by Stanton L. Wormley Jr. - Saturday, May 09, 2009
It's hard to believe that more than a quarter-century has passed since a young engineer and shooting enthusiast named Ronnie Barrett unveiled the rifle that became known worldwide as the Barrett Model 82. At the time, it may have seemed that there wouldn't be much of a market for a semi-automatic rifle in .50 BMG. But Barrett's design, which combined simplicity, reliability, low recoil, reasonable weight and ease of manufacture, proved to be such a radical evolutionary leap forward that the military soon found it indispensable. Used for unexploded ordnance disposal, mine clearing, and anti-material and anti-personnel engagement at long range, the M107, as it is now designated, has become one of the most iconic rifles of the 20th century.
Barrett's rifles also found a home in long-range target matches. Barrett Firearms has evolved into one of the best-known marques among contemporary American gunmakers, with models in .50 BMG, 6.8 SPC and its proprietary .416 Barrett cartridge. Yet, just as in 1982, Barrett is once again poised to push the envelope-this time, with the Model 98B, a novel turnbolt rifle in the increasingly popular .338 Lapua Mag. The advantages of the .338 Lapua Mag.--flat trajectory (thanks to the availability of high-ballistic coefficient bullets), excellent accuracy at long range and high striking energy--have made it popular among military, law-enforcement and precision shooters.
So impressive was the potential of .338-caliber cartridges that in 2008 the United States Marine Corps announced its interest in acquiring a new long-range rifle in that caliber. Although the .338 Lapua Mag. was not specifically mentioned, it has been around since 1987 and many foreign militaries have adopted it, making it the frontrunner for selection by the Corps. Among the Marines' desired characteristics for the new .338 rifle are said to be modular design, light weight, reasonable length, the capability for in-line mounting of night-vision devices with optical scopes, and provisions for both a folding stock and a quick-change barrel. Although its development actually began years ago, the Model 98B meets virtually all these criteria.
Barrett engineers started with a clean sheet of paper in 1997. The goal was to develop a precision .338 Lapua rifle suitable for tactical use that was not a derivative of any sporting arm. An initial semi-automatic design, the Model 98 was unveiled at the 1998 SHOT Show, but failed to reach full production. The idea of a .338-cal. rifle was never abandoned, however. In recent years, lead designer Chris Barrett-son of the company’s founder-spearheaded its revival.
According to Barrett, the Model 98B was purpose-built to withstand adverse conditions, to be easily adaptable to any mission using the appropriate accessories, and to take advantage of the ergonomic user interfaces (such as the rotating thumb safety, pistol grip, and so forth) familiar to contemporary soldiers.
Even before the release of the USMC requirements, Barrett engineers were already thinking of military use for the new rifle, and drawing upon the lessons learned during fielding of the M107. The new rifle departs from the century-old two-lug, steel-receiver Mauser turnbolt pattern in almost every way. Inspired by Eugene Stoner’s groundbreaking AR-15/M16 design, Barrett had the Model 98B comprised of aluminum upper and lower receivers hinged at the front. The former houses the bolt and barrel, while the latter contains the trigger mechanism and forms the buttstock and pistol grip mounting point.
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