There was a time, long ago, when a sharpshooter’s rifle was merely a standard infantryman’s gun fitted with a telescopic sight, but this gradually progressed to the point where snipers were given factory-accurized weapons with impressive scopes. As time went by, however, the market began to offer dedicated or highly modified guns to fit the sniping role, with the models available around the world today presenting a wide array of calibers, configurations and modes of operation. The people in charge of selecting specific weapons to fit the particular needs of their armed forces or law enforcement agencies certainly have a lot of options from which to choose.
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In Brazil, the Corpo de Fuzileiros Navais (Marine Corps), a branch of the Brazilian Navy, has recently made a major change in the gear available to its snipers. Contrary to what happens in other countries, the local Marine precision shooters are not to be found among the ordinary infantry battalion personnel, but are mainly concentrated in a single unit, the crack Batalhão de Operações Especiais de Fuzileiros Navais (Marine Special Operations Battalion), which is also known as the “Tonelero Battalion.”
For about two decades, these snipers used British-made 7.62mm NATO Parker-Hale M85 bolt-action rifles fitted with Schmidt & Bender 6x42mm scopes. But, as expected, the rifles’ continuous, long-term use led to the need of selecting and fielding a replacement. This has already taken place, as we will see, but the still-trusted, reliable M85 is far from being entirely removed from the Brazilian Marines’ hands: The “green rifle” (as it is known because of its McMillan fiberglass stock) is still in use, now fitted with a Leupold Mark 4 LR/T scope, with the Tonelero Battalion in the initial training of its one-shot, one-kill warriors.
The Last Resource
Following an exhaustive selection and technical evaluation process involving offers from around the world, the Brazilian Marines have chosen the French-made Ultima Ratio 7.62mm NATO bolt-action rifle as their weapon for the anti-personnel sniping role. This gun was designed by PGM Precision, a company established in France in 1991 with the special purpose of developing and producing highly accurate rifles for military, law enforcement and sports uses. The rifle’s unusual name comes from the Latin expression “ultima ratio regum” (the last resource of kings), a motto that was engraved on the cannons of Louis XIV of France and one that well represents what the employment of a sniper may convey.
In addition to its national origin, this weapon is in service with the special operations forces of about 10 countries, and has been used in such hot spots as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq, to name a few. In the third quarter of 2010, the U.S. government reportedly contracted with Drake Associates, the American representative of the French manufacturer, to supply the weapon to unspecified agencies.
The Ultima Ratio has a characteristic skeletonized, modular design with both the girder chassis and receiver being made of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy. The high-strength steel bolt has three forward locking lugs, while the free-floating barrel is fluted ahead of the chamber area. The barrel has four-groove, right-hand rifling in a 1-in-12-inch twist rate, and it’s fitted with a muzzle brake that reduces the gun’s felt recoil by about 50 percent. For a stealthier mission profile, the brake can be quickly removed using a hex key and replaced with a PGM-made QMS-30 suppressor, a short (9.5 inches) and light (1.65 pounds) unit that reduces the sound level by about 80 percent with subsonic ammunition, or 30 or so percent if supersonic ammo is used.
Another option available for the rifle, and, in fact, chosen by the Brazilian Marine Corps, is to remove the barrel by loosening four 5mm hex screws on the right side of the main body and insert a 16.1-inch-long, fully suppressed unit. This conversion can be accomplished in well under a minute. An additional bonus offered by the gun is that, following the quick barrel change, no additional adjustments are required, as zeroing is maintained for the next shot for the ultimate in repeatability. With the suppressed barrel in place, the Ultima Ratio’s overall length increases slightly (from 41 to 46 inches) and weighs more (from 13.8 to 15.6 pounds), but the sound reduction is more than worth that.
“All in all, the new rifle is fitting in well with the Marine snipers. It’s consistently demonstrated its ability to make first-round hits out to 500 meters.”
Fed by 10-round, steel, detachable box magazines, the PGM rifle has a two-stage trigger that is generally adjusted to a 2.2- to 3.3-pound pull weight. The safety is located on the left side of the receiver, within easy reach of a right-handed shooter’s thumb.
The tubular buttstock folds to the left side, and users can adjust the cheekpiece and buttpad. A forward-folding and adjustable butt spike is also available, while the sturdy forward-folding bipod fitted just ahead of the fiberglass handguard offers several different height and tilt adjustments.
As supplied to Brazil, the Ultima Ratio is fitted with a German-made Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50mm PMII scope with a first-focal-plane reticle, thus permitting adequate distance evaluations all the way out 1,500 meters. The rifle’s long top Picatinny rail allows add-ons to be fitted directly ahead of the scope, such as the Carl Zeiss NSV 600 night sight attachment chosen by the Tonelero Battalion. Two shorter rails can also be mounted on the sides of the fluted portion of the barrel for other accessories. All in all, the new rifle is fitting in well with the Marine snipers. It’s consistently demonstrated its ability to make first-round hits out to 500 meters. Its sub-MOA precision at, say, 100 meters becomes extremely important when used by the Battalion’s black-clad Grupo Especial de Retomada e Resgate (GERR, or Special Retake and Rescue Group) warriors, who are in charge of hostage-type situations.
The Greek Goddess
The Brazilian Marine Corps has chosen another PGM gun to perform anti-materiel or heavy target interdiction (HTI) duties, the .50 BMG Hecate II rifle. Its name comes from a goddess of Greek mythology, translating into English roughly as “she who operates from afar” or “she who launches darts far.” Enough said. This rifle has been in service with the French Army since 1993, with recent recorded participations in Afghanistan and Mali. The weapon has also been chosen by a number of international special operations units.
The rifle shares the general skeletonized configuration of the Ultima Ratio, also utilizing aircraft-grade aluminum alloy in its girder chassis but having a tempered-steel receiver to cope with the higher pressures generated by the heavier .50 BMG round. The receiver, incidentally, has overpressure vents to protect the shooter from powder gases in the event of a cartridge case rupture.
The match-grade, fully free-floating barrel has a tapered profile and eight-groove, 1-in-15-inch-twist rifling. A large reverse-flow muzzle brake reduces felt recoil by around 50 percent, and this can be easily removed in the field with the use of a hex key to install a PGM-made suppressor, the QMS-50. This unit is 18.5 inches long (extending the gun’s overall length to 71 inches) and weighs 8.6 pounds, which brings up the Hecate II’s weight to just over 40 pounds. A foldable carrying handle is provided for transporting the bulky weapon.
Other similarities to the 7.62mm model include the foldable, fully adjustable stock, and the bipod, while the Picatinny tri-rail structure is somewhat reshaped. The top rail, where the same Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50mm PMII scope is fitted, is also of an extended type to allow for add-on items such as the NSV 600 night sight already mentioned.
Armed with either the 7.62mm Ultima Ratio or the .50 BMG Hecate II, the Brazilian marines are well equipped to face any conceivable threat and deal with it accordingly.
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