by David Crane
DPMS Panther Arms is currently making a civilian-legal replica of the semi-auto-only 5.56mm (5.56x45mm) U.S. Army Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDM-R), which is designed to allow squads to engage enemy targets at ranges of 600 meters (600m).
According to the 2005 U.S. Army Field Manual, "The primary mission of the SDM [Squad Designated Marksman] is to deploy as a member of the rifle squad. The SDM is a vital member of his individual squad and is not a squad sniper. He fires and maneuvers with his squad and performs all the duties of the standard rifleman." The SDM’s secondary mission is to accurately engage key targets out to ranges of 300-500 meters. The SDM-R is not to be confused with the M16A4, which is essentially an M16A3 "flattop" with a free-float Mil-Std-1913 rail system/forend rail tube (a.k.a. modular rail system) instead of the standard handgards.
By contrast, the SDM-R utilizes an…
A3-type flat-top upper receiver and standard A2/A4 lower receiver, fluted 20-inch (20") stainless steel match-grade barrel with 1:8" twist (fluting is for stiffness and heat reduction), free-floating aluminum Mil-Std-1913 rail system/forend rail tube, two-stage match trigger, standard bird cage-type flash suppressor, and Harris S-L bipod attached to an ARMS #17 QD (Quick-Detach) mount. The front sight block is installed and secured with four set screws instead of two taper pins.
Charlie Cutshaw has written an informative article on the DPMS SDM-R 5.56mm rifle for the latest issue of Special Weapons for Military & Police, and chose the Trijicon TA31RCO-A4 4×32 ACOG (Advanced Optical Combat Gunsight) for his range evaluation of the weapon. The TA31RCOA4 ACOG is essentially a product-improved version of the TA31F ACOG a.k.a. AN/PVQ-31A Rifle Combat Optic (RCO), which is utilized on the Army’s SDM-R. On a side note, Trijicon makes a variation on this combat optic for SOPMOD M4/M4A1 Carbine users called the AN/PVQ-31B.
During the course of his evaluation, Mr. Cutshaw tested the DPMS SDM-R with a few other optical goodies, including the Gen III+ Optical System Technology, Inc. AN/PVS-22 Universal Night Sight (UNS), which represents state-of-the-art image intensification (I2) tech. Cutshaw notes that the AN/PVS-22 UNS mounts in front of the day optic rather than behind it like the PVS-14, thus eliminating for illuminated reticles and/or ocular adapters that cause eye relief issues. He also notes that the PVS-22 "retains boresight throughout its focus range, and has no parallax issues, even if mounted slightly off axis.
Cutshaw also installed a Laser Devices DBAL-A2 (Dual Beam Aiming Laser-Advanced2) a.k.a. MFAL (Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser System) (NSN: 5855-01-535-6166) laser aiming and illuminating device (laser aimer/illuminator), which incorporates an IR targeting laser (laser pointer), IR illuminator, and red visible laser (targeting laser/pointer). The DBAL-A2/MFAL is reportedly smaller and more capable than the Insight Technology AN/PEQ-2 (unconfirmed/unverified). The following is how Cutshaw describes DBAL-A2/MFAL operation, etc.:
"Modes are selected using a rotary switch to select between the visible laser and various IR modes, including IR pointer only, IR illuminator only or both. A low power engagement mode reduces the IR output for indoor use and CQB. Optical glass generators project different illumination patterns that include circle, square, triangle, plus sign or "T" for target designation and pointing. When used with the AN/PVS-22, the DBAL-A2 enables the shooter to illuminate his target with a laser that is invisible to the naked eye, a major advantage in night operations. Windange and elevation are adjustable in 0.4 of a milliradian increments. The DBAL-A2 is provided with optional mounts for Mil-Std-1913 rails, either a thumbscrew or ARMS throw lever mount. Our test unit came with the ARMS mount, which we personally prefer."
Cutshaw appropriately tested the DPMS SDM-R with the Black Hillls Mark 262 Mod 0 77-grain and Hornady TAP 75-grain rounds (5.56x45mm). The rifle put 5 Black Hills Mark 262 Mod 0 rounds into 0.75" (average velocity 2822 FPS) and 5 Hornady 75 TAP rounds into 1.00" (average velocity 2737) at 100 yards at 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
It should perhaps be noted that U.S. Army SDM-R is built by the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) at Fort Benning Georgia, and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Precision Weapons Section (PWS), Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico, Virginia is currently making a similar rifle for their operators called the Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle (SAM-R).
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