The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may have ground the U.S. economy to a halt, but that isn't stopping the Army from getting its hands on its sweet new squad designated marksman rifle

Heckler & Koch announced on Thursday that the gunmaker had sent its first batch of 7.62mm G28/HK417 rifles — designated the M110A1 SDMR by the U.S. military — from its Georgia installation into the waiting hands of Army officials.

“Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic creates and very challenging business environment,” H&K-USA President and COO Michael Holley said in a statement. “But as an essential partner in the defense infrastructure of this country, we are 100 percent committed to delivering this essential product to our troops, while keeping our employees safe and healthy.”

Army photo

The Army had issued two contract awards to H&K in January 2019 and January 2020 to deliver a total of 5,851 SDMRs to the service at just over $6,100 apiece over the next several years, an order that shakes out to roughly $56 million, according to fiscal year 2020 budget documents.

The Army began fielding a handful of SDMRs on the brigade level in September 2018.

“Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) require the capability to engage threat personnel with aimed lethal and accurate fires at ranges exceeding the current squad riflemen provided today,” according to the Army's justification documents. “The Army is addressing longer range threats by procuring the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDMR), [which is] intended to provide increased accuracy at longer ranges, giving infantry squads greater firepower and flexibility by engaging targets with precision fire.”

The SDMR is based on the 7.62mm M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS) that the Army initially selected in 2016 as a replacement for the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) to provide Army snipers with improved effective range with a more lightweight and less cumbersome rifle. 

“The Army's current rifle technology is most effective below the 300-meter range,” Army Capt. Weston Goodrich, assistant program manager for Soldier Weapons at PEO Soldier, said of the new rifle back in 2018. “The new rifle addresses the 300 to 600 meters range gap outlined in the 2015 U.S. Army Small Arms Capabilities-Based Assessment.”

The Army initially fielded the M110A1 as an SDMR in December of that year to a handful of units at Fort Bliss, Texas, following an initial fielding of 120 CSASS rifles to 82nd Airborne units the previous September. 

Deliveries of the M110A1 SDMR are expected to continue “through the middle of 2021,” according to H&K.