The M24 Sniper Rifle Takes Shape
Refinements to the M24 continued through 1986 and 1987, at which time the Army got completely involved in the program. The internal debate over cartridge chambering at this stage in the game had been narrowed down to the 7.62 NATO or .300 Win. Mag.; the big .338s were off the table, because shooters voiced concerns over excessive recoil. The Army settled on the 7.62, but those closest to the program made sure to keep the long action for future re-chambering to .300 Win. Mag., when logistics over ammunition could be worked out. It is unknown how many M24s are chambered in .300 Win. Mag.
Before final approval, the guns needed to be evaluated under field stress, so the Army Special Operations devised a competition, in the summer of 1987, to put M24 contenders from two prospective commercial suppliers, Steyr and Remington, to the test. Both were excellent samples of the platform, but the Steyr’s cold hammer-forged barrel reportedly began to shift point of impact, as things heated up. The stock also warped. By contrast, the Remington shot consistently, making the decision an easy one. By the end of 1988, the Army had its sniper rifle, and instructors at SOTIC had a gun for their program. Remington would continue to supply Big Army with the new M24s through February 2010, ultimately producing 2,500 rifles over the life of the contract.
Five years before Remington’s fulfillment came to an end, Knight’s Armament Company had been awarded an Army contract to replace the M24 with its M110, a semi-automatic weapons system. That change had been influenced by Special Forces snipers operating, since 2001, in the Middle East. The advantage of the long-range semi-auto option quickly gained popularity with soldiers and, in 2008, the first Army unit went into battle, in Afghanistan, armed with M110s. Still, the fate of the M24 wasn't completely doomed, because the military finally came back around to the idea of the Remington 700 long action upon which it was built and the excellent .300 Win. Mag. cartridge. This line of thinking was also influenced by Middle East operations, where the .300 Win. Mag. was providing sniper teams a much more suitable gun at the 1,200-yard range, yet with the 1 MOA or better accuracy of the M24 platform (as opposed to the .50 BMG and its 2.5 MOA accuracy).
Not unlike the international popularity of the prolific Mauser 98, albeit on a much smaller scale, other countries took notice of the M24. The Afghan military and at least seven other countries, including Iraq, Brazil, Georgia, and Japan, now use the rifle, and various police agencies and S.W.A.T. teams in the U.S. have adopted the once military-only gun for domestic law enforcement operations.
The Ever-Evolving M24
The military’s shifting doctrine are the winds of change that continue to shape the M24 and its role in the field to this day. The classic design approved in 1988 is still available from Remington and is in use by the military in more or less its original configuration. But variants have also crept into the picture in the M24A1, M24A2, and M24E1/XM2010.
The M24A1 and M24A2 are basically refined versions of the original, with a slightly different M40XB-style stock, detachable five-round magazine, modular accessory rail (for night vision), and a suppressor. The A1 is a 7.62 NATO gun, the A2 the .300 Win. Mag. version, and both are outfitted with Leupold’s Mark 4 M3 LR/T 3.5-10x variable scope.
The M24E1, or XM2010, is an entirely different animal. It bears nary a resemblance to the M24 designed by the SOTIC back at Fort Bragg in the late ’80s. It is indeed chambered for .300 Win. Mag., making it an effective 1,000-yard-plus weapon. Its 10-inch suppressor is said to reduce muzzle flash by 98 percent, recoil by 60 percent, and sound by 32 percent. The Remington Arms Chassis System (RACS) is a space-age looking thing, the ultimate adjustable folding stock. Like the M24A2, it has a detachable magazine, but its optics are actually more robust; the gun is outfitted with the Leupold 6.5-20x50mm variable-power first focal plane scope. An estimated 3,600 elite XM2010s were to be created, either from upgraded M24s or newly produced.