautomatic, sniper rifle with a cold-hammer-forged, chrome-lined, heavy-contour, free-floating, 20-inch barrel, threaded at the muzzle to accept a suppressor or SureFire Pro Comp flash hider.

It uses a fixed, non-folding, fully-adjustable, anodized-aluminum and polymer, precision stock in Flat Dark Earth (FDE) color, with a Hogue rubber pistol grip, and an enhanced, modular, Geissele “Super-SCAR” adjustable trigger with about 3.25 to four pounds of pull weight. This 7.62mm weapon has an effective range of 800 meters (870 yards), since even the special, 175-grain, sniper ammunition becomes inherently unstable at transonic speed (about 1,130 feet per second at sea level) beyond 800 yards.

In October 2017, SOCOM tested the Knight’s Armament Company (KAC) M110 (SR-25) Semi-Automatic, Sniper System (SASS) in .260 Remington, against a Heckler and Koch M110A1 Squad Designated-Marksman Rifle (SDMR) in 7.62mm, and an FN Mk. 20 SSR in 6.5mm Creedmoor, and determined that the 6.5mm Creedmoor chambering performed the best, doubling hit probability at 1,000 meters, increasing effective range by at least 40 percent, reducing wind drift by 30 to 40 percent, and retaining 30 percent more energy, all with significantly less recoil than standard, 7.62mm rounds.

The 6.5mm Creedmoor was specifically designed by Hornady and Creedmoor Sports in 2007 for target shooting at longer ranges, but it has become widely accepted for game hunting, as well. Hornady states that, “The 6.5 Creedmoor has become the world’s most-popular, modern cartridge. From prairie dogs, to coyotes, deer, and even elk, its versatility is legendary. This high-performance, match-accurate round…shoots well in all guns, regardless of price.”

Its long, slender projectiles are known for their high sectional density and ballistic coefficients, with the bullets remaining supersonic and highly accurate (sub-half-minute-of-angle) beyond 1,200 yards. Using lighter loads, it can duplicate the muzzle velocity and trajectory of the mighty .300 Winchester Magnum, while generating significantly less recoil.

Jeremy S. at The Truth About Guns wrote, “A 6.5 Creedmoor can take the same game as a .308, and do it just as well as a .308 at close ranges. But past a couple hundred yards, there’s simply no contest; 6.5 flat-out dominates.” Richard Mann at NRA Shooting Illustrated added that, “The 6.5 Creedmoor shoots flatter, hits harder, does not drift as much, and kicks less. And that…is kind of a big deal.” Joel Wise at Precision Rifle Network observed that, “There’s no denying that the 6.5 Creedmoor is more efficient at long-range shooting than the .308…It makes a much better, long-range, precision cartridge.” And Clay Martin at Guns America Digest boldly concluded that, “We’re absolutely going to see the day where we switch from .308 to 6.5 Creedmoor…Hornady’s still leading the charge on 6.5 Creedmoor.”

The 7.62x51mm (.308-caliber) NATO round, in service since 1957, fires a 175-grain, M118LR(Long-Range), BTHP sniper bullet at 2,600 fps, with 2,627 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy. By comparison, the 6.5mm Creedmoor (6.5x48mm, or .264-caliber) round, produced by Hornady since 2008, fires a 120-grain, AMAX ballistic-tip bullet at 3,020 fps, with 2,430 ft./lbs. energy, or a 143-grain, ELD-X bullet at 2,710 fps and 2,283 ft./lbs. energy. The two cartridges are very similar in overall length, at 2.8 inches for the 7.62mm, and 2.825 inches for the 6.5CM, with very similar chamber pressures, at 60,000 and 62,000 psi, respectively. But the Creedmoor has a 2.4mm (.0945-inch) shorter case length, and a bullet that is .044-caliber narrower, and 18-percent lighter.

This means that the FN Mk. 20 6.5CMuses standard, 10-round or 20-round, 7.62mm, Mk. 17 SCAR-H or Mk. 20 magazines for either caliber, and the only thing necessary to convert from 7.62mm to 6.5CM is a new barrel, which can be easily changed by the operator in the field. It’s really just that simple!

In 2018, SOCOM officially announced that it would begin acquiring the FN Mk. 20 SSR in 6.5CM, as tested the previous October, citing longer range, precision accuracy, better penetration, and better terminal ballistics.

Author Jon Wayne Taylor wrote for The Truth About Guns on November 8, 2018, that, “I like the FN SCAR 20S(in 7.62mm.) A lot…(It’s) the latest in a long and fabled line of battle rifles…qualified snipers in the 5th, 7th, and 10th Special Forces Groups, as well as Navy SEAL snipers…all preferred a semiautomatic gun to a bolt gun…(due to) rate of fire, and rate of fire on moving targets…once the first of your opponents is shot, they are pretty much all moving targets.

“I shot it in the rain and in the sun…It never had a single issue of any kind…The SCAR is known for its reliability, and the 20S Precision Rifle is no exception…(It) absolutely shines like no other SCAR I’ve ever shot…Reliability (Five Stars): Runs and runs and runs. Clean or dirty. Can (suppressor) on the end or not. Any shooter, any round, and any SCAR .308 magazine. It runs…Overall…the beauty of this gun is that it shoots tiny groups far away, and it does it really fast…faster than you ever thought you could, and then maybe that ludicrous price tag ($4,499) won’t seem so crazy, after all.”

Meanwhile, in 2019, the FN Mk. 20 6.5CM began to be fielded with selected, SOCOM units, apparently seeing some combat action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On January 14, 2020, Jon Wayne Taylor tested and reviewed the FN SCAR 20S civilian variant (issued only with a single, 10-round magazine) in 6.5mm Creedmoor for The Truth About Guns, writing that, “FN-USA has…released…(the) SCAR 20S in 6.5 Creedmoor, and it’s perfect. It’s the exact same gun…recently chosen by U.S. Special Operations Command…SOCOM was already shooting the Mk. 20, and had already…fielded this rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor…at least one current, U.S. Army Special Operations unit (Delta Force) has deployed with a version of the SCAR 20 in 6.5 Creedmoor…for at least a couple of years now…other U.S. Army units falling under SOCOM have requested the rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor, and are currently training with it…NAVSPECWAR (Navy SEALs) has requested these rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor.

“I was very impressed…the Surefire Pro Comp muzzle brake…is very effective at keeping the muzzle down for fast shots far away…exactly what this rifle was built for…I shot four for five at 1,200 (yards)…I just squeezed off the rounds as fast as I could keep my hash mark on target, and scored hits on seven of the next eight. Those shots took less than a minute…I immediately…put on (the FN factory) suppressor, switched the piston setting, and started blasting…Any shot on the silhouette was a hit, and I was going for speed…The rifle performed flawlessly.

“Consistent hits (3/4-inch groups, with a Nightforce 4-16x42mm power scope)…all the way out to 85-percent of a mile (1,500 yards) means that each rifle…(was)  perfectly consistent…6.5 Creedmoor…brings this platform to its fullest potential, a precision rifle capable of engaging multiple targets at extended ranges…the controls are great, the ergonomics are perfect for the application, it’s reliable and accurate…Overall: It shoots so far, so fast, I can’t justify taking off anything.”

The overwhelming success of the FN Mk. 20 6.5CM sniper rifle has led SOCOM to convert all of its existing, KAC M110 SASS and FN Mk. 20 sniper rifles from 7.62mm NATO to 6.5CM by replacing the barrels. The U.S. Navy is also upgrading its own M110 SASS rifles to 6.5CM, and re-designating them as the M110K1. KAC is providing the conversion kits. Finally, in April 2020, SOCOM decided to replace its Accuracy International-based, MK 13 Mod 5/7 Navy SEAL sniper rifle in .300 Winchester Magnum with an AR-10 rifle platform in 6.5CM. Even the Department of Homeland Security is adopting the 6.5mm Creedmoor for its own Colt LE901-16S sniper rifles.

The naysayers insisted, over and over again, that it couldn’t be done, but the FN Mk. 20 6.5CMis definitely here to stay with SOCOM snipers, and the super-accurate, long-range, 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridge is taking the military and law enforcement communities by storm. SOCOM is already talking about new assault rifles and machine guns in 6.5CM, and it would be relatively simple to convert existing, 7.62mm, FN Mk. 17 SCAR-H battle rifles with very basic, barrel conversions. In fact, the new FN Mk. 48 Mod. 2 medium machine gun in 6.5CM has recently been announced, so changes are already fully underway.

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations (JSOC) and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.

 
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