Making the Barrett “Light Fifty”

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In a previous installment of TFB, we wrote about touring the Barrett factory. However some of you might have noticed the pictures were somewhat devoid of the companies namesake rifle series, the M82 or M107 series of anti-material rifles. The reason for this was because we had simply too much material and I really wanted it to be a separate article for our readers to take it all in. That was more about the Barrett story overall, while this is purely about the semi automatic .50 caliber rifles they make and are mostly famous for.

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The company started with the M82, famously first bought by Swedish EOD units in the 1980s. However the 1991 Gulf War is what really propelled the design into the forefront of international military acquisition programs. The war almost suited the rifle entirely, being that it was fought in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait, with very long distances to be covered by coalition troops. The primary recipient of the rifles were the Marine Corps and Army sniper teams. Looking at this from a purely range perspective, the M82 allowed the then snipers to effectively double their engagement ranges compared to their M24s and M40 sniper rifles which had a max effective of around 1000 meters, and the Barrett almost 2000 meters. Granted, the initial Barretts were not at all known for their MOA capabilities, but regardless, a sniper team now had the ability to at the very least harass enemy troops out to 2000 meters, and at the most pierce the armor of light skinned vehicles.

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But the actual combat phases of the war only lasted several days, very little time for the rifle to have its true ability shown. The war was mostly a mobility war of maneuver warfare, of tanks and armored vehicles battling it out. However, the capabilities of the newly nick named “Light Fifty” were not lost on the sniping and EOD communities. The rifle continued to develop during the 1990s, into the M82A1. This led the way into the invasion of Afghanistan, and later on Iraq. Working on feedback from the troops, Barrett continually refined the rifle into what became adopted as the M107. This is what most of the Barrett rifles in modern day Army and Marine Corps sniper platoons have today. I’m pretty sure stocks of the original M82s and M82A1s are still in use by various Government entities such as the Coast Guard or FBI, that don’t need to be constantly upgrading to the latest design.

The M82A1 turned into the A2, and A3 versions, although these saw much less wide spread use than the A1 did. The M107 was then modified further by Barrett into the M107A1. This isn’t a military designation but rather like the Beretta M9A3 that has been making waves, is a commercial name. M107A1s differ from M107s in that they have a redesigned compensator to take a Barrett .50 caliber suppressor, stronger recoil return springs to account for that suppressor weight, a buttstock that can be modified into a spade grip/ adjustable for length of pull or a monopod attachment.

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Remember that mention earlier about the lack of true precision rifle capabilities? The early Barretts were certainly known for this, and it was true. Even the Marine Corps Scout Sniper community still considers the M107 to be a 3 MOA gun. However, over the time of development, from the M82 to the M82A1, to the M107, to the M107A1, the accuracy has been increasingly tightened up. To the point where having an M107A1 shooting a sub MOA group off the assembly line is not an uncommon thing at all to happen these days at the factory. In fact, one of the Barrett employees I met, had a target up on his wall from his personal M107A1 shot at the indoor factory range, where every single round in the 5 shot group was touching, from 100 meters. One of the biggest problems of this accuracy is due to the ammunition, the .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG). At the time of introduction in the 1910s, the .50 BMG round was not envisioned for precision rifles at all, because it was for the Browning M2 heavy machine gun. Much of the accuracy problems with the light fifty stemmed from the fact that in the 1990s, machine gun ball ammunition was all there was available in economic quantities for Military/LE forces to use. Today we have much better options when it comes to match grade .50 BMG and this has helped in the accuracy department. In fact, there have been numerous accounts of snipers in Afghanistan and Iraq making confirmed kills out to distances with the Barrett platform out to distances that would have been almost impossible in the 1980s and 90s with the initial contract rifles. However, currently the longest confirmed kill is held by an Accuracy International .338, one of the Barretts competitors in the precision long gun world (via the MRAD/98B).

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At the same time the semi automatic rifles were being produced and implemented, the civilian side of production was expanding as well. Barrett prides itself on the fact that although the company caters to both sectors, the Military/LE and the civilian sector, the Military/LE one will always have to take priority over the civilian one, as these are the guys who have a real world need for the rifles. Regardless, the civilian line took off, and the company is one of the few (apart from handgun companies) that sell the same rifles to civilians as they do to the Military. With each iteration of the Military upgrades, there came out a civilian equivalent also for sale. But this is where the company started experimenting with bolt action rifles, with the M95. The M95 was originally capable of the sort of accuracy that the M82 series was trying to go for, but couldn’t. In addition, the M95 opened such doors to states or countries that might have legally not allowed the semi automatic M82 series. This continued on to the .416 Barrett that the company introduced, almost for the sole purpose of selling to California (They also make Barrett bullet buttons for their rifles, Cali legalities…). However, the company believes that not only is the .416 a viable round for the California market, but it has a number of established ballistics capabilities as well. But going back to the M95, this rifle paved the way for the company to start really looking into the precision long gun game, today with the Model 98B and the MRAD platforms of rifles.

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I think the Barrett story is a fascinating one, because it stems from a man who had zero firearms design experience, wanted a semi automatic rifle shooting the .50 BMG because he couldn’t ahold of an M2 Heavy Machine Gun, but then went on to influence the sniping communities the world over, in terms of what their capabilities could be expanded to. The fact that the rifle occupies such a niche role, and hasn’t faced any real competition when it comes to price, reliability, and performance in its entire production span, attests to the ingenuity of the designer, Ronnie Barrett. As Henry Ford is often misquoted as saying,“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Barrett designed the car when militaries thought all they needed was a faster horse.

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Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • TheNotoriousIUD

    I wish I had a cool job.
    My job blows.

    • TheSmellofNapalm

      So quit? Excuse my idealism, I’m still in college

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        I am too thats part of the problem.

        • randomswede

          If I can offer any advice as a smoldering husk of a man, if you think you’d be better of anywhere else you are most likely correct.
          If you have any kind of “safetynet” available bouncing of off it when you can is better than falling into it when you can’t do what you did.

          Your milage may vary. (fingers crossed ; )

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            The problem is I work in oilfield supply in Houston and the entire industry is in a nose dive. Rigs are shutting down. Nobody is hiring in my field.

          • randomswede

            From way over here I can only offer you dopey stuff like: Keep your chin up and keep looking so you can find your way forward.

            And the advice I needed: Don’t expect others to have your best in mind, count on them having their best in mind.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Roger that, thanks buddy.

          • iksnilol

            SACRIFICE A VIRGIN/GOAT TO THE VOLCANO GODS TO ENSURE A GOOD OIL HARVEST.

            That’s what I’d recommend.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            The problem is we have too much. Tank farms are going up just to store it all.

          • Tassiebush

            That’d all be fallout of Iran being able to sell more oil I’d guess?

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            No it’s our good friends the Saudis flooding the market. They can manipulate worldwide energy costs because they are sitting on the bulk of it. Texas was hitting a boom with hydraulic fracturing but we can’t export to the rest of the planet and now we have more than we can use at home.

          • iksnilol

            Oh?

            That’s even easier to solve, it involves some matches and a couple of felonies.

          • tazman66gt

            Same thing going on up here, down to 600 employees from a high of 1500 just a year ago. Looking at another 15 week layoff after our runs are done. We’re told that next year’s sales are as bad or worse than this year’s so expect more lean times. So, if you know anyone who needs a cotton picker or sprayer tell them to buy John Deere, I need the work, lol.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            That sucks unfortunately I’m not in need of ne of those. Not much cotton in Houston.

      • iksnilol

        Having crappy job is better than no job, no?

    • Cal.Bar

      Making near minimum wage as an assembler or machinist in a gun factory will NOT pay off those student loans.

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        The job I have now wont either but at least id be working on guns all day.

        • Tassiebush

          My ideal jobs would be to seasonally move between suction dredging gold dust, catching Gators like on Swamp people and taking part in the seal hunt in Canada. I’ve tried similar things here but the greenies get all upset when I dredge in the world heritage areas, the seals keep jumping in the sea and a swan on a line just isn’t the same as a gator…sigh
          On the plus side platypus in a gill net get fiesty!

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            You could open the worlds first all dolphin sushi restaurant.

          • Tassiebush

            Hehe the only thing is I’m not sure it’d be the first!? Could be first Western one. It’s a fantastic idea though because my feedlot seal farm is about to be brought online and I can augment the harder to get dolphin meat with cheaper seal meat.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            I couldn’t afford to eat there.

          • Tassiebush

            Okay I’ll take that feedback on board and see what can be done. I wanted to aim for the family restaurant market. The aim being for it to be affordable. Perhaps if I change the seal feed and relabel everything marine mammal.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            What I like is a rare New York strip seared in a cast iron skillet. Takes five minutes.

          • Tassiebush

            Cripes that would be rare. I cook em juicy and caramelized without any pink. I had to check what that cut was. In local parlance it’s a porterhouse which is my favourite too although I also like a rump steak or scotch fillet. I buy it in cryopacked slabs and cut my own steaks. Gives me yearling steak at a mince prices at least some of the time. If you have obesogenic tendencies like myself it can be cool to make double steaks where you cut them nearly to the bottom then cut the next one off fully and fold it out on the bbq plate. Sorry I just really like steak!

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Oh man don’t burn your steaks. That’s a travesty.
            Think I’ll do one for dinner. Girlfriends out of town which means I can drink as much beer as I want and it’s warm enough to get in the pool.

          • Tassiebush

            There’s no black carbon. Just meat and fat turned into sugar and lots of juicy liquid fat.

          • Tassiebush

            Sounds like nice weather. It’s chilling down here now. Last time I went floundering and prawning a few weeks back I was borderline hypothermic. Water wasn’t that bad but air temp dropped. Warm today though.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Roger that, you do what you have to. Just have to remember it’s only temporary.the satisfaction of a job well done outweighs the physical discomfort.

          • Tassiebush

            It was definitely satisfying. I set a new personal record for them. The take home lesson is I’ll take my portable wood heater next time and have a boiling billy so I have lots of warm tea and something to warm up next to. I really shouldn’t have driven home that night. Cognitive function was significantly impaired.

          • Harry Bedford Exeter

            Holy crap, you guys literally went on for a whole page or so on nothing other than your fishing!

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Hey, we like fishing.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            I’d quite like to live near the sea and catch some fresh food. The only time I’ve done it was in Costa Rica.

          • Tassiebush

            Yeah it’s nice. I don’t like fish but I catch them for others, but I love prawns scallops, squid and crayfish are good too. The prawns are new to my area. The East Australian current has extended it’s range by 300km over the last few years and we suddenly have sword fish and prawns for the first time ever recorded! I remember a few years back wishing we had prawns then discovered them fishing one night last year. I live about 4 minutes walk from foreshore. It is pretty cool!
            What was Costa Rica like?

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            It’s paradise on earth man. Beautiful rain forests, pristine blue water beaches. I caught fresh mahi and filleted them on the boat and grilled them with plantains and black beans and washed it down with el imperial beer. Amazing country, friendly people too.

          • Tassiebush

            Gosh plantains. Here that’s a flat growing weed (edible though). What is one in your context or the Costa Rica context?
            Sounds nice though!

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Yeah it’s kind of a banana that’s good on the grill.

          • Tassiebush

            Mate check out the huge catch in this article. It’s the sword fish that have recently arrived. They reckon one was 370kg or 815lbs in your measurements. http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-16/massive-swordfish-caught-off-tasmania/7331238

          • TheNotoriousIUD
          • Tassiebush

            That’s a very impressive catch!

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Took me an hour to get him in. I’d fight him and wear him down and as soon as he saw the boat he’d run out another hundred yards. I was on the edge of just dropping the pole but I knew my dad would never let me live it down.

          • Tassiebush

            It’d be hard to fight one that size let alone the record one in the article. Lots of snapped line stories. I know the local game fishing guys are enjoying their battles. I was talking to one a few days back. He had been fishing for calamari squid just for bait. They would be smart fish with a big appetite and lots of power. The local fishing scene has mostly been southern bluefin tuna focused (a bit iffy sustainability wise but commercial fishing is biggest problem. They’re at something like only 3% of virg1n biomass) until recently but they’re really lucky to have these sword species turning up now.

          • Tassiebush

            Nice cat BTW. Looks like it knows what it wants.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            I like em.
            Could never shoot one.

          • Tassiebush

            I’d do it out of responsibility here as wild cats are feral and very destructive. Probably the biggest land based threat to native species in my state. I’d feel guilty for failing to do it. But I like cats apart from an unfortunate allergy.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Yeah back home we had coyotes and bobcats but that’s not trophy hunting.

          • Tassiebush

            We’ve got these cheeky ba$tards in abundance. This one was enjoying some apples about 3 minutes ago

          • Tassiebush
          • Tassiebush
          • TheNotoriousIUD

            What the heck is that?

          • Tassiebush

            That’s a Pademelon. It’s the smaller wallaby species here in Tasmania.

          • Tassiebush

            BTW I put up some pictures of a brushtail possum too. They finally uploaded after a few tries.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Vicious killers, looks like.

          • Tassiebush

            Well let’s just say if you were scared of the dark their mating calls don’t help and if you really love a fruit tree they’ll break your heart.

          • Tassiebush

            Here’s a dangerous book that dangles the temptation of leaving your job and living on the water in front of you. It sorta removes the fiscal barrier. http://www.tillerbooks.com/Voyaging_On_A_Small_Income.php

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            It’s an awesome place. Cheap, beautiful friendly people. Wish I could move there. Surfings great.

          • Sir TuberKopf

            Jus got back from the Caribian, took my favorite nephew and his wild about fishing son an a carter to where the big ones roam. The little guy caught a three foot tarpin that was as long as he was tall. That sucker was leaping 2 feet out of the water. My nephew caught a 30 pound tuna. I caught a 5 foot black tip shark. We bagged a couple dozen fish and took home the best for a family meal that was out of this world. Fresh yellow tail, three hours onto the grill doesn’t even taste like fish, incredible.

            The captain took care of Charlie tuna, we figure a local restaurant had a very pricey fresh tuna special that knight.

            The shark was a 30 minute fight, I was exhausted, King fish also are a killer fight to pull in.

            Wish I had a Barret along to finish that damn shark though, what a beast.

          • TheNotoriousIUD
          • Sir TuberKopf

            Sweet

          • Tassiebush
          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Bet those prawns are good on the grill with your steak.

          • Tassiebush

            They really are. I like to use them in a sauce with scallops.

          • Giolli Joker

            Apparently you have time to watch Discovery and History Channels… 🙂

          • Tassiebush

            I’ve learned most of what I know about the citizens of the United States through reality TV… :-p

      • Adam

        Machinists make a good deal above minimum wage.

      • Porty1119

        You’d be surprised at machinists’ incomes, I’ll tell ya that much.

        • Depends what you define as “machinists”. Manual guys have crap wages whereas the CNC 4/5-axis programmer are making some real paper $$$.

      • Kelly Jackson

        Somehow I doubt a machinist is making “near minimum wage”. All of your
        posts sound like an angry 12 year old raging between COD matches, but my sensibilities tell me you’re in your 20s which makes your posts that much more depressing.

      • Kelly Jackson

        This is a great example of your nonsense posts.

        A .22 pellet rifle can approach 30 ft/lbs of energy compared to a minimum of 108 ft/lbs in a .22 long. The fact you think this is even remotely comparable is mind boggling.

    • “My job blows” There is a way to blow off your job…

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        I’ve contemplated it.

    • Budogunner

      Sounds stupid, but it’s a start. Google MIT App Inventor. It is literally made so simple middle school kids can develop mobile apps. However, bosses and prospective bosses don’t have to know that. Who out an app that automates a process and sages them thousands in a weekend and you have a stronger position to negotiate salary/wage from.

      Never underestimate yourself. If you are willing to study you can be what you want to be. At that point, the studying feels more like leveling up and fun than homework. Doing a little bit to make yourself more marketable goes a long way.

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        Thanks for the tip ill check it out.
        And right now im currently in community college taking basic courses then transferring to University of Houston.

  • Sam

    Heck, with 50BMG you don’t sub MOA any hit any wear on a enemy will blow him in two. Tell these net pickers to dose of reality

    • FarmerB

      Really? You have to hit them first. I don’t find an M107 accurate enough to be effective at distances where the round is still very capable.

  • makeintosch

    Why did Barrett choose short recoil for his rifle?
    Wouldn’t a gas operated system with a stationary barrel be a simpler way for a good accuracy?

    • 2wheels

      Might have something to do with reducing recoil, but I’m not sure on that.

    • NDS

      Definitely for recoil management and reliability. The recoil from a bolt .50 (and .338 for that matter) are WAY harsher

      • MPWS

        You are correct; because of accelerator imposed between bolt group and barrel, there is momentum transfer which would otherwise hit your shoulder. For practical purposes (anti-material use) the rifle is plenty good.
        Above all, every design is a compromise; there in no way around it.

  • iksnilol

    Sub MOA from a firearm with a moving barrel?

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Ira

      I believe the bullet leaves the barrel long before the barrel starts moving. You should see how much free float AR barrels wiggle around when you fire them, and yet they can produce sub moa groups.

      • iksnilol

        Yeah, there’s a difference between the barrel being free floating and allowed to wiggle and the entire mechanism moving the barrel. In the latter case the barrel isn’t going to be back in the exact same position and whatnot.

        So yes, it does matter. Just take something like a Makarov in 380 and a short recoil pistol in 380 (something like a Browning 1911-380) and fire them both from a rest and you’ll see the difference.

      • Tassiebush

        The difference is that the Barrett barrel moves independent of the receiver and scope whereas the AR15 barrel and sights/scope are held together as a solid unit.

    • Tassiebush

      If you think about it the challenge is to make the barrel return to position as consistently as possible. Good quality control between the bushing and barrel to keep things very square and a way to ensure the barrel aligns back on the exact same spot would do lots to help. I imagine for the latter something like a male V shape projection and matching female space could be one way to do it. No idea how they actually do it.

      • iksnilol

        Yup, you got it right. I dunno about the V shape projection. I was thinking more along the issue of moving barrels in general.

        Nothing wrong with moving barrels tho, just you shouldn’t expect sub MOA form them.

  • 2wheels

    We’ve got one sitting in our armory, pretty cool toy. Only been able to get it out to a range one time though.
    The recoil is far less than you might expect, but dat muzzle blast do… You definitely don’t want to be standing off to the side of the gun.

    • ChierDuChien

      They should make one with a 7.5″ barrel to open doors.

      • Porty1119

        What door?

        • DZ

          All the doors.

    • FarmerB

      You should try spotting when the barrel is only 17″ long!

  • Lee Attiny

    Screw the rifle, I want that CNC machine. That thing is awesome. I’d use it to make copies of keys for people at Home Depot.

    • USMC03Vet

      In OD Green?

      XD

  • Amanofdragons

    One of my favorite things about Barrett is their morals. They refuse to sell any 50 to California law enforcement due to the fact civilians can’t own them.

    • Porty1119

      I would love for more companies to adopt this policy. LE sales are such a small part of most rifle manufacturers’ businesses that it would have next to no effect on the bottom line. Unconstitutional laws do not truly become real to politicians until the laws start impacting governmental bodies.

  • J. gM

    A bit unrelated, but …

    What is it about the three-decimal calibers ? The .338 could not be a .340 ? A .416 a .420 ?

    Next time you talk with Accuracy International maybe you could ask therm.

    • iksnilol

      Didn’t you mean why can’t a .338 be a .34 or a .416 be a .42?

      I think it is to be more precise in regards to the bullet diameter. If a system like you proposed was used then you’d have everything from .335 to .340 be listed as .34.

      Which would cause accuracy issues to say the least.

      • NDS

        Accuracy issues in the .335, blown up face in the .34 lol

        • iksnilol

          Doubt it’d blow up, unless you had no throat.

          .311 bullets work fine in .308 bores. Might cause slightly faster wear but that can be compensated for with less pressure (which I do anyways to preserva brass)

    • NDS

      The diameter of the bullet is 0.338″, two thousandths (.34″) is a lot. If you were to shoot 0.311″ (7.62×39) diameter bullets in an imperial .308 barrel, you will potentially have a bad day.

      Some are just named for commercial reasons, like the .38 Special actually being 0.357″ and the .300 Win Mag being 0.308″

      • iksnilol

        Nah, .311 in .308 barrel works fine if you have a throat. + you can use a resizer die, though I don’t really think it is necessary except if the barrel in question is a super target barrel with no throat.

  • DanGoodShot

    I love the Barrett. I finally got a chance to fire one at my range a couple weeks ago. If anyone has one that needs a good loving home, where it would get plenty of attention and plenty of room to roam. I’ll be happy to take it off your hands! lol.