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New: Research Note 7: Anti-Materiel Rifles

Designed primarily to engage and neutralize targets at distances well beyond a kilometre (half a mile), anti-materiel rifles are also used for anti-personnel purposes. The effective range for 12.7 mm and 14.5 mm anti-materiel rifles is 1,000–2,000 m: at the upper threshold this at least three times the effective range of a purpose-built 7.62 mm sniper rifle.

Research Note 7 from the Small Arms Survey provides a concise overview of anti-materiel rifles, which were first developed during the First World War in response to the Allied introduction of the tank in 1917. The early ‘T’ Gewehr anti-tank rifle fired a 13 mm cartridge that was designed to defeat the relatively thin armour of early tanks. Man-portable for use in the trenches, the design was based on the bolt-action design of the much smaller Mauser rifle.

Development of the ‘anti-tank rifle’ continued between the two World Wars, but they proved ineffective against the better-protected armoured vehicles of the Second World War. The now obsolescent antitank rifle remained in limited service, sometimes in a counter-sniper role where its greater barrier defeating abilities over the standard infantry rifle made it an ideal choice, and then largely disappeared after 1945.

In 1982 the Barrett M82 12.7 mm self-loading anti-materiel rifle was released. No longer designed to engage tanks, and benefiting from advances in ballistics, design improvements, and more effective bullets, this proved to be a much more portable weapon capable of directly engaging a variety of targets with significantly less collateral damage than larger and more destructive weapon systems. Today, more than a dozen countries produce anti-materiel rifles, and dozens more have procured them.

The 12.7 mm rifle is also popular with civilians in several countries and numerous non-military versions are being produced to meet this demand. In the United States alone, more than 20 companies manufacture 12.7 mm calibre rifles.

Non-state armed groups have also shown an interest in acquiring these weapons, and several have succeeded– including the Irish Republican Army, the Kosovo Liberation Army, and drug cartels in Mexico.



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