Afterwar: Year 0
M21 and M25 Sniper Rifles
The M-21 began life as the M-14 National Match Rifle, a weapon based on a modified M-14 battle rifle to be used for competition shooting by soldiers. The potential as a sniper weapon quickly became obvious, and further modifications resulted in the M-21. The M-24 is basically an M-14 that has been reworked by Springfield Armory (the original manufacturers of the M-14) and the US Army to be highly accurized, with a match barrel, a walnut stock impregnated with glass resin to resist warping, a reworked, smoother action, and of course, a mount for a telescopic sight or night vision sight. For almost 30 years, the M-21 was the standard US Army sniper rifle; the Marines also made use of small numbers of them. The M-21 was largely replaced by the M-24 starting in 1988.
The M-21, despite the long length of its use, had a number of limitations: the scope mount could take only a limited number of sights, the mount itself tended to be easily knocked out of alignment, it was not issued with a bipod (requiring one to be added later), and the work required to build and maintain an M-21 was expensive and time-consuming. The M-21 could also be a real bear to zero, though this is primarily due to the design of the scope issued with the M-21. In addition, semiautomatic sniper rifles are generally not as accurate as bolt-action rifles. There were a number of differences between M-14s and M-21s, even though at first glance they look the same. They are, as noted above, accurized and reworked for extra accuracy. Barrels were typically made especially for the M-21, and the barrel is a National Match-quality barrel. The steel stock liner used on the M-14 was not used on the M-21, as the liner was an adaptation to strengthen the stock for use with rifle grenades. M-21 barrels have better bedding than the M-14, and the action is also more solidly-mounted in the M-21. The gas block is different, being “unitized,” as again firing rifle grenades from an M-21 is not required, and the modified gas block makes the M-21 more accurate. The interior surfaces of the flash suppressor are reamed out slightly more than on an M-14. The front sight blade is narrower on an M-21, and the rear iron sight is twice as adjustable.
However, starting in Panama in 1989, it became increasingly apparent that a sniper team’s spotter needed a better weapon than the M-16A2s with low-power scopes that they used at the time; the spotter needed a weapon with greater close to medium-range firepower than the bolt-action M-24, but one that is still useable as a sniper rifle when necessary. Springfield responded with the M-21 Tactical Rifle. This version of the M-21 uses essentially the same glass resin-impregnated walnut stock as the old M-21, but this stock is modified to have an adjustable cheekpiece and a rubber recoil pad. The barrel is still match-quality, but is heavier than that of the original M-21, and are built by Douglas, Hart, or Krieger. They are made of stainless steel with a matte anticorrosion finish and are 22 inches long and tipped with the standard M-21 flash suppressor. The trigger is a two-stage model. A Harris lightweight bipod adjustable for height and cant have been added. The M-21 Tactical Rifle uses the Springfield Third Generation scope mount (designed to be able to mount all US Army, most US military (or other branches), and most NATO-compatible optics. The telescopic sight provided with the M-21 Tactical Rifle is the Springfield Government Model 4-14x scope. Some M-21s fielded in Iraq and Afghanistan give the M-21 a MIL-STD-1913 rail, though this places the scope in a more forward position due to the M-21’s design and most snipers don’t appreciate that. Some are equipped with the MARS rail, which further increases the flexibility with night vision optics, but places the sights higher than most snipers like, as they must hold their head off the stock of the rifle instead of getting a good cheek weld. (If equipped with a MIL-STD-1913 rail; add 1% to the cost and 0.01 kg to the weight.)
In addition, large amounts of standard M-21s were taken out of storage and used in Afghanistan; some are still being used there, though they are being rebuilt as fast as possible to the Tactical Rifle standard. Those in service today often sport MIL-STD-1913 rails for optics as well as bipods, though loosening of the sight base screws is still a problem. After the Army’s experiences with long range firefights in Afghanistan, there was a considerable movement in the US Army to rebuild some M-21 Tacticals to be chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum, but the project, christened the M-21E, was only considered an interim solution as the Army searched for a self loading rifle to fill the gap between the M21 and the M82. The M-21 at the outbreak of the Hotwar was considered an interim solution to the shortage of sniper rifles and longer-range marksman’s rifles, and it was regarded as being near the end of its service life, however most of the ones in arms rooms ended up being issued to regular units in Europe or militia’s in the States, and many M14NMs and civilian M1As where rebuilt to the M21 standard to satisfy the demand for precision rifle fires.
The M-25 is a limited-production sniper weapon produced for US Army Special Forces and Navy SEALS; it was actually developed by Springfield with the help of notes provided by the estate of the late Carlos Hathcock, perhaps the best sniper the US Marines have ever produced. It is basically an M-21 sniper rifle revised to a new standard, and was at first called the “Product Improved M-21, or M-21 PIP.” The weapon uses a Krieger heavy match-grade 22-inch barrel tipped by a low-profile yet efficient muzzle brake designed by Hathcock before his death. This muzzle brake can be removed, revealing threads which allow the attachment of most silencers and suppressors used by SOCOM. The trigger is a match-quality trigger adjustable for pull weight and overtravel. The stock is a specially-made McMillan stock, again designed using Hathcock’s notes; this stock is built of Kevlar-reinforced fiberglass, and has a rather unusual shape with a very low buttstock body and a semi-pistol grip. Atop the buttstock’s body is comb with a highly-adjustable cheekpiece (adjustable both vertically and for position along the stock). The buttplate is padded and is adjustable for length of pull, height, and angle. The M-25 uses a special gas piston which increases the reliability of the weapon while also reducing recoil somewhat. The M-25 has no iron sights, but it is equipped with a MIL-STD-1913 rail for universal mounting of optics. (Reputedly the standard scope for the M-25 is a 10x Bausch and Lomb of unspecified type, but SOCOM troops could and probably do mount whatever works best for the sniper and in the situation at the time.) The M-25 is equipped with a Harris-type bipod adjustable for height and cant.
The M-25 is not any sort of replacement for the M-24; it is made for a specific requirement for a light, high-capacity semiautomatic sniper rifle for SOCOM. The first prototype M-25s (at that time called “XM-25”) were first used during Desert Storm, and they have seen a lot of use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and who knows where else. It should also be noted that in many cases, the M-25 has been supplanted by the newer Stoner SR-25.
Recently, the M-25 has also been sold in a modified form on the civilian market; in this guise, the M-25 is more commonly known as the White Feather (an homage to Carlos Hathcock’s trademark symbol). The civilian version uses a different muzzle brake, and the stock is somewhat different in that it is not so minutely adjustable. Iron sights are available at the buyer’s option. They are normally sold only with 10-round magazines, but can accept 20-round M-14/M-21 magazines. However, the White Feather also has something the military M-25 does not have – a signature block bearing Hathcock’s White Feather symbol and a facsimile of his signature.
|M-21||7.62mm NATO||5.11 kg||10, 20||$1248|
|M-21 Tactical||7.62mm NATO||5.26 kg||10, 20||$1801|
|M-25||7.62mm NATO||5.76 kg||10, 20||$2087|
|M-21E||.300 Win. Mag.||5.73 kg||10||$2044|