CMP XM-3 Sniper Rifle


The CMP is auctioning of an XM-3 sniper rifle.

Up for auction is a DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECT AGENCY (DARPA) XM-3 Sniper Rifle used by the United States Marine Corps. In mid-2005, DARPA worked with Lt. Col. Norm Chandler’s Iron Brigade Armory (IBA) to field items to expeditionary units in Afghanistan.  Since they already had a great working relationship, DARPA contracted IBA to build and test lightweight sniper rifles that incorporated the improvements the snipers desired in combat.  The mission was to be lighter and smaller than the existing M40s, while having better accuracy, clip-on night vision that did not require re-zero, better optics, and better stock, and it had to be suppressed. The barrel had to be short enough to allow maneuverability yet long enough to deliver a 10” group at 1,000 yards. If the barrel was too heavy, maneuverability would decrease, yet if the barrel was too light it would only be able to shoot a few rounds before the groups started to shift due to barrel temperature. IBA tested a number of barrel lengths, ranging from 16 to 20 inches and in different contours. Each rifle with a different length was assigned an XM designator starting with XM1 through XM3. In each case, everything on the prototype rifles was kept the same except the barrel. During the final phases of testing it was found that the 18” barrels had no issues keeping up with their longer 20” brethren. The final barrel length was set at 18.5”, and the contour was a modified #7. The straight taper on the barrel was only 2” vs. 4” and the overall diameter at the muzzle was .85” vs. .980”. This helped reduce a lot of the rifle’s weight while not negatively affecting accuracy or effective range. A number of the groups at 1,000 yards were <1 MOA.

The Marines of I-MEF were the first to field test the rifles at Camp Pendleton. Shortly after I-MEF took receipt of the XM-3s, the first units in II-MEF took receipt of theirs.  By mid-2006 there were dozens of XM-3s in Iraq.  There were 52 XM-3s made.

The Chandler brother wrote a pretty detailed article about the XM3 in an issue of Precision Shooting Magazine that I have around here some where. They used the most well proven and toughest components they could find at that time. To make the gun stronger , they even developed it as a single shot bolt action, There is now internal or detachable magazine and no provision to add one. It was a big hit with users at the time. But it didn’t take long to realize it was not that great of an idea for sniping on the modern battlefield.


  1. Beside the lack of a magazine it seems like a really slick set up. Was it a Remington or clone receiver? or something different?

  2. Quite frankly, I don’t see the point here. What did this rifle allow a sniper to do that snipers couldn’t already do? If I true up a 1903A3 action and put a modern Krieger or Bartlein barrel on it, I could get the same results, 80 years after they were first made.

    I keep seeing the US military chasing toys of ever-increasing cost, but I, as a taxpayer, keep getting less and less results.

    Show me a city that looks like Dresden in March 1945 and I’ll continue paying for this stuff. Otherwise, it’s time to for them to learn to make do.

    • apparently no one else so the point to it either. sure it was accurate at tough but so is the M40A3 and A5. It had a shorter barrel for using a suppressor and keeping it short, but big deal. turned out that wasnt really needed in the urban sniping of Iraq. It never went anywhere. I guess it was one of those times they developed something just to see if some possible improvements were spun off from it.

    • Look on the bright side, DG: You could buy billions or trillions of boondoggles like this rifle for the price of the F-35 Thunderjug program.

      • Let’s see, a F-35 is about $120 mil/each. If we price each copy of a rifle at $8K, it means we could get 15,000 of them.

        This is why I go on these rants: Add $1K to the price of a rifle like this (for some boondoggle feature) and order 1,000 copies and that’s a $mil right there.

        This is why I like to instruct people to go back and read up on the history of the 1903A3 rifle. The Department of War looked at the cost per rifle and said “There’s no way we can get enough guns made if we’re spending that much on each rifle!” and they asked Remington “How can we get the cost down?”

        Remington went off, thought about it rather briefly, and came back with a very rapid cost-reduction program:
        – get rid of the forged/machined bottom metal and go to a stamped sheet metal w/ spot welding bottom metal
        – go from a 4-groove rifling in the barrel to two-groove rifling. There was BIG push-back on this; many people thought that going to 2-groove rifling would “ruin the accuracy” of the 1903. In fact, the two-groove barrels group slightly tighter than the 4-groove barrels. I have a ’03 and a ’03A3. The A3 does shoot the same ammo tighter than the pre-WWII 03 – like less than 0.25″ at 100 yards. But over enough groups, you see the average is better on the A3.
        – Got rid of the ladder sight, went to a simple peep rear
        – some cost reduction to the bolt manufacturing

        Ta-da. Bolt action rifles made more cheaply.

        We see this trend towards making large-scale light arms more economical right up through the 1980’s, and then suddenly, the DOD decides “No toy is too useless, no rifle is too gimicky, no price is too high” for light arms. And we taxpayers have been paying for this BS ever since.

        • I’ve been musing on defense procurement lately.

          It seems like .mil is gravitating towards one-plane-to-do-it-all, and I think that’s exactly wrong. If I were in charge of our defense budget, I’d invest a lot in R&D and in flexible production lines. When the A-10 was specced in what–the 60s?–the intended role was anti-Soviet tanks. From what I understand, Russian SAMs have come so far that it would be essentially useless for that in 2020, but it’s still superb at ruining goat herders’ days.

          I’m currently reading VDH’s _Second World Wars_ book, and along with some of the other stuff I’ve read on weapons development in WWII, one of the major advantages that the Allies brought was the ability to rapidly develop, deploy and repurpose various weapons, as well as getting them rolled off production lines in large quantities.

          We only have the vaguest idea of what the next war will look like–I suspect that smoking goat herders is about to go out of style, but who knows. And we probably understand less about Russian and Chinese and Iranian capabilities than we think we do. Given all that, I’d invest heavily in designing/testing airframes, ships, artillery, etc. and focus on the ability to scale production of them up and down as needed. Produce some, learn how they operate and what they are good at, and keep a plan in our back pocket for ramping production way up as needed.

          Instead of having one Thunderjug that does seven things poorly, we could have had seven airframes that were lights-out at each of those specialized jobs. Depending on the war, we could ramp up production on the airframes that serve the purpose. Ditto the vessels that the late Hognose referred to as the Little Crappy Ship.

          I’m a rank dilettante at all this, but I think this is how I’d approach defense R&D and procurement.

          Closer to home here at Looserounds, I think I’d focus on small arms tech that made small arms easier to use and easier to train, to allow the Army/Marine Corps to scale up and down better based on needs. The basic firearms themselves are pretty much fine. I’d work on improving sighting systems, again with a focus on modularity and ease of ramping production up based on demand/use case. Ab initio, I’d pick a caliber in the 6-7x45mm range rather than a 5.56, but there’s just not enough wrong with the 5.56 NATO to justify messing around with it. (Ditto for 7.62 NATO–there are better choices if you’re picking your own elk rifle, but for .mil’s purposes, it’s a satisficing solution.) But the level of recent advances in optics, including “smart optics” is very intriguing and that would be where I’d invest.

  3. Not sure how many of these CMP had to auction, but one they sold a month or two ago brought 15-K.

    I have one of the older Surefire suppressors made for that adapter and for that reason, was vaguely interested in the rifle for a while, but not for that kind of money.

    • That’s absurd. For $8K, you could get a rifle made that is better than this one will ever be, and get a custom-made suppressor put on it as well.

      The only way I’d be spending $15K on a rifle is if it had a very special provenance (eg, it was Buffalo Bill’s rifle, and has a paper trail to prove it), or it has fantastic workmanship and the very best materials (read: A high-end stick of wood) on it.

      • the price in this case is that it was a real sniper rifle used in the war to possibly kill people. I doubt it cost more than 200 to actually make

        • I’ll wager that most of the 1903/A3’s, Garands and Carbines that have come through DCM have killed more people, because they were used back when the DOD was the Department of War, and we didn’t shrink from the job at hand: killing people and breaking shit.

          • yea well there are hundreds of thousands of 03,s M1s etc and a hell of a lot less XM-3s. The XM3 also was used by a small amount of “elite” users and are a lot more likely to have confirmed kills. not just shot into a hedgerow at normandy or done JORTC parade drills.
            that apparently matters for a lot of people more than the mass produced rifles that everyone in the military was issued. it is what it is I guess

      • Absolutely it was absurd. But an absurdist paid it. My personal interest evaporated well before it hit 5K.

        As Shawn said, there was provenance to the rifle being used for real. I’m not sure that explains all of it, but some of it. We’ll see where this one ends up but it’s already well past what I’d be willing to pay for it.


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