One company totally dominates the .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG) market—Barrett Firearms Manufacturing. With sales to virtually every United States military service and to more than 40 countries worldwide, no other manufacturer even comes close to Barrett. The U.S. Army is buying Barrett M82A3 rifles that it designates the M107 by the thousands. The Marine Corps has been using Barrett M82s since the early 1990s and continues to buy them in the M82A3 configuration.
We first fired a Barrett M82 at Quantico more than 10 years ago and were amazed when we were able to hit a 2-by-3-foot target at 2,000 meters four out of five times using military API ammo. That is more than a mile! Our first shot missed, but after applying a little “Kentucky windage,” the rest were right on target. We were easily able to see our hits because the API rounds gave a distinct flash as the incendiary compound ignited.
Anyone who contends that Barrett rifles in any version aren’t accurate just doesn’t want to understand. A Barrett Model 99 held the world’s record for accuracy from a production .50 BMG rifle for years and may still. Our personal Barrett M99 is sub half minute of angle accurate out to 1,000 yards, and every Barrett rifle we have ever fired delivers remarkable accuracy.
Ronnie Barrett is never one to rest on his laurels, and he is also a true American patriot who responds to our military and law enforcement with enthusiasm. So when the U.S. Coast Guard came to Ronnie with a requirement, the company responded very quickly with what Barrett has designated the M82CQ (close quarters), actually a carbine version of the M82A3 with some modifications.
The Coast Guard needed a .50 BMG rifle for drug interdiction where Coast Guard cutters had to deliver accurate fire to stop high-speed drug runners dead in the water, but the full-size M82 was difficult to handle in small boats, and tracking fast-moving targets with the larger rifle was also problematic.
In addition, the standard M82 finish wasn’t conducive to marine operations in a saltwater environment. Anyone who has ever lived near the coast can tell you that standard phosphated steel doesn’t last very long—the salt moisture in the air is itself corrosive, and when salt spray is added to the mix, rust comes very quickly. When faced with these problems, Barrett responded by first developing a carbine version of the M82, which as we have noted has been designated M82CQ.
But the shorter barrel wasn’t the only change—the 20.6-inch barrel is lined fully in chrome, and the CQ is finished in Lauer DuraCoat®, which is impervious to corrosion and extremely durable. The muzzle brake was modified slightly. Because the M82CQ was developed for marine operations, corrosion protection was one of the foremost goals of the Barrett design team.
In addition, the M82CQ is fitted with flip-up backup iron sights. The shorter design of the M82CQ also has attracted attention from law enforcement, and the rifle has been adopted by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). In fact, the compact M82 should prove attractive to just about any law enforcement agency that has a requirement for a .50 BMG rifle.
Most law enforcement agencies are concerned with their public image. To some, a rifle in .50 BMG caliber might be considered the ultimate in overkill, but nothing could be further from the truth. If it becomes necessary to immobilize a vehicle, a .50 BMG round in the engine block will probably shut it down quickly. If it is necessary to breach barriers, a .50 BMG will penetrate most commercial “hard targets” like brick walls and concrete blocks.
Remember that the original Barrett M82A1 was used by the military as an anti-material rifle to take out parked aircraft, radars and vehicles. The role of subsequent versions of the big rifles haven’t changed appreciably—they continue to be used to defeat material and equipment by both military and law enforcement, although there have been occasional instances of their use as very long-range sniper rifles.
A Barrett rifle holds the world’s record as the longest recorded and verified sniper kill at just over 2,500 meters, but the primary mission of .50 BMG rifles is as an anti-material rifle. Some will also contend that a semiautomatic .50 BMG isn’t really necessary, but when one considers that a quick follow-up shot may be needed to reliably disable a vehicle, boat or aircraft on the ground, a semiautomatic rifle is to be preferred over any other, which is why the military buys Barrett’s semiauto rifles exclusively.
Whether an agency chooses a manually operated Barrett such as the magazine-fed M95 or the single-shot M99, when a situation arises that calls for a .50, running to the local gun shop isn’t going to fill the need. Unlike .223 Rem and .308 Win caliber rifles, .50 BMG rifles aren’t in the gun racks of most gun stores, nor is .50 BMG ammunition. Just as critical, whoever in the department is designated as the .50 BMG rifleman must be familiar with the rifle’s capabilities and limitations, ballistics and know the situations appropriate for its use.
Another factor in the use of a .50 BMG rifle is ammunition. Commonly available ammunition includes ball, armor piercing (AP), armor piercing incendiary (API), armor piercing Anthena match and match grade ball ammunition intended for long-range shooting. Of the military issue ammo, API is commonly considered to be the most accurate, although if used operationally, the incendiary effect must be taken into consideration.
The Army will soon begin acquiring a match grade round for its M107 rifles. This precision round is designated the XM1022 and is produced by Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. The design is essentially that of the Anthena armor-piercing ammunition tested for this article, but without the armor-piercing penetrator. For most law enforcement situations, we recommend match grade ammunition that will defeat hard targets.
For really tough targets, Anthena AP match ammunition imported by Drake Associates probably represents the best balance of accuracy and terminal effects. We have fired Anthena cartridges against 1-inch-thick armor steel at 300 meters distance. Not only did the rounds penetrate with enough behind armor effect to be lethal, but the three-round group we fired could be covered with the palm of the hand. Two rounds were actually touching.
The Anthena AP has been ordered in large quantities (more than 5,000 rounds) by a major U.S. police department for harbor protection and is in use by several federal law enforcement agencies. Because of its inherent accuracy and proven penetration abilities, we recommend Anthena match armor-piercing ammunition as a standard law enforcement .50 BMG round. That said, Barrett test fires their rifles using military M33 ball but unlike civilian law enforcement, most military users do not have the liability issues inherent in failing to use the most accurate ammunition available for their.50 BMG rifles.
We believe the Barrett CQ is almost perfect for any law enforcement agency for a number of reasons. It is somewhat lighter than the standard M82A3. Thanks to its shorter barrel, the M82CQ is better suited to urban operations where engagement distances will rarely be more than 100 yards and a more compact rifle is easier to maneuver in close quarters, hence the “CQ” name. Another benefit of the shorter barrel is slightly reduced felt recoil.
At first, we were somewhat surprised when we were advised of this fact, but the M82 is recoil operated, which means that the barrel moves backward in the receiver. Since the rearward movement is shorter in the M82CQ and the mass of the moving parts is less, there is less time for the lighter weight barrel, bolt and breech assembly to build momentum, so felt recoil is less than the full length M82A1/A3.
The M82CQ also has a full-length MIL-STD-1913 rail mount atop the receiver for optics and accessories. Law enforcement and military operations are now just as likely to be in hours of darkness as daylight, and for that reason, any small arm with any tactical pretension at all must have a rail like the M82CQ to accommodate both day and night vision optics. Any agency that does not have state-of-the-art night vision optics is operating at a distinct disadvantage.
The M82CQ is factory equipped with a Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x50mm scope with Army MIL-DOT reticle. Army MIL-DOTs are baseball shaped, while Marine Corps MIL-DOTs are football-shaped ovals. The concept behind both is virtually identical, but due to their different shapes, specific details as to their use are different. This scope was designed for tactical long-range shooting, but for the CQ, it is equally well-suited for short to medium-range interdiction.
The windage and elevation knobs have 0.25 minute of angle (MOA) clicks that move the strike of the bullet 1 inch at 100 yards, 2 inches at 200 yards, etc. A side focus parallax knob enables the shooter to eliminate parallax without changing his position. The 30mm main tube is made from 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum. The scope is waterproof and comes with Butler Creek lens covers to protect the lens from dirt and debris. The scope performed superbly with crystal clear images and zero distortion. Adjustment clicks were precise and enabled us to adjust the strike of different types of ammunition with ease and precision.
Shooting the latest Barrett product was all that we have come to expect from the first manufacturer of .50 BMG rifles. It was both accurate and reliable. We test fired the M82CQ at 150 yards, not because the rifle isn’t capable of long-range engagements, but because this range or even shorter is that at which the M82CQ will most often be used. The M82CQ is not as accurate as our single-shot M99, but this isn’t a criticism.
Semiautomatic rifles aren’t expected to equal the accuracy of bolt guns. The M82CQ did, however, deliver excellent accuracy. The best overall group was Anthena AP match with a group that measured 1.25 inches center to center of the fat half-inch bullet holes. Mullins match did almost as well, had it not been for a single flyer that expanded the group to just over 2 inches. Summit also grouped at about 2 inches.
There was considerable muzzle blast as was expected from what is essentially a .50 BMG carbine firing ammunition designed to be fired from a much longer barrel. The propellant isn’t entirely consumed in the short barrel and continues to burn after the bullet exits the muzzle, hence the fireball. Like other Barrett .50 BMG rifles, the muzzle brake does a good job of attenuating felt recoil, but one doesn’t want to be alongside the big rifle when the shooter touches off a round.
In fact, the best place to be is well behind the rifle so that like the shooter, blast from the brake is deflected to the side. Actual felt recoil is similar to that of a 12-gauge shotgun. The M82CQ’s two-stage trigger broke crisply at 6 pounds after a short take-up and a distinct amount of creep. There was no discernable backlash. We didn’t chronograph the M82CQ because of concern about damage to our chronograph from the big 50s muzzle blast.
Barrett Firearms has once again redefined its classic M82 into a rifle for military and law enforcement use for operations in urban areas and other terrain where shorter range engagements are the order of the day. Further, the new envelope is more in keeping with convoy and vehicle operations in the war on terrorism, where the rifle will be required to be deployed from vehicles and in relatively close quarters where the standard M82A3 would be at a disadvantage.
The same is true for marine operations, where police and other maritime agencies may be required to interdict a drug-running small craft. The bottom line is that whatever .50 BMG rifle mission is envisioned, Barrett has an answer.
Charlie Cutshaw is a small arms, ammunition and infantry weapons editor for Jane’s Defense Information. He served as an Army infantry, ammunition and intelligence officer before retiring in 1996. His military assignments included a tour of duty in Vietnam as an adviser. He currently lives in Alabama, where he is a full-time writer and reserve officer. He can be reached at CQCutshaw@aol.com.